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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Work/Life Balance in Advertising

About thirty years ago, a new term began popping up at advertising agencies. People would either quit the agency or leave the business altogether. The reason the remaining staff often used for the departure from the firm or the industry was “burnout.” Since then and across all areas of the business world the concept of work/life balance  has received increasing play. I talked to a number of agency people about the issue. Here are some comments:

--“The kids are constantly connected. So, someone who would have been obsessive about work decades ago is worse now. They need to turn off the smart phones once in a while.”

--“Don, face it. Anyone who makes it to the absolute top has a life that is almost always out of whack. Sports figures, politicians, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, you name it. You can be balanced and successful but to get to the very top of the heap you have to be obsessed. A few of these people are happy. Many are miserable. Some will die without friends and leave behind a trail of ex-spouses and distant and messed up children.” There is a lot of truth in this. When advertising becomes an all consuming passion, other areas of your life get shortchanged. I have met and know many wildly successful types who were laser focused on their careers or building their shop. They tend to be one dimensional and not a lot of fun.

--“I finally received my wake up call after a health scare a few years back. My second wife had just divorced me and I threw myself even more furiously than normal into the agency work. I suffered from sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor diet and while I said I thrived on it, high stress. My kids hate me and I can’t blame them. I am slowly putting my life back together and trying to establish a decent relationship with them. Sometimes I still have to work late or on weekends. It is nowhere near what it once was. Also, I never miss or am late for any event for my children.”

--“Trying for balance is really hard. People who are clerks in accounting may be able to always do 9 to 5. Anyone else who is doing it is not a player even at a small agency. There are times that you simply have to put in savage hours. You have to be careful to pull back to normalcy after a big siege. Some people cannot do it.”

-- “I tell the kids on my staff to take a Saturday or Sunday off from their e-mail. Some cannot do it. So, I am very careful about sending questions or suggestions out on e-mail on weekends. If I do, I get responses back quickly at bizarre hours. Ideas need to stew a bit in their own juices. People need to re-charge in all disciplines.”

--“Look, agency work is not investment banking. We do not work the hours they do but the compensation is much less. I watch the team carefully. If someone is wrapping their personal identity and the agency together, I make some take some time off. Some cannot do it.”

--“Some of the millennials scare me. They seem to think that work and family are mutually exclusive. They have no problem with lack of time with family and friends. A few have told they are forgoing children and one said he will go without a significant other as his career comes first. I love the business but some of these people are obsessed. Also, they cannot relate to the consumer with such a narrow life.”

The “forgoing children” comment really struck me. And, there is some research for it. The University of Pennsylvania did a longitudinal study called “The Wharton Work/Life Integration Project.” In 1992, 78% of their graduates expected to have children. By 2012, it had dropped to 42% with low double digits saying that they would NEVER have children. Status and money outweighed parenthood. I find it amazing and sad.


If you define yourself totally by your job, show up on weekends when there is not a genuine need, check in with the office a few times a day during vacations, you may be at the breaking point in terms of being out of balance. Your career is a marathon not a sprint to steal an old cliche. So, may I suggest you attack the work you love, but learn to back off now and then.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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