Why is agency turnover so high right now?

Emergency exit
Posted: Sep 2021

When a client recently asked me why turnover in agencies is higher than usual, it caught me a little off my guard at first. Did they not know the reasons? Upon reflection, however, I realised that many businesses have had their heads down, switching to ‘survival mode’ in over a year of turbulence and uncertainty, and they have experienced drastically reduced levels of the in-person interaction and connection that they had pre-pandemic. Here at The Works Search, I have continued to talk to our wide network of clients; we have been with them on the rollercoaster ride of 2020 and beyond, so with some of those conversations in mind, let’s look at why there has been a such an increase in agency turnover.

Findings from our Annual Salary Guide show that fewer comms professionals moved jobs during 2020 – 20% of respondents moved jobs compared to 28% in 2019. When the pandemic struck, more comms professionals tended to sit tight and ride the storm when they had no idea what the future held. They were just grateful to have a job. This made 2020 very much a year of low movement as professionals went through lockdowns, furloughs and concerns about unemployment, so it’s hardly surprising that their focus was on adapting to a new way of working, and not on changing jobs.

I have spoken to lots of people who used the time spent in lockdowns to review their career and make changes to support their needs and values. And now that we are coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing more professionals feeling confident enough to think about acting upon their time of reflection and moving. Many are making big decisions too, whether it’s completely changing careers, setting up their own businesses, leaving the industry or relocating out of London, or moving overseas.

It’s also worth noting that professionals who were hired during the pandemic may not have met anyone face to face yet in their company!  Learning will be a lot slower, as will navigating the company and their role, making them more likely to leave (especially the more junior people who may struggle with this).

The list doesn’t end there…

For those people who were thinking about moving in 2020 (and then put their plans on hold), the desire may still be there and the increase in availability of roles will also have led to greater candidate mobility.

For some employees, the way their company stepped up during the pandemic may influence their decision to leave. If they felt supported and the company communicated well and handled challenges in a positive way, some people may reconsider their thoughts about moving on. We can’t highlight enough how a company’s approach has a big impact on employer brand, both for employees and candidates looking to join the business.

For many people, working from home has given them more flexibility and opportunities. And while it hasn’t been a wholly positive experience for everyone, many are looking to continue to work remotely, either fully or for part of their working week. And these people may look to move on if their preferred way of working is not supported by their employer.

A wider range of opportunities has emerged

The increase in remote working has another impact – no longer restricted by geography, people can now look outside their local area for remote roles, which may make it easier for employees to move on.

Let us not forget, agency leaders, the desire of in-house remains staggeringly high with 69% of comms professionals polled in our survey saying, once again, that they want to move in-house when they move jobs (a figure that remains the same as the previous year).  While the way we work has changed fundamentally for the long haul, employees’ desires have not wavered, and in-house roles still win hands down in terms of desirability.

Time to review processes – and listen up!

Moving forward, it will be crucial for agencies to be ruthless in reviewing their processes –understanding what has worked, what hasn’t and where there is room for improvement when it comes to lowering turnover.

As well as process reviews, it’s crucial that you listen both to your team and to your clients. If you weren't already conducting regular feedback sessions with these two groups, begin to do so now.

Businesses will always need to listen to what their clients are telling them, but in the current circumstances it is even more important to listen to your team first and foremost. Put your people first, develop a framework that works for them, and tweak it based on what your clients want. Make sure your people are engaged as that will ensure they are more ready and willing to embrace the new normal – and less likely to want to move.

Changes that occurred during the pandemic came about out of necessity, however you may have seen some unexpected benefits as a result of the adaptations you made. Talk to your team about whether these changes need to be gradually phased out or become permanent because they are better way of doing things.

The biggest challenge ahead is how many days people are happy to work from the office. Businesses need to ask their team this question, agree on something and then try it. If it doesn’t work, it can always be changed.

Finally, remember that the best way to adapt to the new normal is by accepting that it is here – embrace it. The new normal presents a significant opportunity for agencies to innovate, adapt and look at how they can retain great people.

To read our full Salary Guide, click here.

The Works Search a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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