You need a better work life balance
"People tend to obsess over the divide between work and life. If you're really happy in your job and you really enjoy what you do, it's life enriching"
Anant Sharma | Co-founder | Matter Of Form
How would you explain what “you need a better work life balance” means?
There are different quadrants in your life that you need to feel satisfied in. A lot of what you in an agency is reactive and it can easily steer you into just developing one quadrant, while forgetting about other quadrants such as family life, respite, travel, spirit and adventure.
There are common traits with those people who run agencies. It’s different to running other types of businesses where you're developing a product with a mono focus on what you need to achieve. You can clearly see what the end goal looks like. With an agency you are buffeted by the winds of revenue. You tend to gravitate towards the things that give you joy. It's very difficult to run an agency that's just a money making machine, where there's a disconnect between what your individual passions are and what you do day to day.
That presents a problem, because most people who run agencies love people, love the excitement of dealing with multiple clients and they like the variety that it offers. Because it's rewarding. But it can camouflage the fact that you do need to do other things and find satisfaction in other areas of your life.
I have ADD. There are both positives and negatives to it. However, it has allowed me to build a team around me that can support me in achieving my goals. They are not copies of myself, but rather reflections of my weaknesses. Many agency owners who grow their businesses to a certain size are more likely to be able to let go and trust and delegate to their team because of their personality type.
Still, the joy of growing the business, hiring more people, and finding new clients is deeply fulfilling for agency owners. Therefore, it can often mask the fact that you need to do other things to enrich your life.
What do you think about this ‘advice’?
It would be hard to say that's bad advice. There is a very blurry boundary between what I consider to be "life" and "work" for me. The absence of work makes me feel slightly listless. It brings me deep joy and satisfaction to work in a business that is all about people. As I get older, I find it more and more rewarding to work with young, talented people who keep me connected to culture, and on the other end of the table are smart C-suite individuals who run interesting businesses. A lot of my social life has become centered on these types of individuals, and for me, that is very enriching from a "life" perspective.
Of course, you have to switch off and take vacations. I go on a Vipassana meditation retreat once a year and do 10 days of silent meditation. It has a transformative effect on my priorities and helps me find mental equilibrium. It is so enriching that we offer the retreats to the whole business, paying for them and not taking away from employees' vacation time. We encourage them to do something they might not do if they had to take it out of their vacation time. It feels like a gift to give back to the people in the business, especially in this age of perpetual distraction and notifications.
To some extent, we contribute to that with the work we do. Yes, our primary focus is humanizing brands and helping people develop more empathetic connections with them, giving personality to organizations to make them more appealing to customers.
However, that can also involve things that cause distraction and create false ideas and aspirations that can get in the way of being an enriched, balanced person and finding mental equilibrium. Meditation or circumstances that force you to disconnect from everything can provide relief, especially for someone like me who talks a lot and is always on the go.
Would you give this advice to other people?
People tend to obsess over the divide between work and life. If you're happy in your job and enjoy what you do, it can be enriching to your life. You have purpose, feel like you are on a mission, and enjoy the human aspect of your work, such as mentoring younger people and developing relationships through work.
There is a lot of discussion at the moment, due to the shift to remote work and the changes brought about by COVID, about redefining the divide between work and life. While that is important, I think work also gives you many things that are missing from modern life. It provides a physical community of people, a sense of belonging and purpose, and a shared mission. In an age where many people don't even know their neighbors, working remotely on Zoom may contribute to some of the anxiety people have experienced over the past two years.
I have seen firsthand with my team the positive effects of coming into the office and reconnecting with each other. Our cultural program seeks to bring people together in more ways than just going to the pub. They are happier, more creative, and ultimately it is rewarding and makes them feel good about themselves.
It's not a direct answer to the question, but I do think work is a significant part of most people's lives, perhaps even 80%. You can design your life so that it's not, but for most people, work takes up a large portion of their time. Therefore, it is important to make work fun and meaningful, and that doesn't necessarily mean you have to save the world. Start by making your work meaningful, and then make sure it doesn't become everything in your world.
What’s one thing Anant Sharma has done at Matter Of Form to minimise the conflicts one has at work or at home?
We get upset with people when they respond to things while on holiday. The problem was initially that I used to say that and then still be on Slack while on holiday. We now ask others to reprimand my business partner and me when we interfere while we are meant to be on holiday.
At Matter Of Form, there is a culture of healthy competition where people really hold each other accountable when they respond while on holiday. You have to practice what you preach. When people have been burnt out, I ask them to delete Slack and email from their phones before going on holiday.
There are a combination of small actions that make people feel celebrated and respected by the company when they are on holiday. It is not just lip service. It reassures them that we can get by without them and that they have their place when they return. This transforms a 10-day holiday.
Sometimes people do have to work late, but this is the exception rather than the norm. This comes from being more organised as a business, pushing back on clients and being upfront about the conditions required to deliver good work and pitches.
A bonus for your from Anant
There have been some very contradictory policies suggested in some countries over the past couple of years that aim to find or encourage an optimal work-life balance. One that particularly irked me was the legislation proposed in the Netherlands and France that bans people from responding to work emails outside of "working hours."
Technology has given us the freedom to work in whatever way we choose. It seems contradictory to talk about flexible working and then reinforce the 9-5 paradigm. Personally, I work best late at night and may email people late at night, knowing they don't have to respond immediately. We need to adapt our cultural ideals and management philosophies to how we now work. However, this freedom can also bring problems such as a deficit of attention, anxiety, and stress, which are up to individuals to manage and find a culture that suits their own ideals for how they want to work.
It's not easy for everyone to find a place where they feel this is true, but I do think it's up to leadership to enforce the idea that you shouldn't be expected to respond to things outside of "working hours."
We shouldn't over-police the world based on biases that some people may have about how THEY want to work. It's harmful to create policies that reinforce outdated paradigms and carry hidden costs.
Humble promo of Anant Sharma and Matter Of Form
One of the things that really impresses me about Anant Sharma is his approach to strategy and ability to pivot if he believes there is a better way of doing it. Matter Of Form's transitions over the years is a great example. Starting as a technical partner for startups - realising it's tricky to build a sustainable agency that way. Then spending a few years designing and building websites and apps for brands in the luxury sector - realising they needed to be involved in the conversations before the technical implementation is due to start. Eventually evolving into a brand consultancy, where Anant has found his personal joy in debating brand strategy with CEOs and CMOs of some of the most famous luxury brands we know. Not many agencies manage to go through such major transitions and get to the size that Matter Of Form is today. Very impressive!
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