• All Work and No Play

All Work and No Play

I recently read a piece on Harvard Business Review that used Moby Dick as a metaphor for overwork. While it brought back memories of my college Hawthorne and Melville class, it also got me thinking about my own experiences of overwork, and why I decided to uproot my family and moved 600 miles away.

Before joining my current employer, I worked independently in the San Francisco Bay area, where I was born, raised, and had deep family and community ties. A home office gave me the flexibility to be around for my daughters’ activities, from school to Girl Scouts and sports practice.

Professionally, serving on the board of AIGA San Francisco, writing for industry publications and working with creatives across the country fed my soul. In a nutshell, it was fulfilling.

When I began talks with what I thought was a prospective client, I had no intention of moving or working full time for just one company. I follow the news. More and more women are choosing to work independently in order to do work they love and be in control of both their time and careers. Not a day went by where I didn’t read articles touting productivity tips for freelancers and reporting on the continued growth of the freelance economy. I presumed that this was the best and only option for me.

From my seat in the bustling epicentre of Silicon Valley, with professional opportunity all around, the thought of moving back in-house, especially hundreds of miles away to Portland, never entered my mind.

So what happened?

I wasn’t looking for change, so I was blindsided by the opportunity. I thought long and hard, and then some more, about what this would mean for my daughters, for my husband’s career, and my own – not to mention leaving my tight-knit family.

While the decision to move was one of the hardest I’ve ever made, according to a recent study by Research Now for Mayflower I am not alone. The survey found that the majority of women were willing to relocate their families for their job.

The prospective position was hugely tempting professionally. But I was concerned that I would be losing any sense of balance, and moving back into a culture of stress. Having covered agency news and advertising work for years, I knew about the long hours, the job-hopping, the burnout. No thanks. At this point in my life and my girls’ lives, I can honestly say there are more important things for me than to live and breathe work.

I spent two days at the company, interviewing the people I might work with. My last meeting with the global CEO sealed the deal. And by deal, I’m not talking salary or benefits. Rather, I saw that this organisation valued company culture from the top-down. It became clear that I could fulfil my professional needs and be present with my family.

I discovered, to my surprise, that going in-house does not have to mean giving up control – not when leadership values culture, focuses on results, and allows employees to control their workdays. It’s win-win for everyone—companies, clients, families.

I’ve realised that flexibility, new challenges and meaningful work are the reasons many women choose to quit an in-house job – but they can also be reasons for taking one.

The key is to find the right fit, which brings me back to culture. I couldn’t agree more with Lucy Jameson’s recent article, where she explains why culture is the biggest advantage in business today. “Why? Because it is the hardest thing to replicate. Competitors can imitate product and match price overnight, but culture takes energy, commitment and years to build.”

I’m happy to report that my inclinations about new employer were correct. Culture is paramount to producing great work. Tuning out on weekends makes for better workdays. Acknowledging that we all have lives outside of the agency does more for workplace culture than a ping-pong table and free lunch.

And so here I am in the Pacific Northwest working for an agency. This weekend there are games to watch and hikes to take. Monday, I’m all in.

Original article posted in The Guardian's Women in Leadership here.

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