Sticky note with employee retention written on it

Something No Digital Agency Wants to Talk About – Staff Retention

13/01/ 2022   |   USource  |   Digital BPO

Issues with staff retention in digital agencies started long before the pandemic. For many agencies as soon as they hire new talent, get them trained up, and integrated with clients, they move on.

This churn takes a toll on the entire fabric of the agency.

Having worked with 60+ agencies across the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and New Zealand it’s not country-specific. All are impacted, with similar time frames on retention rates. Larger agencies, with dedicated HR and training managers, are slightly more protected, but they are not immune to agency churn of talent.

Your agency may differ, but here’s what we see with retaining onshore staff:
Graph on employees moving on over the years

  • 6 months: 20% of onshore employees/contractors move on
  • 6-12 months: 20% of onshore employees/contractors move on
  • 12-24 months: 50% of onshore employees/contractors move on
  • Only 10% of onshore employees/contractors remain beyond 2 years

This churn amplifies pressures internally (agency specific) and externally (client related) on how work is delivered and relationships are managed.

Internally, it prevents growth of the agency. The best laid plans get shelved and the agency steps into a reactive, fire-fighting mode, where they are just plugging gaps to deliver work for existing clients. Business strategies shift. Training, upskilling and career paths get mothballed as the focus shifts to finding new hires.

Externally, agencies hope clients don’t notice any change in quality. Part of the makeup of many agencies is to have client-facing campaign managers, with an unseen backoffice. Back office staff are the doers, carrying out tasks and projects, tapping away on their keyboards to deliver the work; they can be easily interchanged, and if someone resigns the client remains unaware.

Why Do Digital Agency Staff Move On

USource character with hand on the chin
We don’t feel it’s just digital agencies who experience these issues, but it’s our focus, it’s what we do, and to fix something you first need to identify the cause.

  • Is it because employees seek more money, flexibility or meaning?
  • Is it because the work is considered boring to what they imagined?
  • Is it because there is a lack of room for career advancement?
  • Is it because agency staff have a longing to be their own boss (with your clients)?
  • Is it because work has become more project/ task based?

None of these questions are mutually exclusive, and in some instances it will be a combination, along with other factors. Work has evolved to a point where personal lives are intertwined with our work lives, and without flexibility employers risk losing staff, particularly in a tight labour market.

Something we have noticed is employees are quick to seek career advancement opportunities, or more meaningful work by rapid switching of employers – while there’s a hesitancy for skills mastery and subject matter expertise – which would lead to career advancement and possibly more meaningful work.

Our Agency Hires Freelancers to Mitigate Staff Turnover

This can help for immediate staff shortages, but in most cases it’s not a long-term fix, especially if the role is not full-time. Freelancers are their own bosses. They’re always on the lookout for that next gig; a higher paying client, better work, something more meaningful. Your project is just a stepping stone – your freelancer may become unenthused, at worst you will be ghosted mid-project.

How to Fix This – Make Sure You Have Backup Staff

Helping hand clipart
A pipeline of suitable talent. If your focus is digital advertising make sure you have substitute players, a proxy, a team member ready-to-go who can take over. The bigger your agency the more substitute players you need. This makes sense, but can be costly for onshore digital agencies with high wage costs.

This is where an offshore agency like USource steps in. We’re invested in your outsourcing success. We spend countless hours creating staffing pipelines and mitigating key person risk. Both internally, and for our clients we make sure there are backups of backups. If an advertiser, a web developer or customer service agent leaves, there is a pool of talent (at different levels) to choose from.

We want to get team member selection right, but we know it’s not as simple as that. So trial time, from a couple of days to several weeks is sometimes needed. If the team member is not the right fit we can interchange them for another team member.

Finding the Right Talent Won’t Get Easier

With the Great Resignation well under way, and off-the-charts demand for digital skills, finding staff – let alone holding on to them – will only get more difficult.