“The most creative agency in the world”

 “Treat your employees right so they won’t use your internet to look for new jobs.” – Mark Zuckerberg

We’ve all been there. Job-hunting. Either while you’re unemployed, or while you’re at a place you want to get out of.
I was the former. I was unemployed. I have this tendency of taking breaks between jobs. It helps me get out of the mindset of the company I was a part of, keeps me available for impromptu job interviews and meetings, and most importantly it gives me a breather.

A good chunk of people who look at my résumé or hear about where I’ve been working come up to me and tell me, “Why did you leave that place? It’s supposed to be the most creative advertising agency in the world.” What’s about to follow is a compilation of rants that I respond with.

My previous workplace left me mentally drained, and not in a good, challenging way. In a way where I had to get out of the place regardless of how it makes my CV look. I was working at “the most creative agency in the world”. The person the agency is named after was infamous for his approach towards the business. His books both published and unpublished have been the Holy Grail for many up and coming writers. Including myself.

My objective of joining that company was simple, I was getting a role in line with my experience, I was getting more money than I ever had, the brand I was assigned to was a global giant. Then what went wrong?

There was no creative freedom. In fact, there was barely anything creative and there sure as hell was no freedom. What was there? Having to wait at work while your ‘superiors’ gave multiple rounds of feedback from the comfort of their home. Pressurising the team to overwork by over-committing and telling us that our work is below par. Creative Directors with over two decades of experience focusing on reviving their flailing careers by running with the ideas of their juniors without giving them due credit or respect.

That’s of course a leadership problem and not the company problem, right? Meanwhile, the company functions like a privatised government operation. Separate departments for ease of delegation, not keeping in mind the plight of employees who have to run across floors and desks to get paperwork done. Going through rabbit holes to obtain information that employees have the right to know.

Besides that there were some rules that were just odd. Laptops would only be assigned to people above a certain pay grade, and those to with some fault or glitch. Everything was designed to make the administration simple, regardless of the impact on the employee. Earlier there was a rule of starting your day at 9:30am and losing half a day’s pay if you showed up late 5 times. If you showed up after 11, you lose half a day’s pay immediately. Now, I understand a rule like that is designed to enforce discipline and sadly it’s commonplace. But discipline goes both ways. The 9:30am rule was flexible if you worked post 10pm the previous night. But the 11am rule was set in stone. It doesn’t matter if you left at 3,4 or 5am in the morning (which was the case almost once a week.)

But then they introduced the concept of flexi-timings. Which implied you could choose between three slots of timings and finish of your 7.5 hours of the day and skedaddle off home. Sweet right?

But that rule wasn’t applicable to my team. We were still expected to show up at a set time and leave only once the work is finished. But those too qualify as people problems. What’s next is a whammy.

Personally my biggest problem there was that the air-conditioning would get shut off after 8pm. And that didn’t mean the work would stop. Employees would have to wait and sweat it out in a building devoid of open windows or ceiling fans. We would have to roll out the large floor fans (which were kept to cool the servers, not the employees) that were usually broken in some way or the other, just like our spirits. The staircase would be locked and you could only use the elevator to shuffle between floors since the servicing teams would sit a floor apart. Is there no fire hazard after 8pm?

Speaking of fire hazards, the smoking zone was 14 floors below and an average smoke break would take at least 15 minutes a piece. So post 8pm (that’s when the restroom cleaners go home) your nearest washroom would turn into a smoking zone. On late-nighters, you could find certain employees working on projects for “the boss’ friend”, for the government, stuff that wouldn’t be worked upon in front of too many witnesses for some reason. All of this while every new employee is asked to complete a code of conduct + ‘anti-bribery’ certification. It was just odd behaviour. This wasn’t a one-off observation, it was a pattern.

Funny story, there was a man in the studio who lived there. He would stay there all night watching movies, would walk around the floor and smoke in the washrooms. Never heard him speak. Even the floor security were aware of this legend’s existence. I’m not making any of this up. This is actually happening in 2017-18.

This was the best agency in the world? Feedback loops from hell. Employer-friendly conditions. Name-dropping to get extra work done. No air-conditioning after 8pm? They were literally running a sweat-shop.

With so many rules and regulations enforced, they forgot to focus on the basics. This left scope for a lot of loopholes that employees could leverage. It was like a prison, and the inmates knew their way within the system. It was horrible. I felt like I sold my soul. I wouldn’t feel like going to work, I preferred working from home even if I didn’t get paid for it. So I sucked it in and got the f out of that glorified retirement home. Best call ever.

It may be fair to say a lot of issues I faced were not necessarily company caused. Some of them were because of the team rules. Rules trickled down by key leaders of the organisation. But isn’t that what the company is made of? The people and their policies? Even today a live campaign that has been approved by the client would be taken down if some biggie in management didn’t like it. After going through so many layers of feedback/opinions/discussions internally, getting a ‘go ahead’ from the client, all your work can be disregarded if some big dog decided to remind the company that he’s still on the payroll.

Speaking of payroll, a top-performing employee was not given a raise for three years and when he went up for appraisal, they gave him a 500-rupee monthly increment. Of course, the employee resigned immediately after. His boss told him that he was disappointed that he’s quitting after the company did so much for him around the time of his wedding. What did they do? They allowed him to take his accumulated personal leaves. Yes. Another colleague of mine went through an appraisal process that took 3 months only to be told that they made a mistake and he will only be eligible for an appraisal the next year.

So now when someone asks me “why did I quit from the most creative agency in the world?” I tell them, that place used to be that, no doubt. Now, it’s a just a shadow of its legendary self and an administrative nightmare.

~SDR

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