Your pay – your say: Tania Hummel interview

Tania Hummel is an executive coach and board-level HR professional. She has worked in HR for almost 20 years and was most recently Global HR Director for Macmillan Science and Education. Tania will be speaking at our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘. We interviewed her here. 

1) How do you think that pay and conditions in the publishing industry differ today, to how they were 20 years ago?

The publishing industry has seen enormous change over the last 20 years. The rise of Amazon, the advent of ebooks, and changes in the way that rights are bought and sold have transformed the industry in ways that couldn’t have been predicted before the internet age. Consumers now expect content to be delivered in a variety of ways, whether as print, ebooks, audio, games. Publishers have become multi-media, multi-platform content providers and new skills and ways of working are still evolving.

Things felt a lot more certain 20 years ago, and this was reflected in the terms and conditions at the time. Publishing with its low margins and long lead times paid less than other skilled industries, and Publishers took a more ‘paternalistic’ approach generally to pay and benefits. In a more uncertain (VUCA) world, Defined Benefit pension schemes have become unaffordable, and benefits that reward long service are less attractive to staff who can’t really afford to work for too long at any one employer, as moving on is often the only way of securing a substantial pay rise.

Many jobs were outsourced quite early on – proofreading, typesetting and some editorial roles. Sometimes to freelancers in the UK, while other roles or tasks like publishing services went abroad to places like India. It’s likely that publishing will continue to buy in the skills it needs from outside the industry, and that roles within the industry will also continue to change. Some will become more skilled, whilst others are likely to be automated and disappear. In any event, I expect to see more freelancing, not less, in line with predictions of the rise in the ‘gig’ economy.

2) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who didn’t think that they were being treated fairly in the workplace?

It depends on the facts of the situation. Being treated fairly can mean different things to different people. If the situation was a one-off and seemed uncharacteristic of the culture, I’d encourage the individual to check their company’s grievance policy for guidance and to raise their concerns informally in the first instance with a sympathetic HR contact. Failing that, I’d suggest that they approach ACAS or their union rep if they have one.

3) What can publishing professionals do before accepting a new job, to make sure that their working conditions are acceptable?

They can do an internet search, or visit Glassdoor or similar sites for reviews on working for the company. These aren’t always entirely objective but it’s a good start. They could also ask people in their network who already work for their potential new employer for their views. They should also look at the contract and handbook at the offer stage, which should give a good idea of how things are generally handled. Having few policies can mean things are very much at the manager’s discretion, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the manager. Having overly rigid policies on everything can also be a disadvantage.

4) What should be taken into consideration when deciding to work for either a large publishing house, or a smaller company?

There are pros and cons to both. In a larger publishing house there are likely to be better opportunities for promotion, training and development. But it can be harder to get noticed, and it may well be more competitive. Jobs might also be quite narrow. Smaller companies can be surprisingly good on benefits, but sometimes there aren’t any to speak of. That said, roles tend to be broader and, if the company is growing, you might be able to grow with it, taking on extra responsibility and learning by doing, but the downside might be that a smaller company is also likely to pay less than a larger one for a similar role.

5) As an industry, what have you seen done to improve pay and conditions, that has impressed you?

Some publishers have been really good at creating profit sharing schemes – if the company makes it’s profit target it’s only fair that the staff should benefit from that, especially at a time when inflation is so low and pay awards are too.

Grab your ticket for ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?’ on the 14th July here.