Layoffs have transcended Silicon Valley and are creeping up on digital and traditional media companies, with the latest announcement coming from The Washington Post on Dec. 14. National Correspondent Annie Gowen reported via Twitter that Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher, refused to answer follow-up questions regarding freshly announced Q1 2023 layoffs.
Tense negotiations with its journalists’ union, the Post Guild, along with the shuttering of The Washington Post Magazine (an act that drew the ire of staff and D.C. residents at large), has kept the newspaper’s name in labor news headlines throughout Q4. In the court of public opinion, the Post and other major news media companies are proving to be examples of layoff communication that strike the wrong note.
Another name that frequently appeared in 2022 layoff news headlines was Gannett, a multi-state print newspaper giant. Following Q2 losses, Gannett cut 400 employees from its roster over the summer. As employees waited for Dec. 1 and 2, the days on which individuals would be notified of their termination, Gannett announced mandatory five-day unpaid leave this holiday season, a 401(k) matching freeze and an indefinite hiring freeze.
On top of that, NPR recently announced a moratorium on hiring interns, while layoffs at CNN, Buzzfeed and ABC, among others, have set the internet abuzz. Not only are there implications for the future of journalism (many have noted the timing of media industry headcount reduction amid misinformation’s rise throughout the U.S.), but these layoffs offer a distinct set of lessons learned for HR pros across industries.
Industrial and organizational psychologist Sertrice Grice, co-owner and chief consulting officer of DEI firm Mattingly Solutions, first noted the impact of any round of layoffs on worker morale. Stress, insecurity and distrust abound, she explained via email, as employees fear they could be next. “Survivor’s guilt” may be common among remaining workers.
Yet another layer is the emotional exhaustion that comes with being a journalist, a financial services worker or any kind of HR practitioner on the front lines of economic collapse.
“You are asked to take time covering something that could impact you any minute or that has impacted your colleagues. It is important for people like journalists, people in the financial space, or DEI practitioners like myself to remember to take time for self-care,” Grice said.
“Take time to decompress after working on an article or having a conversation that drained you mentally or emotionally. Give yourself space to feel your feelings,” she added. “You’re still a person, too.”
Newspaper and magazine layoffs are part of a bigger conversation regarding media layoffs, which includes talent at streaming services, in the entertainment development sector and in the creative production lane as well.
How can HR handle serving up layoffs in a way that fosters a positive employee experience? Along with offering letters of recommendation and leveraging connections to help exiting workers score a new job, Grice emphasized the importance of transparency from leadership.
A real-world lesson for people managers: Throughout the Washington Post union negotiation process, the guild vocally criticized the Post for a lack of transparency — something experts previously told HR Dive was crucial to layoff best practices.
“Communicate openly and honestly as much as possible before, during, and after layoffs. Be upfront about what is happening, why, and how it will impact each person. And that includes communicating what you aren’t sure of yet,” she said.