Why your employees hate you

From increasing starting salaries, embracing flexibility and giving people the space to bring their whole selves to work; this year's Faces to Watch explain how the industry needs to change.

Why your employees hate you
Nicola Kemp

Nicola Kemp recommends

Faces to Watch 2017

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OK, so perhaps that headline is a bit harsh; but with four generations working side-by-side in the workplace the creative industries are facing up to new challenges. While expectations of work have shifted dramatically the day-to-day experiences of many in the industry have remained static. Here a selection of Campaign's Faces to Watch explain how the industry needs to shift its thinking in order to attract and retain the best talent.

"Pay More"

Matilda Scullion,
Associate strategist, The Partners

I know it’s not the ‘done thing’ to talk about money, but pay them better! Some people get lucky – they land in graduate schemes that offer them both the career of their dreams and a salary that will allow them to pay the bills and have a little money spare. But not everyone gets to have both: some agencies offer their London entry-level employees less than £20,000 a year and then wonder why the industry is made up of upper-middle-class graduates supported by mum and dad.

If you want the real talent, the raw potential, the budding ideas, the people with abilities better than your own, you are going to have to offer a salary that allows people to live in London and have a basic quality of life. And I’m sorry, but no matter how great free breakfasts and discounted gym memberships sound, they are never going to be able to compete with affording to live. Show them that you care that they’re happy. That you want them to flourish, to have a life outside work. The management consultancies can do it. Why can’t we?

"Lets get back to basics"

Chris Toumazis,
Planner, Ogilvy

We don’t need an industry overhaul to retain young talent. And we definitely don’t need ping-pong tables or playground slides. Let’s go back to basics.

Pay people what they’re worth, from day one. Train them and coach them; give them more than a five-minute PowerPoint induction. Easy on the acronyms, and kill the jargon – it’s bewildering and isolating. Give them a sense of pride, purpose and belonging by making them feel like part of the gang. Value their opinion, and empower them to challenge the status quo. Be generous with feedback; make it informal and immediate, and focus on the positives. Trade the ping-pong table for a good tea selection, and the playground slide for a fully stocked fruit bowl. Subsidise the canteen, and make breakfast free before 8.30.

All of these things will help and equip them to make great work. Work that their mates will talk about in the pub. Work they’ll be proud to be a part of. And that's the key to holding on to those people because that’s what they’re there for, after all.

"Make things that people are proud to make"

Katie Elliott,
New business manager, Mother

We used to be one of the most progressive and exciting industries to work in, but we’ve lost our sparkle.  Nobody wants a life where all they’ve done is make shelf wobblers and digital banners. There is more ‘communication’ than ever and most is perceived as unwelcome. That is not a good starting point.  

 People need to feel they’re making good stuff, that does a good job. We need to strive for this.

 We ignore the functional issues at our own peril. Tech companies and start-ups are the exciting place to be - seemingly offering work life balance and emotional and intellectual fulfilment in bucket loads, then we always have financial services to pay the even bigger salaries. We haven’t meaningfully evolved what we offer enough to compete long term. The industry needs to ask itself:

  • Has the perception of the work life balance we offer actually shifted? We talk about it, sure, but we’re still at heart a service industry and martyrs to long hours. "We had to do it, so do they…"

  • Are we paying people decently and fairly for the hours they do? Especially at entry level? That’s still debatable.

  • Do we give them the opportunity to work with and learn from brilliant people? This has traditionally been one of our big pulls, but these days it’s only covered until retention becomes an even bigger problem. Lose this and we’ve lost a big jewel from our crown.

We’ve had enough panel discussions to last a lifetime. It’s time for all agencies to brutally reshape their working practices. And yes, in the short term, this may impact their bottom lines.


David Clulow,
Senior designer Mr President

I think it's a case of listening to them. The habits and behaviours of young people are pursued by advertisers everywhere, so it makes sense that the opinions of young people in the industry are taken on board. Generally speaking young people aren't afraid to ask why an idea is being pursued, and it's important that people at every level of a creative business are questioning work to help improve it.

"Embrace reverse mentoring"

Rebecca Rumble,
Associate creative director, head of motion R/GA 

Communication and engagement has changed dramatically since the birth of social media. Our generation communicates through a fast paced and ever evolving connected landscape.

Traditional processes using the most experienced creatives to execute an idea, would benefit significantly by realising the untapped wealth and insights of younger colleagues. More traditional and experienced agency leaders should cease this opportunity to nurture younger people’s ideas, allowing for reverse mentoring, where both sides can learn from one another to strengthen the concept.

This connected communication creates instant feedback between consumer and brand. Whereby younger generation tend to follow brands that authentically reflect their beliefs.

Lonely Lingerie is an excellent example of this:

"Inspired by the women who wear it. Fostering a sense of positive body image and freedom of expression, Lonely eschews conventional marketing, bringing its collections to life via the Lonely Girls Project, a journal featuring women around the world from all walks of life captured wearing Lonely in their way."

Lonely’s user generated content promotes a positive body image, shared on Instagram, which gained a cult following. The consumers became the hero and their community collectively shifted the paradigm of body shaming.

"Embrace new role models beyond the 9-5"

Hannah Lees,
Senior account manager, Havas Media Manchester

It’s all about flexibility and trust. In 2012, Linds Redding wrote a really harrowing reflection on his life in the industry before he died, and the message was simple: we aren’t saving lives, and holding ourselves to ransom each day at work is exhausting and unfulfilling. Unfortunately, there are still agencies, clients and media partners that live and breathe a primal, Darwinistic culture where we’re expected to get the job done, no matter the consequences. 

Instead of preserving this way of thinking, it is our responsibility to provide nurturing, supportive fulfilling environments for people to work in; in doing so we ultimately have happier team members, and see great work from these individuals. Whether it’s robust training, creative working spaces, or flexible working, the industry needs to stop assuming a one fits size all approach works. This is particularly important with young talent as they’ve grown up with entrepreneurs building empires from their bedrooms; their role models offer a new way of life beyond the traditional 9 to 5. We need to see businesses within the industry adapt into ‘people organisations’, trusting the talent they hire to do their job, and giving them the right support to develop their skills further.

"Recognise the tension between generations"

Craig Watt,
Account director, Geometry@JWT 

The industry is in a state of flux.  Differing characteristics have led to tension between the work philosophies of two generations. Our industry used to be at the forefront of fulfilling career and life satisfaction, it has now been surpassed by other industries. Recognition of this tension and challenge is the first step to remedy.

The older generation, traditionally motivated by a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos, needs to recognise that this philosophy is becoming a rare reality.  The new generation of marketers have a different ethic; they loathe staying past 17.30 (even to play hard) as this encroaches on their work-life balance.  Instead, they crave freedom to think, flexibility at work and take a holistic approach to career development. 

To remedy this the maturer cohort, whilst remembering to play hard themselves, need to adapt and create a truly flexible environment to attract, motivate and retain the younger generation.  The younger generation need to adapt and embrace some of the proven working practices this industry is built on. They also need to utilise the flexibility granted to them to improve these processes and demonstrate the tangible benefit this provides on their learning, development and projects.


"Do Diversity; don’t just talk about it"

Shu Han Lee,
Strategist at 18 Feet and Rising 

Diversity is the buzzword of the industry lately – yet I feel there is a long way to go before we can truly call ourselves an industry made up of diverse people. That goes beyond the standard markers of gender and race, but backgrounds and experiences.

Someone reading my CV might get "confused" or "curious" – depending on how strictly he or she is ticking off a checklist; and if he or she is in fact a computer. I’m very fortunate that 18 Feet & Rising thought me having flipped satays at Street Feast was a good thing. But this was a rarity; I remember how frustrating it was when I was looking to make a career switch to strategy in advertising. Many of my peers – brilliant, energetic, creative thinkers – have instead gone to work for start-ups, an industry which has a reputation for rewarding its people for their multi-passionate experiences and skills.

To attract and hold onto young talent, our industry needs to adopt a more flexible, creative approach to hiring and nurturing new people. We need to first recognise talent in professional/ personal experience that stray from the agency mould, and secondly, have the willingness and patience to help them grow.

"Give people the space to bring their whole selves to work"

Zoe D’Avignon,
Planner,  Saatchi & Saatchi

Bozoma Saint John, the newly appointed CMO of Uber, advised us all in a recent interview to bring our whole selves to work. If our industry wants not just to hold onto, but to make the most of talent of any kind, we need to move towards recognising people as a repertoire of unique interests and experiences rather than just a resource. To me this means recognising the way we all live and experience culture outside of the office as valuable, even invaluable. Part of this is encouraging us to work on projects whose success we’re invested in; to be able to choose what we work on. It’s also about a shift away from structured accounts, roles and templates, towards encouraging everyone to flex to any given task, as appropriate. And it’s also about a central shift towards allowing and accommodating people’s lives from outside work, inside work. We should be encouraging women to bring their experiences of motherhood to work, and people to draw on experiences of unconventional backgrounds. We need to be more flexible, and more appreciative of people’s lived experiences. We need to adapt to start attracting the most interesting people, before we begin to hold onto their interest.

"Empower people to work across different disciplines"

Sam Williams,
Senior strategist, AMVBBDO

I’m lucky enough to have had the freedom to work across a number of different disciplines and agency types from CMS builds and UX Design, to copywriting, and influencer PR. While my progression may not have been immediate or interstellar, I believe I have a lot more groundwork behind me now to get to richer and more innovative platforms for my clients.  

If we are to really push the industry forward and innovate, whilst bringing new talent with us, I think it’s important that we break protectionist definitions around roles within agencies and give young talent the freedom to explore different skillsets, media and technologies. Innovation and an exciting workplace come from exploration and unexpected collisions within a creative community – if they can’t do it with you they will do it elsewhere.

"You cannot template yourself to success"

Gabi Mostert,
Deputy creative director, Iris Worldwide

All too often I’ve seen spikey characters pushed out of agencies for not quite fitting the ‘your team’ page on a creds deck. We hire them for their idiosyncrasies and then slowly template it out of them, one keynote deck at a time. The best people I see are the ones who are doing work outside of work. The poets, activists, screenwriters and comedians. The about me tab is always more impressive than the work one. We should be giving young creatives time and space to cross-train and nurture these wider talents. Hire and promote them for it. When The American Association of Advertising Agencies asked people in advertising to list some of the most creative companies, advertising agencies weren’t even mentioned. If we don’t stop turning talent into practice, we’ll carry on losing the next creative leaders to companies that understand them more than we do.

Greater transparency in the recruitment process

Olivia Stancombe,
Strategist, The Future Laboratory

Firstly, I believe there is a fundamental problem with the perception of the advertising industry amongst graduates considering their future career. The graduate scheme applications are famously long and daunting, and I’ve personally heard many people rule themselves out, saying things like "I don’t think I’m kooky or creative enough to be in advertising". I think greater transparency and information on the diverse roles available, speaking directly to students in round-table or panel discussions would be a good start.

The next generation also have notably different approaches to career and self-fulfilment. They are digital natives who have grown up hyper-connected to the world around them. They value personal experience and self-actualisation over ticking off traditional career and financial milestones. I’d argue that the advertising industry is perceived as being particularly insular. Embracing the shift from adverts to actions would instantly appeal to younger generations. Collaborative and purposeful content is what they look to consume and is therefore what they will aspire to create. Working with more cultural and community groups, giving young people the chance to forge meaningful creative relationships will be an invaluable draw to emerging talent.

"Support people’s lives outside of work"

Amy Nield,
Creative Strategist, Digitaslbi

First, we need to make sure the fundamentals are right: nothing that radical really. The industry needs to ensure that young people have clear routes of progression, healthy salaries (from day one: unpaid internships need to be the first things to go), support and mentoring.

Secondly, to attract and keep interesting, well rounded, creative people you must foster an environment that supports them to stay this way. We are expected to bring so much of our outside life into the office to bring inspiration to our work, particularly in creative roles. But when hours are long and money is tight it can be difficult to keep this up.

So, I think we need to be better at supporting peoples’ lives outside of their work. This can be anything from getting the basics of work/life balance right, providing membership to museums or galleries, up to moving to a four-day week to allow people to spend an extra day on their own projects or interests (everyone spends Fridays hungover or in the pub anyway, right?) or investing in someone’s side hustle.

"Don’t overthink what we want"

Caitlin Brennan,
Senior new business & marketing manager, Havas London

There’s no big secret to holding onto young talent. As a ‘millennial’ who’s part of a generation that "demands everything quicker and better", I actually think that businesses have overthought what we want. For me, it is simple. Allow everyone a voice – or at least the opportunity to put our thoughts and ideas forward. If you don’t, someone else will. Respect us. Don’t make us work ridiculous hours, and don’t ask interns to work for nothing. Appreciate us. Something as simple as a glass of wine after a late night of pitching won’t break the bank, but it will keep us smiling.

Otherwise, the halos around the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook will continue to shine bright, with more modern brands proving more attractive to a more modern workforce. We are not a privileged generation that seeks an easy life, but we do want to work in open, fun and friendly environments. Employ people who can create the right culture – from the top down.  

"Be flexible"

Michael Hanbury-Williams,
Digital Account Manager, UM J3

Be flexible. Cultivate organisations that lean in to, and get excited by change, rather than fear it.

Be honest. Create an open culture where people can bring themselves to work, not wear a professional mask. Encourage fun and make time for it. The effects will be seen in employee loyalty.

Invest generously in training and innovation. If smart people feel their brains are not being stretched they will soon find the exit.

Instil and celebrate a culture of failure. Embrace your people’s mistakes as an accelerator of learning and progress. For all their faults, Silicon Valley’s big five have a powerful ethos to "move fast and break things". This is not perfect, but fostering a culture of innovation comes from the top down – you can’t be innovative if you’re risk averse.

Give a shit. Not just about profit, but about the world. Have principles. Stand for them. Champion diversity and equality– not because it’s trending, but because it’s right. The ‘moaning millennial’ is a caricature now, but with the struggles that our generation objectively faces, it is inspiring to work for a company with a clear moral compass and the guts to use it, even if it means forgoing profit.