Industry’s approach to mental health is ‘completely broken’, says Edelman MD of global clients

Note: If you or someone close to you requires personal assistance, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

Edelman managing director of global clients, Michelle Hutton, has challenged PR and communications leaders to introduce mental health KPIs and change their mindset on sick days.

“We’ve got to rethink the model. It’s completely broken, in my view,” she told a room of industry professionals at Mumbrella’s CommsCon.

“Most of our teams are structured the way that they were structured when I started in this industry a very long time ago. There’s got to be a different way.

“We stretch our consultants so thinly across different clients. We push the work down, push it down, push it down, push it down. The people at the bottom have nowhere to go, nowhere to put the work.”

Hutton said mental health is not a HR issue, but a business issue

Hutton suggested that the solution involves reimagining what a safe workplace looks like. The argument that organisations can’t be simultaneously client-focused and flexible for employees is “bollocks”, she said.

But, notably, she also stressed the importance of coupling internal flexibility with setting boundaries with clients.

“From the client’s side, we’ve got to have a conversation about deliverables, about realistic workflow,” she said.

“There’s a new contract, if you like, to be had between clients and agencies and vice versa. What does that look like?

“That’s just a modern conversation to have in business today. If you work in-house, it’s a conversation that you have with your bosses. I think this new social contract in the workplace is vital.”

The Edelman leader argued that managers need to be held more accountable for their teams’ mental health.

“If I can talk firstly from an agency perspective, I think it’s important for leaders in the agency businesses to be KPIed around this really important business issue.”

Hutton also took the opportunity to bring the UK’s Three Wishes initiative to an Australian stage, which sees those working in PR and communications list their hopes for the industry in the mental health space.

Hutton began with her own: rethink sick days, encourage honest and open conversations, and train people to notice and respond.

“I think sick days are important for people who just need to take time out from the business, whether it’s due to stress, whether it’s due to overwork, whatever it might be,” she said.

“You should be able to put up your hand and say, ‘I’m not actually dealing well today’. And that should be okay.”

Hutton acknowledged that her third wish involves hard-to-have conversations.

“We need to train people to not only identify and notice mental health in the workplace, but know how to respond,” she said.

“It’s a difficult conversation to maybe have with a colleague, ‘are you okay’? How do you have that conversation? How do you respond if that person actually turns around and says ‘I’m not’?

“This is not a HR issue, this is business critical.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.