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A nifty headline over at MediaPost suggested that a Change.org petition signed by 82 people was the reason why a holding company of 70,000+ employees decided to change its protocols from having only essential staff on hand to having no staff on hand.
Despite the courage and stunning bravery it took to spend five minutes creating an anonymous Change.org petition, the creator in question probably shouldn't start making a case study video about it for the award shows just yet.
For one reason, there most likely won't be in-person award shows. For another reason, it is a far greater likelihood that Omnicom is monitoring the situation on a day-by-day basis the same as all the other business and people and governments the world over.
I can't believe I just defended a monolithic holding company. But you have to remember the only thing advertising cares about besides making piles of cash they don't evenly distribute to the employers who do the real work, is avoiding lawsuits at all costs. (Which reminds me, I wonder how the discovery phase of Diet Madison Avenue lawsuit is going? I'm sure they wish we all forgot about it, but we haven't.)
It is telling that the mistrust between employee and agency is so strong that employees would feel it necessary to try and pressure those at the top to do the right thing, because they naturally assume those at the top won't.
I hardly need to point out that the advertising industry doesn't have the best track record with ensuring trust or quality of life. In fact, it has no track record at all.
When I was in portfolio school it was already know agencies like 72andsunny and Crispin were notorious sweatshops that did heavy damage to your health, personal life, family and married life, not to mention your soul. And that was back when those two shops were still doing award-winning work.
Spoiler alert-- no amazing work is worth giving up your life.
Let us also not forget the other tricks up the industry's sleeves. "Unlimited vacation," was touted as a huge perk, but those of us who have been around for a minute knew it was just a ruse to avoid paying people out for unused vacation days. It's a nifty catch-22. Take as much vacation as you want! But only if you get it cleared from your superiors who always seem to find a reason for you to postpone taking vacations.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. My favorite story happened to an art director friend of mine. He slipped in the snow in the agency's parking lot, hit his head and ended up in the hospital with a concussion. The doctor told him he had to rest for two weeks. The agency took that to mean he'd be "working from home," for two weeks.
On a personal note, a project manager email me during my dad's funeral wanting to know if I could come in the next day for an "exciting" brief. And yes, everyone knew where I was. Spoiler alert #2: The brief was not exciting. Coincidentally, this was my last full-time job before going freelance.
There will be many teachable moments during this corona virus season. Washing your hands for twenty seconds will be the least of it. Far greater, I hope, will be the lessons learned during the mandatory work-from-home cycle. You can be just as productive at your job without being handcuffed to your office desk, if not more so. All the perks and benefits in the world don't matter when you can't use them. And whether you fall into the 'don't have to worry about it because I'm in my twenties," category or "I should really not see anyone for a month because I'm 82," category, the biggest lesson is that your heath is most important. So while you relearned how to wash your hands, here are some tips on taking care of your health:
1. Your physical health matters. Try cutting back on the binge drinking and coke snorting (I'm talking to you, twenty-something producer who misdialed me at three in the morning a few Saturdays ago). Take care of your physical health. Note that your agency's not so semi-regular yoga class doesn't count. Chances are great you'll have a meeting when it's happening, so they won't let you go. Just like that unlimited vacation. Exercise on the reg, even if it means doing it before work. It'll boost your immune level and help to deal with the part.
2. Mental health matters: Don’t ever postpone your vacation. Force them to lay you off and get severance if they try to pull that. You will always regret not taking vacation. You will never regret working twelve hours a day on some bullshit assignment. If you find yourself working for people who treat you like dirt, gaslight you into believing you suck at your job despite the many, many hours you are forced to be there, or just don't fit in with the agency's bro culture, walk away. There are hundreds of agencies out there, not to mention in-house agencies in companies with normal work hours that do a much better job of taking care of their employees.
Nowhere is perfect and everywhere has faults. Despite the attitude of most shops that its workforce is expendable and they will happily throw you under the bus to increase their profit margins, I still don't believe that those at the top literally want you to come down with corona virus just so they can pump out some more social posts.
It's difficult to compartmentalize what's going on right now with the temperature check of your agency on a good day. But it is worth it to do so.
While we're social distancing, it's not a great time to also do some self-reflection. Take stock of your situation and see if there's anything you can change to make your work environment better, short of never stepping foot in the office again. If you can get onto another account or work with different people, great. If you can take an actual vacation and find someone in HR who doesn't just pretend to listen but proactively helps you, then great. But if when we all return to work, you find it's as stressful and toxic as ever, then it's just as bad as being surrounded by someone who has corona virus. It’s impossible not to be affected by it.
Other jobs will come up and other opportunities will present themselves. It's easier to vote with your feet than change the system from within. At the very least, try to retain some emotional distance from it all. Lean into your support group of friends and loved ones. Remember-- you signed an employment contract in ink. Not blood.