The CEO of ad giant IPG’s Mediabrands explains why he’s giving employees a week off this summer

July 27, 2021 | Share this article

As pandemic burnout stretches into its second year, IPG Mediabrands, a network of eight ad-buying and market-research firms, is closing its US offices and giving employees a week off this summer.

The division employs more than 3,000 people in the US and 13,000 around the world.

CEO Daryl Lee said the idea for what he’s calling “appreciation week” August 30-September 3 first came up during a conversation about widespread burnout with Chief Culture Officer Hermon Ghermay in June.

Lee said while the company encouraged employees to use their unlimited paid time off throughout the pandemic, surveys found people worked 10% to 30% more and took 20 fewer annual vacation hours since March 2020. He said he was struck by the number of people who said they were living at work rather than working from home.

Lee said even those who tried to take time got frequent emails from other team members or worried about job security.

“So what if we shut the whole place down and they have to take off?” he asked.

“Rather than giving everyone extra paid time off to take individually, and risk having that time interrupted by client requests or team questions from those not on vacation, we are going to take time off as an entire community,” Lee wrote in a memo to Mediabrands staff on July 26.

Lee said leadership at the holding company IPG has been supportive, though Mediabrands is currently the only part of it that will close its offices over the summer.

Leadership’s primary concern was pushback from Mediabrands clients, which include Coca-Cola, T-Mobile, and Amazon. But Lee said he received none.

The company also had to consider the loss of revenue, since it bills these advertisers by the hour. But Lee said the extra work staff had put in over the past year-plus would more than make up for it.

A few employees on the financial side of the business will continue working, and Mediabrands expects the senior-most member of each account team to remain available in case of a client emergency, Lee said.

Mediabrands isn’t the first advertising company to take such an approach. Wieden + Kennedy shut its US offices the week of July 4, and all eight global locations will close for one week this summer.

A Wieden spokeswoman said the agency gave clients more than six months advance notice and got positive responses, since their own CMOs were experiencing burnout, too.

“I hope that everyone sees this and the whole industry takes this week off,” Lee said. “We keep saying we’re not going back to the way things were, but then we act as if we are.”

After Labor Day, Mediabrands plans to move to a model that’s gaining popularity where employees will be expected to work in the office at least two days a week.

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