HR tips for managing disruptive change


The publishing industry has experienced its share of layoffs, folded magazines and disruptive technology over the past year. What should media companies do to manage upheaval in the workplace? 

Benjamin Schneider, a senior research fellow at Valtera Corp. and co-author of “Employee Engagement: Tools for Analysis, Practice, and Competitive Advantage,” suggests first understanding what not to do. Here are some common mistakes—some of them illegal—companies make when times are tough:

  • Making promises to employees that cannot be kept in the spirit of painting a rosy picture about the future
  • Playing favorites and making layoff decisions that are not in keeping with employee performance
  • Laying off older workers first because they are expensive or need retraining
  • Not being transparent about what is happening, why it is happening and what likely outcomes will be

Just be honest

Sure, you don't want to cause a panic, but you also don't want to be misleading. Reduce the possibility of negative employee reactions down the road by being upfront and fair now. This means acknowledging that you may be asking your employees for more work at less compensation, and letting them know that maintaining productivity is more important than ever.  

“Employees will produce if they feel they have complete information, if they feel they and their former co-workers were fairly treated and that their input was attended to,” says Schneider, who received the 2009 Michael Losey HR Research Award for contributions to the field of HR management. “It is tough to build this trust after the fact.”

Schneider points out that publishing has had plenty of lead time to prepare all parties for worst-case scenarios, so misleading employees now is especially unforgivable. 

Make a plan together

Media companies should also offset possible negative outcomes—more layoffs or salary cuts, for example—by sharing planned counter-tactics to keep employees calm and productive. Schneider suggests cultivating employee trust by involving them in finding solutions to operations issues. But he warns, “If employee input is sought, it better be used.” In the long run, employees will resent being asked for their input just as an appeasement measure.

Schneider reminds media companies that employees learn—and remember—how they are valued by organizations according to how they are treated during difficult times. As the success of your business becomes more dependent on building authentic relationships with audiences, the importance of having a positive company culture—and happy employees—will increase.


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