We are heading into a ‘winter of discontent’. Uncertainty is everywhere. While recent weeks have seen a welcome uptick of activity and work across the PR industry, the scars and bruises of the last six months haven’t faded.
Frequently, more work is being shared by fewer people due to cuts, furloughs and a reluctance to hire. Increased positivity is balanced by fear, anxiety, and exhaustion. As the nights draw in and skies turn grey, mental health conditions (already at an all-time high) are likely to increase, as was touched upon by Ready10 founder and MD David Fraser recently.
Awareness of mental health and wellbeing has never been so high. Recent years have seen an explosion in talk about these issues. However, while some organisations have invested in mental health, the reality is that for many, it’s still just talk.
To survive the next few months and years, organisations have to start taking this seriously. It is not a choice or a ‘nice-to-have’ anymore.
The productivity and health of employees, their ability to keep working through uncertainty, and the ability of businesses both to attract good people and bounce back from the past few months depends upon it.
This is also a massive opportunity. Get this right and there is a chance to change the industry for the better, making PR a more mentally healthy place for everyone. With people being the backbone of the industry, agencies should always be asking what more they can do to support them.
Here are three ways agencies can provide better support to staff:
- Develop a good health, mental health and wellbeing strategy. This should include prevention and health promotion activities, how to support people in the early stages of illness, and how to manage absence and return to work. The strategy should be structured and joined-up, include links to appropriate policies and give guidance to different groups of employees (HR, line managers, senior leaders, juniors) about what support is available and their roles.
- Invest in suitable health- and mental healthcare providers. These must be built into the strategy and organisational processes and communicated to employees. There are now countless health- and mental healthcare and support providers. Many are basic, commoditised and focus on perks that don’t have any real impact. Now is the time to spend, but spend on the right things. Virtual GP services, occupational health, proper psychological pathways and therapy, improved private health insurance… these are all things that will make a real difference.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. The best way of supporting your people through uncertainty is honesty and openness. Allow two-way dialogue and address individuals' fears and concerns. This is even more important in our new hybrid, part-remote-working world. Share information on business and financial performance, help people to manage their expectations and guide line managers in supporting teams and promoting mental-health support services and strategies.
Amy McKeown is a health, mental health and wellbeing strategist and member of the Head Office collective