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Sarah Hall and Stephen Waddington
February 2017
Exploring the mental wellbeing of the
public relations profession
A # F u ...
03	 Investigating the mental health of the public relations profession
04	 Characterising mental health in public relation...
Investigating the mental health of the public
relations profession
3
Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relation...
Characterising mental health in
public relations
4
Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #Fu...
Respondents cited a wide variety of means for managing their
wellbeing. These included health and fitness including cyclin...
When asked about whether they’d be willing to talk about their mental
health with a line manager, 37.7% said they would be...
35.8% respondents reported that their organisation had workplace
schemes aimed at enhancing the mental health and wellbein...
#FuturePRoof invited 120 practitioners to participate in an
online survey as part of the six-month project between July an...
Video: Managing mental health in
public relations
In addition to this report #FuturePRoof has published a video
based on i...
the end of my first year with the company, I was asked to leave without
so much as a warning.
A few years later I was work...
It made me realise that there is a huge problem in the communications
industry, and that the only way to address it is to ...
Recommendations
Mental health as a management issue
1. The cost of mental health to public relations and the broader
busin...
Signposts to best practice
If you’re an individual:
1. A guide to seeking help for a mental health problem, MIND
2. Beat s...
Thank you
#FuturePRoof would like to thank everyone involved in this project.
Mental health in the workplace is a sensitiv...
This report was researched and written by #FuturePRoof’s Sarah Hall
and Stephen Waddington.
Sarah Hall is the managing dir...
About #FuturePRoof
This is the second report produced for the PRCA by #FuturePRoof. The
first report explored the future o...
About PRCA
Who we are: Founded in 1969, the Public Relations and
Communications Association (PRCA) is a UK-based PR and
co...
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Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession

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The #FuturePRoof report lifts the lid on mental health in the public relations profession, and attempts to characterise the issue, signpost potential solutions, and identify best practice.

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Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession

  1. 1. Sarah Hall and Stephen Waddington February 2017 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A # F u t u r e P R o o f r e p o r t f o r t h e P R C A
  2. 2. 03 Investigating the mental health of the public relations profession 04 Characterising mental health in public relations 05 Describing mental health in the workplace 06 Conversations around mental health in the workplace 07 Policies and procedures 08 Methodology 09 Video: Managing mental health in public relations 10 Paul Sutton on tackling mental health in public relations 12 Recommendations 13 Signposts to best practice 14 Thank you 15 Authors 16 About #FuturePRoof 17 About PRCA 2 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA Contents Click on the chapter or section header to go directly to that page. You can return to the contents at any point by clicking on the icon in the top right hand corner of each page.
  3. 3. Investigating the mental health of the public relations profession 3 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA This #FuturePRoof report lifts the lid on mental health in the public relations profession and attempts to characterise the issue, signpost potential solutions and identify best practice. Mental illness in the public relations profession is frequently ignored, or managed as a line management or performance issue. This is the key finding of a #FuturePRoof project that explored mental health within the business of communication and public relations on behalf of the PRCA. #FuturePRoof is a community and series of books that asserts the value of public relations as a management discipline and address issues within the profession. Mental health in the public relations profession was first explored for the community by Paul Sutton in an essay for the second edition of #FuturePRoof. We’re grateful for Paul’s contribution to this report. As part of its investigation #FuturePRoof carried out qualitative and quantitative research, engaging with practitioners ranging from assistants and interns to communication directors and managing directors. It also sought out the expertise of human resources (HR) managers and health care professionals. #FuturePRoof secured the participation of 120 practitioners in an online survey as part of the six-month project between July and December 2016. Participants self-selected having either experienced poor mental health during their career, or had experience of managing mental health within the workplace. The project also sought out qualitative insight from a range of professionals on proactive approaches to managing mental health in the workplace. Their comments form the basis of this report.
  4. 4. Characterising mental health in public relations 4 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA It’s not hard to quantify the impact of mental health on the public relations profession or the broader UK economy. Indeed, data highlighted by recent surveys prompted this report. 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. Mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion per year while the annual cost of presenteeism is twice that of absenteeism. Meanwhile, the cost of losing a single employee can be as much as 60% of that employee’s salary. Much of these costs are incurred not through healthcare, benefits, recruitment or training, but lost productivity. “There’s a chasm between how much mental health is talked about and how much it exists. Towards the end of my twenties I was signed off with anxiety, stress and depression. I sent myself to rehab to address all the problems that my alcohol problem was fuelling. “Today I have a handle on my sobriety, acknowledge my mental health issues and am aware of what the triggers might be. It sounds really simple and it’s not but just encouraging people to talk about it is the best thing anyone can do.” Chris Owen, Director and Head of Technology and Innovation, M&C Saatchi PR.
  5. 5. 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 and sleep, as well as moderating alcohol and managing diet. Mechanisms for managing prolonged periods of mental illness included counselling, including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy, and medication. Describing mental health in the workplace #FuturePRoof identified a wide range of issues were attributable to symptoms of poor mental health in the workplace, ranging from absentmindedness to anxiety, and from anger to depression. Contributing 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 is 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. 5 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  6. 6. 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. “The issue of mental health is really stigmatised. It should be treated like someone has a broken leg or another illness but when people try and express issues, it’s not looked at this way. It’s seen as something that’s wrong with you. Actually sometimes it’s not always an illness; people just need a bit of help at one time to see them through.” Julia Fenwick, Headhunter and Talent Resourcer, Bold Move. Conversations around mental health in the workplace 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. 6 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  7. 7. 35.8% respondents reported that their organisation had workplace schemes aimed at enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of staff. These included employee assistant programmes (EAP); subsidised exercise; mental health awareness training; and wellness action plans. “Burnout is when stress is at its worst. It’s mental, physical and emotional, and affects the person in every area of their life. They lose confidence, feel they can’t function any more and they basically have to stop. “Individuals need to be self-aware about whether they’re seriously stressed and get help. No longer are weekends and evenings sacrosanct, especially in an industry such as public relations, where it’s almost expected people are on call 24/7. “Big organisations very often have things in place like Occupational Health and EAP programmes or even a counsellor on site, but smaller organisations need to try and have a preventative procedure in place. Managers should be alert to employees’ behaviours as the clues will be there. There will be poor performance and people taking long periods off sick.” Carol Featherstone, Relate-trained Counsellor and Therapist. Policies and procedures 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 which had procedures in place, and those that had retained HR support or a HR department. The #FuturePRoof project uncovered an extreme example of mental illness cited as grounds for dismissal in an employment contract. This breaches employment legislation. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of gender, age or disability. Mental health falls under the category of disability. There is evidence that progressive organisations are tackling the issue of mental health in the workplace head on. 7 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  8. 8. #FuturePRoof invited 120 practitioners to participate in an online survey as part of the six-month project between July and December 2016. Participants self-selected having either experienced poor mental health during their career, or had experience of managing mental health within the workplace. Mental health appears to have no respect for role or seniority. 18.3% of respondents reported working in public relations for less than 3 years; 24.2%, 4 to 10 years; 28.3%, 11 to 20 years; and 29.2%, more than 20 years. In house roles varied from assistant to European communications director. Agency roles varied from intern to managing director. Methodology 28.3% 11 to 20 years 18.3% less than 3 years 24.2% 4 to 10 years 29.2% more than 20 years 8 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  9. 9. Video: Managing mental health in public relations In addition to this report #FuturePRoof has published a video based on interviews with contributors. The team interviewed public relations practitioners who have experienced mental health issues in the workplace including Paul Sutton and Chris Owen. Advice was also sought from Relate-trained counsellor and psychotherapist Carol Featherstone. Carol’s insights characterise mental illness in the workplace and suggest proactive steps to improve health and wellbeing. You can view the video via this embedded link. 9 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  10. 10. the end of my first year with the company, I was asked to leave without so much as a warning. A few years later I was working part-time for another agency, the leader of which believed in 110% commitment at all times. Life outside of work didn’t really exist as far as they were concerned, and the pressure and stress that created among the staff was incredible. The toxic environment started to affect me and I left of my own accord. It took me the best part of a decade to talk about my experiences with depression to anyone outside of my family. But when I did, the reaction I received was amazing. And the more I was open about it, the more support I received and the more people contacted me to talk about their own issues. Paul Sutton on tackling mental health in public relations You approach the issue of wellbeing from a very personal perspective. What’s your story? I’ve worked in marketing communications for 20 years, mostly in an agency environment but now as an independent digital media consultant. Back in late 2004 I was diagnosed with clinical depression after the break up of my first marriage though, with hindsight, I can trace it back a lot further than that. I didn’t disclose the diagnosis to my employer, though they did know all about my personal circumstances. In common with many suffering from depression, my performance suffered over the next few months; my motivation and productivity were both down. And then, just before 10 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA In this candid case study Paul Sutton shares his personal story of managing mental health.
  11. 11. It made me realise that there is a huge problem in the communications industry, and that the only way to address it is to be very open and honest and to tell personal stories that others can relate to and empathise with. How do you manage your own mental health in the workplace? In some ways I’m fortunate now that I work for myself. So if I’m having a bad day for whatever reason I can give myself licence to take it easy. But regardless of that, my approach is to understand the way I personally react to stress and pressure, whether that comes from my personal life or from work, and to recognise if I behave in certain way. I’ve learned to spot the signs of depression relatively early and to act upon them. There are things you can do to help yourself, from removing yourself from situations to making dietary changes and exercise, through to talking to a counsellor and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). My top advice to anyone who’s suffering from stress, anxiety or depression of any kind is to talk to someone about it. It took me many years to learn that. Admitting you’re struggling is not a sign of weakness; if anything it takes strength and courage to do. So find someone you can talk to who won’t judge you, who will listen and who understands that their role is not to solve your problem but just to be there for you. It could be a friend, a work colleague, a family member or a professional. I’m very lucky in that I have an incredible wife who is amazingly understanding and supportive but who’ll also give me a kick up the arse if I need it. As a result, I don’t let my mental health affect my work in any way. Why do we get mental well-being so wrong when it seemingly affects so many people? It’s difficult to answer this with any certainty, but public relations is a stressful career; as a profession it always ranks up there with airline pilots and police officers and firefighters. Given that, you’d think we’d be all over it, right? But my belief is that the communications industry has always put the job first and people second. There exists a very strong ‘yes culture’, where no ridiculous deadline is unachievable and no unrealistic expectation is too much trouble. Personal lives and issues take a back seat. It’s a historic thing that’s not changed in all my time working in marketing communications. To compound that, senior communications people aren’t trained to recognise the signs of stress or to manage issues. Quite simply, we don’t know how to deal with personal stress and pressure, and that’s where the real problem lies. It’s not the fact that public relations is a stressful career that’s really the problem, it’s the fact that we don’t try and manage that. Pushing people too hard leads to emotional trauma; stress, anxiety, depression and ultimately burnout. Just look at the churn rates in PR. If management personnel knew a) how to recognise when someone is suffering from a mental health issue, and b) what to do about it, that would go a long, long way to solving the problem. 11 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  12. 12. Recommendations Mental health as a 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 priority 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 this report. Small organisations should consider retaining specialised support. Best practice for 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 and work lives of your employees that may otherwise have been eroded by 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 for mental health and wellbeing include: employee assistance programmes; subsidised exercise; mental health awareness training; and wellness action plans. 12 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA #FuturePRoof has identified six recommendations for public relations practitioners.
  13. 13. Signposts to best practice If you’re an individual: 1. A guide to seeking help for a mental health problem, MIND 2. Beat stress at work, NHS Choices 3. Carol Featherstone Counselling 4. Company culture: Managing stress, presenteeism and mental health, Paul Sutton, #FuturePRoof If you’re an employer: 1. Workplace training, Samaritans 2. Mental health at work, MIND 3. Mental health for employers, Business in the Community 13 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  14. 14. Thank you #FuturePRoof would like to thank everyone involved in this project. Mental health in the workplace is a sensitive issue that we have only been able to address thanks to the support of Paul Sutton, Chris Owen, Carol Featherstone and Julia Fenwick. 14 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  15. 15. This report was researched and written by #FuturePRoof’s Sarah Hall and Stephen Waddington. Sarah Hall is the managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting, a North East-based agency, and President-Elect of the CIPR. Stephen Waddington is Partner and Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice at Newcastle University. Authors 15 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  16. 16. About #FuturePRoof This is the second report produced for the PRCA by #FuturePRoof. The first report explored the future of the public relations agency. #FuturePRoof is a community with the bold ambition of asserting the value of public relations. With two books curated and edited by Sarah Hall (@hallmeister), the community has kickstarted the biggest conversation ever about the future of public relations practice. Find out more at www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk, follow @weareproofed and join the community on Facebook. 16 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
  17. 17. About PRCA Who we are: Founded in 1969, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) is a UK-based PR and communications membership body, operating in 48 countries around the world. We represent in excess of 20,000 people across the whole range of the PR and communications industry. The PRCA promotes all aspects of public relations and communications work, helping teams and individuals maximise the value they deliver to clients and organisations. What we do: The Association exists to raise standards in PR and communications, providing members with industry data, facilitating the sharing of communications best practice and creating networking opportunities. How we do it and make a difference: All PRCA members are bound by a professional charter and codes of conduct, and benefit from exceptional training. The Association also works for the greater benefit of the industry, sharing best practice and lobbying on the industry’s behalf e.g. fighting the NLA’s digital licence. 17 Exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession A #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA
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