How can PR industry leaders create environments that nurture positive mental health?

May 14, 2021 • 5 minute read

May sees both Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and Mental Health Week in the UK. It has been commendable to see governments and corporates of all sizes joining the conversation regarding the global mental health crisis and acknowledging its importance as we start to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last year there has been a considerable call to action for corporates to address mental health and create environments with a far greater focus on positive mental health. Many companies have implemented concrete changes to promote positive mental health among their teams. Employee Assistance Programs, Mental Health First Aid training, mindfulness activities and a more open dialogue around mental health can and have had a real impact on those who have suffered – too often in silence.

The Communications industry is now widely recognised as a one with considerable mental health challenges.  The job is undoubtedly stressful: tight deadlines, high client expectations and an unpredictable news cycle drive many to experience anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions.

The impact of the wider world on mental health means that the issues we all face are ever changing and as such employers need to constantly review and adapt their own programs to support positive mental health for their teams ensuring that they are effective and really driving change within the business.

My colleague, Sophie Cikovsky, and I recently contributed an article for PR News exploring what leaders in the PR industry can do to support our teams as we look towards the latest, and certainly not our last, ‘New Normal’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced a whole new way of life on the industry and turned what had been mental health challenges into a crisis. In August 2020 The Chartered Institute of Public Relations in the UK reported that 82% of the respondents to its Health Group Covid-19 Wellbeing Survey felt their mental health had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Uncertainty and fear were at an all-time high and working in an unremittingly bleak news cycle escalated or introduced triggers for serious mental health conditions. As the months dragged on, many of us were spending 24 hours a day in small, confined spaces that were at once their office, gym and bedroom. This social isolation took its toll, as too did the fatigue from endless video calls. Stress, irritability, poor sleep, depression and burnout became commonplace, even among people who had never experienced poor mental health before.

How did PR leaders respond? By listening, adapting and communicating. While we didn’t have the same tools to work with, actively engaging with their teams about mental health throughout the pandemic allowed leaders to implement changes we wouldn’t have thought to emphasize in more precedented times. Encouraging team members to take breaks from the news and extended breaks from their emails was key (why would you take a vacation when there was nowhere to go?), as was an open dialogue about the resources available for those struggling with poor mental health.  Above all there is a need to be clear about your expectations with your teams and what working practices are in place to promote positive mental health.

As the impact of the global vaccination program facilitates a return to the office the industry will face new challenges. Leaders need to work to retain some of the benefits the team have felt by not being in offices Monday to Friday while providing the collaborative social environment that teams have missed.

So what do we need to be doing to navigate the coming months?

First, be aware, listen and communicate – one size doesn’t fit all. Some people will relish the idea of returning to the office while others will be reluctant and, in some cases, even fearful. It would be unnatural not to feel some sort of apprehension to taking public transport to commute or being in more crowded environments. Ask your teams what they want, what they need, keep listening, communicating and give people time to adapt. Review your office space to ensure that it is fit for purpose for your teams and creates an environment which promotes collaboration.

Second, be flexible; presenteeism is not a route to success. Consider keeping an element of home working as an option.

Third, recognise that the lessons of the last year have created an incredible opportunity. It is without doubt the lasting impact of the pandemic and the importance of Black Lives Matter has created a positive and necessary drive for change and accountability in the corporate world. Society continues to take a massive shift and with that businesses need to change. Employees are rightfully more demanding about their employers’ impact on the world. Public relations firms can have a hugely positive impact on their teams’ mental health by ensuring that as a firm they create a positive societal impact by embedding Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) into the way we operate. Keeping our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and wider ESG policies and actions moving forward will in turn support positive mental health.

But above all, keep the conversation about mental health alive and ensure that all relevant policies are evaluated to ensure that they promote positive mental health.

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