COMMENT: The return of macho media management

Macho management is back, I’m sorry to say.  

And the problem seems to be particularly bad at media companies. Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard example after example of people working for media owners large and small being treated very badly.

I’m not talking about people simply being laid off because of the downturn, but how managers are treating it as a licence to forget all civilised behaviour.

Some examples…

Last week a techie friend of mine started a new job with a media owner. He gave up a steady, but non-permanent gig to take the role. In his first two days, he fixed several mini-crises and got them back on an even keel . That night he received a text message. “wont be needing you”. And that was that.

Perhaps they never intended to give him a long term gig and figured it was a good way of getting an IT consultant on the cheap. Or maybe they didn’t like him or his work.  Or perhaps they’ve hit hard times. But the point is, ending the gig by text is not classy.

Or here’s another one. A senior sales person at a largish publisher has taken to holding teleconferences with his interstate staff in the middle of the open plan office, on speaker phone. Which meant that unknown to the poor woman at the other end, details of her chemotherapy and how that is impacting on her performance, are audible to the entire office.

Then of course there’s ACP’s example that leaked out last week. All staff have been ordered to take easter week off so the offices can be shut down. But staff on the weeklies still have to get the mags out – they’ll just have to work harder and later.

And that’s common. I know of another publisher where journalists are expected to do two people’s jobs if they want to keep theirs. For some it means starting at a normal time of day, and leaving at 1 or 2 am, three or four days a week. And the company won’t even pay for taxis to see them safely home.

I hear stories of staff from that organisation sitting crying at their desks in the evening as unrealistic productivity demands are heaped on them.

And elsewhere of managers targeting expensive, older employees with ridiculous criticisms accompanied by formal warnings.

Some of this, I’m sure, is that many companies now consider themselves to be overstaffed. And if you can drive people out of the door, then it is a lot cheaper than making people formally redundant.

Then there’s the fact that everyone has a boss – and the best way to keep your own job is to make sure that the people working for you are hitting their numbers, whatever the cost.

But the morally indefensible part is that some of them are doing it simply because they can.  It feels like there is a whole generation of middle managers who resented mollycoddling Gen Y when staff retention was the problem who are now loving the opportunity to teach them about the harsh realities of a tight jobs market.

Right now it feels like being a good employer is a long way down the list of most media companies’ list of priorities. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if union recruitment is doing extremly well right now.


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