Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

The Job Happiness Curve

I’ve been working in the Marketing and Advertising community for roughly 12 years.  That pretty much makes me ancient.  During my career I’ve seen a reoccurring pattern take place when it comes to employee satisfaction and average tenure.  Many people will have you believe that the main reason advertising aagency tenure is so short is because CMO (the people controlling marketing budgets) tenures are so short.  To some degree I believe that’s true.  However, I think that’s only part of the equation.

There’s a whole other part, that while I can’t 100% figure out, I do believe I can represent on some level visually.  The following is a simple and somewhat tongue in cheek representation of what I’ve seen employees go through between day 1 and their 3rd anniversary.

Specifically here’s what I’ve observed and in some cases directly experienced:

  • Day 1: You’re happy. You’ve started a new job.  You’re full of optimism and ready to completely move past your previous job.  Day 1, is kinda like the last piece of closure you need to finally move on from the last job.
  • 30 Day Honeymoon: This is the high point.  It never gets better than the 1 month anniversary.  You’ve moved in, the workload is manageable, you’re meeting new people, and you’re making progress.  People are giving you slaps on the back and recognizing your contributions.
  • Day 100 – Wow I Got A Lot Done: You’re 3 months into the job and you get a chance to look back.  On some level you are amazed at your accomplishments.  You’ve started a new job, fit right in, and been empowered to keep doing what you’re doing…because obviously it’s working.  The workload is starting to pile up though.
  • Day 180 – 1st Wrist Slap: Remember when I said you were being empowered to keep doing what you’re doing?  Well, here’s the thing, you went too far.  In your eyes you didn’t go too far; heck you didn’t even realize you were crossing a boundary.  But, apparently you did.  Often it’s something small.  I’ve seen things like someone sending the right email to the wrong person or speaking out loud negatively (even though you were dead on) at the wrong time.  Either way, you’re going to get a wrist slap.  It won’t be the last one.
  • Day 270 – Hit The Wall: You’re coming up on a year.  There’s been good times and bad times.  You’re still reeling from the wrist slap.  It’s made you a little gun shy.  You start hesitating on doing things, because you wonder about the repercussions.  Don’t worry, you’ll rebound…after all you’re review is right around the corner.
  • Day 365 – Annual Review: Congratulations, you’ve been there a year.  If there was a scale of 1 – 5, you’ll probably get a 3.5.  You’re a valued member of the team, but you have room to grow.  The mistakes you’ve made have cost you, but people believe you have a strong future with the company.  So with that in mind, here’s your 3.5% raise.
  • 14 Months – Underpaid? Undervalued?: You’ve had some time to reflect on year 1 and your review.  That 3.5% raise and just above average performance rating is starting to eat at you…especially when you’ve heard about the 10% raise “John” got.  But, you’re competitive and you really like the place.  You’ve found comfort and place is starting to feel like a home.  So despite these questions, you’re optimistic about year 2.
  • 18 Months – Credibility: This might happen earlier, but in my experience CREDIBILITY takes a long time to create.  After being at the company 18 months you finally have it.  People trust what you say and your intentions.  You’re getting invited to more meetings and even being requested for specific projects.
  • 2 Years – Headhunter Calls: You’ll get a serious call from a headhunter who wants to talk to you about this amazing position.  You’ll probably interview for this position, but you won’t get it.  This is a double whammy because not only do you realize the open market is willing to pay you X percent more than you currently make, you also didn’t get the job.  If you will, you now know your worth, but it probably doesn’t line up with what you’re making or the title you have.
  • 2 Years – 2nd Review: This is the big one.  If this review goes great, the curve can change dramatically.  If it goes so-so or fails to meet your expectations (it will because your expectations are what the open market said you are worth) you’re going to start looking for a job.
  • Stay Or Go: Following your 2nd review and before the 2.5 year mark you’ll need to make a decision.  Stay or go.  Unfortunately, the data would indicate you’ll go.  Bummer.  Don’t worry though, you get to ride the curve all over again!

Before we go on, I want to be clear about a few things:

  1. The situation outlined above is based on my observations and isn’t scientific.
  2. You won’t always follow this path.
  3. I really do believe that all-start caliber people, tribe leaders, will always be recognized, but not necessarily rewarded.
  4. It’s not all about money.
  5. Some situations can never be fixed.
  6. Many situations can be fixed.
  7. I believe you as the employee are in control of your personal brand.  The way people see you is in your hands.

The best thing a company can do to retain solid employees is to set expectations. If the employee knows what they’re getting into and knows what to expect you’ll find that the curve is more like a straight line. For example, instead of waiting till the end of the year to provide feedback, their should be constant communication throughout the year. There should never be a massive gap in expectations during a review. A good manager makes sure of this.

The curve isn’t perfect. Like I said, I can’t 100% figure out why tenure at agencies is so short. There are so many factors and I’ve love to hear your thoughts.