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Wednesday, 08 May 2013



Good post. It's crazy we even approach work as if 8 hours a day between 9 and 5 is optimum for everyone. Our brains and bodies just don't work that way, kids or no kids.

Not to mention the fact we all show up at the same time... you'd think by now we'd have worked out that's pretty troublesome!

I think we need to move beyond the notion of part time or even 'flexible working' and instead look at a results-driven approach to work, as opposed to time-based.

Life becomes an exhausting slog on a treadmill, full of interruptions and distractions, when we focus on 'showing up' (presenteeism) as opposed to getting stuff done. It causes increased absenteeism, low morale and failure of innovate.

If we focus in short intense bursts, with longer periods of rest - more like circuit training - in whatever pattern suits our natural peaks and troughs (some folk are morning people others work best at night, for instance) everyone will achieve more.

There's also a tendency to think it's cool to be working all the time - as if the increased hours in themselves make you more successful - but really that's just masking the fact we're bad at prioritising.

If we're trusted to work however we see fit, on the understanding that we care about delivering great work, I'd like to think there's no need for us to describe the pattern of our week using terms that relate to time spent.

When you have a deadline, chances are if it's too weeks away you'll waste a lot of time flapping and 'preparing' in a half assed fashion, but really only do all the work a day or two before, when under 'eustress' (love that word!) - the state of positive stress that gets the best out of you.

So you'd be better off playing with your kids more often in those two weeks and using the adrenaline of the deadline to pull epic feats out the bag... for example.

I'm a big fan of approaches like those at Valve, Semco, WL Gore and other self-managed firms for this reason; and initiatives like Best Buy's Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

The problem of how many hours you work and how that's classified is a bit like brands and products competing on price - you only have to do it if the quality is crap; and it's a losing battle.

Responsible adults in responsible jobs producing quality output shouldn't be labeled or questioned in terms of whether they do it from the beach, the office, in ten minutes or ten hours, or standing on their heads... so long as it works for the people impacted.


I've not yet read Lean-In, but I have to admit that the extracts of the book & interviews with Sandberg have really rankled me. She seems to be arguing that women are 'leaving the table' by not going for more senior roles even before they've started having kids, and that as soon as they start having a family they count themselves out of trying to progress into senior management roles (ie regardless of whether you believe there's an institutional glass ceiling, women are not putting themselves forward enough to put them in the ranks for consideration). All of which is undoubtedly true. But here's the thing. The system is set up that to be in a senior management role involves making work the absolute priority in your life. There is no work/life balance because work permeates your life. Sandberg may be in the lucky enough position to be able to leave work at 5.30 to see her kids, but she admits herself that she's always on, that she's working at home in the evening, and there's no doubt she's away from home a lot travelling with the kind of travel and commitments a job like hers entails.

I was in a middle management role, director level within an advertising agency, and on the track along the corporate ladder where I was aiming for senior management. To be successful you had to make work the priority above your own personal life - that's the way it works. If you left on time, you simply weren't around to be able to work with your team to make sure shit got done, because the way the industry works there's lots of 'crunch' periods involving late nights and weekends in the office, and invariably a certain amount of travel. There were a mixture of men and women in senior roles everywhere I've worked - in fact at once agency I worked at, the board was mostly women. But everyone in a senior role fell in to one of the following positions:

- no kids, so no issues about not being able to stay with everyone else to work on the pitch or oversee the delivery of the big piece of work, or travel to the important client meeting overseas because of having to pick the kids up from nursery or attend a parents evening

- had kids, but had a partner who was the primary caregiver. This was almost exclusively men, though not always - they missed out on seeing their kids or attending their kids' plays, because they had to be in work, and their partners ensured that the parent role was at least partly covered.

- had kids and had a partner who was in an equally high powered role, and basically delegated the raising of their children to the nanny. My MD was like this - her husband was in an equally alpha role, and there were frequently times when he'd have a big deal and she'd have a big pitch or presentation and neither could leave the office.

Fact is, all of these options aren't conducive to a work/life balance, and certainly not to raising a family. Now, it's also partly true that the more women there are in senior management roles, the more workplaces are going to be better able to adapt to trying to help employees with flexible working etc. But even with cultural change, how do you get around the fact that being in a senior management role demands a level fo commitment that is in many ways incompatible to a family life? If you have to fly around the world for global board meetings, you're going to be away from your kids. If you have to entertain clients several nights a week, you're going to miss bedtime. This is true for both men and women.

I made the decision that I was fed up of 15h days and spending too many weekends in work, and always having to cancel plans with friends because I was stuck in the office, and never seeing my partner. I don't have kids yet, but being in a senior role wasn't working for me in terms of being happy and healthy (going to the gym? forget it! eating properly? forget it!) - how was it going to work if and when I had a family?

I deliberately leaned out, and stepped off the corporate ladder to go freelance. OK, yes you could say I'm the CEO of my own company, but it's a one woman band - I work freelance and go into companies to work on a project basis, and I have flexibility about how much I commit to. I don't want a senior management role in a small, medium or large company. I want to be able to go in, do some good work, lead a project but not have to run an organisation, deal with the politics or issues that come with managing teams and leading a business. I want to be able to have a work/life balance. I love my work, it's incredibly important to me, but I don't want it to be the sole focus of my life. Yes, I chose to lean out, but frankly I don't want to lean in if it means taking on the relentless treadmill that comes from being in a senior management role. You only get one life, and I want the time I spend at work to be about doing and making great stuff, but also being able to leave it at a reasonable time and have a life outside work.


I love 'smart-time, not part-time'!

I've not read Lean In yet, but am following the discussion/hubbub around it with great interest, since we just had a kiddo a short while ago and I'm trying to figure out how it'll work with work and private life.

Being Dutch, a lot of how I think about this issue of work-life balance (ugh, let's also come up with a new term for that) is coloured by how Dutch cultural norms see it. It's perfectly normal for Dutch women to work part-time and even for Dutch dads of our generation to take a papa-day and work 4 days a week. I love it. And at the same time I loathe it because Dutch society is totally NOT geared up if you don't want to work part-time as a woman. It's still considered bad for your child and bad for society in general if you do want to work more and seriously frowned upon. So much for free choice there! Up until recently, a lot of supermarkets would close at 6pm, nothing would be open on Sundays and childcare was not widely available and very expensive (though I have to say this all seems to be changing) making it impossible for 2 partners with kids to both work full-time.

Some interesting links to have a look at with research about working part-time in NL:
Academic research: http://www.slideshare.net/EESCsocsection/thematic-panel-2-tanja-van-der-lippe

NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/world/europe/30iht-dutch30.html?pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me&_r=0

A Canadian article on Dutch women and working culture: http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/08/19/the-feminismhappiness-axis/
"“Dutch women do not aspire to top positions because they do not want to encourage the values of the business models of today’s world. It is a silent resistance movement,” she says. “Maybe this will turn out to be the fourth wave of feminism. Women protect the possibility that one day we’ll wake up to realize that life is not all about acquiring more material wealth, power, status. Many Dutch women that I know want to stay sane, happy, relaxed.”

Finally, a piece in the Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/11/dutch_feminism

Now, if the UK would catch on to a little bit more of this Dutch spirit...!

john dodds

I've never understood why crunch points or the other managerial requirements that Katy outlines occur in any industry. Seems to me it's more about inefficency and self-justification by all concerned (I'm sure clients tire of entertainment as much as agencies/bankers etc).

Work smarter should apply to all businesses not just "part-time" workers.

john dodds

After all, if this were the best way to work, then surely we'd expect the output in advertising, banking, fmcg etc etc etc to be better than the prevailing medicre majority.


I admit I haven't read Lean In yet, but I did particularly enjoy these articles and found them much more sympathetic

Anne Marie Slaughter on why 'having it all' is a myth and we need to stop beating ourselves up:


V interestingly, another response to the Sandberg book identifies freelancing as the ideal model for women to balance work with family, almost like she's on to something there ;)



I love this! It's like 2008 all over again when people blogged around issues that mattered to others and proper, intelligent discussions took place. I blame Twitter, much as I love it, it's not the platform for thoughtful debate. Only so far 140 characters will get you...

So many issues raised hard to know where to start: OK, let's start with Lean In. It's the book that everyone seems to have an opinion on, but no-one seems to have read. I have and in fact I have bought it and sent it to a number of friends and I think that it's important for a number of reasons. Firstly I think that it is far more nuanced than journalists give it credit for being. For me it was about leaning into your career and managing your own way forward more actively rather than letting someone else dictate to you the structures and pathways that you should be travelling on - that could be negotiating a pay rise more effectively or ensuring that you get onto work projects that will develop you in ways that you need or want. I've found it to be hugely valuable and eye-opening personally. But I have talked to a number of people (men and women) who I respect enormously who say that her model of what success looks like ie within a large corporation is basically an out-dated measure and that we should be looking at female entrepreneurs like Emma Bridgewater, Cath Kidson, Jo Malone, Christian Rucker (White Conpany) etc who all started their own businesses in order to create the kind of working environment that worked for them. It's a good point. I guess that it saddens me though to think that you either have to leave the workforce, go freelance or start your own company to allow you to find harmony (I won't say "balance" because I don't think that it can ever be totally balanced) between personal and professional. If a 40 hour week is what companies expect then maybe they should learn that 40 hours can be chunked up in different ways.

The advertising industry is tough though it really is. People fart around most of the day and then the real work seems to start around 5pm or 6pm which is actually the time that you want to be home or at least heading home if you have little ones. I would hope that as more women rise to more senior positions in agencies that they could lead by example and get the hell out of the office by 5:30pm!Unless there's a proper need ie a pitch or a client dinner or work event then I get in early and am home by 6pm. Then when they are asleep I can get back online and carry on working if there are deadlines that need to be met. But I have moved out of an advertising agency and now work partly at Chime which is a holding company and partly at The Good Relations Group, PR and CSR. Hours and life certainly more manageable outside of advertising...

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