The ‘hard work’ debate: of missed context and nuances

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The CEO of Bombay Shaving Company got a lot of flak for his recent LinkedIn post where he advised youngsters to ‘give it their all’ during the early, formative years in work life. What triggered everybody was the use of the phrase ’18-hour work days’. While some came out in support, even his clarifications evoked a lot of negative feedback.

There is no denying that hard work is a must at any stage of one’s career – or any aspect of life. What many took exception was the emphasis on the 22-27 age bracket cuing that it was the best phase for ‘work and nothing else’. Also the series of posts suggested that ‘work-life balance’ was important only after a certain stage in life.

Fact is, context matters. Not all jobs or careers are the same. In professions such as advertising, there is a lot of dependancy on others at any stage in one’s career. As an Account Executive on a high pressure account, there is not much one can do if the work produced by the copywriter is rejected by the Creative Director or Business Head on the day of client presentation. If it means a fresh start and re-work on the project the account management team may not always be in a position to buy more time and pack up for the day.

A lot of work in advertising goes through re-work (and late nights or work on weekends) because of inefficient processes, lack of clarity on what’s required and using the work already produced as material to think through the brief. The blame unfortunately cannot be pinned on any one individual or role. The cascading effect maybe triggered by a vague (or even unnecessary) client brief, poor understanding of a good sharp brief or inability to sell (or buy) good, relevant work.

Work-life balance may simply mean avoiding mental stress or burn-out triggered by over work. It may not mean shutting out work sharp at 6pm only to have it re-triggered at 9am the next day. Not all roles and industries may allow for such strict compartmentalisation.

Hard work does not mean long hours and long hours does not mean hard work.


A young sportsperson may have to sacrifice on sleep or ‘taking time off’ for a continued stretch of time – much more than the typical salaried professional. But as long as they are mindful of what their body and mental health can take they can pace out their leisure activities for mental wellbeing.

I don’t agree that those in the 22-27 age bracket cannot yearn for ‘work-life balance’ and have no right to ‘me time’ to chase leisure and personal hobbies. In fact, the current generation will completely revolt at such a career prospect. Moreover, getting things done has become relatively easier in the digital world, thanks to technology.

In the early 90s ad agency, unproductive work like waiting for 35mm slides was common. Typos in a bunch of slides would mean even more hours of waiting. Art works were manually pasted with bromides. ‘Touch up’ of a layout or art work involved hand drawn paintings or spray paint work. In the digital world, these are done in a jiffy. I am sure there are many such examples in other industries too where tech has cut short time taken to complete a process.

There is no denying however that working late is equated with ‘earnestness’ and worn as a medal in the ad agency business. I am sure that leaving the office at 6pm evokes the ‘half day?’ taunt or smirk even today. The hard truth is that personal time is not respected both by clients and agencies. Clients expect lightning fast turnarounds as a norm and think nothing of rejecting work with the flimsiest of reasons. FOMO makes them ‘demand’ a social media post to chase an imaginary opportunity in the name of moment marketing. Recently, the one-word tweet from Amtrak set off a trend. I am sure many digital agencies must have been pressurised to create a similar post for their brands.

Another critical aspect to consider is the mindset of the youngster today.

The new generation of employees have wised up to false promises and empty corporate pep-talks. The previous generation perhaps set unreasonable expectations of being always-on and going above-and-beyond — so now, just doing one’s job feels like ‘Quiet Quitting’! That said, most people EVEN NOW will follow a good leader to the ends of the earth with little thought of “commensurate reward”


In marketing & advertising, toxic work culture is a result of several reasons starting from the business model itself. It takes effort from every stakeholder to evoke a sense of fulfilment and reward for what one accomplishes at work – be it in 8 hours or more.

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