One Monday in January 2010, veteran Citytv anchor Anne Mroczkowski had just finished an evening newscast when she was called to the top floor of the station’s new building. “The hair on my arms lifted,” she recalls. “Nobody goes there.” Upstairs, the station manager and long-time news director told Mroczkowski she was being laid off—it was nothing personal, just the unfortunate business of downsizing. Mroczkowski was stunned. She had built her career with City starting in 1978, making coffee runs for senior staff. After crying in the stairwell, she collected herself, packed up her photographs and hair curlers, and drove home, ending more than three decades with the station.
Mroczkowski’s story isn’t uncommon. In both broadcast and print media, senior editors, producers and reporters aren’t safe. In 2009, Ed Greenspon was allegedly forced out after seven years as The Globe and Mail’s editor-in-chief. Chatelaine editor Maryam Sanati was let go as part of Rogers Publishing’s massive cull, which included Canadian Business canning publisher Deborah Rosser, executive editor Scott Steele and senior writer Sharda Prashad. Ian McGugan, founder and editor ofMoneySense, also got the boot from Rogers that year. It’s been a shaky few years in the journalism industry; decreasing ad revenues and the rise of free online news had combined to create serious financial uncertainty. And then the recession hit. Between October and December 2008, more than 1,200 full-time media employees in Canada were axed. Networks spent the next two years eliminating broadcast programs across the country. Print was also in trouble, with magazines folding and newspapers cutting back. Anyone’s job is vulnerable in such unstable times, and employees must be prepared for anything. Here’s a primer on how to fireproof your job—or at least know what to do once it’s too late.
Don’t get too comfortable.
In the past, it wasn’t unusual to hold one job over an entire career. Today, “there are very few people who have cradle-to-grave jobs,” says Barbara Symmons, a career counsellor in Toronto. “Job loss has become so common that we now see it as part of work, no matter what people do.” The new work paradigm, she says, is “You’re only as good as today.”
Know what you’re signing up for.
Along with salary and vacation expectations, today’s employment contracts often outline terms of departure. These may include the duration and amount of severance packages, and even “non-compete clauses”—a provision that bars sacked employees from getting similar jobs at competing companies. Larry Keown, a Toronto employment lawyer with Devry Smith Frank, says prospective employees should understand what they’re entitled to according to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. A lot of his clients didn’t bother seeking legal advice before signing a contract, which, in some cases, left them with fewer weeks’ notice or smaller severance payments than what the Act prescribes. Keown says, “If they’d gotten lawyers from the start, they wouldn’t have to pay a lawyer to sue later.”
ON THE JOB
Have a financial plan.
It’s always wise to have a rainy-day fund. “People can make it work on a day-to-day basis, but it can come to a screeching halt when all of a sudden you can’t work,” says Cynthia Kett, a financial planner with Stewart & Kett Financial Advisors Inc. She suggests keeping an emergency savings account or topping up a tax-free savings plan, even if it covers you for just a few months. Kett also recommends a life and disability insurance policy for people with financial dependents. Though she doesn’t advise job loss insurance, which she says is expensive and stipulations could prevent you from benefiting.
Pay attention to warning signs.
In many cases, looming layoffs are easy to perceive. There’s often an office buzz or a palpable chill in the air. But sometimes layoffs happen in waves, and even if you’ve survived one, there could be another. Former Marketing magazine editor Stan Sutter thought his job was safe. He had been with the Toronto-based publication for 20 years, and was editor for more than 10, when a new vice-president took over in 2006. The VP quickly let go of the magazine’s long-time publisher and senior sales director, but to Sutter’s relief, he was given an important new assignment. Sutter planned a redesign of the magazine and pushed his team to get the job done. Soon after, he was laid off. The magazine introduced its new editor the next month—along with the new design Sutter had piloted. So even if you think your position is secure under new management, it’s still a good idea to connect with contacts, spruce up your resumé and keep an eye open for other jobs.
AFTER THE FALL
Take some time off.
Dealing with job loss can be as emotionally strenuous as experiencing a family death. “If you can afford to take time off, it would probably be a very good idea,” says Martha Finney, a former journalist and author of the book Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss. People in a comfortable financial position, or who’ve received an ample severance package, could even take a vacation. Anne Mroczkowski, who now co-anchors Global Toronto News Hour, took off for Barbados to regroup and clear her head after Citytv laid her off. For those who don’t have money for next month’s rent—let alone a trip—Finney still recommends taking time at home to heal and re-evaluate before plunging into a job search. When Finney was researching her book, she found that people who jumped into new jobs too quickly were unhappy with their new positions. “It’s like going from one bad relationship to another,” she says. During the transition period, many journalists start freelancing, which offers good opportunities to make new contacts and scope out the job scene.
Apply your journalism skills in different fields.
With journalism jobs so few and far between, Finney suggests people take a hard look at whether they want to remain in what she calls a “shrinking industry.” “There are many jobs where you can use your journalism skills,” she says, whether that be writing books or getting into the communications field, where many former journalists end up. When Sutter leftMarketing magazine, he briefly worked for an online media group. He considered staying in print media, but feared he would get a lower-rung job, and didn’t want to work his way up all over again. With the help of a job-transition firm, he was able to look beyond journalism into other fields.
Network, network, network!
Professional career consultants can conduct skills tests to help people identify other well-suited career paths, or they simply aid in job-hunting tasks, such as editing resumés, honing interview skills or helping with online job-profile requirements. But these pricey services are not always included in severance packages, and for those who can’t afford them, here’s a piece of advice every career coach gives a job seeker: start networking.
Tim Weber, former news anchor, was laid off as part of CTV’s 2008 cuts. He took advantage of the company’s outplacement services and began seeing a career counsellor. He learned to “meet people, pick their brains,” he says. “And talk and talk and talk and listen and listen and listen.” Sutter did something similar after leaving Marketing magazine. He put to use all the contacts he’d made over the years, and planned coffee dates and lunches. “Just get the word out,” he says. “Not everybody has a job for you, but everyone’s got an idea, and someone else they can put you in touch with.” All the schmoozing paid off. Sutter got a job at Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, managing the team responsible for the editorial services and the ministry’s online employee newsletter. “I’m learning new stuff and I’m enjoying it a lot,” Sutter says. “It’s like I’m still doing journalism.”