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Marketers Feel Unfulfilled, There Is a Fix

7 minute read
Virginia Backaitis avatar
A recent survey found almost half of marketers felt unfulfilled at work — and they're not alone.

Do marketers feel fulfilled at work? MarketingProfs and Mantis Research recently partnered to answer that question. The 2019 Marketer Happiness Study (registration required) found as many as 47 percent do not. This is bad news not only for the evangelists of whom much is demanded, but also for their employers and the brands they represent. After all, it is well known that engaged workers produce better results.

"Happy marketers are much more valuable," MarketingProfs head of content Ann Handley said. "They do a better job when they are inspired, when they feel supported, connected and challenged."

The study looked at marketers' careers from two different angles:

  • Personal and professional self-care: Such as exercise, active learning, working free of distractions and belonging to a community.
  • Mindset: Are you a risk taker? Does criticism frustrate you? Are you adventurous in your work?

It may be worth noting that marketers are no less satisfied with their careers than the general population according to research released by the Conference Board last year. But the MarketingProfs study offered something that the Conference Board's research did not: what workers and managers can do to try to improve their situations. The report offers insights, fixes and resources from Handley as well as others. At the end of the day, employees from any field can benefit from the findings.

You can leave it to marketers to be positive thinkers. Handley was happy to learn that 51 percent of marketers are satisfied with their professions, but she is not without worry. Handley suspects the 21 percent of survey respondents who said they were unfulfilled or "somewhat unfulfilled" at work may be in the wrong profession. "[However,] the third of us who feel 'meh' is troubling," she said. She offered a few ideas about how to improve that.

Recognition Can Go a Long Way

"A big piece of being happy is being seen," she explained, noting it's not just management that can acknowledge good work, coworkers can recognize each other as well. "It's about creating a culture of recognition," she said. This can be as easy as acknowledging someone in person, with @mentions in online conversations when someone does well or by leveraging emojis from any one of many collaboration or marketing apps. And you don't have to wait for your boss, or someone else to lead the practice — you can be the change.

Managers can also easily introduce recognition programs. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) published an article suggesting that showing gratitude to employees is as important as generating revenue. Examples of recognition program providers include; Bonusly, BlueBoard and Globoforce among many others.

Offering continuous feedback to workers is still another good option. A number of new SaaS companies like 15Five and Reflektive have emerged to facilitate exactly that.

Related Article: What it Takes to Create Exceptional Employee Experiences

Steer Clear of Productivity Booby Traps

The MarketerProfs survey found that though marketers start their days with the intent of achieving a certain set of goals, as many as 75 percent quickly get derailed by their inboxes, interruptions via apps like Slack, instant messages, phone calls, social media and such. Handley cautions against spending your days in reactive mode, "It's harder to feel a sense of accomplishment when you are working that way," she said. A few of the fixes she recommended were turning off your phone and finding a place to go and work where you can't be interrupted. The problem with the latter is that only 50 percent of respondents said they have such a place. For those who do not, noise cancelling headphones were recommended by the study's authors.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson, authors of “It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work” (Harper Collins 2018), do not seem to think the solution, or even the problem itself, is as simple as that. "People are working more but getting less done. It doesn't add up — until you account for the majority of time being wasted on things that don't matter.

Out of the 60, 70 or 80 hours a week many people are expected to pour into work, how many of those hours are really spent on the work itself? And how many are tossed away in meetings, lost to distraction and withered away by inefficient business practices? The bulk of them. "The answer isn't more hours, it's less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer distractions, less always-on anxiety, and avoiding stress."

Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson, who are also the creators of Basecamp, a popular project management and team communication tool, put forth a manifesto, "It's time for companies to stop asking their employees to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more-artificial targets set by ego. It's time to give people the uninterrupted time that great work demands. It's time to stop celebrating crazy at work."

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: How to Escape the Productivity Paradox

Embrace Learning, Celebrate Risk Taking

"There's a crisis of confidence among marketers," Handley said. The survey found more than 50 percent feel they don’t know as much as their peers. Not only that, but 60 percent said they are not willing to try something new unless they have mastered the skill. That being said, when decisions need to be made, two-thirds of marketers trust their gut, “even when conventional wisdom points in another direction,” wrote the authors of the survey. The finding didn't surprise Handley who pointed out that nearly half of the marketers surveyed claimed to be comfortable with uncertainty and as many as 61 percent indicated they bounce back quickly when criticized.

Digital Media Strategy consultant and Upworthy co-founder Sara Critchfield wrote about risk-taking in a Harvard Business Review article. One of her conclusions was that businesses need to change from a "best practices" mentality to a dynamic "laboratory mentality." The latter encourages creativity and a sense of play as opposed to making safe bets to ensure security.

Related Article: Can You Engineer an Innovation Culture?

Don't Forget the Basics

Without your physical and mental health, other things do not matter. And while marketers claim to be eating and sleeping well, only one-third take time each day to be technology free, according to the survey. The problem with constantly checking or receiving alerts from social media and digital tools is that our brains do not get a chance to rest or relax. Handley suggested trading screen time for something else and to start by setting a small goal.

Using herself as an example, Handley said that she set a goal of "more pages, fewer screens," meaning she pledged to spend time with a book each day. "My aim was to read just one page," she said, though she often reads more. Another idea is to write "morning pages." According to artist Julia Cameron, the practice of morning pages consists of "three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do morning pages, they are not high art. They are not even writing. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind — and they are for your eyes only. Morning pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not overthink morning pages, just put anything that comes to mind on three pages ... and then do three more pages tomorrow."

Meditation is another practice that fosters relaxation and emotional health. Handley was surprised to learn that only 17 percent of the marketers surveyed reported meditating regularly. While there are countless ways to start meditating, simply sitting still, closing your eyes and focusing on a mantra for 10 minutes is a good start. There are also many "apps for that." Headspace is a popular one.

The survey also uncovered that marketers spend too little time with friends, exercising, volunteering and engaging in hobbies. And while many may perceive these activities as a luxury they cannot afford given the urgent calls for action thrust upon them by their connected devices, the reality is "there's a false sense of urgency, most things can wait," according to Fried and Heinemeier-Hansson.