Matthew Miller
Oct 27, 2016

Editor's note: On suicide, overtime and responsibility

A column we published yesterday has provoked a strong reaction. We’d like to hear more.

Editor's note: On suicide, overtime and responsibility

In more than 25 years as a journalist, I’ve never actually been cursed at in response to a decision I made. Until yesterday.

I decided to publish an opinion column by Bryce Whitwam of Wunderman China, which discussed the recent ruling in Japan that excessive overtime at Dentsu contributed to a young woman’s suicide. Among other recommendations and measures, Whitwam discussed a yoga program Wunderman has instituted.

After Whitwam’s column appeared, a reader I won’t identify sent an email that—with a few four-letter words thrown in—called us to task for publishing the piece, saying it was “the most irresponsible thing I've ever seen posted from an industry publication”.

I respectfully beg to differ. Here’s why I decided to publish Whitwam’s piece, and why my colleagues supported that choice.

Quite simply, we consider it part of our responsibility to engender discussion about important issues.

We were saddened by the suicide in Japan, as we were by a previous similar loss in China. Moreover, we know what a serious issue overwork is in this industry, especially for younger people. Even when it doesn’t contribute to tragedy, it leads to quality-of-life issues, burnout, and a talent-retention problem that the industry has been talking about for years.

We thought Dentsu’s announcement that it would reduce allowed overtime (by a whole five hours a month) and turn the office lights off (at 10 pm) might elicit more discussion of the issue (see “Dentsu takes a small step to tackling a big problem”). We hoped my colleague David Blecken’s excellent examination of what he termed “exploitation” would spark some reactions (see “Ad industry must face up to its unhealthy work culture”).

But we didn’t hear much. Whitwam was the only industry leader thus far to approach us with something to say. (We’ve also approached a few ourselves, to no avail so far.) I think it’s commendable that Whitwam was willing to wade into the issue, whatever you think of what he said. And as an agency leader, his perspective is valid.

Which is not the same thing as saying his perspective is correct. Likewise, publishing his views is not the same thing as endorsing his views. (And for the record, we held off on publishing the piece for a time out of fear it would come across as insensitive, and Whitwam made some changes in response to our concerns.)

We will happily publish many more opinions on this topic. Nothing would make me happier than to receive an avalanche of responses from people at all stages of their career.

So, send me an email. Or better yet, find this editor’s note on our Facebook page or Twitter feed and comment there. Share your experiences. Give us your ideas on what should change. Swear at me if you want. Just don’t stay silent.

This comment, from the same email referenced above, might be a good place to start:

Until agencies are respected for the work that they produce and not seen as "free idea" vendors, this s**t is going to continue. Seven agencies in a pitch only results in a 15 percent win rate with lower profits and longer hours.

Matthew Miller is Campaign Asia-Pacific's online editor.

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