Working at EPAM Systems has opened my eyes to a lot of aspects of the workplace, one of them being the importance of a decent work/life balance, something that doesn’t usually exist for students and interns. Even as a junior person in advertising, long hours seem to be part of the deal. For a while, I believed that the only way to demonstrate your value was to be the first to arrive and the last to leave, but lately I’ve been questioning that concept.
To clarify, by work/life balance, I don’t mean leaving the office the second the clock hits five despite any unfinished work. I mean being able to expect that usually, you will leave before midnight. A lifestyle where you’re in the office 24/7 leads to faster burnout in jobs and prevents people from creating their best work. Aside from sleep deprivation, it’s hard to draw inspiration from your surroundings when you’re staring at the same walls for hours on end. Sometimes, you need to take a step back.
Most of the time, these extraordinarily long hours aren’t necessary, but part of this industry’s culture is the phenomenon of people bragging about how little sleep they get. It promotes the idea that if you are leaving on time or taking care of yourself, you are somehow lazy or less dedicated. A quote from the blog of former Saatchi & Saatchi and BBDO art director, Linds Redding, describes this. He says,
I find myself glazing over but politely listen as they [his former colleagues] brag about who’s had the least sleep and the most takeaway food. ‘I haven’t seen my wife since January, I can’t feel my legs any more and I think I have scurvy but another three weeks and we’ll be done. It’s got to be done by then… It’s a f****** TV commercial. Nobody gives a s***.
This isn’t to say that our work in advertising is not important, but the question remains whether it is more important than our health and sanity.
At EPAM, I’ve found the balance. I’m still the first to arrive and often the last to leave, but I rarely stay past seven. I work efficiently in the office and complete my assignments. My boss has even had my internship extended. Maybe this is different because I am working in-house rather than for an agency, but if my department can get its work done in an 8 or 9 hour day, why can’t everyone? Are we really doing that much less? Being that much more effective? Or could it be that advertising’s culture of grueling hours is unnecessary?