By Briony Chappell, Account Manager for Ogilvy PR.

Work life balance: what is it and is it achievable? These are the questions eternally rattling around in the minds of most of us and, particularly at the most recent WACL gathering, those in the communications industry. Is it possible for me to have a high-flying leadership role and still have time for myself?

Nina Jasinski, CMO of Ogilvy & Mather Group UK, hoped that WACL’s fourth Gathering in the ‘Speak Up’ series would produce that ‘silver bullet’, the answer to all of these questions, and the key to unlocking work life happiness. And right she was; in fact, it practically rained silver bullets.

Four industry leaders took to the stage to share their insights and anecdotes about balancing a busy home life with an even busier work life. But what is work life balance in 2016? It’s no longer built around the traditional 9-5, as technology has made us more connected than ever, and with an increasing emphasis on health and well-being, we’re practically answering emails whilst doing downward facing dog.

Hattie Matthews, Managing Partner at Karmarama, praised America on its concept of ‘work life blend’, which champions bringing your home life into your working environment. Want to get your nails done at 4pm? Why not? Need to take a personal call during work hours? Also ok. And employers are getting better at recognising the need for the blend; Google’s sleep pods are a well known but interesting example, designed for mid-shift catnaps.

Culture is changing both in and out of the workplace. The panel’s youngest member, Caitlin O’Keeffe, Account Director at JWT and winner of WACL’s Future Leader award, aptly pointed out that today’s younger generation are less concerned with saving money, and more concerned with gaining experiences.

This translates to the workplace. More and more, it’s people who are shaping office culture, not organisations. Tracy De Groose, CEO at Dentsu Aegis, strongly recommends stepping up and making these changes yourself. She speaks from experience: as well as helping grow Carat into to a billion-pound business, she also led its transformation into one of the Sunday Times’ Top 100 Companies to Work For. Tracy revealed that it was lots of little changes (kick started by a request for an Amateur Dramatics society) that resulted in a big cultural shift.

And it’s become clear that culture is intrinsically linked to performance. Having the right culture where people feel empowered and supported, where they do a good job and are rewarded for it, will drive business performance. Appreciating that everyone is unique, and that everyone works in different ways, at different times, in different environments, forces a business to throw out the one size fits all approach and become outcome focussed. Want to work from home? Be my guest; just make sure that project gets delivered on time.

So how do we go about achieving this balance? The answer on all the panellist’s lips: love your job. Ok, so that’s the dream, but how else? What little changes can we make that will make a big difference to our well being?

Claire Harrison-Church, VP Marketing at Asda, said that feeling in control is the key to her own work life balance in the retail industry. And for Claire, those in leadership positions should recognise how out of control junior members of staff can feel, and take steps to ease that stress. During her time at Sainsbury’s, Claire enjoyed ‘no email Wednesdays’ and ‘no meeting Fridays’, which didn’t necessarily mean that there were no emails or meetings, but still is a great example of a large company setting a positive precedent.

Setting personal rules and boundaries was also a key theme for the panellists. Simple things like leaving on time at least once a week, not looking at your emails in the evening, and turning your phone off while on holiday are all quick fixes in theory, but much harder in practice. So it’s about really making the effort to switch off. Hattie shared how she joined a band and now leaves on time once a week for practise, and Caitlin will read an email at 6pm and choose to answer it in the morning. Teach yourself to do it and that guilty feeling will ease, and eventually go away.

The final thought on the audience’s mind was the most obvious: what about kids? Can I be successful in the workplace and also be a great mum? Claire and Tracy, who both have two children, were not fazed by this, and championed doing both: you can love your career and love your family, and the industry needs more role models for people who can make it work. Businesses are becoming savvier too, with an emphasis on shared parental leave and flexi working hours for staff that need to pick their kids up from school. Plus, people love talking about your kids, says Nina, they make brilliant small talk.

So in conclusion, achieving the perfect work life balance is difficult, but shifting culture towards a work life blend is absolutely doable. Here are our panellist’s top tips for happiness at work and home:

  • You get one life so live it well, listen to your body and prioritise your health and well being.
  • Be well rounded, have time for hobbies and interests.
  • Ask more, often the answer is yes. The best initiatives often come from young people.
  • Work in a culture that feels right, so you can be the best version of yourself.
  • Don’t apologise, and let people know that it’s ok if they have somewhere to go.
  • Trust people; give and you will receive.
  • And of course, love your job, so that it doesn’t feel like work.