Who is really to blame for agency unhappiness?

On Friday, Digiday published a piece about why agency employees seemed to be getting unhappier by the minute. Reasons varied: from fundamental changes in the way agencies operate to impossible clients (and bosses) to a simple lack of fun.

The piece, already one of our most read and shared of the year, clearly resonated. To be sure, not everyone agreed with the central premise of the article. But still more felt that there were a few reasons we may have overlooked. Perhaps other factors are to blame. We round up a few of our favorite pet theories from Twitter, Facebook and the comments section. So why is everyone so miserable at agencies, then? The debate rages on:

Blame millennials

“Wendy” wrote:
I’ve been in the industry for close to 20 years. My father was in the industry for 50. We both agree the problem is with millennials entering this industry with their “It’s all about me” egos. They think that they can simply work on fun, creative projects and that the rest of the agency and the clients will simply love their work. When that doesn’t happen, they get angry. When their project isn’t the main focus of the agency, they get angry. When we ask them to back up their ideas with facts, they get angry. It’s not a case of being young, it’s the mentality of being entitled that the millennials have grown up with that is causing this. We recently got rid of the the four youngest employees and our agency became happier and more productive.

“Jim” agreed:
It’s not a generation gap argument, it’s a reality. I teach at a university as well and have for 10 years while running an agency. This group feels entitled to get an A, entitled to get great projects, and entitled to get paid mid-level salaries they haven’t earned yet. They also feel entitled to a title. Which is why so many just start their own and call themselves CEO’s at the age of … 23.

Bad salaries:

“Dalton Ridenhour” said:
I’ve found that one of the best morale boosters is getting paid for EVERY WORKING HOUR. If I work a 70-hour week, I want extra money! I don’t really need your free beer or your food or your vacation time. Pay people for the time they work for you, and in return, you will find creative thinkers who are happy to show up and kick ass.

Clients — the very reason agencies even exist — are the problem.

“Lev”: It’s the clients, pure and simple. They are almost invariably cowardly, conservative luddites and 100 percent risk-averse. They’re worse than ever. And there are so fucking many of them! Creative people want to be creative but clients are totally cock-blocking that from coming even close to happening.

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Long working hours:

“Nicole Valles” felt she got burnt out because of a lack of respect from clients and upper management regarding work and life balance.

“Exdesign” agreed: Another thing is the long working hours. We might hold up for 3, 4 years and then the grumpiness takes over. There should be a better balance! Work, sleep, play 8 hours a day should be the golden rule for everyone!

Agency people are only unhappy if they work at a sucky (read: big) agency.

“Tim Winter”: Wow. Time to get out of those large boring agencies and get into the smaller creative agencies. Though, I don’t think the smaller agencies would hire such complainers. My only complaint is that some of the big brands have too many layers, are too conservative and don’t allow their agencies to be as creative as they would like. But hey, that’s just business. Take joy and appreciate those clients that come your way that give you more control over the message and suck it up and do your job, well, with the clients that pay your bills.

We’re just great at whining:

“Inexiledio”: We media people have probably always been a bit bitchy and unhappy. If you’re in creative, you’ve been crushed by procurement and shrinking production budgets. If you’re in media, your slowly being replaced by a machine in favor of programmatic buying. It also feels inevitable that clients will just take everything in house. There just isn’t a particularly inspiring vision of the future for agency life these days.


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