Published in Time Management

Advertising: The Overtime Industry?


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Copywriter. UX designer. Graphic designer. Producer. Illustrator. Creative director.

Many people dream of landing a creative role in the advertising industry. It’s a competitive field — and you probably feel lucky if you get a coveted spot.

But what happens when you actually land a position in advertising? Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t always match up to your hopes. Unrealistic expectations, extremely heavy workloads, long hours, overworked employees, and burnout are too familiar for many employees.

An IPA study found that fewer young people are looking for careers in advertising these days. Perhaps it could be because of its reputation as “the overtime industry.”

Is advertising’s overworking culture deterring talent? What can the industry do about it?

Project Profitability

Are ad agency employees overworked and underpaid?

Overtime is an all too common phenomenon in advertising. The industry depends on collaboration, strict deadlines, and client satisfaction. These realities mean a huge amount of pressure on employees, from project managers to creatives to agency directors and leaders.

This takes its toll on employees. It’s not just an extra hour here and there — many individuals are working far into the night regularly. This leads to mental health problems, putting a strain on workers who suffer from exhaustion and intense pressure to meet the lofty expectations of their employers. They enjoy little to no free time to relax and recuperate, either.

Meanwhile, too many ad agencies expect their employees to complete long hours without extra pay — and that’s with low salaries, to begin with. The well-being of workers is clearly suffering.

The truth about advertising’s long-hours culture

The U.S. Department of Labor stipulates certain overtime regulations. Covered nonexempt employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 per workweek at a rate of at least one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. Hours worked on weekends and holidays do not apply, unless the employee works overtime (more than 40 hours over the entire week) on those days.

But this does not apply to exempt employees, those who work full-time and are salaried. And it doesn’t mean that employees are being paid fairly for the work they do. Moreover, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no employment law limiting the number of hours employees may work within a given week. Additionally, some ad agencies responded to the new overtime rules by reducing hourly wages.

The ad industry as a whole is facing a conundrum. With low pay and a culture of overwork, employees are unhappy — and it’s driving many to leave in search of greener pastures.

How can agencies modify this work methodology?

Long workdays, a lack of flexibility, and the physical and psychological toll of the overtime and overwork culture that advertising perpetuates clearly mean problems for the industry. And something needs to be done.

It really comes down to making employees feel valued. It’s quite difficult for individuals to believe that their employers respect them and their time when they are asking them to commit to hours and hours of work for little pay. So, how can advertising agencies confront this problem?

Data collection

In order to accurately assess the issue and its impact on workers, employers first need to understand its scope.

The answer is data collection. By combing processes, assessing productivity, and inquiring about employee satisfaction and work habits, agencies can better understand what kind of problem exists. Employers should do straight to the source: their employees. They might, for instance, deploy anonymous surveys to get feedback.

Flexible time off

Employees deserve paid time off (PTO). Sounds simple enough, right? But too often, even if workers do receive ample vacation time, they are discouraged from actually taking it — or they don’t feel like they are able to do so.

The advertising industry must embrace the idea that offering flexible time off isn’t just necessary for their employees’ mental health; it also leads to stronger morale and productivity. Well-rested workers simply perform better. Plus, when employees enjoy ample time off, they will be less likely to succumb to absenteeism and presenteeism, both of which cost companies substantial amounts of money every year.

Wellness benefits

In addition to PTO, employers must provide benefits that support the overall wellness of their employees. Health insurance is one step, but it’s not the only one. In addition, employers might consider offering initiatives and benefits like:

  • Stress reduction programs
  • Mindfulness and meditation courses (on-site or otherwise)
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Weight loss programs and nutrition education
  • Free health screenings and assessments
  • On-site fitness centers and gym reimbursements
  • Exercise programs and challenges
  • On-site vaccinations
  • Parental leave and new parent support programs

Project Management

Tracking hours: A solution for employees

Many people across industries question the idea of tracking hours. But it’s actually an ideal solution for advertising, where time really is money. There are numerous benefits for employees — full-time workers and freelancers alike — and employers.

This also presents a solution that can help address the problem of advertising’s culture of overwork and overtime, given how agencies will be held accountable for the hours their employees are working.

5 Benefits of tracking hours for creatives

1. They will get paid for the time they’re spending on projects.

In some cases, being paid by the project is in the best interest of the employee and the employer alike. But sometimes, employees end up working long hours, well beyond the initial scope of the project and therefore are not being compensated accordingly. When they are able to track their time, they will be paid accordingly — and may even have the option of receiving compensation for overtime hours.

2. They will receive credit for their work.

This goes hand in hand with receiving appropriate compensation for the work employees have performed. Tracking time also allows individuals to receive credit for their efforts. Many time-tracking systems ask employees to not only input the specific hours they have worked but also to catalog the specific activities they have completed within these timeframes. This way, they can demonstrate precisely what they have accomplished.

3. They will be compensated for their ideas.

Brainstorming and ideating are vital to creative industries. But it’s also overlooked when compensating employees. How can you pay workers for time spent thinking?

Time tracking — that’s how.

Advertising agencies understand that good ideas don’t always happen within a structured workday or workweek. They demand flexibility to percolate. With time tracking, employees are not only compensated for the hours they are “actively” working — they can also receive compensation for the time they are spending brainstorming and coming up with ideas that will, in turn, make the company more successful.

4. They will be able to work more efficiently.

It may sound counterintuitive — wouldn’t employees be tempted to slack off if they’re being paid by the hour? In fact, the opposite is often true. Workers are being asked to justify the time they have spent on given tasks and projects through this system. Moreover, employees will better understand their own work habits and may be incentivized to justify their work ethic to themselves.

5. They can anticipate how long each project will take.

Estimating the time you’re spending on projects is critical for managing workflows and anticipating the investment in and length of future projects. Time tracking enables employees to collect data, which, in turn, prompts them to prioritize, handle various tasks on their plates, and project profitability. This allows them to manage their time more effectively — and achieve a stronger work-life balance.

Resource Management

5 Benefits of tracking hours for employers

1. You will have better insight into how your employees manage their time.

One main reason why so many businesses worry about implementing a time tracking system is the fear of seeming like “Big Brother.” But given the vast array of activities advertising and marketing agencies perform every day — from social media to digital advertising to blogging to website creation and management — it is critical to understand how your employees are spending their time. This goes for day-to-day activities, as well as longer-term initiatives.

Time tracking gives you more information and insight into what, exactly, your employees are doing with their time. It will allow you to delegate resources accordingly, once you know which types of initiatives and projects are more profitable and which tasks are taking more time than others.

2. You will have more control over client hours.

Creative industries are often beholden to clients who outsource projects to them. Unfortunately, when they are paying for the project and not accountable for the hours’ agencies and their employees are spending on these projects. Scope creep, when the goals and objectives of the projects exceed those of the initial requirements and agreement, may sometimes come into play. Demands can escalate. This all means that clients aren’t necessarily paying fairly for the work the agencies are performing.

Time tracking enables agencies to set limits on the time they are spending on the project and ensure that agencies and their workers are being fairly compensated for their efforts.

If a project is getting out of control, you can alert the client that particular demands or requests will cost them accordingly. You will have data to show, supporting the case that the project is requiring more time than you initially agreed upon. And you can better manage the project and balance the efforts so that they match the results — and that you are compensated fairly.

3. You can better leverage employee skillsets.

Time tracking systems produce an enormous amount of information — information that will serve you well in a variety of instances. We have discussed the benefit of being able to see what your employees are doing with their time. This data will also give you insight into the specific skills and qualities your employees are bringing to the table based on their performance.

In turn, you will be able to effectively manage your talent, ensuring that the right employees are working on the projects that best utilize their skill sets and competencies. This will allow your organization to run all the more smoothly — and help employees feel valued.

4. You will understand your staffing needs.

Creative agencies evolve. Needs change. How do you know whether you are best meeting your own needs as a business at a given time?

Time tracking allows you to understand what is happening within your agency at any point. You will see what resources you need, true, and you will also see what people you need within your agency. This is important for continuing to complete projects and satisfying your clients, as well as helping ensure that your employees don’t feel overworked or overstressed.

5. You will create more accurate estimates.

Your agency is a long-term endeavor. You will continue to complete projects, many of similar types and within the same categories. Once you have tracked the time for one project, you will be better equipped to estimate what the next project will entail. Therefore, you will have a more accurate sense of what the initiative demands and how to plan accordingly. This benefits the client, the employees, and your agency overall.

Transparency is critical for your agency to function cohesively and effectively. You want to perform optimally, of course. You also want your employees to feel valued and respected. What you absolutely don’t want is to perpetuate a culture of overwork and stress. That is why it’s so critical to introduce measures that will keep your employees happy and well. Time tracking is just one solution — it’s important to continue to assess and reassess your procedures to continue to keep your employees content and thriving. Advertising: the overtime industry?

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