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Techniques to help you maintain your mental health during lockdown

Last week, we discussed the toll the pandemic is taking on the mental health of PR workers. To help support people who may be struggling, agency leaders describe the steps you can take to look after the mental health of those you work with, as well as look after yourself.

Offer 24-hour support
Tim Lines, director of PR firm Nelson Bostock: “A lockdown was going to hurt at the best of times but, after the strangest and most challenging year in memory, it’s going to test us all. It is important to recognise that there is no one single approach to mental health. Our Employee Assistant Programme, which provides support and 24-hour counselling, is massively important. As is our culture of openness, teamwork and compassion.”

Think little and often
Tim Lines: “Just as important are the hundreds of small, but thoughtful, moments that we’ve created to engage different people at different times. From virtual yoga sessions and run clubs; to bake-along events with our resident ‘Masterchef’ and – most recently – encouraging teams to ‘tune in’ to recreate the hustle bustle of office life and lift our spirits over the coming weeks. You need to think ‘little and often’ to help your people feel connected, supported and cared for.”

Stay connected as often as possible
Tim Duncan, founder and MD of agency TDC PR: “If mental wellbeing was already a problem pre-Covid, the effects of this pandemic catalysed by remote working and increasing anxieties about job and financial security will have only compounded the issue. It’s imperative businesses do everything to make people feel connected. We hold weekly tea breaks via Zoom where team members get to chat about anything but work and eat food from Deliveroo, courtesy of the company. We hold daily morning check-ins to share information, ideas or request help on delivering projects. And we hold weekly shout-outs where we celebrate all wins – big and small. These are simple and effective measures for maintaining morale.” 

Alexander Clelland, director at PR agency Houston: “The key issue is connectivity and maintaining team morale. Thankfully, there are many ways to keep in touch – daily team video calls maintain a sense of belonging and these should be complemented with regular one-to-one video calls with a line manager. The first enables people to feel connected to the broader picture whilst the second allows people to share their issues in a safe space so actions can be taken to address any problems.”

Encourage people to talk
Alexander Clelland: “Make an employee aware of all the resources available to them, from HR consultations to mental health helplines and counselling services. What is key is a supportive culture that enables people to share their issues so they can be addressed. The risk is that people suffer in silence and the only way to combat this is through talking openly about the challenges.”

Chris Hughes, managing director of marketing and communications agency SQN: “This current lockdown presents different challenges to those faced earlier in the year. There will be a sense of déjà vu, but at this time of the year particularly, remote collaboration and emotional support will be even more vital.

“It’s important to find windows of time to clear the decks, to encourage non-work conversation and to listen to colleagues. Sometimes what’s not being said is more important than words. Check in with people regularly.”

Focus on new recruits
Chris Hughes: “New recruits need extra support; we know that junior members of staff learn more quickly when immersed in an active environment. It will be important to unite the team and to create virtual learning opportunities. We shouldn’t lock down opportunities for aspiring PR professionals to enter the industry.”

Use all the tools available
Chris Hughes: “Creativity tends to be the thing that suffers most when working apart. We all get a natural buzz when bouncing ideas around, and it’s difficult to replicate that on Zoom. Find ways to share ideas by exploiting the full potential of online collaborative tools and create an online space for creative thinking.”

Get outside
Jessica Pardoe, senior PR exec at PR and marketing agency Source: “PR is usually quite a hands-on job where you have meetings, go to events and so on. The shift to home working would have come as a surprise to many and with a second lockdown in the winter months this has probably disrupted many people’s mental health again. I think it’s important to try and get out during your lunch hour whilst it’s still light to get some sunlight and fresh air in the middle of the working day, this can also help you to be more productive. I also find it beneficial to get up and get ready in the morning as if I was still going to work, rather than staying in pyjamas. For me, this helps me be productive also and gives me a little slice of normality in this crazy world and these crazy times.”

Put mental health top of the agenda
Richard Merrin, MD at agency Spreckley PR: “Lockdown one seems like a weird dream. Glorious weather, warm, long days and daily mandated walks. That said, the pandemic exposed colleagues’ private lives in ways never experienced before. Mental health shot up the agency ‘to-do’ list and is a ‘must-have’ in this second lockdown.

“Mental health support services must be available for all employees. Make sure all are aware of services available and how get expert support from mental health professionals.

“We have set up a peer-to-peer check in service and we keep the office open for those who for whatever reason, cannot work at home. It is essential for some, for mental health reasons, to be able to work in a different environment.

“Back in March we instituted daily update calls, weekly quizzes, games and more. As lockdown lifted and the nights got lighter, these tailed off. Yet at an office ‘Town Hall’ meeting in September, everyone wanted our ‘virtual socials’ back. Socialising together has always been an important part of our culture. Simply because a culture of companionship and camaraderie are critical to positive mental health.”

Be flexible  
Victoria Usher, founder and CEO or PR agency GingerMay: “Promoting a healthy work-life balance has been at the heart of the agency since it was founded and our trained mental health first aiders are always on hand to give extra support, particularly during Covid. We know a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for everyone; flexibility and listening are key. We’ve implemented daily check-in calls, afternoon tea and chats sessions, and optional virtual socials to help relieve the pressure of working in the lockdown. More recently, the shorter days have taken priority so we’re supporting staff who want to take extended lunch breaks for some time outside in the daylight.” 

Five ideas

Sally Anne Butters, director at agency Rev PR, details five ways her agency looks after its people: “We’ve always run a video link – since I worked from the US for a month a few years ago – so everyone found this easy to adjust to when we had to work from home. The difference I see for this period is that we don’t have the light mornings and evenings to clear our heads with some exercise in the fresh air. So, my business partner Lucy Archer and I decided to extend the lunch break leaving everyone the time to eat and exercise in the daylight. Here’s a few other things we’re doing:

  • Clearly communicating the business position on a regular basis so staff are assured of their job security
  • Sending food deliveries for Fun Friday lunches
  • Booking in the date for our Christmas party – we’ll make something exciting happen whether lockdown eases on 2 December or not
  • Getting involved with Movember – even the office dogs have stick-on moustaches!

Before you support others, it is imperative to look after yourself. Isolation is tough, but PR is a people industry, and there are many you can reach out to who are happy to listen. For more help and advice, access the PRCA Mental Health Toolkit, which includes lists of helplines you can call. Self-care is important as we are all going through difficult times right now.

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