I’ve written before about the fine line between getting the most from your staff and abusing the grey area that allows you to ask them to extend their working hours.

When I was a freelancer the difference became very clear: I might be called in to work a Sunday, but I’d be offered an extra day’s pay for that inconvenience (sometimes a day and a half). The full-timers had to do the same extra hours as part of their contract, so their happiness wasn’t quite as colossal as mine. From my perspective it seemed as if many Creative Directors were sneakily getting the work of a person-and-a-half for the salary of a single person.

Now, I’m not saying for a minute that people should never have to work weekends or evenings – it’s often in their interests as campaigns get completed on time and at a higher quality, conferring benefits on both the agency as a whole and possibly the creatives themselves – but there has to be a limit to those requests and ideally some sort of time-in-lieu compensation, if possible.

When you just work people to death, you can end up, well, working people to death. When that article was left on a comment on this blog last week another commenter said:

I work for an Asian company, albeit in London. They are totally mental, have no regard for human life and are obsessed with status (hence the buckets of scam awards they crave). It probably wasn’t the 3 days straight that killed the poor fucker but rather the years of abuse leading up to it. Look at the education league. Korea top for education and child suicide. What matters?

What matters indeed? Probably not the ad the poor copywriter was working on. But I think we’re all aware of the pressure that often exists alongside the presenteeism that infects so many agencies. These days, when the client is an even more powerful king than it was before, the feeling that we ought to be supplying ever more ‘routes’ and ever more executions of each route in ever more media channels sits like a giant cloud over many creative departments. It’s very difficult to measure the subjective value called ‘quality’ but no such problem exists when it comes to quantity. Just place a ruler against the pile of paper or count the pages of the Keynote; the extent of our devotion is right there in Googled images and YouTube references.

So what does this all come down to? Well, the comment I left suggested it’s up to all of us (employers and employees) to take responsibility for the situation. Asking people to work hours that are seriously detrimental to their health is ultimately of no benefit to anyone, just as working 30 hours on a Red Bull drip can only end in disaster. There’s no need to continue flogging the already well-flogged, just as there is no need to behave like a compliant serf for the umpteenth day in a row.

But I also understand that perhaps that’s easier said than done, and that some will feel the pressure more than others, and feel less able to speak up. That’s where employers must be as vigilant. We don’t have the physio data that tells professional  football managers when their players are entering the ‘red zone’, but we all have experience, eyes and ears. Using them to avoid misery, decreasing performance and death seems like the least we can do.

So how do you feel about your own situation? Are you overworked? On the edge? Just dandy? Let us know…