Citizen POV: Managing Workload Stress

Jules Day - Deputy Managing Director, London
June 14, 2024
Woman on Bench

This May, we launched our inaugural Citizen #MoveInMay Challenge, marking Mental Health Awareness Month in the US and Mental Health Awareness Weeks in Canada, the UK and Europe. Citizens logged over 193,000 minutes of activity across the months and reported enjoying the collective push to get out and move at lunchtime. May has become a month to reflect, individually, as organisations and as an industry on our mental health and our approach to managing it. The PR industry has a poor reputation when it comes to mental health – which has not improved according to this month’s research from the PRCA and CIPR which found that 91% of UK PR professionals experienced poor mental health at some point in the past year, and 58% citing workload stress as a significant contributing factor. As the leader of our Global Wellbeing Committee, I was troubled to read this but not surprised; post-pandemic we’re all feeling the effects of the world seeming to spin just that little bit faster. The pace, the open lines of communication, the always-on ‘mentality’, the volume of people collaborating across time zones. It’s a heady mix.

With so much to reflect on and to act upon, here’s where my head’s at on the topic of workload stress (acknowledging that our lives outside of work carry their own weight): 

On an individual level – we can start by becoming more in tune with our stress levels and recognising when our resources are running low so that we can self-manage. The kicker with experiencing stress is that it impacts our choices, tipping us towards poor decisions instead of those that will replenish us. I can say that, for all my good intentions of leading by example, May was not a great month for me and my exercise, water intake, diet and sleep all suffered.  

Understand what self-care looks like for you, work out your non-negotiables (e.g. 8 hours of sleep, daily exercise) and schedule time for it. Most companies offer wellbeing related benefits (we offer wellbeing apps, personal days, access to talking therapy) – find out what you have access to before you need it. 

On an agency level – the pace we work at means we’ll always be working under pressure but perhaps it is how we respond to that pressure rather than the pressure itself which is important? My colleagues know that I demand client excellence and, yet, my favourite motto is, “It’s PR, not ER”. It is possible to deliver with excellence and not engender stress and fear in our teams. Our vision at Citizen is for our agency to be a mentally healthy workplace where everyone feels comfortable, able and equipped to have conversations that count. This sounds easy but is anything but. We must enable and equip our people to have the conversations they need to; these can include communicating a mistake, asking for help, sharing difficult feedback, having any type of difficult conversation, disclosing our mental health status, spotting the signs of someone struggling and knowing how to broach the conversation. 

Managing staffing levels, optimising workflows and embedding good project management practices are our daily bread but so is empowering our people to say what they need to in order to deliver with excellence. I am a big supporter of people doing Mental Health First Aid training* (we had over 50  people trained in the last year alone), it’s hugely helpful as is manager training, how to have difficult conversations and  negotiation training – invaluable for enabling practitioners to address budgetary conversations with clients. 

On an industry level – let’s all take a moment of self-reflection and think about what actions we can take individually and collectively to make this incredible, dynamic, powerful, exciting industry a brilliant place to be and work. I’ve been in the industry for twenty something years and have experienced the worst of workplace practices, the worst of my own lack of boundaries, the worst of juggling parental responsibilities – I know what bad looks like and I don’t want that for me, my people or anyone else in communications. 

I don’t have the answers but I think a good place to start is ensuring that people know they can disclose poor mental health (not to mention mental health conditions which I’ve not touched on here) without fear of judgment or penalty. If we can truly create an environment where people are comfortable, able and equipped to talk about their mental wellbeing and the listener is equipped for the conversation, we might just be surprised by the positive impact on our people, our agencies and our industry.


Mental Health First Aid England –

Mental Health First Aid Canada – 

Mental Health First Aid USA – 

About the Author: 

Jules Day, Deputy MD of Citizen London & Head of Citizen’s Global Wellbeing Committee, is an agency leader who feels passionately about creating a mentally healthy workplace.