How to counteract stress in PR

I recently spotted a list that ranks PR amongst the top 10 most stressful and deadline-intensive types of work; along with a career in the military, or being a pilot or firefighter. I suspect most of us would be flattering ourselves if we think our day to day has the equivalent cortisol impact as jumping out a plane into a warzone, but those of us that have lived a full spectrum of agency experiences probably have a sense of where this is coming from.

Increasing pace

For most professionals, the pace of work has accelerated in sync with Moore’s Law, on other words it keeps doubling! In a business that aims to help clients rapidly respond to the fluid world around them, it can be tough to switch off. Other businesses sell products, We sell ideas. And as we all know, creativity can strike at any moment. In a world in which our phones make it possible to be connected 24/7, it’s understandable that people can be sucked into an ‘always-on’ mentality.

The modern reality is that a career is a marathon, not a sprint – especially considering that the newest generation coming into the workplace is now expecting to work for 50-60 years (according to research from Willis Towers Watson).

Safeguard health

Fortunately, as a society we’re growing increasingly more conscious of the importance of wellbeing, in both our personal and our professional lives. This rightfully pressures employers to put systems in place to safeguard their employees’ mental health.

The goal of every business leader should be to create an environment where people are empowered to deliver the best work of their lives. If we’re not doing that, then why are we getting out of bed in the morning?

Caring tactics

So as employers, how do we go about facilitating this? Creating space and time not only for your teams to connect, but also to show that they are valued, is vital. Regular, scheduled events for employees to bond are helpful, but the effort needs to run deeper than a quick pint on Thursdays.

With remote working and a globalised economy, the lines between home life and work life are increasingly blurred. Resisting this is futile, whilst accepting it can be fundamentally empowering for employees and employers. In our blurry world, enabling people to be themselves at work, and feel as liberated at the office as they do amongst their friends, can result in a culture that looks far readier to adapt itself to modern challenges than the rigid ‘professional’ environments of the past.

Blameless culture

All modern businesses talk about the embrace of failure as a learning opportunity, but very few truly understand how to instil a blameless culture. Failure isn’t an objective, of course, quite the opposite, but creating a space where it is safe not only to muck up, but then to talk about it, is key. Like a black box on a plane, acknowledged faults lead to improvements. We’ve seen the opposite happen in medical cultures where failure has become a taboo, and learning stymied as a result. For agency employees, the opportunity to take considered risks and know the boss has their back is liberating; fear of a bollocking or, more corrosively, being shamed creates a fearful environment in which no one is prepared to put themselves on the line. Good luck finding innovative ideas there.

Navigating conflict

Going deeper still, one of the biggest stressors in our line of work is navigating conflict, whether that be with clients, competitors or each other. Nature makes us want to flee from conflict, and embracing it goes against most people’s nature to want to please. But embrace it we must. That feeling in your gut to run? Or fight? Or tell a white lie? That’s a monster to be tamed.

I’ve spent years learning how to have fierce conversations with clients and I’ve seen the revelatory effects of seeing positive conflict resolution as a muscle that needs training. If you can instil a belief in your team to act as true consultants to their clients, empowering them and trusting them – whatever their age or status within the business – to have adult to adult conversations, you’ll develop a team with gravitas and confidence beyond it’s experience. And it will have a commensurate impact on their relationships, their job satisfaction and their stress levels.

Confident consultants

All of this human stuff? If nothing else, think about it from a client perspective. Consultants seen as confident and more relaxed will be afforded greater trust and opportunities, and produce better outcomes in their work – making your business more successful culturally and commercially.

So don’t teach your teams to fear clients and deadlines. In a line paraphrased from the marines – trust them and give them the tools to do the right thing when nobody’s looking.

Written by Liam Fay-Fright, founder of independent communications company Common Industry.