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Discussing mental health damages career prospects, agency staffers tell Nabs survey

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

October 31, 2023 | 6 min read

All Ears poll of 1,200 UK professionals finds reluctance to speak up over concerns that disclosure could hold them back.

Mental health

A new Nabs survey has found agency staffers too concerned to come forward about mental health issues / Adobe Stock

Four in 10 advertising staffers say they avoid talking openly about mental health challenges at work for fear it could hold back their career, according to a survey conducted by industry charity Nabs.

39% of those in the early stages of their careers said they were so concerned about their colleagues’ reaction to disclosure that they would not discuss mental health at work, while half of the C-suite or department heads surveyed by the group said it would hold back their progress at work. 35% said they would not discuss mental wellness at work at all.

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According to Nabs chief exec Sue Todd, the findings indicated that agencies weren’t following through on formal policies in the workplace.

“It’s clear from this consultation that, despite significant inroads and efforts to change the conversation and support the mental wellness of our sector, there is much for us all to do,“ she said.

One respondent told the survey that wellness concerns were often disregarded when their agency was chasing a pitch. “With mental wellbeing, I receive a lot of comms from HR on what support is available. But the reality is that when you are involved in a high-pressure client project (for example, a new business pitch), the behavior of the teams running these projects does not reflect mental wellbeing considerations. So the theory is there, but not the practice.”

Todd added: “Policies are not enough. We need consistent good practice and we need to work harder to create environments where all voices are heard and all individuals are comfortable to seek help when they are struggling.”

The All Ears survey found LGBTQ+ staff far more concerned about the reactions of colleagues; 46% said they could not ‘be themselves’ at work, compared with 69% of straight colleagues.

The survey’s findings also suggested staff in middle and senior management roles were being overrun. Just 34% of survey respondents said their line managers had successfully promoted mental wellness within their team; 43% said their own levels of stress and mental wellbeing had worsened after a new manager had taken over, while 51% said their managers seemed to be overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

Only 40% of senior managers surveyed said they had the tools to manage high workloads, while only 25% said they had the right tools to collaborate with colleagues. Although over 40% said they would go to their line manager to raise an issue first, the majority said managers were not equipped to help.

The study surveyed 1,200 advertising professionals and included a focus group stage. Nabs says its research shows a ‘disconnection’ between written policy and how agencies actually respond to mental wellness challenges.

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Lorraine Jennings-Creed, director of wellbeing services and culture change at Nabs, said: “Despite a good understanding across the industry about the importance of mental wellness, it can lose out on the list of priorities to commercial and other more measurable issues. The danger implicit in this is that it is precisely in those situations where commercial pressure is likely to be greatest that acute mental wellness issues are most likely to emerge.”

Demand for Nabs’s crisis services has risen 66% over the last three years, with ‘emotional support’ the top reason behind industry staffers’ requests for help. Calls to the organization’s hotline have been steadily increasing in recent years.

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