If one lesson has been learned thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the way people work is changing.
Burnout concerns have skyrocketed after nearly 4 million people quit their jobs since last December; A new poll by think tank The Conference Board reported that employees say work pressures are taking a greater toll on their mental health than the pandemic. Advertising and marketing agencies have been looking for ways to ease the stress by introducing everything from mental health grants to unlimited paid time off.
Taking a different approach, a newly formed creative agency called Summer Friday is working to curb burnout and boost employee morale with an open door policy, said Michael Cruz, partner at Summer Friday and creative head. This looks like transparency in terms of salaries, encourages flexible working hours and prioritizes the mental health of employees, even before customer work.
The New York City-based company was founded last June after the Drum Agency suddenly shut down just months earlier and many, including Cruz, were looking for work. Summer Friday has nearly 30 employees and has worked with clients such as E * Trade, Chubb Insurance, and Sony Music.
Digiday caught up with Cruz to discuss how he and Summer Friday President Rob Simone started the new agency to improve work culture.
This interview has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
What was your experience at Drum Agency and what made you decide to start Summer Friday?
Basically, it’s been four or five years that I’ve worked there and really gone through the loops of the traditional agency. It was a huge challenge for me to see the culture – how much secrecy, bureaucracy and bureaucracy there was. Those were years when I got into it and almost burned out, where I was ready to leave my own company because it was so toxic. In all honesty, what had to change for me was the culture. Everyone comes up with the same idea: people first. What does that actually mean and do we have the courage to really do it?
Be committed to it [authentic] vision, in two weeks we were about to close down some of our most important customers who are still with us. Customers I’ve had for 16 years came through multiple transitions and we were able to keep them by transitioning from drum to Summer Friday. This is proof of how we work with our customers.
How does your agency work differently than a traditional agency?
In particular, we have changed our review process. Our review process is less: Where do you see yourself, show me what you’ve done so far and what salary you would like. Instead, it’s more about what makes this job the perfect job for you right now and what does the future look like from a personal development perspective? How do we simultaneously provide personal growth and then give you the tools to move forward? That kind of growth is really on par with human justice, in our opinion, when we think about it when it comes to the workplace.
How do you manage this idealistic system while still being a profitable agency?
We’re completely transparent with our teams about our books, our growth, and our annual goals, and that’s scary. We are thus proceeding transparently in order to promote these discussions. So when someone feels called to inquire and dig deeper, we connect with Rob for a one-on-one conversation. It’s not a pushback situation. You can help us, tell us what you think we can do.
We pay close attention to who we hire from a cultural and support perspective. You don’t want to have too much leverage and then get into the situation where you lose teams. A lost team member is a blow to the culture and the rest of the team. I’m not going to hide behind the fact that there is definitely a certain fear, but that’s where we push ourselves into this authenticity.
How does that fit into the conversation about the future of work?
There is a lot of stress associated with it and with that stress you acknowledge that our employees are working extremely hard. Every time I pause to think: How can we support you? Take a break when you need it. Get away, push the customer meeting or whatever needs to happen so that you can seize this moment. First, the future of employment is a personalized approach. We are not all the same. We don’t all face the same challenges. We are not all in the same circumstances and all of this has to come into play from a leadership perspective when dealing with your co-workers or co-workers. It’s a one-on-one approach. Second, it’s the understanding that COVID has given us all a degree of autonomy. We are now really looking at our own lives and work as entrepreneurs and not just in, in and out. It’s a different world. People manage their time, busy with personal things, work matters, and things they want to do, even if they practice yoga in the middle of the day because you need them for your mental wellbeing. This level of autonomy and entrepreneurship must be cultivated and respected. If not, you won’t hold onto the talent.
One more thing?
My time at Drum … The sad thing is that it’s not unusual and that’s terrifying. There are a lot of talented people who put a lot of hard work into what they do. To believe that this is the norm is sad.
I recently went to a marketing event and someone said we don’t cure cancer here. That’s interesting because someone else comes out and says, technically, it’s us. We market education, fundraising, and research. Our business is important.