Ad agencies are prioritizing mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic

Each Powell employee also gets a $500 annual stipend for mental health and wellness that can be used on whatever they see fit and a $100 spa gift certificate. And the agency discourages working after hours and on weekends.

The agency had a 36% turnover rate in 2021, but after “reshaping and energizing” its culture, its retention rate is now at 95%, Hendricks said.

Fuck it

Wieden+Kennedy has always provided “robust mental health coverage” through its insurance and has offered mental health programs throughout the years, said Sandi Hildreth, the agency’s global director of human resources. During the pandemic, it added more.

The indie agency put a huge emphasis on financial wellness this year, something Hildreth said is a big factor in anxiety, stress and mental health. The agency rolled out a program to help pay off student debt for all its employees, paying $200 each month towards the principal of their loans. “If I get hit by a bus tomorrow—this is the one thing that I’m the most proud of. I almost get emotional talking about it,” Hildreth said.

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In addition, the agency, realizing that over the past couple of years burnout was really high, came up with “Fuck it” days. Via this program, employees can take a day, or even just a few hours, to themselves—and there is no limit to how many they can take. 

“It’s actually a code in our timesheet that you can take a ‘Fuck it’ day,” Hildreth said.

Last year, the agency also began closing its eight offices for a full week and it will be repeating it again this year. Another new addition: W+K has ensured one three-day weekend a month for each of its U.S. offices. Each employee also receives a $500 work-from-home stipend.

Personalizing health 

Doner recently partnered with Boon Health, a personalized coaching platform, to provide employees across all of its offices access to its services, including those focused on personal growth, professional development and overall mental well-being.

David DeMuth, president and CEO of the Stagwell Group agency, was reading a local Detroit magazine when he came across the information for Boon Health. He thought it sounded “really interesting” for the agency and felt “our employee base would respond to it.”

“This isn’t the end-all, be-all,” DeMuth said. “But I think it is certainly something that we can offer up that will attract talent, help develop it and help us retain it.”

Since the agency launched the program in February, more than one-third of Doner employees have created a profile on Boon, almost 200 sessions have been completed and 90% of those employees have already scheduled future sessions.

Read: How brands are supporting causes during Mental Health Month

Denver agency Cactus put a focus on mental health far before the pandemic, and over the years created a personalized experience for its employees. In 2012 it launched its “Man Therapy” campaign, which led to the creation of Grit Digital Health, a sibling company that launched in 2015.

Grit Digital Health and Cactus created the [email protected] platform in 2018, a wellness platform that personalizes tips and tools for both mental and physical health for college students. After it proved successful at more than 150 universities, the agency adapted it to [email protected] to offer the same platform to its employees. 

Through the platform, employees log in and access a list of priorities such as leadership, work-life balance, family, finances and body image. The platform offers many assessments that employees can take that will then bring them to personalized resource pages. It also provides self-check-ins and a goal sheet, all of which are anonymous.

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