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Advice on how to maintain your mental health in the fast paced environment of public relations

Modern public relations is fast paced and full of opportunities but that means if can be a challenge to switch off. So it's not easy to maintain your mental health in PR right now. 

PRs always have to stay abreast of the news and it can be hard not to let it get to you. Also, many are still working from home which has its own pressures, conversely going back to the office can be a shock after having got used to the flexibility of home working. Here agency chiefs describe how they support their people, whilst one PR describes how she manages to switch off.

First of all, spot who is struggling

Emma Franklin-Wright, senior associate director in PR agency Hill+Knowlton strategies entertainment team, and WPP mental health ally: “One of the big challenges about working from home is it can be really hard to spot if people are struggling. Previously, you could see who is at their desk later than anyone else or who’s energy has changed and pull them to one side. We’re more reliant now on people asking for help themselves, which we know can be really hard, so we try to create safe accessible spaces for people to do so. Last year, WPP trained hundreds of people across our network as mental health allies, including a number at H+K London. They’re fully searchable on the WPP Directory so if you want to speak to someone outside your ‘home agency’ you can, and can search to find someone who might be best able to empathise with you be it because of the sector you work in, the level you are at, or shared life experiences.”

Make sure people feel valued

Jules Day, deputy managing director at communications agency Citizen Relations: “My mum once worked in ‘personnel’ and was horrified at the reframing to ‘human resources’ - too often in PR it feels like you’re more resource and less human. For me, a mentally healthy workplace starts with feeling that you are valued; knowing that you are viewed as a whole person. We pride ourselves on knowing people and, when it comes to our team, we really take that to heart. We’re working hard to enable our people to advocate for their own mental health, identifying what they need and being able to ask for it, providing allies and safe spaces to talk.”

Offer mental health therapy

Tony Garner, MD of agency Viva PR: “We recognise humans do the work here, not machines, so we’ve wrapped a supportive culture around them. We’ve taken huge steps to make health and wellbeing central to who we are. We employ a health and wellbeing manager to firmly embed it into our culture.”

Garner lists many initiatives, including: “everyone gets £40 monthly to spend on their own health and wellbeing, and we use another platform to provide expert workplace mental health therapy sessions. I genuinely think the latter is one of the best things I’ve ever done for the team.”

Put a programme in place

Sinéad Gray, joint managing director at PR agency Kindred: “Our mental health programme provides a range of proactive prevention and crisis management support. This includes initiatives from our annual £150pp Wellness Fund - to be spent on anything that will improve overall wellbeing - to a Weekly Wellness Hour for staff to boost their mood. Our ‘getting to know you’ forms tell us how people like to work so we can best support them from day one, and in trickier times our Mental Health Action Plans and Breathing Space policy are there to help with targeted support when staff are experiencing periods of poor mental health. Everything is underpinned with open conversation in line with our 'we bring our whole selves to work' company value.”

Offer flexibility and support

Gareth Hoyle, managing director of agency Marketing Signals: “Our flexible working policy means everyone is free to take time out when they need to. Whether it's to go for a walk, pick the kids up, have a coffee with a friend or take a long lunch. I also make sure that I’m available throughout the day if anyone needs extra support and my team has regular one-to-ones with their managers. This helps them open up about any issues they may be having, feel connected and creates a supportive environment.”

Stand as a team

Chloe Murray, PR manager at marketing agency Fox Agency: “We’re stronger when we stand together, so creating a sense of team is a key aspect to supporting the mental wellbeing of a company.

“Our colleagues are often facing very similar strains to ourselves so being comfortable enough within a team to share your concerns can often lead to finding support from someone who understands exactly what you’re going through.

“Activities to bring teams together, whether in person or virtually, work to break down barriers so our colleagues become more like friends we can confide in when we need to. We also have a fully trained mental health first aider in the team who is dedicated to providing support to those in need.”

Put your money where your mouth is

Susie James, senior communications consultant at marketing agency Hard Numbers: "As ways of working adapt, it’s important that employee welfare is the priority. We’re investing heavily in mental health first aid training for our senior members of staff. We also offer staff a subscription to the Headspace app for meditation and mindfulness to support their wellbeing and, as we move back to office working two days a week, we’re trying our best to make the transition as easy as possible. This includes having a regular company-provided lunch (yesterday was gourmet fish finger sandwiches!).”

Nick Braund, founder at startup agency for startups Words + Pixels “Supporting our team is essential to everything we do. It’s one of our four company values. We all have a duty to help each other be their best selves, especially during challenging times. 

“Since launching, we’ve offered our staff numerous initiatives such as private healthcare, a personalised wellbeing platform providing healthy food and fitness classes to wellbeing consultations and sleep therapy, as well as monthly journalist masterclass. When the rise of inflation was announced, we immediately increased all salaries by 6%. We champion the team at our regular awards, train our managers on mental health first aid and have just booked our (secret) annual retreat for the summer. 

“With so much going on in the world right now, none of these things should be seen as ‘perks’ - being a good employer means supporting your team on things that can impact both in and outside of ‘office hours’.“

Enable people to take action

Kam White, global head of people and culture at PR agency Hotwire Global: “When the news gets hard, we encourage our employees to speak up and express themselves. Most recently, our Slack channels have been full of messages of support for Ukraine and those who have family or friends affected. Many of our employees also want to do something practical to help, and we are offering two additional volunteering days to anyone who specifically wants to help those affected by the crisis in Ukraine - for example, volunteering at local donation centres.”

Recognise significant life moments

Kam White: “We are improving our mental health support around starting a family and pregnancy, as these are significant life events which can have an impact on wellbeing. We are proud to be increasing paid paternity leave, offering support for those experiencing fertility issues and baby loss, and access to private health care for women during menopause.”

Tailor initiatives to individuals

Natalie Luke, MD and founder of agency Aduro Communications: “The transition for the team as they leave their home offices and adapt to a hybrid, balancing work/home has presented challenges for some individuals. As an agency leader there is a huge weight of responsibility for pastoral care, to ensure that everyone feels looked after and is checked in on and the answer for us is simple: it’s personal and has to be tailored to the individual. Our one-on-one health check-ups ask ‘how are you today?’ allowing staff to circle a heart colour: Great ❤️, feeling ok 💛, or having a hard time 💙.”

How I switch off

Jessica Pardoe, account manager at agency Source PR: “Switching off and taking time away from the media is so important for your mental health in PR. There’s a big misconception that you must always have an ‘always on’ approach and whilst of course staying abreast of the news is important, so is mental health - and employees that are ‘always on’ are ultimately no good if they’re completely burnt out!

“Spend your morning when you clock in looking at the news cycle and on social media, but also don’t feel a pressure to continue to absorb it throughout the evenings and weekends. Whilst we in PR are definitely often superstars, we’re also only human and it’s so important to switch off. Though I’m active on social media outside of my working hours, I try to have a quiet hour where I can to give my brain a break, and definitely no work emails on phones.”

Now that spring has definitely arrived, it is important that we all appreciate nature around us and remember to live in the moment. The world may not feel like a safe place right now, but that is all the more reason to look after ourselves, and those around us.

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