Survey shows dangerous levels of stress at Johnston Press
14 November 2014
Journalists working for Johnston Press (JP) are suffering dangerously high levels of stress as they are put under pressure to work long hours with few breaks, subject to unrealistic time pressures and not properly consulted when changes are brought in.
A health and safety survey compiled by staff across JP’s titles revealed 82 per cent were subject to unrealistic time pressure – with 44 per cent saying this was often or always; 80 per cent said they were pressured into working long hours. Eighty-six per cent of respondents agreed there was lack of consultation on changes at work, with 75 per cent saying that when changes are made they are not clear how they will work in practice.
The survey also revealed eight in 10 did not support performance-related pay. Respondents said it would be not be good for office moral, which is already low, and feared it would be divisive and unfair. Others predicted quantity of work would be rewarded over quality.
The NUJ has called for a moratorium on further cuts at JP until these matters have been addressed. The union believes that if the company wants to make changes so news is available on a range of print and digital platforms, it will need to invest in staff and equipment, not make cuts.
Staff said they were under pressure to meet goals for completing website uploads, with two-thirds saying they were given targets for the number of videos they upload.
Two-thirds said they could rely on colleagues for help and support, but a similar number reported that office conditions caused friction between workers. Anecdotal evidence also pointed to staff having poor working conditions in cramped offices with broken chairs.
Staff are working long hours because job cuts mean there are fewer staff in newsrooms at a time when they are expected to take on more website duties. Juggling the demands of print and digital meant it was a real struggle to get newspapers out on deadline.
One respondent said: “On the one hand, we are told by our managing director that nobody is being asked to work above their contracted hours, but the expectations placed on teams to put together papers, update websites, produce video content, promote papers through social media and increase overall audiences means it is impossible to do in that time. A huge amount of responsibility is now placed on our trainee reporters, they are given less support than ever owing to the strain placed on newsdesk teams and I am particularly concerned about their wellbeing.”
A summary of the results was presented to JP’s management, which has agreed to work with the union to address the concerns and problems revealed.
The JP group chapel said:
“The results of this survey add to growing evidence of dangerously high stress levels in Johnston Press newsrooms. We hope Johnston Press management will take the results on board and work with us to alleviate the intolerable pressures being placed on our members. Alarmingly, however, the survey results come at a time when the company is making even more cuts to editorial jobs. We call on Johnston Press to halt any further job cuts and invest to bring staffing up to adequate levels.”
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:
“These stark findings echo the anecdotal evidence from newsrooms across Johnston Press. Its chief executive officer, Ashley Highfield, has accepted that morale has been affected by the cuts but this survey demonstrates that urgent action is needed to address workloads, work intensity and breaks. It is not sustainable for the company to rely on people’s professionalism to be always picking up the pieces and filling gaps where colleagues have left. There should be a moratorium on any further job cuts, and vacancies should be filled as a priority. We want to work with the company on addressing these critical issues and this needs to be started speedily and be based on meaningful consultation with the workforce.”
JP owns 13 daily, 154 weekly paid-for and 37 weekly free newspapers, including The Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post, the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph and the Falkirk Herald, and specialist publications.