Amber Robinson: It’s time we started building healthier workplaces

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Amber Robinson: It’s time we started building healthier workplaces

By Amber Robinson, social media strategist, Quiip


Working in advertising definitely has its perks. You’re usually working with creative, smart and funny people, in a decent office space in a nice location. The work is challenging and varied and you’re usually pretty well paid.

But dig a little deeper and the industry has a dark side, with more than half of surveyed adland workers showing mild to severe signs of depression and/or anxiety.

It’s something I can relate to after experiencing panic attacks myself when working for a large advertising firm in my 20s. The workload was insane, the support was minimal, and everyone drank huge amounts of alcohol to deal with it all (unhealthy coping skills, anyone?)

At the time, I thought my experience was unique and maybe I just couldn’t handle the pressure. Recent research by Mentally Healthy has revealed that overwork, a competitive culture and a lack of work/life balance are still contributing to the alarming rates of mental health issues mentioned above.

Stigma is another big issue contributing to mental health issues in the workplace. It has taken me almost 20 years to speak up, off the back of seeing Adland leaders sharing their experiences with their mental health in the Heart On My Sleeve story book. De-stigmatising mental illness is extremely important for awareness-raising, as well as being able to seek help and support.

I’m still in media and communications because I love the dynamic nature of the industry, and thankfully, with time, experience and greater self-awareness, I’ve developed much better coping skills to deal with the pressures workplaces and clients can impose.

Whist we can never make the advertising and media industry completely stress-free, we can build resilience in ourselves and our workplaces to better cope when times are tough.

It’s with that in mind that the team at Quiip has worked in conjunction with psychologist and rehabilitation counsellor Ceara Rickard to develop a training pack for online community managers (but adaptable for other media businesses) to help develop individual and workplace resilience.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of stress, suffering or trauma. I really like the term resilience because it acknowledges that bad things can and do happen but that we can bounce back.

A lack of resilience can lead to overwhelm, and unhealthy or destructive coping mechanisms (e.g., verbally abusing people or using drugs and alcohol to excess).

Individuals can’t be resilient on their own, however. They need supportive, resilient and healthy communities around them to thrive – at home and in the workplace.

This makes sense (and cents!) because for every dollar invested in effective mental health initiatives at work, there’s an average return investment of $2.30.

For such programs to be successful, employers need to step up and embed healthy practices like self-care at the organisational level. Self-care needs to be built it the office culture and lead from the top.

Workplaces can encourage better work/life balance by offering flexible work options, scheduling meetings in regular work hours and losing the common expectation that employees work over weekends.

Support employees who aren’t ok by teaching employees to look out for each other and recognise when someone isn’t acting like their usual self which could indicate that mental health is on the decline. Provide access to outside help like an Employee Assistance Program.

These are simple, low-cost initiatives that are grounded in realistic mindset and culture adjustments. The biggest challenge will be changing the unhealthy habits adland is known for, as individuals and as workplaces.

It’s clear though, that we can’t keep on going the way we are.