The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Money Doesn’t Make You Live Longer …
August 14, 2009, 6:16 am
Filed under: Comment

Before I left for my break, I heard the very sad news that a very talented Creative Director at Leo Burnett’s Malaysia died of a stroke.

She was 51.

Now I know stokes can be brought on by a multitude of things, but I wonder how much of it can be attributed to work day stress?

Of course I appreciate stress affects people in different ways … and that the things that cause people anxiety can vary immensely … however in a World where organisations are putting more and more pressure on their staff to work longer hours, take on more responsibility and drive better and more efficient results … should they also be taking some responsibility on the effects they are having on that individuals health?

Yes … I know many companies have some token health care scheme, but I’m talking preventative care, not reactionary.

You see, I feel some companies think that because they pay a salary, they have a right to dictate whatever they want from their staff – regardless of the impact.

What bugs me even more is that many of these companies will have a mission statement that states something like “our staff are our greatest asset” …


A few years ago – in an act of evil – I asked a friend of mine who works at a global charity group to do a study on the average hours worked by an advertising account executive versus how much pay they received and do you know what he found? That in many cases, the corporations they work for are employing ‘slave labour’.

Yep … the exploitation of humanity is not just limited to certain fashion brands, it is alive and well and standing there for us all to see.

And here lies my issue.

Whilst I know money is very important – I believe companies have a moral duty to offer their staff more than just cash.

Yeah … I know I’ll have things like holiday’s and training thrown back in my face … but let’s be honest here, most companies hate giving their staff time off, and the training they give – especially in adland – is a joke, especially when compared to many other industries.

Hell, I might think the banking industry is a home for the sort of delusionists who in Victorian times, would be locked up in hospital and never seen again, but interms of training – my god, they’re good. Of course WHAT they train people is open to debate, but it is something they are really committed to and makes the token gestures of adland look even more weak.

But it’s more than that.

There’s this attitude that if someone complains about workload, they are immediately labelled as weak and/or a trouble maker.

Of course I know some people can be lazy fucks – but I’ve seen many people, me included – who have been given ridiculously big and demanding tasks just because the company they worked for felt it was a way to maximise their profitability because they’d dropped their pants on the fee they agreed to give the client.

Not that they’d admit to that. Oh no … it’s always sold as ‘an opportunity’ … a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to impress.

I know … I know … without money we’d have no jobs … and whilst I know that’s true, I’m a bit fed up of how companies trot that excuse out everytime they want their people to do something beyond their job description.

So what am I suggesting?

Well I think it might be useful if companies send their staff to learn stress management techniques and then allow them [or evaluate them] to ensure it is maintained on a regular basis.

It doesn’t matter if it’s yoga, talking to psychologists or boxing … I’m talking about giving people the ability to learn ways to ‘manage’ their internal pressures – pressures that go beyond the workplace – but affect the workplace.

I’m not suggesting this because if people can manage stress, they can then be given more work … I’m saying it because in our battle to have some kind of work/life balance, just having the ability to ‘switch off’ when you finish work is something that could have big health benefits for many people.

And what does the company get out of it?

Well apart from happier, more energised employee’s who can start to make a bigger difference with their clients because they are able to look at the bigger picture rather than get bogged down with niggling things that eat them up from the inside … they are able to probably negotiate cheaper staff health insurance because their staff are less likely to fall ill.

Infact, when I think of it, I believe this sort of approach should be mandated by clients – especially those who work in the health industry – even though in reality we all know they like sick people more than happy and healthy.

But seriously, how strong a message would it send to adland if one of these billion dollar pharmaceutical companies said they would only award their business to an agency who had processes in place that made sure their staff’s mental and physical wellbeing was being catered for?

And how positive would the team working on the account feel about their client?

Sure, when they start demanding bigger logo’s and headline changes at 11pm it might all go down the toilet, but you get that from most clients so at least you’d feel this was someone who had helped you get something more out of your agency and life.


OK, I know I haven’t thought it all through and in no way am I suggesting the sad death of Yasmin had anything to do with the pressures her agency put her under … but in these challenging times with companies needing to be ever more efficient and effective, I believe making sure your staff are healthy and happy is both a corporate responsibility and a corporate advantage – even though I bet if I asked most people what would make them happier in the workplace, they’d say “more cash”.

I really was born in the wrong era wasn’t I!

16 Comments so far
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You need a holiday.

Comment by John

Excellent post Robert, swine flu seems to have done you the World of good.

I think this post highlights a number of points, from companies ignorance in appreciating the commercial, let alone morale, value of investment in employee mental health and stimuluation to the questionable role of many HR departments.

I’m sure if Andy was here, even he would approve of this post.

Comment by George

Rob for president.

Comment by Bazza

Sorry Rob, I think you have been far too easy on the ad companies. Maximising profitabilty is the mantra so sod employee welfare, health and any long term concerns in favour of making a fast buck. Officially 100% of an employee’s time is 1600 hours. But how many of us actually work that number of hours in a year? Singapore, not the most worker friendly country in the world, caps working hours at 48 weekly aggregated over a month. Every agency in Singapore breaks this rule, every month of every year. Finally, we sell our time to clients, how many of our agencies sell more than 100% of that time? A good post rob but I think you’ve let the holding companies off a little easily.

Comment by martin

I’d be nominating you for president too if you hadn’t just asked me to take on another project because Andy is away living the dream.

Then you have arranged fresh food to be sent over every night as well as flowers for the girl so you are off the hook a little.

Good post, sorry to hear about the Malaysian creative.

Comment by DH

Id have to disagree with the ‘manage stress’ program/yoga/boxing. It sounds like a quick fix. If I heard a company was getting its employees to do stress management, I’d see it as the company wanting more work out of them – a con job. It would be better to get to the roots of the problems, ie: one or two people in the office probably provide 80% of the stress to others, small issues that are encountered everyday (car parking, finding food, faulty computers), crackberry dependency, non-job related and time consuming tasks, etc.

Comment by Jacob

Jacob, I wonder if you would be as cynical if you worked for an industry other than advertising?

Do agree that a lot of stress emanates from a small % of people/situations and processes but we all react to things in different ways so a blanket elimination of annoyances may not be feasible, let alone practical.

Good post Robert but a word of warning. If you were to introduce boxing classes into the agency to relieve stress, it might be a danger to your nose. 🙂

Comment by Pete


I look forward to making it to yoga classes more regularly now on. I do seem to recall a plan to get a punching bag hooked up in our office =)

oh, and shopping + spa visits calm me down, making me even more supersonically productive!

Comment by Kaj

It’s not about add-ons to reduce stress, it’s about reining back to avoid stress. It’s about saying (whether you’re an agency or an employee)that you have been entrusted with a task and should be left to do it. So no 24/7 availability, few meetings that interrupt the flow of doing with talking about doing and an understanding that free time and outside life inform and improve productivity.

Naive of course – requiring everyone to accept that the individual work is not as crucial as one’s egos/corporate identities lead us to declare – but it would work.

Comment by John

I’m sulking.

Comment by Marcus

Excellent point Martin, because whilst I mentioned in the post that some agencies could be classed as employing ‘slave labour’, the reality is this happens because of the demands and expectations of the holding companies, let alone the clients and local office bosses.

John … you are back to your best and Marcus, I’m going to do it – I will – just give me a few days.

Comment by Rob

I’m not sulking because of you Campbell. It’s Bazza. Bazza. Bazza.

Comment by Marcus

But you said you could handle the truth Marcus. 🙂

Comment by Bazza

welcome back rob. i know that you’ve posted something similar before, but this one is excellent.

i’ve been reading a lot of texts on behaviour lately and and i have started to wonder which came first: do bad workplace labour habits rise out of an individual inability to honour ones basic needs (that flows into work), or do we learn to deny our fundamental right to function well from our labour and our need to fit our lives around it?

Comment by lauren

funny – i have a mate who emailed me that does drumming for corporations – hes been trying to get his idea going and has a few trial sessions with one banking corp. his idea is thru drumming participants build a bond, a relationship as well as relieve stress – also find an internal beat – if you see what i mean. anyways can email you his stuff if anyones interested.

Comment by sky tao

sorry for being late and hello

great post.

i think that applying principles of efficiency and growth to people just brings some problems. humans may be able to work with 100% dedication the whole day and parts of the night. even over a certain period of time. but if they do, health and life will suffer after a while. that just means additional things to deal with and then: stress. no way keeping 100% dedication for the job up anymore. or actually being great at what you do… that s no news. but i thought it would be worth mentioning.

what i think is that companies/bosses-who-want-to-make-an-awesome-career should step back – if they do – from always demanding 150%. there are times of pressure and stress. but everyone needs a break from time to time. so if your employees have the time and freedom to be a bit self-centered (because they have holidays, a hobby, or meditate etc.), they will be likely to be fine dealing with heavy pressure and stress from time to time… that means investing money in your employees. not going for the cheapest alternative – not having only two people for the workload of five and so on… but in the end, you might actually see a return on that investment. because the performance is good.

so i think helping your employees finding ways to actively manage and prevent work stress is really a good idea.

especially as some people forecast that psychological based factors and illnesses will lead to an even greater loss of working hours in the future than they already do.

sorry for the lenghtiness of the drivel. i just got it all off my chest here 🙂

Comment by peggy

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