Manchester PR expert: Mental health and wellbeing must be a priority
Kate Moryoussef is a former Manchester PR who now specialises in wellness coaching for professional women employed within high pressure sectors. She’s also Smoking Gun’s latest guest blogger — take a look a closer look at her work here.
Starting out in PR
Many years ago, when I began my PR career straight out of university, situated in what can only be described as a glorified broom cupboard, stress, deadlines and client demands were the foundations of this exciting industry. The tighter the deadline, the stranger the request or the faster the journalist needed information the more adrenaline. The more adrenaline the more reasons we wanted to be part of the PR world.
It was 2002, social media wasn’t created, iPhones weren’t stuck to our hands and faxes were still needed. Life was good! Don’t get me wrong, those pressures were real — the late evenings stuffing envelopes, creating bizarre event props and packing journalist gift boxes were a common, bi-weekly occurrence. Close bonds, best friends and relationships were borne from these long hours.
Leaving the office on time, no matter how productive your day had been, was frowned upon and taking a full, one-hour lunch break was almost punishable. Then after the long, exhausting day which compromised of eating carb-heavy junk food at our desks (with a restock at 3pm), drinking copious amounts of caffeine (no BPA-free water bottles in this era…) and barely getting any fresh air or exercise. The next stop was heavy drinking, more processed food and nowhere near enough sleep to recuperate before the start of a very similar day next morning.
Remembering ‘The Good Old Days’ of Manchester PR
Many of us with young children may now hark back on those days with much affection. Fun and productive they were, but healthy? Good examples of workplace wellbeing or mental health? Definitely not.
Thankfully, for the bosses running the show then, they squeezed as much energy, creativity and efficiency out of us without anyone really pulling the mental health card that often. I’m sure if we could’ve articulated ourselves with the awareness we have now, this fast-paced, cut-throat behaviour would’ve been binned long before fax and franking machines.
Those post-Hacienda, pre-Northern Quarter hipster times celebrated the hard-loving lifestyle. And from what I hear it was even worse in the earl-1990s, when daytime drinking, smoking and cocaine were part of the working day. Yoga, wellbeing, and veganism were definitely not zeitgeists, anyone ordering Diet Coke over the full-fat was considered health conscious.
Wellbeing in the here and now
Fast forward to today and we are aware, educated, sensitive and thoughtful towards mental health, wellbeing and emotions. Yet, has the Manchester PR industry, and UK sector overall, caught up with the other industries? According to the PRCA Wellbeing study, released this week, definitely and worryingly not. Results show that 60% of PR and communications practitioners have experienced mental ill-health.
The study also finds 31% of PR professionals find their job very stressful. For UK workers overall that number falls to 19%. More PR professionals reported experiencing mental health struggles in the last year compared to physical health (89% struggled with mental health compared with 81% that struggled with physical).
Even if we consider how much less stigma is attached to our inner thoughts and feelings now, the stats look bleak. Worse still, only 31% took time off work to recover from mental health issues; 63% did so for physical health.
Play hard, work harder?
We all know but perhaps do not ‘love’ the classic PR recipe. Daily journalist deadlines. The ongoing competitive drive to stay relevant. That long-standing ‘work hard, play hard’ or ‘don’t moan’ mentality. Never-ending client ROI pressures. These are all very real day-to-day issues for staff. Staying topical, and on top of the social media game is exhausting, energy-depleting and very stressful.
Even the most resilient of professionals will, at some point, find these pressures mentally draining. For this reason, the industry needs to take action for employees to nurture the amazing pool of creative talent at its fingertips. This study I can imagine will be a real wake up call for many agency bosses. And it’s one they must take seriously.
One of the reasons I plucked up the courage to step away from the city centre Manchester PR scene (not an easy thing to do in your mid-20s) was that I simply wasn’t able to keep up with the lifestyle. I needed my sleep. I couldn’t drink anywhere near the amount my colleagues did. I craved regular fresh air. Most pertinently, I was way too sensitive to the pressures of the industry.
I simply wasn’t cut out to work with deadlines that prevented me from going home to my partner or made me turn in 15-hour days.
At such a relatively young age, I had the self-awareness to recognise if I carried on like this, I would probably burnout quicker than my career was developing. I chose to step away from a burgeoning career I knew I was bloody good at because the impact of what went hand-in-hand could prevent me from being the best version of myself at work.
Putting wellness at the forefront
In hindsight, maybe it was a sign that living a healthy lifestyle has always been my big priority. As a wellbeing coach, helping frazzled and frenetic office workers within fast-paced, high-demand industries shows me employers have a lot of responsibly to bring more wellbeing and preventative awareness and education to their staff. Simple measures that take a forward-thinking stance on wellness can help staff feel healthier, happier, more positive, more productive and energised. The working environment becomes a whole lot more successful and efficient.
Surely this is all anyone wants when running a business?