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The importance of rest and what agencies are doing about it – part 1

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Agencies reflect on what practices and measures they have in place to ensure employees get the balance right

Off the back of Michaela Coel’s inspiring Emmys acceptance speech, where she alluded to the importance of rest for nurturing creativity, we asked The Drum Network members from the advertising industry to share what practices they have in place for encouraging employees to listen to their needs and reset as necessary.

In an age of overly-popularized self-care, and following a year of working from home, what wellbeing trends are here to stay? And how can agencies better incorporate these into their employees’ working lives? With cultural zeitgeists speaking out about the importance of taking stock, what have we learned about improving the way we navigate work-life balances? Have we actually changed our measures of success – or are we still living in an era of fast-paced, automated transactions? A number of industry experts share their thoughts.

Sasha Osbone, PR and marketing manager, Engage Hub

Here at Engage Hub we pride ourselves on our workforce, and we understand that if they aren’t working to their full potential then neither is the agency. Hence why we introduced a four-day week in July.

The four-day working week is a key initiative in the agency’s wider work to drive forward and achieve our priorities on health and wellbeing, workplace inclusion and becoming a carbon negative business. We’ve all become used to the 9-5, Monday-to-Friday toil, but the pandemic has allowed us to reassess how all of our teammates live and work, helping us to focus on ways in which we can make things better.

By freeing up more time for our teammates to do the things they want to do – exercise, socialize, spend time with their families, look after loved ones – we hope to create a more dynamic, inclusive and enriching work community where everyone has a positive headspace.

Luke Kyte, head of culture, Reddico

At Reddico we shifted away from the traditional concept of core hours and work patterns – even before the pandemic. In 2018 we launched a culture manifesto that changed how the business would operate going forward, with positive results already showing through by the end of that year.

Our working policies (as detailed in our online handbook) include the following:

  • Work when, where and how you want – no core hours or location

  • Take as much annual leave as you need

  • The company pays for all sick leave

We take the stance that everyone is different, and the encouragement of 9-5, five days a week is an old and outdated system. While the four-day week is a progressive approach taken by many, it doesn’t consider a core value – the individual’s choice to work in a way that’s right for them.

Our approach treats people like the adults they are – some people work best in the morning, some are night owls, others like the traditional 9-5 approach. We know ourselves better than anyone, and know when we’re stressed, overworked or need time out. This approach puts the power directly into the individual’s hands.

And while you’d be forgiven for thinking this could be quite chaotic, with people working at various times in different locations, and as such inconveniencing colleagues and clients alike, our stance has been to give people the tools to do a great job, and let them work out the details.

You won’t find a list of guidelines or rules to follow, but a simple statement: make a positive impact on your team, work, clients and the company in general.

Since the introduction of these policies, the following has occurred:

  • 33% increase in annual leave taken

  • Reduction of sick days to 0.46 days per person (UK average of 4.1)

  • Team NPS at world-class

  • Client NPS at world-class

Putting the team in control has improved their wellbeing, happiness and ultimately the success of their work.

Oliver Bruce, managing director, Pinpoint Media

During lockdown we implemented a number of initiatives to help our team have time to rest and relax together. The first were ‘Cuppa Tea Catch Ups’. These were regular timetabled sessions for the team to meet one-on-one to catch up and chat about whatever was on their minds.

These sessions were run during the working day, as we felt it was important to give team members the opportunity to have these moments to catch up and socialize in the same way they might do face-to-face while making a cup of tea or preparing for a meeting. We were also aware that we had team members who lived alone and so the ‘Cuppa Tea Catch Ups’ were crucial from a social isolation perspective to support mental health.

We also know that for many of our team members being able to get together and have fun is a coping mechanism. It’s why at the beginning of the pandemic we scheduled regular Zoom socials to give the team an opportunity to catch up. From quizzes to games, team members took it in turns to organize the social, giving them an opportunity to both organize and take part. These replaced our usual get-togethers and gave us a great option when meeting face-to-face wasn’t an option.

Before the pandemic some of our team worked a four-day working week for nearly four years. However, we pivoted to flexible working during the pandemic. Moving forward, we are continuing with flexible working for all of our team.

The approach we took for our employees on a four-day working week was to consolidate ten hours across four days, 40 hours a week. This meant these team members worked the same amount of hours as a five-day working week but with longer days. What we found was, while some people liked it, it didn’t work from an efficiency point of view as our employees ended up exhausting themselves over their four days.

Our flexible working approach allows the team the opportunity to work a number of days from home should they wish to and structure their working day to their own needs. This can mean taking some time to walk the dog after finishing a project for example, or starting earlier and taking a longer lunch.

We are aware that many people’s mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic, and rest and relaxation are an important part of supporting mental wellbeing. Many of the decisions we’ve made as a business have been to support the mental health of our team, and we’ve also had one of our team trained as a mental health first aider to give additional support.

Richard Barrett, managing director, Initials

The response to Coel’s poignant speech gives our industry a chance to pause and reflect. In the last ten years the rise of tech has transformed expectations when it comes to turn-around timings. We’re now all used to things being immediate, but not everything can or should be. Previously there was time to get things wrong in draft, time to throw out an idea and start again, but the timelines agencies were working to had become dramatically compressed. Then lockdown changed things.

Taking daily commutes out of the equation led to calmer working lives. We must embrace this change. This is about respecting both the wellbeing of our teams and the value of creativity itself. Creativity is not a commodity. Great ideas take thought, and you need to give yourself time. We didn’t experience any operational issues while working remotely through the pandemic, and post lockdown we’ve championed a work-where-you-work-best policy that is based on mutual respect and trust.

The big shift being seen is no longer insisting on dead time. I spent three hours a day commuting for ten years – that’s a lot of dead time. No longer doing that every day has dramatically improved my clarity of thought and my patience, and my outputs have undoubtedly improved as a result. Hybrid working models remove the consciously anxious state many in our industry have always existed in – by taking this away we all become better versions of ourselves.

Recent events have shown a more holistic approach to work and life is possible, and creativity can only benefit as a result. This is obviously about mental wellbeing, but also about being given space to play. As an agency the quality of our creative output is the highest it’s ever been, and our presenteeism in the office continues to be comparatively low. But I’ll take happy staff who are able to embrace the creative aspects of their role positively and calmly over constant physical presence in the office any day.

Due to the overwhelming number of responses to this vox pop, we have divided this article into two parts. Part 2 will go live tomorrow with more thoughts on the importance of rest.