puppy at play

If you want loyalty, get a dog. Odds are you aren't going to get it from your digital media professionals.

A new survey from Chicago-based Centro, a media management software company, found 44 percent of employees in the digital media and advertising industry are ready to leave their jobs within the next year or less. And 34 percent of workers have had three or more jobs in the past five years.

Remember when the gold watch was a metaphor for retirement from a corporate culture that valued experience and seniority among workers who, well, didn’t mind working?

Yea, well, most workers today care less about that mythical watch and more about the promised pot of gold at the end of their never-ending job search — a search that often leads directly to the door of a competitor.

'Recipe for Constant Pressure'

"The New Economy has faced scathing pop culture attacks, from Fight Club and Office Space to more recent parodies like Silicon Valley, a depiction of our moment’s most emblematic industry as a dystopia at once pathetic and vicious. And don’t get us started on millennials.

"Expectations are set to 'always on' thanks to the perfect union of cloud computing and mobile technology: It’s a recipe for constant pressure. Regardless of where you look or whom you ask, the answer is usually the same: Our workers just aren’t happy," the report concludes.

Realistically speaking "the contemporary work environment isn’t that bad." But Centro's October survey of 378 digital media professionals (including those at brands, agencies, publishers and more) demonstrates that "the peculiarities of our technology and the sorts of partnerships that characterize digital marketing are creating problems that need to be overcome."

You can blame it on a lot of things: the overlap of work, life and play; ubiquitous connectivity; the feeling that work just never ends — to the point that a 9 to 5 job seems like a dream.

Certainly, the issues of work/life balance and what Centro calls "our penchant for digital distraction" is a problem across industries, "the realities of digital culture make it more acute" for digital media pros.

It's All Too Much

To put the survey in context, it's important to understand that 57 percent of those surveyed are either 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with their jobs. And 65 percent claim the jobs they perform 'absolutely,' meaningfully contribute to their companies.

But still … more than four in 10 employees would leave in a heartbeat (or at least within the next 12 months) for a perceived better offer. "And no matter how you spin it, that number is a bad sign," the survey notes.

What's Wrong?

Round-the-clock work and interrupted play is draining: "At no time in history has any profession possessed such power to obliterate its own personal time or disturb its own capacity to concentrate."

"On top of regular work hours, 60 percent are expected to be 'always on' through a variety of means: email, smartphones, instant messaging and so on. Higher up the ladder, 77 percent of executives say the same," the survey concludes.

Kelly Wenzel

As Centro CMO Kelly Wenzel explains in the report, "For all that we, as an industry, revere the shiny new object/app/tool, we’ve yet to harness the power of technology to make a difference where it matters most.

"We have the potential to make our media dollars go farther and our campaigns more effective, but also to better the lives of the people who power this business. Imagine the possibilities if we could give our talent one of the most precious resources: time — for creativity, big ideas and strategic thinking.

"It’s time to change the way we work."

Job satisfaction isn't yet a crisis, but there are growing concerns that could balloon if we don't face the issues at hand, she concludes.

Talent Drain

job frustrations
To be fair, job hoppers aren't blindly leaping off a career cliff into an oasis of bigger and better things. More often than not, competitors are pulling them toward the door.

"Right now, once employees have a strong understanding of the digital landscape, there are 50 companies trying to recruit them on a weekly basis,” the survey quotes Andrew Blancato, director of talent at Casper, a New York City startup that markets mattresses.

But if an employee is basically satisfied and convinced he contributes to his workplace, why would he leave?

Along with the aforementioned work/life imbalance, digital workers complain about a lack of training and lack of personal support. And then there is the whole idea of trying to do a job with inadequate tools.

As the survey noted, "At a time when the pace of technological change has become less and less forgiving, finding oneself forced to do digital jobs with antiquated platforms and technology solutions is a source of much frustration."

And who can concentrate — even on the job? "About 59 percent of those surveyed claim that they can’t focus on a work task for more than 30 minutes before being pulled away by some sort of 'ping,' be it a client email, a request from their boss, etc.," the survey said.

A Better Workplace

All things considered — "in an era riddled by work-induced anxiety, relatively speaking, digital laborers don’t have that much to complain about." But that reality doesn't necessarily make it any easier to head to work in the morning.

To build a better workplace, companies need to help employees find greater meaning in the work they do, Wenzel told CMSWire. "A lot of companies are great at explaining what they do. But far fewer can explain why they are doing it," she said.

Centro seems to have solved the mystery: It was ranked as the best place to work in Chicago four years in a row by Crain’s, the No. 9 best place to work among all mid-size American companies this year by Fortune, and it has a 4.5 rating out of a possible 5 on Glassdoor.

A stunning 99 percent of the more than 100 respondents on Glassdoor approve of Centro CEO Shawn Riegsecker, whose philosophy around work is that happiness is the new ROI.

Centro, Wenzel said, is "dedicated to the happiness and well-being of the individual. By promoting constant learning and growing, we believe we encourage our employees to bring their best selves to work."

Many people associate workplace happiness and engagement with paid perks and free food. "But that's a really low bar of entry. Real happiness and engagement comes from your culture and your mission as a company."

Centro's manifesto simply states, "Lasting success can only be achieved through dedication to the growth, well-being and happiness of the individual. Each person is responsible for her/his own improvement, the improvement of those around them, and the improvement of the company."

A happy workplace focuses on people, Wenzel said, adding, "You don't leave companies. You leave people."

If turnover is a problem, she suggests companies "Look at their leadership team. Something is getting lost in translation. Ask yourself if your team is aligned … does everyone know why they come to work every day? Those are the questions you need to ask."

You can download the full survey, conducted in partnership with the research team at Digiday, by clicking here.

Title image by Noreen Seebacher