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Yes flexible working promotes balance – but it's also a win for agencies and creativity

Flexible working. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But despite everyone talking about it, it’s not that easy to come by if you’re a creative director and a mother. 

Having worked in advertising for nearly 20 yearsI’d managed to negotiate a flexible job after maternity leave at the agency I used to work for, probably because I’d been there for years.

But when they announced an office move, I realised the new commute just wouldn’t be feasible with three young kids to dash home for. So I found myself looking for a new job last autumn.

I still really wanted to do brilliant, award-winning work, but I needed flexibility, as if I found a job working 9am to 6pm, I’d be gone from 8am to 7pm, which is basically my kids’ entire waking day. And if you add weekends, and even later nights, I would have basically become an invisible parent.

So, I dreamed of working 8am to 4pm, four days a week, somewhere close enough that I could be back in time to pick up my kids from after-school clubs at 4.30. In this ideal scenario, I’d work normal hours on one of the four days, just to be around a bit more. 

It wasn't only about the kids though – I write science fiction on Fridays and couldn’t face giving it up. I also love singing in a local choir, take dance classes, and run a book club, so I wanted to leave time for them too. Hobbies are an important part of life and make you more creative at work; I’m not sure the work, eat, sleep, repeat routine is very healthy, or that it makes you very happy long-term.

Is having a job and a life an impossible dream?

I was wondering where on earth to start when I happened to be called by a few headhunters.

They seemed really positive and had all sorts of options on the table until I mentioned a four-day week, at which point they ummed and ahhed, implied it would be tricky as a creative director, and went quiet.

Soon after, I spotted an ad for a copywriter role, three days a week. I’d spent lots of time and energy working my way up to creative director, and as mentioned was ideally after a four day week (financially and practically) but when I was offered an interview, I thought I should go, as you never know where these things might lead.

So on that Friday lunchtime, I left my protagonist Tom Dreamweaver 389765 about to face the Guardians of Law & Order and cycled off to meet Al, the Chief Creative Officer at Rapp. 

It turned out to be the most interesting interview I’ve ever had; I liked his attitude, his approach, and his vision for the agency. At the end, he asked what my perfect job would be. 

I said that even though I love copywriting, I’d like to stay as a creative director and that I wanted four days a week rather than three. He said right, noted, he’d go away and see what he could do. It all seemed a bit too good to be true - great agency, nice people and flexible hours.

Could this be the future of creativity?

So, the job offer arrived, with exactly the flexibility I was after. As a firm supporter of Creative Equal’s CreativeComback scheme, which actively helps creatives return to work after starting a family, the agency offered me a bespoke contract to complement my life-work balance.

It was even suggested I work from home on Thursdays. I couldn’t quite believe it and accepted straight away. I’ve now been there a few weeks, and it is as good as it sounds. 

Instead of feeling apologetic for the flexible arrangement (as I have in the past), Al is a champion of it. He’s always saying that that the agency benefits hugely from having talented people who live varied lives, doing interesting things inside and outside of work, and that it’s far more important than being constantly at your desk. It’s a total breath of fresh air.

Anthea Goodrick, another creative director was hired too, returning to work after maternity leave. She's working Wednesdays to Fridays, so there will always be one of us around to cover anything urgent. 

Lots of creatives work in teams anyway, so maybe this could be the way forward – the modern job share, we don’t both need to be in the office all the time.  

The flexibility is working very nicely so far, and I'm happy to be flexible in return too whenever I can. 

So after a client call ran late a few days ago, I had to cycle home so fast I thought I was going to explode. I roped local friends in to collect the kids to cover a meeting I wanted to go to. And last week I trekked off to Paris for a pitch. Al offered to step in, but I thought it was important to go. It caused slight chaos at home but was worth it.

So if there’s something you want to change, why not ask? 

Hopefully more agencies will start following suit. As it’s a win-win situation – Rapp gets to have a more diverse workforce, with experienced people it doesn't have to pay full time, and I get to enjoy my job, see my kids, write, dance and sing. 

Can’t say fairer than that.

Katie Carruthers is creative director at Rapp, she tweets @katiecruvvas

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