Posts tagged ‘work life balance’
I’ve been reading a lot about work-life balance recently, including this piece in Campaign (paywall, sorry) by Gail Gallie of Fallon London advocating a better deal for working mums in the ad industry and this enormous essay in Atlantic Magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter (the former director of policy planning at the US State Department) about why women still can’t have it all.
Both these pieces talk about work-life balance as it affects working mums and family life. But I think the professional industries in general (and AdLand in particular) have created a working environment that is pretty incompatible with having any kind of a life, whether that involves children or not.
I don’t have children (long story), but as a freelance the thought of ever having to go back to a five-days-a-week agency job makes me feel physically sick. Now I’ve seen what’s on the other side of the fence, I don’t think I could cope with the insane hours, short notice disruption to non-working hours and the stress levels.
It’s not just me being soft. One agency friend has cancelled lunch or dinner with me four times since March due to work commitments. Such has their role completely taken over their life that I don’t think they’ll be staying there much longer, to the agency’s loss. I know of three friends (three!) that left the industry entirely because they were so stressed that their hair was falling out. Another high-flying account director downsized to an office based account management job they could do standing on their head as their current job was destroying their life.
Note that none of the people I mentioned above are mums. This industry is not just incompatible with family life, it is, in its current format, incompatible for most people with having a life. And if we just make the work environment easier for working mums, their child-less colleagues left still dealing with the client crisis at 8pm (been there! a lot!) will be even more likely to bail on the industry.
You could argue that ANY office-based, medium-powered, white-collar job is in fact incompatible with having a healthy, balanced life. But considering that our industry is supposed to have creativity, inspiration and connection at its heart, we’re currently pretty rubbish at making sure our people are both in a fit state to embrace this – and willing to stick with it.
Northern Planner posted today about work-life conflict. Can you be brilliant and awesome at something work-related while still having an actual life outside work? As he reasons in his post, ‘you can’t do interesting work if you don’t do interesting things’ (which to me is the whole point of the Interesting Un-Conferences).
A high profile in the marketing world seems to require working in the right city, drinking with the right people, speaking at the right conferences, changing jobs every couple of years and being active online – and that’s time consuming. Even a high profile within your own company might require you to drop everything and relocate to Nowheresville for two months, or to work all weekend prepping for a big meeting.
Some people chose not to play that game and to just get on with doing the best job they can in the chunk of 9to5 time they have allocated to it. They might not climb the corporate ladder quite as fast but their reward is time to do other stuff. I suppose it’s a question of motives. If you’re working all the hours because, say, you want to get a promotion that will provide better for your family, then I can understand prioritising work first. Or if you have such a fab job that work feels like playtime anyway, then go for it.
But for everyone else, I wonder what the end prize for all this workaholism is? If you ARE playing the star pupil game at work (i.e. high profile, stupid hours, stress-central) without knowing what the end prize actually is, perhaps its time for a rethink?
Since I got into this whole working-for-myself lark, the line between work and leisure has got rather blurred.
I now have the flexibility to, say, take Friday off to go and watch a horse show, then catch up with my invoicing on Saturday evening. The thing that worries me is that when I send out work emails late in the evening or over the weekend, I frequently get a reply straight back. The Blackberry (AKA Crackberry) has a lot to answer for. It’s starting to feel like I should only send emails during office hours to avoid interrupting Blackberry (or iphone) owners during their downtime.
Thanks to smart phones, wifi and 3G, its quite hard for agency staff to ever really be off duty. Unless you go on holiday to a mobile blackspot (I can recommend Runswick Bay), you are always On Call. It’s not just Planning or Account Handling either – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Creatives say that they’ll work on something over the weekend.
I was talking to a friend who is a vet recently and she was telling me how she could never really relax when she’s On Call overnight or at the weekend as she’s always on edge waiting for the phone to ring with a challenging emergency call out. The same must apply to an extent to agency types. If you’re constantly checking your email or never let your work mobile leave your side, surely you can never truly relax and rejuvenate, ready to face the challenges of the days ahead.
I really think we need to look at how the industry is increasingly demanding its employees to be ‘always on’. Especially as the online world demands marketing input outside the normal 9-5, there is going to have to be some kind of acknowledgement that the human brain needs a break occasionally.
Perhaps we should take a lead from my friend the vet’s employers and instigate a shift On Call system to make sure that those who aren’t on call can literally (as well as metaphorically) switch off.
I just read a great post from Drew McLellan on the blurring of boundaries between our home and work lives. Its not exactly a hot new trend, but an incredibly important one.
To my mind, its not just that our personal lives are being invaded by work – in return our working lives are having to budge up and accommodate more of our personal lives.
Employers are obviously adapting to this – whether its actively encouraging visits from the Sewing Lady or Cheesecake Bob to the office, taking time out to book your holiday online or a long lunch to see your child’s nativity play.
And when we do finally get some work done, hopefully it benefits from this input from the Rest Of Our Lives.
I think a lot of the positive outcomes of this blurring come back to interestingness. By mixing up our personal and professional lives we bring depth and colour to relationships and situations. Bottom line – people want to work with interesting people, not corporate drones.