Work Smarter//

Agency Founder Puts Personal Lives of Employees First

How this Cleveland-based agency threw out typical office culture to create a new way to thrive in business.

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Getty Images

For most of my professional career, I put my job first. Working long hours, and sacrificing time with my family. Things got really intense in 2011 while I was working at the world’s second-largest digital agency (at the time).

Throughout the time I was employed there — it was mandated that in order to succeed (or even remotely recognized), I had to work overtime. On top of that, there were many challenging personalities that didn’t provide a healthy work environment. I’d be considered a “slacker” if I didn’t respond to a client at 10 p.m., or made to feel guilty if I left early for my kids (even though I had negotiated flex Fridays).

After two years of putting my job first, I was fired. The reason? I refused to fire someone on my team, at the demand of the company’s partners. That moment caused me to wake up and realize I didn’t fit in with the culture — and I didn’t want to. 

But I have a family. I need to work, and more importantly I want to work. I am a better mom, partner and friend for having a career that I love. I refused to make the same mistake I previously did and knew my next move would have to be different. I needed to find something that would let me be a mom and thrive in my career without guilt. That was non-negotiable.   

After looking at open positions, I realized what I was looking for didn’t exist. So I set out to create it myself.

I had the idea to create a different kind of agency. Here’s what I wanted: an environment that puts its people first — even above clients. A place without set hours, or even a set PTO policy (it’s unlimited). Fridays off (or if people do work, they work from wherever they want). To only take on clients where we can be true partners and everyone on the team agrees they’d be a good fit. I put in in the company’s manifesto along with “don’t be an asshole” — and that goes for clients, too. It was a risky endeavor, but it worked.

We are very much a team driven by doing good work with good people first and foremost versus the bottom line. We hold monthly joy rides where everyone takes turns planning a secret outing. We work out together. Take retreats together. And yes, do plenty of amazing client work for some pretty remarkable brands in the process.

Hello was born. There are 10 women (6 of them moms) within the agency and I make sure every single person here feels valued and knows their personal lives come first — kids, pets, mental health, whatever it may be. We aren’t perfect, but I do believe we’re onto something and have become a bit of an anomaly in the world of client-service. 

When people feel valued — really valued and not on some superficial, check-a-box-type level, magic happens. I’ve been on the other side and I don’t want that for anyone. Having a career and a personal life doesn’t have to be some mythical unicorn or random talking point — and definitely not something you should feel guilty about having. It is possible to build a career around intention. To build a place that works on a human level. We’ve done it.   

In our industry — and I suspect in many others — this is needed more now than ever before (thank you, iPhone). Because we are always connected. That impulse to check email — and reply — at all hours is giving people permission to make us “always on.” That is the norm, but it shouldn’t be. In fact, in the six years that Hello has been in business, one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is constantly reminding people to not work on vacation, evenings, or weekends, to encourage them to take more PTO (can you believe it?), to not respond to a client at 6 a.m. on a Saturday (unless it’s an emergency, of course), make mental health a priority.

This idea of a “lifestyle career” — of putting yourself first and work second or even third — takes more convincing than you might think. Let me assure you, we work hard and get results — we just prioritize differently. It’s a cultural shift and it’s working. We are proving that.

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