How The Wenatchee World Overcame Adversity to Improve Morale

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When the Great Recession hit at the end of 2007, it was all hands-on deck for The Wenatchee (Wash.) World. There was not time for niceties, just the hard work of making sure that the family-owned newspaper weathered the storm and remained strong.

“We were too busy fixing and doing,” recalls Gretchen Woods, Human Resources Director for the paper and a family member. “We hardly had time to think, much less communicate and rally talk to one another. Unfortunately, you start to lose connection with your team.”

Even in the best of times about one-third of workers are unhappy with their jobs according to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study conducted in 2016. Employers, on the other hand have a very different view. Sixty-two percent of employers view their relationship with employees as a “committed partnership.” At best, most employees consider the relationship a “marriage of convenience” or a “casual acquaintanceship,” the PwC study found.

Turnover is costly and low staff morale dampens productivity. Earlier this year The Wenatchee World decided it was high time to find out what their employees were thinking and what toll the financial crisis might have taken on morale.

“It was a bit of a wakeup call,” Woods says of the results of The World’s recent Employee Engagement Survey conducted in partnership with Inland. “The results were not entirely surprising compared to national averages, but as many as 60% to 70% of those surveyed said they were unhappy or discouraged by what happened. People aren’t jumping ship, but we knew we needed to act.”

Within a week of getting the results the management team had an action plan. Within two weeks, top managers visited every department and gave a progress report, answered questions and offered assurances about the future of the paper. A bi-weekly newsletter was initiated to help keep employees informed about what was going on at the paper. Some non-management employees even got into the spirit of things. One hosted fourth Friday food events such as pizza parties and ice cream socials. Gradually people from all departments are beginning to filter in and take part.

“It’s pretty early, but it is fair to say that we sense a sea change in attitudes,” Woods says. “We cannot pay people like some of the top employers in our area so we have to compensate people in other ways. Communication is a common issue in most workplaces, but you also need to know what your employees want and care most about.”

The World plans to conduct a follow-up survey and hopes that the results will show improvement. Woods points out that just the act of conducting the anonymous survey signals to employees that you are taking them and their needs seriously.

“I would emphasize that running surveys must be followed by taking action” Woods says. “If nothing happens and nothing changes, the employer runs the risk of undermining credibility instead of enhancing it. I don’t think our results in 2017 would have been any better if we’d run surveys every preceding year without the resources to act on the results.”

Inland’s Employee Engagement Survey is a simple and cost-effective way to turn the best source of information in your workplace—the opinions of employees themselves—into a powerful tool for decision-making.

The survey is professionally developed and provides valuable insights into morale issues, encourages candid communications with employees and identifies any workplace issues beyond the obvious ones such as wages and benefits that are festering just below the surface. The survey jointly developed by industrial psychologist and newspaper veteran offers you:

  • Valuable insight into morale issues
  • Complete confidentiality, which encourages employee candor 
  • Custom questions tailored to your specific workplace situation and concerns 
  • Low-cost and easy-to-use online accessibility for your employees
  • Practical data that directly applies to your unique situation and needs 


“One thing I appreciate about the Inland survey is that the questions were specific enough and numerous enough to give us a real sense of where we could start to make a difference” Woods concludes. 

Inland’s Employee Engagement Survey gives top managers the information they need to improve productivity and morale. For more information contact Karla Zander, Inland’s manager of research and member services, by phone 847-795-0380 or email KZander@inlandpress.org.