Public Relations

Marketing and PR's 'always on' culture is a mental health issue

By Stephen Waddington | chief engagement officer

January 22, 2016 | 5 min read

Public relations been named as the sixth most stressful job in the world.

Stephen Waddington

This rating was assigned by job site CareerCast after calculating 11 stress factors, including travel, deadlines, working under public scrutiny and with the public, physical demands and risks.

It’s great clickbait, guaranteed to cause excitement and sharing among marketing, media and PR types. But it's also bullshit.

A friend that works in a UK Accident & Emergency team asked how failing to resuscitate a drowned child, and then asking the parents about tissue donation, compared with my day job.

It was a good point, well made.

Stress is a function of an individual’s reaction to a situation that can be mitigated through training, experience and support.

There’s no off button

What marketing, media and public relations types do need to tackle is 'always on'.

Research from the PRCA last year reported that a third of practitioners had suffered bulimia, depression, anxiety, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here’s the issue. In marketing and PR 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 CEO, colleague, or client as you are anyone else.

The Chartered Institute of Management (CIM) reckons that mobile devices mean four out of five people work an extra hour each day because of these changes.

You can do the sums for yourself but the standard 25 day holiday allowance quickly becomes meaningless.

It gets worse. 1 in 10 of the 1,500 managers polled claimed to work an extra three hours per day.

This shift has been slow but consistent over the last 20 years.

Work/life balance? There’s just life

Broadband in the late nineties enabled home working which created the widely bought into myth of the work/life balance. This doesn’t exist. There’s just life now and how things blend.

Instead of adapting our working patterns we’ve simply worked more, and harder, rather than smarter.

We often take laptops home, check email and work on documents when we’ve left the office. It’s not good for us.

Neither does it set a good example for colleagues, especially junior colleagues that feel the need to follow suit in order to prove themselves.

The smartphone has only accelerated this trend. Our office tools are in our pockets and don’t even need switching on.

This decade is being defined by a media that never stops. There’s always another link to follow and you can never read it all. It’s exhausting if you don’t set limits.

Time out

The only solution is to take control of your technology and your job. Switching off and resting is a key means of managing stress whatever your profession.

Managers have a duty to lead by example, signal what their realistic expectations are, support staff who are showing signs of burn out and create a culture that actively helps people manage their time effectively.

As work intrudes into our lives, so our work must do more to support our lives.

Stephen Waddington is chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University. He tweets @wadds

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