Atomic 212°’s Jo Craven addresses the long-standing issue of people over the age of 40 deciding to tap out from the industry. Is agency life too demanding or non-sustainable?

I recently filled in a mortgage application that asked when I plan to retire. Unfortunately, there was no checkbox for “I have no idea”.

Being that I’m in my 40s, retirement is realistically a long way off, but when I look around agency land, I’m probably something of a veteran.

While it’s commonly accepted that the retirement age is 65, how many people in our industry – particularly women – make it to that age? Our contemporaries starting families obviously plays a role in this but, as highlighted over the last few years, we see huge churn as people with long tenure transition into client-side roles, or move into completely different industries.

Is agency life too demanding or non-sustainable?

Life exhaustion vs life experience

Ours is an industry that thrives on energy and enthusiasm, which by its very nature means it also skews young. And I love that.

My young colleagues bring a sense of fun, curiosity and fresh thinking to the job that I find infectious.

But it can be a lot to keep up with the energy needed at times.

Don’t get me wrong, while I may be in my 40s, I’m not about to go gently into that good night – truth be told, I do still enjoy a good night out with the team, or a lunch that might continue on… It’s just that it’s not as easy to recover from these days.

Where I could once put in the overtime to juggle additional workload and pitches on top of the day to day without blinking an eye, now I find the stamina is lacking, and I have responsibilities outside of work.

However, this sense of life exhaustion comes hand-in-hand with life experience, and this experience is what people aged 40 and over can bring to the table as a priceless supplement for the spark and vim of our 20-something colleagues.

Much like music, fashion, art – everything – there is a cyclical nature to our work in agencies.

I’m discovering that a lot of ‘new’ problems that my younger colleagues come to me with, I’ve seen before, albeit perhaps in a slightly different form.

A display ad for an auto brand running on a web story about an exploding vehicle – that’s an easy solve compared to my press ad for cruises ran next to a story about pirates on the front of the ‘world’ section of a major masthead. A client needing to cancel a campaign you spent three months planning and booking – old hat!

And we all know TV lead times will forever be the bane of a media person’s life, it just may be 16 weeks now vs eight weeks 10 years ago.

An easy fix for our current talent shortage

Which is why it’s such a shame that I can be in what should be the middle of my professional life, yet at times I feel like a borderline old-timer.

It’s no secret that our industry is in a state of serious upheaval due to a large talent shortage, an issue that was largely brought about by the pandemic. But we were already splashing around in a talent pool far shallower than it needed to be due to the amount of people who had climbed out long before they’d even heard the word ‘coronavirus’.

I’d like to believe we’ll bounce back from our current lack of talent, as people begin travelling again, we welcome foreign friends into our agencies, and churn settles down to pre-pandemic levels… though, I am not holding my breath.

But while we get stuck into the causes for this current – and recent – period of uncertainty, we also have a golden opportunity to address the long-standing issue of people over the age of 40 deciding to tap out.

There is no question that you need to still be interested in the job itself and willing to keep learning to stay abreast of all the new issues and opportunities that are constantly popping up. You’ve got to keep absorbing modern culture. You have to keep a curious mind, and be willing to learn, including from the new generation coming up the ranks.

But it’s not an exclusively personal issue, agencies have a part to play as well.

And with COVID having made working from home or in a hybrid environment essentially the new normal, we have a perfect opportunity to adapt agency resourcing and the way we work.
Agencies should look at ways to make the work-life balance better through flexibility, but also manage structure and resources across teams and markets to balance workloads, as well as looking outside of the traditional ‘media’ pool in recruitment.

Experience should be rewarded and respected, but also encourage sharing and growth on both ends of the spectrum (from new to experienced).

As an industry we do need to address workloads and resourcing with both senior leaders and clients to make sure we can support this career as a life career vs something for the young.

In my recent experience, many clients would rather support agency teams and work collaboratively to manage priorities, as they are aware of the value of retaining strong teams and the experience across their accounts.

Cheese, wine, friends – and marketers?

Back to the original question of when I plan to retire, I still couldn’t give you a specific date.

But my hope is that, in much the same as most other professions, there will be the opportunity – if I’m still enthusiastic and interested – for me to keep going to retirement age.

That as long as I’m maintaining my side of the bargain by keeping up with the culture, learning new things and making up for perhaps less energy with more experience, there is a place for me and my vintage in agency land for the next 30 or more years.

I hope I keep working because I want to – not just to cash in my super when I get to retirement age, but because I’m still getting excitement out of what I am doing now, and feeding off what is an interesting, ever-changing industry – and they still want me!

If Top Gun can top the box office again, Fleetwood Mac can get a hit 43 years later, and a Penfolds ’51 can sell for $157K, we cannot ever discount age.

Article originally published on Mumbrella.