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News Analysis 6 Oct 2020 - 5 min read

‘Something’s still off’: Industry young guns open up on the ‘overwhelming malaise’ of lockdown and its impact on morale

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Alpha Digital's Samantha Coates: “The world doesn't stop when you work from home, and the future should include a bit of both. However, returning to the office will definitely solve the short-term feelings of isolation and detachment from the world.”

Relentless frustrations, fatigue, financial concerns and the ongoing impact of COVID on business are weighing heavily on the younger members of the media industry. Following an interview with UnLtd’s Chris Freel in August, Mi3 asked some of the industry’s young guns to comment. Their responses will trigger some alarm bells among their bosses.

What you need to know:
  • When Mi3 spoke with UnLtd CEO Chris Freel in August he highlighted the impact COVID, lockdowns and the lack of industry events were having on mental health.
  • Now, in a series of interviews, younger members of the media industry have flagged some of the less discussed areas of concern.
  • While returning to work, pay cuts and fewer group outings remain ongoing concerns, deeper issues are starting to emerge.
  • Excessively long hours and isolated working conditions with little reprieve are causing fatigue and frustration to set in as part of “the new normal”.
  • OMD Group Trading Director Nik Doble points to an “overwhelming malaise” as a real problem in Melbourne, as the city struggles to come out of lockdown.
  • Others are beginning to see the full impact of job losses and the economic downturn, describing the lack of buzz in the industry as similar to “the time between Christmas and New Year”.
  • Conflicting emotions are also becoming a drain, as some struggle with remaining grateful for employment despite feeling a lack of fulfilment in their work.

 

“We know that we should honestly just feel lucky and thankful to still have our jobs. However, as we toil away, faced by all the challenges Freel speaks to and more, we can’t help but feel an exacerbating sense of stagnation and general lack of fulfilment."

Alex Capper, Big Red, Planning and Insights Executive

Young guns respond

In late August, Mi3 spoke with Chris Freel, CEO of UnLtd, the advertising and media sector’s social purpose organisation.

Freel shed light on the ongoing conversations between his organisation and the media sector regarding growing concerns about COVID’s impact on mental health.

Isolation, increased alcohol consumption and a lack of cohesive working environments topped his list.

After reaching out to some of the industry’s younger members, who make up much of its workforce, bigger issues bubbled to the surface.

Mi3 spoke to members of youth-driven industry committees such as MFA 5+, a group for people with five or more media agency experience, and Youngbloods, an industry organisation for people with under 10 years of advertising experience.

Pay cuts, lack of social interaction and a sense of disconnection are top of mind but some people are becoming overwhelmed by the lack of economic security, health concerns and career stagnation.

OMD Group Trading Director Nik Doble, who is based in Melbourne, says there is now an “overwhelming malaise” in the industry.

He says Freel’s points regarding isolation are “indisputable” and that there is a “relentlessness” that accompanies being forced to remain indoors except for short exercise breaks.

“Routines have been upended, separating work and personal space is challenging, and a virtual existence is isolating. In Melbourne it’s worse and, like most, I have struggled,” Doble says.

“I look at my OMD Sydney and Brisbane colleagues with envy. I don’t expect to see my Melbourne colleagues physically until 2021. That’s depressing, but also our responsibility. The wants of the industry aren’t above those of society.”

Freelance copywriter and Youngbloods Queensland Co-Chair Alessia Castiglione agrees, adding that the feeling of isolation is increasing, especially for people in Melbourne.

“Distractions [including] puzzles, online challenges, workouts and food recipes/hacks don't have the same ring to them the second time around as they did back in April/May,” she says.

“Everyone's throwing their hat in the ring to help out, with check-in chats from strangers, recruiters offering webinars to prep people for when they find their next job and virtual meet-ups of all kinds.”

Big Red Planning and Insights Executive Alex Capper says Freel’s comments are very “real and relatable”. He says many people are caught between two conflicting mindsets.

“We know that we should honestly just feel lucky and thankful to still have our jobs,” Capper says.

“However, as we toil away, faced by all the challenges Freel speaks to and more, we can’t help but feel an exacerbating sense of stagnation and general lack of fulfilment.

“We’re all finding it hard producing anything inspiring or natural or fulfilling when we’re staring at our bedroom wall talking into our computers eight, 10, 12 or more hours a day.”

Capper says most people in the advertising and media industry understand the trade-offs that come with the work.

He says that in normal circumstances, the late nights, low pay and stress are compensated by the sense of camaraderie, purpose and achievement that comes with producing high-quality work. But COVID has changed all that.

 

“For those who have returned, it feels remarkably like that time between Christmas and New Year’s, but with more work and fewer pub visits or early knock-offs.”

Charlotte Goodsir, Social Strategist, The Monkeys

‘Something’s still off’

Despite some physical industry events returning and some companies allowing a limited number of staff to work again from offices, Charlotte Goodsir, Social Strategist at The Monkeys, says “pervasive stress and anxiety [is still] being felt”.

“Having staff back in agencies will bring about a sense of normalcy for some, but after enduring ‘these unprecedented times’, something’s still off,” Goodsir says.

“Many of our industry peers have lost their jobs, are on limited hours to cut costs, are unable to return to the office due to caring for elderly parents, or in fear for their own health.

“For those who have returned, it feels remarkably like that time between Christmas and New Year’s, but with more work and fewer pub visits or early knock-offs.”

Alpha Digital Account Manager Samantha Coates says companies will have to change the way they view “work” and become more flexible in allowing employees to strike a balance between old and new working structures.

“The lack of separation between the bedroom and the office is tiring, and more people you talk to at work are feeling burnt out,” Coates says.

“If there's one thing this year has taught us, it's that the world doesn't stop when you work from home, and the future should include a bit of both. However, returning to the office will definitely solve the short-term feelings of isolation and detachment from the world.”

Claudia Sarosiek, Copywriter at The Taboo Group, says she is seeing certain personality types with a higher sense of adaptability functioning better in these “extreme conditions” as they view new surroundings as “exciting” rather than “scary”.

“There’s no going back, so we need to get used to whatever this ‘new normal’ is. Yes, Zoom calls are draining, colleague relationships are not as close as they once were, and we’re all missing Friday drinks in the office like nothing else,” Sarosiek says.

“But that’s because we’re used to the old way of working. We need to think like our ancestors and adapt, evolve and grow into the current situation. It’s hard [and] it’s caused our mental health to diminish. “

Media owners such as Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) are pushing for a stronger return to office life.

Last month, the radio and regional TV network introduced “SCA Your Way”, a program that has seen roughly 80% of its staff return to its offices since September 28.

“What we have found is that a lot of the younger generation actually prefer to be in the office and enjoy being in the office because of that connectivity,” SCA CEO Grant Blackley told Mi3.

“[They] are more willing to come back to work because it's an independent destination. It's well set up and effectively allows that level of independence and collaboration.”

 

“Now, and even when we return to the office, the senior executives won’t waste an hour of their time with a face-to-face meeting. Instead, networking will remain on Zoom, which will make it harder to be memorable."

Claudia Sarosiek, Copywriter, The Taboo Group

What about the next generation?

Sarosiek says the media industry also needs to consider people who are trying to break into marketing, advertising and media, not just the people already in it.

She says those looking for their first job used to network by “grabbing a coffee” and having a face-to-face chats with people who could help land them a job.

“Now, and even when we return to the office, the senior executives won’t waste an hour of their time with a face-to-face meeting. Instead, networking will remain on Zoom, which will make it harder to be memorable,” Sarosiek says.

“But again, this is only because this is what we’re used to right now. Looking ahead, people looking to break into the industry will need to adapt and find digital-friendly ways to make a lasting impression.”

Similarly, GrowthOps Junior Account Director Linh Diep says empathy and compassion have begun to "go missing".

She says words via email or Slack or even a video call can be misinterpreted and when you’re alone its much harder to reach out in support.

"Compare this with a coffee date - that isn’t interrupted with incoming emails or has a set 30min time, you actually get a chance to have a genuine 1x1 that could go a bit overtime. Time well spent & you feel valued to have that time," Deep says.

"As restrictions begin to ease, and perks become reinstated again, I hope that mental health remains a priority for our industry & that these conversations become as normal as our physical health going forward."

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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