According to a recent survey by the UK qualifications body, City and Guilds, true job satisfaction is to be found not in the high-pressure worlds of law, finance, architecture and media, but in the simple pleasures of honest manual toil. Plumbers, gardeners, chefs, florists and hairdressers are twice as likely to be "extremely happy" in their jobs compared to white-collar workers clambering up the greasy pole.
The key, it seems, is freedom. Workers who have their hours and flexibility constrained report a much higher degree of dissatisfaction. Any business executive who has been trapped at home by a leaking pipe, pondering the mysterious timetable of their local plumber may have sensed it's better to be master of one's own destiny than to be chained to a desk, even one made of the finest mahogany.
Pick up any weekend newspaper and you'll find stories of highly paid corporate patsies swapping their careers for something more earthy and hands-on. Almost a quarter of Australians aged 30 to 59 have voluntarily "downshifted" -- reduced their income to improve their lifestyle in the past 10 years.
America is caught up in what a recent book dubbed, The New Ruthless Economy. High-tech and new management styles place workers on what the author, Simon Head, calls "digital assembly lines" with little room for creativity or independent thought. Around four percent of the work force is now employed in call centers, reading canned scripts and being supervised with methods known as "management by stress." Doctors now practice speed medicine, spending less time talking to patients.
There are no boundaries in today's working world. Thanks to the latest technology, a job can follow you home at night, on the weekends and even on vacations. The ring fence has been breached. Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life, points out that Americans are working more today than at any time since the 1920s, due to corporate downsizing. And, get this -- more than the Japanese! There may have been substantial productivity gains, but corporate profits are surging at a far higher rate than wages. Unsurprisingly, a study by the Conference Board found that less than 49 percent of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs.
According to one World Health Organization (WHO) study, depression is second only to heart attack in causing morbidity and loss of human productivity worldwide. By 2020, it is expected to be the number one killer. Maybe that's why the Securities and Exchange Commission recently posted a job opening for an organizational psychologist, designed to "improve employee attitudes and satisfaction related to employee retention, job satisfaction, burnout, conflict and stress."
So what the hell does this all mean for the advertising industry? Two things:
Number One. Brands need to be sympathetic to the emerging trend of downshifting and demands for a more sympathetic work-life balance. Expectations are changing, making it increasingly tough for employers and brand owners alike.
Research shows that younger workers are the most sensitive to the search for meaning. One report found that 82 percent of those aged 20 to 30 expressed a desire for a sense of meaning in their jobs, compared with just 33 percent of those between age 51 and 60. Generation X parents are less satisfied with the amount of time they allocate to the family than Boomer parents. People working in large organizations are least likely to find meaning in their work. For a brilliant insight into this, go to Gawker.com and check out the Blog entitled, Day In the Life of A Bitter Investment Banker. It's not only assembly line workers who have jobs too small for their spirit.
The best brands add value and meaning to people's lives. They develop a relationship way beyond the sale. To resonate in the kind of climate outlined here, brands need to do more than just shout, "Buy this. It's better, faster, stronger."
Brands need to be sympathetic to the emerging trend of consumer downshifting and demands for a more sympathetic work-life balance.
These brands can be divided into two categories, says Richard Monturo, currently global director of strategy at TBWA worldwide who is joining StrawberryFrog as Director of Strategy: 1) Those that realize that their employees are their primary communications vehicle to "touch the customer" and thus nourish and cherish their number-one brand touchpoint and 2) Those who think of their customer bases as a family, for whom the brand offering is much more than a product or service, and whose voice matters.
Monturo continues: Examples in the first category are those "great workplaces" that are setting the agenda for how employees are appreciated and leveraged as a brand vehicle. Of course, the retail and service industries are represented: CostCo (particularly as opposed to Wal-Mart), Southwest and JetBlue airlines, Four Seasons hotels, Nordstrom, IKEA, Whole Foods, Starbucks, to name a few.
But forward-thinking consulting, pharmaceutical, technology and financial companies have upped their "get it" factor too: Goldman Sachs concierge services and Pfizer's on-site services for busy executives, P&G's reverse mentoring programs (young women mentor senior men), the workplace quality initiatives of Cisco, SAS, and Microsoft (yes, Microsoft).
In the second category are brands that are more than just "cult brands" that brag about a one-way customer loyalty but don't really do much with it. They may leave "fans" to their own devices, like Tivo. Or, they may act only when an issue can potentially blow up, like Apple did when enterprising fans got activist about a battery fault on the iPod. On the contrary, these brands proactively leverage customer affinity into the value chain, so that evangelist customers have a say in the brand.
And they really listen: Google's beta versions, the Linux community, eBay's frequent sellers, the blogosphere as a whole. Sadly, there aren't as many examples of offline brands that institutionalize customer input into development and delivery. But "open-source customer affinity" as we might call it, is a terrific opportunity for any brand looking to redefine its category.
Number Two. As a creative industry, we should be at the vanguard. We should build standard-setting workplaces in which people can thrive. That's what we try to do at StrawberryFrog. Our agency's HR strategy could be written on the back of a business card: Employ friends who are the best in the biz. Work hard, have fun.
In Amsterdam, we're based in a canal house, so we treat it like home. There's a kitchen, candy jars, a wading pool, a sun deck and a barbecue in the garden. There's no dress code, which probably explains why our finance director always gets mistaken for an art director. Our security guard is Zorro. Our receptionist is a poet.
We may not provide company cars, but we do have a fleet of bikes. Rather than entering every award show under the sun, we've established a fund to develop after-work projects. The "frogs" work incredibly hard to create world-class advertising for our clients, but get six weeks of vacation time to recharge the batteries. Every year we go somewhere special en masse. This year we sailed around the Princess Islands near Istanbul. Other times we've taken hot air balloons over the Alps and drunk vodka in Iceland. We're not alone in creating this kind of company, but we're hardly a dime a dozen.
An enlightened environment is also an effective business model. Companies with positive employee attitudes tend to show positive financial outcomes. In a Gallup study, organizations with a 'satisfied' work force had 27 percent higher profits than those with an 'unhappy' one. Staff turnover is lower in small businesses, largely because of flatter management structures, better communication and greater staff input. Work provides a source of identity and a social outlet. We feel it's our duty to create a community in which every 'frog' can make a meaningful contribution.
Consulting guru Peter Drucker has being saying this for decades: Money is a necessity but not a sufficient condition to attract and retain motivated employees. People work for paychecks and benefits, but really perform at peak efficiency when the quality of work is ideal, creativity is encouraged and relationships at work are positive.
Scott Goodson is Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of http://www.StrawberryFrog.com .