Opinion: Combating stress in the workplace


Aliya Vigor-Robertson

Aliya Vigor-Robertson, co-founder at JourneyHR, talks about employee wellbeing in the ever-changing PR and agency environment, and offers suggestions for how it can be managed.

As most people in the industry know, a PR agency can be an energetic and lively place to work. There is lots of variety in the day-to-day tasks that need doing, along with an opportunity to meet and work with lots of creative, intelligent and interesting people.

The nature of agency life is also very fast-paced, with staff often juggling multiple deadlines, client expectations, pitching for new business and more. While this is exciting, it can also bring moments of high pressure, which can affect employees’ wellbeing over time.

As we move into 2017, this pressure is unlikely to go away. If anything, ongoing economic uncertainty could lead to slashed PR budgets, more competition for pitches and, possibly, even redundancies – all of which will increase the likelihood of stress among staff.

In this kind of environment, staff may feel pressured to come into work early or to stay late – or in some cases both. Aside from the obvious fatigue that this can cause, it can be hard to identify what other effects this lifestyle will have on each individual, as no two employees are the same. So how can managers identify which employees are struggling?

The truth is that it can be difficult. Managers can start, however, by creating and contributing to a healthy working culture. For example, if employees are working long hours to prepare for a pitch, managers should consider compensating for this extra effort by offering flexible or remote working once this period is over, so that staff have the chance to re-charge their batteries.

Regular employee engagement will be vital for achieving this goal, however, as managers will need to be aware of instances where excessive workloads are leading to fatigue or feelings of isolation. When an agency is busy and the work is mounting, it can be tempting to push these meetings to one side, but this will only prove detrimental to the team in the long run, as high levels of stress will simply go unnoticed.

One-to-one meetings like these also allow staff to air any concerns they may have about their future with the company, which means that managers will have the chance to address this issue head-on. At the same time, they will allow managers to discover what motivates each individual, as well as which aspects of the job are causing them stress. Lastly, regular catch-ups like these show staff that they are valued, appreciated and listened to.

This level of employee engagement is certainly admirable, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If managers are going to communicate with their employees effectively and diffuse any stressful situation, they need to have the right tools.

For a start, agencies will need to provide dedicated training for all of their managers, so that they can recognise the signs of fatigue, isolation or insecurity before they turn into a serious mental health issue.

Without this training, it will be very difficult for managers to know what to look for – or how to correctly handle any issues that arise – which could lead to even greater problems down the line.

Like any profession, PR can be hard work but there are times when the pressure mounts and stress levels peak. Being vigilant about which factors are likely to trigger stress, as well as planning for periods that are naturally going to be more stressful, will allow managers to help their staff deal with these feelings much more effectively. This approach will not only ensure that staff remain happy and healthy, but will also help the agency produce the best results possible.

  • Aliya started her HR career in 1996 and co-founded JourneyHR in 2010. Aliya has predominantly worked in the communications industry reporting in at board level at Aegis Media, Naked Communications, Media Planning Group and lastminute.com. She applies commercial focus and business psychology to HR, and continues to influence business owners in the marketing and communications industry on innovative people practices.
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