Does Publicis Groupe's flexible working approach mark a tipping point?

By empowering its staff to work flexibly, Publicis has thrown down the gauntlet to the industry.

Presenteeism is the death knell for creativity. The first casualty of working long hours is creativity; our capacity to be creative or think clearly is wiped out by stress hormone cortisol. According to research from Creative Equals, just 12% of people get their best ideas in an office – a stat that makes Publicis' move to expand flexible working to its entire UK workforce all the more welcome.

Yet, beyond Publicis’ groundbreaking move, the ad industry has been reticient to embrace the opportunity afforded by flexible working. As Marilyn Baxter, one of the first women on the board at Saatchi & Saatchi and author of the IPA’s original Women in Advertising report, explained: "There is a big disconnect between what it is agencies do, which is highly creative and strives for originality, and the way they work – which isn’t."

This is not just robbing individuals of their ability to think creatively, but to think clearly at all. The recent Truth About Talent report from The Blueprint illustrated the way in which the industry’s broken business model is breaking talent.

In November 2018, a senior creative laid bare the mental toll of the advertising industry’s long hours culture in Campaign, highlighting in stark terms the human cost of being asked to give up their lives in pursuit of "creativity"

Flexible working is an issue that extends far beyond working parents, but there is little question that inflexibility is one reason behind the industry's slow progress on diversity. A focus on presenteeism has pushed women out of the industry – a problem described by Nathalie Turton, who had a job offer retracted after asking to leave the office three times a week at 5pm to collect her child. 

Of course, the ad industry is not the only sector grappling with this shift in the value exchange between employee and employer. But will change come soon enough? We asked a selection of industry experts if Publicis’ approach to flexible working marks a tipping point in the industry.

Jo Sutherland

Chief executive, Carat UK

It’s a good thing but I don’t think this is a tipping point. Many businesses are already very progressive in how they work, putting individuals first and finding lateral ways of working that benefit the employee and therefore the employer. At Carat, we recognise flexible working in its many guises and actively encourage uptake. Not just working from home, but adjusted hours, condensed hours and additional unpaid leave, so working parents can take school holidays off and spend precious time with their kids, if that’s what they want to do. We do whatever works for the individual – it’s called "flexible" for a reason. In short, I think the tipping point probably happened a couple of years ago, but I’m proud to say that you don’t have to look very far to see some brilliant examples of flexible working.

Fergus Hay

Chief executive, Leagas Delaney

It’s a welcome initiative to bridge the gap that exists in agencies between Victorian working models and the real needs of a modern workforce. At Leagas Delaney, we recognise that our lives have evolved beyond the sexist Victorian era and that working environments need to keep pace. We all have commitments. That’s why we believe that a focus on outcome rather than how, where and when we work allows everyone to be accountable for their own output. Only with a truly results-oriented environment can we attract and retain diverse, world-class talent enabled and motivated to deliver the very best work for our clients.

Rosa Rolo

Director, Major Players

The millennial workforce has been challenging the world of "presenteeism" and looking for more than the old-school benefits of a pension and a great Christmas party for a while. A good work/life balance has become pretty fundamental with candidates making a job move, so flexible working should help Publicis against some of the more traditional agencies. The biggest obstacle it faces is the size of the business and the huge change in management that needs to be implemented, while also balancing the effect of potentially reduced hours on their client service levels. The tech and communication will no doubt determine the results and success of the initiative.

Harriet Russell-vick

Creative art director, TBWA\London

It’s a great start in changing the industry, especially for women in creative departments. It means you’ll be seeing more of us in the industry for longer, decreasing that drop-out rate. For me, as a creative, if I choose to have children, I now have the flexibility – nothing is out of the question. Because, let’s be honest, even if we don’t have kids, we all have other things outside of advertising (shock horror). Flexible hours allow us to have our cake and eat it too. Gone will be the days of the crowd rolling their eyes because you’re "working from home", assuming you’re watching Jeremy Kyle. What comes next? We’ll have to watch this space.

Subscribe today for just $89 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free