Published in Exhibition News Feb 2019
As I sit in my home office, at 9pm on a Tuesday, the irony of writing about work / life balance is far from lost on me. Like many, perhaps most, people working in exhibitions, finding a regular balance between work and life is somewhat of an enigma.
I look in envy at friends whom careers take a regular break every Friday at 5pm and don’t start again until Monday morning. But would I really want that? is the idea of a 5-day work week, 2-day weekend so ingrained in our early years that we see anything else as an imbalance?
The notion of balance when it comes to work and life is subjective. We all want to do the minimum amount of work to enable us to get the most out of life, so perhaps the more you put in, the more you get out. I certainly take that stance when it comes to myself. I work hard, sometime for weeks without a day off in the busy periods, which allows me to take regular holidays in the quieter times with my family. But can working 20 days straight, travelling all over the country really be balanced? Can the down times be as good as the up times are heavy?
As an employer this is an even harder factor to get right. As Rocketeers, we commit to abide by our values; one of which is commitment. Commitment to our clients and each-other. Whatever it takes. As an industry, it’s just what we have to do. We live in a world of immovable deadlines, short build-ups and go from show-to-show without breaks. We are pressured to fulfil last-minute requests, clients making decisions later and later in the cycle, artwork being submitted at the 11th hour. All things that just put more pressure on the preparations, resulting on longer shifts for the Ops team, Production staying late to get jobs printed in time for the installation crews. The balance of having enough staff to cope in the busy times and not too many that would be a burden in the quieter months.
We’ve often looked at ways of reducing these issues, but the general feel from the Rocketeers is that they accept the importance of their role within the team and how their actions can have a positive impact on our client’s experience. They like the extra money that comes with the overtime, or the bonuses we can afford to pay by taking on those last-minute jobs which could be the difference between hitting company targets or not.
It’s a far cry from the start of my career as an organiser. Contracting is certainly harder to balance.
It’s 20 years since I first stepped foot into the world of exhibitions. I had just left university and was planning to save up and go to Whistler for a season Snowboarding. I had recently qualified as an instructor on the dry slope in Sheffield, and I loved what I did. But I needed cash, so moved home with my parents and got a ‘proper’ job.
Who would have thought that spending 7 hours a day, inputting data from the 100’s of hand filled, mail delivered registration cards that arrived in the post each day would be the spark that lit the fire on my future career.
But it wasn’t the data entry that excited me. That came later when I got to experience the excitement in the run up to showtime. The large floor plan on the wall, scribbled with names in the last-minute spaces, the early start to drive up to Islington, and then the sheer amazement of watching a little town appear throughout the first day of the build. It was unreal. Like nothing I have ever seen before, and it was the start of 4 long, hard days on my feet, running around, making sure exhibitors were ok, helping to set up the registration area, discussing the next year’s show, getting leads, and at the end of all that – an industry ball.
I’d never done so many hours work in my (albeit short) life. But I LOVED it.
And I guess that’s how my team – and most teams within this industry – view it. They get to see the impact of their hard work. The incredible feedback we receive from our clients – even as I sit here typing, the familiar ‘ping’ of the Rocketeers WhatsApp group chimed with some positive feedback received team from a client at a breakdown and shared with the team. It makes it all worth while for all of us. A sense of pride and a warm fuzzy feeling that what we have done has helped someone have a great experience at their exhibition.
And so, it goes back to my thoughts at the start. Can you actually have a good work / life balance working in Exhibitions? Well, it’s all about getting out what you put in. If the sense of being valued and rewarded as part of an exciting and dynamic industry can balance with the sheer number of hours we all have to put in, then I guess we do have balance, just not as others might know it….