It’s the catchphrase we’ve all heard a million times before, and one we’ve probably thrown into conversation ourselves from time to time. But has anyone actually achieved the often-quoted and much-desired state of work-life balance?
Our industry has come under the spotlight in the past for the long hours clocked up by many agency employees. And it’s true that we work in an area of business that demands dedication and more than 38 hours a week.
So in that case, is it up to each individual to claim his or her own work-life balance?
Well, it’s not that simple. For starters, we have turned into a society that views someone sitting at their desk past 6pm as a hard worker. And I stress the word ‘sitting’. This is not specific to the media and advertising industry, but also evident in every office-based workplace in the land – there’s an awareness that anyone seen leaving work at 5pm is very much frowned upon and ‘noted’.
In some cases, this has forced people into feeling compelled to be still sitting at their desk past 6pm, whether they’ve got work or not, and irrespective of what time they arrived or their level of productivity during that day.
As a society, we need to let go of the misconception that everybody needs to work the same hours, or that different individuals are equally productive within the same time schedule. If you’re someone who wants to come into work early and get a two-hour headstart on the rest of the agency, then well done for structuring your day to suit your life. Similarly, if you’re someone who wants to start work later and therefore leave work later because you like to go to the gym in the morning, then go ahead and claim your share of work-life balance.
How we judge a fellow colleague shouldn’t be about what we think we ‘see’. We can’t all be privy to the work people completed before they arrived or after they left the office, or on weekends or while watching their kids play sport. What we are privy to is seeing the final output. What really counts is whether your colleague – and you – delivered everything on time, accurately and as requested.
While it is up to us an individuals to work out what our own work-life balance looks like, it is up to employers to foster a culture where different schedules are not frowned upon.
At MEC, we are lucky that our agency truly encourages a work-life balance – and it works because it comes from the top, from our CEO Peter Vogel. When I returned to work after having my child, I was given the option of returning part time. I decided to work full, time but chose to start early (at 7.30am) so I could pick up my daughter from daycare at 5pm. She has now just started ‘big school’ and Peter is once again supportive with picks up and drop offs, and the option of working from home one or two days a week if needed.
I’m not the only one who has benefitted from this top-down commitment to work-life balance. Other women have returned to work part time after becoming mothers, and one of our senior digital team members works adjusted hours four days a week to allow him to travel from his home in the Blue Mountains, and he works one day from home. We also have an employee without children who works four days a week so she can devote time to charity work and hobbies.
Whatever work-life balance looks like to you, attaining it will benefit your health and your family life, and it will make you a better, more loyal, more productive employee.
But it takes a collective effort to achieve it, and it all begins at the top.
Finance and commercial director