Great Resignation’s Antidote? Employee Engagement

Want to hold on to your people as the wave of resignations continues to wash over the employment landscape? Make sure you’re engaging them and giving them clear pathways to development.

We’ve been hearing about the so-called “Great Resignation” since early fall. The term coincides with the unemployment rate drop, which had been 6.7% in November 2020 and was down to 4.8% in September of this year. It describes the increase in voluntary job separations initiated by an employee, what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls the “quit rate.”

The BLS released its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for October on Dec. 8. The full release is 17 pages comprising tables and text summarizing job openings, hires, separations (both quits and involuntary), and net change in employment. All of this data is further separated by business size and industry; the report includes both raw data and seasonal adjustments. Overall numbers, which showed an increase in job openings and new hires along with a slight decrease in separations, were reported by most news outlets the following day.

Impact On Media Businesses

Media businesses are grouped in the “Information” category which has five subcategories: “Publishing industries, except Internet”; “Motion picture and sound recording industries”; “Broadcasting, except Internet”; “Telecommunications”; “Data processing, hosting and related services”; and “Other information services.”

For the “Information” sector, BLS data show an October increase in all three categories — openings (to 180,000 from 155,000 in September), hirings (to 124,000 from 109,000), and total separations (small increase to 98,000 from 97,000). The report’s Table B-1 tells a slightly different story for the subcategory “Broadcasting, except Internet.” That reveals seasonally adjusted decreases beginning in November 2020, with 247,900 employees on payrolls in that month, 238,900 for September 2021, 237,300 in October 2021, and a loss of 500,000 for a net 236,800 as of Nov. 30, 2021.

I was curious about how the Great Resignation was affecting media businesses, so I reached out to several experts. The people I spoke with each represent a different aspect of media’s human resources.


No one reported increased employee turnover. Laurie Kahn, president and CEO of Media Staffing Network, summed this up when she said: “As we see many resignations around the country, we don’t seem to see a ton in the broadcast sales area.” Others reported similar results for other company departments.

Given that, and despite the BLS statistics (which may also be capturing consolidation-related changes) it seems that most traditional broadcast businesses have been doing something right when it comes to their employees. Fortunately, a couple of them were willing to share what’s working in their companies.

When I spoke with Audacy’s (formerly Entercom) Sarah Harris, VP of social impact, she was full of enthusiasm about the company’s rebranding and transformation, which was in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic. She mentioned the company’s rapid growth and overall transformation in the way they serve listeners and clients. This, she said, shapes their people and culture strategy.

Audacy had already embarked upon an infrastructure upgrade before March 2020’s stay-at-home orders. One part of this is an internal communications platform intended to keep all employees informed and connected. The company purposefully planned communications’ frequency and tone with an eye on insuring that such messages spell out how what is happening affects the recipient, whether as part of their job or their lives in general.

The company has also introduced new employee incentives, part of what Harris refers to as a “surprise and delight” approach. They are looking to foster camaraderie and to have fun. One example is called “Winning @ Work,” a contest that sends a team member to events such as the recent Audacy Beach Festival. They want employees to experience “what we do as an entertainment company.”

Katherine Barnett, SVP, human resources, Hearst Television, talked about the company’s intentional approach to hiring. It is looking at how its workforce stacks up in terms of women and people of color. It is also looking at how that has changed over time. Barnett says the rules of the game are different from those in early 2020. The question now is how to capture the attention of a potential candidate when it’s a candidates’ market.

Both Hearst Television and Audacy are closely evaluating their compensation and benefits packages. They want to make sure that the way they are investing in their teams and talent reflect their corporate values.

The Importance Of Employee Engagement

Media Staffing’s Laurie Kahn recommends that companies seeing excessive turnover work to figure out why that is happening. Her suggestions include conducting an exit interview with each departing employee to find out why the person is leaving — is it for money, a better opportunity, more flexibility, culture, growth potential? Other questions include determining whether the job description matched the experience and whether they would consider returning if the new job doesn’t work out as expected.

The importance of culture and opportunity came up in my conversations with both Harris and Barnett. That is why one data point in a Gallup article called “How to Win the Great Resignation” caught my attention. Author Scott Miller wrote “prior to the pandemic, Gallup Panel data found that it takes a pay increase of around 20% to lure most employees away from managers who engage them.” Money isn’t the primary consideration.

That reminded me of something leadership coach Ron Garfield of PIQue Coaching & Strategy Group said to me. We were talking about the Predictive Index, a tool he recommends aligning a company’s business strategy with its people strategy. Garfield said that in a survey of CEOs of companies that did not achieve their goals, 70% said it had to do with people. Beyond having the wrong person in a job, he pointed to three things that cause employee disengagement: team dynamics, company culture and the impact of the manager. Given the cost and difficulty of recruiting employees, investments in employee development and helping managers keep teams engaged makes good sense.

Why Work In Media?

I asked Barnett and Harris why they believe media offers great career opportunities. Both of them responded first with the importance of media in shaping conversations. Barnett said: “It’s the voice of the free democracy,” and that the role of the local journalist is more important than ever; reporting can take on national or global importance. She believes they shine a light and hold the powerful accountable.

Harris commented on media’s influence in people’s lives. She said it shapes the conversation, providing the topics people are “debating in the public square.” Then, she went on to comment about how exciting it is to be part of the technology that is changing the way people access the stories we share and how it’s going to continue to change.

I ended my conversations with the media company experts by asking why their company is a great place for a career. Barnett focused on opportunities for employees. She says Hearst Television recognizes that people will not stay in the same role for the whole of their career. The company works to help employees to find new challenges under the Hearst umbrella.

Harris focused more on Audacy’s rapid growth and transformation. Audacy is investing in people, “embracing the chaos and change to imagine new possibilities for our team and our business.”

The Great Resignation, despite whether it’s affecting your company, is a good reminder that people drive media businesses and their growth. Those companies that are talking to their teams and offering opportunities for development will be the ones poised for success in 2022 and beyond, in spite of the pandemic and other uncertainties.

Former president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, Mary M. Collins is a change agent, entrepreneur and senior management executive. She can be reached at [email protected].

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timeshavechanged says:

December 15, 2021 at 10:47 am

Engagement is great. I strongly support engaging with staff all the time, great resignation or not. Engagement with staff is not tv’s problem. Compensation is the problem. Amazon warehouses pay better than many of the jobs in a television station that we consider mission-critical. Photogs, directors, support staff, all of these jobs are necessary for what we do and most don’t pay enough to have a comfortable life in the city the station is in. We are no longer an industry that attracts the best and brightest because we no longer pay for the best and brightest. If the industry doesn’t address compensation in the near future, local television will become a thing of the past in many medium and small markets. The larger markets will survive longer as billing supports larger salaries.