CBS CEO George Cheeks is scrambling to shore up morale at CBS News, dialing back demands that staffers work nights and weekends as they lament conditions under the struggling network’s hard-driving boss, The Post has learned.
Results from an annual “well-being survey” about employee satisfaction at Paramount Global — home to CBS, Showtime, MTV and Comedy Central — revealed particularly bad scores from CBS News employees, according to one source close to the company.
That’s on the heels of The Post’s reports of rank-and-file complaints about CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani, who was hired last year with orders to slash costs and who has since clashed with high-paid newsroom stars including Norah O’Donnell.
Insiders said newsroom morale has plunged as Khemlani — who some sources have branded as “micromanaging” and “rude” — barrages employees with around-the-clock questions and criticism over their performance.
“Neeraj schedules meetings at 7 at night and doesn’t care about people’s lives,” said one source.
The survey yielded similar complaints, sources said, prompting Cheeks to take the rare step of sending out an email and video message to staffers last Thursday about improving the work-life balance at the division, according to insiders.
“We need to set a goal avoid sending emails, texts or otherwise engaging on routine matters after hours or over the weekend,” Cheeks said in the video, which was reviewed by The Post.
He added that he’s encouraging managers to implement “no-meeting days” or “no-meeting blocks” within a day. He also encouraged employees to take “real time off” to “recharge,” after workers griped in the survey about not getting the chance to fully unplug.
A CBS spokesman noted that Cheeks’ written memo and video message weren’t specifically addressed to the CBS News division. The spokesman declined to comment on whether complaints at CBS News were especially high versus other divisions.
“This was a global email to all CBS employees, it was not directed to or in response to any particular brand or division,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Our workplace dynamics across the country are evolving as result of Covid, and the transition to hybrid and agile office structures. Employee well-being is a top priority for CBS in this transition.”
Nevertheless, Cheeks’ memo was followed up by a memo from Khemlani and his co-president Wendy McMahon, who echoed Cheeks’ sentiment, underscoring that the “well-being of every CBS employee is a top priority.”
“We’ve heard from many of you that you feel the lines between work time and personal time became blurred when the pandemic began and we were forced to reinvent on the fly how to do our jobs in an unprecedented and difficult environment,” the memo said. “And we’re mindful of the fact that the past year has being an especially busy time for all of us as we have brought our CBS News and Stations businesses under one umbrella.”
Employees griped that Khemlani’s “ruthless” behavior has created a hostile environment where slimmed-down departments are asked to do more with less support. Although CBS News has brought in some new hires, it has lost swaths of employees via layoffs or attrition in recent months.
“When you’re being asked to do more with less, it contributes to a morale problem,” a source told The Post. “And when you don’t feel appreciated and you’re not paid well, people vote with their feet.”
In order to improve the work environment, the co-presidents told employees to provide “regular feedback to your supervisor about how you’re feeling about our current Return To Office and hybrid work policy.”
They also said they will be “taking steps to better define and adhere to normal workday hours.” This includes “reestablishing” and “respecting boundaries” and “limiting after-hours emails, calls and text,” barring emergencies. They also suggested using “Out of Office notifications” on work emails.
The memo added that the execs would try to avoid scheduling late Friday afternoon meetings “unless they are needed to address emergencies, breaking news events or client needs.”
Khemlani has also caught flack for his dealings with former London bureau chief Andy Clarke, who left amid multiple disagreements over budget cuts, as well as a flap over his brother’s consulting firm FTI overseeing plans for CBS News’ corporate reorganization.
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