Employee Turnover is an Outdated Measure of Success

Indra Gardiner Bowers // Nov 27 // Culture

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I recently had dinner with a group of agency owners and the subject turned to awards, specifically agency of the year awards, and what criteria really matter. The people at the table have been judges and recipients of these top level awards and had lots of insight. But at one point, the comment was made "well then you have to look at agency turnover and see whether they (the agency) are taking care of their employees." That statement stuck with me as I believe employee turnover is an out-of-touch measurement given today's talent pool and the competition for talent.

This harkens back to a controversial post I wrote last year about junior level employees who view their agency experience as a stepping stone to their "real job" in-house at a big brand. This is an evolution of that post (and I suppose, my own thinking). I know that college grads still believe that model is true; had one tell me as much in a recent interview (doh!). However, having spent the last couple of years interviewing, having coffee with, drinks with and generally getting to know adults in their late twenties and early thirties (why yes, I am that old), I am convinced that what was once considered "loyalty" or "longevity" or "doing your time" has been reduced from a 5 - 10 year stint to 2 - 3 years. Agency owners need to change their expectations and operate accordingly.

The message to young adults has been follow your passion and never stop growing. Even when they are in a great job (their "dream job"), I see people get fidgety after a couple of years. Let's face it, agencies are full of young people who a) aren't always sure what they really want to do, b) want to learn, learn, learn and c) are pretty competitive. They are regularly being approached (poached) with job offers and the competition for certain skill sets is fierce (inside and outside of agencies). They also don't want to work endless hours and are pretty invested in their quality of life. Not always a great fit for the demands of agency life. Estimates put average employee turnover for ad agencies at 30%. That's really high and not something I expect to change anytime soon.

Lots of agencies bend over backwards to create great environments for their team. From massages to espresso bars to monthly outings for bowling, beer tastings or river clean ups, agencies work hard to develop a culture that their staff love and to which they feel connected. But that's not always enough to keep great employees who hear the call of the wild. To them, two or three years seems like a long time. Long enough...I have been told that very thing in interviews. So the person whose resume I used to view as a "job hopper" and steer clear of, might actually be my next best employee. Just not for that long…Hopefully, they give you their best while they are with you and you don't take it personally when they move on.

I think this scenario will ring true for many agency owners and managers. So to continue to use turnover as a measurement of agency success when evaluating a firm is old school thinking. Perhaps not through any fault of agency management, but simply because of the culture that their employees have grown up with and their own personal measures of success, high employee turnover may be a reality for even the best agencies.

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