All work and no play: the importance of free time in agency life

All work and no play: the importance of free time in agency life

Earlier this year, headlines were dominated by the term ‘quiet quitting’ and it feels like we are on the brink of a global workforce burn out.

The creative industry is no different. But, if we read between the lines of this trend, we may well find it to be the turning point for a creative resurgence. 

The demand for careers that provide a better work-life balance and more down-time during the working day, creates the perfect environment for putting creative minds at ease.

Agency culture is fast-paced and incredibly output oriented. We are used to billing hours to clients and trying to make sure every minute results in something tangible that we can sell back to them. 

But this factory-style approach often leaves little time for the mind to rest and therefore to wonder – a key ingredient for creativity. 

And because of that, agency creatives can be left uninspired and unmotivated – instead focused on just trying to get through their workload.

Having downtime is essential if we want to deliver great creative work and the research is there to back it up. The University of Arizona just published a study that found creative people are more likely to make the most of their downtime during a typical day by exploring their mind. Having the headspace to stop and “daydream” allowed their thoughts to flow freely, which generally led to more innovative ideas.

So, how do agencies bake more down-time in creatives’ working schedules, and how can we help them turn this into new ideas?

Don’t over-book your team, maybe even under book them

With many agencies feeling the sting of economic headwinds, it’s not surprising that they want to ensure they are running lean teams and optimising their time. However, this way of working may well come at their detriment. We’ve seen the impact that burnout can have on mental health and therefore employees' abilities to function. So, it’s worth leaving some time in the resource calendar for creatives to do nothing but think, read or even grab a coffee. And, creatives will thank you for it!

Having the space to think will not only make them happier, healthier employees, but give them the freedom to let their minds run wild.

Reward people for fact-finding

To get to new and unexpected places with creative, people need to make connections. A large part of this is by acquiring a broad knowledge base of lots of bits of information – whether that’s received or experienced. In fact, to get really rich ideas, you need both.

Agency leaders should be encouraging people to spend time in that fact-finding state, whether that’s scrolling through Twitter (or Threads), hate-reading the Daily Mail, listening to a true-crime podcast or going on a walk. So many of the answers we need are right in front of us, or within us.

You can make the most of this well of knowledge by creating space for people to share experiences and passions more broadly throughout the agency.

Encourage water-cooler conversations

Non-work-related conversations are more important to your creative proposition than you know. Not only can chats over a cup of tea or coffee give people the space to process their day, but it also helps to cultivate a culture that sets creativity free.

There is nothing more terrifying than sharing one of your brain babies with the world and opening yourself up for criticism. Getting your workplace culture right helps to break down some of the barriers to creativity and give people the confidence to share their ideas. That free-thinking state where good ideas blossom only happens when we feel comfortable.

In a post-covid, hybrid world this is a little trickier but not impossible. Think about initiatives that encourage people to come together and just talk about the news from the week or cultural moments – whether its virtual or in-person. 

Inspiration strikes at the most unlikely moments and in the most unlikely places

More and more we are seeing flexible working adopted by agencies, whether that’s allowing people to start or finish work outside of the usual 9 – 5 or allowing them to work remotely from a café, gym or even another country. As this becomes the new norm, I have no doubt we’ll see inspiration and creativity thrive.

Turn free time into creativity time

It’s time for us to stop pushing the 24/7 grind and start recognising the importance of downtime. Burnout is a very real challenge for the creative industry and there is a really easy solution—simply give people the time to let their minds unwind. When we do, we’ll see creative reaching new and unexpected places.

Lead image credit: iStock/agsandrew

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