January 5, 2022

I will admit right from the start that this column is a bit self-serving. I work for an institute that teaches and trains journalists. And while Poynter does a good job training journalists and newsroom leaders, so do a bunch of other organizations, like Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, along with an increasing number of media groups that have serious internal training efforts.

With that out of the way, let me make my point.

The U.S. Department of Labor just released figures that show 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November. It is a quit rate that has no comparison in the past two decades.

(Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics / Chart: The New York Times)

Look around your newsrooms. A heck of a lot of journalists are represented in the Labor Department’s graphic … or want to be.

The job listing website Indeed saw journalism job postings increase by 35% from August 2020 to August 2021. Every broadcast, online and print news executive I talk to say they are scrounging for applicants for jobs that, only a few years ago, would have had many applicants.

All of us who have been doing this journalism thing for a while know that the reasons include low pay, exhaustion from the screams of haters, brutal work schedules, handcuffing contracts and job insecurity. And journalists tell me they do not get a feeling that their bosses or company care about them — especially when working remotely. They feel alone.

Digiday interviewed journalists who left their jobs and found some were reassessing their life priorities during the pandemic. Some wanted to begin startups. Others said they left journalism because they were burned out, partly because they could no longer talk face-to-face with people whose stories reporters were trying to tell during the pandemic. One cited the “exhausting and soul-crushing and thankless” world of the media. And yes, managers say they feel burned out, too.

How does your newsroom’s pay stack up to national trends? 2% raises or pay freezes are not keeping up with inflation rates. Average wage increases now track above 4%. Even Social Security raised benefits 6% this week.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

Let’s get real. Local news directors and executive editors often do not have the power or budget to grant bigger blanket raises. But nimble managers can usually find the money to pay for something that sends a signal that they want valuable employees to stay.

So now, the self-serving part. Employees say that a key way that managers can show them that they matter is to invest in their growth by paying for training.

CNBC reported:

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.

This interest in learning and development is particularly strong among younger workers. LinkedIn’s research found that roughly a quarter of Gen Z and Millennials say learning is the number one thing that makes them happy at work, and over a quarter (27 percent) of Gen Z and Millennials say the number one reason they’d leave their job is because they did not have the opportunity to learn and grow.

In my more than two decades teaching at Poynter, I have heard many journalists say they would be willing to trade some of a pay raise for the promise of employer-paid training. A fair number of people who come to the seminars I teach pay some or all of their own way. Even more are forced to give up vacation time or days off to get training.

MORE FROM POYNTER: Why you should include training in your budget, even when times are tough

I could point you to a pile of research outside of journalism that shows thoughtful strategic training produces job satisfaction and profit. The National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that investments in training increased productivity even more than investments in equipment upgrades.

Outside of journalism, data collected by the American Society for Training and Development found that direct costs for training at non-journalism U.S. firms typically amount to 2% of payroll. I wonder how many newsrooms come close to that investment.

I liked this passage from a post on the Professional Risk Managers International Association, a group that is focused on the financial industry, but the thought applies so well to newsrooms:

The challenge in today’s business world is that some companies are still stuck in the old mindset of seeing training merely as an expense, not as an investment. What needs to be realized is that an “untrained” employee will a) inevitably not have the knowledge to use company resources properly and b) probably not feel valued enough to stay loyal to the firm.

Ottawa University found:

93% of employees will stay longer when a company invests in career development. Training and development helps companies gain and retain top talent, increase job satisfaction and morale, improve productivity and earn more profit. Additionally, businesses that have actively interested and dedicated employees see 41 percent lower absenteeism rates, and 17 percent higher productivity.

A research project published some time ago by the Harvard Business Review sought to learn why employees stay in their job. The first answer is inertia. That is, we tend to keep doing what we are doing if we are comfortable with the company environment and our compatibility within that environment. A second factor is the outside environment, meaning how the job is affecting a worker’s family, or whether there are better jobs elsewhere. The most powerful motivation for job retention and performance is when a worker wants to stay, not that they feel that they have to stay. The research found that high-performing, skilled employees have the least fear about leaving a job and starting over.

The record pace of people quitting their jobs is also leading to a new management technique called the “stay interview.” It is an attempt to avoid an exit interview sometime in the future. I think it is a terrific idea. Ask people — especially the highest performers in your newsroom — what is or is not working well for them and what they need to keep up their good work. And don’t be surprised when they tell you they want to learn something new, make new connections or take on bigger challenges.

MORE FROM POYNTER: Get custom training for your newsroom

Like saving for retirement, investing in training is a short-term strain for a long-term gain. And let me post that graphic again from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

(Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics / Chart: The New York Times)

The trend is clear. The herd is on the move. Your best workers are not going to hang around waiting for you to say you want them to stay. Show them. Invest in their growth.

Selfishly, I can make your first-step easy. Start here.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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