Forster Communications: How to tackle employee wellbeing in the PR industry

Opinion: How to promote employee wellbeing in the PR industry

Beth Gaudin, a senior consultant at Forster Communications, argues that wellbeing should be a top priority in PR and outlines how to design a wellbeing strategy that works.

Being a PR professional can be hard. No one really understands what we do – and those that have some idea often don’t like the sound of it.

We’re a service industry with deadlines and jobs that don’t always fit into the 9 to 5 model. So, it’s no surprise that PR is often namechecked as one of the UK’s most stressful jobs. CareerCast featured PR at number eight in its 2018 list. This can put an enormous strain on the wellbeing of those who work in PR.

We must tackle these issues not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because we’re an industry built entirely on our people. We are no more and no less than the people we employ and therefore they should be our first priority.

The cost of mental strain in the workplace

Issues with poor physical and mental health cause a multitude of problems. An estimated £35 billion is lost every year due to poor health. And government figures show that 300,000 people with long-term mental health problems lose their jobs every year.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the problem seems to be getting worse. Gallup found there has been a 15% drop in people reporting being happy or thriving over the past two years. This is the biggest drop they have ever recorded.

It’s a daunting problem with no easy solution, given the nature of the work we do and the need to ‘always-on’ for our clients. Progress has been made and many firms now have mental health policies. But it’s one thing to have a policy. It’s another to put it into practice.

Six ways to wellbeing – a policy that works

At Forster, we’ve been grappling with this challenge since we were founded in 1996, and recently used our experience from behaviour change campaigns to turn policy into practice.

We started with a policy built around the “six ways to wellbeing” – be active, eat well, connect, take notice, learn and give back. We listened to our employees and built up a picture of the barriers and motivators when it came to their wellbeing. Then, we put them in charge of developing the approaches we would take as a business.

The end result is a policy that is knitted into how we operate as a business. Exercise is a key component of wellbeing. But our team said they often didn’t have the time to be active during the working day. So we built exercise into our working day and offered incentives for getting involved. We give the equivalent of two days annual leave for people who walk or cycle to work every day and pay 50p-a-mile for cycling or walking between meetings.

Breakfast was a key battleground for our team when it came to eating well. So, we now offer healthy breakfasts and fruit to snack on for free, making healthier decisions easier. What’s more, we’ve embedded truly flexible working into our workforce’s daily routines.

We’re pleased to say it’s working. But it’s also important to remain at the forefront of issues, so we constantly review our policies to see if they could be better.

For our industry, mental health remains a growing issue. Which is why we’re proud to have partnered with Business In The Community and Public Health England to create free toolkits for employers around mental health, sleep, suicide prevention and postvention. These give businesses of all sizes the information they need to create a healthier workplace.

It’s not a simple one-size-fits all solution and our policies will continue to evolve. But it’s important to keep the conversation going. Listening and reacting is what PRs do best – and it’s time to turn that inwards and see how we can best support our employees.

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