In this opinion piece, former 30 Under 30 winner and MediaCom Beyond Advertising content director Maddy Cunich (pictured below) shares five tips for cultivating a healthy workplace culture.
It shouldn’t have taken a trip to the US to realise I was pushing things a little too hard. The consensus at SXSW is that adland still breeds and celebrates a culture of work hard, play hard, burn hard. What people don’t talk about is the toll its taking on our most important asset: our people. We’re attracting people for only short stints and not long, sustainable and healthy careers and lifestyles. The time for talk is over. Gen Z are entering the workforce and research confirms they value company culture and flexibility over salary. The top reason they stay beyond three years is an empowering work culture.
How do we cultivate a healthy workplace culture without needing to invest in things like sleep pods and goat yoga classes? Inspired by thought leaders at SXSW as well as my time spent working in both creative and media agencies, I’ve outlined five simple steps to help improve the wellbeing of yourself and fellow colleagues:
- Performance over persistence: structure tasks strategically throughout the day
The perception of a good worker for many of us is someone who hustles 24/7; however, we aren’t built like machines to work around the clock. There is evidence that the time of day a task is performed can explain 20 per cent variance in human performance.
As SXSW speaker and author Daniel Pink preached: “There is a hidden pattern of the day where most humans peak in the morning, trough in the afternoon, followed by a rebound later in the day. It’s a pattern that we are all familiar with, but the impact of these daily fluctuations is more extreme than we realise.”
A study found antithesis’ errors are four times times more likely to occur at 3pm than 9am.
The hidden pattern of the day profoundly effects our mood and performance. We need to be more intentional about when to schedule individual and team work:
Peak: generally, in the mornings you should be doing any ‘deep’ analytic work that requires a focused brain, things like client presentations and report writing.
Troughs: typically, between lunch time and early afternoon should be used for administrative work, including all of the more mundane stuff, timesheets, expenses, etc.
Recovery: in the late afternoon, the brain is quite lucid, and this is best for insight and creative work, including brainstorms and creative reviews.
- Create rituals that promote rhythm: schedule breaks the way you’d schedule meetings
Many of us in advertising are guilty of eating lunch at our desks, as we try and perform at 100 per cent. Biological rhythms suggest we perform best at 90 minutes of activity followed by 20 minutes of rest cycled throughout the day. When we ignore these rhythms, we fail to adhere to our regular need for a break and become less productive.
A break isn’t a pause; it’s a recharge. Daniel Pink in his book suggests we shouldn’t think of breaks as a deviation from work, but to think of them as part of work. He suggests making a break list; schedule breaks the way you’d schedule meetings or anything else important. Turn your breaks into walks, preferably without your phone and turn your meetings into walking meetings instead. You want to leave work feeling accomplished and not exhausted.
- Start prioritising friends equally with family and work commitments
Sixty per cent of Australians often feel lonely, according to a Lifeline study. Loneliness is deadlier than other major health risks including obesity; prolonged isolation can have the same effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Psychotherapist and relationship philosopher Esther Perel explains that this loneliness epidemic is due to the shift from society moving from living in communities of ‘tribes’ to isolated urban life. We are relying on our partner or technology to give what an entire community used to provide.
Often we prioritise family and work over friends, and to Esther’s point, we need a greater amount of connections to be fulfilled. It’s all about regularity and intent, like scheduling breaks and adding friends to the mix can be an enormous source of inspiration for our work.
Also, view the world through the eyes of a child. They don’t ask you to have a 360-degree review every few months; they’re just living and they do things ‘just because’. Remember to live your life outside of work.
Shawn Boyer has developed an app which helps organise providing get together with friends and suggestions for what to do. Check it out here.
- Outcomes override desk time: promote flexible hours and working remotely
Side-hustles are on the rise and are particularly popular with Gen Z – the desire for financial independence is common across all generations but the tools available have evolved. There is a time and place for working on projects outside your core responsibilities at work, but agencies that promote flexible working hours to accommodate side projects will be more appealing to Gen Z.
At 21 years young, Tiffany Zong is the founder of Zebra Intelligence. She advises that one of the biggest generational shifts for Gen Z is the desire for remote work. FOMO is as prevalent as ever for this generation; they don’t want to sacrifice life experiences and travel for building a career or vice versa. Ten years ago, we had to choose, but this is changing with the digital era and the globalisation of technology. Portable internet and apps like Slack or Google hangouts means we can work from anywhere.
- It’s on for young and old: age gaps offer opportunities for mutual mentorship
The structure of careers are evolving from the traditional ‘learn, earn and retire’ model. Chip Conley at 52 years old was hired by Airbnb; working at this first tech company and reporting into someone less than half his age. He adjusted his attitude and have more of a growth mindset; to mentor privately and intern publicly. He knew his boss and the company would be more successful if he wasn’t advertising himself as the old person telling people what to do.
Positive collaboration between diverse colleagues has a colossal impact on culture. In the same way traditional societies have thrived for thousands of years, we need to adapt an approach of mutual mentorship between older and younger generations. Elders with higher emotional intelligence and left/right brain synthesis can compliment working together alongside digital natives.
The industry needs to realise that wellness is a lifelong ideology and a journey that needs to be practiced daily. Inspired by her own personal journey of fragility and resilience, ex-advertising executive Fleur Marks has kick-started the WPP wellness ambassador program. Fleur has developed a program for 70 representatives across the group, partnering with industry coaches like Clarety to help create sustainable and healthy workplaces.
As part of the program, I’ve learnt that there are many executional practises you can explore including self-leadership and mindfulness, but it is all about finding what works for you. If there’s one thing to take away, it’s that before we can look after others and lead teams, it begins with oneself.
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