“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Mark Twain said it more than 100 years ago and it’s still true, but these days it’s not just about the job. Employees are looking for companies that combine profits and social purpose by aligning their values with consumers, employees, and other stakeholders.

In a market hungry for talent, the pressure is on employers to set out their values, embrace them, and deliver on them. After all, the health of the brand rests in its reputation – not only as a product or service but also as an employer.

One striking example is this: Putin invaded Ukraine and, within 15 days, 300 companies said, “We’re not going to do business in Russia anymore.” For the oil companies, this related to sanctions, but in many more cases, it was a declaration of their values. McDonald’s, which operated 850 restaurants in Russia and employed 62,000 people, said remaining in the country was not “consistent with McDonald’s values”. It expects to take a financial hit of up to US$1.4 billion, but its brand value – estimated at 154.92 billion US dollars – remains intact.

The duty of care of employers and the drive for businesses to make money have converged in a recognition that profit is not possible on a planet destroyed by environmental calamity or societal division. And in a world where conscious capitalism rules, values are the ultimate creator of value for any business.

Feed creative minds

Likewise, it’s only with strong leadership, investment in creativity, and culture of mutuality and integrity that today’s agencies can attract and retain the best people. Agency culture is no longer shorthand for a couple of beanbags and a beer fridge. Forward-thinking agencies support teams with benefits that go above and beyond the usual perks towards more meaningful approaches: membership for arts institutions to feed creative minds, or a lifelong learning allowance to support a side hustle. Many take further steps with wider social impact through visible, transparent climate action, or local outreach work.

Of course, investing in future talent is vital because growing an agency profitably and sustainably takes a decades-long pipeline of talent, and benefits the industry as a whole. Almost two-thirds (63%) of £1m+ agencies form relationships with schools, colleges, and universities to encourage young people to take up a career in the creative industries, according to research carried out by Benchpress. These agencies, says the research, are twice as likely to have high confidence that the talent they recruit will be successful and stick around. It’s also a way to draw in more diverse teams, nurturing a culture of equity.

Strong cultures embrace diversity

It’s imperative that working practices are rewired with a greater focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion. At a time when job vacancies are at an all-time high and unemployment a record low, there’s an opportunity to level up when it comes to diversity. One of the fairest ways of recruiting is to use blind applications. In recent research from Stop the Bias, 80% say this would be their preferred method. Whatever the recruitment process, it’s vital that employers are working hard to attract a pool of candidates who reflect the diverse society, thereby creating a workforce that also reflects that society.

Reducing the impact of unconscious bias when hiring is one of the most powerful ways to increase diversity, along with bespoke programs designed by organizations, such as Creative Equals, which delivers training to help agencies build inclusive cultures where diverse talent feels valued, respected, and treated fairly. This also impacts engagement and productivity: the more inclusive your culture, the higher the engagement, which has a ripple effect on profitability, team morale, and retention.

Work knits us together

And it’s not just diversity and inclusion that melds cultures; it’s also about spending at least some of the time together, IRL, face to face. According to research from Indeed, 73% of workers reported that they missed socializing with colleagues, and 45% said they missed in-person meetings during the pandemic.

While employees still want flexibility, it’s clear that in a hybrid, segmented, post-Covid society, work can be the yarn that knits people’s lives together. It provides structure, stability, collaboration, and learning – while enabling successful and flexible career progression. Agencies where those that began as graduates have risen to roles of responsibility characterize clear progression plans – and usually signify open, equitable workplaces where people want to spend time.

Of course, this Twain-esque kind of agency spirit doesn’t happen all by itself. It takes hands-on leadership to create the kind of values-based culture that will open the door for talent, entice it in, and make it feel like work is fun.

Cover image source: Hannes Egler & kaleb tapp