Design freelancers set to cash in on employee exodus

An anticipated exodus of employees from the UK’s design and digital agencies is set to line the pockets of the sector’s freelance workers, FreelanceUK has learnt.

Dissatisfaction with their jobs, due to stress, a lack of rewards or poor leadership, is why more than a third of employees plan to leave their agency once the upturn hits.

The resulting vacuum will provide optimum conditions for freelancers, as agencies will need urgent replacements, in a recovery that may be too fragile to hire full-timers.

Ominously for the agencies, the staff most likely to consider quitting currently run day-to-day client care and delivery, warned On Pointe Marketing, the firm behind the findings.

“If agencies start losing the key staff that delivers the work, they risk damaging [their client] relationships to the point where clients may decide to look elsewhere.

“They also risk being so stretched that they’re unable to seize new opportunities as the market begins to pick up,” said Stephanie Brown, the firm’s managing director.

According to the research, executives at design or digital agencies are the least likely to jump ship – only about a fifth will definitely or potentially move on – followed by in-house strategists.

But among designers at digital or design agencies, nearly half said they would definitely leave or may consider it, as will almost the same number of account managers.

“It isn’t about money,” said Rachel Fairley, managing director of Fairley & Associates, reflecting on the reasons agency staff gave for eyeing greener pastures.

“It is about respect and appreciation. Agencies must empower their managers to lead, coach and nurture their teams so employees are involved in ensuring their agency’s and their personal success.”

When asked why they might leave their current employer, the most common reason cited was the agency’s failure to reward them for ‘going the extra mile.’ Agency performance was also a big push factor.

In addition, a significant proportion said their agency didn’t support professional development, and almost as many said the firm was not as quick to respond to changes as it thought.

“It is vital that they [agencies] look at how to reward and recognise their people - something which doesn’t have to cost a fortune,” said Karina Beasley, of Gabriele Skelton.

“Bearing in mind the level of redundancies in the first half of 2009, many agencies are now down to teams comprised entirely of their key people - the very people they can least afford to lose when the upturn comes.”

The subtext of the research is that the more agencies continue to neglect their most valuable staff, and effectively edge them closer to the door, the more conditions for freelancers will ripen.

Ms Brown said: “With many agencies already working with the bare minimum of employees, if two-fifths of staff that are responsible for day-to-day client satisfaction really do leave, then those agencies may need to fill the gap with freelancers, at least on an interim basis, whilst they recruit full-time replacements.”

More positively for the design and digital sector, almost three quarters of the staff considering an exit said they planned to stay in the same field, suggesting that in most cases one agency’s loss should, in time, become another’s employer’s gain.


18th December 2009

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