Are mental health initiatives in PR just spin?

In the past few years, organisations across the UK have started to take a more active interest in mental health in the workplace – but some agencies in the PR industry are lagging behind.

We like to think we’ve come a long way but when I speak to my peers and our new recruits it becomes clear that there’s a lot of gloss covering the cracks, so with Mental Health Awareness Week upon us, maybe it’s time for the PR industry to reflect on its practices.

When I first started in PR, I worked 12 hour days nearly every day with a three hour daily commute; exhausted, unrecognised and undervalued, my mental health soon took a nosedive. At that time, I received no understanding or support from my employer, only criticism.

Since then, I’ve been lucky to work for organisations that prioritise their employees but I still hear terrible tales from some in the industry – many much worse than my own – and it’s infuriating that in most agencies nothing has really changed. It’s all spin.

We all know that PR can sometimes be stressful. The fast-paced client-facing nature of what we do can make it hard to switch off, and we can sometimes end up working longer hours than we should, particularly in busy periods.

While it ultimately falls to employees to take care of themselves, agencies also have a duty to support their staff. This can manifest in a number of different ways, from encouraging a positive culture to ensuring that there is more practical help on hand for anyone who may be experiencing mental health issues.

Third City tries to do things differently. We’re very proud of our open and supportive culture, with three quarters of our people feeling that they can talk to someone about their mental health. And unlike some agencies that work their employees into the ground to increase margins, we make sure that our people have a good work-life balance – it keeps them happy, engaged and productive, and ultimately means that we have better retention.

This culture is supported with a range of initiatives, from talks on mental health, which promote openness in the workplace and help employees to find good coping mechanisms, through to comprehensive health cover from Bupa. And there’s also Mango – our ‘Ambassador of Happiness’ (office dog), who is always about for strokes and cuddles.

Agencies across the UK are looking to introduce initiatives just like these, particularly smaller independents, but some more established agencies are falling short. If the PR industry doesn’t start looking after its people, the best and brightest talent will start to leave for greener pastures – it has to be time to practice what we preach.

– Beth Hardwick is a senior director at Third City (@beth_hardwick)