July 26, 2002

Your budget is busted. “Perk” is now a four-letter word in your organization. What can you use as an incentive to reward your best performers?

Consider the gift of time.

Time has always been a precious commodity in a deadline-driven profession. It becomes even more valuable in the downsized, do-more-with-less newsrooms of today.

Here are three ways to give the gift of time:

1) Time for craft.
There is joy in being able to deeply research a story, dig for details and follow-ups or scout for the most meaningful visuals. Too many journalists feel pressured to turn stories quickly, and fear they’re harvesting only low-hanging fruit in the process. Want proof? Here’s what a team of psychologists found when they interviewed journalists for their 2001 book “Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet”:

“Of all the resources in a newsroom, it is time that is coveted most frequently by journalists. ‘Too little time’ was by far the most common complaint mentioned by our informants. Journalists speak of time pressure as a barrier to reflection, in-depth reporting, and accuracy of coverage.”

What concerned the authors was the level of pessimism among rank-and-file journalists about the state of journalism compared to their more upbeat bosses. All the more reason for news managers to look for ways to reward their best and brightest. Money, while not unattractive, isn’t a sufficient motivator for journalists whose passion is quality journalism.

That’s where time comes in. While all journalists want more of it (and sadly, the least talented tend to need it just to get by), it is something leaders can apportion to top performers. Reward initiative, enterprise and productivity by giving those employees time for stories they’re passionate about.

2) Time with you.
This often comes as a surprise to leaders, but employees really do want more of your attention. They want to know that you’re paying attention to their work. They want to know what you think of it-in detail. They want to share their hopes and dreams and find out if you have a vision for them.

And they’d prefer that this was an ongoing dialogue, not the obligatory annual evaluation meeting. That’s especially the case among those souls who work for leaders who speak up only when something’s wrong. Those journalists hunger — no, they starve for — your feedback.

Devoting time to individuals costs you nothing but a change in your priorities and time management. Still, it is a gift, an investment that can yield great dividends.

3) Time for them.
If you really know your employees as individuals, you can easily determine how to shape this gift. You might send one person home early on a slow day, with instructions to read a book, or scan a week’s worth of papers, or monitor that night’s newscast. You might send another to take a few days to work sources, or visit bureaus, or attend a low-cost professional workshop. You might send someone home to catch a child’s soccer game.

Whatever time gift you choose to give, be clear about your intentions in giving it. Let employees know why you’ve chosen to give them this particular gift. Tie it directly to their good performance and your appreciation of what they do. Clue other managers in to what you’re doing, so your good deed doesn’t inadvertently short-change another department or team. Finally, follow up on your gift. Ask for feedback from your employees on how they enjoyed or used the time, and how they plan to earn more of the same from you.

When it’s a gift for top performers, time is on your side.

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Jill Geisler is the inaugural Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity, a position designed to connect Loyola’s School of Communication with the needs…
Jill Geisler

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