PRSA New York, with support from The Honan Strategy Group, just released its first-ever 2022 State of Mental Health in Public Relations Report. Sadly, our findings won’t surprise many.
To say that our industry is facing a mental-health crisis is an understatement. And I don’t overstate my understatements! Our findings only underscore what’s happening around the country and the world, on both professional and personal levels.
In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden detailed a comprehensive strategy to address the country’s mental-health crisis, from integrating mental health into primary care to outlining approaches to programs that provide care. Biden said, “Let’s get all Americans the mental-health services they need, more people they can turn to for help and full parity between physical and mental-health care.”
The pandemic, while clearly a factor, is not the main actor here. It merely surfaced and exacerbated deeply rooted issues that we knew existed and now can no longer ignore. Our leaders, agency and brand alike, must also prioritize the mental health and well-being of our teams and colleagues. Mental health and well-being is a top priority for PRSA-NY and its members. In addition to establishing a baseline of understanding of our member’s “head space” through research like this, we also created a mental-health subcommittee and a comprehensive resource hub for our members and the industry writ large.
Among our findings, 69% of survey respondents said that information from stress and anxiety experts and psychiatrists or psychologists would be helpful, and 63% said the PR industry is somewhat more or significantly more stressful than other industries.
So what should we do? Here’s an example of what might be the emerging best practice: Ketchum is building a team of trauma-informed communicators and integrated communications resources to navigate society’s new norms, including the significant shifts in how people live and work. Ketchum says “trauma-informed workplaces” are essential to meet evolving global challenges, so the agency made a commitment to train its people first.
Jim Joseph, CEO for the U.S. and global chief marketing and integration officer at Ketchum, said, “Because our people are our No. 1 priority, we’ve begun our journey by training our colleagues to bring a trauma-informed lens to their work, teams and processes. To achieve this, we assembled a team of trauma experts in psychology, public health and law for our people and our clients.”
Kudos to Ketchum for leading the way. Here are some additional strategies I think agencies and brands can implement to meet this moment:
• Expand your HR team to include a chief wellness officer, hire on-call clinical psychologists or social workers and provide resources to support your staff with the help they need when they need it.
• Talk openly with staff about the importance of mental health and well-being and let them know that it is ok to not be ok and that you provide a safe, accepting and inclusive work environment and culture that places human dignity above all else.
• Provide stipends or subsidize well-being apps and gym memberships so staff are encouraged to maintain both physical and mental health. We know that the two are interconnected and for many, interdependent and we need to offer support accordingly.
• Be more mindful of workload, staffing of accounts and equitable distribution of assignments.
• Be sure to address head-on any inequities in the workplace and commit to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
• Create a purpose-driven workplace and culture. Provide opportunities for your staff to give back and be more generous with their time, including and the time they spend at work. It’s well-documented that public service and being charitable are positive drivers of happiness and well-being. Oh, and it will probably help with retention, too.
Agencies and companies must absolutely not treat the prioritization of mental health and well-being as a perk. This is not about hybrid work, more days off, or flex-time. Yes, those perks are commonly parts of an overall healthy work environment. But if the perks are the entirety of the plan, then they are just destined to mask larger, systemic issues that need to be addressed first.
And finally, be willing to be vulnerable yourself. Express and share how you feel, albeit within a framework of professional boundaries. This is how you define leadership. For example, I am not and have never been afraid to share that I have personally been the beneficiary of professional therapy, episodically, since I was 11-years old. It’s made me a better father, husband, sibling, professional, leader and friend.
Caring about mental health isn’t new, but thankfully, starting to talk about it — so we can do something about it — is.
Aaron Kwittken is 2022 president of PRSA-NY, co-founder and CEO of PRophet, and chairman of KWT Global.
This article originally appeared on PRWeek US.