Finding Happiness In Advertising

What to consider when looking at a new job or thinking about leaving your current one. The grass may be greener exactly where you are.

Recently I’ve had too many friends quit their jobs for bigger salaries and higher titles and get bigger problems and higher frustrations. I’ve observed there’s been an up-tick of serial job-changers in advertising. It’s a strategic way of climbing the ladder, but at what cost to your happiness? The convenience of proximity has enabled us to simply walk across the street to switch jobs. It’s the product of a healthier economy that there are more opportunities than ever before, but our personal happiness should factor more into the decision process. Maybe your job is awful, but before you make the next move be sure you’re asking the right questions.

We’ve all received the enticing emails from recruiters praising our work and offering shiny new positions. We’ve all been tempted to make the switch. The fastest way to change is to change your surroundings. But will the new surroundings satisfy you past the first 3 months? If you pare down what will bring satisfaction, there’s really only three things that impact our happiness. You must answer the 3 W’s to find your winning job.

Who you work for.

Who you work with.

What you create.

We should all make time for ourselves periodically to analyze our work. Who we work for, who we work with, and what we create are each critical individually, but also influential to each other. We must reflect on where our jobs are taking us and what value we’re adding to achieve our fullest potential.

One of my first bosses gave me some great advice when I was struggling with the decision of whether to leave his team or not. He met with me in a small conference room, and I shared the offer I had received. As I nervously sat across from him, he told me there was no way he could match the offer. I expected that answer, but it was still disturbing that the company I’d been committed to for four years wasn’t able to acknowledge my growth, while this team of strangers could. He could sense my hurt and disappointment, and warned me that I shouldn’t take the offer solely based on the salary. He said the money always comes to those who work hard and have the talent. But knowing the caliber of the agency, he also said that I’d be a better designer if I took the job. He was right.

I left behind an amazing team, but was lucky to find myself surrounded by new very talented creatives at my new job. Every job move I make, I think about what my first boss told me:

leave to improve yourself and your work. The money will come if you are loyal to maintaining the quality of what you create.

1. Who You Work For

There are a lot of people who are bosses — people, teams, or entities that you are hired to support and appease. In advertising, there’s the holding company that owns the agency. There’s the agency that hired you. There’s the leadership at your local agency — as most have offices around the world. There’s the senior leadership on the account you are staffed. There’s your direct manager. And then there’s the client. That’s six bosses before you even walk in on your first day.

So, when you’re sitting across the table from your next potential boss, or maybe you’re analyzing your current boss — how do you know if they’re good? How do you judge if they’re cutting it or going to cut it? Are they smart? Do they listen? Do they empathize with others? Do they have a plan? In the age of LinkedIn, Google, Glassdoor, Fishbowl, Agency Spy, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever new platform just popped up it’s hard for anybody to hide their true experience and work style. Some don’t give a shit about their reputations and may even wear any past conflicts like a badge of honor. Maybe that’s your cup of tea. But what you’re signing up for shouldn’t be a mystery if you do your homework and observe. When sitting across from your potential boss, take note if they are interested in your story. Do they allow time in the interview for you to ask them questions? When they talk about the current team, do they refer to specific individuals in a positive way? Are they excited about the future of the team?

When doing my own research about what makes a team successful, I’ve found that there are some common practices of successful teams.

Communication Up, Down and Sideways

Genuine, open, frequent communication between the leadership and teams is key to making teams feel their opinions matter. This communication helps the leadership reach their own fullest potential. We all climb the ladder from different directions and the leadership isn’t privy to every opportunity or conflict. A ship doesn’t sail itself, the captain and crew are mutually dependent. There may be only a few with control of the helm but many with control of the speed of the ship. What makes a captain a captain? Reaching out to anyone with “executive” or “president” in their title can be a scary thing to do, but I’ve never regretted bringing up issues to leadership. The key to making them listen is making it clear you are bringing up the issue because you believe in the company. Instead of ignoring the issue or leaving the company, you’re asking the company to do better. Confronting the leadership is the hardest option for you, but the best for the company to hear what you have to say. What they do with it is a true reflection of what kind of company you work for.

Just as communication between leadership and teams should be open and frequent, the same should be true amongst team members. This can be improved by providing teams with the tools they are most comfortable using. For example, most people under 30 find phone conversations annoying, and prefer instant messaging. Give teams access to the best instant message software available. Communication should be enabled in natural ways, not forced through inefficient and outdated tools. BUT there’s a lot of value to meeting in-person as well. All-team and stand-up meetings should be standard practice amongst teams that are physically able to do them. Meeting in-person is also the best way to resolve conflict amongst team members as well. Let’s face it, everything sounds 10x worse in an email.

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before” and she has a great quote talking about “how we are all more alike than we realize, but the differences we do have matter.” It’s so easy to create false reasoning for why others may have done something that upsets us. But when you bring up the issue directly with the person, I’ve found there’s often common ground to resolve whatever the problem is. We are all managers of each other — whether officially or not. The conversation between you and your teammate must be just that, a conversation. You must be open to listening to their side of things. There’s probably something you could be doing to improve the situation as well. A good chunk of the self-improvement books about working well with others is about how to have better conversations. I believe it all boils down to people want to be valued and appreciated. So, as long as you make it clear that you aren’t perfect either, and just want to figure out a way to resolve whatever the problem is — folks will generally be open to finding a solution with you. Yes, that’s brief, but let’s save the details for another blog, another day. For now, just be empathic, understanding, and appreciative and I promise that’ll fly for most.

Flexibility

Like any healthy relationship, there must be trust between the two parties involved. Employers who have flexibility when it comes to work hours and personal obligations create healthier work environments — and happier employees. In the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study they found that organizations that invested in work flex programs improved employee satisfaction by 87%.

We are all human and have lives outside work. It’s important for bosses and team members to trust that you will get your work done on time — even if it’s not always in the office between the hours of 9 to 5. Furthermore, we live in a world where it’s not guaranteed that the entire team will be based in the same city — nonetheless in the same time zone. It’s imperative that companies have the capabilities for teams to easily work remotely. I must emphasize the importance of ease. Just how we iterate on the design of experiences for our clients, making them as easy and simple to use as possible — the same must be done for the products we use at work. We’re all people, and if we don’t like something we’re not going to use it. And in this scenario, if we don’t want to use it, we won’t want to work.

Growth

Our industry is changing too fast not to grow ourselves. Companies that have resources and time dedicated to helping grow skills and capabilities are more successful, and their employees are happier. A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 95% of hiring managers considered employee training as a key retention tool. Look at Google. It’s well-known that they encourage their engineers to work on side-projects and learn new skills because they know that’s where innovation manifests.

But what if you don’t work for Google? Most of us don’t, and still have to navigate through archaic agency policies of billable and non-billable time. The trick is to always be thinking about what you want to learn and when a project arises that would allow you to learn said thing — pounce on it. And be sure your bosses know you want to build those skills.

There are many ways to grow — whether it’s learning a new skill, being inspired by good ideas, working on your team management, becoming more familiar with the other roles involved in your work, or whatever talent you wish you had in your toolbox of tricks.

I can personally attest that I wouldn’t even have the job I have today if I didn’t dedicate time to side projects that helped me grow skills outside those I learned in school. The age of specialization is dead in my opinion. I love my current team because they allow me to be a graphic designer, UX designer, and art director simultaneously. (I confess that even those titles may seem archaic to some, but I see them as saying I value the aesthetic, functional, and conceptual together when evaluating ideas and potential for projects.) I look at wearing multiple hats the same way I look at shoes — the more the better.

2. Who You Work With

Ideally you want to work with people who are humble, hungry, and smart. People who are team players, motivated to push the needle and challenge their comfort level.

I’ve always loved running, but I learned a lot about myself and human potential when training for my first marathon. It was a scary undertaking and painful on my body, but taught me how to accomplish massive goals. I also was able to do it because I was on a team. Team In Training is an amazing organization that helps raise money to fight leukemia, and in return helps people find their fullest potential. You want to be on teams with the same traits. People who have a desire to take on the impossible, find fulfillment in helping others, and have a healthy attitude.

There’s a great book, “Die Empty” that encourages you to write your own code of ethics to follow at work. This code helps me stay on track and focus on what matters. Here’s mine:

Calmness. Keep a calm attitude regardless of the stress or attitudes of those around me. Attempt to always calm others and find ways of making problems more approachable.

Artistic. I will be committed to approach each project with a passion to create artistic and beautiful work.

Curious. Never settling for the first solution. Making sure that I research every project, connect with current trends and events, and create original and unique solutions.

Healthy. Stay committed to my own and my team’s health.

Grow. Take risks to learn and grow into a stronger designer and team leader.

I know I’m on the right team if others on my team have overlapping ethics. I encourage you to make your own code by finding five things that are most influential to your happiness and true self.

So how do you keep your team of humble, hungry, and smart, happy? The healthiest teams I’ve been a part of have two major things in common. First: They set clear expectations. Everything from promotion expectations to what’s expected by the end of the day. Clear expectations are made possible by companies with clear visions of the future — for themselves and their employees.

The second thing is an appreciation for each other. Our jobs are draining, demanding, and stressful. Yes, we have amazingly fun jobs that connect to who we are as creative people, but it’s good to know that our hard work is appreciated.

My current team does an exercise every two weeks where we read anonymous notes placed in our “XD Love Box”. The box allows anyone to express appreciation for another team member by giving them a shout out to the entire team. It’s an incredibly simple and effective way of reminding ourselves that we are incredible and work with a healthy team of creatives who love and support us.

3. What You Make

Wherever you work there must be an opportunity to make great work. I say opportunity because for the majority of creatives you’re going to have to grin-and-bear-it from time to time. You’re not going to love every project you’re assigned. As great as your friend at that other agency makes it sound, I promise they’ve had to grin-and-bear-it from time to time too. It’s pretty much guaranteed that there will projects that come across your desk that are boring, monotonous, and so not the best use of your amazing skills. Do what you can with the assignment and try not to think your career is over. Because it’s not. Promise. It’s during those times you make the most of the project and keep your sanity by investing time in side-projects. Always wanted to learn how to code? Maybe this evening is the time to start learning.

But when the project fairy grants you those amazing opportunities, it’s like Christmas morning. The air smells sweeter, daylight seems brighter, you can’t help but hold your head higher, and nothing can get you down. The client is invested and excited to do something new, and you’re chomping at the bit to blow them away.

But what do you do when you haven’t been visited by the project fairy? Or maybe you’ve just hit a bump in the road. Here are some tricks I’ve learned that help keep me motivated during the lulls.

First, don’t procrastinate the assignment. It’s not good for the company or for your health. Studies have shown that over the long-term, procrastination increases stress, has negative impacts on your health, and the end-product simply isn’t as good.

If the assignment is overwhelming in size, break it down. Give yourself 60 minutes. What can you do in 60 minutes? Then go from there. Be loyal to the time you’ve promised. Anything and everything from your inbox to those company meetings are going to be more appealing than working on this assignment. But you must stay loyal to time you’ve dedicated to starting. No distractions allowed. Don’t allow yourself to touch anything else until you’ve completed your goal of completion for the given assignment.

Challenge yourself not to follow the easy solutions. There is still opportunity to do something new and innovative. Ask yourself, what is the real problem I am solving? Who or what is the enemy my product is defeating? What is the story?

Break away from the fear of failure. If you envision success and completion, it gives you the confidence to do exactly that. Focus on the end goal and let go of any inhibitions.

Finally, inspire yourself. It can be hard to make time for inspiration, but it’s important to keep the fire lit. Anything from changing your route to work, to project-envy browsing, to attending local design events, to attending amazing not-local design events are all great ways to continue sparking your creativity. I pair my morning cup of coffee with inspiration browsing — FWA, Awwwards, Colossal, Fubiz, AdFreak, Mashable, and 500px are some of my favorites. I take my coffee black with a dash of inspiration.

What about the money?

It may seem idealistic to say that money is not linked to happiness. But it’s been proven through several studies that it’s not all about the money. One of Daniel Kahneman’s research studies found that beyond an income of $75,000/year, there was no improvement to emotional well-being.

However, less than $75,000/year they found an increase in amounts of headaches, divorce, asthma, and loneliness. Studies like this have caused some businesses to increase their employee’s base salaries. Having been on both sides of this salary mark, I can attest that I have far fewer headaches than I did earlier in my career.

Glassdoor found through their employee satisfaction surveys that employee culture and value ratings for the company had the biggest impact on job satisfaction, while employee compensation and benefits ratings had the second smallest effect on overall satisfaction. It’s true that the higher the salary, the more likely you are going to be satisfied with your job, but it’s more likely that you’ll be satisfied through a positive culture and healthy company values. I’m not saying salary shouldn’t factor into your decision process — if you’re underpaid you should negotiate for a salary that’s fair for the job you’re doing. It’s in the best interest of the business to retain versus replace talent. A report by Oxford Economics puts the cost of a new hire at around $30,000. Having salary conversations with your boss is stressful, but it’s a great way to be honest with your leaders about being committed to the team — they’ll recognize that talking with them wasn’t the easiest option. Their response is the perfect gauge for how much the company is invested in its people.

So the next time you get the urge to throw in the towel and call it quits, consider the 3 W’s:

Who you work with.

Who you work for.

What you create — not what you make.

I hope this article has been like sharing a glass of wine with a trusted friend. Analyzing current and future jobs this way helps simplify the struggle and makes it less intimidating as a choice. Maybe it even reveals ways you could improve your current situation. It could be just a matter of changing a couple small things that will make the biggest difference. My biggest hope is that you find the most happiness in whatever job you choose.

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The views expressed in this post are that of the authors and may not reflect the views of the agency or company.