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Mental health typically managed as a performance issue in public relations

A #FuturePRoof report published by the PRCA explores the mental health of the public relations profession.

I’ve chaired a #FuturePRoof project on behalf of the PRCA for the past 12 months.

Our first project investigated the future of the public relations agency. Today we’re publishing a report exploring mental health within the public relations profession.

The defining moment for the project for me came during the research phase when a friend contacted me via Facebook Messenger. He shared an employment contract that cited mental illness as grounds for dismissal.

It’s an extreme example of how mental illness is managed within the public relations. It’s also illegal.

But the reality is that mental illness in public relations profession is frequently ignored, or managed as a line management or performance issue.

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.

We’re publishing the report under a Creative Commons licence. We hope that you find it useful. Please share, reuse and remix the content.

Recommendations for employers

The report makes three recommendations for employers and managers.

  1. The cost of mental health to public relations and the broader business community is well known. Make mental health and wellbeing a management 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.

“We fully support the recommendations in this report. The industry still operates on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and unfortunately this report highlights the stigma surrounding mental health. We know that improving mental health and wellbeing among employees is a key business issue yet many organisations have been slow to implement mental health management policies,” said Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA.

“It is important to talk about this issue, but we need action as well. The PRCA will be campaigning on raising awareness about mental health and more importantly we will be working with key players in the industry to deliver a programme on how to tackle the issue.”

As part of our investigation #FuturePRoof carried out qualitative and quantitative research, engaging with practitioners ranging from assistants and interns to communication directors and managing directors.

A wide range of issues were identified as symptoms of poor mental health in the workplace ranging from absentmindedness to anxiety, and from anger to depression.

Attributing 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.

The report found that 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.

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.

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; subsidised exercise; mental health awareness training; and wellness action plans.

Cost of mental health to public relations

It’s not hard to quantify impact of mental health on the public relations profession or the broader UK economy. Indeed, data highlighted by recent surveys prompted the #FuturePRoof report.

30% of respondents in the 2016 CIPR State of the Profession Survey stated 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 reported 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.

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 all the contributors and in particular the support of Paul Sutton, Chris Owen, Carol Featherstone and Julia Fenwick.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

2 Comments

  1. Stephen, we’ll discuss this important issue at our next CIPR Wessex committee and get an activity planned for members. Philip Tutt, at 360 Integrated PR in Hampshire, has written today to recommend a MHFA England trainer called Peter Larkum based in Winchester. He can help PR agencies with an awareness session or training. If anyone’s interested here is his professional profile: https://mhfaengland.org/profile/?id=bc2491ec-71aa-e611-80ed-c4346badb184.

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