Media industry employee churn not to be feared, but embraced


When I ran my own newspaper company — The Balmain & Rozelle Village Voice — all my staff had a use-by date.

This was nothing nasty or sinister. We were a small, local newspaper that hired young journalism, design, and sales and marketing graduates. They would learn everything they could from me and then they would move on.

In most cases, staff would stay for about two years and then, as our office was open-plan, they would ask if they could talk to me in the meeting room, and I’d know exactly what was coming.

And it was perfectly OK.

The little old Village Voice — a proudly parochial, A4-sized group of newspapers — trained more than 40 young cub reporters, designers, and sales reps over the 10 years I owned and loved it. They would leave us to go to jobs at Fairfax and News Limited in Sydney, to wire services, the national broadcaster, and magazine publishers. A handful went overseas and worked for the Evening Standard, the United Nations, and Reuters in New York.

As the boss who was left behind, I was so proud I could burst. They got those jobs because I taught them well.

So when resignation conversations occurred, my response was always to be excited and delighted for them. Sure, it was often a hassle to find and recruit new team members. But with an expectation that staff would not be around forever, we had some strong systems in place to ensure new staff became productive quickly, and a work-experience programme that always ensured we had a succession plan.

And I was always curious about the next person to join us. New staff members brought new energy, which the culture of the company embraced, and new ideas that improved our business. When I look back at my time at the Village Voice, I don't remember a 10-year block; instead, I feel like it was five smaller times of running different teams and learning different things.

Life has not been like that in the bigger corporate media scape — until recently. Traditionally, bigger media companies have hung onto staff for extended periods and, with our staffing quotas filled, we’ve had little ability to bring in new blood and ideas.

Is this one of the reasons the industry has struggled to embrace the new ideas of the future?

Responsibility for our careers has traditionally rested with our employers and their ability to recognise our inherent value inside company structures that had few formal processes for assessing your contribution. But the rest of the corporate world moved away from that model decades ago. And for the Generation Y and millennial workers, this thinking is so foreign it could be in a different language. In this world, we are all responsible for our own careers.

Recently, several fabulously talented colleagues of mine have asked if they could have a quiet word. At each request, I have laughed and asked them what new and exciting role are they moving to — which took them aback.

The expectation, it seems, is that you should apologise to your co-workers for your resignation and that we should lament and wring our hands that they are going, terrified of the idea of being without them and paralysed about what to do next.

But I choose to look at it a different way. Their new roles offer them challenges and experiences — and often pay packets — that they won’t get if they stay. I will miss working with them and I recognise that it is really disconcerting to be in a workplace where so many people are leaving. But even a friend whose role was restructured six months ago recently regaled me with stories of her life that were so fabulous, I was jealous.

The media industry is in a state of enormous change. Not everyone is leaving of their own accord. But when all of this settles down — or quiets, at least — new people will join us, with new ideas, skills, and new experiences, and our industry will turbo-charge into a bold new direction.

Those of us who stay must also embrace the new, understand our time is not forever, and realise the cycle of end and rebirth is a constant that we should not fear.

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