Public relations is seen as, and is, a stressful occupation.
In recent years, concerns have emerged about the mental health of people involved in public relations work. More has been found out about levels of stress in public relations work, and the resilience needed to cope with stress, through the CIPR’s recent State of the Profession studies.
Stress is an essential part of role performance. Up to a certain point, successful role performance depends on experiencing an amount of stress (brought on by an awareness of expectations others have for role performance, the demands of the role, and our own expectations for role performance).
Beyond a certain level, the stress felt in role performance becomes counterproductive. Psychologists recognise that stress motivates up to a point, but beyond this begins to interfere with performance. It becomes what is called Role Strain.
Studies of role performance identify a number of potential role problems that give rise to excessive stress:
Role ambiguity: because of unclear expectations, people are uncertain about what their role involves. In public relations, this might be a problem for those leaving full time employment to work independently. In-house, different people in the organisation may have unclear expectations of those playing public relations roles.
Role conflict: expectations of someone playing a particular role are conflicting. An example in public relations is where journalists might expect public relations to be a source of information, whereas clients or employers might expect information to be withheld.
Role overload: too many roles. A common problem in public relations, this goes beyond having too much work to do.
Role underload: this occurs when the occupant of a role has higher expectations for his or her role performance than others. Again, a common problem in public relations, where aspirations might be towards providing strategic advice while employers and clients expect message delivery.
A difficulty in public relations is that people coming in to the practice are not prepared for these common role problems. They can be serious in their consequences, leading to feelings of insecurity, frustration, burnout, mental health problems and physical illness.
Resilience can be built through preparation, training and support (counselling, coaching and mentoring).
There will be opportunities for CIPR to work towards greater resilience in practice by providing services in each of these areas, starting in the near future with training programmes to prepare managers to recognise the need to attend to mental well-being at work, and to help individuals develop their own responses to the stresses of practice.