Feeling the pressure? What even is pressure?

Pressure affects us all differently. But one thing is certain… left unresolved, pressure will have a lasting negative effect on culture of in-house communications teams and agencies.

By Paul Hutchings, founder of fox&cat.

Pressure.

For some this word induces thoughts of stress and anxiety. For others it’s exciting, motivating or encouraging. But for most it likely brings up mixed emotions and feelings.

The relationship you have with pressure is as unique as your fingerprint. How you react to it is based on your own genetics and life experiences. But it’s not confined to the individual.

Pressure can be contagious, moving person-to-person through speech or text, or even with a look or a stare. It may be implied or inferred and can travel through a business in no time affecting individuals, in-house teams or whole agencies. With lasting effects on the culture and reputation of the organisation.

Think of the last time you got an email from your boss or a colleague and the tone felt immediate or stern. Did you feel the pressure or was it motivating?

If you’re anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with pressure. The idea of a deadline challenges you to deliver but can also make you feel overwhelmed.

Pressure in communications roles

Communications teams, and also creative teams, are among the most affected by pressure due to unpredictable workload, peaks and troughs and team changes. There’s constant flux between too much and too little going on, making it a highly stressful working environment.

Paul Phillips, who runs training workshops for fox&cat on ‘managing pressure and building resilience’, says: “There’s a tipping point where good stress turns to bad stress and the pressure you’ve been able to successfully thrive on and embrace suddenly generates anxiety. To some extent that tipping point depends on the environment and culture of the company you work in, but it also depends on how you process your thoughts, how you organise yourself and aspects of your lifestyle.”

Workplace pressure or stress is a growing concern but looms larger in the comms industry where, according to a CIPR survey, one fifth of employees experience mental health issues. Three quarters cited comms agencies as the most stressful sector and 20% take sick leave due to anxiety, depression or stress. It costs the UK economy around £5 billion per year and with the current landscape, this will only continue to rise.

The CIPR’s State of the Profession report found 23% of people take sick leave due to stress, anxiety and depression – something I can speak volumes into as I once fell into that category. Personally, I was one of the lucky ones because my previous employer understood mental health. Sadly, a quarter of people who raise concerns with their line manager said nothing happened.

Too much or too little: it’s all pressure

Comms folk work blooming hard! There’s often loads coming at you all at once and too many decisions to make by, err… yesterday. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or stressed. Your work may suffer and you may be less able to cope with other areas of your life.

On the other hand you might have very little (or no) pressure at times which can seem truly blissful. For a while it can be good – a bit of downtime, chance to do some admin, time for a holiday perhaps.

But if you don’t manage the troughs it can lead to uncertainty and boredom. Creatives and anyone who thrives in a demanding role like comms will jump ship, numbers will fall and profits at may will slump leading to redundancies and job changes.

The best place to be is somewhere in the middle where you wake up each day feeling motivated, with a team who also feel that way. And your workload is pushing you forward at an achievable rate.

Problem: in comms sticking to that middle ground for any great length of time just isn’t realistic.

The answer? Read on…

How you and your comms team can manage pressure

  1. Firstly, recognise it’s possible!
  2. Then think what’s causing pressure. We believe there are four main factors:
  • Inability to deliver the work you have (or to get work in the first place)
  • Lack of training that helps individuals, teams and agencies develop
  • Leadership that doesn’t address, understand or acknowledge pressure
  • A culture that isn’t ripe for change (we call it wellbeing)

If you can take time to consider your situation holistically and mindfully, you’ll be able to develop a long-term strategy that works.

Perhaps you’ve heard the fable of the fox & cat. When faced with many challenges (high pressure) the fox came to a gruesome end because he couldn’t decide what to do for the best. But the cat, with only one option, easily chose her solution.

  1. Objectivity is key. So consider finding a support agency or partner who’s experienced, professional and understands pressure to help support and guide you.
  2. Lastly, it takes a combination of people to create lasting change: HR, client service teams, line managers etc. So it’s good to get everyone on board.

The time for action is now

Mental health is an issue in communications – FACT! In health comms (which is where my main experience lies), we aim to make a positive difference to other people’s wellbeing through the campaigns and client work we service. But to be effective, in-house teams, agencies and their staff need to keep mentally and physically healthy too.

It takes courage to admit something’s wrong and commitment to overcome whatever challenges you face. But there’s plenty of support out there…

The CIPR has a brilliant service available for members and you can find lots of information at Mental Health First Aid England or Mental Health at Work. And at fox&cat we’re only too happy to have a chat. You can call on +44(0)7753 920 105 or email paul@foxandcat.online

If you’re ever concerned about your mental health please do talk to someone. It’s time for action.

Fox&cat is a ‘mould breaking’ agency whose mission is to help creative agencies – starting in communications – manage the pressures of agency life. You can find out more about fox&cat and its services here.

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