Make it Thrive Podcast: Are Fast Pace Company Cultures Causing Burnout?

Are Fast Pace Company Cultures Causing Burnout?

This post is a write-up of my podcast, Make It Thrive. You can listen to this podcast in its full glory here, or on Spotify or Google Podcasts.

This week I’m talking to Dean Lynn, the Founder of Trusted Media, a digital agency based in Peterborough.

Hi, Dean and welcome to ‘Make it Thrive.’  Give us an introduction to yourself and your experience with company culture.

Introducing myself, I’ve probably been in the industry for around 15 years now, in marketing and business development – a mix of working in house for businesses and then all the way up to different agencies and then actually my own company.

Experiences of company culture, well, that’s an interesting one.  Early years, I would say, when I was a lot younger, that’s when I started in house and actually working in small teams, I suppose it was a bit weird at the start, if I’m honest, for my working career because I was contracted as a designer for a particular company and I suppose there wasn’t really much of a culture other than get in, do your tasks, go home. There wasn’t really much of an engagement with them in any personal level, there wasn’t really much discussions of how are you getting on and discussing particular things about the job or myself or my goals or what I wanted to achieve in life.  It literally was a hard transaction of do your job, go home, get paid. That’s literally it. There was no other engagement.

But I suppose as the years go on, another in house role that I worked in as a Marketing Manager, was particularly interesting.  It was a larger company than before. The culture was, my nickname was ‘Louis Theroux,’ because apparently I look like him, and that’s my first engagement as I walked in for my interview – ‘We’re going to call you Louis,’ which was interesting.  

I suppose if I didn’t have a strong character, that would be quite intimidating.  I didn’t particularly mind that myself, but looking at it back now I think “Yeah, actually that’s not a good thing to do.”  

The culture of that was, I think, again, very old hat.  It was tiers of management, lots of different chiefs in the room, sort of thing.  There wasn’t really much do’ers. I suppose back then I was definitely classed as a ‘do’er,’ so it would come across that they were quite aggressive, constantly always coming in saying, “Oh, Louis, do this, Louis, do that.”  It wasn’t anything engaged. They didn’t really check in with me – except for one individually actually. He was a Sales Director and he could see the talent – whenever I came up with ideas for these particular problems that we kept on facing with the website, and especially our targeting of our marketing – he was really interested to sit there and have a conversation to discuss the problems in a more collaborative mind set.  

But that job didn’t last long because unfortunately I just got – not itchy feet, but because I didn’t really again get my ideas listened to – I’m not saying that every idea that I came up with was amazing and would have saved the company and all that sort of stuff – but just didn’t feel like I was heard, which I suppose to anybody could be quite difficult in those situations.  Especially in such a key role to growing the business – it just didn’t feel like I was heard at all. Again, back to the do’er, just do as you’re told, come in and go home. Don’t really have an opinion.  

Coming on to agency life which is where it gets really interesting because I suppose they dangle the carrot of company culture of “Hey, we have a pool table and a couple of bean bags and we have a PlayStation and stuff like that.”  I was like, “It’s a start, don’t get me wrong.” It seemed like an amazing thing, because I hadn’t worked in a company that had those things, so actually it was cool. It was different. But again, I suppose still full of ego massively.  I think a lot of agencies suffer with this. The leadership is very ego driven. I won’t name the agency that I was at, but it was particularly… I felt like the particular person running the company was very blind sided in the sense that he didn’t have the right management team around him to support him.  I could tell that he was burning out from an experience of like not sure what was going on with teams all the time, would come in a bit heavy handed into meetings and a bit aggressive.  

There was a particular instance where when I got into management there myself, I was managing a team of a considerable number of people and when I pushed the idea that we need to do monthly check ins with one-to-ones with all the staff, it was like, “Oh, no, that’s not your job.  That’s HR and we don’t feel that that’s a good idea because you’re not trained in, I suppose, talking to people in that way.” I said, “All I’m doing is just checking in how they’re doing.” Those were my key things, “How are you doing?” Literally that one question would open up the floodgates sometimes, and that was important because they felt that management was, I suppose, approachable.  

I think that’s the key thing as well.  If your management isn’t approachable, then how can you connect with the company and its vision?

"Don't force engagement. Sit down with people and learn about them as individuals."

So today, Dean, we’re discussing how poor culture leads to burnout specifically.  I know I’ve certainly felt exhausted and overwhelmed from working in a poor company culture, but what’s your experience of reaching burnout? 

Oh gosh!  Okay, I’ll be a hundred and ten per cent honest.  There’s a couple of good examples actually because I think I’ve experienced it probably three times in the last 15 years, which is really bad actually.

I’ll talk about one agency that I worked for.  At the time it was quite a difficult time personally for my life.  I was going through a lot of change personally and the company itself – again this is where I was management.  Bear in mind I’d been working there for at least a year and a half. I was in management myself and the company wasn’t supportive at all of what I was going through.  I had to take a small amount of time off, like I say, for these personal reasons, and this sound really bad but I ended up getting a really, really reduced pay packet one month to the point where I was fuming.  I was angry, I was disappointed/ Bear in mind I only had two weeks’ off and it was quite a major experience I was going through. This has actually happened twice, but this particular one really angered me because I thought, “If this is how you treat your management, how does your management treat your staff?” 

The answer was, “Oh, well, you haven’t been working for two years’ so you don’t get this particular type of pay.”  My answer was “Well, I tell you what? I’ll write a short letter to you and I won’t be working for you.” And it blew up, it really blew up, because then it was the whole backtrack of “Oh, well no, you’re appreciated and let’s discuss a plan now to keep you on board.  You’re valued. Your staff love you. We really appreciate what you’re doing. The changes that you’ve put in are really good.” Do you know what I mean? It was the whole “Now I’m going to suffer because you’re leaving, so how do I keep you?” I hate that. I hate the fact that it gets to that.  It shouldn’t ever get to that with any individual in the team.   

Because you should do the regular check ins, then you’ll know how I’m feeling about particular things and you’ll know how important every penny over that period of time would have meant to me.  I think the big thing was it broke my trust to that person. I was like how can I work for someone I don’t trust? I think that’s the big thing. I suppose I was very – not stupid, but I suppose I was like, “I can’t work for you anymore.  I don’t care if I can’t find another job right now, but I’m not going to work for you anymore, so I’m going to hand my notice in.” I did pretty much the day after, hand my notice in and they were shocked. They were very, very shocked.

I think it was because, again I felt really low.  I felt burnout because I’d put so much heart and soul into actually building something that I really enjoyed  – being with other people, really enjoyed the stuff we were doing for our clients. I just really enjoyed the culture itself because I thought we were onto something.  But because my trust was broken with management, I was like, “Gosh.” That was key. I think that was it for me. It was trust that had got broken.

There was another example that’s quite similar.  Again, fast forward a few years. A similar experience again.  It was all related to pay, which is really interesting. Again, the management in the company, and again I went through another experience where money was really important for that period of time I had to take just off, and again, the pay packet comes in – no conversation about it.  It was the pay packet would come in and I’d go, ”Ah,” and then when I questioned it, I’m wrong to question it. I was like, ”What is wrong with this society? I’m not an abuser. I don’t get paid overtime. I put my heart and soul into something. I would go the extra mile when asked.  Do you know what I mean? You think, “All I’m asking for is sometimes a couple of hundred quid.” You think, “For a company this size, if they can’t just pay management – or anybody – this couple of hundred quid, then we’ve got a bigger problem than we think we have.”

To listen to the full podcast, visit Anchor FM, Spotify or Google Podcasts.


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About The Author

Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.