Mental health in public relations frequently ignored or managed as a performance issue

Where to Find Us

82 Great Suffolk Street

Home / Press releases / Mental health in public relations frequently ignored or managed as a performance issue

Mental illness in the public relations profession is frequently ignored, or managed as a line management or performance issue.

This is the key finding of a #FuturePRoof project that explored mental health within the business of communication and public relations on behalf of the PRCA.

The project uncovered an extreme example of mental illness cited as grounds for dismissal in an agency employment contract. This breaches employment legislation.

The #FuturePRoof report lifts the lid on mental health in the public relations profession, and attempts to characterise the issue, signpost potential solutions, and identify best practice.

The #FuturePRoof report makes three recommendations for employers and managers.

  1. The cost of mental health to public relations and the broader business community is well known. Make mental health and wellbeing a management issue within your management team.
  2. Company policies and procedures should cover sickness due to mental health, and provide clear signposting and training to all employees and managers on policies and procedures.
  3. Where resources do not exist within an organisation, access external support such as the resources listed in this report. Small organisations should consider retaining specialised support.

“Removing the stigma around the issue of mental health in the workplace will have the single biggest impact on positive outcomes. Employers need create safe environments to encourage staff to talk about how they feel with each other and with managers,” said Stephen Waddington, partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum, and co-author of the report.

Francis Ingham MPRCA, PRCA Director General, said: “We fully support the recommendations in this report. The industry still operates on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and unfortunately this report highlights the stigma surrounding mental health. We know that improving mental health and wellbeing among employees is a key business issue yet many organisations have been slow to implement mental health management policies. It is important to talk about this issue, but we need action as well. The PRCA will be campaigning on raising awareness about mental health and more importantly we will be working with key players in the industry to deliver a programme on how to tackle the issue.”

As part of its investigation, #FuturePRoof carried out qualitative and quantitative research, engaging with practitioners ranging from assistants and interns to communication directors and managing directors.

A wide range of issues were identified as symptoms of poor mental health in the workplace ranging from absentmindedness to anxiety, and from anger to depression.

Attributing factors included financial pressures; service delivery including always on, long hours and deadlines; office politics including culture, and poor management; trauma, particularly in emergency services; and a lack of respect and understanding for public relations.

The report found that attitudes to mental health in the workplace are polarised.

36.6% people said that they would be comfortable or very comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace with colleagues. 56.7% said they would be uncomfortable or very uncomfortable.

Many practitioners are unaware whether their sickness policy at work specifically addresses mental health. 53.3% said they were unaware; 14.2% reported that it did; and 32.5% reported that it did not.

35.8% respondents reported that their organisation had workplace schemes aimed at enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of staff. These included employee assistant programmes; subsidised exercise; mental health awareness training; and wellness action plans.

Video report

As part of its investigation, #FuturePRoof spoke to practitioners, recruiters and mental health organisations.

In addition to the report #FuturePRoof has published a video based on interviews with some of the contributors.

Paul Sutton, Independent Digital Media Consultant, and Chris Owen, Director, M&C Saatchi PR, speak about the mental health issues that they’ve faced in the work place.

Counsellor and psychotherapist Carol Featherstone and recruiter Julia Fenwick characterise the issue and share best practice.

Their insights characterise mental illness in the workplace and suggest proactive steps to improve health and wellbeing.

Cost of mental health to public relations

It’s not hard to quantify impact of mental health on the public relations profession or the broader UK economy. Indeed, data highlighted by recent surveys prompted the #FuturePRoof report.

30% of respondents in the 2016 CIPR State of the Profession Survey stated that they are ‘somewhat unhappy’ or ‘not at all happy’ when indicating their level of well-being in their jobs.

Nearly a third of UK staff persistently turn up to work ill and only 35% are generally healthy and present, according to the CIPD’s Absence Management Report.

The 2016 PRCA Census reported that 12% of those in public relations changing their job opted to leave the industry completely for a new career. And the overall level of staff turnover within the public relations industry is around 25% per year.

The statistics are alarming. And the cost to the communications industry of failing to adequately address these issues is huge.

Mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion per year while the annual cost of presenteeism is twice that of absenteeism.About the quantitative research

#FuturePRoof invited 120 practitioners to participate in an online survey as part of the six-month project between July and December 2016.

Participants self-selected having either experienced poor mental health during their career, or had experiencing of managing mental health within the workplace.



This report was researched and written by #FuturePRoof’s Sarah Hall and Stephen Waddington.

Sarah Hall is the managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting, a north east based agency, and President Elect of the CIPR.

Stephen Waddington is partner and Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice at the Newcastle University.

About #FuturePRoof

This is the second report produced for the PRCA and ICCO by #FuturePRoof. The first report explored the future of the public relations agency.

#FuturePRoof, is a community with the bold ambition of asserting the value of public relations.

With two books curated and edited by North East agency owner Sarah Hall, the community has kickstarted the biggest conversation ever about the future of public relations practice.

Find out more at, follow @weareproofed and join the community on Facebook.

About PRCA

Who we are: Founded in 1969, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) is a UK-based PR and communications membership body, operating in 48 countries around the world. We represent in excess of 20,000 people across the whole range of the PR and communications industry. The PRCA promotes all aspects of public relations and communications work, helping teams and individuals maximise the value they deliver to clients and organisations.

What we do: The Association exists to raise standards in PR and communications, providing members with industry data, facilitating the sharing of communications best practice and creating networking opportunities.

How we do it and make a difference: All PRCA members are bound by a professional charter and codes of conduct, and benefit from exceptional training. The Association also works for the greater benefit of the industry, sharing best practice and lobbying on the industry's behalf e.g. fighting the NLA's digital licence.