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Let's talk: Employees and employers on mental wellbeing in PR

In recognition of mental health week, we reached out to both employees and employers across the PR world to offer their experiences and advice for individuals and agencies to help look after their mental health.

PR can be a particularly challenging place for employee mental health

Hannah Devoy, creative director and mental health lead at PR agency Missive: “Working in PR will always be challenging because there’s so much outside our control and juggling heavy workloads and competing priorities can be hard. That’s a lot to contend with for anyone, let alone for someone who is suffering from mental illness.

“For me, a few things have helped. Flexible working and being able to decide when I work from home have been invaluable. When I’m at my worst, it gives me space to do my work in the comfort of my own home without having to force a smile (which can be exhausting). In the office, having space for people to move away from their desks to work is also helpful.

“One of the most important things for me is knowing that I can speak to peers and my employers without judgement. Sometimes, knowing someone else knows and that they care is enough. It’s also so important that once I tell people, they don’t treat me differently. I don’t want people to make decisions about my workload or tip-toe around me because I’ve said that I’m depressed. “

Switching off is crucial

Tom Roden, associate vice president at PR agency FINN Partners’ Technology Practice and lead mental health coordinator for the CIPR: "The latest PR mental wellbeing audit found 91% of practitioners experienced poor mental health, in part due to overwhelming workloads and stress in an industry perceived as ‘always-on’. It may be the norm now, but we should not normalise it.

“Setting clear boundaries between personal and professional life is tremendously helpful. Of course, it’s not as easy as flicking a switch and suddenly ignoring out-of-hours emails or removing Teams from your phone. For me, disabling email push notifications after certain times was a helpful first step in giving myself permission to switch off from work.

“Employers fostering company cultures that discourage - but not demonise - an ‘always-on’ approach to work are the gold standard for supporting teams to better mental wellbeing. Alongside truly flexible work policies, this culture creates fairer workloads and helps staff feel less guilty about taking time to unplug and recharge outside of office hours.”

Listen to your team…

Erin Softley, account manager and mental health first responder at agency Eden PR: “As an employee, I think the most important thing an employer can do is listen to their team. In the last year, Eden has established a quarterly mental health survey sent to all staff members to gather feedback and suggestions on how it can further its Mental Health at Work strategy.

“Signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment came in response to this feedback, and Eden is now exploring other wellbeing initiatives to provide resources for its team - small changes like implementing wellbeing apps, ‘positivity postcards’, and breathing exercises often have the biggest differences.

“We know it can be hard to talk about mental health and seek support, which is why public commitments such as the Mental Health at Work Commitment are so important.”

… and offer them opportunities to communicate

Emily Winsor-Russell, director and head of new business at agency Eden PR: “The health and happiness of your team should be of paramount importance - it certainly is to us at Eden.

“Having recently established our first Employee Wellbeing programme, which includes regular scheduled 1-2-1 meetings, monthly staff socials and trained Mental Health First Responders (MHFR), signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment has been the next step, equipping us with the resources and infrastructure needed to go the extra mile for our team.”

Communication and work life balance are key

Harry Thomson, account director at PR agency Storm Communications: “PR thrives on its fast-paced energy, but it’s important to recognise that maintaining this pace requires more than individual resilience. Open communication and work-life balance aren’t just buzzwords, they’re the cornerstones of a healthy agency.

“As with most professions, there are exceptionally busy periods, but by proactively supporting teams and fostering an environment where everyone feels empowered to speak up, we build a stronger, more sustainable business. When the people thrive, so does the work.”

Supporting personal development is a crucial part of mental wellbeing

Hayley Knight, Co-founder & Communications Director at PR agency BE YELLOW: “I’m a PR Director who struggles with mental health, so supporting our team is essential at our agency, and we implement initiatives that do this.

“We are fully remote and offer 4-day work weeks, which proves incredibly effective in managing mental health. The free day is for professional and personal development, reduces stress and exhaustion, and improves happiness and focus. remote work reduces stress and anxiety and improves work-life balance and motivation.

“We also have a wellbeing policy. This sets boundaries between the team and clients, sets communication hours, and limits calls/meetings.

“As a leader, it’s so important to be transparent about mental health, to lead empathetically. Being honest creates a safe space, which encourages employees to share too. This makes them feel valued, understood and heard. We also extend this safe space to our clients.”

Look to shape the company culture from the ground up

Ruby Kite, talent & inclusion lead at PR agency The PHA Group: “Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes, as should employers’ initiatives to support their employees during and beyond this important awareness week. Although the recession is over, the cost of living crisis lives on, so agencies should consider adding financial well-being benefits to their offering, from expert-led workshops and app subscriptions to salary sacrifice schemes and counselling through EAPs.

“However, the benefit of such measures is limited if employers are unable to build and maintain a culture that positively impacts employees’ mental health day-to-day. Do new starters know who to speak to if there is a conflict in the workplace? And are managers trained in dealing with sensitive situations? Do individuals from all social identity groups feel that they belong? And is everyone treated equitably at each stage of the employee lifecycle?

“Reviewing the policies, practices, and processes that shape their culture will enable agencies to better support employees’ mental health from the ground up, rather than trying to paper over the cracks after the damage is done.”

Going solo doesn’t mean going alone

Media trainer Guy Clapperton says: “Asking about mental health from the employer or employee level overlooks the hordes of solo players, whether they’re bona fide freelancers or someone building a company. Isolation is part of the job and it’s important to look after yourself. Find some like-minded colleagues. Get help where needed or desirable."

A holistic approach is most effective from employers

Kate Jelonek, head of people and culture at PR agency Clarity PR: "We believe in fostering an environment of openness and transparency, where line managers are well-trained to provide support and that all employees can identify and address mental health challenges at work.

'At Clarity, we place a strong emphasis on mental health awareness by offering Employee Assistance Programmes, Private Medical, and Mental Health First Aiders for employee support. Our goal is to create a culture where employees feel safe and empowered to discuss their mental health openly, to support this we conduct quarterly sessions for all employees to help them recognise signs of mental health challenges at work, allowing us to support our colleagues at an earlier stage. We also provide regular updates through our dedicated HR software, Lattice, to prevent issues from accumulating and encourage regular one-on-one check-ins to address problems promptly."

Crucially, it takes both parties to keep everyone's mental health in check. Just like outside of the PR world - speak to your peers and look after each other!

Written by Alex Beach, acting features editor at PRmoment.

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