Ask Bullmore: How do I get my boss to embrace flexible working?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: How do I get my boss to embrace flexible working?

Jeremy Bullmore, Campaign's agony uncle, has some words of advice for an employee who questions their agency's commitment to flexible working.

Dear Jeremy, Despite years now of all this ‘flexible working’ talk, our boss demanded that we come into our central London office during the Tube strike – completely unnecessarily in my view as we had no urgent or external meetings. I feel like it’s too small a grievance to take further but also too big to ignore. Should I get over it or risk looking like a whinger?

Trainers of racehorses like to walk around their stables checking on their charges. To find a loose box empty would cause serious misgiving. Prison warders do much the same. Many bosses feel confident of being a boss only when they can walk around their workplace checking that their workers are all in place.

To find workstation after workstation empty deprives them of the evidence they need that they’re in charge; you can’t feel in charge of an empty space.

To insecure bosses – and most bosses are insecure – workers don’t have to be seen to be working; they just have to be seen.

Your boss is not, of course, going to admit to all this. Your boss is probably unaware of all this. But your boss wants you in the office – so you’d better be in the office and you’d better make the most of it.

Pretend it’s the Blitz or the Three-Day Week. Pretend there’s a national emergency. Pack your knapsack with corned-beef sandwiches and a thermos flask of sweet tea. Wear weekend clothes. Struggle to work feeling heroic, meet up with mates and have a hilarious time thinking up wild ideas; some of them will turn out to be surprisingly promising. You can’t do that at home.

Yes: you do come across as a bit of a mini-minded whinger. Working in advertising demands an ability to turn just about anything to an advantage. You’ve yet to acquire it. 

Dear Jeremy, My boss seems to have just discovered this ‘content revolution’ and wants to leverage the equity of our brands to produce content that could be sold, which we can then put back into the marketing for those brands. I’m not too convinced original content from our cleaning products could be sold on to media companies – my boss’ ultimate ambition. How do I convince her that we don’t quite need to create an in-house studio? Not yet, anyway. Or am I missing the boat?

Your boss is clearly not an early adopter. Most people’s enthusiasm for the "content revolution", now well into its second decade, is being subjected to a healthy dose of realism. But if you fail to show interest in your boss’ new discovery, you’ll be forever branded as a wet blanket – and marketing has no place for wet blankets.

Instead, encourage your boss to commission some content from an outside supplier: you’ll find plenty offering their services online. Don’t penny-pinch. Go for the best, even if the most expensive. Then put the result up for sale.

If media companies outbid each other in a frenzy of lust for this novel portrayal of your cleaning products, you may feel privately chastened by your earlier scepticism and may confidently encourage your boss to start making plans for an in-house studio.

Or you may need to remind her of a practice with a better record of return on investment called advertising.

Dear Jeremy, Is it better to be a marketing director at a small brand or take a more junior marketing role at a larger brand? Where will I learn the most?

I usually try to answer such questions with a veneer of confidence. It doesn’t do to let readers glimpse just how uncertain I am about almost everything. But, in this instance, I’m coming clean. I don’t know.

I suspect you’ll actually learn more as the marketing director on a small brand. Rather like me, you’ll be pretending to have a confidence you don’t have, making it up as you go along, narrowly averting small disasters and piling up the experience.

On the other hand (and here’s the ambivalence), big-brand experience not only lets you observe the actions of those who should know a great deal more than you do but also looks much better on your CV.

If you’re lucky enough to be faced with a choice, I’d go for the brand you feel the greater affinity with.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.