MAIN FEATURE: Balancing spirit levels - Stress appears to be endemic to modern life, particularly PR. The best medicine is preventative but if it’s already present, don’t panic, it’s not incurable. Mary Cowlett and Jennifer Whitehe

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.

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

work habits.

’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


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