Discourse on mental well being of PR professionals on the rise, but few discuss stress at work with managers

One of the highlights of the visit to the lovely Godrej office in Mumbai last year for the annual 3030 jury meet was a garden where employees can grow their own plants. These are the kind of moments we all need during a stressful workday.

Earlier this year, Archana Muthappa, senior corporate communications professional conducted a dipstick survey on mental health and wellbeing for the Indian PR business.

Muthappa explains that "The survey was created to assess the mental health needs of communications professionals in India. With responses from 185 professionals, I believe we have what could be baseline information of the situation for communications professionals in India from a mental health standpoint."

Muthappa further shares that 'On World Mental Health Day (October 10) this year, I was fortuitous to be at a conference for communicators in the aviation industry, where some colleagues called attention to the fact that as communicators, there is a need for us to focus on our mental health, as well."

The recently concluded #PRAXIS8 at Goa featured a mental well-being session for PR attendees by Dr Samir Parikh, a well-known psychiatrist and mental health advocate.

Clearly, as Muthappa says, "The discourse on the mental wellbeing of communications professionals appears to be on the rise."

Mental Health Survey Results 

The dipstick survey conducted earlier this year reveals that 93% of PR professionals respondents in India work more than 45 hours a week, with over 28% working more than 45 hours. A small percentage of respondents even said crossed 91 hours a week. Women work longer hours than men. Thirty eight ours a week is considered an average workweek.

"Over 65% of the respondents reported a lack of sleep as the major outcome of stress, while 52% have had episodes of physical manifestations of stress, including nausea, binge eating and lack of appetite," says Muthappa .

A sizeable 32%  of the respondents said have taken a day off from work in the last six months on account of stress-related issues. And yet, only about 16% of those with symptoms of stress and mental health issues have spoken to their manager about their problem and slightly less than 50% of these managers did not recommend any course of action if they did so.

Workplace stressors 

Sameer Joshi, associate vice president Marketing (B2B), Godrej Interio points to stringent deadlines, long hours of work with multiple gadget usage as serious stressor. 

Joshi shares that "The 'Workplace and Ergonomics Research Cell of Godrej Interio' reveals that 70% of the workforce spends 8.5 hours sitting at their desk. 56% experienced symptoms such as fatigue, distraction and inattention after the prolonged use of any gadgets. 87% of the respondents who use laptops complain about musculoskeletal pain."

Godrej therefore believes in a structural approach should be undertaken to ensure the wellness of the employees. Joshi says in order to do this, Godrej Interio has incorporated the ACP approach. 

These are assessing the ergonomic quotient of the office, correction by removing the problems and being employee-friendly.

Finally, Godrej Interio focuses on prevention through constant communication and steps for prevention through wellness tips, activities and building a social office where employees can collaborate.

    What stresses our communicators?

    What stresses PR professionals in India? 

    Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR says very candidly that her biggest stress point at work is, "Relationships with client, media and team. Our business deals with people. The more we work with them, the more you get to know them and more of the positive or negative you are privy too. The team dynamics, the team plus client dynamics, the team plus media dynamics, client plus media dynamics, client plus media plus team dynamics. It's like a large interconnected web of delicate relationships that one has to balance and manage constantly."

    Adds Rattan, "On your worst days you feel like a hardcore negotiator in a stressful situation and on best days you feel like a suave diplomat who knows how to manage all the threads."

    This is a situation that most PR professionals are very familiar with. So how to manage it?

    Rattan says she has put in place a system where there are, "Detailed debriefs by the account person to the entire team where they can ask for help with an overall issue. This is followed by a session with the top leadership team where we help them align their clients' expectations and manage relationships."

    On a lighter note, freelance PR professional, Durgesh Nandini says, "The afternoon stress with random client call to achieve targets can be sipped and solved with brimming hot coffee and hot- spicy bhaji bonda (batter-coated potatoes).

    Muthappa comments that, "From a deep look at the data, it appears that while communications professionals in India may not have a crisis on our hands (though when it comes to mental health, reporting is low), I do believe that the time for interventions related to mental health in India is upon us. Sensitisation of leadership to mental health situations among team members and assuring colleagues of a safe place to share their issues might be a place to start."

    Nikhil Dey, vice-chair, Weber Shandwick India has already made a start to sensitise PR professionals on mental well being. In a well-received post last week, Dey raised the issue of well being of the mind.

    He suggested two key actions to make the conversation around mental health mainstream, "Make promoting mental health a KPI for leaders (like CSR linked KPI’s are finding their way into leader’s success metrics, the next frontier should be mental health)."

    Secondly, Dey advises, "Don't blow off steam, support the team. Don’t be rude, don’t shout, don’t get angry in the workplace. Assertive is good. Aggressive is bad for mental wellbeing."

      If you have any suggestions or feedback about stress management and well being at work do give a shout to @ArchanaMuthappa who conducted this survey. You can also ping @PRmomentIndia with your views.