Mental illness in PR ignored or treated as a performance issue, says new report

Mental illness in the PR and comms industry is frequently ignored or treated as a performance issue, with huge costs in lost working hours and staff turnover, according to the latest #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA.

The willingness of people to discuss their mental health in the workplace remains low
The willingness of people to discuss their mental health in the workplace remains low

A key finding of the 18-page report, produced by CIPR president elect Sarah Hall and Ketchum partner and chief engagement officer Stephen Waddington, is that mental illness is frequently ignored or dealt with as a line-management or performance issue.

In one extreme example, the report authors uncovered an instance of mental illness being cited as grounds for dismissal, breaching employment legislation.

The factors affecting employees' mental health include servicing clients and the attendant ‘always on’ culture with long hours and deadlines.

However, financial pressures, office politics and poor management were also significant issues, the report found.

Removing the stigma around the issue of mental health in the workplace will have the single biggest impact on positive outcomes.

 Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum

In interviews with 120 practitioners over six months to December 2016, the report found nearly 57 per cent of people would feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace.

The findings echo a PRWeek/PRCA study two years ago that found 60 per cent of those surveyed would not discuss a mental health issue in the workplace.

The earlier study also found that as many as one in three people working in the industry have suffered mental ill health, higher than the national average of one in four people.

The current FuturePRoof report found more than half of those surveyed were unaware whether their work sickness policies specifically addressed mental health, while nearly a third said it did not and only 14 per cent said it did.

Recent figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimate that mental health costs the economy £70bn per year.

Meanwhile, the 2016 PRCA Census found the overall level of staff churn in the industry stands at 25 per cent per year.

And, according to the HR specialists the CIPD’s latest ‘Absence Management Report’, nearly a third of all workers in the UK turn up to work ill while only 35 per cent of the workforce is healthy and present at any one time.

The report authors also spoke to practitioners including M&C Saatchi PR director Chris Owen, recruiters and mental health professionals such as psychotherapist Carol Featherstone about their experiences in filmed interviews as part of the report.


#FuturePRoof - Exploring the mental wellbeing of the PR industry from Sarah Hall on Vimeo.

The report makes recommendations to the industry:

• The industry should make mental health and wellbeing a management issue.

• Include mental health in company policies and procedures and train employees and managers accordingly.

• Organisations should bring in external support where resources do not already exist to look after mental wellbeing.

• Remove the stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace and create safe environments to do so.

• Managers should respect the boundaries between the personal and work lives of employees, which has been eroded by technology.

• Put in place proactive support such as mental health awareness training and subsidised exercise.

Waddington said: "Removing the stigma around the issue of mental health in the workplace will have the single biggest impact on positive outcomes. Employers need create safe environments to encourage staff to talk about how they feel with each other and with managers."

Francis Ingham, PRCA director general, said it was time to end the stigma around mental health in the industry.

He said: "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."

Speaking to PRWeek in October, Penny Crick, clinical director at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, described how to spot the signs that you may be suffering from mental ill health, including depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and chronic low self-esteem.

• Unusual or protracted irritability with others

• A sense of pressure to be controlling of others and events around oneself, nitpicking

• An unusual or notable deterioration in relationships with colleagues, friends or family and being unduly prickly

• Feeling withdrawn over a period of time and feeling reluctant to engage in discussion on work tasks, or in social life.

• Unusual or notably different way of approaching problems – maybe becoming over-driven, over-excited, with too ‘bright’ a smile, being unusually insistent or forceful in presentation

• Becoming preoccupied with failure or by something that has gone wrong, or somebody putting you down.

Crick advised that even one of these symptoms is potentially significant, but that people would be well advised to seek advice if they are experiencing several.

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