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The mental health epidemic facing the PR profession

There’s a mental health epidemic facing the PR profession, with around a quarter (23%) of practitioners saying they’ve taken sickness absence from work on the grounds of stress, anxiety or depression.

This is just one of the findings from this year’s State of the Profession 2019 survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which is hot off the press today.

My TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) summary: poor mental health is on the rise in PR and line managers aren’t addressing it. average salaries have increased, pay inequality gap has fallen and “we’re building a profession of white, public school alumni.”

What does the survey reveal?

The nature of PR work contributes directly to poor mental health amongst practitioners, according to the report. More than a fifth (21%) of respondents said they had a diagnosed mental health condition and over half (53%) said work contributed highly to their diagnosis, with unrealistic deadlines and unsociable hours cited as common causes.

The survey was delivered by CIPR in partnership with Chalkstream, who surveyed 1,503 respondents (compared to 1,752 in 2018) between 9 November and 14 December 2018.

I’ve read through the results and this statement jumped out at me:

“The results point to a profession which is not only stressful to work in, but fails to provide support to those living with a mental health condition. The data also suggests public relations plays an active role in damaging the mental health of practitioners.”

Wow. Do you agree?

Worryingly, the report reveals a significant number of line managers fail to address mental health concerns amongst employees. Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents who discussed concerns about their mental health with a manager said that nothing happened as a result of those conversations.

Does this resonate with you? I’ve blogged numerous times about mental health in Comms and the impact of an ‘always-on’ mentality and visible roles. My VIP Days and Consultation Calls are one way I’m helping Comms pros have a safe, confidential space to come and ask for help.

I talked about the impact of our roles in terms of mental health during The Internal Comms Podcast with Katie Macaulay in January. In the episode I revealed my own feelings and mental health battles.

It is ok to not be ok and to talk.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Why we need to talk about mental health in Comms.

What do the experts think?

Jo Hooper, workplace mental health specialist and Director of mad and sad club told me: “Comms is stressful. That adrenaline either works for you or it works against you – for me, over time it became the latter and it seems the same is true for more than half of our industry. This CIPR report shines a light on the impact your job can have on your mental health and the industry needs to pause, listen and take action.

“Managers, HR professionals and senior leaders need to understand the signs and effects of mental health; feel confident talking about it and know how to take action to support people who are struggling. That’s support when someone is first struggling, when they’re trying to actively manage their mental health condition at work or out of the business, and when they return – which is often the trickiest point. Feeling confident offering this sort of support isn’t easy when you haven’t experienced a mental health problem, so we need to train our managers.

“I applaud the CIPR for highlighting the issue of mental health and look forward to helping the industry help its people.”

After spending 11 years in communications, latterly as Head of Corporate Communications at consumer champion Which?, Jo set up mad and sad club in 2019 to help people and organisations understand, talk about and take action on mental health. She is going to be speaking at an upcoming CIPR Inside event on Mental Health at Work on 1 May 2019.

Here are the insights from the State of the Profession report 2019…

The public school alumni

The survey also reveals: “We’re building a profession of white, public school alumni” with more than a quarter (28%) of the public relations workforce being privately educated. This is four times the national average (7%) – according to figures.

The study shows privately educated PR Professionals secure more senior roles and earn an average of £13,000 more per year than state-educated colleagues. The findings are compounded by diversity figures which reveal BAME representation is at a five-year low, with 92% of PR professionals describing themselves as white.

Practitioners claim to believe PR is more effective when practiced by diverse teams, but the data raises serious questions over whether the industry is truly committed to addressing its diversity crisis.

Department for Education figures for England reveal ethnic minorities comprise 31% of the primary school population, yet only 8% of PR professionals are from BAME backgrounds.

The decline of ethnic minorities in PR is at odds with UK population trends and poses a long-term threat to the relevance and staying-power of an industry which should reflect the society is seeks to engage.

I’m not surprised by this finding, but it doesn’t feel new to me. Looking around at conferences, or even at my Masterclasses, I can see there’s a lack of diversity. But that’s not just race, it’s gender and age too.

Regarding education, I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a fellow practitioner and they asked me about my education or I asked them. If we know there is a diversity crisis, I’d prefer to ask what can we do about it?

Rather than focus on where people were educated (I’m writing this as someone who went to a Comprehensive school in Essex and didn’t go to University, choosing instead to do post-graduate studies 10 years into my career), it doesn’t feel helpful to perpetuate the stereotype.

What is helpful is looking at the opportunities we have to not only inspire the next generation about the vibrancy of working in Comms and PR and how it is a viable career choice, whatever your background or education, but also making sure we are focused on creating opportunities for everyone.

Where to find out more
Check out the Taylor Bennett Foundation @PRstarsTB, or bme PR pros.

CIPR also has a Diversity and Inclusion Forum and you can find them on Twitter @CIPRdiversity.

Other key survey findings include:

  • Steady commercial growth– average salaries increased slightly to £53,000 and the majority of in-house teams (84%) and consultancies (96%) are either growing or stable in size.
  • Is social on the slide?– Social media relations fell from the fifth most common PR activity to the ninth – the biggest shift of any task over the last year.
  • Modest progress on gender pay – Gender pay calculations – which consider all factors influencing pay such as length of service and prevalence of part-time work – reveal the pay inequality gap between men and women has fallen by £1,523 to £5,202.
  • Financial reward for professionalism –those who hold CIPR membership (£2,963), professional qualifications (£3,800) or Chartered Practitioner status (£18,000) earn higher average salaries than those without professional credentials.
  • Senior skills gap – There’s a notable difference in the skills recruiters want and what senior professionals have to offer, including ‘research, evaluation and measurement’, ‘PR and corporate governance’ and ‘people management’.

CIPR President Emma Leech Found.Chart.PR, FCIPR, said: “This report identifies clear challenges and opportunities for the PR industry.

“Diversity is an issue we must tackle head on. Talent doesn’t have a postcode and it isn’t determined by skin colour. Our industry has to work harder to be inclusive. Similarly, mental health is a growing area of concern and we must be proactive in changing working practices and shifting the ‘always on’ culture that contributes to the problem.

“There are positives, however, in terms of steady commercial growth despite the current environment with some progress on gender pay but with much more still to do. There’s a positive groundswell around professionalism which is good news as we build a community of Chartered Practitioners.”

Avril Lee MCIPR, Chair of the CIPR Diversity and Inclusion Forum, said: “The PR industry agrees that diversity is important for attracting the best talent to bring fresh thinking, creativity and insights into new audiences, but our actions speak louder than our words.  And our actions are building a profession of white, ex-public school professionals; we are less diverse than in previous years.

“Who can make our industry a fairer place where there is opportunity for all? You! Every manager, every employee, every agency leader – we all need to challenge outdated and biased recruitment and retention policies. We are all responsible for shaping the future of our industry by establishing workplace cultures in which all talent is judged fairly and given an equal opportunity for progression. Without those inside changing the status quo, those outside will remain locked out and our profession will be the poorer for it.”

You can download a full copy of the report.

What do you think? To find out more about the survey, see the CIPR website and follow the conversations online #stateofPR.

Changing the Conversation: CIPR Inside conference

The CIPR Inside conference is taking place on 8 October 2019 in Birmingham. I’m looking forward to speaking and focusing on how to change the conversation. Chair Advita Patel (pictured) says: “We chose the theme ‘Changing The Conversation’ because that’s exactly what we want to try to do. I’ve been working in the internal communications industry for a number of years now and I have to be honest, in the years I’ve been in IC nothing seems to have changed in terms of some of the conversations we are having.

“We still seem to be struggling to make progress in some key areas such as measurement, strategy and with the debate about getting a seat in the boardroom to be regarded as a trusted advisor. I don’t know about you but I feel that it’s time for us to address this and take it up a level. Which means that we now need to change the conversations we are having and get ready to overcome the future challenges for internal communications as a profession, which are nearly upon us.”

Tickets are being released at 9am on Wednesday 3 April. Book from 9am UK time today to benefit from the early bird rate. I love the fact there’s a pay it forward option.

The speakers are starting to be revealed and they include Chuck Gose and Katie Macaulay. Keep an eye on #ChangingTheConvo and @CIPRInside on Twitter. See the CIPR Inside website for full information.

Well done to the volunteers who run CIPR Inside for devising a conference schedule that reflects modern-day practice. I welcome the move to include Mastermind sessions. I’ve been running them in my Masterclasses and experiencing them at entrepreneur conferences for a couple of years and thoroughly recommend them for peer-to-peer learning.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: What is a Mastermind?

Thank you for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 3 April 2019.


  1. Daniel Sherman says:

    Do I agree? Absolutely.

    This is a troubling insight, but for me, not an entirely surprising one.

    The CIPR report highlights worrying trends with other recent articles published by Buzzfeed and BBC on the wider issue of ‘Millennial Burnout’. In 2018 a study from the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 74% of people in the past year have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.

    Unmanageable workload, unrealistic deadlines, cultural expectations of an ‘always on’ approach to work have been, and will continue to be, personal struggles for me as well as many others. However, identifying and admitting these problems are some of the first steps towards addressing them. There is no ‘quick and easy’ fix to what are widely felt (and justifiable) concerns.

    I passionately believe that teams, departments, entire companies, that organise themselves on the principles of open ‘conversational’ communications with active listening a must, will help start conversations around workplace pressures and ultimately change attitudes around mental health.

    Great to see the CIPR report, very interested to see how internal communicators respond to findings and excellent to hear about Jo Hooper’s much needed new initiative – the mad and sad club.

  2. Thank you for your comments Daniel.

  3. […] 2019 State of the profession report […]

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