By Ebony Gayle,
Working in PR and communications is stressful, according to the recent CIPR state of the profession report, around one in six PR professionals (16%) report living with a mental health condition – an increase of 10% from the year before. Any percentage increase is a concern, and highlights that more needs to be done in our industry to address this. It’s fine to have policies in place but we need managers to recognise that their staff are their most important assets and happy healthy staff make for a productive work force. KPIs are important but so is mental wellness.
Like many I have suffered with depression myself, I recall working for a very well-known organisation, responsible for one of the largest and busiest directorate’s, my daughter was in nursery but was due to start primary school so I knew that I would have to look into flexible working to accommodate this.
I was juggling motherhood, the pressures of working in a high-profile press office and some personal family issues in addition to preparing for the transition from nursery to school and waiting for acceptance into both breakfast and afterschool clubs.
My manager wasn’t the friendliest, she didn’t build a rapport with any of us that she managed. She was a task master, wouldn’t engage in small talk and was a fan of micro-management. It made for a somewhat awkward environment for the team. I was a bit reluctant to discuss my request with her but had no choice. In this particular post you either started at 08:00, 09:00 or 10:00 am as well as taking part in the 24hr out of hours press office service.
To accommodate my child’s school times, I was proposing that I arrive into the office at 8:30am rather than 8am – because I couldn’t physically be in two places at one time – and school drop off and pick up was my priority. I planned on assuring my manager that I would be on call from 8am in case anyone called, which rarely ever happened and I had a chat with my colleagues and found two who were happy to swap late shifts (as it ended at the same time as after school club) for my early shift. Great, I thought I showed initiative and the problem would hopefully be solved.
Following the meeting, my reluctant unease turned rapidly into full blown panic as much to my dismay my request was met with a big fat resounding no. I was shocked, hurt and angry and not sure of what my next move would be and the reasoning behind the decision. I made a couple more attempts to get this decision overturned with no luck, each time I was shot down with a quickness.
Not long after I fell into depression, but for me, and I suspect many others, you would never have known, unless we were close. I had a way of covering over the cracks, putting on a smile and getting on with it. I’d continue to be efficient at work, but when overwhelmed I’d cry in the toilets and try and mask my sadness. One day I did this but a friend heard me and so I shared my problem. She was a member of the union so was immediately outraged and supportive, urging me to take things further, but I was afraid of the repercussions.
After a while I did start to notice a change in myself, heading into work was not fun, I couldn’t sleep, I was in a dark place, I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach every working day, which got worse the closer I got to the building I worked in. I was crumbling, I found myself wishing for something bad to happen, like getting hit by a bus on the way in, so I wouldn’t have to work.
At this point I had to take action, it dawned on me if something did happen then what would happen to my daughter? I didn’t know what else to do but to resign from the job and cited exactly why I was doing so. It did end up stirring up some interest from senior management once they got wind of what had been going on with me in my department. They were surprised to hear that my pleas for flexible working had fallen on deaf ears and where not happy about it at all. They kicked into action to help remedy things but it was too late for me.
As we spend more time at work then we do with our loved ones, it’s crucial that we are in a happy and healthy mental state. Remaining in a job we are not happy in is actually more common than we may realise. According to recent research over half of U.K. employees are unhappy in their jobs.
The experience did scar me in that I would always read and re-read flexible working policies as well as being a reminder that job roles are replaceable but I’m not.
I landed a number of great roles, since then and luckily for me the managers I had were the total opposite, supportive and understanding. But, now that I work for myself as my own boss, I can honestly say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Before I took the leap, I had to re-evaluate myself, I wanted to make a career change but honestly was a bit scared to step-up.
I soon realised that I was getting in my own way of progression, why? Because of the types of conversation, I was having with myself.
We can often be dismissive and quick to diminish our own self-worth. How many times have you talked yourself out of opportunities? How many times have you told yourself you are not good enough or just lacked self-belief to go for what you really want in life? Its okay to feel scared, and its okay to ask for help and confide in your work colleagues, friends or family. We all have a right to be happy so whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence and remember your happiness and mental wellbeing is worth more than any job, we are irreplaceable, there’s only one you, so it’s time we put ourselves and our health first.
Ebony Gayle is the author of ‘How To Become A Consultant; A Guide To Free Yourself From The 9-5’.