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Mental Wellbeing of Newsrooms During Layoffs and Buyouts




It’s journalism’s time to look at mental wellbeing in the newsroom


As you know, layoffs and buyouts are hitting the media business, with one story deeming it a “mainstream media bloodbath.”


In the aftermath of layoffs, there is an unspoken but real cost to the mental health of the employees left behind to pick up the pieces. 


This can include feelings of guilt or grief, confusion and uncertainty, distrust and disengagement. The impact of widespread layoffs on journalists’ mental wellbeing is compounded by the urgency inherent in the profession, including deadline pressures, and the daily stressors of reporting on disasters, violence, and other disturbing stories. 


“Mental health support mechanisms are lacking in that they are virtually non-existent,” says Tom Hundley, senior editor at Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and a former foreign correspondent. “There is also a culture among journalists that tends to be dismissive of those who ‘can’t deal with stress.’ This attitude needs to be toned down.”


Ideally, leadership in newsrooms will set the cultural tone and reduce stigma by openly talking about mental health, sharing their personal experiences, and working to reshape the workplace culture so people don’t just endure, but also thrive. 


But culture change can start anywhere and with anyone in an organization. This is a critical undertaking, as our 2023 Mental Health at Work report found that U.S. workers rated healthy and sustainable cultures of work as “more helpful” than apps and self-care resources alone. 


For any sector experiencing turmoil in its workforce and business on a relatively large scale, we have some recommendations.


Talk with your team


If your team has just experienced a layoff or you’re noticing rising anxiety in staff, communication is key. Again, ideally, this starts from the top down, with leaders in the organization prioritizing regular check-ins. But even if it starts from the bottom up, these conversations should follow the same guidelines:

  • Create space to listen and validate team members’ experiences, reactions, and feelings--even if you don’t agree with all of them. 

  • Provide context for the changes (wherever possible), and communicate clearly and transparently about how changes may shift roles and responsibilities.

  • Keep talking, as people process change at different speeds, and need information or have questions at different times. “One and done” doesn’t often work. 


Build a Healthy Culture of Work


Layoffs impact the experience of work itself for remaining team members, including potentially greater work demands, new roles and responsibilities, and different leadership. These workplace factors have been shown to exacerbate or even cause mental health challenges—on top of coping with layoffs. But disruption also creates opportunities to explore new ideas to create new ways of working.  


Some possibilities:

  • Balance autonomy with structure. When possible, give clear expectations for outcomes (e.g., on deadlines) but with freedom of process.

  • Be transparent about workloads across a team so people can support each other.

  • Have working style conversations to understand how different people work best, and figure out how to adapt to support those differences. 

  • Create balance points after stressful periods (e.g., start work later, go home earlier, take a midday break, take time off). 


New circumstances should not automatically force people into old ways of doing the work. Experiment and iterate on work processes to make them fit current conditions.


Take care of what you can control


The business imperative to keep filing stories, of course, continues. But this is a situation in which you may need to go slow first to go fast. The starting point here is to check in with yourself, first. How are you doing? What can you control or influence? What resources are available to you to support this transition? Then, if you’re comfortable with it, share your personal story, your emotions about the change, and ways that you are managing yourself first. Do not underestimate your power to manage your world, and in doing so, creating possibilities for others to do the same.


We urge news organizations to prioritize mental health with a focus on work culture to build long-term support for their staff as inevitable hardships like layoffs arise.



A version of this piece was originally published on March 15, 2023 and has been updated. 

  

 

About the Author


Bill Greene, Principal, Mind Share Partners

Bill leads impact-focused advising for companies and leaders on how to create a culture of support for mental health in the workplace. He facilitates Mind Share Partners’ workplace training and leads strategic projects, and has worked with companies like Morrison Foerster, BlackRock, Bhate, and more. Bill has an M.A. in Communications Management from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, and a B.A. in English from Pomona College.

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