OgilvyOne's CEO, Jo Coombs, spoke to B2B Marketing about work/life balance.

Knowing technology renders us always contactable, B2B Marketing spoke to Jo Coombs to find out how she strikes the right balance between personal and professional.

I don't think there's such a thing as work/life balance...

We only have one life, and it’s important that you’re happy and fulfilled in both sides of it. If you’re happy at work but unhappy at home – or vice versa – you won’t be in balance. A few years ago, I was pretty unhappy at home, but loving my job – so was working long hours because work was where I felt happiest. Now, as a mum with two young children, I’d love to spend more time at home with them. But it’s all about balance.

I think it’s important, as a leader, to show your human side at work. Celebrate what people are doing in their lives at home – we have a Monday morning ‘quickie’ meeting, and I always try to be as human as possible. If I’m leaving an hour early on Wednesday, I’ll tell the team that I’m going to my kid’s sports day. If a colleague is off on Friday, we’ll share the fact that after months of training he’s finally off to do an Iron Man. Give people permission to be human; we’re not machines, after all, and having EQ and a sense of empathy is hugely important. 

 

"When it comes to flexibility there’s definitely a tipping point: when only a small percentage of the workforce is taking advantage of flexible working, feelings of guilt and resentment can creep in."

 

In today's always-on society, you have to learn to compartmentalise...

... because you can’t think about everything all the time. It’s about operating in different modes depending on what you’re doing. I tend to get home at 6.30pm, and have an hour and a half with my kids; during the evening I resist the urge to check emails – which is a constant battle. But sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon when I’ve been playing with the kids all day, checking my email actually gives me a bit of breather. It’s my brain switching over from one mode to the other. But if I look at them and end up regretting it, I’ve only got myself to blame!

Personally, I believe that if you can’t switch off in the evenings or at the weekends, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with your organisation. A few years ago, lots of people would be doing a one and a half hour commute without WiFi – and they managed. Nothing went catastrophically wrong!

When it comes to flexible working there's definitely a tipping point...

When only a small percentage of the workforce is taking advantage of flexible working, feelings of guilt and resentment can creep in. But once you get past that point, your organisation will become more self-healing, and people will be more likely to help each other out rather than resent each other for not being in the office.

It’s also worth saying that flexibility allows for diversity because as an organisation you can meet a whole host of different needs: family needs, religious leads, personal needs. You can also attract people from different backgrounds. Some people think that the stereotypes around agency life are true – that it’s all work hard, play hard and lots of heavy drinking – but that just isn’t the case. You need to be good at what you do and you need to collaborate, but it really doesn’t matter whether you leave at 5pm, don’t drink, or come in at 10am because you have a morning spin class. 

 

"Flexibility allows for diversity because as an organisation you can meet a whole host of different needs: family needs, religious leads, personal needs."

 

 

The Swedish six-hour working day presents a really interesting cultural challenge...

I think it comes down to the culture of the country you live in – or even the city you live in. And personally, I wouldn’t want to live in a country that legislates how many hours people can and can’t work: it should be all about choice. I wouldn’t like to see it mandated, but as a country, city, or definitely an industry, instilling flexibility in our workforce is the most important thing. 

This was originally published in B2B Marketing.

Read more from Jo on finding work/life balance on Ogilvy UK's blog.