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“Our employees can work anywhere”: How one U.S. publisher is tackling the Great Resignation

Founded in 2018, Recurrent Ventures is very much the modern digital media company. Backed by venture capital from North Equity LLC, the publisher has spent the last few years on an aggressive buying spree, hoovering up a number of well-established media brands including Domino, The Drive, Field & Stream, Popular Science, Saveur, and, to name just a few iconic brands.

In all, the publisher owns 20 digital media brands across automotive, home, lifestyle, military, outdoor, science, and tech verticals – reaching 60 million monthly unique visitors in the process.

Headquartered in Miami but with regional offices in New York, San Francisco and San Diego, the publisher has faced strong recruitment and retention headwinds from what has been described as the ‘Great Resignation’.

Driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has witnessed unprecedented levels of resignations as staff have quit in record numbers to start their own businesses – Americans applied for a record 5.4 million business ID numbers last year according to census data that points clearly to a return of self-employed entrepreneurship.

For U.S. publishers, this trend has been exacerbated by talented creators leaving publishers to join next-gen platforms (Substack, Patreon, and their ilk) which have been successful in luring away journalists to become independent creators in their own right.

The retention challenge: Purpose and belonging

For Recurrent’s CEO, Lance Johnson, the solution has been to double down on clear leadership as well as foster a greater sense of belonging and purpose within his organization. In a written exchange with WNIP, he says, “Strong leadership, mentorship internally, and striving to build values that we can adhere to are our priorities.”

We try to ensure employees know how much we value them and their efforts to propel the growth of this company that we all own. In return, we regularly get honest feedback–good and bad–and we address it quickly.

Lance Johnson, CEO, Recurrent Ventures

As a key part of this, Recurrent has taken the theme of belonging one step further than many of its publisher counterparts – it offers its full-time employees an ownership stake in the business. Johnson comments, “We’re all responsible for the company’s performance and we all benefit from the success. This team mentality has helped our company stay together but also attracts the same type of great people.”

Donut Media, part of Recurrent’s portfolio

Work from anywhere

As the pandemic eases, another dilemma the publisher has confronted is whether to obligate its staff to return to the office full-time or to offer a hybrid work-from-home model. Head of Human Resources at Recurrent, Rebecca Dobson, has chosen neither and says that the publisher’s staff can work from any location they wish, “Our virtual-first work approach means our employees can live and work wherever they want–as long as they have WiFi and their laptop. Not only does that enable us to hire employees across the country without any relocation requirements, but it also allows unparalleled freedom for each of us to dictate our work setup.”

During the pandemic, we’ve had employees move to new places or simply change their scenery for weeks at a time.

Rebecca Dobson, Head of Human Resources, Recurrent Ventures

Dobson adds, “While it’s imperative to maintain central office environments for employees to convene and work together in person as they need and want, we’ve found that this policy works well for us as an option. As the world continues to open up, we expect to see employees take more advantage of it.” 

Dobson also says that Recurrent’s staff reviews have helped track employee sentiment and gauge overall staff satisfaction, “We hold reviews twice annually to provide employees a separate forum for honest communication with their managers. This has given us a regular gauge of how people are doing and what they need–whether that’s more resources, support, communication, etc. These also help us map out internal growth goals and ensure we’re adequately rewarding people for their work.”

Popular Science

Recruitment challenges

That’s not to say that Recurrent has been immune to the recruitment challenges that beset its publishing peers. With 300 staff, the company has nearly 60 open job vacancies, a percentage that is reflective of many U.S. publishers. Dobson says, “We’ve welcomed quite a bit of talent over the last few years and our challenge is filling those roles as quickly as we’d like.”

The candidates that are looking for new jobs are moving quickly so we’ve ramped up our HR teams to assist the editorial managers and keep the process running smoothly. 

On a tactical level, we’re resourcing Recurrent’s shared teams to support a diverse range of properties with different area expertise, putting a heavy focus into up-leveling our integration process, and creating new lines of communication for cross-team collaboration. 

Rebecca Dobson, Head of Human Resources, Recurrent Ventures

Ultimately, however, Dobson recognizes that staff satisfaction and retention are paramount to the success of Recurrent, adding, “As the company grows, we continue to build our culture around putting people and mission first, which is ultimately an environment we’ve found people want to stay in.”

Recurrent’s CEO, Lance Johnson, adds, “Our team is full of people who are purpose-driven workers who are here for more than just a paycheck and equity.”