MONDAY 27 FEB 2017 3:46 PM

MENTAL HEALTH IN PR AND COMMS

Seven years ago, the Equality Act 2010 was passed by the UK parliament. This ground-breaking piece of legislation gives employees the right to challenge discrimination in the workplace due to certain personal characteristics, including disability. Mental health falls into this category; employees suffering from debilitating mental health issues are by law protected against discrimination from the recruitment stage onwards. Yet all too often, sector reports emerge which show employers are still failing to react to the negativity and blasé treatment which mental health issues sometimes cause in organisations.

Findings in the #FuturePRoof report, published on behalf of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), indicate PR and communications workplaces follow the above trend. Results indicate that in the communications profession, mental health is more often ignored or dismissed as a line management issue. This is at odds with recommendations that mental health be dealt with as integral to employee wellbeing.

#FuturePRoof shows that, from many employers, how mental health is perceived within their organisation has not progressed – despite being better understood, both medically and socially. Often, stigma stems from naivety regarding the term ‘mental health’. A lack of education in what mental issues can entail, or lack of awareness in its manifestations, creates a barrier between those suffering and their workplace.

This lack of awareness is reflected in the statistics. The report shows that just over one third – 36.6% – of respondents are comfortable or very comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace with colleagues. Yet, 56.7% explained they would feel either uncomfortable, or very uncomfortable. Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at public relations and marketing agency, Ketchum, and co-author of the #FuturePRoof report, says, “Removing the stigma around the issue of mental health in the workplace will have the single biggest impact on positive outcomes."

"Employers need create safe environments to encourage staff to talk about how they feel with each other and with managers.”

PRCA director general, Francis Ingham MPRCA, says, “We fully support the recommendations in this report. The industry still operates on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and unfortunately this report highlights the stigma surrounding mental health. We know that improving mental health and wellbeing among employees is a key business issue yet many organisations have been slow to implement mental health management policies.”

Yet future mental health appreciation in the PR and communications industry can, with the correct approach, be remedied. #FuturePRoof recommends three major changes in how communications professionals approach internal mental health issues. Two of the suggestions, making mental health a management issue and communicating the services offered to employees by external mental health providers, would provide desperately needed internal transparency.

Furthermore, many practitioners are unaware whether their sickness policy at work specifically addresses mental health. With 53.3% of respondents unaware, 14.2% saying it does and 32.5% reporting it doesn’t, the third recommendation - provide sickness pay and support for those unable to work due to mental health issues – is a clear step in breaking down the stigma held in some communications-based organisations.

As an organisation, the PRCA is also ensuring mental health is top of the agenda for issues to tackle during 2017. Ingham continues, “It is important to talk about this issue, but we need action as well. The PRCA will be campaigning on raising awareness about mental health and more importantly we will be working with key players in the industry to deliver a programme on how to tackle the issue.”

This report was researched and written by #FuturePRoof’s Sarah Hall, managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting and president elect of the CIPR, and Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and visiting professor in practice at Newcastle University.

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