Burning the midnight oil while chugging cups of coffee (or any other beverage you prefer) and staring into your screen(s) and/or space is not an uncommon sight for ad agencies around the world. Even Don Draper did it. What is different is the resurgence of what Lane Pryce did, although for entirely different reasons.
On December 25, 2016, Dentsu employee Matsuri Takahashi, 24, jumped from the window of her dormitory. As reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Tokyo’s Mita Labor Standards Inspection Office had deemed her suicide a case of “karoshi”, a Japanese word that means “death by overwork”, prompting CEO Tadashi Ishii to step down.
This isn’t even the first such instance at Dentsu. A suicide by a Dentsu staffer in the 1990s drew attention to the problem of work-related deaths in Japan. In 2000, the ad giant settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $1.6 million in damages to the family of Ichiro Oshima, 24, who killed himself in 1991. The country’s Supreme Court had said overwork was to blame.
On February 19, 2017, Mark Dehesa, a brand strategist in Ogilvy & Mather’s PR division in Manila, the Phillippines, died of overwork while suffering from pneumonia. But, according to AdWeek, a former colleague said that while sick, Dehesa “worked until 4am on Thursday night/Friday morning preparing for an early meeting. This party tells us that he then stayed at the office until 9[pm] that night, before asking to be driven to the hospital while visibly shaking. He died two days later.”
In the UAE, while no such occurrences have been reported, a Bayt.com survey lists “advertising and marketing” as the eighth most stressful industry in the country. No surprise then that an advertising agency’s success is the direct reflection of its talent.
“The creative and marketing sectors have long understood that our only assets are the talented people who come to work everyday and that the quality of the work that they produce is directly related to their levels of engagement,” says Nick Clements, chief operating officer at MCG&Group, a global talent and business consultancy.
The Corporate Leadership Council even defined the 10:6:2 rule as per its research in 2009, which states that a ten percent increase in engagement leads to a six percent increase in effort, resulting in a two percent growth in performance. Considering this is an area of interest for the entire industry, MCG&Group commissioned a study with specialist research company The Core Group to produce, Fully Engaged?, a GCC-wide annual in-depth employee engagement study amongst creative and marketing professionals.
We spoke to Steve Halligan, managing director of The Core Group, to glean some insight into the study. Here are some of the findings.
What exactly is engagement?
There is much talk about employee engagement and some confusion as to what it actually means. A simple definition used at The Core Group is: “The extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.”
How do you measure it?
While no one can dispute how important such a mindset is for a knowledge-based industry, the question of how you measure it is a little more vexing. With more than 15 years of experience in the region, The Core Group has developed a series of 12 questions that accurately reflect the levels of engagement felt by an employee.
Are there different types of engagement?
There are two major types of engagement that an employee can experience. At the most basic level, employees need to be transactionally engaged. This is the part of engagement most of us understand: “If I do this for you, what will you do for me?’ Although this type is important, it generally won’t inspire exceptional performance. What you do get from a transactionally engaged employee is compliance: “I do what is expected of me, but no more.” What drives an employee toward better results is to be emotionally engaged – i.e., to feel strongly associated with the overall vision of the company, proud of the products and services on offer, and to be able to see where and how their contribution makes a difference to the success of the organization.
How do you use the 12 questions to measure the levels of engagement?
The 12 questions asked in the Core Values System offer a single-number score that reflects the overall level of engagement that prevails, which is a combination of the emotional and transactional levels. The highest scores possible in the 100-point system are above 90, indicating that employees are highly engaged on both levels. Scores between 80 and 90 indicate average levels of engagement and a more even mix between the two types. Scores between 65 and 80 are below-average and below 65 indicate serious engagement and motivation issues.
What’s happening with our industry?
The average score across all industries is 84, while that of the advertising and marketing industry is 75, indicating below-average engagement levels, which could be due to numerous factors.
First, the benchmark data is predominantly collected during in-house surveys (conducted for a specific firm with only its employees taking part). Despite guarantees that individual data will not be revealed to senior management, evidence suggests people are not 100 percent convinced about anonymity and therefore may give slightly higher scores than they actually want to. Secondly, benchmark data relates to many different industries; therefore, market conditions may vary and have an impact on the way these organizations operate and by default, the attitude of their employees. Having said that, despite considering these two factors, the difference is significant and needs to be addressed.
How much of this rating of 75 is transactional and how much of it indicates emotional engagement?
Employees feeling satisfied at an emotionally engaged level are only at 44 percent, while those that are feeling the same about the transactional elements are only 31 percent.
This compares to a regional average of 61 percent satisfaction on emotional issues and 44 percent on transactional engagement.
What that really means is that one out of every three colleagues you pass in the corridor are satisfied that they are getting as much out of their work as they are putting in.
Less than half aren’t really inspired or motivated by the company’s vision or do not feel strong associations with the organization. These scores would be concerning in any industry, but more so in one where we are relying on people’s inspiration and creativity.
What are the other areas the survey looks at?
1. VALUES system
The 12 questions used to measure engagement are based around six key areas, which comprise the VALUES system.
Vision and values
Is your team fully aware of the vision of the company and does it inspire them toward their best efforts every day?
Do people fully understand what is expected of them and can they see where their work is making a difference?
Have we created a culture where we are sharing information, best practices and getting better at what we do?
Do managers make an attempt to get to know their team and see what life is like from their point of view?
Do you have a recognition, pay and compensation system designed to encourage the team to consistently work hard?
Does the senior team do everything within its power to look after and protect employees, especially in times of hardship?
For each issue, employees are asked about how strongly they agree or disagree with statements of best practice. For example, on the issue of pay and compensation, the statement is: “Our pay and compensation systems are structured in a way to motivate us toward consistently
The respondents then choose how strongly they agree or disagree with this, ranging from completely agree to strongly disagree.
As seen in the chart above, for the employee to be satisfied, a score of 3.5 or above needs to be achieved. A score below 3 indicates disagreement and hence dissatisfaction.
The cause for concern here is that the scores presented in the survey are lower than the regional averages on every single question. There is not a single issue for which respondents have scored above the satisfaction line – in fact, there are
six issues where employees have scored below the dissatisfaction line.
2. Employee attitude profile
This parameter shows a breakdown of the four major types of attitudes that prevail, based on the levels of emotional and transactional engagement that have been displayed.
Those employees with high scores in both are classified as Devotees. They love their company and their work – they are the best advocates an organization can have. Regionally, 34 percent of employees are devotees but, according to the survey, that number is only 17 percent.
On the other extreme are employees with low levels in both areas who have mentally quit but haven’t left physically. The survey’s numbers match the regional average of seven percent.
Those that are reasonably transactionally engaged but don’t have the same emotional attachment. They feel relatively well looked-after but don’t buy into the vision or associate themselves with the services and values of the organization. Regionally, such employees form only three percent of an organization but, according to the survey, the number is a good 14 percent.
This category is indicative of the main issue. These are people that do buy into the vision of an organization, believe in what it stands for and strongly bond with the company, but do not feel transactionally engaged.
They challenge and question everything due to their desire to change the things they are not happy with – because they care.
They come in at 62 percent as opposed to a regional average of 56 percent. So, two out of three people are NOT satisfied at a transactional level and yet companies expect them to continually produce exceptional work and give body and soul for the cause.
How important is compensation? Is it the key factor?
The regional benchmark data shows that pay and compensation are areas about which people are rarely satisfied. It is unusual – if not unheard of – for someone to point out to their manager that the organization is paying them too much. Although it is normal to see people less than satisfied in this regard, the scores for the sector are much lower than the regional average. But pay and compensation on their own are not what appear to be driving down transactional engagement. The uneven distribution of workloads and the rates for setting realistic time frames and project deadlines are also much lower than average. Growth and learning development, which are the final two factors that drive transactional engagement, also score below the satisfaction line.
So it is not a pretty picture when you look at the key drivers of transactional engagement. These results show that many employees feel stressed and overworked, cannot see a clear growth path and are not getting the training and development they would have hoped for. To cap it all, they don’t feel that they are being fairly compensated for all the time and energy that they expend.
So, why are they still in their jobs?
The obvious question is: “If things are that bad, why are people staying in their jobs?” There are two main answers to this question.
The first is that times are tough. Many agencies are downsizing. Clients are spending less and less and demanding a bigger bang for their buck on the projects they are going ahead with. The fragmentation of the media has resulted in many marketers being extra cautious about how and where they spend their advertising budgets. The second reason has to do with the more meaningful of the two types of engagement. The nature of business means that it is impossible to make sure everyone is transactionally engaged all the time. If one person is awarded a promotion or given a big pay rise, these rewards are not available for others in the team. So, to some degree, all employees accept that some transactional frustration will occur. What keeps them loyal is their emotional engagement to the organization.
At the moment, the elements of emotional engagement are higher than transactional ones. Issues such as relating to the company vision, having a strong belief in the brand and what it stands for, getting the firm’s support when you need it, having a good relationship with your manager and feeling you’re achieving something worthwhile in your work are lower than the regional average and dangerously close to the ‘dissatisfaction line’.
What is they key takeaway from this? What can and should be done?
Obviously, it would be better for all concerned if they were able to take action to raise both transactional and emotional engagement. But if the current slow business climate means that increasing pay and compensation is difficult, then at least pay attention to some of the other less expensive areas that could boost or at least maintain employees’ emotional engagement.
Starting at the top, does your vision fully reflect the realities of the industry right now? Do you have a clear and compelling strategy to overcome the fragmentation of advertising spend and a series of products and services to capitalize on the new opportunities these changes present?
Do you know what your value proposition is – both at a customer level and for your employees? Has this message been communicated effectively to all concerned? If so, have the team bought into this brave new world? Does everyone know what is expected of them and what they need to do to add more value to the organization and its customers?
How do you recognize the contribution that people are making to your success? What kind of leadership style prevails? Are we supportive and collaborative or authoritarian and dictatorial? How can we get people to take more ownership and be involved in the decision-making process?
Have we addressed people’s fears and concerns about the security of their jobs? How can we show them that we have a plan, not just to survive but thrive in today’s complex marketing and advertising arena? And of course, if the business starts to pick up, how can we more effectively compensate our star performers to make sure we retain the best talent we have?
Although the survey does not suggest a crisis situation just yet, the data does point to some concerning numbers and issues that could reach a crescendo if not managed well. And for an industry that relies on its people more than anything else, it’d be a shame to miss the warning signs before it’s too late.
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