The Ad Industry's Complicated Talent Issues: Money Isn't Everything

24 Seven/Ad Age Salary and Job Satisfaction Study Offers Solutions for Agency Managers

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When a valued employee says he or she is leaving for an opportunity they can't say no to, the reaction of many employers is to counter-offer with the promise of a bonus, a raise and job promotion. For some employees this might work -- but it's probably only a temporary fix.

The bandage approach doesn't go far enough to stop the bleeding. Underneath, the signal of employee dissatisfaction may be saying something more important about your company or agency as a place for career growth.

Star talent on all levels is leaving to create their own opportunities, redefine their career paths and increase their on-the-job satisfaction level. And the net-net is that unless companies become more attuned to the needs and desires of their employees, the losses will continue unchecked.

While a healthy paycheck is , of course, a key factor in job satisfaction, our 24 Seven/Ad Age Salary and Job Satisfaction Study reveals other high-percentage driving factors, such as a strong, well-defined career path, opportunities for upward mobility, culture, flexibility and environment. Our findings support the recent 4A's study whose title, "Transforming Talent Management," clearly articulates the problem: Companies today need to do more to meet employee's career needs.

With the economy and marketing spending on the rise, job mobility follows. The result is that the recession has re-calibrated job expectations. More than ever, people care about how and where they work. More important, they are exercising their desire for a richer and more complete career experience by prospecting for gold in new places.

What we know
The first step in preventing talented employees from exercising opportunistic job searches or talent-theft by companies that better understand today's roiling job market is knowing how the recession has reshaped the marketplace. From the survey, we found:

  • Over half of all respondents are planning or open to a career move in the next 12 to 24 months, with creative and production professionals indicating that they are the most likely to make a move.
  • While salaries are up significantly, those in agency-side creative and production roles saw the lowest increase.
  • Salary proves not to be the greatest factor affecting satisfaction, with corporate culture and the balance between work and life indicated as crucial factors.
  • Although job satisfaction took a great leap upward, slightly more than one in four respondents are still dissatisfied.

If advertising salaries and job satisfaction are on the rise, then what's causing valuable staff members to jump ship? Maybe it's time for companies to look inside for the causes.

There comes a point when you can no longer blame the economy, the marketplace, another agency or your clients for your talent drain. While all clearly affect your business, there's not much you can do to control them. What you can do, however, is provide a superior and nurturing work environment regardless of the business climate outside.

What employees want today
As we dug deeper into the 24 Seven/Adage study, we found that job satisfaction today is a complex algorithm made up of many components working together. Employees today want it all and, with a slowly brightening job market, are newly empowered to make their demands a reality. Here's what you can offer:

  • Career Path: One finding that stood out in the study was that the lack of a clearly defined path for advancement had the greatest negative impact on job satisfaction. In short, agencies must strive to ensure that employees feel their job offer includes a strong, well-defined career path.
  • Work/Life Balance: A good work/life balance is critical to employees through every stage of their career. There are myriad ways for employees to satisfy this need through flexible scheduling, telecommuting, summer hours and comp days. In a recession employees often are asked to work harder and longer with no increase in compensation. But as we noted at the beginning, money isn't everything and a long weekend off goes a long way to show employees you care.
  • Training: One thing employees said over and over is that they want more challenging work assignments, on-the-job training and skill development. Our industry is experiencing the greatest amount of change ever and employees want to be ahead of the next new thing, especially in the digital space. Training is not a cost but rather an investment in the future of your business and your staff. In a marketplace where the war for the very best talent will increasingly become competitive, creating your own internal pool of specially-trained talent is a smart, proactive strategy.
  • Strong Culture: A company's culture today is one of the top three most important aspects of job satisfaction. Work has become longer and harder -- and so work life mixes with social life. Does your agency promote a culture of inclusion? Is there a shared history that connects the past and present? Are people proud to work there? Make this a focus and you will build a company of like-minded individuals devote to you.

Job satisfaction today is complex. Compensation is not the only solution and certainly no longer a short term way of solving problems. Think of "sticky benefits" -- those strong, internal, cost-effective changes companies can make to stop employees from heading for the exit -- as a way to redefine how you manage talent. If you do, you will create a stronger culture and win the war on talent.

Celeste Gudas is the CEO and founder of 24 Seven, a leading talent-recruitment firm specializing in the specific needs of the marketing, design, creative, digital, retail and fashion industries. You can read more about the findings in its just released annual survey on Salary and Job Satisfaction.
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