News

Fixing the work/life imbalance: How PR can act on its mental health problems

Stephen Waddington is partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor at Newcastle University.

Characterising mental health public relations

A new report has found that mental illness in the public relations profession is frequently ignored, or managed as a line management or performance issue. It signposts ways to proactively develop mental resilience.

I’ve chaired a #FuturePRoof project on behalf of the PRCA for the past 12 months. We investigated mental health after various data spotlighted it as an issue within the public relations profession.

In fact it’s not hard to quantify the impact of poor mental health on the public relations profession or the broader UK economy.

Quantifying the cost of poor mental health

30% of respondents in the 2016 CIPR State of the Profession Survey state that they are ‘somewhat unhappy’ or ‘not at all happy’ when indicating their level of well-being in their jobs.

Nearly a third of UK staff persistently turn up to work ill and only 35% are generally healthy and present, according to the CIPD’s Absence Management Report.

The 2016 PRCA Census reports that 12% of those in public relations changing their job opted to leave the industry completely for a new career. And the overall level of staff turnover within the public relations industry is around 25% per year.

The statistics are alarming. And the cost to the communications industry of failing to adequately address these issues is huge.

Work and life imbalance

Attitudes to mental health in the workplace are polarised.

36.6% people said that they would be comfortable or very comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace with colleagues. 56.7% said they would be uncomfortable or very uncomfortable.

65% people said that a colleague had discussed their own mental health in the workplace.

When asked about whether they’d be willing to talk about their mental health with a line manager, 37.7% said they would be comfortable or very comfortable; and 57.6% said they would be uncomfortable or very uncomfortable.

#FuturePRoof identified that a wide range of symptoms of poor mental health manifest in the workplace, ranging from absentmindedness to anxiety, and from anger to depression.

Attributing factors included financial pressures; service delivery including always on, long hours and deadlines; office politics including culture, and poor management; trauma, particularly in emergency services; and a lack of respect and understanding for public relations.

In communications and public relations there’s no longer a clear distinction between work and play, day and night.

Mobile devices and tablets bridge the gap between the working day, and evenings and weekends. Social media means you’re as likely to be friends with your boss, colleague or client as you are with anyone else.

Stress is a function of an individual’s reaction to a situation that can be mitigated through training and support. Tackling these two areas could go a long way to improving the mental health of the public relations profession.

Many practitioners are unaware whether their sickness policy at work specifically addresses mental health. 53.3% said they were unaware; 14.2% reported that it did; and 32.5% reported that it did not.

There was a direct correlation between those organisations that had procedures in place, and those that had retained HR support or a HR department.

Developing mental resilience

Respondents cited a wide variety of means for managing their wellbeing. These included health and fitness including cycling, running, swimming, walking and yoga. Mediation and mindfulness also ranked highly.

Art, craft, gardening and music were all cited as positive means of relaxation. Other techniques including ring fencing family time, socialising, limiting technology, sleep, moderating alcohol and managing diet.

Mechanisms for managing prolonged periods of mental illness included counselling, including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), psychotherapy and medication.

#FuturePRoof published six recommendations for public relations practitioners.

Mental health as management issue

1. The cost of mental health to public relations and the broader business community is well known. Make mental health and wellbeing a management issue within your management team.

2. Company policies and procedures should cover sickness due to mental health. Provide clear signposting and training to all employees and managers on policies and procedures.

3. Where resources do not exist within an organisation, access external support such as the resources listed in the report. Small organisations should consider retaining specialised support.

Best practice to managing mental health and wellbeing

4. Removing the stigma around the issue of mental health in the workplace will have the single biggest impact on positive outcomes. Create safe environments to encourage staff to talk about how they feel with each other and with managers.

5. Respect the boundaries between the personal lives and work lives of your employees that have otherwise been eroded by personal and mobile technology. Consider flexible working and home working as solutions to help employees manage their work lives and personal lives.

6. Examples of proactive employee support include for mental health and wellbeing include: employee assistant programmes; subsidised exercise; mental health awareness training; and wellness action plans.

The #FuturePRoof report has been published under a Creative Commons licence. We hope that you find it useful. Please share, reuse and remix the content.

Get the Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights.

Subscribe
SW

Stephen Waddington

All by Stephen