DDB: Workweek Is Now 40 Hours -- or More

Says Employee Policy Shift Unrelated to Economy

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CHICAGO (Adage.com) -- Saying its current practices do not "match up to clients' expectations or our contractual obligations," DDB North America is making changes to its workweek, holiday schedules and overtime policy.

"The clients assume that we work a 40-hour work week as they do, and that we maintain a similar holiday schedule," DDB North America Chief Operating Officer Mark O'Brien wrote in a Dec. 8 memo sent to at least 60 executives across the network, which includes not only all DDB and Tribal DDB offices but also shops such as Rodgers Townsend, TraceyLocke and Element 79.

Clients not being shortchanged
That might sound as if the clients were somehow being shortchanged, but when asked to explain, Mr. O'Brien said it was actually the other way around.

In an e-mail response to questions, he described a situation where an employee dedicated to an account was working less than the 1,800 annual hours assumed in most client contracts because he or she was following the "official" 35-hour week at some offices (1,800 hours amounts to 52 40-hour weeks, minus seven weeks of time off and non-client time).

In those cases, he said, the agency was devoting an entire employee to an account, but was only able to bill it at 87.5% of an employee to the client, costing the agency money. "We had no complaints from clients, but we did have situations similar to the above example where we did not get fully paid for the time expended on an account due to the way the contract was written." (The agency said its clients contract not by time worked, but delivery for the scope of the work.)

It also does not indicate, in a time when many agencies are working harder than ever, that there are a number of DDB employees working fewer than 40 hours. The majority of DDB employees "clock in excess of 1,800 billable hours," said Mr. O'Brien.

Installing uniform practices
Separately, the memo also sought to install uniform overtime practices across the network and also capped the maximum number of company holidays an office may award to 15. Some offices offered as many as 20 company holidays previously, the memo said.

While that sounds like an attempt to boost per-employee margins at a time when agencies are struggling and looking for savings everywhere they can find them, Mr. O'Brien said the tough environment was irrelevant to the situation.

"This is not a response to the economy," he said. "It just happens that the time we are implementing these changes ... falls as a lot of agencies are addressing economic hardship.

"These changes would have been made in any event," he added.

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