Dear Liz... how can we stop people leaving our agency?

I work in the HR department at an advertising agency and I'm concerned about our employee turnover rate. What can we do to stop people leaving our agency?

The hidden costs of turnover are huge and are estimated conservatively at around 150% of an annual salary. By the time you have added up down time, team impact, loss of skills and on boarding etc. the numbers start to add up. Ouch. And when you multiply the full cost of turnover for the industry with turnover pushing on at 30%*, that's a big chunk of a Learning and Development budget and other initiatives we could be investing in to encourage folk to stay.

Before we launch into potential solutions my first question is: do you really know why you people are leaving and where are they going to? Exit interviews are key. But the overlooked data in this equation is do you really know why your people stay? I find it curious that we spend hours talking to the leavers and yet have limited feedback from the remainers. You can do some of this research at no cost with internal focus groups and surveys. However these homemade approaches will not give you the data analytics you need to identify the critical areas you need to work on to improve your engagement rate.

So, let’s take a look at some basics you could address or improve:

Does everyone really know what they are paid to do? Role clarity is key and even better if it can be linked to a higher purpose. It may sound old-fashioned but the psychology remains true: we need to how and where we belong.

How well do you communicate who you are as a business, what you stand for and where you are headed? How can your employees bring their values to work to support this vision of the future?

Feedback is key. As Eric Berne pointed out in his famous book Games People Play, we all need strokes because acknowledgment of how we are performing is key. Which takes me into my favourite subject and the magic key to a lot of this heartache; how well-trained are your line managers in the web of skills required to be a line manager? We seem to assume that a title comes with skill. If only it did. We need to prepare people with these principles and skills well ahead of any promotion. And for those already in receipt of the title, support them with these key life skills as they are the Directors of the future.

And the final point is around development. What development plans are in place, how well are they understood, how can people access the programme? This also links very clearly into career paths; what does the future look like, how can I grow, what experiences can you give me, can I take a break, can I transfer office? All are key ingredients for retention and we need to get creative beyond these. I invite you to think beyond the agency fruit, gym and agency bars. Keep doing them but they are only a part of the people puzzle. There is a deeper psychological contract we now need to pay attention to. Whilst we have expectations of our staff, they also have high expectations of us. We need to be clearer about what each needs from the other so both parties can support each other and grow. Once one party does not feel satisfied by this relationship, the problems begin. Add a poor manager into the mix and folk are likely to leave as the research shows that typically people leave managers and not organisations.

So, get hold of some data, pick some key things you can get behind, share with senior management, create a realistic plan and start to take some action!


If you have an HR-related issue that you need answering by our expert Liz Nottingham, Agency HR Director, FIPA, please contact us at Any questions published will appear anonymously.

*Statistic taken from our upcoming Commercial Behaviour survey.

Last updated 21 January 2022