Retaining Your Top Creatives In Uncertain Times

By Diane Domeyer, Executive Director, The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, digital, marketing, advertising and public relations talent with the best companies on a project, contract-to-hire and full-time basis.  


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many design firms were forced to reduce staff in order to stay afloat. A year down the line, the economy is starting to rebound, but managers are facing a new challenge: employee retention.

The disruption caused by lockdowns and remote work has taken its toll on creatives. With the risk of burnout at an all-time high and morale running low, how can managers support top performers and stop them from jumping ship? Here’s how to fix things before it’s too late.

Why Are Managers Worried?

 A survey by The Creative Group revealed that 92% of marketing and creative leaders are concerned about losing workers to other job opportunities in 2021. According to The Creative Group 2021 Salary Guide, some main reasons for retention concerns are:

  • Employee morale has suffered.
  • Employees are managing heavy workloads.
  • Salary increases have been suspended.
  • Staff are dissatisfied with management.
  • Employees have lost interest in working for the company.

To avoid costs and productivity slumps associated with high staff turnover, firms need to take action to address these issues.

8 Ways Creative Leaders Can Retain Their Top Talent

With many companies still struggling to get back on their feet, the budget for perks and pay raises may be limited. However, there are plenty of ways to incentivize your staff without breaking the bank.

  1. EMBRACE FLEXIBILITY – Even before the pandemic, creatives were ahead of the curve when it came to remote work. Now that many more are working from home, they appear to like the arrangement. In a survey of creative professionals by The Creative Group and AIGA, the professional association for design, two-thirds of workers who transitioned to remote working during the pandemic said they have enjoyed the lack of a commute, while 68% have found windowed working — blocking the workday into distinct chunks of business and personal time — Encouraging flexible schedules can also help improve your employees’ work-life balance, as many are juggling their jobs with home-schooling or caring commitments. Top performers have come to expect workplace flexibility, which is why it’s now a key retention strategy.
  1. IMPROVE COMMUNICATION – The importance of keeping employees informed and making them feel connected and supported can’t be overstated, especially when creative teams are operating remotely. Only 41% of remote workers surveyed said they felt connected to their colleagues during the pandemic. Regular check-ins are a vital way for managers to monitor progress, gauge morale and keep teams informed about new developments that could affect their work and job responsibilities. Remember to also be transparent about strategies and changes in the workplace, and communicating early and often is a good practice to follow.
  1. RECOGNIZE ACHIEVEMENT — Now that your employees are part of a dispersed team, it’s easy for them to feel like their efforts have gone unnoticed. Not having your hard work recognized can deflate morale. With so much on your own plate, you may be overlooking less immediate demands like acknowledging good performance. Providing feedback and sharing team wins are important ways to motivate your staff.
  1. FACILITATE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT — Professional growth is high on the career priority list of today’s employees. If opportunities are limited, your most talented staff will look elsewhere. Even in uncertain times, don’t minimize the importance of supporting employee career advancement. Whether it’s allowing time off for self-guided training or giving them the chance to lead a prestigious design project, show your talented creatives that you’re invested in their future at your firm.
  1. PAINT THE BIG PICTURE — When people lose sight of their company’s mission, their role can feel insignificant or even pointless. Creative professionals are more engaged if they find purpose in their work. As a creative leader, try to help staff understand how their work helps move the firm’s strategic goals forward and what purpose they or the organization serves. Once employees see the connection, they are more likely to make meaningful contributions. With that comes greater job satisfaction and less temptation to look for opportunities elsewhere.
  1. FOSTER INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY — An inclusive team is an effective team. Your company benefits from a range of employee experiences and perspectives, and promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging will help your employees feel safe to express ideas and viewpoints and bring their whole self to work. To help encourage openness and inclusivity, seek out employees’ input on business initiatives and projects and encourage your team to share both ideas and concerns.
  1. BOOST TEAM SPIRIT — Stress is the enemy of creativity, but fun can keep it at bay. As a manager, it’s up to you to set the tone for your team and create an upbeat work culture. Away days and after-work drinks might not be in the cards right now but find creative ways for your employees to connect. Whether it’s a virtual quiz, online escape room or simply encouraging your team to spend five minutes of their meetings catching up, remote team-building activities can boost morale and build a sense of camaraderie.
  1. LISTEN AND LEARN — When it comes to supporting your staff, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Ask each of your team members what it would take for them to feel more satisfied in their role. Think back to the Robert Half survey about the main reasons marketing and creative leaders are concerned about losing workers. Maybe employees want more autonomy or creative freedom, or perhaps the volume of their workload is weighing them down. Maybe it’s even dissatisfaction with you or managers above you. Active listening, with an empathetic ear, is a powerful tool for developing trust and respect.

COVID-19 has transformed the workplace, and it’s likely many of the changes it has brought about will become permanent. Accommodating the new ways of thinking your top creatives are adopting can help you keep them on board.