Rip it up and start again
A view from Nicola Kemp

Rip it up and start again

Are employees being sold a myth about the future of work?

Work is not a place you go to, it is something you do. That is if you believe we are in the midst of a virtual revolution in the workplace. But, from the fascination with the rise of the side hustle to the cult of the entrepreneur, are employees being sold a myth about the future of work?

A lifelong friend recently had an interview for a marketing role at a public school. After a second interview and accompanying presentation, the headmaster asked how old her children were and proceeded to write the answer down on her CV. He followed up by asking what her husband did for a living. On hearing the answer "lawyer", the headmaster opined that her husband "must face a lot of pressure" in his role and continued to jot notes on her CV.

My friend didn’t get the job, nor the feedback that she requested on her second presentation. Not that it really mattered by this point. In the face of the interviewer’s error of judgment, tone and common sense, she had already – wisely – ruled herself out.

You do not have to go far in marketing to uncover similar stories – the multitude of issues that together form an invisible wall of exclusion. Everyday sexism, a missing ramp for disabled employees, the starting salary that you can’t live on, or a toxic culture that sees working parents edging out of the office and feeling like pariahs because they want to leave on time to see their children. And then there are those who have a second or third job, not as a creative outlet but instead out of economic necessity or as a hedge against feeling a failure.

Purpose has been a buzzword in the marketing industries for many years, and a growing number of brands recognise their employees are a powerful marketing tool in their own right. Yet even a cursory glance at job site Glassdoor reveals that the daily experiences of employees in some of the world’s leading ad agencies are worlds apart from the lofty mission statements that populate their websites. 

Of course, in the manner of travellers whose primary goal appears to be to visit hotels to take pictures of unusual stains in bathrooms, such experiences reside in the realms of extremes with a bias toward the negative. Yet the overwhelming message from a multitude of company reviews on Glassdoor focuses on two familiar complaints: long hours and low pay.

It is all too easy to dismiss these complaints as those of "entitled millennials". Yet many of the brightest and best in the industry that comprise 2017’s Faces to Watch have attacked the ad industry’s "work hard, play hard" culture for being out of touch with the needs of the modern workforce.

If the infamous "war for talent" is a business imperative and not a sound bite, then the industry has no choice but to address its own brand crisis and apparent failure to connect with the next generation of talent.

This may sound like a bleak prognosis on the state of the creative industries, but there is nothing more liberating than recognising that the need for change is non-negotiable. To give yourself the permission to start over and ask: "If I did it all over again, what would I do?" If work is to become more than just a "place you go", then building a culture in which people can bring their whole self to the table is vital. Look around and identify what is missing. It might be you. 

Nicola Kemp is the trends editor at Campaign.
@nickykc