My experience has been that work is almost the best way to pull oneself out of the depths. —Eleanor Roosevelt
Apparently, my friends and colleagues in the advertising and fashion industries are not as happy with their jobs as they appear.
The latest iteration of Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies To Work For“ is out and looking down the list what I see is rather disappointing. There is only one Indiana-based company, Roche Diagnostics, which is #73 on the list. There is only one fashion-related company on the list: Nordstrom at #92. And despite the fact that #1 Google lists itself as an advertising and marketing company, there really are NO pure advertising agencies on the list at all. We have a problem.
Business of Fashion published an article yesterday addressing the culture of emotion and how that impacts employee retention and happiness. While there are a few companies that are trying different approaches, most were based on single-event programs and failed to really address the day-to-day issues that can make even creative offices stressful and difficult to work at. Creative people don’t work as well under stressful situations. We’re more likely to shut down. Having one day a year where a team gets together to “give back” to the community is nice, but it does absolutely nothing to alleviate the daily grind under which everyone is working.
Earlier this morning, fashion holding company Kering announced that creative director Hedi Slimane is leaving Yves Saint Laurent. While the news is anything but surprising, it underscores how unhappy everyone working in the fashion industry seems to be. Slimane joins Raf Simmons and Alber Elbaz on a list of very high-profile designers, people who should be at the top of their design game, who are just floating out there, unattached to any label and missing the financial capital to create eponymous lines for themselves. If the world’s top designers are not happy, we have to assume that everyone below them is absolutely miserable.
Similarly, advertising has never been a friendly work environment. The revolving door at most agencies is so severe that anyone who makes it past their one-year anniversary is considered a veteran. While some may blame the constant turnover on the aggressive recruitment poaching of top talent, what factors just as strongly is a lack of willingness on the part of the agencies themselves to create work environments that encourage loyalty and reward longevity. I’ve talked to many agency partners who never expect new hires to stay long and, as a result, create an environment that encourages their exit. Who wants to work in a place like that?
Hundreds of thousands of creatives are employed between the fashion and advertising industries. While both have managed to thrive for decades on a high-stress, high-turnover environment, the day when creatives are willing to tolerate those destructive work atmospheres may be coming to an end. Millennials, especially, are less tolerant of work environments that are incapable of contributing to their overall well-being, including emotional and physical aspects that we’ve previously considered inappropriate for the office. If employers don’t find ways to adjust, the exodus of creative talent could bring about an end to business-as-usual and spark a whole new revolution of agencies and design labels that disrupt both industries.
Brand and agency executives have every reason to be concerned. No business can survive off the work of the people at the top. Workplaces need to get a lot more friendly, and fast.