Tackling burnout in Public Relations

11 March 2022 | 6 min read | Careers
Steph Brown

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Mental health is as unique to an individual as their fingerprint. What makes us feel good, what causes stress, the levels of resilience we have and what triggers a potential decline in mental fitness cannot be looked at from a one-size-fits-all perspective.

Over the past two years, an unimaginable amount of strain has been placed upon employees all over the world, in every single sector. Not one person went untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress which ensued.

Now, in 2022, we continue to face a barrage of anxiety-inducing global problems, all of which continue to add pressure onto everyone’s shoulders.

According to a study by THE OUT in 2021, 70 per cent of people identified that they succumbed to burnout in the 12 months prior. Most respondents (85 per cent) cited a lack of time off and too much work being the reason behind these feelings of burnout. Less holiday was taken, and physical and emotional exhaustion was rife.

How does this relate to the PR industry?

According to PRCA and CIPR research, released in October 2021, nine in ten PR professionals had struggled with their mental wellbeing in the 12 months prior. Compare this with the average workforce, where 65 per cent of which struggled with their mental health during the same period, and the severity of the problem for the PR industry becomes shockingly clear.

‘An overwhelming workload’ was cited within this research as a key driver for this pandemic of mental ill-health within the industry, with 54 per cent of staff reporting that they didn’t take time off for their mental health because of the amount that was on their plate.

Sadly, this isn’t a new trend that the pandemic has created, it’s a problem that the pandemic has exacerbated.

In 2019, only eight per cent of agencies said that they never overservice clients with a major problem being cited as the inability to say no to ever-growing workloads.

Most shockingly, it was reported that nearly nine in ten (86 per cent) of PR agency staff have worked unpaid overtime because of overservicing.

Is it all bad?

Encouragingly, perhaps due to the spotlight which has been shone on mental health over the course of the pandemic, a large proportion (60 per cent) of industry workers in the PRCA and CIPR 2021 research said they were able to bring up how they were feeling with a colleague at work. 74 per cent then went on to say that their workforce was understanding and supportive.

Of course, in an ideal world, 100 per cent of employees would feel supported in their working environments when it came to mental wellbeing, and the number of those suffering from mental ill-health would dramatically fall.

What can employers do in 2022 to ensure burnout is tackled head on?

Create an open culture

Mental health, while less of a taboo subject post-pandemic, still has a lot of stigma attached to it. People still shuffle around uncomfortably or look to the floor when difficult conversations arise.

As an employer, it’s crucial that you try and reverse this and make the conversations around mental health a lot more open and honest. Employees should be made to feel that their working environment is a safe place to open up about their anxieties and that, no matter what, they will feel supported.

Gain an understanding of what burnout and mental ill-health looks like within your staff members

As mentioned, poor mental wellbeing can look vastly different from person to person. So, it’s crucial that not only are senior leaders aware of what burnout can look like in general, but also ensure they are attuned to each employee separately.

Whether physical, emotional, or behavioural changes, burnout can present in many ways. Signs may include severe weight gain or weight loss, irritability, sudden withdrawal, reduced cognitive function, risk taking behaviours or a complete change in character.

Don’t bury the problem

When it comes to mental ill-health, as you would with any physical illness, the longer you leave the problem to develop, the harder it will be to help that individual recover. You wouldn’t walk on a broken leg for weeks, and the same mentality should be applied to a potentially unwell mind.

If you notice any changes in employees, speaking to them should be the first port of call. Conversation should be calm and should be led first and foremost by the employee. They shouldn’t be pushed to give information but reassured that you are there to listen when and if you need them.

Be prepared to signpost

As an employer, while you may not be qualified to ‘fix’ metal health related issues, you do have a duty of care to your employees. If a member of the team presents worrying signs and symptoms, or comes to you for support, having an extensive list of resources and signposting options is a brilliant first step alongside listening to their worries and needs.

From the Samaritans to Mind, local counsellors and online support, the availability of support is extensive.

Regular check-ins

During more difficult times, ensure you offer employees the option to have more regular check ins with a member of staff that they feel comfortable talking to. Continue this process for as long as the employee needs.

Look after yourself

When a staff member is going through a difficult period and is potentially offloading a lot of emotion to you, ensure you have a place where you can go to debrief. Take the time to be kind to yourself and feel proud of the difference you are making to someone’s professional life.

As an employer, the key to supporting your team in hard times is equipping yourself with the right tools and education to drive change. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s also about exercising empathy, understanding and kindness. We’re all human and sometimes an arm around your shoulder and gentle words can be the actions people need to feel safer, calmer and happier.