A Lesson on Work-Life Balance, Courtesy of Nickelodeon

A job at Nickelodeon completely changed her life. The lesson BBC Studio's Ann Sarnoff learned there can change yours, too.


Working mom and President, BBC Studios - America Ann Sarnoff doesn’t apologize for loving her job. “The truth of the matter is,” she says, “I love to work.” 

Much of Sarnoff’s attitude towards work-life balance can be attributed to her mentor Geraldine Laybourne, who led the team that created Nickelodeon in the 1980s and '90s. As Sarnoff tells it, the experience of working for Laybourne at Nickelodeon was completely transformative.  

“I had a three year old and a newborn at the time, developing our budget presentation. I was up late, really burning the candle at both ends. I showed up in Gerry's office on Friday morning with a stack of presentations saying, ‘Ready to go?’ She said, ‘You look awful.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay. Well I haven't slept much.’ I thought she was going to say, ‘You need to go home, sleep more, be with your kids.’” 

Instead, Laybourne told Sarnoff to bring her kids into work. “She said, ‘They need to understand what you're doing, especially on weeks like this, where you're working hard, and you're not home at night.’” Laybourne urged Sarnoff’s to bring her children to the office so that they might feel a part of the Nickelodeon experience and to see how dedicated their mother was to her work, as her own children had. For Sarnoff, that was life-changing.

Of course, not every parent has the ability to bring their children to their office. But Sarnoff saw the importance of letting them into her world – a world she was not only devoting a lot of time to, but one she was incredibly proud of.

“A friend asked me, ‘When you're leaving the house in the morning, don't you ever have regret?’ I told her, what I say is, ‘I love you, and I can't wait to see you when I come home, and I also love my job, and I want you to share my job with me too. I'm going to bring you to work next week.’ A happy mom is a good mom, right?”

The lessons from her time at Nickelodeon didn’t end there. As a new mom at the time, Sarnoff soon saw that her life at home with her children could impact and inspire her role in research. The head of one of Mattel's divisions once told her that the Rugrats were ugly and was hesitant to do licensing with them. “I told him, ‘You're thinking like an adult. You need to think like a kid. Tommy's a hero, Chuckie's a scaredy cat, Angelica's a mean girl. Kids don't judge their looks, they relate to those characters.” 

And just as having children influenced her perspective at work, work influenced her perspective at home. “As a new mom, I learned to really listen to kids differently. I think I was a better mom, because of my job at Nickelodeon. We really prided ourselves in not talking down to kids, about understanding them, and developing shows that taught them, and made them feel good about themselves.”

On the notorious “mom guilt,” Sarnoff says she doesn’t have it. “I really don't. I know myself, and I know what's going to make me happy, I know it's going to make me a better person. When I'm happy and feel strong, then I'm a much better mom.”

To hear more from Ann Sarnoff, register for FEI's CFRI conference on November 12 and 13.