Let me just come out and say this.
Working late, putting in long unnecessary hours, businesses that expect this of their employees and people who think it makes them 'better' by doing so, is a myth within our industry which smells of horse shit.
This topic has reared it's head often throughout my career.
I hear it at industry gatherings where people brag about late nights and 'working into the wee hours of the morning to get the work right.'
I hear it at client schmooze events (yes, this is a thing) where clients talk about 'pushing' their agencies 'hard, so they can deliver the next morning.'
I hear it when I speak to young and emerging Designers who talk to me about their work, or a project, or even a simple task and go out of their way to make sure the they've told me that they've gone above and beyond what I had asked them to do, or what I expected, and that they put in 'extra hours' and 'worked late' to get the work right.
I hear it from many creative people who feel that more time means better work.
News Flash: It doesn't.
I hear it when someone says to me "if we had more time we could do a better job".
And I hear it from people who work in 'advertising' who tell me that they 'were working back each night last week on pitches.'
This unwritten thing that exists in our industry, of working late, putting in the hours and coming back the next day to do the same is a myth that really needs to be sent away to where all bad myths go to die.
I believe that we can have the best of both worlds.
There is no reason why we can't be both hard-working, creative and productive — healthy and effective — without having to consistently work into the late hours of each night for little, or any return.
In my own business, it is rare to see anyone in the office beyond 6:30pm. It isn't expected that anyone would need to be here beyond those hours and if they are:
- Someone has planned a project so badly that it needs to be replanned and you can bet that it will be before the next day is out.
- There's an emergency.
- They've made a royal mistake and are keen to fix it — and that mistake and its solution will be captured and documented so we don't have to deal with it again.
- They're going out with friends and aren't too keen on driving home.
In the 10 years I've co-owned Tank I can count on one hand the number of times I've worked past 7pm.
No one is expected to work late or put in anything extra hours beyond what we are being paid to do.
Yes there have been times where I've tapped away on my laptop late at night. But that's for my side hustle - not for clients.
My focus is to ensure that our business has healthy and creative people in it — people who are well rounded and multi-dimensional. What this means is that they have rich lives outside of work that can contribute to their life within work.
And to have these rich lives, they need time to be in it. Time to invest in it and time to leave work in a 9 - 5 box.
I understand that this will limit our ability to work with some clients because some clients expect us to work those hours. I also understand that it will limit our ability to generate a larger body of work — more time equals more work, not necessarily better work.
I understand this and I'm OK with this.
A friend recently began a very senior role in a multinational advertising firm. He came to it with a wealth of experience and was very well respected within the industry.
Let's call this friend of mine, Amanda. (Not my friend's real name)
Amanda came to an agreement in this new, very senior role which saw her managing and growing a number of creative teams across Australia, and in some cases internationally.
Her experience gave her the ability to relate to many people and get the best out of them. It also taught her perspective — a perspective that allowed her to acknowledge that time with her family was just as important as time at work.
Amanda consistently arrived for work at 8:45am and left for home at 5:45pm.
One day, as she jumped on her bike (Amanda is an avid rider) to go home someone said:
"Are you working part time hours this week Amanda?" Acknowledging that yes, she's leaving at 5:45pm today and that this hadn't gone unnoticed throughout the week.
Amanda smiled and rode off for home.
Amanda is classy like that.
On the way home she scheduled a meeting with this person's manager.
This person was one of many Creative Directors working for this agency — working in a department different to Amanda's.
Amanda was in a more senior role than this person and felt confident that she could have a one on one with her equal, the CD's manager.
The next morning, Amanda walked in to the manager's office, explained the situation and said:
"If I hear that talk around this office again, I'm out. Gone. I have no room for that bullshit in my career."
The manager's response?
"But Amanda, it's part of the culture."
Amanda handed in her resignation before the end of the day.
Amanda is happy.
The Late-Night Designer
The Late-Night Designer thinks that working late will make them better, more senior — that it will bring them closer to a raise, a promotion or a new job title.
Sometimes it's on work that I've briefed. Sometimes it's when they're telling me about their folios — the body of work throughout the career. Other times it's when I ask them how their night was.
The Late-Night Designer feels that late nights are a badge of honour — that late nights makes the work better because they've stared it long enough and flicked through all the permutations and options.
The Late-Night Designer has a partner (and possibly children) at home. Waiting.
The Late-Night Designer thinks that the later the night, the more often it occurs the closer they'll be to something they can't really put into words.
That pot of Designer Gold at the end of the rainbow.
Where all the Unicorns live.
We all work late from time to time.
When we're in the zone, passionate about a piece of work or driven to complete something, we'll put in extra hours and work into the night.
This is a choice and it's at the mercy of everything else we could be doing during those hours.
It's not demanded of us and it isn't expected of us. It's simply a choice to deliver work or finish a product.
Some people unfortunately work in jobs where it is expected of them, or where work is so badly planned that they are left without a choice but to work late.
But what of their personal lives? What of their health? What of their personal relationships and personal wellbeing? What of their ability to come to work the next day refreshed, ready to offer 100%?
I'm typing this article late at night because I choose to, not because an employer or client expects this of me. Or because I want you to think that I work hard on the articles I write for you.
No. It's my choice to do so. My children are asleep, I'm going to Crossfit in the morning and I've watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones — I'm comfortable that it's the right thing to do.
It matters little whether the work we do is done late at night, or in the wee hours of the morning.
What matters is that we are balanced individuals leading balanced and healthy lives — that we aren't defined by our jobs, roles or the expectations those put upon us.
That we can leave work and come back to consistently offer value to those people that matter to us and our businesses.
And consistently offer value and presence to those people at home.
And to do that is a choice.