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Washington Post, CNN, Buzzfeed layoffs: What HR pros can learn

Media layoffs continue to provide a case study for HR across industries.

Layoffs have transcended Silicon Valley and are creeping up on digital and traditional media companies, with the latest announcement coming from The Washington Post on Dec. 14. National Correspondent Annie Gowen reported via Twitter that Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher, refused to answer follow-up questions regarding freshly announced Q1 2023 layoffs.

Tense negotiations with its journalists’ union, the Post Guild, along with the shuttering of The Washington Post Magazine (an act that drew the ire of staff and D.C. residents at large), has kept the newspaper’s name in labor news headlines throughout Q4. In the court of public opinion, the Post and other major news media companies are proving to be examples of layoff communication that strike the wrong note.

Another name that frequently appeared in 2022 layoff news headlines was Gannett, a multi-state print newspaper giant. Following Q2 losses, Gannett cut 400 employees from its roster over the summer. As employees waited for Dec. 1 and 2, the days on which individuals would be notified of their termination, Gannett announced mandatory five-day unpaid leave this holiday season, a 401(k) matching freeze and an indefinite hiring freeze.

On top of that, NPR recently announced a moratorium on hiring interns, while layoffs at CNN, Buzzfeed and ABC, among others, have set the internet abuzz. Not only are there implications for the future of journalism (many have noted the timing of media industry headcount reduction amid misinformation’s rise throughout the U.S.), but these layoffs offer a distinct set of lessons learned for HR pros across industries. 

Industrial and organizational psychologist Sertrice Grice, co-owner and chief consulting officer of DEI firm Mattingly Solutions, first noted the impact of any round of layoffs on worker morale. Stress, insecurity and distrust abound, she explained via email, as employees fear they could be next. “Survivor’s guilt” may be common among remaining workers.

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