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Balancing work ethic and burnout in marketing

Balancing work ethic and burnout in marketing


There seems to be this new “thing” emerging online. I’m not sure whether you’d call it work shaming or effort shaming, but people are being called out for wanting to work more. 

Don’t get me wrong – burnout is real. No one wants to see anyone get to that stage.

But there is a real difference between working because you have to and working because you enjoy your work.

Passion vs. obligation

I spoke to a technical SEO professional, let’s call her Jo, as she wanted to remain anonymous. She works for a fairly well-known SEO agency in the UK. 

  • “I often work in the evenings or weekends and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I love what I do and I prefer to do certain types of tasks when it’s quiet,” she said. 

But recently, Jo has felt like she has to hide the fact that she’s working outside of traditional working hours.

  • “I just don’t mention it anymore. When I say anything, the response I get is concern from people. It’s bizarre to me, no one would say anything if you were learning a language or going to the gym.”

I asked her about burnout and whether she felt pressure to work long hours.

  • “I think burnout is a term that’s become quite trendy to use now. I appreciate that some people feel pushed into working really long hours or are using work in a negative way, but why shame someone who wants to work? It seems crazy to me.”

Turn to any social media platform, and you will find posts and videos from people talking about balancing work and life, avoiding burnout and maintaining well-being. These messages, while well-intentioned, seem to paint all extra work outside normal hours as detrimental, neglecting the joy it brings to some.

Jo, like many professionals, finds personal satisfaction in her work. Her story highlights a growing disconnect between societal expectations and individual work ethics. 

  • “Work isn’t just a means to an end for me,” Jo explained. “It’s a passion. I don’t keep odd hours because I have to; I do it because that’s when I feel most productive and fulfilled.”

This emerging trend of “effort shaming” raises important questions about our attitudes toward work and leisure. While advocating for healthy work limits is crucial, there’s a thin line between preventing burnout and undervaluing genuine enthusiasm for one’s profession.

In an era where personal and professional lives are increasingly blended, the concept of work as a purely contractual obligation is becoming outdated for some people.

Critics of this new “shaming” trend argue that it may discourage people from pursuing excellence. There is the belief that individuals who engage deeply with their work often experience higher levels of satisfaction and mental well-being.

As we navigate these complex social dynamics, it’s essential to foster a culture that respects diverse work styles and recognizes that work is more than just a job for some.

The challenge lies in balancing advocacy for mental health with respect for individual work preferences and motivations. Ultimately, understanding and flexibility may be the keys to effectively addressing burnout and effort shaming.

Dig deeper: The secret to work-life harmony in SEO: Setting boundaries

Striking the right balance: Signs of burnout

We need to be careful in finding this balance. It is not always obvious if a love for work is tipping over into something more damaging. We can all be aware of our colleagues around us and look out for any warning signs.

Some of the signs to watch out for include a noticeable drop in energy levels or enthusiasm compared to their usual self. They may begin to express a more pessimistic view towards their work and life in general, often seeming irritable or unusually critical.

Isolation is another red flag; those experiencing burnout might start withdrawing from social interactions, which can manifest as skipping team meetings or social gatherings they once enjoyed.

Their work performance might also suffer. Tasks they would handle efficiently before might now seem to overwhelm them, or you might notice an increase in errors or missed deadlines. It’s not just about being busy; it’s a deeper change in how they cope with everyday work pressures.

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The company’s role: Supporting employee well-being

Simon Rhind-Tutt from Relationship Audits believes that companies need to do a better job of identifying the signs of burnout and supporting their staff and that many of them don’t currently do enough. 

  • “We need to get better at spotting stress and identifying when the workload is getting too much, especially with the move towards hybrid roles. The ones that do better often have an operations manager-type role in place. That person has a deeper understanding of how much work is involved in achieving deliverables.” 

This can help to prevent workload from creeping up too much before it becomes a problem.  

Burnout is a real issue, but it can be really difficult for many managers to see the difference between someone who thrives on long hours and those who feel an obligation to maintain a certain level to stay on top of what is often an unachievable to-do list every day.

I asked Rhind-Tutt what approach businesses could take to better demonstrate what is and isn’t expected. 

  • “It’s down to the business leaders to make it clear that their teams aren’t obligated to work outside of their contracted hours. It’s also useful to have trusted eyes and ears in each team that can identify those that are struggling. Lastly, an open reporting system should be encouraged so that people are able to be honest about the amount of work they can do to retain quality.”

Recognizing burnout within yourself

Identifying burnout in ourselves requires self-awareness that can sometimes be clouded by the very stress we’re trying to manage. It often begins subtly, sneaking up as a series of bad days that gradually morph into constant fatigue and disillusionment.

Initially, you might notice a significant drop in energy levels. This isn’t just the usual end-of-day tiredness or the feeling you get after a particularly trying client meeting; it is a profound exhaustion that doesn’t seem to go away with rest. You wake up as tired as when you went to bed, and your reserves feel perpetually low.

Things can start to shift emotionally, too. You might find yourself feeling more cynical and less hopeful about your work.

Tasks and projects that once sparked interest or pride might now provoke a sense of dread or a dismissive attitude. You could catch yourself feeling unusually irritable, especially about aspects of your job that used to be manageable or even enjoyable.

This is very different from the scenario Jo describes, in which she is enthusiastic about work and eager to get the laptop out.

Another indicator that things are going too far is a sense of detachment that wasn’t there before. This might mean isolating yourself from colleagues and dreading interactions that involve your work. You feel like you’re just going through the motions, as if you’re watching yourself from a distance, unable to engage fully with your role.

Performance will undoubtedly take a hit as well. You may notice a decline in your productivity or the quality of your work. It becomes harder to concentrate, and procrastination might set in, not out of laziness but as a form of avoidance.

This all impacts your overall outlook. You might start questioning the value of your work or feeling stuck in a loop, wondering if any of it really matters. This is a strong signal that your engagement with your work is not just waning – it’s wearing thin to the point of breaking.

Recognizing these signs is crucial, not just for your professional life but for your overall well-being. Identifying burnout early can help you mitigate its impact by adjusting your workload, seeking support, or finding new strategies to inject meaning back into your work and life. 

If you find yourself in this position, speak to your line manager, and if you don’t gain the support you need, then take it higher. It’s too important an issue to be kept hidden away. It’s something that will only get worse if not addressed.

Dig deeper: How to avoid search marketing burnout

Creating a healthier work environment

It’s ironic that this “work shaming” trend only adds stress and overwhelm to those who simply love what they do. This connotation aligns with the hustle culture of no sleep, high levels of productivity and time for little else.

But working long hours doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life! 

  • “I spend lots of time with people I like, in and out of work. Just because I work a lot doesn’t mean I don’t make time for other things. I read a lot, and spend time with friends and family. I just don’t spend hours in front of the TV all night, I’d much rather grab my laptop and work on something that feels meaningful to me. That’s not to say watching TV is wrong. It’s just not how I choose to spend my time,” Jo says.

Maybe that’s the distinction: working long hours because you want to and gain massive satisfaction from doing so. 

On the other hand, feeling pressured into working long hours or knowing you won’t get your work done if you don’t because your workload is too high are very different scenarios.

So, instead of shaming, why don’t we acknowledge and support those struggling at work and those who want to do more? We are all different people who have different ambitions and goals in life.

We can all do more to appreciate and accept every person, regardless.

You could argue that it is the responsibility of the business to ensure that, as much as possible, their staff feel valued and appreciated and aren’t heading toward an unhealthy relationship with work.

But it’s also the responsibility of each of us to do the same. By respecting and looking out for our colleagues, we can all create a much healthier culture at work and at home.

Dig deeper: Understanding quiet quitting in SEO – the silent exodus

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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