Still at the Office?

Work is better when you’ve got a life. Go home already

For about a month after leaving Deutsch in 2000, Liz Gumbinner spent countless hours playing gin on Yahoo!, rolling mounds of coins and putting photos in albums. The mindless activities helped her decompress from five years of 70-hour weeks at the New York shop, where she often spent weekends and parts of holidays.

The former group creative director then went to Paris for a few weeks and made a trip to Bosnia—which she had postponed three times. Gumbinner, 34, has also co-written a Sex and the City-meets-Joy of Cooking book titled Booty Food, which is being published in December by Bloomsbury, finished the second draft of a screenplay and taken improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade. She’s even found a boyfriend.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘I don’t know what I want to do, but this is not it,’ ” she says. Toiling in a prestigious agency like Deutsch with smart, dedicated people can be extremely rewarding personally and professionally, admits Gumbinner. But she had worked to the exclusion of almost everything else. “It’s nice until you wake up one day and realize, ‘This isn’t my family,’ ” she says. “You become so sucked into the agency’s culture, you really don’t have a life.”

It’s tough for people climbing up the career ladder to have “normal” hours when the shop’s partners come in early and stay late. “It’s a trap for juniors, because you feel, ‘My boss doesn’t ask more of me than he asks of himself,’ ” says Gumbinner.

Cindy Gallop, president of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, says she questions herself when she finds staffers in the agency late at night and during the weekend. “At our place, we keep an eye on how hard everyone is working,” she says. She and her team regularly review how well their process is working and whether it needs to be streamlined. “We’re huge believers in quality of life,” says Gallop, 43.

Like all agencies in the midst of new-business pitches, BBH has frenetic periods during which staffers are asked to work around the clock. The shop tries to compensate with time off. When it’s impossible to leave, office manager Kim Hopkins, a qualified masseuse, offers co-workers a cut rate in available conference rooms.

While Gallop says there are plenty of agencies where a “macho work ethic perpetuates itself,” she advises up-and-comers to take the initiative and point out ways heavy workloads can be better managed. Many executives, she says, would be receptive to suggestions from those in the trenches.

Not that it’s always easy to break away. Jim Schmidt, 47, former evp, creative director at McConnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown in Chicago, admits he used to think about advertising 18 hours a day. “When you have your own place, there’s so much at stake,” he says. He worked overtime in pursuit of awards. “It becomes an addiction.”

After some 13 years at his own agency, Schmidt became chief creative officer of Euro RSCG Tatham Partners, Chicago, in October 2000, after the agency bought his shop. Career counseling helped him reprioritize, and he no longer logs 14-hour days. “Once you decide to make all decisions based on your family, it’s a different perspective,” he says. The father of four kids, ages 1-14, he knows it’s impossible to go back and relive special moments. “You can’t catch up with life.”

Agency employees need to socialize less at the office and leave when their job is done, he says. They’ll work better with a balanced life.

Sometimes agencies take note of worker burnout. Brian Martin, partner and president of DiNoto Lee, New York, recalls a period in 1993-94 when he was at Deutsch and the agency was in the midst of 16 new-business pitches at the same time. There was a two-week stretch when 10 percent of the then-150-person shop quit. Executives called an agencywide meeting and put a moratorium on pitches.

Shops where agency execs wander the halls making sure lights are burning late aren’t thinking long term about their people, says Euro RSCG’s Schmidt. Everyone needs a break. Even President Bush, he notes, goes to Camp David for the weekend. —JENNIFER COMITEAU