February 27, 2024

How Influencer Marketing Agency Obviously Centers Employees’ Mental Health to Avoid Burnout and Drive Growth

Karen D. Weeks, Global Chief People Officer at Obviously, takes a people-first approach to staffing, which helps team members find work-life balance and improve their client interactions.

When it comes to programming influencer marketing campaigns, data is key. How a post performs, its engagement, and other metrics can all impact a client’s satisfaction with the work, and the likelihood that the content creator will get more work in the future. But just as important are the relationships forged behind the scenes between the brand, the influencer, and the influencer’s agency.

Or as Karen D. Weeks, the Global Chief People Officer at the agency Obviously explains, “We have humans at our organization, and we will not be a functioning business if we don't have those humans. Humans built the tech. Humans are in front of the clients. Humans are doing the things.”

It’s that ethos that informs Obviously’s people-first approach to staffing, which helps team members find work-life balance and determine when they go on vacation. The company even shuts down at the end of the year for a week, so staff can truly log off rather than monitor their inboxes in a dream state.

“I'm not so fluffy that I'm like, ‘oh, don't worry, you never have to work,’” says Weeks, who has more than 20 years in the human resources field and also runs the career coaching firm, Shine at Work.  “We're a business. We need to make money, but we're making the money by humans being successful. And if you're burning out the people on your team, your client interactions are going to suffer.”

Yet burnout at the workplace is exceedingly common — one study found that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout at their current role, and younger generations are more likely than older ones to feel symptoms. That can manifest in a number of ways, including feeling drained, distracted, or fatigued; having more headaches and worse sleep than usual; and being generally irritable. None of those are conducive to a healthy or productive workplace, and rather than ask workers to push through, Weeks and other HR pros have another approach: Allow people to log off.

“One thing that we have really focused on is respect of time,” says Weeks, who adds that managers often schedule Slack messages for the following morning and establish their own boundaries in case of an emergency so they can lead by example. “It doesn't mean you may not log on and do extra work. But there's not the expectation, unless there's a huge thing going on and there's a push to do something.” Even then, she adds, “everybody takes a breath afterwards.”

The influencer marketing world is gaining relevance at breakneck speed, and was worth an estimated $21.2 billion in 2023. Obviously is no different: The company was acquired by VMLY&R, a subsidiary of advertising giant WPP last year, and the 100-person team is wasting no time in harnessing their new resources to benefit both their clients and their talent. But that doesn’t come without pain points, and a team that talks proactively about mental health can help ease the growing pains.

“Everybody's working really hard,” says Weeks. What her team then asks is, “How do you work smart and how do we support you in doing that?”

To make that happen, the company is pragmatic about its work in some respects — like how the last quarter of every year is going to be tough — and flexible in others. As a trade-off for that last-season push, many people take time off in the first week of January. It’s a unique model that counters a traditional summer-Friday approach that other agencies favor, but Weeks says such programs are sensitive to both the workers’ needs and the reality of the advertising industry as a whole.

“It is very fast-paced,” she says. “Sellers are working hard. We now have global campaigns. If you’ve got people pinging you but recognizing you can't sustain that, when do you take a breath? That may look different for various people and that's totally fine.”

Reaching that point, Weeks says, is also about staging proactive conversations between managers and their reports — and making sure both parties understand that mental health looks different for everyone. Some people may need to use a mental health day to manage their stress, while others might prioritize treatment for a particular condition. Both options are valid, and each is as important as the other.

“If I see someone struggling, I can say, ‘What do you need so you can focus on you at this time?’” Weeks notes, “I know when I've been distracted by something going on in my personal life and I needed time to step away.”

More and more people are opening up about their mental health at work, but there’s still a long way to go — a study from 2022 found that 49% of people are still afraid to speak up for fear of repercussions. Yet while Weeks sees progress in the HR field, she is still prioritizing an individualized approach to support, both at Obviously and in the advertising industry overall.

“We need to be taking care of our humans, not just their bodies, but their minds and their souls. But I think there is not necessarily an awareness of the different ways that can look. And the more managers, teams, and leaders hold space for those variations, the better supported their employees will be.”