Confessions of a young ad agency staffer: ‘If you leave for lunch, you get that side-eye’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Managing a healthy work-life balance is important — especially at an agency where staffers are often expected to be on call to meet clients’ needs at all hours. In the latest in our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, a young ad agency platforms manager in their 20s discusses how even when they make sure to leave the office every day at 5:30 p.m., they still get thrown shade from their colleagues for doing so. The conversation has been edited for clarity. 

Agencies have been known as having crazy work hours. Are hours still crazy?
The hours are insane. I know people who have meltdowns. The other day I was outside having a cigarette with a 24-year-old girl who said she’s been working 15 hours every day this week. She was stress smoking, and I’ve never seen her smoke before. I was like, ‘Why are you doing that to yourself? You’re killing yourself.’

Do you work crazy hours?
I used to work crazy hours at my old job, but it was destroying my mental health. I would work more than 50 hours a week, but it was all the stress of what was in those hours. I was the only person who did my job on the entire West Coast, and I worked for the Chicago office. I had all the clients, and it was a tons of campaigns. I would cry every Sunday night because I didn’t want the week to start.

But you made sure you put an end to excessive office hours when you moved to your current job?
When I started here, I wanted it set in stone that I work my hours, and unless someone asks me to physically stay for a project, I was going to go home. I was not going to say, ‘I can’t work overtime’ because you’ll get fired, but I wasn’t going to be one of those people always at the office even if no one asks you. So every day I get in at 8:30 a.m. and leave at 5:30 p.m.

Does that work?
Yes, nobody expects me to stay because I’ve done it since I’ve started. When people stay all the time, you’re expected to. You have to put your foot down.

Is there any backlash to that?
There’s times when people give you that side-eye like ‘oh you must not work hard because you don’t work overtime.’ And it’s like excuse me, I get my work done in my nine hours, and I’m still available by phone at all hours after work. Even if you leave for lunch at any time, you get that side-eye.

Is that mostly from your colleagues?
Yes. In the ad agency world, people who are very young stress themselves until they get sick because they want so badly to be perfect. Everyone I know who is young who works in this business is like, ‘I have to be amazing, I have to get promoted.’ Everyone who is older is so jaded. They just don’t want to work anymore. My boss works from home twice a week and takes calls from home.

Do you feel like multiple people should be doing your job?
I handle seven different parts of our client’s business. It’s crazy. I feel like there should be a manager and someone to assist them for every piece of business I work on. They don’t hire enough people. When someone goes on vacation, we have to sit down and train everybody on what we’re doing. It’s very inefficient. I think that to save money they try to cram as many of us onto as many clients and campaigns as possible.

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