It occurred to me this week, as my six year old brought home a ‘Homework Plan’ that rivalled an account executive job description, that the ‘more equals more’ Australian work culture is injected into our lives from a preciously-young age.
Australia has long been noted as having some of the longest average working hours in the OECD. Report after report tells us that the Marketing and Communications industry is a leading offender when it comes to the proportion of its workforce clocking long hours in salaried positions, with no compensation paid in time or money.
Further compounding the issue is a disconnect between theory and practice.
A recent study found 1 in 4 Australian university graduates think their degree is worth nothing in the workplace. Academic achievements are measured in the ability to verbosely compile 3000 words on a subject, instead of distilling those 3000 words into a concise, engaging and comprehensive 100 word summary (or further still, 280 characters).
We teach kids how to colour inside the lines, do the homework, study for the tests, pass the assessments and get the grades. Yet, we expect them to walk out into the working world with the ability to think outside the square, trouble-shoot, problem-solve, adapt; to identify and capitalise on opportunities while drawing on resilience to navigate challenges and hurdles.
No wonder there’s a gap. The system is flawed; it values outputs over outcomes, length over impact, and content over context.
However, I’m optimistic that true change to the world of work is in our (hopefully near) future.
Pre-GFC, the ‘people first’ movement was gaining momentum; flexible working, EVP, cultural fit, learning and development, bespoke career plans, then….CRASH! The bottom fell out, the ‘nice to have’ went out the window and we all started doing more for less, to hold onto what was left.
This was amplified by access to technology and connectivity 24/7, without a precedent to guide us through how to manage this new-found ‘freedom’ to be always-on.
Fast forward a decade and we’ve predominantly worked our way through and around many of those challenges, but the big one still remains; why do we think hours at a computer, or in a meeting room, equals the value of a worker?
Research shows us again and again that consistent overworking leads to lower productivity, lower engagement, bloody awful retention and burnout. It also breeds toxic cultures that self-perpetuate a martyr syndrome for those strapped to their desks the longest.
The reality of working in our industry, particularly in an agency environment, is that everything we do doesn’t always fit in the old-school ‘9 to 5’ model.
However, pulling 70+ hour weeks month-in-month-out isn’t really working for anyone either. Add the historical issue of exploiting unpaid interns to get through the workload and we are looking at an untenable and unethical situation.
And it’s creating a false economy.
If your P&L is showing healthy margins and double digit growth in profits, but your staff are overworked and over-servicing (in what should be their leisure time), you aren’t sitting on a gold mine; you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb.
To drive real growth and innovation in our businesses, for our clients, our industry, and the Australian economy; we need to find a new way. We have to remodel.
It isn’t necessarily about legislating a shorter working week or total hours like our mates in Sweden or France (even though every Aussie loves an extra-long weekend). It’s about true flexibility, in our minds and our workplaces, tailored to our unique workforces. We need to create systems that are adaptable to change, and continually trial and seek-out new or better ways.
The IMPACT Agency champions a people-first culture. From starting the PR industry’s first ever on-site crèche for employees’ children 12 years ago, to telecommuting staff, flexible work hours, time-in-lieu, chill days, part-time senior leaders, personal career development plans, annual training allowances, and even promoting employees while on maternity leave (and of course our two fluffy office dogs!).
Most importantly: We don’t create a culture of overwork as an expectation. Overtime is the exception, not the rule. We build our agency based on capacity, capability and opportunity. We collectively work to achieve success for our clients, our business and each individual consultant.
So, why don’t we start a #nohomework movement for our industry? For better productivity, better profitability, sanity and for a damn better quality of life!