There is an ubiquitous misconception in the business world which I like to call The Myth of Endless Growth. It is by no means a fully fledged philosophical theory or something I should ever take the credit for, but it is real about any business; the overly ambitious, selfish and unsustainable belief that resources on this planet are infinite, and that we can always get more money for our worth.
When you look at some of the biggest business hubs in the world, you can see where that stems from. Places such as London and New York are made for workaholic – people and businesses who often put work and career before their personal happiness in life. They aim for an intangible goal, something they can’t quite grasp but know it’s there – an objective that will make them feel completely fulfilled, if only they were to reach it.
Except that day never comes. There is always the next big thing, there is always the next project to think about and some more work to do, all to follow this myth of endless growth by which we will always have opportunities to thrive further. Meanwhile, our mind deteriorates. Our time on this Earth draws to a close. And we are left none the wiser.
This is the kind of attitude you can sometimes find in certain agencies, brands and employees in general, big or small. One of the most recent stories I can tell about that matter is the one of a friend; after getting her degree in economics, she started working for a rather small business, almost a boutique, which expected all staff to make crazy long hours simply due to them being severely understaffed. There was always something more to do. Something else to think about. And because the boss was doing that, employees were expected to do the same.
It wasn’t long before she started feeling burned out. She was incredibly well paid, but her personal life and relationships were being hurt because of her work life. So, she left the business after less than a year. Because growth does not equal money, and your employees matter just as much as your rather material business objectives.
Image credit: Illustration Zone
A year like no other
In my mind, this has always been true. A successful career can’t be measured by the weight of your payslip – it can’t be all about money. In truth, the largest business hubs in the world are huge outliers. They often don’t reflect the interest of many other workers around the globe, who would be much happier with a smaller salary but a much better quality of life.
Now, you may be mistaken into believing that smaller ambitions lead to better lives. In truth, I wish it were that simple. Few people will understand ambition as much as I do – this is not about ambition. You can be ambitious about your career aspirations and still lead a happy and healthy life, taking your time to reach your goals, refusing to give in to the pressure of an increasingly unsustainable societal model. This has always been the case. But never as much as in the post-2020.
You will certainly have changed as a consumer. You will have become more conscious about the environment, or social issues, or the kind of time that you wish to spend outside of your own four walls. Do you even want to commute to the office every day? Do you even want to work for an employer that doesn’t value your mental health enough? Do you even want to take that huge pay rise, if that means working unpaid overtime nearly every day with 60+ hours of work per week? Didn’t think so.
Employees have never been as self-conscious and self-aware as in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. It is safe to assume that our society and the job market have been changed forever, and more and more employers are looking at new ways to guarantee employee wellness, well conscious that doing that will lead to more productivity, happier teams, and conversely more growth.
Sheri Brissenden, Partner of HR at The Frameworks, said: “Markets come and go, strategies and tactics change, but what matters most is not just having a vision: it’s about having a way to be, and how you translate that to the individual.” The only way in which The Frameworks was able to make it through the pandemic was by focusing on the internal friendships and client relationships. The team truly came together during the pandemic, focusing on the impact of people rather than on their skills and experience alone. Some people don’t even care about the money too much – so long as the team is great. Money can’t buy you a perfect work environment. Good management can.
“Most people don’t work for money alone,” Sheri added. “It can’t create an inspiring workplace where everyone feels happy and engaged, or give you the kind of life that matters, where you live to work instead of working to live.”
With the changes brought by in consumer behaviour in the past 12 months, so employees have become to feel differently about their workplaces. Harpreet Bushell, Group Managing Director of LAB, said: “75% of consumers want brands to make contributions to their well-being and quality of life, so why should their employers be any different?”
The importance of good management
It goes without saying that leadership is a huge factor in determining employee wellbeing. The kind of call-centre-y, retail-y micro management that you can see in some teams isn’t healthy for anybody. It is true that some people thrive under pressure, but the vast majority will not appreciate the constant weight on their shoulders. Micro-managing staff only puts further pressure on them and makes them feel watched, scrutinised and tested at all times. It also denotes a lack of trust from the employer’s side.
Managers who are too focused on objectives and pay little to no attention to the mental wellbeing of their employees are just as bad.
Harpreet added: “Leaders and managers need to be empowered to understand what motivates their people, how to cater for their well-being and how to help them grow as well rounded individuals. A recent (2020) Global Talent Trends by LinkedIn found 42% of Gen Z, 41% of Millennials, 43% of Gen X and 45% of Baby Boomers view inspirational colleagues & culture as a top factor when considering a new job. […] As the saying goes, people leave managers, not companies.”
Image credit: AKQA
The importance of balance
Work-life balance is a buzz-phrase that has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. It summarises in a few syllables what most people truly care about: a fulfilling life and career, carefully balancing each other to ensure happiness and peace.
It is all good to have a few periods of heightened stress in your career. Deadlines can make us more productive, and the adrenaline that comes from reaching any given goal is so addictive it could probably contribute to better mental health and an overall healthier life. When this balance leans too far on the side of work, however, things start to go and look wrong.
Taru Inari Mäkinen, Director and Insights Lead at Good Rebels, said: “In our recent research Age of Balance, exploring what wellbeing really means for people and how they aim to achieve it, it became evident that the real source of happiness and wellness is balance. Looking after oneself is increasingly considered a virtue, and the ‘result, result, result’ mindset is no longer a cause for pride.”
Understanding this balance is fundamental for all managers to start building better, healthier and more productive teams. It should go without saying that, if your team loves the work they are doing, they are bound to be more productive and they will personally care about doing work the right way. There’s nothing worse than an unmotivated employee, forcing themselves to push through each day only because they don’t see a way out and they’ve grown accustomed to what they’re doing – maybe even bored or lacking stimuli for growth.
This trend, leading leaders and employers to increasingly focus on an employee’s wellbeing, is what will make the agencies, brands and businesses of tomorrow even more successful than the ones we can see today. Different employers are adopting numerous (and sometimes quite creative) procedures and tactics to ensure this is in place, and that their employees are as satisfied as they can be. Even in stressful environments, they need to feel supported and cared for. Especially in this new decade.
Ben Scoggins, CEO of Organic, adopted an entirely different approach to the concept of balance: “For us, sustainable growth has only really been possible by balancing the wellbeing of the team with the financial ambition of the business. In reality, it’s not as easy as it sounds and, perhaps most controversially, it led to us ditching the conventional idea of promoting ‘a daily work-life balance’. Instead, we’ve recognised that, much as in our non-working lives, there will be times where we are stretched and need to work harder, faster or longer to make progress. That has however placed an onus on the leaders of the business to safeguard employee wellbeing.”
The leaders at Organic manage employee wellbeing in three ways: first, they have increased their business transparency. Employees will be made aware of the business’ needs at all times and leaders will ensure they are all on the same page. However, Organic does not mandate overtime and the team works in an agile way, non-standardised, to ensure the team is always free to work at their own pace.
Secondly, by monitoring the team closely (both formally and informally), the leaders at Organic are always ready to spring up and offer support to whoever needs it. And lastly, Organic – like many other agencies on this piece and increasingly more in the industry itself – has developed a culture of well-being, based on the understanding of mental health and on offering support. Parental leave policies are more flexible, there are employee initiatives to keep the team in check and good health, and the result, according to Ben, is “a happier team and a more consistent growth trajectory for the business.”
Artwork credit: Zara Picken
Why Growth ≠ Money
As you approach the end of this piece, you’ll have realised that money and business objectives don’t always equate to happiness and growth. A business can grow in several ways, by focusing on the wellbeing of its employees and ensuring that the team is consistently as happy and as healthy as it can be. The result can only be increased productivity for the business, as well as a much more organic growth over time. Plus, it’s less likely that talent will leave you for any other place!
As we enter a new normal, the Myth of Endless Growth should be eradicated as soon as possible. It is not sustainable, it is not healthy for employees, and it distracts business owners from what matters the most: to leave a lasting mark in this world, alongside the people we love and cherish the most. These can also be your employees.
So do spend more money on booze. There will come a time in which your growth may get out of hand, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of a very unpleasant salary cut or redundancy. It will hurt you as much as your team, I’m sure.
After all, money isn’t everything. “Money is a reason to work, but it isn’t the only reason – or even the most important one,” Sheri from The Frameworks concludes. “Actor Jim Carrey once said he hoped everybody could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of, because then ‘they will know it’s not the answer.’”
Perhaps, all things considered, money is just the biggest outlier of them all.