Fewer than half of Johnston Press’s employees (48.9 per cent) would recommend the company “as a good place to work”, according to an internal staff survey.
The results of the ‘Your Say’ poll, which was completed by more than 70 per cent of staff, also show that just over half of people would “like to stay at this company to fulfil my career ambitions” (57.6 per cent) and feel they “get recognition for a job well done” (55.8 per cent).
Johnston Press is the fourth biggest regional newspaper group in the UK with more than 200 newspapers and websites. In common with other big publishers, in recent years it has made hundreds of journalists redundant and made widespread changes in order to cut costs. These have included the closure of local newspaper offices, the creation of hubs providing content for multiple titles and fewer editors being put in charge of more titles.
The highest scoring of the “Big Six” statements in the survey were “I get satisfaction from the work that I do” (68.5 per cent) and “My manager gives me help and support when I need it” (71.3 per cent). Some 58 per cent of those surveyed said they felt they “act in accordance with Johnston Press’s values”.
In an email to staff, seen by Press Gazette, Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield (pictured) said that a score below 67 per cent for any question “shows a level of dissatisfaction”.
“[I]t’s clear there is more to do,” he said. “One of the standout figures here is the number of people who would recommend Johnston Press as a good place to work, and we need to push even harder to change this.”
Later in the email, he added: “On the plus side these results highlight that job satisfaction remains as strong as ever, reflecting the pride we take in delivering for our communities and customers.
“Encouragingly support from managers has scored highly and over 40% of teams demonstrated strong engagement levels, with scores in the 60s and above.”
A Johnston Press journalist described the results as “fairly appalling” and suggested they are “artificially inflated by responses to the question about our line managers”.
They said: “My news editor and editor are excellent so I scored them highly, but they are operating in an impossible climate where it is impossible to replace staff, yet we have being told to produce the same content for the paper, and masses of more time-consuming content such as video for the website. It's blood from a stone territory.”
The journalist, though, said they were positive about Highfield: “He has more vision for the company than the last couple of chief executives and his web-first idea may in time be seen to be correct – it's certainly more sensible than stockpiling debt, à la Tim Bowdler.
“But a vision without resources is a day dream. If he invested just a modest amount in staff then maybe we'd be able to do a lot more of the digital stuff the latest company guru comes up with.”
The journalist also said there is “considerable resentment” within Johnston Press about the fact that while editorial staff don’t get pay rises, and reporters sometimes leave without being replaced, senior management are receiving “massive bonuses”.
A Johnston Press spokesperson said: "Improving engagement levels remains a major focus for us, and we continue to provide opportunities for everyone to have their say on building a positive future for Johnston Press. We had our highest ever response rate this year, and take the findings seriously.
"As you would expect from any staff survey, there are areas we perform well in – and room for improvement in others. We are currently rolling out an engagement programme to every member of staff in the business – and each person will play their part in shaping the way this business is run. This is a crucial year for JP as we build on the success of the past year and continue the transformation of the business."