3 reasons why top talent leave agency jobs (and how you can keep them)

Posted by: Anna Murphy /

Your best employees are the heart of your agency. They’re what makes it thrive. They can generate exceptional revenue, build its reputation for excellence, and motivate (not to mention share knowledge with) their teammates during difficult projects.

But at agencies in particular, turnover rates are high. Like 31.9% high. When you’re working with exceptional employees — the kind that can work together beautifully, stay creative under pressure, and collaborate with clients to create something they love — you can’t afford to lose them. And that’s before you even factor in the time and cost involved in hiring and training their replacement.

So what is it that pushes superlative employees to leave agencies in the first place? We’ve found three common reasons behind employee turnover in professional services businesses — and how you can address them before they become problems.

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

Often, agency employees become dissatisfied because the work that they’re doing every day isn’t the work that they thought they’d be doing every day. Instead of designing/writing/coding, for example, they’re finding themselves spending more hours managing/logging/organizing.

And without the opportunity to do the stuff they’re good at, they’re losing sight of their long term growth — and losing the will to stay in a job that’s not committed to helping them reach their potential.

There will always be times when it’s necessary for everyone to pitch in and “sweep the sheds”, of course. But when your team doing work outside their job description becomes the norm and not the exception, you have a problem.

To help your employees feel like they’re like their talents are being well utilized — and ultimately, 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. The best part? The Venn diagram of “the things your employees are great at” and “the things your company gets value from” is almost always a circle (because after all, that’s why you hired them).

Make more time for meaningful work

Here are three ways to do it:

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 — and help you to develop a longer-term career development plan that helps them to grow within your agency.

Maximize your people resources. 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.

Schedule meeting-free mornings. Carve out a chunk of time every day that everyone can dedicate to getting meaningful (and billable) work done. Set it for the morning and the resulting sense of achievement will 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

When agencies in cities with a high cost of living require their employees to work in-house, it can restrict the talent pool they get to choose from.

Whether it forces your best employees to spend hours commuting — a serious creativity buzzkill before they even step into the office — or just prices them out of living where (and how) they want to, it’s a real problem.

And when it comes down to it, for most agencies, the work that your employees bill can usually be done from anywhere with wifi.

Asking your employees to come into HQ every day isn’t necessary for them or you. As long as they’re getting the work done, 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 ways to set your team up for success, regardless of their location:

Put valuable info in public channels. Put processes and memos in a shared document management tool, or save them as Notebooks in Teamwork Projects. Making sure that everyone knows what they need to read, and where to find it, means that everyone has the resources they need to keep work moving — and no one has to wait for someone to wake up in a different time zone before they can get the answers they need to progress.

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.  

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

Reason #3: Endless hours means less gets done

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 exceptional work — rather than a lot of decent work — is the best way to keep your clients coming back.

Deadlines are part and parcel of working in agencies, but your employees need to be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. They shouldn’t feel like they’re constantly on call, or that they have to work around the clock to get ahead.

Spend less time on the clock

Long hours is a classic office complaint, but when employees spend the 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.

Address it when you see it. If you spot that a team member is constantly online at all hours, have a chat with them about it. Maybe they’re most creative between the hours of 11pm and 1am, so they’re inspired to log on and work. (And if that works for them and works for you, maybe they can use flexible working hours to make up the difference by starting later or leaving earlier.) Or maybe they’re always online because they’re overwhelmed with their workload and don’t want to admit they’re struggling. In that case, you probably need to have a discussion about their bandwidth, and help them to optimize their time management — or possibly think about increasing your agency’s resources.

Make the most of time spent on the clock. Time tracking can help people figure out their unique productivity rhythms and work more effectively at the office. It can also help your team to identify how much time they’re spending on each task, helping you to streamline your process and provide better estimates for your clients. Try the (free!) Teamwork Timer app for Teamwork Projects to get started.

Have a designated person on call. Okay, so maybe you absolutely need to have someone on call to fix any grievous errors for clients, no matter what time of the day or night it is. In that case, make sure it’s not always the same person 24/7(/365) and switch up the designated point of contact every week. Make sure that everyone knows (or can quickly find out) who’s on call at any given time so they know who to contact in an emergency — and don’t keep calling the same person, even when they’re off-duty.

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

Don’t wait for the exit interview

Show your top team members that they’re a valuable part of your organization by creating an atmosphere where they feel like their skills and time are being valued, not exploited. Give them work that they love, the trust to work where they need to, and a work-life balance that helps them to maximize their time on the clock without feeling drained — because when your best talent is empowered to do their best work, beautiful things can happen.

What are your best tips for keeping your top agency employees engaged and happy? Let us know in the comments below.

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Anna Murphy
Content marketing specialist

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