NMG staff respond to Covid-19 www.businesstoday.co.ke
NMG staff during the company’s Fun day held at the Stima Club in Nairobi on June 22, 2019, as part of the NMG 60th year anniversary celebrations. Most of them are now working from home. [ Photo / Dennis Onsongo-NMG ]

The Nation Media Group has started tightening its belt as revenues plummet due to the economic crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, strongly hinting at permanently adopting the working-at-home model.

Desperate to reduce costs, NMG has reduced newspaper pagination to cut on operational costs and moved most of its staff to work from home. The latest target in cost-cutting are its contributors and columnists, whose payment has been chopped.

Monitoring productivity

The management, which appears to be avoiding salary cuts is, however, tightening the screws on employees working from home, warning them to either deliver beyond their expected output or face the sack.

“Ensure that if you are working from home, you are doing as much work, if not more, as you would ordinarily do,” says Editorial Director Mutuma Mathiu in a circular released over the weekend. “We are closely monitoring productivity and we can’t, in these dangerous times, keep on staff people who are idling.”

That statement has stirred up NMG employees in their homes with fears of a layoff mounting for those who will be deemed to under-deliver.

The circular also had chilly strategic propositions – delivered as food for thought – that could radically change how Nation Media Group newsroom works. “The world has changed, the workplace has changed,” it says. “We are never going back to the past. How are we going to survive and be stronger in the post-COVID future? Give serious thought to this.”

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Strategically speaking, working at home can help companies like NMG cut costs but could also lead to redundancies as it would not only expose so-called idle staff on the team, but also increase individual productivity that would in turn reduce the number of employees needed.

Mr Mutuma said while the management and board are making every effort to preserve the business and protect jobs, things are not looking pretty. “But times are very hard,” he noted. “Our circulation is down and advertising is bad too. We have taken measures to reduce costs: editors are tightly managing pagination, we have frozen employment and every expense is being examined with care.”

Productivity has suffered as workers learn to work from home, which comes with more disruptions and limited facilities. “Please be very careful with your physical and mental health. Take care of your family and loved ones. Maintain a healthy level of contact by phone. If you are worried about your health or anything else, get in touch with me, your supervisor or HR right away,” the circular said.

Meanwhile, Mr Mutuma yesterday 21st April, wrote to all contributors informing them of a 40% cut in their pay. Columnists include those contracted by NMG to write regular columns across Nation platforms while contributors extend to writing analysis, expert write-ups and even journalistic articles.

“The purpose of this email is to update you, as a valued contributor and media stakeholder, on new challenges affecting media operations, and to seek your understanding and cooperation on the way forward,” he said in the letter.

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“As you are aware, measures to contain the pandemic have impacted negatively on business operations the world over, and the situation is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future. Specifically, the operations of media houses, including the Nation Media Group, have been adversely affected by reduced economic activity and restrictions on movement. These have severely dented our principal revenue streams, advertising and circulation.”

He said current revenues cannot sustain the prevailing level of costs. “NMG management has taken the difficult decision to reduce the payment for all columnists by 40 per cent with effect from May 1, 2020.”

FULL MEMO TO NMG STAFF
Dear friends,

I am very grateful and proud of you all for the good work that you are doing in very challenging times. Please keep it up.

The social isolation, uncertainty about health and job security must be weighing heavily on your minds, as they are everyone in this country.

Every effort is being made to preserve the business and protect jobs. But times are very hard. Our circulation is down and advertising is bad too.

We have taken measures to reduce costs: editors are tightly managing pagination, we have frozen employment and every expense is being examined with care.

Senior managers are going through the Working Leave programme where they apply for leave but continue to work from home. More programmes are in discussion.

As you may have noticed, productivity has suffered because working from home is not the same as working from the office.

For us to weather this crisis, we need to cooperate and work together:

Please be very careful with your physical and mental health. Take care of your family and loved ones. Maintain a healthy level of contact by phone. If you are worried about your health or anything else, get in touch with me, your supervisor or HR right away.

Ensure that if you are working from home, you are doing as much work, if not more, as you would ordinarily do. We are closely monitoring productivity and we can’t, in these dangerous times, keep on staff people who are idling.

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We must protect the quality of our journalism. Our job is to find out new, interesting and important things for our audiences. More than any other time, now we need good stories, our professionalism must show. A special allowance is being considered for those reporting from the frontlines.

Talk to your supervisor and plan to take ALL outstanding leave. Outstanding leave which is not taken during the shutdown will be forfeited. Apply for leave in the system, always.

Join the various daily Zoom conferences or set them up in your section to discussion innovation, how we can improve our products or introduce new ones and work better. The world has changed, the workplace has changed. We are never going back to the past. How are we going to survive and be stronger in the post-Covid future? Give serious thought to this.

Learn new skills, preferably digital. Havard has tens of free online courses you can enroll for (online-learning.havard.edu) and so do many other universities. Catherine Wanyama will research and circulate links to relevant courses.

Let us avoid the usual newsroom stresses. Stress in the workplace is rarely caused by the job itself, it’s caused by toxic vibes, unexpressed grievances and poor relationships in the team. We must openly discuss these issues and reduce the stress. Talk to each other, your supervisors and us.

Stay at home, always wear a mask and be safe.
Mutuma Mathiu

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