News organizations step up their support for caregivers

The crises have been bountiful. A childcare crisis. An eldercare crisis. Long Covid as its own public-health crisis. And undergirding all of these is one more: the crisis of caregivers who are stressed out, burned out, running out of options, and dropping out of the workforce. News organizations — particularly the ones that have spent the past couple years reporting on caregivers hitting their breaking point — can no longer afford not to prioritize the needs of caregivers on their own staffs.

What do we mean by caregiving? Childcare is part of it, though only some of the need we see among news organization employees including ourselves. We like the more expansive definition of caregiving laid out in a 2019 report from Harvard Business School, which defined it as “the act of providing unpaid assistance and support to family members or others who have physical, psychological, or developmental need.” In the same report, around three quarters of employees said they had some sort of caregiving responsibility.

In 2023 we will see family-related labor including eldercare not just made more visible, but more substantively recognized. Looking at where and how work gets done today, we see recent precedent for the types of change we’ll see. In a global survey of newsroom leaders from Oxford’s Reuters Institute this past autumn, nearly two in three said their organizations had embraced some level of hybrid and flexible work. Given the unpredictable nature of often-news- and deadline-driven work, hybrid work flexibility is a powerful way to support caregivers’ schedules.

Employers across industries know that more workplace transformation is needed. More than 40% of business leaders our research team at Charter surveyed this autumn said that they’re currently focused on solving for employee mental wellbeing, hiring, and employee retention. One way to begin addressing all three is by providing substantive caregiving support, including through leave policies, flexible time off,  and backup care benefits.

This is an area where media organizations can lead. While our organizations rarely offer the highest salaries, we can differentiate ourselves to candidates with family-inclusive benefits and practices. The economic strains on the industry aren’t a reason not to support caregivers better. Even (especially!) amid demanding assignments and a tight labor market, we can demonstrate that we can offer workers adequate time to rest and recharge, not to mention care for others. When these approaches are in place, we will see more engaged employees who are less likely to burn out. Support for caregiving isn’t a nice-to-have: it is an imperative for investing in and retaining diverse talent in journalism.

Even startup newsrooms can meet these needs when they prioritize them. Nonprofit newsrooms like The Markup and The 19th similarly show how they value their talent through policies that are generous to employees with child and eldercare responsibilities. When I (Cari) first joined Charter, I was seven months pregnant, and the company was new enough that our founders created our parental-leave policy the same day I received my offer. I was lucky to start my life as a caregiver with an organization that was ready to support me through the transition and into this next phase. But luck shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

A truly inclusive newsroom cannot exist without an understanding of what their caregivers need in order to do their jobs well. And what do we need?

We need benefits that reflect the lived experiences of caregivers, such as childcare subsidies and mental health care — especially given the often unpredictable emotional and time constraints of newsroom work.
We need employee resource groups that allow caregivers to connect and advocate for the necessary workplace supports.
We need to feel empowered to be open about signing off to take a parent to the doctor or to make daycare pickup.
We need networking to be family friendly: to happen during working hours, to be less dependent on alcohol-centered events, and to be open to participants within their households.
We need organizations to designate backfills when staff are on extended leaves of absence, so that work doesn’t fall to already overburdened employees.
We  need more of what Katherine Goldstein, a reporter who leads the DoubleShift community, calls “sustainable solutions to personal problems.”

Employers will come to understand that these are just a starting point. The news organizations that we’ll see thrive in the future will be the ones that continually ask their employees how they can support them, in and outside the newsroom.

Cari Nazeer is the managing editor at Charter, a media and insights company that exists to transform every workplace. Emily Goligoski is the head of research at Charter.

Leave a Reply