3 Reasons Why Top Talent Leave Agency Jobs (And How You Can Keep Them)

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Demystifying why top talent employees disappear so quickly, and solutions to help you provide a work environment that will not only help you in retaining agency employees, but allow them to thrive.


When top talent sign their contracts, they’re not thinking about how many hours they’ll spend managing spreadsheets.

They’re thinking about their long-term potential growth.

So when their daily responsibilities make them lose sight of that growth, they start updating their résumés and checking the exits.

Your best employees make your agency thrive.They can hit a 60% billable ratio, generate exceptional revenue, and motivate their teammates to step up their game. But as their ratios increase, they become more competitive candidates for other agencies. If they leave your agency, they take those numbers with them.

It takes time for new employees to become top talent. Given how much time, resources and effort are invested in new employees, repeating that process when someone quits means a staggering loss.

To keep your agency’s best and brightest engaged, managers need to zero in on why employees leave–and preemptively nip these reasons in the bud.

Here are three reasons that top talent quit their agencies, and how managers can stop that from happening.

Reason #1: Your top employees want to innovate, but all they do is execute 

Why Top Talent Leave Agency Jobs | Team Meeting

Your employees aren’t successful because they’re innately talented. Charles Duhigg‘s research found that when people are rewarded for effort, it empowers them to keep at it. That applies to your employees: they do well because they believe that success is within their control, so they work for it. 

But as their agencies grow and change, so do their responsibilities. When it means your top employees spend less time using the skills they’ve developed and have come to enjoy–and the job they signed up for–it disempowers them. It makes them feel like their effort isn’t valuable, which causes them to disengage from your company.

As an early ex-Google and ex-Facebook employee wrote

As the companies grew, as my roles became more specialized and I chose to move away from some of what I loved doing (e.g. public speaking), I felt less a part of the company in the way I had felt before.

To help your employees feel like they’re an important part of your company, you need to help them spend the bulk of their time on tasks they find rewarding.  

Make more time for billable, meaningful work

1 in 5 employees feel like they’re doing work they didn’t sign up for. Helping them make time for the tasks they find most rewarding–and that your agency likely gets value from–keeps people happy at their current jobs.

  • Survey your team. Asking your employees to list their specific skills, and respond to questions like: “What do I want to get better at?” and “What do I wish I had more time to do?” can go a long way toward helping your employees use their time more wisely.

 

  • Delegate time-consuming, non-billable tasks. Anne’s great at analyzing conversion rate optimizations and strategizing for her clients. She’s on a tight deadline for a new client, but the data they’ve provided is messy. Instead of wasting Anne’s potentially productive hours parsing through it, ask Rachel the research expert if she can lend a hand and give her the low-down.

 

  • New policy: meeting-free mornings. Carve out a chunk of time that everyone can dedicate to getting meaningful (and billable) work done. If that time is set for when people are most awake and ready for action, it’ll empower your top talent to keep up the great work for the rest of the day.

Reason #2: Your talent doesn’t want to live near HQ

Why Top Talent Leave Agency Jobs | Walking Commute to Work

When agencies in cities with a high cost of living require their employees to work in-house, it can burden some employees more than others.

For agencies, the work that your employees bill can usually be done anywhere with WiFi. Asking your employees come into HQ every day simply doesn’t accommodate every employee’s unique needs.

Facebook’s HQ is in Silicon Valley, and they urge their engineers to work in-house. As a mid-career engineer with kids who spends most of his days huddled in quiet work, this former employee found that rule mind-boggling. 

It can easily work for a single 20- or 30-something with roommates, and they can prosper greatly from it. But [it doesn’t always work] for a person with a family of 4 and has a certain lifestyle that they want to try and maintain.

Even if you’re working with the best employees out there, a great salary alone isn’t enough. People spend their money differently, and locations with a high cost of living can make or break a job. When people spend the bulk of their days in silent work, there’s no reason to prevent them from working remotely, even full time. 

Let top talent go remote

Going remote can be tough without systems to keep everyone on the same page, at all times. That’s why transparency is so important. Using searchable tools and documenting your processes will help keep your entire team in sync.

Here are some tools to set your team up for success, regardless of their location:

  • Put valuable info in public channels. Putting processes and memos in a tool like Quip or Google Docs and keeping all email exchanges with customers in a shared inbox like Front keeps everyone in the loop.

 

  • Teamwork Projects fuels progress.  The work and project management app lets you assign tasks to specific people and helps you manage your team’s workload. Teamwork Projects also offers time tracking so employees can become more cognizant of how they spend their time, and develop productivity habits that work for them. 

 

  • Use Zoom or Google Hangouts for all meetings. Whether they’re for project meetings or 1:1s with supervisors, putting in (virtual) face-time can make for the same kind of spontaneous “hallway and cafeteria discussion” where innovative ideas are born.  Zoom and Google Hangouts are great for businesses, as they host a large number of users (and Zoom makes it easy to share screens).   

Being more flexible about where people work from means your agency will get the crème de la crème of workers

Reason #3: Endless hours means less gets done

Why Top Talent Leave Agency Jobs | Clocks GIF

It’s tempting to squeeze every billable hour out of each top employee. But that’s a dangerous game. 

People who work long hours are typically productive in short bursts, meaning they don’t maintain a steady rhythm of focus. That makes it more difficult for them to get their best work done. And producing the exceptional work–rather than a lot of decent work–is the best way to keep your clients coming back.

Unless your top talent includes a group of surgeons, your top talent shouldn’t be working around the clock. As one former Facebook engineer wrote:  

For six weeks out of the year, I’m on 24/7 on-call duty. During on-call duty, engineers are responsible for keeping the service up and running. […]  I carry and immediately respond to a charged phone where I can be reached 24/7, including leaving the ringer on the nightstand as I sleep.

Putting your employees on the same schedule as surgeons makes it difficult for them to stay afloat and get enough sleep without worrying about missing something important. 

Spend less time on the clock

Long hours is a classic office complaint, but when employees spend a majority of their waking hours thinking about work, it damages their ability to think clearly and be productive.

Here are some ways to start repairing your around-the-clock culture for your employees’ long-term benefit.

  • Mandatory clock-out time. This shows your employees that their overall well-being and ability to take breaks from work (like to sleep) is valuable time, too. 

 

Helping your employees reduce the number of hours they spend at the office and think about work means that they can make the most of their time on the clock.  The end result is that they produce more and worry less.

Don’t wait for the exit interview

Your top talent will look for jobs elsewhere if they feel that their work, time, and effort isn’t appreciated. So show them that they’re a valuable part of your organization by giving them work that they love, letting them work where they need to, and by helping them use their time at work effectively. By encouraging them to make the most of their hours, you can make sure that your employees make the most of their days and find their work fulfilling. 

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