Work Work Work
Work / life balance has been doing the rounds again, though I suppose that’s as predictable a topic as the weather or how bad Brexit talks are going.
I love what I do, let’s get that out of the way. I always wanted to be a designer of one sort or another, ever since I was a kid who figured out what loving to draw all the time would mean as a job (sitcom style narrator; he never draws anymore).
So I actually do what I wanted to do, and it’s important to keep that in mind, as it’s presumably on the rare side.
But are people like that potentially vulnerable because of it? Is that what leads to the tired (very tired) trope of ‘working for exposure’ and all the variants of?
Or is it just a ‘millennial’ thing in general? I imagine that, outside of the leadership positions (and in some cases even those), creative agencies, tech companies and the like will be pretty much exclusively staffed by us folk who were lucky / unlucky enough to be born between the mid 80’s and the late 90’s. A generation that seems to be simultaneously renowned for being lazy, while being expected to work themselves into the ground to show their ‘passion’ for their chosen vocation.
Not overtime though, obviously.
So chances are, you’re half as well off as our predecessors born in the 70’s, and if you were born in the 90’s, probably even worse than that (sorry). As a rule, less likely to own a home, less money, and a crappy, barely worth noticing chance of a pension at the end of it all, assuming you get to retire, which Timberland certainly think’s is unlikely:
I’m inclined to think it isn’t a universal truth across an entire generation, I’ve certainly yet to see a job ad for a lawyer offering minimum wage, or the chance to pitch up in court for the exposure, yet we have design agencies offering exactly that (you’ve probably seen a rather infamous one floating around Twitter in the last couple weeks, if you’re based in Scotland and that way inclined) basically asking for a Junior, with the experience of a Senior, for the princely sum of £8 per hour. Eight! It’s not just design either, I’m sure we all know photographers, artists or performers who’ve been asked to give up their time for exposure.
What is it with anything creative attracting this kind of attitude?
If our own industry doesn’t value us, is it any wonder we get clients out there who also don’t value design beyond asking people to work for free, or for the chance that some money might appear later? And value isn’t just salary, it’s business models that need staff to stay late, that need them to work weekends to chase pitches on the promise of ‘rewards’ that mysteriously never come.
We had World Mental Health Day the other week, which I also wrote about, and predictably lots of businesses posted about it too, but it all rings a bit hollow when this culture still permeates the industry. It’s easy to tweet about how you’re totally supportive of your staff’s mental health, then go back to pressuring them to work far beyond their hours to keep the lights on. I totally agree that companies shouldn’t be families, or at least, not the dominant family in your life. Support your staff to be the best whatever they are when they aren’t at work, and you’ll probably find they also end up the best whatever they are while at work.
It’s ingrained from the start too. I do a lot of work with design students, and pretty much all of them expect to work for free, they expect to stay late, they expect to give up their weekends to show they are up for the job.
I’ve seen kids get the carrot of a full time job dangled at the end of internships, only for that to disappear, to be replaced with an ‘extension’ that never leads to anything secure, treating them as an easily dispensable, and very cheap labour force. And they think that’s just how things are, and pass that information on to the next batch coming up behind them.
Obviously, times are tough, but if the only way to keep the wolves from the door is to treat people like shit, then something has to give. Creative businesses, whether that be an agency or inhouse, aren’t any more than the sum total of the people who work there. An agency isn’t good or bad at anything, the people who work there are good, or otherwise, at whatever it is they do. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to treat them well for that.
That’s not to say that everyone is evil out there, there are plenty places who value their staff and pay them enough to have the sort of life that previous generations took for granted, avocado on toast and all, I’ve been fortunate to work for some of them, but since I switched to being freelance, which even having as an option is a huge boon our industry has, I’m definitely finding myself happier with my work / life balance. Whether that’s because now, asking me to work late or work weekends has a billable cost attached or not puts companies off from asking for things out of hours, I couldn’t say, but from my side, regardless, I feel healthier, I haven’t felt stressed at all, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if I returned to full time employee life in the future, for the moment at least, I’m rather happy with how things are going.
Obviously, as a contractor, it’s the other extreme, we’ve traded away all our rights for short term gain, but, as said, I find it eliminates some of the pressures being an employee brings. I guess the answer is to find some sort of equilibrium between the two.
And hey, if that doesn’t work out, you might be able to sell your blood to keep the old folks going instead. What an age we live in.