It’s not just the C-suite that’s opting to walk away from jobs that are less than fulfilling. Entry- and mid-level workers are looking at their employers—who proved over the last year that they could be flexible if their bottom lines depended on it—and wanting some of that same consideration. Young workers who left the cities to buy houses upstate or in the desert or back home to be closer to family don’t want to move back to cramped apartments for jobs that might not be there next quarter.
“A lot of companies talk about how they maintained productivity last year. And some of them did it at the expense of talent,” says Debra Sercy, consultant and headhunter at executive search agency Grace Blue. “Talent has decided that they are no longer in jeopardy of losing their jobs, so they're more risk tolerant about changing jobs, as well as quitting and either going freelance or taking time to reset.”
This newly confident cohort is also becoming more discerning when it comes to the jobs they’re willing to take—and willing to put up with. They’re evaluating whether company leadership is trustworthy and whether harassment and bullying are part of the corporate culture. “They won't have the poor behavior, the toxicity. I've heard the word ‘gaslighting’ more in the past year than I ever have,” Sercy says. “They won't take it anymore. They know their value now.”
Gone but not forgotten
Unlike a true “brain drain,” advertising and marketing talent isn’t headed to other industries, by and large. Holding companies are losing out on newly idealistic workers, who are often taking posts at independent agencies, and the ranks of freelance workers are swelling as last year’s drought of contract work comes to an end, says Simon Fenwick, exec VP, talent equity and inclusion at the 4A's. In 10 years, an astonishing 50% of the advertising industry could be freelance.
“They don't want to tie themselves to one opportunity when there are so many opportunities out there, and they can have the flexibility of being able to work remotely, pick the job they work on, the clients they work on that are aligned to their values,” Fenwick says. “A lot of younger talent is looking at the job market in a slightly different way. It's less about job security and more about job satisfaction.”
While previously that might have hurt their careers in the long run, hiring requirements are loosening up, too. It’s no longer career suicide to leave a job without having full-time work lined up, and in the wake of the pandemic-fueled layoffs of millions of talented, productive people, recruiters are turning a blind eye to the dreaded “résumé gap.”
In with the new
Women may well be the employees most positively affected by that more holistic approach to evaluating experience. Pandemic layoffs and the burden of childcare fell disproportionately on women, and they continue to be punished for stepping away from office jobs for maternity leave and childcare. But an industry landscape full of current and former contractors moving between different clients and projects without stigma should put them on more equal footing.
It’s also a boon for diversity and inclusion efforts, since many people of color take non-traditional paths into the industry. “Agencies are having to rethink their recruiting model and say, ‘In the past where we had prejudged people based on having contracting work in the last two years or for taking six months off or three months or a year, that has actually precluded us from hiring some great talent because of preconceived ideas we've had,'" says Fenwick.
To be sure, some of the churn the industry is going through is a holdover from long lockdowns, as people clung desperately to jobs they disliked. But since vaccines became widespread in the U.S., the floodgates have opened and everyone has emerged into a world where retail workers can demand $15 per hour wages, and recruiters are eager to reach out to talent far beyond the coasts. Marketers hoping for a return to “normal” should brace for an exodus.
“People have different priorities than they used to. They won't compromise, and quite frankly, they don't have to,” Sercy says. “It’s a buyer's market.”