Longer working hours vs. productivity


We have flexible working hours at VUCX. The core working hours set out in the employment contract run from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM. But the starting times that project and account managers — and I — tolerate can vary, and offer a bit more wiggle room. “We have single mothers and family men on our team. It’s simply unavoidable that you end up with some variation, which has never presented a problem before,” says Key Account Manager Henrik Ehrhardt.

We also place a high level of value on a good work-life balance, and on the compatibility of job and free time.

Overtime is the exception at our company and, when it does happen, is compensated promptly with additional time off or wage adjustments. The long working hours common in the media industry and in advertising agencies are extremely rare in our workplace. I personally believe that an employee’s normal working hours should be sufficient for completing projects in a reasonable manner. Overloading employees doesn’t benefit your projects, and it certainly doesn’t benefit our most valuable resource — our workers and their health.

I assume that agencies frequently place profit before the health of their workers, or that they simply don’t want to think about the issue out of habit. I have even watched large, billion-euro companies squeeze their profit margins until it hurts. This might seem necessary from the controller, purchaser, or stakeholder’s point of view. It might even seem that way to everyone for whom mushrooming marketing activities without proof able KPI’s and an industry that celebrates itself for its own coolness have long been a thorn in their side. But ever since performance became quantifiable, especially in digital playing fields, marketeers have been facing stiff headwinds from controlling. Some companies, once celebrated for their marketing excellence and award-winning creativity, have had to push through complex internal change management processes to keep up with the mavens of efficiency. The result of this intense focus on numbers is that the quality of work produced suffers. This is where the process comes full circle. To combat a dip in “quality,” many agencies seem to be buying into the idea of longer working hours. In my view, this isn’t a very smart approach. It only creates unnecessary stress — in my experience, one of the greatest adversaries of creativity. I certainly doubt whether this approach is achieving its intended goal, and I’m also sure it’s unhealthy to work in this manner.

Some well-known stress factors include

  • facing a large number of different tasks at the same time with limited personal resources, perhaps continuously,
  • bottlenecks in the management decision-making process,
  • technical problems,

and many other issues. As an agency that provides full service or works in an integrated manner like we do — whether digitally or classically — the challenge of remaining competitive in an ever more quickly changing market forces us to remain highly agile. Customers don’t have time to deal with a whole host of providers or commission a range of individual services. What they demand from our agency is a hybrid of strategy and implementation, directed at a variety of touchpoints with customers. This only works as a collaboration.

Of course, one might be justified in philosophizing over whether the quality and/or the efficiency of an employee’s work could also be responsible for extended working hours, or at least make a significant contribution to them. It’s true that I see employees being distracted by social media, Facebook, Youtube, blogs, etc. often enough. This is why we’ve specifically included a clause in our employment contracts at VUCX that states the following: Social media can be used for private purposes during breaks. This means, conversely, that it can’t be used during work hours for private purposes. Of course, working in a creative field does mean dealing with the most important trends and content on precisely these channels and social media outlets — especially because social media marketing is one of the services we offer. Where do we draw the line? You can certainly find plenty of workers who complete their jobs in a goal-oriented way and without distractions. But there are also employees who let themselves be distracted.

That’s why a sense of responsibility — and perhaps a bit of entrepreneurial spirit — play an important role in the concept of employer branding at our Cologne agency location, as well as in the globalization of our brand. At VUCX, we’ve summarized our philosophy with the following formula:

allow freedom + provide challenges + work collaboratively = engaged employees

When competing for talented workers, in the long term agencies and companies that integrate not only a good work-life balance, but also topics like diversity and sustainability into their everyday corporate culture will have a leg up. For example, our job advertisements specifically request women to apply so that we can increase the percentage of women working in our technically-oriented departments such as Web Programming or Motion Graphics and 3D.

As a child of Turkish immigrants, it’s very important to me that all of our employees feel appreciated and treat one another in a respectful manner — no matter their sex, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or world view, disability, age, sexual orientation, or identity. I see these identities as important pillars when it comes to corporate development as well. In the past few years, VUCX has reached a size at which it has become more important to posit our values to our employees — and even more important to live them out in our everyday corporate culture. This isn’t always a simple task to complete without additional personnel or longer working hours. From the standpoint of the employer, is it better to let important topics like innovation or the development of a corporate brand rest, or to drive them forward? Even at the expense of workers, whose jobs they are intended to secure? I’ve decided against longer working hours — and our company’s success so far has proven me right for doing so.


Originally published at blog.vucx.de on October 5, 2015.