20 Nov 2014

Working hours...

I’m increasingly being asked by candidates to find them a role within an organisation where long hours are not the norm.  It’s a tricky one.  Approximately 80% of my placements are made within marketing, advertising or digital agencies....and long hours tend to be part of the culture.  Not in all agencies, but historically, that has certainly been the case.  In the majority of clientside businesses, people do pack up their bags at 5pm and they are out of the door. With an increasing desire for the work life balance, agency candidates are increasingly seeking clientside positions – even if it means compromising their enjoyment of the overall job.

I’m no particular fan of long hours.  In my last agency role, my Timesheets regularly exceeded 85 hours – I sustained this for 5 years before packing it in and going in-house.  But for the majority of those 5 years, I loved the buzz, I was actually productive (this wasn’t about presenteeism) and I actually thought it was the norm.  In my twenties, I felt it was my time to shine and to develop skills – and that meant putting the job first, and my clients, all the time.  Outside of the office, I mostly drank wine or slept.  In my thirties, it changed, I got married, I wanted to spend time with my husband, I started doing Triathlons, I took up learning French and joined a choir.  Work didn’t define me (as it had earlier in my career), work continues to be something I do to enable me to enjoy other parts of life.  I’ve got the balance I want, but then I work for myself!  And I am often at my desk at 0600.

So, anyway, less about me.  Agencies do generally expect employees to put the hours in. As in any industry where you are managing client relationships and projects.  Every agency contract will stipulate normal hours....but they’ll also have a clause that states ‘from time to time you may be expected to work additional hours....’.   Many agencies demand this from their junior staff in particular and competition being fierce for such positions, candidates do have to grin and bear it.  A candidate recently was rejected from a role because her first question was ‘what are the working hours?’  swiftly followed by ‘how long do I get for lunch’.  I understood the client’s position.  They take on 6 Account Executives a year and they provide proper training and development, great clients and marketing campaigns to work on and serious progression.  If a candidate questions hours so early into the interview, I’m not sure that it gives the right impression.  In your twenties, it is right that the career comes first, you’re in a work hard, play hard mould  - and if you’re not prepared to do that – someone else will be, and they’ll get the job.  The client later said to me that for the past 3 months, their team had been launching a major brand and that rarely did she get home before 9pm. It won’t be like that forever but they needed people on board who would roll up their sleeves and get on with it.
Most of the agencies I work with have relaxed slightly since back in the day.  Many now do offer a start of up to 0930 – particularly if you have worked late the night before.   Most agencies will pay for Pizza for the team so that they don’t get too grumpy and most will allow some form of time off or additional holiday/benefits if the hours are consistently excessive.

I’ve said in previous blogs that there is somewhere for everyone.  I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the agencies across our region and I know which ones have long hours and which don’t.  I know the agencies who will look at flexi-working or the odd day working from home.  The advantages of agency life are that no day is the same, you’re constantly challenged with new briefs, different brands – variety etc. The downside is that a client can ring you at 5.30 and demand that something is on their desk for 0900 the next day....There are pros and cons!

Most of my candidates in their thirties, step back a little.  They’ve generally proved themselves career wise and in the case of women, this is where they start a family and the hours of many agencies can make it challenging to say the least.  As most client services people are women (let’s say 75%), agencies have had to adapt a little.  Flexible hours to allow them to do drop off and pick up – followed by being on the mobile/laptop from home.  Generally at this level, the women are now Account Directors or senior enough to have a team, who are back at the office doing the do. 
There are not many agencies allowing people to work from home.  And whilst yes, lots can be done via email and Skype. Creative agencies do require team working, brainstorming, planning conversations etc and that’s not generally practicable from home.

My top tips:

If you’re a junior in client services or creative – long hours are to be expected. You’re developing your career and these hours will pay off.

If everyone else is putting the hours in (genuinely & not under presenteeism), you need to.  Be a Team Player. Morale will be dire if one of the team isn’t seen to be pulling their weight.

If you want some flexibility. As for it.  The worst that your boss can say, is no.  But they’d rather keep you happy than have to spend a fortune on replacing you.

If you really and truly only want to work 9 to 5. You probably need to go clientside.  You can be honest with your recruiter and tell them this but never ever ask what the hours are in a first interview – on either side of the fence.

If you really don’t want to work long hours. Don’t go into events management.  These guys work the most hours of any other candidates in the industry!  (But they generally love what they do)
Clients are more open to flexibility the longer you have worked for them.  Bear in mind that you do have to prove yourself first to earn the right to more flexible working (it does require trust on the part of the employer.

Be your own boss.  Working for yourself you can do as many hours or as few as you want.  But you won’t be guaranteed a salary at the end of each month!

If you really want to work in an Advertising agency with a short working week.  Learn French and go and work in a Paris agency....the French work less hours than anyone else in Europe, and they seem to manage OK.