We need to talk (and plan)

When my wife asks me what sort of day I’ve had, I’m quite likely to be fairly vague in my answer.

“I’ve had some really useful chats today,” is by no means unusual.

Quite rightly, this had led to some scoffing at times.

“Is that all you do all day – talk?”

Well, yes and no.

That word talk covers a multitude of sins – from informal coaching through informative catch-ups to intense conversations that border on counselling.

If someone says ‘have you got a minute to talk?’, my default setting is to answer ‘yes’.

As I have said before, exit interviews provide plenty of evidence of the negative impact of poor, or non-existent, communication.

And I have been on a mission to persuade people of the merits of having what I have taken to calling ‘grown-up conversations’ with their colleagues and managers.

It’s a mission that seeks to disprove the sceptical, apathetic argument that nothing ever changes, or gets done, as a result of raising concerns.

One of my colleagues has been talking a lot recently about hygiene factors – the basic workplace building blocks that need to be sorted for true job satisfaction to be enabled. Caught up in this are those relatively minor but long-standing gripes and hassles that can be the final, energy-sapping straws.

And it is often the ‘one more thing’ factor that pushes us over the edge.

One of my wife’s work colleagues compares a full workload to a bulging suitcase: “It’s like the case is full, and there’s absolutely no way that if you put even just one more pair of shoes in, it’s going to close again.”

The drip, drip of extra unforeseen tasks is a major source of workplace stress.

One of my mantras is that planning can buy you the time to do the work you really love.

But if that planning is regularly torpedoed by other people’s agendas, that vital control over your working day can be lost.

And stress and resentment can follow.

One of the joys of journalism is that each day can be different, that we never entirely know what the day is going to bring.

And yet, there is another sort of unpredictability that we could do more to eliminate.

I often think that the content we write falls in to three categories: a third that is fully a surprise, a third relating to events we know about in advance and a final third being pieces that we initiate ourselves based on gut feelings, campaigning zeal, nosiness, contacts or community concern.

To put it another way, no journalist will ever mind working all night when a landmark burns down, the town floods, or some other tragedy strikes.

But they’re not going to experience the same sense of teamwork and satisfaction if they’re working late because we suddenly need more fill for the BMDs page.

We need to find ways of moving our advance planning to the Christmas gold standard all year round and of getting ahead of ourselves on days when the rota gods are kind.

Talking is time-consuming. Planning can be a pain.

But neglecting either in a newsroom is not an option.

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