Half-Empty or Half-Full

June 1, 2009
Like other employees of many American companies, I'm making do with less: fewer employees, smaller budget, mandatory 4-day workweek. But is the glass half-empty or half-full?

No one likes to hear that there is a hiring freeze when they already are short staffed. Or that there's a salary freeze with no end in sight. Or that coworkers have been laid off, or that salaries are being cut. But it happens every day in this country and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

I've watched as EHS professionals started wearing multiple hats: safety professional, industrial hygiene manager, risk professional, occupational health manager, environmental manager, quality manager, compliance manager … the list goes on and on. At the same time, I watched EHS departments shrink, with fewer employees to handle multiple tasks on tighter budgets.

Although I was seeing it with my own eyes, I didn't “get” it. Now, I get it. I get it because I'm living it.

In the past year, the publishing industry has hit hard times. Advertising sales are down; when companies tighten their belts, often the first thing to go is the marketing and advertising budget. So, we respond by printing smaller magazines, buying fewer articles from freelance journalists, searching for “free” art and graphics, traveling less and instituting hiring and salary freezes.

In our case, we've been asked to take a salary cut. The salary cut comes with a mandatory 4-day work week through the summer, but with a workload that easily could eat a 6-day work week, it's tough to view that extra day off as a blessing.

Now, you probably noticed the title of this column refers to the half-empty/half-full adage. And you might be thinking, “Sounds like her glass is half-empty. It might even be leaking a little bit.”

And you'd be wrong.

Just as you don't know who your real friends are until you find yourself in dire straights, I didn't know the hidden strengths of my staff, myself or my coworkers until the economy took a downturn.

Suddenly, people who never spoke up about anything are coming up with novel ways to work more efficiently. Work processes we've complained about for years quickly are changing for the better.

Our sales reps are coming up with innovative product ideas that not only will please advertisers, but readers as well. Our graphic designer, Samantha, has discovered treasure troves of cheap or free images — often better than the ones we've paid thousands of dollars for in the past — and has come up with some award-winning covers and layouts for our departments and features on a budget of zero. Laura, our associate editor, is juggling so many hats — podcast guru, writer, editor, fill-in webcast host — that she probably doesn't know whether she's coming or going some days, but she handles it all with professionalism and grace. In fact, her podcasts are so good that I think they hold their own against the best that NPR has to offer and other magazine editors are coming to her for advice on how to improve their podcasts.

Another change is that rather than depend on professional freelancers who, though great writers, are not knowledgeable about EHS, we are writing the articles ourselves or working with EHS professionals or industry experts to help them write the articles. From my perspective, I am seeing articles that are more relevant to my readers being published in our pages. I also am seeing better reportorial skills being built on staff, as writers and editors must learn about the topics themselves, rather than rely on paid freelancers to contribute the articles.

Groups that once were autonomous in this company are learning to work together to improve efficiency. The result is improved content for many of our brands and a “technology transfer” of great ideas from one group to another.

And readers are responding to the changes. I am getting more calls and emails than ever from people who want to publish their articles in our pages. We are receiving increasing numbers of Letters to the Editor and more comments left on our Web site.

Too often, I'm finding my time, my resources and my patience stretched to the breaking point, feeling like I can't drain one more drop from that glass. And then I receive an email or a phone call from a reader, who thinks that something we did was great, who tells me he uses our magazine as a resource, who says she has an article about a great safety program she'd like to send me because she would be thrilled to be published in EHS Today, and I realize I have a glass that's more than half-full. It even may be spilling over a little bit.

If you have a glass-half-full story to share with our readers, please e-mail me at [email protected].

Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].

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