Why prioritising mental wellbeing is a matter of urgency for adland

As Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off adland must face up to some uncomfortable questions about employee wellbeing.

Staff turnover in adland is at 30%, compared with 10% for business at large, a state of play which makes prioritising mental wellbeing a business imperative.

In the first quarter of this year NABS took more calls to its Advice Line than at any other time in six years. Back then the majority of calls were about redundancy – now more than a third are for emotional support, of which 64% are about mental health and work pressures.

We are working in an increasingly fast-paced and adrenaline-charged industry. It’s exciting, but it’s relentless and it can be physically and mentally exhausting.

Research we conducted with Mind at the end of last year makes for uncomfortable reading. More than two thirds said they had considered leaving the industry because of poor wellbeing at work. More than a third said their mental health over the past year had been poor or very poor.

The cost of burnout

People are our most valuable asset in our industry - but they need to be happy, healthy and thriving to perform at their best. The good news is this is achievable if we work together to prioritise mental wellbeing in the workplace.

When we’re mentally distressed less oxygen reaches the brain and cortisol increases. This results in a reduction in critical thinking, decision-making, creativity and the ability to focus – all of which are critical if our industry is to flourish. Over time stress can even lead to depression and burnout.

With staff turnover in Adland at 30%, compared to 10% on average - the potential knock-on effect of poor mental wellbeing to our industry is huge.

When we experience positive mental wellbeing, more oxygen and glucose gives the brain the energy to perform at its best.

Shifting the dial

It is this latest thinking in neuroscience and positive psychology that led NABS to create our SHEPARD Model for Wellbeing featuring the seven elements we believe make up good wellbeing: satisfaction, health, emotions, perceptions, awareness, rewards and diversity. This framework underpins how we design and deliver all our services.

All too often investment in mental wellbeing is an afterthought as a result of major incidents or loss of income due to a stressed workforce. This is the wrong approach: it should be a preventative measure and a series of positive interventions which become a way of life, rather than a reaction.

We need to care for our brain and minds as we do our bodies. Interventions can include regular exercise, mindfulness, improved diet and building stronger, more supportive relationships.

At NABS our masterclasses on topics including ‘Building Resilience to Pressure’ and ‘Mindfulness for Busy Working Parents’ give people the tools they need to flip a pattern of negative thinking and approach those inevitably stressful times in a more positive and productive way.

During one-to-one wellbeing coaching sessions we will advise our clients how to raise the issue of mental health with their manager and what to ask for.

We also empower them to ask for a change to their working practices if it would benefit their mental health. This may mean asking for flexible working, or making sure clients know that they aren’t available after hours on one or two nights a week.

The power of openness

It is encouraging that every day we find more people willing to speak out about the issues of mental health – but what about those who don’t feel confident to ask for help?

We realise many managers lack suitable training to identify and support their employees’ mental wellbeing. In our research with Mind, 46% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to their line manager if work was having a negative impact on their mental health.

This is why we are trialling a new masterclass at NABS which will give attendees the tools to become leaders who understand and care about the wellbeing of their teams. It will teach the importance of creating an environment which promotes individual brain and mind health.

Building nurturing cultures

Employers need to create better working environments and a culture which supports individuals’ wellbeing. Our industry thrives when people are at their most creative.

At a recent NABS event at Advertising Week Europe, Unruly co-founder  Sarah Wood revealed the company had installed a no dress code policy, standing desks, snooze pods and working spaces for introverts who need peace and quiet.

Our Working Parents Initiative White Paper highlights how businesses are changing their culture for the better, including Rufus Leonard which offers home-working across the company and incorporates flexible working into job descriptions.  

Company leaders need to set the tone for how their staff perceive and respond to stress. If there is a culture of presenteeism, long hours and micro-managing then staff will suffer through a lack of confidence, anxiety and stress.  

When people are feeling a sense of happiness, satisfaction, achievement and trust they perform at their best. Three quarters of industry employees say they would be more likely to stay with an employer who is interested in their wellbeing.

We are lucky to work in one of the most exciting and fast-moving professions there is. But we need to urgently prioritise mental wellbeing in the workplace, otherwise talent will be lost and we will all suffer.


Diana Tickell is CEO of  NABS

This week is mental health awareness week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. This year the organisation is focused on raising awareness of stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience mental health problems in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.

Subscribe today for just $89 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

The latest work, news, advice, comment and analysis, sent to you every day

register free