Poll reveals adland struggling with work-life balance

Poll reveals adland struggling with work-life balance
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A B&T poll has found that nearly half of respondents believe their agency does not care about work-life balance.

Almost 500 people in adland responded to the question, Does your agency do enough to encourage its staff to maintain a work-life balance?

Forty-one percent of respondents said their agency does not care about work-life balance, that its only concern is getting the work done no matter what the hours. This beat the next best response that their agency encourages balance, but the culture does not allow for it (30%), while only 22% of poll respondents said that their agency genuinely encourages staff to strike a balance. Seven percent said their agency is not the problem, but certain managers demand long hours.

“Unfortunately, it does not come as a surprise to hear many are struggling to achieve a work-life balance in today’s agencies,” said Margaret Zabel, CEO of the Communications Council.

Zabel believes that while the nature of the industry has always required flexibility outside of traditional working hours, this has increased in recent years as mounting pressures have been placed on agencies, such as reductions in client budgets and the rapid rise of digital media.

“The effects of these financial and professional strains are no doubt being felt throughout the agency chain.”

Anthony Gregorio, CEO of Havas Australia, agreed that the poll results were not surprising. “Agency land, like most industries these days, is a tough environment,” he said. “I think it's always a worry if people are saying they're over-worked. Long term it’s not sustainable and if not resolved it will hurt an agency,” he added.  

Peter Horgan, CEO at OMD, said pressure on agencies is acute and getting worse, as clients push for ever greater efficiencies, with the first casualty being sustainability of quality supply.

“This effect means that predatory new business policy is a norm for many agencies, unfortunately we are encouraging unsustainable pricing models within our own industry,” said Horgan.

"The results reflect the broader malaise that many agencies are participating in a race to the bottom. We’d encourage the disenfranchised and frustrated to seek employment with employers that has the correct emphasis on their most important asset – people,” he added.

Adam Ferrier, founder of Naked Communication, said he can't stand the concept of a work life-balance. “It implies that work is not an enjoyable part of life – and for many it is. It sets up a dichotomy that is more appropriate for people who don't like their job. I think the more employees can focus on making the 'work' enjoyable, and find people who enjoy the work, then the less of a mutually exclusive situation you have,” said Ferrier.

Happier staff equals better outcomes

Simon Ryan, managing director at Carat Australia, described the poll results as “appalling”. “I’m surprised how high that figure is, agencies have to be doing a lot more to promote a balance, because you will get happier staff, which means happier clients and better outcomes,” he said.  

Toby Hack, managing director at PHD, said he was “stunned” by the poll findings, and agreed that some agencies have forgotten that it’s the people that make it successful, while James Simmons, a partner at Match Media, described it as “disappointing” that the industry as a whole is not looking after its own.

When you’ve got an industry that’s driven to a certain aspect by the need to increase profitability then something is going to suffer, and sometimes it’s the people. There’s an industry wide look at how we can reduce churn rate, how to keep people more engaged,” said Simmons, adding that while some agencies are awarded employers of choice, others are nothing short of sweatshops.

According to the Media Federation of Australia, the staff churn rate has been reduced across media agencies from 40% to 30% in recent years, while across creative agencies it still hovers around the 35% mark.

Richard Herring, CEO of APN Outdoor, believes motivating and achieving optimal performance from a team of people is arguably the most difficult role of any manager.

“One of the difficulties is that work-life balance is an input that is a relatively intangible variable in assessing workplace efficiency. It also must be balanced with the outputs required by a business. There are many studies that support the improved nature of results from an engaged workforce – of which work-life balance is a factor,” said Herring.  

He also stated that it’s important for individuals to take responsibility for work-life balance, and not default to holding management totally accountable. “Work can be very time demanding at times, and self-awareness of managing your time is essential."

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