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PR’s poor work-life balance is putting productivity at risk


Victoria Usher

Published On:

April 25, 2019

Published In:

Business | PR & Communications

PR’s poor work-life balance is putting productivity at risk

This article originally appeared on the PRmoment blog

All work and no play might make Jack a dull boy, but it’s also taking its toll on the UK’s workforce and the PR industry specifically.

British employees work on average around 10 hours overtime per week, with the majority citing the reason for this as a burgeoning workload. And the PR industry is one of the gravest offenders with over a quarter (27%) of employees working additional hours every day.

This presents an issue. Not only is working overtime damaging for employees — the Mental Health Foundation cites demanding workplace culture as a major challenge to national wellbeing — it also hinders performance. Despite the extra hours worked as a nation, we have one of the lowest levels of productivity, according to the Office of National Statistics. A poll of almost 2,000 employees found we are productive for just three hours per working day.

I believe we have a responsibility to tackle this issue; the health of our employees and our industry depends on cultivating a strong work-life balance.

Giving employees choice

Flexible working is making inroads into businesses, but sadly isn’t yet the norm. Studies show that 7 in 10 (70%) employees want their company to support a better work-life balance, with Millennials – a key part of the PR workforce – citing this as one of the key drivers of their career.

Trust and an open-minded approach are central to flexible working. In my experience, working from home is a sought after benefit – cutting out the commute and allowing employees to enjoy heightened productivity from the comfort of their own home. Of course it requires careful planning and account management, but it is more than possible for PR consultancies to offer flexible working options while maintaining excellent standards of client support. When they do, they are rewarded with staff loyalty in droves and lower churn.

Breaking old habits

PR agencies have, in the past, suffered from a negative reputation for overstretching staff. According to the PRCA, the average PR professional works 45 hours per week when they are only contracted for 37.5, with data from PRWeek’s Top 150 consultancies revealing they manage an average of around £115,000 worth of business per head per annum. 

Managing staff resourcing in an agency is a tricky task. By its nature, agency workloads contract and expand on a fairly regular basis, so it can be difficult to predict resourcing needs. But there is lots of available research, as well as platforms, that allow agencies to monitor staff stretch to help achieve a balance in workload. The PRCA provides fantastic insight into hours worked per staffing level, while we as an agency worked with Neil Backwith – a highly respected industry consultant – to calculate the ideal breakdown of staff hours. Our team understands that working in the PR sector can mean occasionally working late to fix a client urgent. But on the flip side, we aim to have the office empty by 6pm every night so that staff are able to enjoy their evening – a key driver for productivity and creativity.

Reworking company culture

Thankfully, the narrative around downtime being lost time is starting to change as research and common sense recognises that time out boosts creativity. Yet to cultivate an environment where employees feel consistently motivated, companies must also transform how ‘work’ is defined. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes that we must remove the barrier between work and leisure so that employees view the office as a place for growth and experimentation, not just clocking up hours. Socials, volunteering events, team-building, and idea-sharing sessions are vital elements of everyday fulfillment.

While PR is far from alone in its heavy work emphasis, it is arguably one of the sectors in greatest need for change. Nobody wants their agency to be dull; creativity, passion, and remarkable thinking are crucial to meet client objectives and maintain a competitive position. A finely tuned balance between work and play makes PR a vibrant industry and is essential to maintain productivity.

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