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Hybrid, diverse & fairly compensated: How advertising’s work culture will evolve in 2023

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Pranali Tawte
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Today’s young workers want work-life balance, fair pay and value alignment with their organization. Social Samosa speaks to experts to understand how advertising's work culture is shaping up and their plan to build diverse organizations. 

With the increasing prominence of ‘hustle culture,’ employees in the advertising industry have been burning the midnight oil to make endless revisions and come up with out-of-the-box ideas. The circles under their eyes are getting darker as they are losing the balance between work and personal life. 

As per a report by Oracle, rising levels of mental stress have negatively impacted working professionals in India more than most places in the world. In India, 36% are suffering from declining mental health (28% globally), 32% are lacking career motivation (25% globally), and (31%) are feeling disconnected from their own lives (23%).

These stress levels could be higher in the advertising industry, which is infamous for working overtime without additional compensation. The advertising industry seems to have normalised working late nights and weekends without compensation. Even sacrificing personal life is normally expected in order to survive and advance in the industry.

Towards the end of 2022 a number of advertising, marketing, and media veterans came forward with their personal stories of hustle and how it impacted their life.

It is because of this hectic culture that many employees have experienced elevated levels of stress. For example, after an unfortunate incident, Tadashi Ishii, CEO of DAN Japan, was asked to step down in 2017 following the suicide of an overworked junior employee. 

Closer home, in September 2020, the advertising industry lost a young professional due to cardiac arrest, which was induced by stress.

At the same time, after the pandemic, the conversation around mental health is, fortunately, picking up. Today’s young workers want work-life balance, fair pay, and value alignment with their organisation. They are looking for a culture that rewards efforts at work, celebrates diversity, and gives space for personal life. 

A study conducted by Randstad shows that work-life balance (65%) trumps attractive salary and benefits (62%), as the most important driver for Indian job seekers while choosing an employer.

In conversation with Social Samosa, experts speak about how the pandemic brought a huge shift in advertising's work culture, the changes they foresee, and more.

Pandemic’s push to improve work culture

According to a report by UserTesting after the pandemic, 50% of the country's workforce stated workload as a major factor leading to burnout, 20% stated work-life imbalance and 15% stated monotony as the prime cause of their stress. As a result, 1 in 2 employees was looking for a job change by the end of 2022. 

Now that more and more agencies are hiring young talent, this generation wants to see a difference. For them, their identity is no longer just about their job because they now perceive their worth in a variety of other ways. 

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Binaifer Dulani, former Dentsu Webchutney and currently a founding member of Talented, has been vocal about flaws in the advertising industry.

“We’re at a point where looming irrelevance is staring at the Indian advertising industry in its face. The remuneration we offer freshers has stayed the same over the last decade. #AgencyLife is a trend that uses memes and humor as a coping mechanism to deal with the inequities in advertising - whether it comes to credit or pay. And fresh talent today isn’t as attracted to the industry - the late-night coffees and ‘you can wear shorts to work’ culture doesn’t make up for a well-rounded lifestyle. The agencies that are willing to break these patterns, and change the way they pay, credit, and respect creative talent are the ones that are also setting themselves up for success.” 

WFH, while it was seemingly exploited by employers, had many benefits for employees. It did make many agencies take another look at their work culture.

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Dentsu India’s Chief People Officer Unmesh Pawar also noticed a shift in culture after the pandemic, the one that made leaders learn about work-life balance. 

He said, “The pandemic has also caused people to re-evaluate their lives; because of the isolation and individuality it caused, individuals now prioritize their needs and those of their loved ones first. People's relationships with their employers are being renegotiated, and leaders have learned they need to develop closer emotional ties with their team members. Leaders now place a high value on balance as well as the well-being of their team members and their family members.” 

Also Read: Shark Tank marketing strategy: Was it a successful pitch?

The pandemic not only altered work models and practices but also people's attitudes toward their work.

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Neha Puri, Founder, and CEO, Vavo Digital stated, “People had a chance to reevaluate their priorities due to the pandemic and consider how striking the right work-life balance may make their lives more meaningful. As a result, they rediscovered long-forgotten interests, began spending more time with their loved ones, and began participating in their daily lives, which they had previously neglected.”

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Nupoor Pradhan, Head - People Operations, SoCheers believes that the changes in how we approach work culture vary on an organizational level, rather than an industry one. 

She said, “While the larger industry might not have made many strides, we’ve seen individual companies make extra efforts to create a healthy and happy work culture for their people. It is especially true of standalone agencies that can build their culture from the ground up. 

Also, the advertising industry today is attracting an increasingly younger workforce, for whom an agency’s work culture is much more of a deciding factor when joining as compared to the earlier generations. This factor is also pushing organizations to match the need, slowly but surely creating a larger industry shift.”

Hybrid has been a go-to solution for agencies, which seems to work for both parties.

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Tanima Dhawan, National HR Director, Zoo Media believes that some roles allow the possibility of seamless operations from home and therefore can operate in isolation and some roles, especially in the creative or advertising ecosystem require working from the office due to the collaboration, and people from different teams partner together to produce a piece of work. 

“Following a hybrid approach, therefore, works in favor of both the parties involved”, stated Dhawan.

Employees to increase focus on DEI

Agencies have been working on making their workplaces more inclusive and hiring Diversity, Equity, and Incsulivity (DEI) specialists. Advertising's work culture is predicted to be more inclusive in 2023 as agencies line up training programs and inclusive hiring processes.

Neha believes that a diverse staff is vital and that companies that welcome and appreciate workers from all backgrounds in an inclusive workplace benefit from increased creativity and innovation, a solid corporate culture, better employee productivity, and other factors. 

Puri stated, "We encourage our recruiters to build a diverse team by establishing an inclusive hiring process. Cultivating a diverse workforce allows teams to think outside the box and challenge fresh notions or ideas."

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Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and CCO, White Rivers Media stated, “As an agency, we pride ourselves in fostering an expansive, inclusive culture. We host talent from across the country with our members speaking over 15+ languages, including the Indian Sign Language. We also have a well-disposed environment for the LGBTQIA+ community and a high number of female members at leadership positions.”

Work culture in 2023

Learning from their mistakes, agencies have lined up a better plan for 2023.

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Vanaja Pillai, Head - Diversity, Inclusion & Impact, DDB Mudra Group stated, “The advertising industry - like everyone else - needs to evolve and find a balance. Mental health is of top priority for our people, and towards that whether it is EAP services or identifying patterns of repeated overwork in teams, or exploring project management tools to build efficiencies, we stay focused on improving the quality of work life for our people. “

Pradhan stated, “Work-life balance spiked both in terms of online conversation and overall importance during the pandemic, and we saw genuine efforts from the individuals and organizations towards achieving it. But since the offices have resumed, it has somewhere lost the value we attributed to it. It’s maybe because we’ve settled back into the “normal”, pre-pandemic ways again. Be that as it may, we should definitely look at new ways to maintain its longevity outside of the pandemic and WFH.”

Dulani believes that normalizing WFH is not just a win for employees, but also massively increases the talent pool for any organization.

"It took a pandemic to normalize WFH - an inclusive practice that helps women grow into leadership, instead of having to drop off at a certain life stage or limit their opportunities to a few kms around their homes. It also helps increase the pool of opportunities for those who are disabled," said Dulani. 

She added, “Every remote active organization needs remote-first practices. This could be something as simple as joining calls remotely, even if one person is remote, and the majority of the team is physically present at work, to ensure equal levels of participation. But at the same time, it’s important for teams to meet in person to feel a sense of pride in what they’re building together, and a sense of belonging to each other."

Pawar also believes that organizations will use the hybrid flex more effectively as '23 progresses to assist their employees in better managing their work-life balance. 

Pawar expressed, “By setting boundaries on unreasonable, impatient requests that send the entire servicing team into a frenzy, leaders can also play a significant role in educating clients and enlisting their cooperation in creating a healthy culture on their teams. We must make sure that our teams perceive us as giving them the freedom and support they need to make responsible decisions about their work and personal life, whether in the areas of mental health, providing care for others, exercising, or engaging in a passion project. I am confident all the above will build a culture that enables professionals in this industry to progress beyond ‘surviving' to actually ‘thriving’.”

Tanima believes that for the millennials and Gen Z, a good work-life balance and learning and development opportunities are a top priority and thus organizations will have to consciously invest in building work environments that fuels continuous learning in more ways than one.

"Learning, unlearning, and relearning is the mantra for the continuous development of work cultures", said Dhawan.

Thumb rules to keep in mind as we enter 2023

Neha Puri believes it’s time to rethink the future of work and some of the things that should change, as she suggested, in the work culture are:

  1. Education and upskilling- We can all agree that learning has risen to the fore. Many companies understand the need for up-skilling and right-skilling for innovation and competitive advantage. Companies should conduct live workshops and seminars.
  2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion- Many businesses should start conversations with their employees to encourage them to speak freely about issues like racism, sexism, bias, and prejudice, as numerous news stories have demonstrated how prejudiced organizations have become. 
  3. Employee experience is an increasing priority- Businesses must consider what employees desire from their working environment. These can include adequate mental health care (something whose urgency has only been highlighted by the epidemic), increased sick leave, money allocated to cover employees' living expenses, various discounts, and proactively recognizing employees' contributions to the workplace.  
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