— April 26, 2019
If you have a staff hiring or retention problem, it may be time to take a look in the mirror.
It’s a common business mantra that people quit managers, not companies, and it works the same way in student newsrooms.
In other words, if you’re having problems hiring or keeping staff, it’s probably your fault.
Happiness at work starts from the top. Staffers who love their editors are likely to produce better work and miss deadlines less frequently. Staffers who are happy in their newsroom jobs also are likely to work for student media through their entire four years at college. In short, happy staffers produce better work, work harder and stay longer.
Happy employees are just better workers, but how do you make your staff love working with you?
The truth is that you can’t make anyone like you, and that’s probably just fine. You don’t need adoration from everyone you meet. But there are some important things you can do to help staffers love working with you.
Help staffers feel valued
Staffers want an environment where they feel valued. Staffers want to give back to editors who make them feel like they matter and that their work is important.
Almost every other item on this list will help make staffers feel valued. But perhaps the most important thing you can do for your staff is to communicate openly with them. Communication (or lack thereof) is one of the most common workplace complaints. When in doubt, choose openness.
Listen to staffers
It sounds simple, but listening is something many editors don’t bother doing. Staffers want to feel like their editors are listening AND their voices are being heard. This means listening to and responding to their ideas about how work should be done.
Praise staffers often
Every staffer wants and deserves praise and appreciation. Don’t forget the power of a simple “thank you.” Also, publicly praise staffers for going above and beyond or just doing great work. When praising individual pieces of work, be as specific as possible about what was noteworthy about it.
Help staffers buy in
“Buying in” means understanding why the team is doing what it is doing. Everyone likes to feel a part of something bigger and meaningful. It’s your job as an editor to help staffers understand the purpose of your student media outlet in your overall campus community. This means really understanding your publication’s mission and using it to guide all of your decisions and work.
Set clear expectations for staffers
I am that professor who writes ridiculously long syllabuses. I do this because I want to be absolutely certain that students in my classes understand what’s expected of them. I write detailed syllabuses because I want them to understand how to succeed. You should do the same for your staff. Create job descriptions and have clearly outlined expectations for each role.
Encourage staffers to seek balance
We are not just our work. Staffers will relate to you more if they understand that you recognize that they are multifaceted people with lives outside of the newsroom. Staffers also will feel supported (and, therefore, happier) if you understand that some things in life (health, welfare and family, for example) take priority over work.
Autonomy is a key trait of job satisfaction. Staffers like to know exactly what’s expected of them, then they want editors to get out of their way and let them do their jobs. This shows that you trust the staffers to get the job done and do it right. No one likes to be micromanaged or given the freedom to make a decision only to be told they made the wrong one. Set your staffers up for success, then get out of their way.
Be accessible to staffers
Staffers want to know that their editor is accessible and available to them if they need help. However, the more common issue I see with student editors is not setting any boundaries at all around their work. You can be accessible to your staff without being on call 24/7. Again, this is about setting up expectations for staffers, then leaving them to fulfill them. Also, chances are that staffers will treat your time in the same way you treat theirs.
Help staffers solve problems
Sometimes staffers have problems that they aren’t sure how to solve. It’s your job to help them find solutions. Don’t leave them feeling abandoned and unsure. If you aren’t sure how to solve the problem, find someone who can help.
Encourage staffers to give candid feedback
I have a student who calls these “courageous conversations.” It’s an appropriate phrase to use when talking about soliciting candid feedback from staffers.
I should start by saying that you should not encourage candid feedback if you’re not confident enough in yourself and mature enough in your position to handle it. If you ask for real feedback, you’ll get it, and you can’t hold it against anyone.
Of course, if you can’t handle candid feedback, I’m not sure why you’re in an editorial position. The only way to become a better editor and leader is to ask for real, candid feedback, really listen to that feedback and use it to improve the way you work.
Help staffers develop
Here’s the worst thing about this job. If you do it right, people leave you. Even worse, people leave you just when they’re getting really good at what they do.
But there’s perhaps no better way to show you care about staffers than to foster their professional development. Supporting and encouraging your staffers’ growth not only helps them individually, but it helps your publications while they’re there.
You can’t make anyone like you, but there are some important things you can do to help staffers love working with you. Staffers who enjoy their work will produce better quality content, be more productive and stay with you longer. Plus, you’ll all develop as newsroom leaders when you work better together.