When the black dog bites

This week (18-24 May) has been designated as Mental Health Week and – now more than ever – we’re aware of the importance of maintaining mental health, and recognising when we, or others, may be struggling.

The last CIPR State of the Profession survey revealed that 21% of public relations practitioners live with, or have previously lived with, a diagnosed mental health condition. Over half of those respondents said their work contributes highly to their diagnosis.

CIPR member Nic Wray shares some of the tips she has learned from her own experience with anxiety and depression.

As someone who has overcome serious mental health issues in the past and is ever-vigilant (not always successfully) for signs that my wellbeing is slipping, here’s some of the tips and techniques I’ve used over the last three decades to keep (mostly) happy and healthy.

Stay connected. When you’re feeling less than chipper, it’s tempting to become a hermit, and the current situation makes it very easy to avoid people. Reaching out doesn’t have to be a three hour Zoom call with all your extended family – it can be as easy as sending someone a funny meme, or a short text. Reading Twitter definitely counts, as long as you’ve curated your feed wisely. Mute and block, mute and block…

Talk about your worries. This can be the scary one. If you’re like me, there will lots of negative self-talk going on in the vein of “what makes my problems so important?” and “they’re going to think I’m a drama queen” but honestly, most people will be happy to listen. If it’s easier, when you start talking, say whether you just want to vent or whether you’re looking to bounce solutions around. If you really can’t face talking to someone you know, helplines do fantastic work. Samaritans is the best known, but CALM (for young men) and Mind are great, too.

Help others. When we can’t be kind to ourselves, we can generally be kind to other people, giving them our time, our support or our skills. Even at my lowest, I was able to volunteer for a couple of community groups. This was great not only for taking me out of myself, but building up my self-esteem and self-worth. What you do doesn’t have to be big – sharing a charity ask on social media, or checking on a neighbour are valuable too.

Get the right fuel. Some days this might mean a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, but that’s only a short term fix. Our physical health can have a big impact on how we feel, so I’m afraid the usual “healthy living” advice applies: well-balanced meals, drinking enough water, avoiding smoking and drugs, not drinking too much alcohol. But you don’t have to make too much effort –a tin of spaghetti hoops on wholemeal toast is healthy and even one of your “five a day”, apparently. Fruit juice, (bought) smoothies, soup or cereal are my go-tos when I’m down as they are low effort, and reasonably nutritious.

The E word. When you can barely lift your head from your pillow, the thought of exercise isn’t enticing. It’s not high on the list of fun things for me to do when I’m feeling fine to be honest, but I do know that a walk always makes me feel better. Especially when I really don’t want to go for one. The key here is finding an activity you enjoy, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. My walking is usually combined with the online “treasure hunt” that is geocaching, to give me a goal to take a few more steps. Yoga is another favourite, although I usually go for the seated variety these days.

Get creative for fun. As communications and PR people, we’re used to conjuring up words, ideas or visuals on demand and to a deadline. And that does sometimes suck the joy out of creativity. I tend to choose an activity that switches the active part of my brain off, and I pick up something I can do effortlessly, leaving me free to focus mindfully on sensations such as touch, colour or repeated movements. I get this fulfilment through needles and thread or yarn, or by working in my garden, but activities such as baking, colouring in, completing jigsaws, building lego are other things to try.

Raindrops on roses. I probably spent too many rainy days as a child watching musicals on TV because both Maria in The Sound of Music and Anna in The King and I sang when they were afraid, and so do I. I sing incredibly badly, and sometimes I don’t even sing out loud, but mime theatrically. It’s impossible to cry while you are belting out your favourite upbeat numbers after the first few bars. A little dance is optional, but it ticks off something else on this list!

Professional help. There are times when you have to take stock and realise that you might need a little extra support, and the situation isn’t something you can deal with yourself. This is where the professionals come in. Your GP is the gatekeeper to NHS services and can prescribe medication to help you sleep or help your mood. Your employer may well have counselling provision available if you have an Employee Assistance Programme, and for CIPR members, the iprovision mental health hotline is available at no cost 24/7, 365 days a year.

The iprovision hotline is found here (you’ll need to log into your CIPR account).

More details about support via iprovision can be found here.

Coronavirus: How can you best work remotely?

 

Ahead of any potential coronavirus outbreak restrictions, many organisations are making contingency plans to encourage staff to work from home. Thousands of people already do this on a regular or occasional basis, but what if it’s something you have never done before?

Nic Wray – who has worked remotely for the charity the British Tinnitus Association for the last five years – gives her top tips for not just surviving, but thriving if you unexpectedly get thrust into this situation.

  1. Get organised

Now is probably a good time to make sure that you have all that you need to be able to work from home – a laptop might only be the start of it. What about printing? Access to shared files? What’s your WiFi router password?

A separate workspace is going to be more important too, so that you can easily start – and end – your day. Don’t under-estimate the power of closing a door on your work. A discrete space with a desk and office chair, if you can manage it, will also be better for you – dining chairs or sofas are great for the odd day, but will get uncomfortable for longer periods.

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  1. Set realistic goals

A lot of people say “I get so much more done when I work from home” and that may well be the case for you. But be realistic with what you can achieve. You don’t have to demonstrate you’re superhuman, churning out work non-stop, to prove yourself just because you’re out of sight.

Make sure your goals are clear and devise a plan to achieve them, but follow the tempo of your office-based work where you can.

  1. Respect your work/life balance

It can be really difficult when working from home to switch off, especially if your laptop and phone are always on hand. This for me is a harder problem than ignoring other distractions, such as the lure of daytime TV, loading the dishwasher or making endless cups of tea. Try to stick to your usual office start and finish times and take a proper break in the middle of the day. A 20 minute breathing space on the sofa feels luxurious and you can return to work cheerfully.

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  1. Look after your well-being

As well as making sure your work space is comfortable, make sure you’re looking after your mental and physical wellbeing. Unless you are having to self-isolate, get out of the house every day – in daylight – even if it’s just a walk around the block. Working from home is a great opportunity to have something other than a sandwich for lunch, too.

One of the drawbacks of working from home is the lack of opportunity to have a bit of social chitchat or support from colleagues. The little things really do mean a lot – the offer of tea, a shared smile when a task is signed off, even the accountant’s bad jokes. If you can, make sure you have more interaction with friends and family, or find a local meet up. If social time is restricted due to quarantine or self-isolation, make sure you spend at least a little time every day doing something you love (that’s not your job).

  1. Communicate

Set expectations now for how to communicate, and when you check in with your team and line managers. There’s no hard and fast rules here, it’s working out what feels comfortable and realistic.

Although I use email a lot, as does everyone, I probably use the phone more than when I was office based – it helps keep the feeling of connection with the team, but it also helps with my mental well-being too.

And finally, one top tip from my friend Liz Dexter of LibroEditing, who also works from home gave me when I started working remotely – wash up and reuse your mug! Do not use all the mugs in the house…

What would be your top tips for a new homeworker? Have you got any advice to become more effective when working remotely?

 

For more information on handling communication around coronavirus in your organisation, see the Local Public Services Communications advice here and check out Stephen Waddington’s latest blog on Influence.

Photo by Agnieszka Boeske  and Madison Nickel on Unsplash

CPD: invest in yourself

Written by Comms Lead, Rose Ling.

“I’ve completed my CPD for the year!” I exclaimed to my colleagues, only a few months after the annual process had started. As I told more people at local CIPR events, I was always greeted with the same remark: “How have you managed to complete the 60 points already?!”

I believe this is really helped because of where I work. I’m lucky enough to be part of a well-known PR agency in Suffolk, where our individual CPD is at the heart of the culture, and an internal training programme is run to complement our individual learning.

As CIPR members, we know that the continued professional development (CPD) programme is a core expectation for all PR professionals, and that CPD must be completed each year to keep your accredited status.

Many leading membership organisations have a CPD within their field, and the CIPR has one as a key route to professionalism. From my few years of involvement, it strongly shows proactivity in keeping up to date in an industry that never stands still, and this continued learning benefits not just you personally and professionally, but also your company, colleagues and our wider profession.

There are ten ways I feel I benefit from completing CPD each year and why everyone should consider becoming accredited:

  • Status – being an Accredited PR professional
  • Individual learning
  • Continually develop skills
  • More knowledge
  • Team development
  • Benefits clients – ideas and solutions
  • Benefits my future career
  • Motivating for my professional and personal development
  • Interested and interesting learning materials
  • Self-satisfaction and high achievement

All of these fit into my idea of professionalism and why completing CPD is so important to me, in and out of work.

Personally it is a great achievement to have and the learning materials are interesting and easy to digest. I am always curious and there is always so much everyone can learn. To not want to learn new skills means you stand still, you never open your mind. That keeps me motivated and shows my network and peers that I am keen to learn.

CPD not only benefits my personal development – with a massive back catalogue of webinars, white papers, podcasts and more, at my disposal so I am always learning – but it benefits the company I work for and my clients.

Professionally it highlights that you know what is happening around you. You are taken more seriously and you are able to better serve your clients with your continued knowledge.

Our profession never stands still, so it’s vital you don’t miss out. You are able to stay on top of the changing industry CPD puts me in the driving seat of my career. It maps my journey and gives me the knowledge and skills I need to progress.

As the time to complete this year’s CPD draws closer, (29th February) I hope that that I’ve interested/reminded some of you to put in the time and invest in yourself.

Plain English or dumbing down?

I’ve recently seen a great illustration by Helen Reynolds bouncing around on LinkedIn and Twitter about the comms approval process (recommend a look). One of the steps Helen has included is clients or colleagues adding in jargon for the comms person to then replace with plain English. I have some thoughts about this and have chatted with the rest of the CIPR East Anglia committee about ways of tackling conversations about jargon.

In a typical week we’ll all read, hear and use phrases that are sector, organisation and discipline-specific. I work with project managers, IT people, university administrators and academics so for me this can include things like: “We’re adopting an agile approach to reduce project risk.”, “What is the RAG status?”, and “What was GrAdmin and the UTF’s reaction to this?”.

It saves time to use these phrases with people who definitely understand but it can also massively stand in the way of connecting with people and landing a message. Besides, jargon can be ambiguous. Ask 10 different people in IT what ‘agile’ means and you’ll get a variety of answers.

At sticking points in the comms approval process there is often someone saying that making things clearer is ‘dumbing down’ or ‘being fluffy’. Common protests are “This is complicated. We shouldn’t make it sound simple.”; “We want to sound credible” and “I think the audience will understand.”

Where to go from there if you disagree? Here are some of our ideas.

  1. Clients often have no idea they use jargon and to simpler alternatives they say the detail is lost. I always ask them who their audience is and how they get their info – it usually works. On the whole I find clients are amenable to anyone who can simplify things. – Andi Hodgson
  2. It depends on the audience. If it is an article for health professionals that terminology is expected – otherwise you would be thought less of. But having worked on Easy Read versions of some of our documents, it’s really opened my eyes how simple we can actually make things without losing meaning. – Nic Wray
  3. Run the wording through a readability test like Fleischmann’s to back up your claims that the audience won’t connect with the comms. And test acronyms out with audiences in surveys! – Sarah Roberts
  4. I find it helpful to use my clients’ ‘jargon’ while building relationships, and be sensitive to the fact that they want to demonstrate their credibility when discussing simplifying comms to match their audience. Research the language that your audiences use. – Jez Peters
  5. By the time I have asked clients what all the words/phrases/jargon mean they usually work out for themselves that there is a problem… – Sally Pattinson

What has worked for you when you’ve been asked to include jargon that you think should be scrapped? It would be interesting to hear your experiences and opinions.