Almost 70 per cent of marketing and communications agency employees believe that their health is affected by their work, according to a survey conducted by The Drum.
We undertook the study this week following the news that a 24-year-old man working at a PR agency in China had died at his desk from a heart attack, reportedly due to “overwork”.
The research into working hours and pressures paints an unattractive picture of an industry where increasingly demanding deadlines from clients, long hours and miserly lunch breaks have become the norm.
Of the 250 respondents to our survey, 169 told us they believe work affects their health and almost 90 per cent (224 respondents) said pressure in work is increasing.
While programmes such as Mad Men romanticise an era of long lunches and lavish lifestyles, modern agency life bears little resemblance to the ad industry’s halcyon days.
Most respondents (44 per cent) snatch a mere 10 to 30 minutes for lunch and 23 per cent said their lunch break lasts 10 minutes or less. Just 31 per cent get anything close to a full hour for lunch on a daily basis.
For most people (64 per cent) a typical working day is 7 to 9 hours long, but an alarming 35 per cent of respondents said their average working day lasts more than 10 hours.
When asked to comment anonymously about their work life, respondents frequently referenced the rise of technology such as smartphones and the often difficult demands of clients as reasons for working above and beyond their contracted hours.
Here is a selection of the responses:
Ad agency employee, aged 25-40
“It's ridiculous. We're the most junior team but because our work is well received by clients they keep piling it on, while senior teams coast. Accounts we enjoy working on, we've been told to work on in our own time and pitches come after all paid work - so when we would sleep. Being junior we'd like some mentoring or training advice and told they'll provide it but when it comes to it, work takes priority and these things are postponed.”
Digital marketing agency employee, aged 25-40
“Always-on. I feel like I am my job. I remember my parents getting home from work at 6. I don't see my wife until 8-ish on a good night. We both have decent mid-level agency jobs. All we can manage on a night when we're both home is a quick dinner and collapse on the couch, where we fall asleep to whatever rubbish is on Netflix.”
Marketing agency employee, aged 45-50
“I have worked right through the night to complete work, freelance and employed, it's expected in the industry and no-one wants to turn work away. Although I currently don't work crazy long hours in the agency I'm at at the moment, I often have a lot of work to turn around quickly. As I've been doing the job nearly 20 years this does not bother me, I just get my head down and get on with it. Although my directors are pleased with my work, as a senior creative, I feel there's never enough hours in the day to give my job 100 per cent.”
Integrated agency employee, aged 50+
“I have been in the industry all my working life and so long hours are part of the job. When I was in creative/production we would work through the night at least once a week. Moving into Account Management was still the same with a minimum day of 7.00am to 7.00pm. Following a heart attack I have now reduced my hours. I am told to take it easy but still end up working 8.00am to 7.00pm on a daily basis with at least one day a week working till 10pm or the early hours.”
Marketing agency employee, aged 25-40
“I never worked such long hours client side. There I was always first in, last out but always within about a 9-10-hour day. In this first year in an agency I've learned that the culture praises those who put in the most ridiculous hours, even though it will do nothing to actually show gratitude. There's a real culture of being seen to stay late, whether work demands it or not.”
Digital agency employee aged 25-40
“My working day has grown arms and legs! In by 8am and frequently working until 10pm, working at least six hours each weekend also. Working in digital means I can't really switch off!”
Integrated agency employee aged 17-24
“Advancements in technology mean clients are far more demanding. They want/expect everything right away. We no longer have time to sit, plan and consider. Everything now is do, do, do. New tech mean there are no excuses for not just emailing over a PDF. Plus media schedules are now full of banners, pre-rolls, press, tablets etc.”
Integrated agency employee, aged 40-50
“The pressure comes from clients - they want everything faster and cheaper. So days are more manic and longer. But their briefs are more vague, they seem less qualified in real marketing practices (especially the digital clients) and have lower values. Their measures are wrong.”
Marketing agency employee, aged 40-50
“[Biggest effect on my average working day?] The inability to purchase a magic button which will answer the client conundrum of wanting work that is good, cheap and quick.”
Do these pressures sound familiar to you – or do you enjoy more of a work/life balance? Share your experiences in our comment section below.