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Communication and culture are the keys to better mental health in our industry

This week, The Drum released the results of a survey that found the mental health of many marketers had become worse since the onset of the pandemic – and that many thought employers weren’t doing enough to help. Here, Nicky Harris of Nabs discusses what the industry can do to step up.

It’s hugely worrying, although not surprising, that so many respondents to The Drum’s survey reported that their mental health worsened during the pandemic. People across our industry have been managing home and work life simultaneously, with home schooling, caring responsibilities and the pressures of online presenteeism all having a huge impact on mental health. The constant changes we’ve all had to cope with have created an additional level of anxiety on top.

Clearly, our industry has a huge wellbeing challenge. And the survey results point to something as worrying as this challenge itself: the fact that so many people say that they have not been offered mental health support.

Nabs is the support organization for our industry. We know first-hand that there is help out there, through our own services and through that of many of our partner organizations who offer brilliant support for their employees. The problem is down to culture and a lack of open communication. People have to feel safe in seeking out help, and they have to know who and where to go to. If your company isn’t making that happen, then you have urgent work to do in moving your policies into actionable support.

There is still, frustratingly, a stigma around mental health in some quarters of our industry, as well as society, which acts as a barrier to people seeking out support. Together we need to stop this stigma. Employers and leaders must create cultures where talking about mental health is normalized, appreciated, supported and evidenced not to hold your career back.

How? Firstly, role modelling. Those at the top need to talk about how they seek support for their own mental and emotional health. Across your organization, create safe spaces for conversations about wellbeing. Make yours a culture where mental health is seen as essential, and reaching out for support is viewed warmly and positively. Enable people to discuss their issues safely, in confidence, but at the same time encourage those who want to speak openly to do so. We need as many mental health advocates as possible to encourage those who are struggling in silence to reach out.

Communication is also crucial. There’s no point having mental health support if people don’t know how to access it. Signpost to support wherever you can, and give people the time and resources to access it. At Nabs, our team members are encouraged to access our services during their working day, should they need to.

It is a huge warning sign that respondents said workload was their biggest mental health issue, but just eight per cent had been offered the chance to reduce their workload. If managers don’t address this, we’ll face an even bigger mental health crisis. This is a key point post-pandemic. Nabs’ own Q1 usage statistics revealed that the long-term impact of last year is having significant effects. Tighter budgets, leaner teams and less people doing more are prevalent, leading to bigger workloads for so many. Managers have to listen to their teams and take practical action here. Otherwise burnout, anxiety, stress and pressure will build up, with dire consequences.

We acknowledge the increased pressure on managers to cope with the problems caused by the pandemic. They need more tools and guidance to help support their teams with their complex issues. Crucially, they need to develop a management style based on empathy and the ability to listen. Adopting a person-centered approach, where wellbeing is central, and communicating mental health support in an accessible and encouraging way are the only ways that we can fix the serious issues highlighted in the survey.

Nicky Harris is director of strategy and development, Nabs