One of the most common explanations for Amsterdam being such an appealing city to work in is that it offers a much better balance between work and life than, say, London or New York or other such creative hubs. But how true is this, and does it extend to the people at the very top?
To get a better idea we asked a selection of agency CEOs, presidents and partners what their lives entail. Here Hazelle Klønhammer, president/partner at Anomaly Amsterdam, shares her day with us.
What time do you get up?
I don't use an alarm. I’m just naturally wired to bounce out of bed at 6am. It drives my husband nuts. “Are you awake yet?” "What about now?” He is a very patient man.
What does your morning ritual involve?
My morning starts with a cup of tea on the balcony if it’s summer, or a cup of tea staring out the window if it’s winter. I like to take in the morning atmosphere and contemplate what’s in store for the day ahead. A long shower. Facetime with my family in Australia – between my parents and my five bothers there is always someone to have a good laugh with. Breakfast and a chat with my husband Ollie and then off to work.
How do you get to work?
I’m usually in at 8.30am, which means leaving my apartment at 8.25am!
One of the joys of living in Amsterdam is the village living and easy commute. In summer I bike to work, which takes 5 minutes, or I walk which takes 15 minutes. In winter or if it’s raining heavily I take the Canta. In case you don't have the pleasure of knowing what a Canta is, it’s a crazy Dutch mobile that goes 40km an hour. They were originally designed for invalids and are mainly used by elderly people, and by me, the cold Australian who hates to bike in the rain.
What does an 'average' day at the office look like?
We work in a 385 year old canal house so after opening the front door I literally walk around opening doors and turning on lights as I make my way to my desk.
I grab a cup of tea, and delve into my relentless string of emails or write a presentation while the office is still quiet.
I am very hands on and work directly with clients so I just hook straight into meetings and plough through everything to hit whatever deadlines we have for the day.
Lunch is usually a salad or sandwich at my desk. If I can get out for lunch I usually hit up a local dim sum joint, or there is a good sushi place around the corner.
Around 3pm I hit NY’s time zone (our head office is based there) so I’m often jamming on stuff with them.
We don't use headhunters so I also spend a lot of time interviewing potential new talent and personally responding to every job enquiry email.
I usually leave the office at 8pm.
When do you get home?
I leave the office at 8pm and get home at 8.05pm!
I used to have this strict policy with myself of never bringing work home. It helps separate my headspace and keeps home feeling like home. I still get most stuff done at work, but dealing with clients in different time zones means I’m often taking calls or checking emails from home in the evenings. It’s easier to do that at home, but where possible I still think it’s healthier to have that separation.
What time do you get to bed?
I go to bed at midnight or 1am. I am a firm believer that sleeping is a total waste of time.
As a teenager I spent a lot of time visiting people in cancer wards and I’ve also travelled extensively through third world countries – seeing people in some pretty fucked up situations. These experiences really stuck with me and have given me a complete zest for life. I don't want to miss a second of this precious gift, so I’ll just sleep when I’m dead.
Does work impinge on your evenings/weekends?
I am always happy to answer emails here and there over the weekend, but I try to minimise working on the weekends, unless it’s urgent. I'd rather sit in the office late during the week so that I have the weekends to do other stuff.
My weekends are spent traveling with my husband (the joy of living in Europe is that everything is so damn close!), going to gigs, dinner parties with friends, cruising on our boat or studying. I am fascinated with Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and am constantly trying to learn more about it so I do courses whenever I can.
My evenings are spent doing yoga or going for a walk along the Amstel river, seeing friends or enjoying my husband’s fabulous cooking.
Is there a culture of long hours in the industry?
It depends where you work. I spent most of my career at Wieden + Kenendy which at that time was frequently referred to as “Weekend and Kennedy”. In contrast, I also worked at a Dutch agency, which was much more of a 9 to 5 culture. Having experienced both ends of the work life balance spectrum, part of my ambition for opening Anomaly Amsterdam was to create a culture where we can make amazing work, but still have a life. It’s not always easy to achieve the right work life balance, but I am doing my best to create that type of culture.
By its nature, advertising tends to attract people who like to work hard and play hard. Whenever you put a bunch of highly motivated, talented people together their enthusiasm is infectious and they always go the extra mile and over deliver. I think it’s important that Managers don’t take this dedication for granted. Recently we all worked long hours on a pitch. The day after the presentation we closed the office as a way to thank everyone for their hard work. Or another day the sun was shining (which is a rare thing in Amsterdam) so we took off in the company boat for the afternoon. They are small gestures but they signal to people that we value them and that we don’t take it for granted when they gave up their personal time for us.
Can you get to the top working 'normal' or even reduced hours?
I think it depends on what industry you’re in.
I can’t see it working for the communications industry if you’re on the agency side of it, but maybe it could if it was well organised.
Our Nike and Converse clients close their office on Friday afternoons in summer but I think it’s easier to do that when you are on the client side. Having said that, maybe it’s something for me to experiment with… if this bloody Dutch summer ever comes this year! I like the idea of celebrating the summer and making the most of the sunshine. And it’s just a few hours.
What impact has mobile had on your working day?
I have way more freedom and I’m definitely more efficient.
I like that I can work from anywhere – gone are the days of waiting by the phone for a client approval – and that I can get stuff done in down times, like waiting for a flight.
The trick is to know when to turn it off. There’s nothing worse than trying to catch up with someone and spending the time watching them on the phone. Shocker.
How do you relax?
I am going to sound like a walking cliché, but I am a huge fan of bikram yoga. No matter what was swirling around in my head when I walk into the yoga studio, it’s gone by the time I walk out. And I often solve stuff without even thinking about it. It just comes to me on my bike ride home.
Alternatively, there is absolutely nothing that a bottle of merlot, or a big fat glass of Bailey’s won’t fix.
Do you feel you have a good work/life balance?
My father once told me the day you find a job you love is the day you stop working, and it’s so true. I’m the first to admit that I often work too hard, but I genuinely love what I do so I don't care if I need to work in the evenings or answer a few emails on the weekend, because it really doesn’t feel like work to me.
Work life balance is often viewed in terms of how much you work on a daily basis, but there are lots of different ways to achieve a work life balance.
Looking back on my life, as weird as it sounds, I’ve achieved my balance though extremes. I work like a maniac, and then I play like a maniac.
I work hard but I’ve taken lots of extended breaks from my career, including a year travelling through Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; nine months travelling around Australia; eighteen months studying Chinese medicine at University full time and a year of daily yoga, side trips through Europe, studying Dutch and renovating an apartment.
Whenever I was ready to work again I always landed back on my feet, so I don't think these breaks limited my career in anyway. If anything, they inspired me and taught me a lot about people and a lot about life, which is the kind of stuff that helps me be more open minded and a better manager.
What would make your work/life balance even better?
Convince Anomaly to open an office in Byron Bay – a cruisey little surf town in Australia. I’d job share and alternate every six months with the other MD so that I could live and work in Australia and Amsterdam, and never see winter again.
Seriously, all this talk about work life balance has got me thinking about closing the office down on Friday afternoons during summer. Watch this space!
Hazelle Klønhammer spent ten years at Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam on brands including Microsoft, Nike, Heineken, Carlsberg, Electronic Arts, Proctor & Gamble and the global launch of Vodafone. She won the first digital client for the Wieden + Kennedy network and was instrumental in setting up its digital offering. Before opening Anomaly Amsterdam, Klønhammer was managing director of Grey Amsterdam. During this time she restructured the agency, won new business and was part of significantly improving Grey's creative profile. She also worked at 180 Modernista, Campaign company/TBWA Amsterdam and Amirati Puris Lintas Sydney.
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