The survey results also revealed some of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on how employees are dismissed from companies. Roughly 44% of the survey participants were laid off since the start of the pandemic, similar to the 43% of respondents from advertising and media. The settings for many of these layoffs were virtual, including virtual meetings (both group and individual), phone calls, emails and even messaging apps. Just over half of advertising and media employees were informed of their dismissal in person. But 85% of them said they preferred layoffs to be communicated in person—higher than the 77% average across industries. 

“[That data] tells me that more people are doing virtual layoffs [in advertising and media] than other industries,” Zajechowski said. “One of the big takeaways from this data, I would say, is that whenever it’s possible, communicate [layoffs] in person.”

Many respondents also requested time to ask questions about their layoff or receive feedback about their job performance, the survey found. On average, these employees said 15 to 30 minutes would be an ideal amount of time to speak with a manager or higher-up after being informed of their dismissal. Almost one in five respondents to the survey said they never had the opportunity to ask questions or discuss their layoff. 

A smooth transition

It’s nearly impossible for someone to have a completely positive experience when they’re being let go from a job, but agencies can soften the blow by handling layoffs with respect and compassion, said Nancy Hill, CEO of agency Marcus Thomas and the former president and CEO of 4A’s. She also serves as CEO of her self-owned consultancy, Media Sherpas, which works with agencies on issues such as talent development and growth opportunities. 

Agencies often resort to layoffs when they lose a major client or when the agency decides to alter the type of services it offers to better suit the needs of its clients, Hill said. Holding companies also have less flexibility to retain employees or provide robust severance pay because they’re subject to quarterly financial goals, she said. But while layoffs might be an unavoidable part of the industry, agencies should do as much as they can to help their former employees transition smoothly from the agency to their next job. 

“As an employer, you want to do the best you can for the people who have been working for you, and offer them as much financial relief as you can, but also guidance,” Hill said. “Possibly giving the ability to work with recruiters to find the next job. I’ve seen agencies who go out of their way to say, ‘Listen, we had to lay off 50 people here today. Here’s a list of what they do, and if anybody has jobs open, please come to them first.’”