Designers’ life/work mix not like Mintel’s Britons

Mintel’s latest British Lifestyles survey, published last week, claims Britons are increasingly achieving a ‘life/work balance’ between their job and home lives, but Design Week interviews suggest people in the industry are bucking that trend.

Around 50 per cent of British workers feel they have a good balance between their work and home life, with time spent with the family seen as the main leisure priority. Designers, however, are generally not so sanguine about their lifestyle mix.

‘I wouldn’t say I had a good life/ work balance, no. It’s profoundly the wrong way,’ comments GBH creative director Mark Bonner. ‘I’m far too committed to work. Clients expect the earth now. The most balance I get is when my two-year-old comes into the office at 6pm and draws on the floor.’

Juggling a design business and a young family is very difficult, says Bonner. Elevento 12-hour days are not uncommon. His partner, also a designer, gave up her full-time job with Turner Duckworth in order to cope with childcare. She occasionally works freelance, but Bonner adds, ‘It’s almost impossible to work in design and bring up a kid – one of us had to go.’

FutureBrand creative director Sam Dumont agrees that longish hours are ‘in the nature of the design industry’, but she believes being flexible for clients does have its limits. ‘The working day is more than eight hours, sure, but it’s hugely varied. Lately, though, it has been tougher,’ she explains. ‘[But] we owe it to ourselves and our clients not to be at their every beck and call. It’s reasonable to put forward a fair timeframe and educate clients.’

Clearly, a ‘big support network’ is one advantage of working for a larger group, whereas owner-managers of design consultancies face the twin pressures of meeting clients’ expectations and running the business.

But Dumont says her work means she ‘can’t stick to personal plans’ as much as she’d like. ‘Nobody minds working hard, but when overtime becomes the norm rather than the exception, the company has a problem,’ she adds.

Mintel also highlights a trend among British workers to soldier on through bouts of ill health, rather than taking time off. Again, as an owner-manager, this is something Bonner recognises. ‘I seem to go from one minor cold to the other,’ he says. ‘But physical health is, of course, very important in being mentally healthy.’

Dumont adds, ‘I don’t encourage people to come in if they’re unwell and really need time off. It’s unfair on other individuals in the team.’

Another Mintel finding is that Britons are taking their holidays seriously. The preference is for more holidays throughout the year that are shorter in length – a move away from the traditional two weeks.

Dumont thinks four or five breaks during the year is essential ‘for peace of mind’, but Bonner feels going away for longer at one go ‘is becoming the norm’. Some of his team have taken three of their four weeks’ allowance at once to enjoy a real change of scene.

With clients continuing to make time demands and new projects becoming scarce, the ideal balance between life and work may remain elusive. Mintel claims stress levels among British workers have not risen over the past five years – there may be plenty of designers who disagree.

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