There’s no doubt that while the communications business continues to grow impressively – we’ll soon find out if we saw double-digit growth once again in 2019 – the stress of the job and the sheer workload is getting harder.
As promised a year ago, PRWeek has repeated its UK industry mental-health survey. We found the proportion of comms pros experiencing mental-health problems little changed; nearly two-thirds of respondents say they have suffered from them, slightly up on the previous year.
PRWeek, the PRCA and other key industry voices have campaigned hard to improve mental wellness over the past year and the survey suggests employees appreciate that firms are trying to address the issue. But there’s still a serious gap between the stated intention to do so and employees feeling they are being listened to, or that things are improving on the ground.
Most worrying for me were anecdotal responses saying that line managers often seem ill-trained or ill-equipped to deal with employee problems.
One reason for revenue growth in UK PR agencies is that professional communications is being taken more seriously by clients. Hence new investment is coming into consultancies from private equity or from abroad. This new commercialism – while admirable – appears to be putting even more pressure on those doing the work.
As one agency chief executive said to me before Christmas: "It's tough out there. Everyone, including me, is increasingly hands-on; under pressure to perform every day." And one employee in our survey said: "We've gone from small UK firm to private equity-backed and US-led, and are under massive pressure to grow profitability fast without adding to overheads."
PR firms or comms departments are the ultimate people businesses; the staff their only real asset. And if the industry is to continue thriving financially, this asset must be nurtured more than it is.
Too many PR operations still have no written mental-health policy; too many bosses don't know how to react when an employee approaches them with a personal problem.
So we're calling on the industry to make a step change on mental wellbeing this year and we’ll keep monitoring it closely. Public relations is a lively, stimulating career. It should also be rewarding and enjoyable for all who work hard within it. Have a happy 2020.
Danny Rogers, editor-in-chief, UK & EMEA