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YouTube exec addresses burnout epidemic: ‘We should be the thought leaders in the space’

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Trying to find a solution to YouTube’s biggest problem

YouTube creators are constantly addressing the issues they face on the platform, but two stand out above the rest: demonetization and burnout.

The two concerns are somewhat intertwined, but in recent weeks, attention from mainstream media outlets like The Guardian has the entire community talking about mental health on YouTube. High-profile creators are known for taking large, extended breaks as they deal with their burnout, while others have posted heartbreaking videos detailing their mental health struggles. The experience is often worsened, they say, by feeling that they need to upload videos every single day.

It’s a subject that YouTube’s executive team takes seriously, according to Ryan Wyatt, who oversees gaming content — and one they’re trying to be more transparent over.

“I just think we should be the thought leaders in the space given our size and scale,” Wyatt told Polygon. “I think we owe it to our creators. This is something my team particularly talks about often because we manage the top creators as a business. We spend a lot of time having these conversations, and we take it very, very seriously.”

There are a number of factors that help explain why certain creators experience burnout, and they’re on Wyatt’s radar. He’s aware that subscribers and fans are used to a certain level of output, making it harder for creators to step away; he’s aware that copyright claims and infringement cases lead to stresses for creators over demonetization; he’s aware that creating a video often involves hours of editing piled on top of hours filming. YouTuber Emma Chamberlain even incorporates her intense work schedules into her videos, openly talking about pulling all-nighters multiple times a week at 17 years-old to finish a video.

YouTube employees are trying to talk to creators more about their mental health, and figuring out what tools they could use that might help alleviate work stresses, according to Wyatt.

“There is a lot that a creator is going to have to focus on and what they need to do as far as delegating,” Wyatt said. “If they get bigger, can they have editors help support them and as they scale, look at themselves as more of a business than an individual contributor?”

Wyatt knows that the livestreaming element of gaming can also be huge burden on YouTube talent. “We’re hoping that we can give some kind of like a balance between VOD and live, helping them highlight content out of their live streams so they’re not duplicating the work that they have to do.”

Wyatt didn’t outline any specific tools that YouTube is working on, but pointed to YouTube’s recent community tab as an example of trying to help creators keep in touch with fans without having to upload daily or every other day. That’s another educational tool that YouTube is trying to figure out — how to help educate viewers about creator mental health and taking necessary breaks. Educational videos, like the one below featuring gaming creator Jacksepticeye, who took time off because of burnout, also help to keep the conversation going between viewers and creators.

Ethan and Hila Klein at H3H3 Productions recently faced backlash from their community for taking months away from YouTube, and returning to promote a game they started working on last year. Ethan Klein spoke about the controversy in a new video, acknowledging viewers’ concerns, but talking openly about his own struggles with depression and burnout.

Helping fans understand that a consistent workload, with creators like Elle Mills working 70 or 80 hour weeks, isn’t healthy is part of the solution. It’s a lesson in remembering to empathize.

“Some of these creators have been doing it for a decade,” Wyatt said. “ElRubius [who announced earlier this year he was taking a break from YouTube because of burnout], for example, has been uploading for eight, nine years. They’re uploading constantly and it’s tough. You look at someone that’s making money off gaming, and all you see is the glamor of that; you don’t see the amount of work that they have to put in on the back end. It’s understated how much that they have to play video games or have to entertain people, then spend time editing their videos. Some of them have editors, but a lot of them don’t.”

There is no concrete answer for how YouTube executives and employees can tackle burnout. They can offer more transparency around monetization and copyright rules, which Wyatt said they’re always aiming to do, but it’s going to take a lot of experimenting and communication. Tools like the community tab, which offer creators a chance to hang out and talk to fans without needing to work on a video is just one step.

“It’s not the complete solution, but we are going to continue to move in the right direction.”