Finding the balance between work and life in a creative industry

Columnists | Employment & Skills | Technology
Greg Le Tocq

Greg Le Tocq is the co-founder of Cloud Savings Company – which owns Vouchercloud. Groupon bought the business for $65m.

Today’s business climate has seen the fetishisation of burnout strategies… the ‘hustle culture’. An admirable goal when used in the short term, but when it comes at the expense of a real balance between work and life, it’s often done in an unsustainable way.

With burnout now recognised as a chronic condition by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s more important than ever that we, as business leaders, identify and properly manage employees who are flirting with the edge of overworking.

Overworking and underperforming
News recently emerged that Jack Ma had endorsed the 996 working week. Succinctly described by the New York Times as China’s version of the aforementioned Hustle Culture, 996 is the practice of working from 9am to 9pm for six days of the week. At the very least, the claim has begun a new conversation into how we can actually work most effectively.

When you factor a 12 hour working day into a mix which includes commute times, sleep and other essentials, staff are left with a fraction of the day to actually be a human being.

At its core, vouchercloud is a creative industry – we design, create and publish campaigns to help promote the deals we run. For staff in a creative industry like ours, that recuperation – that exposure to environments outside of work – is the key factor that allows them to actually be creative. It’s an exposure to new ideas – new experiences – that employees simply wouldn’t get if they were chained to a desk all day.

The balance element of the work/life balance is as vital to a creative business like ours as it is to the people who want to work within the sector itself.

Four-day work weeks – sustainable in a creative industry?
It’s clear that what workers value in today’s world is not what their forebears valued. While a decade ago the 996 culture was celebrated (and even encouraged) the professional zeitgeist has moved on to a more progressive place.

A recent report into the UK’s Digital and Creative Sector noted that a better work-life balance “has become increasingly desirable for all, with flexible working the most sought after benefit.” They confirmed this benefit was, in fact, more highly sought after than a bonus.

In saying that, we come to the other side of the road: the four day work week. Many heartily assert that they are able to do the work of five days in just four. This is an admirable claim – after all, who doesn’t value productivity increases? In theory, a four day week could reduce costs and increase staff happiness.

As with all things in life, it would seem the solution lies somewhere in the middle ground – a combined approach of meeting the needs of staff and the organisations we work with.

Balancing busy with productive
The risk of progressing with too many working hours results in a ‘busy culture’ and not a productive one. The risk of too few hours (regardless of additional productivity benefits that may result) means that customers and clients do not receive the regular support they need during their own day-to-day operations.

Unfortunately, shoppers do not limit their purchasing habits to four days of the week. Neither do the brands we work with. As business leaders, we need to prioritise the health and wellbeing of those we work with by introducing flexible working opportunities within the confines of our traditional business model.

The WHO report notes that burnout is a direct result of unmanaged chronic workplace stress. While there are a plethora of influences that exacerbate this stress, one of the biggest contributors is over-work – when work becomes so prevalent it takes over personal lives.

The solution to balancing work and life comes down to a change in perception. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that how staff spend their time outside of work can be just as valuable as the time they spend in it.

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