The Great Retention: How to retain top talent — even in a candidate’s market

Between the 11.5 million U.S. workers who left their jobs in spring of this year and the 48% considering resigning, it’s no secret that employers are facing The Great Resignation.

Across industries, the events of the last two years have changed the way many people look at their lives and how they spend their working hours. A global pandemic has a way of putting things into perspective, and that’s led many workers to realize they want and need more from their professional lives.

The current labor market conditions have only made it more tempting for workers to consider a change. The competitive job market has caused salaries to skyrocket. Top marketers and creatives have realized they have the power to find work that fits their life, not the other way around.

As a result, many companies are struggling to hold onto their employees.

In a Freeman+Leonard survey of marketing and advertising professionals in August 2021, only 41% of workers employed full-time at the start of the pandemic were still with the same employer. Of those workers, just 31% said they’re happy with their current employer and position.

This should serve as a wake-up call for employers and employees alike. Just as your workers are redefining the significance of work in their lives, leaders of companies have a fresh opportunity to reevaluate their relationship to their most precious resource: their people.

As employers, we can either resign ourselves to The Great Resignation, or we can resolve to make this moment one of Great Retention for our businesses.

After all, we all know how expensive turnover can be. Strengthening your employee retention not only reduces hiring and training costs, but also cultivates a healthy team culture and can help keep your customers happy. And if you can keep your best people during these competitive times, imagine the stability and employee satisfaction you’ll enjoy when the market shifts.

So, what do marketing professionals want from work now — and how can companies and agencies retain their best employees?

1. Rebalance your financial compensation and benefits.

Money talks, and so do your employees.

More workers than ever before are embracing salary transparency, opting to share compensation information candidly with colleagues or friends in the same industries. It’s not uncommon for workers to discover they’re underpaid when they go looking for a new job, but now that information may come to light even if they’re not. Regardless, it’s time for a fresh look at the compensation you offer not just to your new hires, but to your existing team.

And while money is not the only factor in job satisfaction, it still tops the list.

48% of respondents to our survey indicated that higher financial compensation is their number-one most important consideration for their next job.

One survey respondent had grown frustrated with the slim pay increases and limited growth opportunities at their job of five years, saying, “The best benefit I had was a growing number of PTO days.” When they took a new job during the pandemic, they almost doubled their salary. This tracks with the dramatic salary increases we’ve seen across the board.

Another respondent prioritized financial compensation over all other factors because it allowed them to maintain their lifestyle and save for retirement, while another stressed the need to support their family and save for college.

Many also see their financial compensation as an indicator of how valued they are by their employer. “I want an employer that appreciates good employees and rewards them for a job well done,” one respondent said.

Check out the latest Freeman+Leonard Marketing & Advertising Salary Guide to find out if the salaries you’re offering stand up to your competitors.

2. Proactively map out career growth opportunities for your team.

Though it’s tempting to view the candidate’s market as a symptom of short-term, pandemic-driven restlessness, that doesn’t quite ring true for the marketers and creatives we surveyed. Workers want long-term career growth, and they’re more likely to stay with your company when you show them how they can move up within your ranks.

One respondent said, “I want the opportunity to try for promotions and advancement. I’m looking for a company to stay with long term.”

Another stressed that they’re particularly motivated by having a clear path for growth and an understanding of the role they’re reaching for.

This is true at every experience level, too — not just with your more junior employees.

“I’m mid-level in my career — the next step is a major step up,” one survey respondent shared, “so healthy mentorship and leadership and opportunities are crucial.”

We’ve seen a growing number of employers map out career growth plans for their top candidates at the offer stage. Take this same “courting” approach with your current employees. Have frank discussions with your workers about where they’d like to be in the years to come, and then tailor growth plans for each individual.

Knowing what your team members want long-term, and demonstrating a commitment to helping them achieve that, is key to ensuring they feel valued, appreciated, validated and heard.

3. Build location flexibility — and trust — into your policies.

Gone are the days of listing work-from-home opportunities as a “perk” of the job. Today, remote or hybrid work is a necessity in the world of marketing and advertising.

The past two years have allowed us to witness firsthand the impact of remote work on productivity, on both an individual and an organizational level. Many have discovered that their fears about performance were unfounded, while some simply grew to prefer the comfort and convenience of working from home.

As a result, a growing number of marketers and creatives are pushing back on company cultures that demand in-office attendance for work that takes place largely on a laptop computer.

And why shouldn’t they? At review time, their performance likely will be measured by output and achievements, not the amount of time spent behind a specific desk in a particular building. It just makes business sense to let employees office wherever they’ll do their best work.

In our recent survey, 68% of respondents ranked work-from-home options and location flexibility among their top three most important job factors.

One survey respondent said, “Remote work has now become a priority, and 2-3 days in the office is where I am most comfortable.”

Another stressed that a lack of location flexibility would be a deal-breaker: “I would not return to the office full-time without a remote option.”

“I feel that I am more productive at home,” one respondent added. Another said, “Long commutes are expensive and greatly affect my quality of life.”

Fears about health and safety are not behind us, either. “Remote work seems to be the smarter way to go in maintaining my health until we get a handle on the pandemic,” said one survey respondent. “High risk family members mean remote work is essential right now,” another shared.

For some, the option to work from home is even more important than how much they’re paid. Of those who ranked remote work among their top three factors, one-third ranked it higher than financial compensation.

Keep in mind that what employees want from a remote work-friendly employer is more than location flexibility itself. After all, there’s no point in working from home if you’ll be micromanaged as a result, or even monitored.

One survey respondent recently took a new corporate marketing job for a 25+% pay increase. However, that combination of remote work and higher salary have not succeeded in keeping another move off the table: “Leadership doesn’t trust their employees and ends up micromanaging everyone,” they lamented, noting that while they’re not actively looking, they’re open to opportunities.

Trust is key in implementing successful work-from-home policies. Encourage leaders to establish clear guidelines for remote work and measurable performance indicators for each employee, but otherwise trust their team members to do the work they were hired to do.

4. Build a culture your team can be proud of, from the top down.

Competitive compensation, individual career growth plans and remote work flexibility are important starting points for retaining your marketing and creative employees. But sustaining loyalty over time goes much deeper.

Your employees are also feeling a new sense of urgency around doing work they love (or at least enjoy) for companies they respect. Workers want to be a part of a company they’re proud of and tend to be more productive when they can take pride in their work.

For some, it’s even more important than the pay. “I feel that the quality of the work and team are more important than advancement or benefits,” said one senior-level corporate marketer in our survey. “I am looking for a creative team where I can participate and hopefully be a mentor.”

Pride in the job often goes hand-in-hand with enjoying who you work alongside. “I am really looking for a place where I really enjoy my colleagues and enjoy what I do daily,” said a survey respondent in upper management at a creative production agency.

Do your employees know what your mission and core values are? Do they believe in them? And most important, do they see the mission and values being embodied by their leaders? After all, a thriving, growth-minded culture begins with good leadership.

Good leadership is grounded in mutual respect, and marked by trust and transparency. This starts with good communication, but will be either fortified or undermined by the actions and choices made every day.

“Remote work is important, but I do need work-life balance,” said one survey respondent who added, “Strong leadership is important because it dictates your life.”

“Work-life balance has become the most important issue in my life,” echoed another respondent. “I need to find a company with management that truly adheres to that, does not suddenly change the conditions of my employment, and provides a reasonable level of work.”

Workers don’t just want their managers to help protect their work-life balance. They also want leaders with a strong vision and who take decisive action.

“My current position is at a startup with good compensation and unlimited PTO, but I am growing frustrated with the lack of strong leadership and strategic direction,” said one survey respondent,

A senior-level agency creative who responded to our survey stated they value “working for a company with a strong point of view and leadership that helps drive it.” Another said, “I will leave a well-paying position with a great benefits package if leadership is weak with no desire to level up.”

Encourage leaders and managers to take time to ask employees regularly (both formally and informally) what is, and is not, going well in their roles. Focus on establishing psychological safety so workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns and bringing new, innovative ideas to the table.

And most important, hire and promote managers whose actions build trust within their teams and actively demonstrate your core company values — rather than leaving those ideals to wither on the page of a sterile mission statement.

5. Remember that strong retention starts by hiring the right people in the first place.

Fostering a positive work environment with happy, productive employees is a steeper climb if your hiring strategy and onboarding processes don’t support your goals and values.

Use these five pillars to hold onto the marketers and creatives you already have — and partner with talent experts who specialize in finding the right match for your team, your values and your specific marketing needs.

The deep marketing expertise and personalized, strategic approach we bring to sourcing and vetting candidates at Freeman+Leonard is not only more effective, it’s more time- and cost-efficient — because getting it right the first time is a win for both of us.

Let’s get the conversation started.

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