Is it time we rewrote the myth of the tortured artist?

Is it possible that our work practices are not only damaging our creative product, but also the mental health of the creatives?

There’s an ingrained cultural narrative that you have to suffer for your art. That creative genius is born of hardship and struggle. That it’s better to burn out than fade away.

It’s a narrative that has seemingly been embraced by the creative industry, with long hours, lost weekends, and unrealistic deadlines.

Isn’t it time we rewrote this myth?

There’s a wealth of evidence that happiness increases productivity. That feeling of security, not fear, improve creativity. That a healthy work/life balance feeds rather than dulls the creative mind.

According to a 2018 study, 61% of the Australian creative industry shows signs of depression and anxiety, almost twice the national average, with stress being a key contributor.

Is it possible that our work practices are not only damaging our creative product, but also the mental health of the creative class?

Clearly this is a big issue that we are all trying to counter. Studies like the one above, industry initiatives like Heart On My Sleeve or companies like Versa adopting a four day work week, and reaping the benefits, are all super important. As are broader organisations like Movember and the Black Dog Institute.

At 72andSunny Sydney, we have been thinking a lot about this and trying some different things, and felt that it was useful to share what we’ve been doing and what we’ve learned.

We split the week into team Days and Homies

We realised that working at home is more conducive for focused work and for people's sense of wellbeing. We started by letting people choose when they worked at home, but it was a bit chaotic so we fixed days.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday are “Team Days”, when we encourage everyone to come in. When we design sprints we plan the collaboration sessions on these days so we get the benefits of working face-to-face.

Tuesday and Thursday are “Homies”, when the team can choose where they work. Google Hangouts, Docs and team drives have been key to making remote working work.

We have a flexible work day with no fixed start or end time

This allows individual team members to structure their day around their life and rhythm. Some of us work best in the morning, some at night, some have kids to drop off or pick up. Everyone is accountable for getting their work done but when is up to them. Trust is key as is checking the tendency to feel guilty about not starting work until late or judging someone for leaving early.

We've banned unessential emails before 9, after 7, and at weekends

Not rocket science, but it’s a good habit to give people headspace. It’s easy to slip out of, I still keep forgetting. We keep each other honest. And the schedule send button on Gmail is handy.

We have unlimited holidays and encourage the team to take strategically

We stress the importance of regular time off and work with the team to make sure they’re recharged whilst being responsible for the needs of the business. For some of the team this means more frequent, shorter breaks, for others this means longer trips to recharge or spend proper time with family overseas.

We’ve moved to somewhere that improves our sense of well-being

In Manly, our new space looks out over the ocean. Our people can go for a swim or a surf or a run along the beach during the day. Flexible hours means those commuting from the city integrate the ferry into their working day or drive at times when it's quieter.

It’s early days, we’re six months in on a lot of this, but we’re optimistic on the effect it’s having on our team and our work. The output is better as we’ve found more balance and the team report to being happier. We’re excited to see what 2020 will bring.

Ross Berthinussen is the executive strategy director at 72andSunny Sydney

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.