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Creatives Are Overworked

A new survey suggests creative professionals are being asked to do more work in less time–and it’s taking a toll.

Creatives Are Overworked
[Photo: Josefa nDiaz/Unsplash]

Creative workers are overwhelmed.

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That’s the key takeaway from a new survey by the nonprofit professional organization InSource and the software company inMotionNow. The survey queried 400 in-house creative workers–including marketers, creatives, and assorted managers–and found that the speed at which creative teams are expected to work and the volume of demand for their work were respondents’ No. 1 and No. 2 concerns, respectively.

Of course, creative professionals aren’t the only people on Earth who feel pressured to tackle more projects in less time. But as the survey suggests, creative workers are often in a unique position, working in small teams to meet the needs of many other parts of an organization. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they serve 10 or more internal stakeholders; 60% serve 20 or more; and 38% serve 50 or more. According to the report, “It’s not uncommon for a team of fewer than 10 creatives to support the demands of 50+ stakeholders in business with $500 million or more in revenue.” This echoes findings elsewhere. An Adobe-sponsored IDC report found that 71% of creative workers were producing 10 times more work in 2015 compared with 2010.

[Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash]

What’s Going On?

For one, there’s just a lot of creative work to do. Yesterday’s companies could get away with a single ad campaign spread over a few mediums–TV, billboards, and magazines, say. Today, companies are producing content for mobile, social, the web, print, television, physical retail, and a slew of other outlets. But they don’t necessarily staff up to meet demand. Brian Bisio, senior graphic design director for the San Francisco Giants, has a fairly typical experience. “Originally, there were just two of us on my creative team when I started 18 years ago with the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club,” he says. “Over the years, it’s been challenging to keep up with the growing volume. There are so many channels to serve across social media, online marketing, and retail–and there are so many different ways to market things.”

Plenty of mundane tasks endemic to creative work have been automated–but others haven’t. 46% of the survey’s respondents report spending three to seven hours a week on administrative tasks, like chasing briefs and getting projects approved. 34% spend a whopping seven hours a week on administrative work–that’s almost a full day out of a 40-hour work week.

[Photo: Daria Nepriakhina/Unsplash]

What’s The Solution?

Tellingly, the third greatest concern respondents cited in the survey is “being seen as a strategic contributor.” It’s hard to feel like you have a stake in the broader business goals of a company that’s adding to your workload without offering additional resources.

Andy Brenits, president of the board of directors at InSource, suggests companies invest more deeply in creative talent, whether in-house or through freelancers and agencies. The trick, he says, is to “show the business how resources are allocated and what the business will or will not get with or without additional help.”

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But resources alone won’t solve the problem, he says. “In-house creative teams used to be viewed as little more than the art department, but today they are increasingly significant contributors to business strategy,” Brenits adds. “This comes with a responsibly to create efficient processes and workflow to manage the constant flow of creative work. Creative teams can no longer act like they are always running downhill with their hair on fire, constantly trying to catch up. They need to have a systematic means to account for, and complete, work on a deadline.

Added headcount and streamlined workflows may still not be enough. Creative work is notoriously grueling, with long nights and weekends often billed as the price of admission for doing what you love. But there’s a fine line between sacrifice and exploitation. Companies pile on projects and condense deadlines because they can. Perhaps creative professionals would be wise to heed the advice of Mike Monteiro, who took a frank, unsettling look at the design industry last month: “The only ones who will ever stand up for workers are other workers. Stand together and unionize.”

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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