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From salaries to performance management: Insights from the Ukraine 2021 Media HR report

Talent is critical for media’s success, but HR management is still often overlooked

Publishing is a talent-driven business – nothing matters as much as having a smart, creative, hard-working, and well-managed team. But human resources, or HR, is also the biggest current threat. Media compete for both students and veterans with industries that offer higher salaries. Meanwhile, the creator economy tempts stars to go off on their own.

That’s why it is surprising to see that media generally overlook HR management. A recent survey by PWC found that 77% of CEOs see the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to their business. That’s ahead of technological change and changes to customer behaviour.

Meanwhile, media lack basic facts and figures to even understand what is happening in the industry.

Other industries use HR benchmarking reports all the time. But they are still rare in media. To fill the gap, The Fix Research team adapted best practices from other fields to create such a report.

Our first pilot edition covers digital media in Ukraine. Participants are non-oligarch owned and adhere to ethical standards. As a result, they are mutually relevant for journalistic and managerial talent (there are cases of staff moving between all participants).

The full list includes Bihus.info, Hromadske Radio, Hromadske TV, Kyiv Post, Liga.net, Novoe Vremya, Platfor.ma, The Ukrainians, The Village, Ukrayinska Pravda and Zaborona.

[Editor’s note: The full report is available for sale here. The Fix Research team is planning to roll out similar reports in other European markets this year. If you have any questions, want to launch a research project or would like to have a similar report for your market, write to research@thefix.media]

Here are 5 insights from the report.

CEOs, Chief Editors doing HR work

Having a person in charge of HR management is still a rarity for the Ukrainian media landscape – only a third of publications have a dedicated person in charge of this role. One of the reasons is that the function is not seen as important, or to save resources.

But that is a risky move. Most often, the responsibilities of the missing HR manager – team-building, performance management, designing compensation and benefits packages (to name but a few) – end up on the plate of CEOs and Chief Editors!

The already stretched calendars of top managers rarely have time to take on all these responsibilities properly, which means many just got lost. 

Even when media have a dedicated HR, their scope of responsibilities is limited vs. other industries. In media HR managers are typically recruiters and administrators of payroll or sick days. Working on engagement, culture, employee development or performance management is much rarer. 

No pay for performance

The threat of losing star performers is bigger than ever for media. The ability to move to launch a paid Substack newsletter, open a Patreon account, or just become a copywriter for an IT firm is more tempting than ever. 

As a result, a growing number of media experts are talking about introducing variable pay or bonuses to retain star talent. This is also a way to compensate for good performance, and incentivise your top people to stay. 

Interestingly, among publishers, variable pay remains a rarity. With the exception of sales managers who mostly earn on commission, only 4% of annual pay comes in the form of a bonus (as an average across positions). 

Another unique media industry feature: chief editors and specialized reporters are among the biggest recipients of bonuses. Meanwhile CEOs and marketing are among the lowest (which hints at where the real competition for talent is taking place).

Losing (top?) staff to turnover

The average level of turnover – the percentage of staff who leave your company over a 12 month period – among top Ukrainian media in 2020 was 22%. That’s pretty high, putting media closer to low-skill industries like hospitality (restaurants, hotels) or retail sales than highly educated sectors like health, finance, education or IT.

To be clear, some turnover is good. It brings in fresh blood and is necessary to replace low-performing staff. But that is only possible if you consistently monitor performance – something that is still quite rare among Ukrainian media.

Worse, most of that turnover was voluntary (62% in 2020, down from 68% in pre-COVID 2019). That means people left rather than being fired – a sign that strong performers may have been heading out.

It is hard to underestimate the cost this creates for media. It takes months to train a person before they are fully productive. If top performers leave, others don’t pick up skills and good habits. A company can easily end up working at half of potential capacity – or worse – unless it manages to keep the best and brightest.

Benefits = company loans and trainings

Employee benefits are a key tool to make working at a company a reality. Some of these may be financial (think dental insurance). But many more are linked to lifestyle or interests (think yoga lessons, discounts at companies, free beer on Fridays…).

The goal is to create so-called “golden handcuffs” – creating a bunch of reasons that make leaving a company is just kind of uncomfortable.

Media in Ukraine are still discovering the wealth of tools available to retain top-performers. The most commonly used are trainings (provided by all participants). Next are company loans, which are provided by more than half of respondents.

There is still a long way to go, however, particularly when it comes to maternity or paternity benefits or medical insurance, which are almost unheard of.

Media are not just journalists!

Publishers are correct to focus on journalists and editorial issues. But media organizations are increasingly dependent on other specialists beyond content creators.

A full third of staff were non-editorial at large media (over 50 full time employees or equivalent). But this number went to 40% when including smaller media. (Those “support” positions turn out to be really essential, especially for smaller outlets). 

As product and marketing skills become more important for media the significance of this 33-40% will grow. Moreover, the rise of hybrid and innovative careers has been a big feature of media HR in recent years.

What managers should remember is that the competition for this part of their organization can be even more severe (everyone wants a good product manager, mainly media want a good journalist).

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

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