From Over Here: Work Life Balance

May 18, 2017 Robin Whalen

The never-ending debate. Can you or can’t you have balance in this industry of ours?

From the perspective of a focus group of one (moi), I’d say ‘yes,’ ‘kinda’ and ‘sometimes but not really.’ Let me explain.

Like any in a service based business, we are beholden to the demands of our client. If a request comes through at the end of day and the due date is the next morning, most agencies just choose to work. And if a client doesn’t like the creative product and the deadline can’t move, we just stay late in order to keep the creative process churning.

Some agencies can set boundaries. Some agencies are exceptional with time management and can work to avoid some of the unnecessary last minute scrambles. But this ultimately comes down to culture and leadership. Do you or do you not subscribe to the notion of working against the clock at all costs? I know our answer.

With this in mind, let’s look at the new and improved, 2017 version, of the Leave It To Beaver notion of work-life balance.

Is it Work Life Balance or is it…..

Work life integration? Meaning “…the value you are gaining from each area to create counter-balance to create a fulfilling life.”.

It’s unrealistic today to think that an equal amount of hours is spent on either work or life and there are no blurring of the lines. Technology has allowed us to do anything from anywhere. BUT… if we can leverage technology to allow us to be in two places at once while enjoying quality of life, is that not the point? When work and life exist work in harmony, you’re winning.

Respect the hustle…

Maybe. Maybe not. There is quite a bit of literature on the “glorification of busy.” “Being busy is a disease of our time…The body physiologically needs to unplug, to relax. But we’ve become so accustomed to a state of sympathetic nervous system overload that we can’t get out.”

So when we talk about it, we repeat the cycle and we live to convince others that there is nothing we can do about it. In fact, we place value on those who are busy and judge those who aren’t. Busy is our new normal and the rat race is the end game.

One of my favourites in this industry is Gary Vaynerchuk. Love to hear him speak, love his perspectives. But even Vaynerchuk is praised for his endless energy. In fact, it’s part of his own brand. He touts it. Which does make me wonder about how he goes about work life integration at his own agency: Vayner Media.

Let me explain: at an event around the holiday season, Gary was quoted as saying: “While everybody’s drinking some goddamn eggnog, I continue the hustle.” He bragged about going home to get back on email. While this could be great for the bottom line, I'm not sure that it inspires a culture that believes in recharging.

You know the saying… sh*t rolls down-hill so if Gary is preaching it, you can believe his CD, Director of Production and VP of Client Service are all pushing harder. Personally, I think we stop celebrating the relentless pursuit for success at all costs. Who really wins?

While we are on the topic of agency leaders….

Hard to talk about this without referencing the latest agency leak. An internal note from Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA/Chiat/Day, glorifies working late and sacrificing one’s life for the pursuit of the best ad. I actually cringed when I read this.  A small snippet here:

I never bought into the whole “work-life-balance” thing.
Work is life. Life is work, in my book.
We are lucky enough to work in a creative business.
We are paid to dream for clients.
That takes a bit of time. Sometimes time on the weekend.

While I understand what he’s trying to get at, a message like this, delivered to your entire staff via email, basically underscores the directive that you skip that event you planned for in pursuit of the best advertising idea.

And to make matters worse, supporting this message with a notion that we are paid to dream for our clients does not mean that we sacrifice our own dreams, or our own fulfillment for the sake of profit (that isn’t even our own). Who would want to work at a company that espouses those values?

Personally, I think he could have shared the story of exceptional effort and amazing teamwork and left out the strong hint that you leave what you love at the door to push for the agency mothership.

The Success / Stress Paradox…

What is it? Quite simple. We want both balance and relentless success. We want to leave the office to experience life. Yet we still feel a growing pressure to work harder than ever to achieve great levels of success. We glorify busy  (in more places than one), but also want to be able to unplug.

We do this to ourselves. So again I ask… can you have balance?

Here’s my perspective:

I’ve missed a few of my kid’s birthdays. I’ve travelled over Halloween. I rarely attend school trips as the parent volunteer. BUT - I’m almost always home for dinner. I make time for family vacation and I return emails in the evening after kids are asleep. At the end of the day, my own children and family will say I was there. Maybe not all the time. Maybe not always balanced. But certainly for those times when it really matters.

So yes, work and life can exist in an imperfect yet 2017 version of modern day harmony.

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not always right. But in all seriousness, I've walked the walk in many different aspects and this is just how I see things from over here." 

With a dash of wit and a full serving of insight, Robin Whalen, president of The Tite Group, shares her insights on the things, topics, conversations and general goings-on that have earned her minutes. 

This is an inside look at how her thoughts power her actions. 

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