In recent months, the Twittersphere for the digital marketing and the PR industry has felt overwhelming, negative and to be honest, quite draining at times. It feels like every day there is something new to argue about or a constant stream of one-upmanship. And this isn’t just during the working day, the industry seems to have issues tuning out on a weekend and really taking time to unwind and recharge.
So why is this? In my opinion, a toxic space has been created in which if you’re not ‘switched on’, working and ‘engaged’ with your job 24/7 then you aren’t deemed to be successful or your voice is not worthy of being heard.
How many times have you read a long-winded, over-the-top social media post about someone who wakes up at 4 am, goes to the gym, runs 10k in 6 minutes, makes a fresh smoothie from scratch and somehow gets to work at 6 am? Or get an insane amount of press coverage for a client by working until 2 am to draft a reactive campaign? Or worked until the early hours of the morning to win that amazing new business pitch you were also hoping to win? Or told during a review or job interview that the job isn’t right for you unless you’re happy to put in those extra hours? You get the picture.
Glorifying this working life is not only probably an inauthentic representation of those sharing it but it can also be incredibly damaging to the perception we each have of ourselves as PR professionals and for those looking to enter the industry. Igniting thoughts like, am I doing enough? Am I as productive as them? Could I be doing more? Is that how I need to work to be successful? And so on.
So as we celebrate one year working from home, I wanted to take a look at the glorification of overworking in the PR industry and why it needs to start focusing on staff wellbeing instead.
First, let’s look at some facts!
Recent stats show that 17.9 million working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/20 (1) and 828,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or longstanding) in 2019/20 (1). GQ also reported (2) that half of all employees do not feel their workplace is an emotionally healthy environment, with 55% of organisations having no formal strategy for handling employee wellbeing.
A recent Gallup survey revealed the top five reasons employees are experiencing burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from their manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
Any of the above sound familiar?
Now, these stats aren’t exclusive to the PR industry, but they just go to show how much of an issue burnout is in the UK and as an industry, it’s something we need to pay attention to and look at how we as individuals and our organisations contribute to it.
The role of working from home
Just over a year into the pandemic, we’re all starting to feel the effects of not being able to go into the office, wondering when we might be able to return to normality.
But this way of working has led to work-life boundaries becoming blurred for many who never worked from home previously. For some, the lines have completely vanished and home life now means being “always-on” at work. Some experts have warned that working around the clock while sneaking in meals, helping with homework and grabbing a few moments with a partner just isn’t sustainable. Employers and industries as a whole need to look at how they can support their staff to dial back to normal working hours.
What are the effects of overworking?
According to Professor Argyro Avgoustaki from ESCP Business School, this way of working many of us become accustomed to has a negative impact on our overall wellbeing, and can actually make people less productive.
Not taking the time to unwind from work and engage in other things can quickly lead to feelings of burnout, which can, in turn, lead to a range of physical health problems.
For some people, waking up at 4 am or working into the early hours of the morning might work for them but for others, this behaviour is likely to create a cycle of burnout which looks something like this:
How can you tell if your staff are experiencing burnout?
Burnout is a gradual process that tends to creep up on you. Actively paying attention to the stress levels of your staff, business leaders, department heads and line managers can help to lower the chances of staff burn out. Key indications that your team might be experience burnout include:
- Physical indications – Staff are feeling tired and drained all the time, their appetite has changed drastically, and they feel more susceptible to illness.
- Emotional indications – Individuals may be more irritable, finding it hard to be motivated, increase in negative self-talk and don’t find the same satisfaction over things they used to enjoy.
- Behavioural indications – Individuals are isolating themselves from other team members, procrastinating and not appearing engaged during meetings or social interactions.
We’ve also looked at what employers can do to support staff wellbeing, read more on that here.
So what next?
Teams in the industry have faced redundancies, budget cuts, client losses over the past 12 months and we’ve got to be honest, it’s hard in the industry right now. But it’s important to remember that there are so many other PR professionals in the exact same position.
We’ve seen a pick up of agencies and PR teams sharing their not so successful stories on social media this week and it’s comforting and real – and that’s what we need to remember. We’re all human at the end of the day and we need time to recharge and focus on our own wellbeing in order to perform at our very best at work. Working hard should not be confused with overworking and that’s something the industry needs to focus on moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong this issue isn’t exclusive to the PR industry and, of course, there are going to be times when you have a meeting filled week or a mountain of looming deadlines that you might need to put in a few extra hours to get through, but this reflected as being a regular accepted occurrence in the industry and being sold as ‘just part of working in PR’ is wrong and sets a bad precedent.
Team leaders, line managers and business owners need to focus on what they can do to support staff and make sure they have enough time in the day to complete the work they are expected to complete, removing the need for having to work over. Being hot on the capacity of both your staff and client accounts is key to this.
So let’s make 2021 the year the PR industry sets clear boundaries for professionals and avoid the cycle of burnout. Overworking is overrated!