When interviewing creatives recently, Neale Horrigan, executive creative director at London agency Elvis found something surprising. “We’d just won three Cannes Lions and we thought that if we waved those around, creative recruits would come flocking. But instead, they wanted to ask questions about flexible working and parental leave. That is a first.”
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Elvis, like many other U.K. and U.S. agencies, is busy hiring at a time when advertising employees are quitting the industry in droves. Agencies are desperately trying to retain and hire talent as business bounces back post-pandemic. And for the first time, having clear policies on issues that affect family life is increasingly not just important but necessary in what agencies are calling the “war for talent.” The likes of Publicis, Adam&Eve/DDB, Lucky Generals, Havas and others have all introduced these over the past few months, together with media owner Channel 4, which introduced a miscarriage policy in April and a menopause policy in 2019.
What were once seen as progressive perks can now give agencies a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring the best talent. “People in the market for jobs are genuinely getting two to four offers at one time, so these 'softer' benefit packages are becoming the differentiator in many way,” says Helen Kimber, managing director of London talent recruitment company The Longhouse. “The family side of it is key. Even more interesting is that people are asking about these policies before they even apply for a job. That’s something I’ve never seen before.”
“We are hiring like crazy at the moment, and these policies are making a huge difference,” confirms Annette King, CEO of Publicis Groupe U.K. In July, the agency group announced a new raft of measures that includes paid time off for adoption, surrogacy, fertility issues, pregnancy loss and more as well enhanced packages for maternity and parental leave. Earlier this year it introduced a menopause policy.
While the flexible working issue has been on the table for some time, policies on women’s health–from time off for fertility treatment, after a miscarriage, or for those affected by the menopause–are increasingly taking center stage this year. As health issues like this are more frequently addressed by celebrities (like Chrissy Teigen, Meghan Markle and U.K. TV presenter Davina McCall), and become the focus of creative campaigns like Libresse's #WombStories, more agencies are making it clear that they will support families at these stages of life.
Lucky Generals was one of the first U.K. agencies to instigate a policy around women experiencing miscarriage, in April 2020. The agency, majority-owned by Omnicom’s TBWA, also offers a range of other family benefits; in addition to a menopause policy and enhanced return-to-work policies, it allows fathers to work shorter hours in the weeks following paternity leave while others can base their work around school hours. It’s also looking at a formal policy for parents experiencing premature birth, something which has been introduced by companies in Australia.
Managing Director Cressida Holmes-Smith says that now, in the hiring process, it’s seeing not only parents but younger women asking about these policies. “People have seen us talking about the miscarriage policy and think that it is a signal that the agency culture is forward-thinking.”