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Year-ender: How Covid helped agencies change work culture for employees

exchange4media evaluates how the work culture in agency networks, including marketing, advertising, and PR, shaped during the pandemic year

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Dec 24, 2021 8:53 AM  | 6 min read
agency

Earlier this year, a prime agency network drew a lot of flak for allegedly calling employees to office during the peak of the second Covid wave, which eventually resulted in two of them losing their lives. What followed were a series of allegations and disturbing stories from the industry filling timelines on LinkedIn and Twitter around the toxic work culture across advertising, marketing, and PR agencies in the country. 

While during the year, several agencies and networks announced a slew of initiatives to aid the employees in the fight against Covid and provide mental health support, many in the workforce continued to show their displeasure over toxic workplaces, increased workload, and extending work hours as lines between personal and professional time blurred. 

exchange4media talked to several industry insiders to gauge how the work culture in agency networks, including marketing, advertising, and PR, shaped during the year and if companies are following through the initiatives announced by them. 

A wave of positive change but not perfect

Globus Infocom Ltd CEO Kiran Dham shares, “The work culture has massively changed during the pandemic, with remote work in practice & heavy technology collaboration. Lockdown has enforced the work culture rules to be weaved around empathy, safety & flexibility.  It is quite evident that a flexible work environment & hybrid culture are the way forward for a balanced and safe work environment. In the pandemic, companies have gone out of their way to support employee wellbeing and keep the work afloat simultaneously. Some organizations have turned to remote work permanently while many companies are shifting towards hybrid working.” 

ReBrand Gurus  Founder and CEO Manan Sharma Vashisht adds, “I do think that the unlockdown period has brought the best of both worlds which has resulted in a pretty seamless hybrid experience. People are bringing the time management skills from the work-from-home structure and merging them with the efficiency of working in an office.”

However, he acknowledges that one side effect that this new mode of working has created is that a lot of people forgot about their work-life balance and started working 11-12 hours per day. I firmly believe that people shouldn’t work for more than 9 hours a day.” 

uKnowva Founder Vicky Jain also points out the problem, “During the Covid-19 emergency situation, many people in the world were forced to work from home. While the work-from-home routine has some lasting positive impacts, it has also brought with it some negative trends. As employees were only one call or message away from the employer, it was expected that the employee would work outside working hours and would also be available outside working hours. Uncertainty of working hours coupled with household responsibilities led to added stress and burnout. According to a study by Censuswide that involved 1,108 respondents in the age group of 16 to 68, 35 per cent respondents said they have experienced increased workload working from home, and 34 per cent said they experienced stress.” 

Employees speak

While the employers are mostly positive about the changes introduced in the system, employees have mixed reactions to the updated work culture, which might not have gotten rid of all vices. 

Independent PR professional and journalist Kunal Roy says, “Agency life has altered significantly and there is a collective realization on the importance of mental well-being. Mental health is very crucial in a setup that thrives on ideas and creativity. The creative professionals are not hesitant anymore and are actively speaking up. They are now fully aware of what inspires them and are openly discussing their emotional vulnerabilities, mental well-being, stress, and even daily challenges like writer's block. They are not hesitant to refuse impossible deadlines and are looking for work that gives them creative satisfaction along with financial stability.” 

Former PR professional Ayushi Gupta, refraining from naming the agency she was working for, “They have made the PR job like a sales job. Bringing in opportunities is more like achieving the targets of your daily routine. And if you know about PR, it’s not a sales shop, it’s creating and weaving stories about the client. The culture was so toxic that at one point I was working till 2 and 3 in the morning to complete my PPTs and report as some of the clients were utterly rude with us and the management too. This is back when we used to work from home. It was difficult to differentiate between the in time and out time as WFH became a 24/7 situation. The performance pressure was so much that I started hating the industry itself.” 

Gupta decided to leave the industry and is now working with a publisher. 

One big issue that continues to plague the industry is problematic clients, as a junior executive working with a reputed marketing agency, on the condition of anonymity says, “While there have been a lot of positive changes in the work culture, certain clients really get to you. They want us to be available 24x7 and come back to us with unrealistic deadlines. While most of the time the management tries to reduce the pressure on us, it does get inevitable on several occasions.” 

Hybrid Model: More work for freelancer but payments amiss

While the agencies have been working with freelancers for the longest time now, the hybrid work culture, possibly, has opened more avenues for them. But the issues around timely payment haven't ceased. 

A freelance copywriter, working with one of the biggest agency networks in the country, shares anonymously, “On a whole, I have been getting more work than pre-pandemic days and mostly I work with brands directly. But I do take up work with agencies as well. Currently, I am working with one of the biggest agencies in the country, for an international client. While the work seems to be great, they have been delaying my payments for six straight months now.” 

A freelance designer, requesting to hide her identity, complains the same, “While smaller agencies often make delayed payments and sometimes ghost us too, you don’t expect it from reputed clients. But alas, the situation is similar across the board.” 







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