Employees Crave Career Development. So Why Are Agencies Ignoring It?

Millennials are looking for stability and a company where they can thrive

Talent is leaving the advertising industry in droves, and agencies have no idea how to stem the flow. The average agency annual turnover rate is 30 percent, according to ANA. Instead of prioritizing professional development, the true antidote to advertising’s talent exodus, how have agencies responded? Margarita Mondays.

Perks like summer Fridays and in-house yoga can—and, I’m sure, do—boost employee morale, but they’re not central to talent retention, employee satisfaction and recruitment, and their impact is short-lived. An examination of industry lists that rate the best places to work in advertising reveals that a woefully small percentage of agencies have structured in-house professional development programs.

The New York Times article “Ad Agencies Need Young Talent. Cue the Beanbag Chairs” cites a litany of of frivolous overtures made by the industry to woo young talent, but at least it devotes some ink to admitting the relative futility of office ping-pong tables and employee-brewed beer.

“Beanbags and softball matches and a cool Twitter handle don’t make young people want to work at your office,” wrote David Droga, founder of Droga5.

There are three elements that contribute to an attractive work culture: work, fun and growth, all of which are important, but not in equal parts. Agencies tend to focus on the most superficial of these elements—the fun—even though it’s a nearsighted tactic. That’s because agencies don’t know (or don’t bother to determine) the underlying problem: lack of growth opportunities.

According to research conducted by LinkedIn and 4As, 54 percent of former advertising employees said a major reason they changed career paths was because “they felt there was little opportunity for advancement,” compared to a global average of 45 percent. ” Additionally, 87 percent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job—far more than the 69 percent of non-millennials who say the same, according to Gallup.

Millennials are often characterized as fickle job-hoppers who show little interest in their work, but they actually care more about professional development than previous generations. That’s why they’re quicker to switch jobs and change careers: They demand more fulfillment and more growth opportunities from their work, while they’re less likely to abide a career that trades job fulfillment and growth potential for job security.

A lack of growth potential and an abiding thirst for it point to an obvious solution: professional development.

According to a survey by BetterBuys, a web-based resource on business technology, there’s a 34-percent higher retention rate comparing those with development opportunities to those without. Plus, three-quarters of employees with opportunities said they were likely to stay with their employers for another five years, while only 56 percent of workers without opportunities said the same.

That’s not to say that foosball tables and happy hours don’t have a place in creating an appealing work culture, but the “fun” is complementary, not fundamental. The “work” is only fundamental if it’s supported by professional development. Otherwise, roles that once lured and excited promising talents will—given a long enough timeline without growth potential—inevitably become uninspiring and even onerous, a death knell for any employee-employer relationship.

Professional development is hard. It’s a significant investment of time and resources with no individual guarantees. That’s why so few companies get it right, instead opting to fixate on the quick fix. A robust professional development program that caters to individual needs and aspirations will create a work environment that attracts and retains the best talent in the industry. Once you have that covered, invest in the foosball table and crack open that beer.