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Media Industry Execs Find Out Their Employees Are Stressed, Pressured and at Risk of Leaving

March 3, 2005
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A new study of journalists and media executives paints a troubling picture of work/life balance in the journalism field.

The Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Florida, journalism school, conducted the study during the first two weeks of February.

Overall, 47 percent of journalists are seriously considering quitting over work/life balance issues. The numbers are much higher for journalists ages 20 to 34 (58 percent seriously considering quitting) as well as females (50 percent) and racial minorities (almost 55 percent).

A strong majority of employees, 65 percent, said they always work more than 40 hours a week. Forty-six percent said that they did not take all their vacation days over the past year.

Complaints and suggestions
Some employees said that women were sometimes given more opportunity to leave early--to pick up children, for example--than men. Another said, "Because I do not have children, I am often given the less desirable work schedule because others do have children."

From another employee: "Under pressure to please her supervisors, my supervisor often ignores the impact her decisions have on me, and by extension, the rest of the staff. My opinions on that subject are most often ignored. It is frustrating for me to work in an environment where I am often criticized for not having the staff’s personal needs at heart when in fact those needs are usually affected by her decisions and actions."

One employee who talked to Poynter said that companies should "support your employees efforts at community involvement. If you’re worried about them becoming newsroom mushrooms, cut off from mainstream concerns and potential sources, give them the space to get out in the sunlight. Most organizations claim to do this, but few really do."

Getting out
Bob Weil, vice president of operations for McClatchy Newspapers, says companies need to do a better job at taking the pulse of their employees.

"If we’re not surveying employees regularly, and if they’ve come through admittedly one of the most difficult economic recessions in recent times, I don’t know that we fully understand the impact that's had on their psyche," Weil tells the Poynter Institute.

Neil Brown, executive editor and vice president of the St. Petersburg Times, also discussed the results with Poynter. "In general, we need to do a better job of communicating that the notion of a work and life balance makes you a better journalist," Brown says. "And if you’re out of the office because you went to your kid’s bowling tournament, you’ll come back with more stories, and more a sense of your community--rather than defining your work and creative energy as the hours you put in inside the building."

Adds Brown: "I had an editor who once told me ‘we’re paying you for your talent, not your time.’ And I think you want to convey that a little bit more frequently."

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