Mental health at work no longer a taboo

Mental health at work no longer a taboo

High performing organisations recognise the need to support employees in managing mental health and wellbeing but individuals must also take personal responsibility.

Two years ago Sarah Hall and I investigated the issue of mental health in public relations for a #FuturePRoof report published by the PRCA. We found that mental illness in the public relations profession was frequently ignored or managed as a line management or performance issue.

It’s a different situation two years on. Mental health is cited as one of the top issues impacting the profession. It is firmly on the agenda of industry bodies and progressive organisations are talking steps to address it for employees.

The managers of agencies and in-house teams have recognised mental health and wellbeing as critical to retention, utilisation and good work. Bold creative and excellent campaigns cannot be delivered by an organisation with a sick culture.

“The big change is that mental health is no longer taboo - or at least no longer taboo for a great many more employers. It’s increasingly treated like the normal issue of daily life that it is, to be addressed rather than ignored or stigmatised,” said Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA.

Characterising the issue

Mental health is a conversation that is getting louder and louder. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Countless organisations have joined the conversation around the issue.

Public relations can be a stressful occupation. We work in an always on environment, often as an intermediary between stakeholders with very different expectations. If you work in issues and crisis it can be especially acute.

The CIPR State of the Profession reported that around a quarter of public relations practitioners have taken sickness absence from work on the grounds of stress, anxiety or depression.

The PRCA suggests a bigger issue. Its Census last week reported that almost a third of people working in public relations are suffering with or have been diagnosed with mental ill health.

“If as an industry we have a third of practitioners suffering with poor mental health, we’re clearly not dealing with this quickly or assertively enough. Organisations need to resource their teams properly, stop cutting corners to chase margin and remember what matters – people,” said Sarah Hall, managing director, SHC and founder, #FuturePRoof.

 Managing mental health and wellbeing

The #FuturePRoof report recommended making mental health a management issue. Company policies and procedures should cover sickness due to mental health.

“Many employers have adopted and made available to their teams support strategies; and have made sure that they have mental health first aiders on the team. We have further to go, but there is an appetite to make that journey. And that’s something I wouldn’t have said with confidence five years ago,” said Ingham

Provide clear signposting and training to all employees and managers on policies and procedures. 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.

It’s far too early to celebrate success but the industry is taking proactive steps to tackle the issue. Both my previous employer, Ketchum and current agency Metia have mental health first aiders as a first line of response. Line managers are trained to recognise and help staff manage their personal and professional wellbeing. Health insurance provides support in critical situations.

While some organisations are proactively addressing mental health there are plenty examples of virtue signalling. Breathing exercises, fresh fruit and yoga aren’t going to help if an organisation has a sick culture. But we’ve shifted from organisations not addressing the issue five years ago to it being mainstream. Inevitably some organisations are exemplars and others need to catch-up.

Accepting personal responsibility for mental health

There’s also a need for personal responsibility on the part of individuals. Good employers can support the mental health and wellbeing of employees through good management and a progressive workplace but the organisation needs to deliver its commercial goals.

“Honest dialogue is needed about the impact of mental health on individuals - and equally how long term sick leave can impact an organisation. When people accept a job offer there are supposed to be shared goals. The whole concept of the value exchange seems to have got lost somewhere,” added Hall.

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