Put your own life vest on first – why it’s vital internal communicators start prioritising their mental health

Those who look after internal communications often have to convey difficult or confronting information to their workplaces. They also work to support and normalise mental health and wellbeing initiatives. But who's looking out for their wellbeing, asks Ramak Salamat, APAC vice president at employee comms business Staffbase.

When it comes to the articles I read about internal communications professionals and mental health, the focus is almost always on the importance of messaging to support and normalise mental health in employee comms.  

While this is an incredibly important point, it does beg the question – who is looking out for the mental health of internal communicators? 

Picture: Ciphr Connect

Every day they sit at the coalface of company news, sharing critical announcements with their colleagues. This comes with a level of uncertainty.  

While some news is great, some is challenging. Will the next piece be announcing the much-anticipated location of an end-of-quarter party, or could it be the redundancy announcement impacting their valued colleagues?  

With a complex macro business environment impacting Australian companies every day at present, internal comms is often full of highs and lows. 

Consequently, this means it is also a turbulent time for the state of mental health and as the data shows, we know the communications industry is already highly susceptible to mental health conditions.  

The recent Mentally Healthy Survey measuring the state of mental health in the media, marketing, and creative industries in Australia – revealed two-in-five (46%) respondents in communications fields displayed symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Almost one-in-five workers in the media, marketing & creative industries also show signs of severe stress.  

For internal communicators, there is a further mental health pressure cooker they face – the mental health of the rest of the Australian workforce, or the people they are communicating with. 

In the past 12 months alone, one-in-five Australian employees report that they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell. It is no wonder that the comms stats mentioned are so high. 

Behind every workforce that may receive bad news that impacts their mental health, there is someone who has to deliver it. 

At the recent VOICES conference hosted by Staffbase, social psychologist Amy Cuddy led a session, during which she asked the audience full of internal communicators: “What’s your biggest communication challenge?” 

The audience feedback confirmed that the biggest challenges tend to stem from negative feedback at work, followed by redundancies. It’s something that I can’t blame any internal communicator for wanting to avoid. Cuddy took this as an opportunity to touch on the fact that while these aren’t easy conversations to have, they are even harder if you have your own underlying anxiety.  

So, what is the solution? 

Cuddy suggested that communicators focus on building trust, rather than focusing on approaching certain types of communication as a threat. I agree – there are lots of opportunities right now for internal communicators to build trust and, in turn, make their role personally easier as well. 

In an era when uncertainty is so prevalent in people’s lives, employees still tend to trust their employers to a (perhaps surprising) degree. Recent statistics from the Edelman Trust Barometer indicate employers are the most trusted institution among information sources globally.  

This provides an opportunity for internal communicators to have a positive impact on the lives of all of their colleagues. But as Cuddy pointed out in her session: “Creating great communication is both a challenge and an opportunity — but we can re-empower our employees by first re-empowering ourselves.” 

Given today’s business landscape, this feels much easier said than done, and I imagine has a lot of internal communicators reading this asking, “Great but how?”  

Internal communications individuals or teams will always face a mixed bag of messages to push out. Finding the right balance between all the different demands and how we react to them is key. Good communication is a craft and internal communications experts should be aware that their greatest asset when navigating tough times and high demands is their own mental health.  

So with that, I hope to leave you with a few key tips for looking after your own mental health as an internal communicator.  

  1. Positive working relationships heighten levels of productivity, while also reducing stress levels. For internal comms professionals who are working in a team of one, it is important to remember you are not alone. Lean on others in the community. Network and create relationships that can serve as a sounding board or shoulder to cry on. Sign up for ongoing networking programs (like our Staffbase Comms Club events) to create a safety net of people with comparable life experiences, who can offer you advice based on their similar encounters. 
  2. Continue to focus on your professional development and learn industry-insider tips and tricks to overcome difficult situations. Picking up a new skill or stretching your mind is an effective way to manage your mental health and self-care. Look into certifications or micro-courses, like the newly released Staffbase Campus, that you can complete to further your professional development and increase your confidence in your role.   
  3. Be aware of your inner critic and the impact this has on your mental health. It is not unusual to hear from internal communications professionals that they experience imposter syndrome, but you mustn’t be too hard on yourself. You were hired for your position because you know what you’re doing – back yourself, you’ve got this! 

And remember, it’s okay to prioritise yourself and your own mental health when you need to. You are your strongest self when you put on your own life vest first. Then, and only then, can you support others to the best of your ability within your organisation. 

Ramak Salamat is the APAC vice president at Staffbase.


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