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How to handle the long hours work culture in PR

PR has long meant very long working hours, post-Covid this has become even more pronounced as professionals manage the hybrid working model. WFH has often meant extended work hours with no boundaries on the dreaded Zoom calls.

PRmoment spoke to a range of communication professionals to find out how best to tackle it.

The lure of long hours at work 

Anindita Bagchi, chief general manager - of corporate affairs and communication, at Pipeline Infrastructure Limited puts it bluntly saying, "In my experience, PR professionals feel obligated to work long hours, they fear being seen as unproductive otherwise. 

Happy employees will yield greater results thus making the clientele happy. The policies and practices should focus on employee wellbeing -4/5-day week, wellness days/leave, break rooms (if space permits), creche facilities for parents, buddies, and mentoring programs for newbies."

Bagchi also points to the challenge of client demands that extend work hours, "Every ask from a client need not be worked upon at that very time. We should discuss the priority, plan the timelines, and communicate the same. Wherever or whenever needed, agencies should take the stand and say No, respectfully."

Misbah Quadri

Misbah Quadri, Independent PR Specialist, agrees saying, "A major factor for this is also our close ties with the media which tends to not respect or understand the pivotal role a PR person can play in the quality of coverage outcome if only we are treated with the right sense of thoughtfulness. On the other hand, clients can be indifferent to their servicing teams and exploit their availability, especially so at a junior level."

Quadri adds, "A recent viral post by the company CEO of an Indian grooming brand endorsing long working hours is precisely what we as a society don’t need, at any level of one’s professional journey."

Negotiate better hours 

Suvidha Awle, account director – corporate & finance advises "Push back and do not fall for false client expectations. Also better deadlines with the client and buy a reasonable amount of time for delivery. Push back and say no to tasks that are not defined as part of your scope of work."

Monitor for burnout 

Dheeraj Malawilya

Dheeraj Kr. Malawliya, co-founder & director, Refinezèn says senior management must, " Monitor and address signs of burnout: Keep an eye out for signs of burnout, such as decreased productivity, increased errors, or changes in behaviour or mood. If you notice these signs, address them promptly by providing support, adjusting workloads, or offering resources for stress management. This could include offering wellness programs, organizing stress management workshops, or providing access to mental health resources."

Raise awareness about the impact of long hours 

Mitali Ahuja, senior communications specialist, at Koo App recommends, "Conducting training programs and workshops to raise awareness about the impact of long hours on mental health."

Ahuja also suggests, "Implementing programs that provide mental health resources, such as counselling services or employee assistance programs. Foster a supportive and inclusive culture that encourages open dialogue about mental health and well-being."

Industry Participation and policy initiatives 

Mitali Ahuja

Apart from looping in industry bodies to advocate for reasonable work hours, Ahuja also recommends, "Mandatory Rest Periods: Implementing policies that mandate regular breaks and rest periods can help prevent burnout and promote well-being. Encouraging employees to take their entitled vacation days and ensuring that they are able to fully disconnect from work during these periods is essential. Additionally, promoting the use of lunch breaks and discouraging excessive overtime can help create a healthier work culture."

Implement a culture against long hours 

Piyali Guha, PR Head, SRV Media explains, "First and foremost let's understand the term “urgency” in an agency. We tend to label everything to be urgent, which isn’t the case. Not all releases need to be disseminated that very day, not all campaigns need to be designed that very day and not all media would be available to talk to you the same day. Making an extensive list and prioritizing the top 5-6 tasks for the day, is what I find works the best for me. Having said that, assigning the proper kind of work to team members, who possess the necessary skill sets, promotes productivity and effective time management.

Guha adds, "It does fall on the company to also send memos telling employees from working late nights unless there is really a very important project that has to be submitted that very day."

Right to Disconnect 

Puja Kumari, account executive, at Column Inches says, "The occurrence of long working hours could also be decreased by introducing "right-to-disconnect" legislation, which forbids companies from requiring their workers to respond to communications about their jobs after hours. 

The urge to work long hours may be lessened by increasing transparency regarding working hours and remuneration, which would also encourage businesses to pay employees fairly for overtime labour."

Agency Programmes 

Rekha Gehani

Rekha Gehani, people and culture Leader, Media Mantra shares that, "As part of our endeavour to facilitate a healthy work-life balance, we launched the #MMCares initiative in our HR policy, which enables employees to take 6 days of paid holidays to pursue any personal priority including up-skilling, rejuvenation, pursuing a hobby, etc. We also regularly undertake firm-wide activities to help de-stress, including Yoga, meditation, dance classes, etc.

These activities are well thought out keeping the age bracket of our employees in mind (especially since a large percentage comprises Gen Z). Wherever possible, we involve our team and take their feedback on the activities that interest them."

Akshaara Lalwani- founder & CEO of Communicate India concludes that "Leading by example goes a long way. Employers and managers should prioritise their own well-being and set boundaries to demonstrate the importance of work-life balance. 

When leaders show that they value their own personal lives, it encourages employees to do the same. It's about creating a culture that recognizes the significance of finding harmony between work and life."

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