NUJ PR council chair: 'Stress not treated seriously enough in PR industry'

Not enough industry bosses are taking work-related stress seriously, according to the chair of the NUJ Public Relations and Communications Council.

'Many don't feel they have an independent source of support they can turn to if they're struggling' (©GettyImages)
'Many don't feel they have an independent source of support they can turn to if they're struggling' (©GettyImages)

Phil Morcom said that employees suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety take an average of 29 days off sick a year, costing employers across the UK economy around £3.7bn.

Research by the PRCA found that just over a third of PR professionals had suffered or been diagnosed with mental ill health. The CIPR put the number at just over a fifth. However, a PRWeek study earlier this year put the figure as a high as 60 per cent.

With the pace of change in the industry speeding up, Morcom said that "many senior managers, the easily-led, and the noisy brigade can demand more and more, but often with dwindling resources."

He added: "Many people don't feel they have an independent and trustworthy source of support they can turn to if they're struggling with an issue."

Indicators that could imply that stress is a problem in the workplace include high levels of absence and staff turnover, near-impossible to achieve workloads and an aggressive workplace culture that tolerates bullying.

Morcom said that there is evidence that there are too many people in the industry who are not prepared to say ‘no’ to a demanding boss, and too many junior employees are in the front line when it comes to protecting people and brand’s reputations.

"My worry is that they are facing tough times and they don't belong to a trade union," he added. "While their employer may have a mindfulness program or telephone helpline, they don't have a union rep who can take an objective look at the situation and see if what they are being asked would fail the test of health and safety, equality or other legislation? Are their employment rights being respected?"

Factors known to cause stress include infrequent breaks, taking work home, job insecurity, long hours, low pay and isolation and a poor working environment. Morcom said managers should do more to monitor colleagues for symptoms and recommended the HSE’s Talking Toolkit ‘Preventing Work-related Stress’, which takes managers through every risk they should be assessing and suggests minimum reasonable precautions the HSE thinks every employer should have in place. 

"If there's one document really worth reading during Mental Health Awareness Week, then this is it," Morcom added.

Case study: 'mental health concerns dismissed'

Nadia was an experienced, reasonably new member of a communications team in a large organisation facing cutbacks. Her team was reorganised and made smaller at a time when they were being asked to ‘do more with less’. Several senior managers had already taken redundancy.

Over the space of two years Nadia’s role was significantly changed without consultation and some areas of work where she had expertise were given to graduate trainees. The union became involved when she was told she must take on new work which didn’t match her skills, including work previously done by someone on a much lower grade.

Additionally, Nadia was overlooked for a promotion, had a family bereavement and minor health issues. The combination of work and personal issues led to a deterioration of her mental health. When her manager dismissed her concerns, Nadia contacted her union rep.

As there was evidence other staff were also stressed and some had resigned, the union raised a grievance that not only highlighted her individual case, but the wider workplace organisational issue of mental health and managing change.

Management agreed she had been treated insensitively, that work allocation procedures were inappropriate, and the team’s management needed improving. They committed to build in training about mental health and Nadia was able to return to work.

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