No Slack on weekends: Agencies look for ways to tackle employee burnout

Adam Cahill, the founder and CEO of agency Anagram, has had a simple philosophy since he founded his business three years ago: Let people work the way they want to. The company is inspired by a Swedish model of six-hour workdays and has unlimited vacation. But Cahill wanted to do more, and recently, inspired by the rash of news around long hours and the effect they have on mental health, instituted an after-hours communication ban across the company. It’s simple: No email, no Slack during evenings and on weekends. (Barring emergencies, of course.)

“This idea that everyone has to be on all the time and can’t leave is counterproductive. People feel pressured to be at work. That’s silly to me,” said Cahill. “We wanted to do something specific and simple. And so we just made it a rule.”

Cahill, a 20-year advertising veteran, said he himself has felt less pressure since enacting the rule. And he’s not alone. Agencies are figuring out new ways to avoid mental health and burnout problems inside their companies, from communication bans to dedicated peer teams.

“I don’t think that agency expectations around work volume have changed in the last 20 years. Because it’s a business of deadlines, with big meetings, campaigns, and pitches happening over and over, there was always the sense that you had to put in late nights,” said Cahill. “The real difference is the smartphone, and the fact that even in the valleys between those peaks, people are still connected. When your mind never gets to quiet down and disconnect I think there’s a cumulative effect that makes it much more likely to burn out.”