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PR fraternity heads towards a renewed employee culture in unprecedented times

Here’s how the industry has been taking proactive measures for employee engagement and welfare in the pandemic

The world has changed from what it was 14 months ago. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted communities and impacted our way of living.

While its effects on people’s personal lives are profound, its impact on professional lives is even more significant. For professionals, it has become difficult to streamline energies to work with optimum productivity.

Not having lost sight of this problem, agencies have been proactively taking measures for employee welfare and engagement.

The second wave has brought colleagues closer, increasing the sense of belongingness and unity in the fraternity. From sharing workloads to taking care of each other’s physical and mental health, the communication industry has been proactive in boosting morale.

exchange4media reached out to different players in the industry to know about measures taken to support the employee well-being during these trying times. Through this series of stories, we explore the new and rejuvenated employee culture in the PR and corporate communications industry.

Mechanisms adopted to share/reduce the workload of colleagues

Employee health, safety and wellbeing are of utmost importance and when one of the team members is battling a medical crisis, it is imperative for others to support the team. But, when teams are stretched for a long duration of time, division of work tends to get compromised and that is when work ethics and sense of ownership kicks in. Here are some of the steps taken by PR firms to share and reduce the workload of their employees-

Edelman India introduced daily downtime, self-care day-offs to help colleagues take a break from work and attend to their personal needs or simply just take a breather from work. More recently, it announced a four-day workweek through the month of May 2021 to allow its colleagues to make time for their families, and also plan for vaccinations.

SPAG Asia eased the workload of its employees by bringing clients on board and ensuring that everyone gets enough time to be with their families. The firm has been working only four days a week with all Fridays off for a month now.

This has been done by taking all stakeholders on board so that work doesn’t spill onto the extended weekends. It is also assisting the teams through any COVID related emergencies through a dedicated WhatsApp group where verified leads for oxygen, beds and medicines is shared and we are also helping them get vaccinated at the earliest.

Archetype believes in building a strong foundation and deep-rooted values that have helped it sail through this tough phase. A personal sense of responsibility, accountability and the willingness to work as a team has ensured that the work is done well.

In addition, interoffice deployment of resources, personal initiatives by employees and understanding/ cooperative and empathetic clients have all contributed to balance these challenging times. In fact, the agency has clients volunteering time off to their direct account teams to provide relief and respite.

Pitchfork Partners Strategic Consulting LLP reviewed client requirements soon after the pandemic hit and effected several changes. It redrew the deliverables in line with the new environment and increased the number of personnel servicing each client. Needed offs were given. The firm also ensures that teams switch off after work hours. Other than that, it introduced extra time off in the form of holidays.

Seraphim Communications has always believed in giving ‘space’ to its team. Since the firm is a small close-knit all-women team, it has followed a ‘code of conduct’ policy, which outlines working hours and strict weekend breaks. Seraphim’s Daily Huddles have been very short- no more than half an hour. The firm encourages colleagues to reduce turn-around times when it comes to making decisions.

Checking upon the mental and physical health of employees

The increasing numbers, scarcity of essential medical support, and the massive casualties of Covid have taken a huge toll on everyone.

Archetype feels that the young workforce that often stays away from families etc., needs support and therefore ensuring mental peace and wellbeing is a constant focus. They’ve launched ‘Lifeworks’, a global employee counselling service for its employees to seek trained psychologists and counsellors for a variety of issues. Team leads and the HR department are in constant touch with their team members to check up on their health and wellbeing and support them.

While employee engagement activities like Fun Fridays, team lunches, virtual hangouts, internal sporting or co-curricular challenges have been going on since last year, SPAG Asia has also held several workshops for its team.

These workshops with trained psychologists guide the team in dealing with grief, stress, anxiety and lifestyle changes. Subsequently, the agency has been doing 1:1 check-ins since April 2020 with the senior leadership personally having weekly and monthly chats with team members, anonymous surveys and also open HR 1:1 communication channels.

It is also currently in the process of providing its team with access to affordable counselling and therapy services along with conducting regular offsetting sessions for them that help them reboot. SPAG has also been sending its employees wellness packages who have suffered from COVID to help rebuild their immunity.

Edelman India has kickstarted the ‘Employee Assistance Program’ through its tie-up with ComPsych to help colleagues who need counsellors or therapists for issues such as anxiety, depression, stress management etc.

Technology playing a significant role in being digitally connected

Technologies like videoconferencing, screen sharing, digital whiteboards, smartphone chat groups and sophisticated tools are available for effective communication. The PR industry is also relying on data analysis tools to monitor not only media conversations but also industry trends. These tools help manage reputational crisis for clients, especially on social media.

It is also important to note that in this business, technology is just an enabling tool for support. The key focus area of the business is content and relationships. While the first can be easily addressed via technology, the second is also important. Staying connected via social media is just one part of it. The second wave has shown us that compassion and human connection is the first and foremost aspect of keeping valuable relationships alive. Families, colleagues and clients- have all taken centre-stage in our lives now more than ever.

A step towards sustainable work culture in the overworked/overwhelmed communication industry

“Today, as we are facing the second wave of Covid 19, the anxieties and uncertainties have increased. Therefore, as communications professional, we need to make sure that all teammates are engaged in their work and feel secure in their jobs which comes as a key to a sustainable culture. This creates a vibrant and productive remote work culture,” according to Seraphim Communications.

To work towards a sustainable work culture, the agency has dialled up employee encouragement, urging them to pursue their hobbies. Seraphim’s policy to fund all course-related fee in skill enhancement is a step to encourage young professionals to use the downtime in upskilling and building their profiles.

To help reduce the burden of vaccination costs, Edelman India has given a one-time allowance to all colleagues to help cover the cost for themselves and their immediate family. The current employee Mediclaim policy has been expanded to cover hospital and home care expenses arising out of COVID-19. It has also set up a helpline service to provide support to colleagues and their families across the country.

Through its global wellness program titled ‘Livewell’, it has been connecting with people on various aspects such as expert talks, internal leadership panel discussions, guided meditation workshops, step challenges to maintain physical fitness, daily quotes on mindfulness etc. Edelman colleagues across the globe have access to the popular meditation and wellness app ‘Calm’ via a global subscription, which allows them to plan meditation sessions for themselves and their families at their convenience.

At Archetype, workplace policies allow employees 34-39 days of leaves in a year including two duvet days as time off to rejuvenate. “A robust internal collaboration platform in Slack, the access and ability to use enterprise-friendly meeting tools and our own suite of productivity apps, have helped us to deliver and continue seamless operations,” says the company.