"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Abbey Thomas, chief marketing officer at Tremor Video DSP.
The median number of years employees ages 25 to 34 stay with an employer is 2.8, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In ad tech, it seems to be even fewer.
There is apparently no longer a stigma associated with changing shops regularly, yet there is a cost that comes with changing jobs – definitely for the employer, but also for the employee.
When industry colleagues learn I have been with my company for 10 years, they are intrigued and often respond, "I should have given my previous job a chance." The grass is not always greener. Many talented employees, even young ones, are willing to advance their careers internally – if the circumstances are right.
For companies, there are obvious advantages to retaining people, especially in ad tech where the war for talent is no joke. So why does it feel like every time you look at your LinkedIn feed you are prompted to congratulate someone on a new job?
Ad tech has a retention problem.
Our industry celebrates risk-taking and venturing outside of comfort zones, and it appreciates shiny new things. As such, it takes a certain type of person to thrive here: driven and bold, with a tendency to push past the status quo. If companies don’t continually challenge these kinds of people, they will likely look elsewhere to satisfy their craving for creative thinking and career advancement.
To retain talent, ad tech companies must continually innovate with their talent just like they do with their products. A new challenge could be a promotion, but it could also be spearheading a project or learning a new skill – things that don’t come with a new title.
Just 33% of American workers are actively engaged at work, meaning they love their job and feel committed to the company’s mission, according to Gallup. To keep a bright, hungry workforce engaged, ad tech organizations must create new opportunities frequently.
Over the past 10 years, for example, my company presented me with new responsibility about every 1.5 years, such as overseeing an additional department or moving from a local to a national role. This is a steep growth curve, but it matches the pace of the industry.
Furthermore, companies, or more specifically managers, need to present these responsibilities and then get out of the way. The leaders of tomorrow don’t want to be micromanaged today, but they still need support. Harvard Business Review found that most millennials want more feedback at work, although they are not always looking for advice on how to do their job. Millennials want input on their personal development or just someone to listen.
Sometimes I need advice. Other times, I need a sounding board. Sometimes I just needed my boss to release the gas valve. Ad tech can be a pressure cooker.
The Work Institute’s 2017 Retention Report found that 75% of the causes of employee turnover are preventable. The top three reasons survey respondents gave for leaving their jobs were career development (22%), work-life balance (12%) and managers' behavior (11%), proving that people aren’t always – or even usually – jumping ship just for more money.
Ad tech companies need to encourage honest and open communication. If employees are dissatisfied, you want them to come to you before they accept that new job or, better yet, before they take a call from a recruiter in the first place. Managers need to listen and problem-solve. I have designed many a new role or responsibility for talented employees.
When I received a compelling job offer, I went to my boss and discussed why I was intrigued. I gave my company a chance to create an equally attractive opportunity for me. As tough as these types of discussions can be, it is worth it for everyone. No business wants to encourage good employees to see what else is out there, and you certainly don’t want your team using offers as leverage for salary hikes.
But if you are invested in your talent, encourage open communication about everything – even the hard stuff. The Work Institute’s study found that it costs $15,000 to replace an employee earning a median salary of $45,000. An uncomfortable conversation could save you $15,000 or more.
Lastly, we have to acknowledge ad tech gender inequality. As of last year, women held about 26% of computer and mathematical jobs in the United States, slightly below the level in 1960. We can do better than this.
To retain talent, ad tech companies need to make the office a friendlier place for women. This means being mindful of gender stereotypes, employing strong female executives and facilitating networking opportunities with fellow women in ad tech. Adweek reports that GDP could increase by 20% with women in leadership roles – good reason for companies to work especially hard to retain female employees.
Creating an environment supportive of females means maternity leave matters. Personally, I felt a great deal of loyalty to my company from the support my team showed me during both of my pregnancies. Companies should offer paternity leave, too, but their support should go beyond that. Make sure employees know that they will be missed and, when the time comes, welcomed back with open arms.
Right now, it is an employee’s market. There is no shortage of roles for experienced ad tech professionals. But the grass is not always greener. People know this. When they change jobs, they are doing so because they believe it is the best way to advance their career.
Ad tech companies can retain their best and brightest by continually challenging them, providing ongoing support, encouraging open communication and making the office a friendlier place for women. If they create a culture that places a premium on loyalty, they won’t be disappointed.