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The 6pm Challenge

How do you encourage your employees to leave their desks by 6pm?

When I co-founded my business in 2003, it was common in the digital industry for people to work 60+ hours a week, in fact it was the expectation. Long hours have been the expression of commitment; it represents the ambition of the employee who must be working hard because they are at their desk at 8pm. Family, sleep, friendships suffer with this kind of relentless schedule, no matter how much you love your job. I could see it causing all kinds of horrible outcomes personally and there was a lack of dynamism and imagination in our relationships with clients.

I knew as a young CEO the long hours looked productive but were having the opposite effect. It just didn’t make sense on any level and I wanted my business to be a wonderful place to work, where people had time to actually live their lives. But how do you encourage your employees to leave their desks by 6pm? In a world where the rate of change increases in volume and velocity every day, I kept it simple and created ‘The 6pm Challenge’.

Having the permission and support from leadership to leave the office in time to see your family and friends, or go for a run, feeds the human spirit and is good for profits. Time outside of the office is food for the soul, which enhances how people deliver for your business.

The 6pm Challenge was a slogan we used to encourage our employees to get as much done as they could by 6pm and then walk away from their desks and go home! I let our clients know The 6pm Challenge was our new business model and our employees wouldn’t be on call 24 hours a day, anymore.

The challenge was on and I could feel the difference in the workplace overnight, the company came alive. You could walk out of the office without an ‘excuse’ or guilt about ‘time on the clock’. Our clients resisted at first, and then they saw the results. We proved our team was more efficient (and amazing!) during a busy and full working day, and we were more productive because of the time we all had to decompress. When I had my first daughter later that year – I appreciated the company’s philosophy!

We embedded this in our culture and it became a key part of our DNA, attracting employees because we had a reputation as a fun place to work. My digital start-up became a success and we earned a number of accolades such as Australian Business of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year and listed as one of the Best Places to Work. We sold the company four years later. Sometimes a simple idea, framed as a challenge, can be transformative.

Now responsible for driving transformation at OMD, an Omnicom agency, Elizabeth has had a distinguished career with more than 20 years inside marque brands including Yahoo!, Macquarie Bank, WPP and Uber. In addition, Elizabeth was the co-founder and CEO of The White Agency in Australia, which she built from a startup into the country’s hottest digital agency. Managing the full-service digital needs for clients including Telstra, Coca-Cola South Pacific and Commonwealth Bank, the business won numerous awards including Australian Business of the Year, Ranked in Top 10 Places to Work, and Elizabeth was the youngest listed in the BRW Top 20 Australian Female Entrepreneurs. Elizabeth sold The White Agency to STW Group (now WPP) and then moved into the holding group as Division Director, responsible for the Digital, Direct, Media & Experiential portfolio of agencies (20+ P/Ls). Elizabeth has a very strong social conscience and she has been dedicated to giving back through-out her career via pro-bono projects, active volunteering and NGO board roles.

Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn, New York. She makes sure she gets enough sleep to be able to spend quality time with those she loves including her husband, two step-daughters, two daughters, one son and wonderful friends.

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