Commentary

How Publishers Can Help Lift Worker Morale Amid Pandemic Grind

During the second week of pandemic lockdowns in late March, I remember thinking: I am so over COVID-19. By that point, I had been writing about the health crisis for two months, starting with a story about how the biggest trade show for the mobile phone industry had been called off.

The conference's organizers didn't want to bring together thousands of people from dozens of countries, including parts of Asia, that were among the first places to report growing infection rates, and send them home with a lot more than swag bags.

Amid the weariness of writing about the pandemic came troubling reports about its negative effects on many publishers. As advertisers canceled, suspended or revamped their marketing plans, almost every media channel saw slower growth or declines in revenue. The print business was hit particularly hard.
The pandemic has taken an emotional on people in many industries, including journalists who not only cover the crisis, but also have coped with disruptions to their work routines. More than three quarters (77%) of journalists experienced lockdown-related stress, and 59% of those people had experienced depression or anxiety, while 57% said it affected their productivity, according to a global survey by journalists John Crowley and Andrew Garthwaite.
Their report indicates a need for managerial leadership that recognizes the threat of burnout and takes steps to help employees cope with the stress. Eighty-seven percent of journalists said their employers should be responsible for helping to improve their work-from-home conditions.
The issue of employee morale isn't isolated to newsrooms.

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In a survey of 600 CEOs from a variety of industries, Harvard Business School researchers found that keeping people motivated is one of their most significant concerns. The report has several recommendations applicable to the broader publishing industry, including sales teams.

In fact, this quote from an unnamed CEO should resonate with everyone in ad sales: "At the moment, our sales force has to work twice as hard for a quarter of the results. We have reduced the expectation of results, but they still feel like they are losing every day."
Those feelings of despair underscore the need to set new goals and celebrate achievements that may have been ignored in the pre-pandemic era. The stresses of the crisis can make once-routine tasks feel more onerous, especially for workers who are juggling personal responsibilities and worry about job security.
Describing how people are guided by four basic emotional needs that are a byproduct of evolution, the report says managers can develop a strategy to motivate workers. Those needs include obtaining scarce goods, such as social status, forming emotional bonds with others, developing a sense of mastery and protection against external threats.
While these needs may sound primeval, they have an application in the workplace that can help to lift morale. I recommend that managers in the publishing industry read the report for ideas on how to keep people motivated as the pandemic grinds onward.
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