What are Creatives looking for in a job?

How re-thinking benefits will attract those young, talented creatives to your company.

My Dad was a teacher for over 30 years

in the Hudson Valley in upstate NY. He had a very liveable salary with a substantial pension, summers off as well as other week-long holidays, amazing health insurance for him and his family and tenure after a 3-year period, otherwise known as: security until he retired. But the real benefit of course was shaping kids lives and doing what he loved.

Today my Dad has a hard time understanding how his designer-daughter fills her days or earns a living comparable to that of a permanent salary. He looks at freelancing as risky and unstable especially in the wake of a recession. Why would one leave behind security and yearly compensation for such unknowns? Nearly 4.1 million people (14 out of every 100) were self-employed this past year, according to the Office for National Statistics, and millions of others are supplementing their income with something on-the-side. People are creating a movement of re-thinking how one makes a living.

The truth that I have discovered, after spending 8+ years working as a designer in various different industries and roles, is that there really aren’t that many benefits for creatives taking on permanent jobs. Every job I have ever signed on to has given me the “we-have-great-benefits” spiel. That statement is almost always followed by the typical list of health insurance and 401k matching. Only to discover later that their insurance doesn’t cover anything, which means you’ll only go to the doctor in an emergency, and them “matching” your 401k contribution is only if the company has a good year. Not only that but the work becomes rather stale, another deterrent to working solely in-house. Variety and challenges are how you build a fabulous portfolio, which many companies do not offer, often sticking a person in one role—forever.

So what are some actual benefits?

01: Flexibility

Job sharing or work sharing is an employment arrangement where typically two people are retained on a part-time basis to perform a job normally fulfilled by one person working full-time. It gives people a base of stability while giving them the freedom to fill the rest of their time doing something they are passionate about.

Working from home/coffee shop/shared space/library is my favorite one. Especially if you are a designer with email, internet, dropbox, Google hangout and a mobile phone—there is no reason for you to be sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. I actually work better and faster when alone, not being interrupted by cover-your-ass meetings and annoying co-workers. Stepping out of the office is a great way to get a change of scenery or just get inspired by fresh air. Nothing is more uninspiring than beige cubicle walls. It also gives you an additional benefit of working when you want (as long as you meet your deadlines). I am an early riser, so I can start working when my brain is wide awake at 6am and not “waiting around” to go into the office until 9am. I don’t waste time getting ready, doing my hair and makeup or commuting either. That is all time you don’t get paid for (or get back) and it adds up (espcially if you are in a city with terrible traffic).

02: Enrichment

Providing professional advancement as a benefit is showing investment in your employees in the long run. This is especially important with designers, developers or anyone in the tech field because everything is changing so fast, it requires daily professional maintenance. For me, staying current on trends, new processes, new rules and new tech, helps me guide my clients better and resolve issues faster. In my experience however, the people in the company that get to go back to school are the marketing, business or sales people. The ones that can more easily prove the ROI to be high.

Professional advancement doesn’t have to be a new Bachelors degree. Skillshare online classes are about $20 and they allow you to work from your couch (no time off from work required). Various colleges now have community classes. I have taken several at SCAD on the weekends for a few weeks at a time (about $100–$300). Sending your creative to a conference or a forum is an amazing idea. Make them not only document it with photos and notes, but give a full presentation of what they learned when they come back. I begged my boss every year (with no avail) to send me to the HOW Dieline conference to learn about packaging trends, how to develop strategic skills, better client communication and branding expertise. Although these usually go for a couple grand a pop, giving your creatives current information from some of the top agency professionals in the world—is somewhat priceless.

There is also Creative Mornings. These are breakfast lecture series for the creative community, presenting various successful professionals, once a month at about 8:30am. I have never had a boss let me attend one, even though I would be into work before they noticed I was gone.

Designers are notoriously known for being chained to their desks. I can’t count how many times I spent months designing a trade show, only to have the company send the sales people. I still don’t have one picture of all my great work in use in a convention hall. Get your creatives out of the office once and a while to visit a client or go on a field trip.

03: Environment

So we all can’t just ride off into the sunset of freelancing and work from a home office. Most creatives have to be in-house and work daily with other departments within a company. Every recruiter that calls me with an on-site job makes sure they describe (with great sugar-coated detail) the work environment. I actually don’t think that wanting a nicer, homier work environment only pertains to creatives. A look into what tech hubs are doing with their office spaces would make even the most ridged khaki-wearing VP want to spend a day at IKEA. Lots of open space, natural light shining through floor to ceiling windows, community standing desks, dogs on beds, industrial decor, nap pods and hang out couches are all in the name of attracting talented, young professionals to stay a while.

This is not news to most people that have been following trends, but it certainly is to these giant corporations that have been doing cubicle decor since they were founded. I don’t know a single creative who would go to work for Home Depot (again) even if a 6-figure salary and a corner office was thrown at them. They are prisons to creative people. Floor to ceiling, all you see is warm gray bathed in horrible overhead lighting.

The other part of this section is company culture. Are you allowed to wear jeans? Is everyone dressed like they called each other the night before (ahem: blue button-down dress shirts from Brooks Brothers)? Does everyone look like they’ve been there way too long and the morale is so stale it’s pretty nonexistent? I worked for a digital health & wellness company that didn’t have one standing desk, offered free soda in the break room, brought in occasional bagels, junk food and Chick-fil-A and didn’t supply employees with gym memberships as a benefit. There was free parking though.

What else would you love to be offered along with a permanent position?

Thanks for reading.

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