4 senior marketers give us their take on the much-debated work/life balance

Knowing that technology renders us always contactable, Jess Pike speaks to five marketers to find out how they strike the right balance between personal and professional

With recent research revealing UK professionals are more motivated by flexible hours than bonus packages and unlimited holidays, yet B2B marketers citing salary is still the most important aspect of working life, there seems to be a disparity between the B2B sector and the British professional public.

To better understand what motivates those working in B2B to perform better, we ask marketers who are top of their game to reveal their personal secrets to a better work/life balance.

A portrait of the average B2B marketer

Jo Coombs
CEO
OgilvyOne UK

I don't think there's such a thing as work/life balance...

We only have one life, and it’s important that you’re happy and fulfilled in both sides of it. If you’re happy at work but unhappy at home – or vice versa – you won’t be in balance. A few years ago, I was pretty unhappy at home, but loving my job – so was working long hours because work was where I felt happiest. Now, as a mum with two young children, I’d love to spend more time at home with them. But it’s all about balance.

I think it’s important, as a leader, to show your human side at work. Celebrate what people are doing in their lives at home – we have a Monday morning ‘quickie’ meeting, and I always try to be as human as possible. If I’m leaving an hour early on Wednesday, I’ll tell the team that I’m going to my kid’s sports day. If a colleague is off on Friday, we’ll share the fact that after months of training he’s finally off to do an Iron Man. Give people permission to be human; we’re not machines, after all, and having EQ and a sense of empathy is hugely important. 

"When it comes to flexibility there’s definitely a tipping point: when only a small percentage of the workforce is taking advantage of flexible working, feelings of guilt and resentment can creep in."

In today's always-on society, you have to learn to compartmentalise...

... because you can’t think about everything all the time. It’s about operating in different modes depending on what you’re doing. I tend to get home at 6.30pm, and have an hour and a half with my kids; during the evening I resist the urge to check emails – which is a constant battle. But sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon when I’ve been playing with the kids all day, checking my email actually gives me a bit of breather. It’s my brain switching over from one mode to the other. But if I look at them and end up regretting it, I’ve only got myself to blame!

Personally, I believe that if you can’t switch off in the evenings or at the weekends, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with your organisation. A few years ago, lots of people would be doing a one and a half hour commute without WiFi – and they managed. Nothing went catastrophically wrong!

When it comes to flexible working there's definitely a tipping point...

When only a small percentage of the workforce is taking advantage of flexible working, feelings of guilt and resentment can creep in. But once you get past that point, your organisation will become more self-healing, and people will be more likely to help each other out rather than resent each other for not being in the office.

It’s also worth saying that flexibility allows for diversity because as an organisation you can meet a whole host of different needs: family needs, religious leads, personal needs. You can also attract people from different backgrounds. Some people think that the stereotypes around agency life are true – that it’s all work hard, play hard and lots of heavy drinking – but that just isn’t the case. You need to be good at what you do and you need to collaborate, but it really doesn’t matter whether you leave at 5pm, don’t drink, or come in at 10am because you have a morning spin class. 

"Flexibility allows for diversity because as an organisation you can meet a whole host of different needs: family needs, religious leads, personal needs."

The Swedish six-hour working day presents a really interesting cultural challenge...

I think it comes down to the culture of the country you live in – or even the city you live in. And personally, I wouldn’t want to live in a country that legislates how many hours people can and can’t work: it should be all about choice. I wouldn’t like to see it mandated, but as a country, city, or definitely an industry, instilling flexibility in our workforce is the most important thing. 

A portrait of the average B2B marketer

Talia Shani
Marketing director
Yotpo

I'm proud of having a pretty good work/life balance because I know it's something people struggle with...

How do I do it? Well, I don’t check my email at home – which is relatively straightforward (and just takes some discipline). I have a specific time on a Friday where I stop checking emails, and that helps me switch off for the weekend. Being mindful can help too – it’s about using your willpower to stop thinking about something over which you probably have no control.

Not thinking about work when you’re at home can be really challenging. It helps me, on a Friday, to write Monday’s to-do list; this stops me from stressing out about what I need to do the following week over the weekend.

I'm fortunate at Yotpo because a good work/life balance is positively encouraged, and that helps because... 

... so often these things are cultural and changing them can involve getting the whole organisation on board. It’s important, for example, to have a lunch break – and I have limited patience with colleagues who want to talk shop over lunch, particularly if we’re going to be back at our desks in 15 minutes. It’s important to have a break. 

"I have limited patience with colleagues who want to talk shop over lunch, particularly if we’re going to be back at our desks in 15 minutes. It’s important to have a break." 

I positively discourage my team from working long hours: to me, if you’re working overtime a lot it suggests that you’re not working in a smart way: you’re not organised and you’re not prioritising. So I make it clear that I don’t value people who work long hours: in the end they’ll end up getting burnt out, which will harm the business later down the line.

We have lots of first-time parents at Yotpo and there’s a focus on the wellbeing of staff, which is really refreshing. I’ve recently relocated from Tel Aviv, and when my CEO asked me how I was doing I spoke about the challenges involved with working in a new market – he cut me off and said he’d meant how I was doing from a personal point of view – ie. my relationship, the whole ‘moving to a new city’ thing. I really appreciated that as an employee.

Could a Swedish six-hour day work here? I'm not sure...

In practice I’m not sure who’d be that keen. It reminds me of companies that offer unlimited vacation: it sounds nice, but in reality it’s been proven that people take less vacation as a result. Maybe in a company with a six-hour working day we’d all say that we’d be off at 3pm or 4pm, but would end up staying later, just because it’s so engrained. 

A portrait of the average B2B marketer

Danny Turnbull
MD, EMEA
Stein IAS

Having a good work/life balance is something that I've learned as I've got older...

Perhaps it’s as you realise that your brief time on this earth is getting shorter and is too precious to waste in stuffy meetings… When I was younger there was also a culture of presenteeism in agencies that’s no longer prevalent. But there’s a reason that I stayed unmarried until my 40s and only became a dad at 42. To be honest, having my daughter was a bit of a tipping point as it gave me something more important in life than work and football! That said, I don’t regret anything. As my Dad used to say, find a job you love and you will never need to work again.

At Stein we don’t promote work/life balance at all; we promote life balance. Work/life balance suggests that people have to leave their lives behind when they're working which would be a terrible thing to ask people to do!

Having a one hour and 15-minute commute is a great way to unwind...

... as is picking up my three-year-old a couple of nights a week. For some reason, she always insists on going to the Rope and Anchor for an orange cordial too on the way home! I also find that sport or simply hitting the gym is a great way to de-stress.

"Having a one hour and 15-minute commute is a great way to unwind... as is picking up my three-year-old a couple of nights a week." 

You have one life and you live it at work and everywhere else...

Selling your house? Do what you have to do. Need to go the doctors? Just go. Kids are doing something special at school? You've got to be there. Been doing a lot of late nights? Finish early on a Friday. When people know they can manage their lives in all aspects openly and freely it really helps with commitment to the business cause. We also promote the fact that holiday time is essential for rest and reasoning and insist people take their full allocation. To be honest, I have some of my best ideas when on holiday – I should take more! 

Could the Swedish six-hour working day ever work in an agency environment? The cynic in me says no...

It’s a labour-intensive industry and also, in many ways, a reactive one. That said, as we emerge out of recession and our margins become less pressured we can all afford to breathe out a little.

A portrait of the average B2B marketer

Corinne Sklar
CMO
Bluewolf, an IBM company

For me, it's not about balance but about weaving one side of your life in with the other... 

Right now I’m speaking to you from an Uber driving back from the vet – talk about weaving in professional with personal! I guess I find it easy because I love what I do: I’m heavily involved in the arts scene in the San Francisco bay area, so after work I’m often at an art opening or a Silicon Valley networking event, weaving it all in as one.

I get about 1000 emails a day but it's all about prioritisation...

If I only responded to incoming emails I’d never get anything done and wouldn’t be managing my day in an effective way.

"I’m heavily involved in the arts scene in the San Francisco bay area, so after work I’m often at an art opening or a Silicon Valley networking event, weaving in professional with personal."

It's all about not being afraid to have the conversation about flexible working...

Some people like to start work at 11am, others get their best ideas in the evening. I’d say we’re pretty good at embracing flexibility at Bluewolf: we treat people like adults and recognise that happy employees are the ones that stay with you for the long term (and I should know, I’ve been at Bluewolf for over a decade). I have someone in my team whose child isn’t very well – having a conversation about it and empathising with their situation is crucial.

Everyone wants their weekend off, and their evening to spend doing whatever they like doing, and here we work with people who understand that sometimes (not often) there’s going to be a need to step up, depending on what’s happening with the business.

When it comes to clients who perhaps don’t have the same appreciation of this, we owe it to our employees to be their biggest advocates and sett up boundaries around where and when they’ll meet, for example, and how far they’ll travel.

If somebody wants to work for six hours, good for them...

... but I think we need to be careful that we don’t assume that people don’t want to be engaged in their careers. Many of us do!

Ignite 2018 (formerly the B2B Summit)

Want to learn more about ways to advance your marketing career and your team’s success? Check out the Advancement stream at this summer's Ignite 2018, the biggest, boldest and most inspiring event ever staged in B2B.

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