For the last 12 years, Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P) has asked employees what they really think about their jobs. It’s a practice that GS&P president and managing partner Derek Robson brought over from his previous position at Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London.
This year’s survey was, understandably, different as the pandemic, lockdown and WFH shaped the questions, findings and also the participation. “I think it was the most completed survey we ever had,” said Robson, estimating that around 90% of the 390-plus employees took the online survey. “They were like, ‘I am going to tell you exactly what I think about stuff.’”
About 60% of respondents said they were working longer hours during these extensive days of lockdown, while another 73% agreed with the statement, “it’s a rollercoaster.”
“The last couple of weeks, we are seeing the workload ratcheting up — we’ve won some new business and then client cycles with the Super Bowl,” noted Robson. “We have started to provide a bit more direction on how we want people to work as we are all experiencing the same thing. The level of work is extremely high and the feeling that you cannot disconnect is really complicated, there are these feelings that you cannot escape this thing.”
Early on, GS&P executives decided to do all they could to maintain their workforce. So instead of laying people off, partners took salary cuts, followed by managers, whose cuts were later reinstated.
“We felt from an ethical and moral point of view, letting someone go, in the middle of this, when they were very unlikely to get another job, was wrong. We decided, instead, it was all for one, and one for all,” said Robson. “That is a decision you don't make lightly and I am sure there are some people in the company who probably did not agree with it.”
This spirit may well account for some of the culture scores employees delivered on the survey. Job satisfaction netted its second-highest ranking of all time, at 84%. The highest came in 2019, at 86% employee satisfaction. Additionally, 90% said the agency culture was thriving or the same as before, and 71% agreed that they felt more connected to the agency and the work.
Some of the ways GS&P has maintained connections with employees include democratizing events such as Thursday Zoom cocktail hours with founders Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, and Robson’s own weekly, live-streamed addresses, where he covers agency news and events.
Now, instead of back-channel gossip or impersonal group emails, people are talking face to face about news, opportunities and employee milestones. This news has recently included the Zoom pitch wins of two new accounts.
GS&P picked up the San Diego Zoo Global account, to support research goals and visitation, as well as NCSOFT, which has a new game, FUSER, a virtual music festival, where users build their own experiences. During WFH, the agency has produced more than 80 TV ads, starting with previously shot footage and animation during the earliest days and now encompassing closed sets with Zoom directing and the like.
The steady output supports the survey finding 81% of GS&P staffers feel the same amount of creativity as before and 88% feel just as — or even more — productive.
The employee survey was conducted in May, a couple of months into the lockdown but not so long a time that people viewed this as “the new normal.” Robson plans to conduct another survey in about a month to see how feelings are evolving long term.
“I think there will probably be more fatigue,” he said.