How to keep your creative team from burning out
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If there’s one thing we know about creatives, it’s that they’re free spirits. They don’t like to be artistically and professionally constrained. This is why artists like graphic designers and animators are turning to freelance work in an attempt to become their own bosses. When you are in control of your time and space, you can shape your hours and your surroundings to allow for minimal creative exhaustion.
However, if you work as part of a team in a workspace, there are many external stimuli that affect your performance. Lowering team morale, a tense office environment, and the pressure to come up with a constant flow of creative ideas can often become overwhelming. As a boss, hiring manager, or creative team leader, you want to give your team the right environment and the right resources to stay consistently productive. It’s easier said than done.
Creativity is a free-spirited phenomenon, so trying to manufacture it regularly increases the risk of creative exhaustion. Identifying burnout in creative teams becomes difficult if employees don’t feel comfortable voicing concerns. That’s why, as a leader, you should constantly be on the lookout for signs of creative exhaustion.
Here are some of the ways to achieve sustainable creative productivity and avoid burnout.
Ask for deadlines instead of deadlines
As a business owner, the satisfaction of your customers is your number one concern. So, when setting project timelines, it is natural to prioritize customer convenience and set unrealistic expectations.
Often times, this comes at the expense of your creative team and their productivity. The key here is to understand that in order to delight your customers, you must first take care of your employees. You can’t give them an insurmountable workload for long periods of time and expect them to work at peak efficiency throughout.
I always find it best to discuss the project specifications with the team and ask them for appropriate deadlines for each step – this requires a certain level of trust in your team. I then negotiate those timelines based on the needs of the client, and ultimately we come to a happy medium that works for both the clients and the team.
Overall, the process makes them more in control of their work and keeps the collective at bay.
Related: Why you don’t need strict deadlines to be successful
Allow the exchange of ideas between teams
So you have hired a team of the best creatives. They are enthusiastic, understand customer needs and come up with great ideas accordingly. But let’s face it: at the end of the day, creativity is work for them. Going through the creative process day in and day out can exhaust your team. They fall into a pattern, and the ideas start to run out.
When my creative team is struggling to “think outside the box,” we ask other team members in the company’s Slack channel for ideas. They then arrive with fresh spirits and good humor. For them, it is a necessary mental stimulation, a break from their usual work, and they actively brainstorm ideas.
Encourage the learning of new skills
When it comes to creatives, the lack of mental stimulation quickly begins to translate into a lack of productivity and eventual creative exhaustion. They perform best when they feel challenged. To keep your employees on their creative guards, encourage them to practice new skills. Give them time and space to explore new facets of their creativity.
We have a special training allowance for each employee that they can use to purchase courses to improve their skills. This way, our creatives always have the opportunity to try new things if they start to feel stagnant. It’s also important to observe which members of the creative team have gone beyond their original job description. You can always discuss the assignment of new roles and additional responsibilities with them.
Harness the power of mindless tasks
Finding creative ideas is hard work for the mind. When creatives head for burnout, mindless tasks can save their lives. Think of insane tasks as a way to take “productive breaks.” For example, organizing resources and folders for archiving, finding archive footage and images for projects and corporate repository, downloading fonts, and more.
Mindless tasks are also a great way to relax, as that’s when you can easily put music or listen to a podcast in the background.
Shake things up – literally
It goes without saying, but exercise is a great way to avoid mental and physical exhaustion. To circulate the creative juice, you have to move. Encourage your creative team to take regular breaks and walk around. Set up standing tables in your workspace. Or, just follow this quick office exercise routine.
If your organization can afford it, a few treadmills wouldn’t hurt either. A quick workout can boost endorphin levels and provide an instant mood uplift, making a creative team happier and more productive.
Offer positive reinforcement
Creatives are their own biggest critics. They constantly question their artistic merit and wonder if they can do better. Providing regular feedback on their work helps keep uncertainty at bay. This gives them a clear idea of how their work is being received by senior management and clients.
I find that true positive reinforcement goes a long way in keeping the creative team motivated and productive. Also, if your creative team is putting in extra hours to make sure your projects are delivered on time, make an effort to compensate them financially.
There is nothing more demoralizing than being taken for granted. Burnout is obvious if employees are not paid properly.
Recognize creative blockages
Creativity cannot always be invoked. It’s important to accept that creative blocks are one thing and let your team let go when they strike. Try to listen and approach the situation with a problem-solving mindset, rather than blaming them.
If one of my creatives complains about being blocked, I usually ask them to browse Pinterest or Dribble for inspiration. I also suggest changing the type of work they do. For example, if a designer who specializes in creating character illustrations is dry, I would ask them to experiment with a motion graphics project.
Use creative energy strategically
One difficult thing to do while leading a creative team is knowing when to draw the line for creative improvements. Some projects are not worth too much time and energy. This often leaves creatives dissatisfied with the outcome of the project and they want to make improvements.
In addition, some creative visions are difficult to achieve because they go beyond the scope of the project. That’s when you have to take the lead and make them understand that it would be better to devote their energy to other projects.
Sometimes less is more. If you are dealing with short creative windows, you need to allocate resources, both mental and physical, strategically.
Related: The 5 steps that will stimulate your creativity and your capacity for innovation
To keep your creative team from running out of steam, you need to take a proactive approach. Anticipate and try to avoid burnouts before they happen. When they happen, respect the creative process, empathize with your team, and move forward with a solution-oriented approach.