Striving away on a project has historically earned a certain kind of respect in the advertising and creative industries. It’s likely why Mad Men had so many transfixed for so long: drinking on the job, pulling all-nighters and tirelessly working away in search of a winning idea inspired wonder – it looked sexy. However, the language we use and the attitudes we have towards our work-life balance are shifting.
“I feel like burnout has always been there in a way … it just wasn’t really identified or treated as a problem in the past. I think it was seen almost as a rite of passage, almost an egotistical thing – like you’ve either got what it takes to work really hard and make it in this business, or you don’t,” says Paul Jordan, chief creative officer at Engine. “I think there’s an old quote that people used to say: if you don’t want to work late nights and weekends, don’t be a doctor – or work in advertising.”
“It’s always been rife in our industry. We are just openly talking about it now,” agrees Sean Thomas, executive creative director at design-led agency Jones Knowles Ritchie. However, he believes a culture that favours originality and ingenuity has also led creatives to put more pressure on themselves to one-up their predecessors: “We often believe we’d do a better job than the last person managed to, so we end up in situations working tirelessly to prove ourselves, in the process driving down the value we offer or undermining our peers’ previous efforts.”