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Agency life – More work than life?

Yesterday, reports of the death of an advertising executive in China had everyone talking.

Li Yuan, who worked in Ogilvy & Mather Beijing, collapsed at the agency at 5pm and was quickly rushed to the Peking Union Medical College. Reports say Li Yuan had been working overtime a month prior to his death, leaving his office after 11pm. Doctors said the cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest.

This tragic incident struck a chord with many, particularly those who work in the industry.

It’s no secret long work hours are part and parcel of this career. But how do agencies in Malaysia help their employees maintain a work-life balance? Is there such a thing as work-life balance in agency life?

A+M spoke with a few agency leaders:

Warren Tan, CEO, VLT

The traditional work-life balance definition is a myth. Rather than perpetuating that myth, we encourage our family members to view work as a meaningful part of their lives, while balancing out all the other elements that make life fun and awesome. However, we do help our people mitigate the stresses that come from life in an agency with a few things: a company driver they can use for personal errands (very useful if you have a pitch but need to drop your wife home after work), a foosball table and other toys scattered around the office, free gourmet coffee, free breakfast on Mondays, the ability to claim leave days if you’ve worked overtime, and plenty of areas in the office where they can take a break and relax for a while before getting back into the thick of things.

But over and above all that, the single most important element of the equation is the family culture we’ve built up together over the years. They do say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. We try to live by that ethos, every single day.

VJ Anand, creative director, Creative Juice

Is our work really worth more than our lives? I’ve always stressed that family and life should come before work. Work is not the most important thing in your life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be diligent and do your best but work, deadlines and pressure can take a toll on people, especially in this industry. At Creative Juice, our staff love being with one another. It’s actually about having a work environment that is fun and less stressful. With that, even if you have to work long hours, it won’t feel like such a big pinch. But even with that, we have our fun outings and little get-togethers to keep us sane and happy.

Chin Weng Keong, managing director, Saatchi & Saatchi Arachnid

Everyone on the internet, and especially our industry, is saddened by the news of Li Yuan. It’s a sobering reminder of how important it is to have fun in the workplace to destress and decompress. We do pretty much everything we can think of, such as providing punching bags in the brainstorm room, console games, social events, company trips, special day offs, small-group breakfast sessions to hear gripes and suggestions, interest-free loans for leisure pursuits, special rates for gym memberships and even pranks and dress-up days just for laughs. Will it be enough? I hope so. There’s only so much we can do internally if the macro culture of our industry and external pressures respect unhealthy deadlines more than the individuals who are expected to fulfill them. I don’t know if young Li Yuan indeed succumbed to overwork or if he had a precondition, but a lost life makes any such conjecture trivial. Our hearts go out to the family, loved ones and friends of young Li Yuan.

David Mitchell, COO, Naga DDB

Overwork has been a problem for many years. Some of our measures include having proper leave replacement for weekend and public holidays, having an office environment that feels homely (ie couches for naps) but frankly this doesn’t address the core issues. Agencies are under increasing pressure to produce more at lower rates and at shorter deadlines. Further, the talent pool in Malaysia is getting very thin. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Not unless agencies can make their clients believe in their indispensability which would allow them to request a fee that would allow the agency to staff their accounts with the appropriate number of quality people.

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