Agencies Have a Morale Problem

Like most industries, the agency world is in an intense period of transition. As competition heats up from media and tech companies, and brands turn to in-house teams, agencies are being forced to evolve or die.

That pressure has had detrimental effects on agency employees.

According to a new study by Campaign US, the American offshoot of a British ad trade magazine, morale in the agency world has sunk to dramatic new lows. Almost half of employees claim to have “low” or “dangerously low” morale, and 63 percent of those with low morale are hunting for new jobs.

“These findings are sobering, but—sadly—not surprising,” Douglas Quenqua, Campaign US editor-in-chief, said in a press release. “Conversations with people at all levels of the industry reveal widespread frustration and even despondence about the industry and their own jobs. But seeing the numbers really crystallizes how serious an issue this is for advertising, particularly as it fights with other industries for tech and creative talent.”

What’s behind the low morale? Bad leadership.

Seventy-three percent of respondents cited “company leadership” as the main contributor to low morale. “Lack of advancement” was second, with 45 percent, while “dissatisfaction with work” took third, with 38 percent.

Though the study didn’t provide specific reasons for the drop, it’s safe to assume that frustration with company leadership stems from inertia at the top of many agencies. Perhaps bosses are stubbornly pushing for traditional agency practices, while younger and mid-level employees may want to pursue newer strategies but lack the power to create change.

Almost half of agency employees did not list having low or dangerously low morale, however. Among that more satisfied group, “work/life balance” was the top reason for satisfaction at 62 percent, which studies have shown is particularly prized among millennial workers. “Satisfaction with work” was second with 49 percent and “creative freedom” was third with 44 percent.

Compensation seemed to have little effect on morale. The highest dissatisfaction came from employees making $101,000 to $250,000 a year, and the lowest came from those making $50,000 a year or less.

Instead, dissatisfaction correlated with experience. Cynically, you could argue that older employees understand the industry’s problems better than junior employees. It’s also possible that younger employees are more optimistic.

The agency world isn’t alone in its morale malaise. Globally, only 13 percent of employees are engaged with their work, according to a longstanding Gallup survey. In America, however, that figure jumps to 32 percent. Other reports, such as this job satisfaction survey from nonprofit research group Conference Board, have pegged American job dissatisfaction at 52 percent.

While the low morale is cause for concern, keep in mind that lots of people dislike their jobs, agency or not. Gallup’s survey, like Campaign US’s, showed that poor management is consistently the number one factor in employee dissatisfaction. For agencies to turn things around, investing in improving leadership would be a great place to start.

Image by G Stock Studio/ Shutterstock

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