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.