A PR and comms stress epidemic: survey results 2019

I am seriously concerned about the stress faced by the hundreds of comms and PR professionals took part in a survey, and the hundreds of people I train every year.

Results of a survey of 442 people working in the industry have revealed this:

We are suffering a PR and comms stress epidemic.

This Stress Awareness Day, I want us to talk about the problem, and how we’re not tackling it effectively.

I believe many of us don’t recognise that our working practices, habits and behaviour are NOT OK.

And how the organisations we work for won’t look after us.

Something has to be done about this, and I hope the first step in finding a solution is recognising that it is happening.

Let’s get down to the research.

Results of the survey

I decided to do this piece of research because I encounter so many PR and comms professionals who face stress that is constant and overwhelming.

I’ve long suspected that huge workloads and a desire do lots of meaningful work, combine to make a stressful situation.

My experience, training comms and PR teams across the UK, means people confide in me, but the results of the survey were worse than even I expected.

I summed up the full results of the survey in this PDF document, but let’s pull out some ‘highlights’ (or to be more accurate: some utterly awful experiences that too many of us are facing):

  • 61% often or always take on more work than they can handle
  • 63% are often or always given work last-minute, and with unrealistic deadlines
  • 52% often or always have insufficient time to complete their work
  • 50% often or always find they can’t ‘switch-off’ when they get home from work
  • 50% often or always find themselves ranting to loved ones about work

Just three of the hundreds of comments that describe anxiety, tiredness and overwhelm :

“The biggest stress for me is too much work, and it’s made worse by the fact that I myself accepted it. I want to do it, because I can do it and do it well. But then I get overwhelmed by how much I have to do.”

“I’m given no time to plan, and never feel like I can work strategically. I used to love working in PR and comms but I’m ready to give up on my comms career.”

“Perfectionism drives my work-related stress – and lack of confidence. I never feel that I am doing enough … and that others are better, and getting better results.”

Aren’t the companies we work for addressing this comms stress with mental health awareness schemes and policies?

Nope. Not effectively, or we wouldn’t see these shocking results.

My view is that organisations we work for are the cause, not the answer to this crisis.

Our employers have created a toxic culture where it’s normal to take on too much work: we’re expected to get on with the job with little time for training, and a big dose of imposter syndrome. 

That is what people said in the survey, that’s what I see every week.

And we actually can’t rely on our employers to fix this, because they only see stress in relation to the average of 29 working days lost in each work-related stress.

We’re told £37billion is lost to stress-related sick days every year in the UK.

Because that’s how businesses describe this problem: in economic terms. 

However, I suspect companies gain far more from overworked PR pros than they lose from stress-related time off.

By using similar calculations, if an employee works 30 minutes extra each working day than their standard hours, the financial gain for the employer is far higher than the cost of days lost to stress.

Our employers benefit from a culture of stress.

This is a human, not financial, problem.

Schemes to give us mindfulness classes, workplace massages, and stress-management toolkits: they don’t address the root causes of the problem.

If I am a boss who punches you in the face and then offers you an icepack for the bruise, does that make me a responsible employer?

The root of the problem is an always-on culture, and we need to address a lack of professional development, and an endlessly increasing workload with unrealistic deadlines.

How do we fix this?

I’m not sure.  

I fully escaped it by escaping corporate life and starting my own business. 

I freely and loudly share advice that helped me manage when I suffered from this problem.

And I aim to show some tiny form of leadership, by bragging about how un-busy I am. 

I tell people to how successful I feel measured by happiness, freedom and creativity I get from work, not about how much I am needed, paid, how many people I work for, or how hard I work.

I’m not sure how to help change something so widespread.

But if you’ve read this far, you may well have strong opinions about it.  

What do you think we should do?

Because I don’t think the levels of stress faced by respondents is sustainable. 

We deserve better than this.

We are more important than our jobs in comms and PR.

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