PR360: Client pressure and bullying are 'biggest obstacle' to mental wellbeing in agencies

Unreasonable client demands are placing pressure and anxiety on agency staff, which is contributing to poor mental health in the PR industry, Frank co-founder and chair Graham Goodkind has warned.

PR360 panel on mental health: Graham Goodkind, Emma Mamo and chair Zöe Clapp.
PR360 panel on mental health: Graham Goodkind, Emma Mamo and chair Zöe Clapp.

Speaking at a PR360 session on mental health, Goodkind said that the ability to "switch off" and not be on 24/7 was important in maintaining a healthy work-life balance and mental wellbeing.

Goodkind, who co-founded Frank with Andrew Bloch in 2000, believes it is the attitude of clients, rather than agencies, that is one of the biggest contributors to mental health issues in agency-land.

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"I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but the biggest obstacle to [mental wellbeing] is clients," he said. "Most agencies that I have come across are open-minded and...try to help their employees with any problems that they’ve got," he said.

"The thing that complicates it for me are the clients. I don’t think they are as respectful of employees of [an agency] as that [agency] is.

"If clients want something done tomorrow morning, they don’t care if it’s that person’s day off, if that person is working from home or the parents have doesn’t matter to them; the clients pay [agencies] money and want something done tomorrow.

"Clients are a lot of the cause of that feeling of stress, pressure and anxiety that goes within agency life."

Goodkind, (above) said this issue can be exacerbated by "client bullying", which is something he has occasionally had to deal with throughout his career.

"Sometimes clients are really quite nasty, quite aggressive, very demanding and very pushy and have caused quite a few issues that I’ve experienced and had to deal with where people have been stressed, anxious, depressed - all those classic [mental ill-health] signs," he said.

"Clients need to think more about their behaviour and the pressures it places on agencies."

The move towards more project work can also ratchet up the stress levels, and "project clients have a certain level of time pressure".

"It’s not the extra work that causes pressure, it’s the unreasonable stress that is placed upon you and demands from clients can be quite unrealistic," he added.

A ‘mindful employer network’

Head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, Emma Mamo (above), told the conference that last year, law firms and their clients launched a ‘Mindful Employer network’ that  sets out clear boundaries of how law firms and clients should work together.

"I thought that was such a great initiative because you as an employer can work across the legal sector but it’s important to think about the supply chain or ecosystem in which you operate and how you can work together differently," she explained. "This isn’t groundbreaking, but they are the fundamentals of how you work."

Some of the areas covered in the Mindful Employer network include how to conduct meetings and whether staff can join remotely; how to be clearer in email communications; and better managing expectations and deadlines. It also set boundaries to respect employees’ time off.

Mamo recommends all agencies look at ways to promote mental wellbeing, such as work-life balance, sensible hours, career progression, making staff feel valued, and conducting a mental health audit of employees.

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

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