by Kristi Faulkner
What do the employees of Netflix, Twitter, LinkedIn, and The Virgin Group get that you don’t? Flexible time off. Though FTO has been a standard benefit in the Silicon Valley for years, it hasn’t been embraced by Madison Avenue full-scale. But there is a beacon of hope from a few forward-thinking agencies. The question is: Are they hiring?
If you have the pleasure of working at Pitch, a creative agency in LA, you’ve never had to track an hour, make an excuse for a personal day, validate a sick day, or even keep a running count of your vacation days. Imagine how much time not tracking time frees up to, well, work.
The entire team at Pitch is empowered to take as much time off as they need or want, whether it’s 2 hours because the parents are in town, or 3 weeks to produce a play. And somehow the agency still soars.
Here’s why FTO could be the game-changing solution our tired industry needs:
• Trust and fulfillment go hand-in-hand.
“Trust is a huge part of our culture,” says Pitch’s president, Rachel Spiegelman, “People trust us with their careers and livelihood, and we trust them to get the job done.”
It’s also a very modern way of viewing work. Says Rachel, “A fulfilling life is just as important to your career as working very hard. With FTO, just as I choose to work intensely to get a project done on time, I can also choose to take a day off to get my wits about me.”
• There’s no such thing as 9-to-5, so why track hours?
Sandy Sabean, chief creative officer of my own agency, Womenkind, believes in FTO for her team in New York. “I answer emails at the hair salon, talk to west coast clients while loading the dishwasher after dinner, and shop for groceries online from my desk in the office,” she says. “Work is life and life is work. It’s one big blend.”
Clearly FTO is a valuable benefit to an employee who wants to enjoy a richer, more rewarding life beyond work, but what’s the benefit to the company?
Project Worldwide (perhaps our industry’s only “un-holding company”) recently established FTO across its eleven agencies. According to Robert G. Vallee, Jr., Project’s CEO, the policy creates a mutually supportive dynamic he describes aptly: “We’re all in it together.”
“Project’s agencies are complimentary and collaborative – it’s our ethos,” says Mr. Vallee, who sees FTO as just one of the many benefits that enhance the culture of the 100% employee-owned organization. “People should be as happy at work as they are anywhere else.”
No one would argue that advertising isn’t a time-intensive endeavor. “Sometimes – like in the run-up to the Super Bowl – we’re working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. We want people to have the flexibility to take whatever time they need afterwards to recharge their batteries.”
And, as he points out, it’s only fair if flexibility benefits everyone, regardless of seniority. “Why should an AAE only get two weeks off a year? Is that appropriate for working so hard to meet demands?”
• Inspiration is a competitive edge. And companies need to foster it however they can.
Sarah Hart, a junior art director at Argonaut, a Project Worldwide agency, embraced FTO for the benefit of herself and the company. She took time off to enroll in a metal-smith class and then again to go to Burning Man last August, an experience she says “has in no small way inspired the work I’ve done since.”
Sandy Sabean agrees that fostering inspiration is a critical aspect of managing people in a creative business, where big ideas give companies the edge. “You can have an idea in the shower and write a strategy from a coffee bar,” says Sandy, “It’s antiquated, and disrespectful even, to believe an employee has to be sitting at her desk or she’s not doing her job.”
• FTO breeds loyalty and teamwork.
Is there a risk of employees taking advantage? The evidence suggests that FTO sets a tone that encourages more teamwork. Says Rachel, “My team actually works more effectively because our bond to each other is stronger.
“Look,” she continues, “we're never not busy, we never don’t need people around, but If someone has to take an extra meeting to make sure a coworker gets a break, we will. We have each other’s back.”
• Flexibility attracts and retains talent, especially women.
Is it a coincidence that with such an emphasis on work-life balance and flextime for all, Pitch has retained women in top leadership and boasts a staff of more than 60% women?
“I’m not on the forefront, but as a female executive who’s had babies,” says Rachel, “I do have a different life and a different way of managing. I’m always asking what else can we do to make sure that each individual in our workplace has what they need so they can succeed in their job.” Rachel wants every employee to feel comfortable and empowered. “We are outperforming our goals because we give our team what they need.”
For Sandy Sabean, FTO is an obvious way to attract and retain talent with complex work/life demands. “Everyone is juggling something,” she says. “Our credo is work smarter, not harder. So we use technology to free people up, not bind them.”
• Appreciation is always appreciated.
It is ironic that in an industry built on relationships and ingenuity, time sheets still prevail. How many agency employees feel confident that their supervisor and their clients believe in them, trust them, and appreciate them for delivering unequivocally?
“It’s a shame that in 2016, these kinds of policies are still unique in our business,” adds Rachel Spiegelman. “Be here, work hard, feel responsible for your job, I appreciate you – that should be the norm.”