Sometime in 1982 when I was just 12 years old sporting a bi-level haircut (a.k.a, a mullet) and parachute pants, The Clash released one of their most popular and frequently covered songs, Should I Stay or Should I Go? I heard the song the other day and was reminded of a never-ending agency issue: Staff turnover, especially at the more junior levels.

It often happens in waves and reaches even the happiest staffers. The high performers, the promotable agency stars. Sure, it also reaches the under-performers and can be a net positive for everyone in those instances.

Agencies are notorious for having high staff turnover, especially at the more junior levels: college grads through their account executive years. To be fair, the marketing communications industry itself has pretty high churn for a variety of reasons. From an agency management perspective, it can feel like the numerous investments we all make in creating a better (and now safer and more civil) workplace in order to retain talent, appear to have diminishing returns. Things like:

  • Unlimited PTO.
  • Flexible working arrangements.
  • Generous healthcare insurance benefits and subsidies.
  • Cell phone reimbursement.
  • Extra personal days.
  • Frequent and fun social events.
  • Flu shots.
  • Professional development.
  • Tuition reimbursement.
  • Mentor programs.
  • Summer Fridays.
  • Business casual attire.
  • Soda and snacks.
  • Breakfast.
  • Lunch.
  • Sometimes, dinner.

Do perks and benefits like these matter? Does it actually have any bearing whatsoever on your decision to stay with your agency or hop to another opportunity? In my opinion, I think perks like these are table stakes. The bare essentials. Consider perks with a purpose that foster deeper engagement, because such benefits are an expression of the values and culture of a place.

It’s often said that people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses. That is often true, but I think junior staffers in PR agencies primarily leave for one main reason and one reason only. Interest!

In the same way that clients often hire us to make them more interesting to key stakeholders, agencies also need to keep the work interesting, and of interest, to junior staff. This is not about attention span. It’s about understanding a generation of younger workers who are more empowered and passionate about pursuing things that interest them. They value these passions over perks and compensation. Their end game is growth and happiness. It’s hard to argue with that.

My advice to junior staff: Go if you can’t grow. To gauge whether you’re still growing, ask yourself questions like: Am I challenged to step out of my comfort zone? Are there areas of expertise I have yet to unlock? If so, stay and appreciate what you have and find ways to maximize your experience, being very open with your supervisors about what you’re interested in while at the same time realizing that you can’t have it all. Just determine what’s most important. Remember too that the agency has invested a lot in your success (hopefully). They stand behind you, too.

Aaron Kwittken is founder and CEO of Kwittken, a former PR Council Board Member and currently serves as President of the Americas for the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) .

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