Everyone in advertising knows that the hours can be brutal. Last-minute client changes mean working through the night. The new-business pitch that comes in the day before Thanksgiving and is due right after New Year’s means that your holiday vacation plans are screwed. Long hours, weekend and holiday work, and late nights are the rule, not the exception. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—people who have helped each other work miracles under difficult conditions have a bond. They trust each other, and that trust helps build solid teams.
But some agencies turn these occasional binges into a culture of machismo. The ostentatious 3:00 AM emails, the endless tales of how late someone worked, and the subtle cultural approval of these things as markers of an employee’s value are Time Swagger. It may seem like an old school model, but plenty of agencies still associate long hours in the office with drive and dedication and impugn those who leave the office at a more family friendly hour as lazy.
Time Swagger can damage anyone who strives for work-life balance, and women, who still bear most childcare and family obligations, suffer the most. Working late is not the same as working efficiently. We all have different work styles. Some people need to take more breaks or talk more with others, and that’s fine. But some people need to keep their heads down, work hard, and get out in time to meet other obligations. I was a single mother of two kids. I got to work early, ate lunch at my desk, socialized minimally, and left by 5:30 to get my kids from day care. I worked new business at the time so there were plenty of late nights, overnights and weekends but that was always for the pitch, not to burnish my image as a hard worker.
When I worked at one agency, I had clients on the East Coast and in Europe, so I’d get to work by 7:00 AM. By the time some of the creatives rolled in I’d been at work for three hours. I didn’t judge them for choosing to work those hours, but they judged me for leaving at 5:00. “Half-day?” some smartasses would comment, even though I had more billable hours every week than they did.
As a manager, you can avoid falling into the Time Swagger trap by understanding why people work the hours that they do and focusing on their work product and not their attendance. An account person who constantly emails you at 1:00 AM may be overworked, or an insomniac. The planner who leaves at 5:00 may have come in early, they may jump back online for two hours after the kids are asleep, or both. And someone who can rarely leave the office before 9:00 PM might need assistance working more efficiently, asking for help, or delegating.
Some people use Time Swagger to raise their own value and lower the value of those who focus on efficiency.
- The Martyr takes on more work than they can handle or makes work more complicated than necessary to maintain their self-appointed role as the put-upon savior of the account.
- The Time Waster spends an inordinate amount of time on social media or chatting, then complains about working late.
- ·The Hider may spend long hours at the office to avoid other difficult parts of their lives.
The worst part of Time Swagger culture is how it undermines the people you want to keep: the quiet, practical, efficient ones who work quickly and accurately. Any time you hear complaints about someone leaving early, look at their work. If they get things right and done on time, then leave them alone and actively discourage the Time Swagger culture by supporting their efforts. Many of these people are working mothers, so resisting Time Swagger makes your agency a better place for them to work. People who leave the office at a reasonable hour, sleep, exercise, and return refreshed will do better work, be more enjoyable to work with, increase morale and productivity.
Don’t let an outdated last-man-standing machismo drive your best people to work for your competition.