TCG 411: Four Surprising Reasons Your Top Designers May Leave

By Donna Farrugia, Executive Director of The Creative Group

It’s no surprise that many creative teams are still operating lean and in cost-savings mode. But with the economy poised to improve, creative departments could face more retention difficulties than in years past as their most valued employees, who feel overworked and underappreciated, seek greener pastures.

Many companies don’t focus on retention until it’s too late. Now is the time to ensure top performers feel valued and are fully engaged in their jobs – and this involves more than offering competitive pay, attractive perks, or even interesting work.

In many cases, in-house designers’ decision to leave your company may involve issues that deal with you – their manager. Following are four hidden reasons your top designers may be headed for the door:

Reason 1: They feel no sense of progress. After tracking the day-to-day activities of several hundred workers over several years, Harvard professor Teresa Amabile found that making progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event. The takeaway: The key to motivation doesn’t depend on elaborate incentive systems, but rather a sense of making headway. Make sure your direct reports have the support they need to overcome obstacles so they can succeed. For example, if you’re typically slow to give feedback or approval on projects, realize that you’re slowing down your employees. Don’t be the roadblock that prevents them from moving forward.

Reason 2: They feel constrained and micromanaged. When budgets are lean, it can be an opportune time for firms to try new or unproven strategies. Sad to say, in a recent survey by The Creative Group, 64 percent of marketing executives and 45 percent of advertising executives said their firms don’t take enough creative risks with projects. Try to give your in-house team every opportunity to flex their creative muscle.  If you work in a conservative environment with relatively inflexible design standards, look for opportunities to design for internal events/promotions where you may have more creative leeway.

Reason 3: They feel there are no opportunities to advance. Within many creative departments, transitioning into an art director or creative director role is the only way to move up. But not all designers aspire to management – or are cut out for it. Structure positions so employees can grow their careers without leaving your firm and create career paths that don’t require managing people to move up. Also, offer promotions to workers who have demonstrated they can succeed at the next level. When you promote employees to management roles, make sure they have the resources to succeed, such as a leadership seminar or mentor who they can turn to for advice.

Reason 4: They’re kept in the dark. In-house creatives are sometimes the last to learn of company challenges, strategies and bottom-line results. It’s easy to just give out orders and directions without tying them to bigger picture goals. But knowing as much as possible about the business as a whole is essential to your team producing the strongest work and feeling their contributions are crucial to the initiative’s success. Regularly share company news with your team. When assigning a project, put it into context: Why is this piece necessary? What does the business hope to achieve? Who will be using a particular item, and how? If you’re promoting a new product, show your team samples of it and explain how the new item will be used; if it’s a service, have them test it out.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things that count the most. Think about the factors that are important to the in-house designers on your team and do your best to make the necessary changes to fulfill those needs. You’ll help to retain top creative talent under any economic conditions.

Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and The Creative Group’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at

7 thoughts on “TCG 411: Four Surprising Reasons Your Top Designers May Leave

  1. Kidd Radar

    I work at a rather large international company, I was promised last year that they would be establishing an in-house design department (I am now the only designer on staff). In November of last year I brought the question up again in a meeting as I have too much work to do by myself at this point and always. I was bluntly told that they had reconsidered and it was NEVER going to happen and I was told I had to “Suck it Up and deal with it”. A lot of this article hits home with me, and I am also looking for a new gig. Looking forward to greener pastures!

  2. Tiffany

    Wow, I too agree, this article was written about me. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone but disconcerting to think that these kinds of issues exist within many in-house creative groups. Hopefully articles like this one will help to change things!

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  4. Jenn Yamnitz

    I think I can safely say that all the creatives on our in-house team (past and present) would agree with most of the points you’ve brought up. But we can’t forget that there are benefits to being part of an in-house team, and I would hope that most of us really do like some aspects of our jobs.
    After spending way too much time contemplating my company and my department’s role in it, I’ve come to the conclusion that designers might just have to take on the unpleasant responsibility of trying to change our organizations’ cultures ourselves. Ultimately, we want to be valued; therefore, we need to show we are valuable and can contribute innovative, profitable ideas—even when we aren’t invited to participate and aren’t asked for our opinions. Our team has started brainstorming and strategizing separately, so that we can provide well thought-out alternatives to projects that we’ve been handed. I can’t say that this will work and suddenly our department will be more highly valued and trusted by the executive team, but I believe it is one step in a long journey toward changing perceptions about the abilities of creative professionals within our organization and in businesses elsewhere.