Episode 363

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What makes an employee want to stick around at your agency? Every year since 2014, we’ve been doing the research and compiling it into our Agency Edge Research to help agency owners get to the bottom of how to maintain employee satisfaction.

We expected certain things like financial compensation and work-from-home flexibility to be most important this year. Still, we were surprised to find many other desires shining through that have nothing to do with money. This year, Susan Baier returns to help me break down our findings.

In our analysis, we’ll highlight three categories that most agency employees fall into and how their needs, wants, and levels of loyalty differ across the board. Each group has their own unique way of viewing their role in the agency, how they want to be cared for, and what’s missing that would make them want to stay. We’ll talk in-depth about each group and how we can best address their concerns to boost employee satisfaction.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
employee satisfaction

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What is the Agency Edge Research Series, and what agency-specific issues does it address?
  • What questions do we ask agency employees when compiling the research?
  • The three categories that most agency employees fall into when looking at employee satisfaction
  • The most important things that employees feel are lacking in the agency culture
  • Where millennials stood out more than other age groups in certain categories
  • What are the driving reasons behind an employee choosing to leave an agency?
  • How to build loyalty in your agency and take care of employees
  • How to identify employees who might be at risk of leaving your agency or agency life altogether

“72% say what they want is leadership to empower others, or the ability to empower others.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“Almost half of our group is working hybrid, 32% are fully remote, 21% in-person. And most of them say that the way they're working now is how they want to be working.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“The at-risk group is significantly more likely to be women. 66% of the at-risk are women, compared to only 40 to 50% on the other two segments.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“That middle group, the self-reliant 45%, are significantly more likely to be millennials. 63% of them are millennials compared to about 45% for the other two segments.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“The at-risk group is more likely to focus on collaboration, these folks who care so much are at the center of your agency and may not be getting the level of collaboration they want.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Susan:

Resources:



Announcer:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road sellable. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute, back again with another episode of Build a Better Agency. This week’s guest is probably our most return guest, Susan Baier, and we’re going to talk about the Agency Edge Research that we literally just came out of the field with. What we did was we talked to agency employees. It was very specific. How are they feeling about the work? How are they feeling about their specific agency? How are they feeling about the industry in general? What’s great about their job? What’s not so great about their job? This is an episode and a piece of research that you really need to see and understand as all of you continue to build the agency, want to build your capabilities.

Some of you are still struggling with finding talent. You’re still losing talent to either other shops or to the client side, and so I want to help you be better in terms of keeping the employees that you want and taking care of all of your folks. That’s what we’re going to talk about is we’re going to walk through that research. I will tell you, though, one of the things that we heard loud and clear are a couple of things that we’ll dig into deeper once we bring Susan onto the show is agency employees want more professional development and they want to know where they’re headed. They want a career path.

You don’t have to do it for them, but you need to do it with them. They don’t know how to build these career paths for themselves. I know a lot of you took control of your own career and made your own path, but the people we’re employing today, they don’t seem to have that skill set and they expect us to help them think about where their career could go and what they need to do to continue on that trajectory. That’s on us to do, and to participate in it if nothing else.

One of the things I want to talk to you about is remember that we are offering the AE Bootcamp and the Advanced AE Bootcamp twice a year now, once in the fall and once in the spring. The Advanced AE Bootcamp, it’s too late for you to do the fall version, but the AE Bootcamp for kind of your more junior people, zero to four years of experience, is in October in Denver. Then, we’ll offer both the AE and the Advanced AE Bootcamp again in the spring of ’23. If that makes sense for some of your folks, we would be happy to have them and you can learn more about it on the Agency Management Institute website.

In the meantime, I want to welcome back Susan Baier. As you know, Susan and her company, Audience Audit, are AMI’s partner in the Agency Edge Research Series. We are on our ninth year of doing these studies and every year we learn really insightful things that are both surprising, but also things that we could take action on and do something about. This study is no different.

There’s lots to be learned here and there’s lots to do to make our employees happier, more productive, to retain them for longer, and so I want to jump right into that conversation and give you as much information as we can. We’re also going to talk about a webinar where you can get even more information that’s coming up in October. All right, let’s welcome Susan to the show and get going. Susan, welcome back to the podcast. It’s always good to have you on the show.

Susan Baier:

Oh, thank you. Drew. I love being here in front of your audience. It’s wonderful.

Drew McClellan:

As always, we ventured out into the world to ask people some specific questions as part of our Agency Edge Research Series. This year, our question was, I think, the same question that was on every agency owner’s mind, which is, “What in God’s name is going on my employees’ heads? What can I do to keep the ones that I love and that are incredible performers? How can I find and attract the right fit for my team? What matters to employees today?” I mean, we did this, gosh, how many years ago? Probably six or eight years ago we talked to-

Susan Baier:

Yeah-

Drew McClellan:

… agency employees.

Susan Baier:

… I think it was about six years ago, and that study surprised some folks, the findings from that study-

Drew McClellan:

That’s right.

Susan Baier:

… and this is the second time we’ve spoken to agency employees as opposed to agency clients, and once again, I think the results of the study are going to surprise some folks, so that’s been fun.

Drew McClellan:

When I think about the results of the last survey, I mean, the world has literally changed since then, and so while-

Susan Baier:

Yes.

Drew McClellan:

… some of what we learned six years ago was certainly still valid, we went out really this time with the intent of trying to understand where agency employees’ heads were at, heads and hearts, really. How are they feeling about the work? How are they feeling about the agency they work for? How are they feeling about everything from hybrid work to all of the changes that have been sort of thrust upon us over the last couple of years? We were pretty focused in our intentions I think.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Well, yeah, and we intentionally held this study, so one of the things we’re going to talk about later is the webinar, the executive summary, all of that stuff is in process now because this study just came out of the field this summer. It is really, really, really, really new, so I think we do have our finger on the pulse of where employees are right now, which I hope will be helpful to agency owners.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, so we’re recording the week of September 12th, and later this week, this data will be unveiled, if you will, at Content Marketing World. You guys are going to hear this the week after that, so we’re just… We recorded this last week if you’re listening in real time to when the podcast comes out because we wanted to get this to you, and also because, as Susan mentioned, we have a webinar. I’m going to mention this several times during the show because it’s important. As always, in this hour, Susan and I are going to barely be able to scratch the surface of all of the data that we gathered, and we want to really be able to do a deep dive with any of you that are interested, and so on October 4th, correct me if I’m wrong, Susan, noon Central, right?

Susan Baier:

I just trust you when you tell me things like that.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. That is not a good idea. I think it’s noon Central, right? Hang on. One of us has to look. Anyway, Susan, you look while I give them the information.

Susan Baier:

Okay, that sounds good. I’ll look.

Drew McClellan:

On October 4th, sometime around noon Central, which we’ll get to in a minute, we’re going to do a live webinar where you can actually see all the data visualized and you can ask us questions about the data and we can talk about it. Here’s how you sign up for that free webinar. You’re going to text the word “Research2022,” all one word, so no space between Research and 2022, to this number, 833-592-2949. It’s going to prompt you to send us your email address, and then the minute you do that, we will register you for the webinar.

Susan Baier:

Which is at 10:00 Pacific, 1:00 Eastern.

Drew McClellan:

Noon Central.

Susan Baier:

Well, depending on what happens with Daylight Savings. I’m in Arizona, so I never know what all you people are doing with your-

Drew McClellan:

All right-

Susan Baier:

… clocks.

Drew McClellan:

… ignore Arizona, who has turned their back on Daylight Savings.

Susan Baier:

10:00 Pacific-

Drew McClellan:

A very-

Susan Baier:

… 1:00 Eastern.

Drew McClellan:

… controversial topic, I know, so noon Central. 10:00 if you’re in California, 11:00 if you’re in Denver, 12:00 if you’re in Kansas City, 1:00 if you’re in New York City. All right, and if you’re in other parts of the world, that’s as far as I can go. Check it out for yourself, but anyway, “Research2022” to the number 833-592-2949, and we will include this in the show notes as well. The autoresponder will prompt you to send us your email address, and then we will get you registered. As always with all AMI workshops and webinar, or sorry, not workshops, that would be a lie, all webinars, if you can’t make it live, we will send you the recording. Even if you know already that you’re booked on October 4th, but you want to hear us really deep dive into this content, feel free to sign up.

Okay, let’s start talking about the content. Susan, let’s talk a little bit about the methodology as we always start with, and then let’s talk about what we found out.

Susan Baier:

Right, so as always, these studies are statistically reliable. We talked to about 400 agency employees, which gives us a really high level of confidence on the results of this study. Our focus, we always capture a lot of information, but the real core of this research has always been trying to understand what’s in people’s heads and why they’re making the decisions that they’re making and how they feel about various things. We don’t predetermine what those buckets are going to be. There’s a lot of assumptions that we as owners have about employees, but none of those are built into this study.

The segmentation that we find is organic, and it’s only based on the attitudes that people have, not their demographics or any of those other things. As usual, that process went into play at this time, and when we pulled the analysis of the data, what we saw are three very distinct attitudinal segments this year. They’re not even, as they have been in other years at times, but that’s just the way the data fell out. We have three segments of employees. The first group we’re calling Enthusiastic, which is 27% of our audience. Self-Reliant is the largest group at 45%, and we’ve got a group called At-Risk, which is 29%.

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s different between these agency employees and how they were thinking about things. That Enthusiastic group, which was 27%, are just like the dream situation for an agency owner. They feel very good about their ability to succeed at their agency. They’re proud to work in their agency. They are giving their agency high marks for things like professional development, opportunities, compensation, culture. They say leadership is really in touch with the needs of employees. They think working in agencies is more fun than the client side, and these are people who have done both for that question, and they think the best way to build a career is to stay in one agency for many years. That’s really an excited, supported, enthused group of agency employees, but that’s 27% of our total group.

Drew McClellan:

Unfortunately, those dream employees are the smallest group-

Susan Baier:

Yeah, yeah.

Drew McClellan:

… and by the way, as usual, one of the things that’s always interesting about our studies is when we look at, “Okay, does it matter what part of the country they live in? Or does it matter how big their agency is or their age?” What you will see on October 4th, because we don’t have time to dig into it now other than just to say, none of those things were really factors in where somebody’s attitudes fell into. There is one other group’s that tended to be the younger employees, if I remember it.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, yeah. We’re going to talk a little bit about some tendencies, but as you said, we found all of these segments across all ages, all genders, all agency sizes, so if you have assumptions about who’s enthusiastic and who isn’t based on their generational position, you would be wrong.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, yeah. Now, the second group, the Self-Reliant group at 45%, is actually… In all the years we’ve done the studies, we’ve never had one group this large before I don’t think.

Susan Baier:

No, I don’t think so. This is really, really interesting, and I think the tendency is going to be for people to hear about this group, to make some assumptions about how they feel about agencies. These folks actually would like agencies, but they’re not very happy with their current agency, and they really feel like their career success is solely their own responsibility. They are not relying on anybody else, including their current or future employer to carry their career happiness and success.

Drew McClellan:

I do think it’s not that they wouldn’t welcome better support from their agency-

Susan Baier:

Oh, of course not.

Drew McClellan:

… on our, or their agency, but they feel kind of their out on an island. They feel very responsible for their own career success, which I think for many agency owners sounds like great thing, but it’s the words “solely responsible” that is the concern. They don’t really feel like the agency owner to agency leadership is that invested in them, and they find the work to be a little pedantic, that many of them have a side hustle just to kind of fulfill themselves in terms of their creativity.

Susan Baier:

Well, and they say they need that.

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

They say like that’s a requirement for them because it’s not being fulfilled someplace else, and when we talk about how they’re feeling about their current agency, not only are they not feeling sort of that their career is being nurtured at the place that they are right now, but they say things like, “Success at an agency depends on who you know, how well you perform, and that a small number get the credit for everything that happens at the agency.

Drew McClellan:

One of the interesting things I think about this group is I think they feel invisible inside your shop. They’re not getting the pats on the back that they need, and I know for many agency owners, the whole patting people on the back thing is sort of a burr under your saddle. that people should just know they’re doing a good job cause they’re not getting in trouble. Or a lot of times I’ll hear, “My God, I can’t compliment them enough to make them happy,” but again, almost half of the people we talk to are feeling underappreciated and kind of invisible. They also believe right now that they would have a better work experience at another agency than the agency they’re at now. They don’t find working at multiple agencies to be a problem. They actually see some value in moving around.

Susan Baier:

Yep. I think these folks are really looking for the opportunity to exercise their creative expression and really try some other things. They’re just not seeing that, and so what they’ve decided is that they have to manage that themselves. This is why so many of them want to side hustle. I think the interesting thing about the side hustle is it’s not about money. One of the things that I think we expected to thread through this research was compensation, money, money, money, you know? That’s not what it’s about for these folks. They really want to be able to stretch their creative muscles, and that’s why a side hustle is so important for them.

Drew McClellan:

Yep, and I will say that this group is less likely, understand less likely meaning not everybody, but-

Susan Baier:

Right.

Drew McClellan:

… less likely to be responsible for strategy, project or account management, or leaderships. This is more likely to be the folks on your production side of the business, the people who are producing the work.

Susan Baier:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Susan Baier:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Susan Baier:

All right, so that’s 45%, and then we come to this group that I thought about the name for this group, and I don’t think there’s a better name than At-Risk. This is 29% of our employees. These folks really expect their agencies to help employees be successful, be engaged. They want agencies to show concern for their employees’ well-being, and these are least happy with their career trajectory, their compensation, their path for advancement. Here’s the scary thing about this, Drew, this is the group that is most likely to be responsible for strategy, leadership, project management, and account management. These people are at the very center of how your agency works or doesn’t work, and they are the least happy with how things are going for them right now in their agency. Even though they say their agency is doing well, they are really struggling, and of all the groups, as we’ll talk about in a minute, this is the group mostly likely to look ou