Why Account Handlers shoulder more responsibility than they need to

Welcome to the Client Service Couch

Our new column from the IPA Client Relationship Group, The Client Service Couch, will act as an advice line for those working in account handling and tackle the biggest issues impacting the discipline. Here, during Mental Health Awareness Week, we explore burnout and stress, what causes it, and how to manage it.

Please, come in. Hello, lovely to meet you. Please take a seat on the couch. Yes, like that, feet at that end.

Why the couch? Well, it’s been proven that people find it easier to talk openly when there’s no direct eye contact. It’s why it’s much more comfortable to share difficult things when you’re in a car. Did you know it was Freud who first used a Chaise-Longe in his work? Yes, it was quite daring at the time, it was generally frowned upon to recline in the presence of non-intimates. It worked though, and has become the norm. By reclining and not facing your therapist you should feel more comfortable and be able to share.

I want you to know this is a safe space and whatever we talk about here today is held in the strictest confidence and there is no judgement in this room. I want you to completely trust me.

Okay, shall we begin?

Let’s start with you telling me how you’re feeling…

You’re feeling burned out.

Yes, our industry is famous for working hard and playing hard, so it’s very easy to burn out. Our environment is highly pressured, and deadline based. And your role is the thin end of the wedge in many ways - you get it from all angles. In my experience, Client Service people tend to shoulder more responsibility than they need to because they’re inclined to be doers and naturally aren’t very good at delegating.

Do you think that sounds like something you recognise? Yes, I thought so. At least you can see it in yourself, that is a good start and something we can work with.

Let me ask, are you feeling stressed?

Yes, I see.

The thing about stress is we’re part of a work culture that thrives on it. We invite it on ourselves and wear it with pride, and for the most part that it okay. A certain amount of stress can be motivational and let’s face it, if you have a job that is so deadline focussed then in some way you must be wired to thrive on it.

The trick is to learn the difference between good stress and bad stress. It’s a fine line and very often we switch from one to another without realising it. You need to learn the warning signs for when you’re slipping from the good to the bad. Good stress can inspire and make you feel fired up for what you’ve got to do. Bad stress can be overwhelming and lead you to not knowing where to start. Your to-do list stops becoming an exciting challenge and instead becomes something that you can’t look at.

Can I ask how are you coping with the new normal?

I hate that term, but I’m not sure what else to call it. Where are you working? Mostly from home or in the office? Ah, 50/50. That seems pretty common nowadays. How is that working for you though? Yes, I know what you mean, it’s much harder when you’re working from home to draw a line between work and your own time. It’s so important that you do though. Make sure you take time away from the screen and don’t be tempted to pick up your laptop and just check your emails when you’re supposed to be relaxing with a film.

The other thing I’ve seen is that it’s a real challenge to wind back the over-delivering we all did during Covid. Our clients had an increased expectation of what we should be doing for them to help them through the challenging times, and Account Handling people bore the brunt of that. The difficult part has been to revert the level of service back to pre-Covid times. You know it’s okay to say no, right? You don’t have to answer your emails out of hours or work over a weekend. If a client emails you on Sunday, it is totally okay to wait to reply until Monday.

You’ve got to remember that working overtime or late into the night should be the exception, not the norm. If it becomes the norm, then it’s a staffing issue and you need to speak to your boss. Gone are the days when it was a competition to see who can get into the office first and leave last. You should get promoted on the work you do not the hours you put in.

Account Handling people have always had a propensity to be busy fools.

Try not to fall into that trap. Work smart, not long by being organised and prioritise. If you’re regularly working in the evenings and you’re confident that you’re using your work hours efficiently make sure you raise it with your line manager. It’s absolutely okay to speak up, in fact, more than that, it’s essential.

It's really important to remember that we are making advertising. We’re not surgeons, we’re not delivering blood or driving ambulances. If we miss a deadline no one is going to die. It’s easy for me to say, but you need to try and put things into perspective. It’s just advertising!

Right, I’m afraid that’s our hour up. That went really quickly. It’s been lovely meeting you and hopefully you’ve got something out of our session. Same time next month? Yes, of course, just book in with reception on your way out. Take care and see you soon.

The Client Service Couch is a new monthly column from the IPA Client Relationship Group. This question was answered by Jamie Mollart, Director at RKH and Group member. If there is a topic you would like us to address anonymously, please email Gabriella Young.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024