Long hours, harassment from clients, not to mention your boss -
sound familiar? PR is a highly pressured industry - 74 per cent of
respondents to this year’s PR Week/Media Appointments Salary Survey said
they suffered from stress.
But if, as an employer, you are ignoring the effects of workplace stress
on your staff, be warned: employees are fighting back - from the
Worcestershire council employee who in January won pounds 203,000 in
damages for work-related illness, to the widow who threatened to sue her
husband’s former employers, alleging that undue pressure at work led to
him committing suicide.
But not only could you be paying in legal terms. Stress costs UK
industry millions of pounds through absenteeism - the CBI estimates that
for non-manual workers, workplace stress is the second highest
contributor to absence, behind minor illness.
So what can you do to ensure your staff are not suffering and are able
to work to their full potential? Obviously, it is best to ensure that
staff are working under reasonable conditions, and that any problems can
be discussed. And there are certain stress management techniques which
can only be undertaken by the individual, such as improving diet,
cutting down on alcohol and taking more exercise.
But there are many things you can do for your employees, starting with
contacting the Health and Safety Executive for advice. In the meantime,
here is PR Week’s A-Z guide to stress management for strung-out PR
Ask yourself - Is it stress or simply pressure? Many individuals believe
that pressure and stress are one and the same. ’They are not,’ says
Caroline Raymond, a member of the Executive Committee of the
International Stress Management Association (ISMA) and director of
Stress In Perspective. Realistic and achievable challenges are a healthy
element of employment. When these challenges spiral out of control, and
anxiety, tearfulness, irritability, and low productivity creep in, the
chances are it is stress.
Or, as the Health and Safety Commission Discussion Document 1999 says:
’Stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressures placed upon
them. It arises when they worry that they can’t cope.’
Breaks A sandwich in front of your computer with phones ringing, e-mails
arriving and colleagues asking questions does not count as a lunchbreak.
Professor Stephen Palmer of the Centre for Stress Management says: ’Get
away from your desk, even for half an hour. Just forget about work for a
Communication PROs are supposed to be the communication professionals,
so should really have this one licked. But in all honesty, does your
boss know that you feel unappreciated, overworked or even out of your
depth? Assertiveness training can teach people to speak up and tell
their superiors when things are going wrong. After all, whatever your
boss’s fantastic skills may be, mind reading is probably not one of
Drinking Anyone dealing with serious stress-related illness, such as
depression will point out that it is wise to cut right back on alcohol.
But, never underestimate the value of an evening out and the chance to
air those grievances with friends and colleagues.
Exercise Everyone knows the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Pilates
and yoga can be particularly useful, since they are holistic regimes
which focus on deep-breathing. But it can be a struggle for PROs to fit
physical activity into a hectic schedule.
The solution for financial specialist Lansons Communications is to bring
exercise into the workplace. Twice a week the company holds aerobics
classes in its offices. ’We feel quite strongly that the workplace
should be a supportive and enjoyable environment,’ says joint MD Tony
Langham. ’And as long as it takes place here, we’ll fund at least half
of it,’ he adds.
Fun As managing director Rachel Bell of Shine Communications says: ’The
biggest destresser is promoting a culture of fun, and creating an
environment where we can laugh at each other and ourselves.’ As well as
offering staff the benefits of massage, private gym membership and away
days, Shine has installed tennis balls on strings above everyone’s desk
and issued ’Are we having fun yet?’ baseball caps, to be donned in times
of serious sense-of-humour failure. ’It’s only PR after all, we’re not
splitting the atom this week!’ says Bell.
Get organised ’Is it a nightmare to find things quickly and easily on
your computer? Are there papers on your desk that you haven’t looked
through for a week or so?’ asks Steve Kaplan of Performance 2000. His
company recently helped the people at Lawson Dodd PR to reorganise their
’A lot of PR types are bright, well-educated people who typically pride
themselves on being creative communicators and think being organised is
going to cramp their style,’ he says. ’But when we’ve finished with
them, they end up being better communicators, because they’re in
Holidays It seems obvious, but it is surprising how difficult it can be
to persuade employees to take their full holiday allowance. Grant Butler
Coomber MD Jill Coomber says: ’We have a review system in place to
support people in taking holidays. It shouldn’t be considered a
troublesome thing, people should be encouraged to take the right amount
of holiday.’ In other words, taking a holiday shouldn’t be
Another ’H’ is for herbal remedies. St John’s Wort can help with mild
depression and that strung-out feeling, as can Kava Kava, both available
as tablets and liquid supplements from health food shops.
I can’t stand it Professor Palmer says: ’Until you die, you’re living
proof that you can stand it!’ Instead of thinking that you are at your
wit’s end, remind yourself that although you might not like a situation,
you can stand it. It is all about getting some perspective on the
Juggling commitments ’There is a very heavy interaction between stress
caused by an individual’s domestic life and that resulting from the
workplace,’ says Raymond. ’The way forward is for employers and the
workforce to co-operate in finding a solution.’ However, if juggling
outside commitments such as the demands of partners or childcare with
extensive travel or long days in the office becomes a problem, most
employers are at least willing to try and be flexible in addressing the
Keep it real ’Thinking skills are often a key element missing from
stress management programmes,’ says Professor Palmer. After all,
relaxation techniques will not solve a problem in the workplace.
Instead, help staff to find out why they react in a certain way, and to
take responsibility for their action or inaction. This can also help
with that crucial skill - keeping things in perspective.
Long hours Inevitably PR people will have to work long hours at one time
or another, preparing for that pitch, controlling a crisis or organising
an event. However, if staff are consistently putting in ten-hour days,
then something is wrong. More likely than not, it’s down to the long
hours culture which springs up in some offices. Make sure staff know
that long hours is not the way to a promotion. Instead, encourage a
culture of ’work hard, play hard’ and make sure people leave their desks
at a reasonable hour.
Massage There are plenty of masseurs who will make an on-site visit to
staff. One is Bristol-based Head to Toe, and managing director Chris
Briggs says: ’Any form of touch that has no agenda can produce a good
result.’ Last month, health specialist Chandler Chicco introduced a
practitioner in the ancient art of Indian head massage to its offices.
Once a fortnight, staff take 20 minutes out of their day to increase
circulation to the brain and receive a physical and mental boost.
’It’s a bit of fun,’ says managing director Jennie Talman, ’But it is
also a great stress buster, relieving the huge tensions you build up in
your scalp, face, shoulders and neck.’
Nutrition Is your answer to staying on top during a non-stop busy day to
drinking buckets of coffee and fizzy drinks, while cramming in chocolate
and crisps? Unfortunately, the effects of this regime long-term can
range from the uncomfortable, to the downright scary. While
nutritionists devote a lifetime to promoting the benefits of a ’sensible
diet’, they often fail to mention the ill-effects of the opposite. One
of the most common causes of non-specific stress or anxiety, is a diet
laden with added salts and fats, artificial sugars and self-prescribed
stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. Skipping meals or substituting
basic foods with nutrient-starved quick fix snacks is a first-class
ticket to stress.
Outside interests If the pressure of work is knocking your confidence,
then maintaining self-esteem through other channels is vital. It is also
a good way of taking a break from problems. If you or your offspring
have just scored the winning penalty in a Sunday morning league match,
who cares what happened in the office on Friday?
Personal Manager When problems affect your work, that is when a personal
manager, mentor or work buddy comes into their own. Thrashing out a
personality clash or an excessive workload with somebody who understands
could be the best spent half-hour of the working week. As Sarah
Croom-Johnson, director at Fishburn Hedges, says: ’It’s a good idea to
sit down and discuss things with someone who is not your line manager.
It really is pointless finding out three months down the line that an
employee thinks something doesn’t work.’
Qualified for the job If stress is prompted by feelings of being unable
to cope, then it goes without saying that being equipped to carry out
responsibilities relieves the strain. ’It’s all about best practice and
making sure that people have the skills to do their job,’ says Liz
Nottingham, director of human resources at Shandwick. And while an
employer can do much to anticipate skill gaps, it is worth shouting
about training needs.
’It’s important to build a partnership and provide the infrastructure to
empower people and encourage feedback,’ says Nottingham.
Reiki This non-invasive healing therapy aims to relax and re-energize
parts of the body where there is a ’deficiency’ and removes energy
blockages that cause tension and illness. It works by directing energy
through the energy centre (chakras) and energy channels (nadis) of the
body promoting relaxation and releasing negativity. Former public
relations and marketing communications consultant, Gill Weston of the
Karma Practice, says that during Reiki sessions, clients are able to
switch off and fall into a light meditative state and following a
session are often calmer, more energetic and positive.
Start living! ’We wanted to look beyond the quick fix solutions to
stress and examine how our overall approach to life affected our
individual definitions of problems and hence their solutions,’ says
Munro and Forster managing director Julie Flexen. Last year, every
member of her agency attended a one-day course ’Forget the Stress and
Start Living!’, run by trainer Michael Bland.Rather than trying to
change employees ways of working, instead this focused on how staff
define and respond to all kinds of problems such as relationship
troubles, and then rise above them. Flexen says her agency translated
much of the staff feedback from this course into Munro and Forster’s
recent relocation. ’Our new building has a gym, a good restaurant and a
really big communal kitchen, so people can do all those stress-relieving
activities like exercising, eating lunch together or taking some quiet
time,’ she says.
Time management Too often time management is handled in a one-off
training session, or a bit of advice from the boss about planning the
day. But, like other skills, time management needs to be practised,
improved and perfected. GBC’s Coomber says: ’Time management is at the
core of stress.
We run time management courses for everyone, and account directors are
taught to help their staff manage time and therefore stress.’ She also
points out that as people progress to senior management roles, they are
placed under ever-greater demands, so it is wise to learn how to make
each minute count.
Use your friends Well, obviously not to the point where they dread
taking your call. But a friendly sounding-board can help decide the
difference between reasonable complaint and paranoia. Also, of course,
it can be very helpful to get a handle on how others view stress and how
they deal with it. Besides, after a miserable time in the office,
sometimes there is nothing more cheery than hearing a blow-by-blow
account of someone else’s worse (bad) day.
Variety Hopefully public relations is rarely boring! But one of the
common causes of work stress is a monotonous job. To an extent this is
out of the control of the individual, but it is worth trying to vary
working conditions. For example, to avoid pigeon-holing its staff,
Fishburn Hedges has non-specific account groups and encourages its
80-plus people to explore the various areas of its business.
Well-being One person’s adrenaline rush is another’s nightmare stress.
There are many reasons why challenges affect people differently. But if
you feel that you deserve more than a prescriptive solution to stress,
then join the likes of Jackie Cooper PR and take an integrated approach.
The agency uses the Mobile Feel Good Company, a group of 12 therapists
who pop round to your office and provide ’well being’ programmes using a
range of complementary therapies. ’We do a ten or 20 minute ergonomic
chair massage: aromatherapy, Indian head massage, acupressure, half-hour
reflexology, yoga and meditation classes, nutritional consultations,
talks on improving ergonomics and posture and diet and energy, as well
as vitamin and herbal remedies,’ says Feel Good co-founder Leanne
The most popular treatment is the Body Blitz, which is a 20-minute
acupressure massage on an ergonomic chair. It works on 160 pressure
points and is designed to tune up the entire body leaving you
invigorated and tension free.
X-rated It works, but keep it out of the office. The number of sexual
harassment cases going through employment tribunals has rocketed in
recent years. And the Equal Opportunities Commission estimates that over
4,000 sexual discrimination actions are lodged each year.
Your employer While there is much you can do at a personal level, your
employer should help provide a framework for managing stress in the
According to the ISMA’s Raymond the best practice is to take a proactive
stance with a Stress Management Policy. ’Traditionally employers have
taken a reactive approach to stress management, but for many businesses
this has proved ineffective, costly and risky,’ she says. Raymond
recommends starting with a stress audit, or risk assessment, looking at
absenteeism, lateness and staff turnover. ’The secondary intervention
level sets out to improve the overall situation in the workplace by
implementing the factors identified in the risk assessment,’ she says.
This would include ensuring that staff are equipped to identify and deal
with stress by providing appropriate stress management training. The
final stage is to deal with the rehabilitation of those individuals who
have suffered ill health as a result of stress. ’Support schemes are
usually employed at this stage,’ adds Raymond.
Zzz And so to bed. It may sound boring, but a good night’s kip can
ensure that you rise with a smile and the will to climb any
- Always consult your doctor first before embarking on any form