Across the country, parents and teachers are scrambling to figure out what education will look like this fall. For many, that’s another round of home or remote schooling due to the on-going coronavirus crisis. Many agency employees are among those parents and the prospect of juggling distance learning for their children with day-to-day work tasks once again is anxiety inducing.
In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we hear from a thirty-something associate creative director — whose young will once again distance learn this fall — about the stress of making sure he is keeping on top of his school work while meeting client needs as well as his fear of being laid off if he doesn’t get that balance right. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You homeschooled your son during the spring and soon you’ll do it again. How are you feeling about it?
We got a taste of it last semester. It was different then because it felt temporary and summer was around the corner. The thinking was that we’d deal with it for a little while and that it wasn’t that big of a deal if we don’t complete all these assignments or if he spends half his day watching TV.
But now we’re looking at a whole entire semester. My son is going into second grade. That’s a pretty critical year in a child’s education. It’s daunting to manage him and his education. I don’t know how we’re going to give him the appropriate education while I’m doing my job, especially when I’m trying to still do my job at the highest level to make sure I’m not on the chopping block.
How are you planning to manage his schooling and your job?
It’s a lot of tag teaming with my wife. We’re juggling our Zoom meetings with my son’s Zoom meetings. The reality is that my work day is basically 24/7, especially in the creative department where so much of our time is sitting around trying to think of ideas. You can’t put a set of hours on that. I’ve been working on two really big campaigns the past month and a half. It’s really taxing. I can’t carve out the time in a normal work day to do my job and help my son. I’m essentially working nonstop.
In the spring, everyone said agencies were being really flexible for parents. Do you think that flexibility will continue this fall?
My agency has still been pretty accommodating, but you can almost feel this sense that they’re kind of over it. They don’t want to put any employees at risk but there are also things that need to get done so you can feel this tension in leadership as they’re trying to determine where to push and where to give a little bit of space.
For example, we just did a remote shoot. It went pretty well all things considered but it would’ve been so much easier to have creatives on set. The creative leadership is struggling with that. How do we get our creatives on shoot? Can we send them? A couple of creatives went to one shoot and they had to fill out a ton of paperwork for HR that basically said the agency isn’t liable if anything happens health-wise. That’s a tough decision. It’s each employee’s call if they want to take that risk. But I’d be lying if I said employees weren’t going above and beyond with agencies right now in case there’s a second wave of layoffs that may hit this industry.
Do you worry about being laid off?
Absolutely, I worry about that almost every day. I’ve been laid off before at an agency that had a huge round of layoffs. It sucks. A lot of people are scared about the future of this industry and their job. Being in the creative department at an agency — where do you go if things continue to go the way they are going? There’s not a lot of agencies hiring right now. As a parent, I’m not too sure what to say. It’s just so uncertain. I worry everyday as do so many other parents who work in advertising. What’s going to happen in three, four, six months from now?
That sounds really stressful. Do you feel like being a parent is almost a liability for you?
Yeah. The question I deal with is do I sacrifice the quality of my work and my job or do I sacrifice my son’s education? That’s what I’ll be dealing with in the next few months. That’s a lose/lose proposition.
What do you do to manage that?
Honestly, you do the bare minimum. You do what you can do that will get the job done and you kind of hope that’s enough. There’s no time for side projects right now. There’s no time for going above and beyond your client requests. It’s just about getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Has the agency talked about what everyone will do once school starts?
No, that’s not something that’s been brought up. They’ve said we’ll continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. But no one is talking about what things will look like. I don’t know if that will ever come up. I think they’ll just play it like, you managed to do it last semester and just do what you do.
Do you wish there agency leadership would talk to parents about managing homeschooling and work?
I do. It would be nice to have it out in the open and talk about ways the agency and employees could help each other. We need to help parents who really might be struggling.
How do you feel about the prospect of managing school and work at once again?
I worry about my son being a year behind. I’m really scared about if this goes on for a semester or a whole year how far behind he will really be and how this will impact the home. I worry about my job — my family comes first, but I do worry about my job.
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