The freedom to stress a little less
What happens when you fit work around your life instead of the other way round? As part of National Stress Awareness week, Storycatcher Seeta explores how truly flexible and remote working could help to alleviate some overlooked, everyday stresses for agency folk…
Picture the scene:
You’re hyperventilating quietly in a toilet cubicle. You know there’s at least 20 emails you need to reply to this morning and by the time you get back to your desk there’ll be a minimum of 30. You caught the first train in. You were in the office at 6am. It’s now only 9:10am. You won’t leave your desk to eat lunch. You’ll be there ‘til after 5:30pm… after 6.30pm… after 7.30pm…. then you catch a (delayed, overcrowded) train and carry on into the evening at home. Just reply to those 6 emails. Write that contact note. Carry on that image search. You order in a takeaway because you’re too tired to cook – your partner’s already eaten, the kids are already asleep in bed. You skip the gym – again – because that’s an hour you can’t afford to lose. Sometime around midnight, you shut your laptop and go to bed, wide awake and wired. You dream about an exam you haven’t prepared for. Then you wake up more tired than you were before you went to sleep, and do it all over again.
And no one stops you.
And no one questions it.
And you can’t stop yourself.
Sound familiar? Agency life isn’t for the faint-hearted. We’re told that early on. But normalising the high-stress atmosphere, not addressing it or not finding ways to manage it can leave some of us feeling overwhelmed. Daz fires off emails at 3am. Sandra co-ordinates projects pool-side when she’s on holiday. This might work well for them, but it shouldn’t set the standard. We are not all built the same.
Yes, we have clients. Yes, we absolutely want to do the best job possible. But we need to give the talent in creative industries the space to think, to breathe and create.
The Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Labour Force Survey’, showed 602,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression and anxiety from 2018 -2019, and the sick days taken because of these conditions equated to 12.8 million working days1. There’s still a stigma around speaking out. In agencies, sometimes you can’t help but compare yourself to your peers who seem to be getting on with things, with no complaint. Speaking up can be hard. If you say, “I can’t fit this new project in” a nagging voice tells you, you might as well be saying “I have no desire to progress as clearly I can’t cope as well as everyone else”.
The tide is changing slowly with National Stress Awareness days and Mental Health Awareness week, which more companies are taking part in – but action can sometimes be slow to follow. In 2018, a YouGov survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, showed 74% of UK adults said they’d felt overwhelmed or unable to cope that past year2. Deadlines will always loom, clients will always have urgent requests and there’s no getting away from projects where you’re at your desk from sun-up to moon-up. What can and should change is the atmosphere in which these things occur.
Storycatchers is trying. We’ve baked remote and flexible working into our ethos. We’re not robots, and we can’t create on demand within the confines of office hours. We know making your way through traffic is a sure-fire way to get that little snowball of stress rolling, and once you’re in the office it’ll become the snow equivalent of Indiana Jones’ famous boulder. But what if you started the day in your home office, in your favourite slippers, with a pet snuggled beside you? Or just set off a bit later to miss the stop-start on the motorway?
If Storycatchers want to flex to hit the gym, do the school run and work from home several days a week, it’s encouraged. Remove some of the external stress of fitting life around work, and the work is better. Tech connects us from home offices, dining room tables and coffee shops. Clients benefit because the flexibility extends to how we work with them. Early call? Late call? There’s always someone that can flex to accommodate.
It’s refreshing to work in a place where bums on seats in an office is no measure of productivity. We’re an agency of professionals and understand there’s a level of trust involved. But it just means that Storycatchers work harder, are more focused and they have the freedom to create when they’re at their most creative.
The directors freely admit they don’t have all the answers, and we’re all still learning as we go – but the whole team is utterly committed to finding the best way to help everyone achieve a better work-life balance.
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