Kirsty Marrins: How communications specialists can support their wellbeing at work

Working in charity communications can be emotionally challenging – especially during times of stress and crisis

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Charity workers deal with emotionally challenging situations every day, whether that’s listening to someone share their personal story of losing a loved one to cancer or managing abusive tweets from people who don’t agree with their organisational missions.

With the rise of social media and the expectation of being “always on”, communications professionals are increasingly finding themselves on the front line of these experiences. An emotive Facebook post can lead to lots of people sharing their stories, which is cathartic for them, but could be distressing for the person moderating the comments. We often think about our duty of care to our case studies, who might be vulnerable, but what about our duty of care to our staff, our colleagues and ourselves?

1 Create strategies for times of crisis

Over the years there has been an increase in the number of charity communication crises that have played out on social media. The pace at which these cases develop and gain momentum is often difficult to manage and the toll it takes on those having to deal with it is not to be underestimated.

During these periods of heightened activity, when the stream of incoming messages can be relentless and impossible to manage, it’s important that staff feel supported and strategies are in place to help them. The communications and digital team at the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity have a number of strategies in place for such events: working collaboratively as “one team”, upskilling colleagues, sharing the workload and accessing the formal support that is available to them. Writing in A Wellbeing Guide for Comms Professionals, published by Charity Comms, the charity said: “We’re also prepared to get stuck into work that doesn’t naturally fall into our job roles, especially during crisis periods.

“There have been times when teams have supported each other to ease the workload and pressures of dealing with difficult content. For example, taking shifts to monitor social media channels in order to provide a break for colleagues.”

2 Remember that business as usual can be just as tough

Thinking about mental health and wellbeing in the context of charity communications is often linked to times of crisis, but the “business-as-usual” parts of the job are just as challenging.

The scale of what communications professionals deal with is vast, from telling the stories of those who are terminally ill to fighting for the rights of unaccompanied refugee children to be reunited with their parents.

Not everyone agrees with the organisational missions or how we’re trying to effect change, and they’re not afraid to tell us. Social media has emboldened people to say things online that they would never say in person or over the phone.

Organising regular check-ins with members of your comms team is a valuable precautionary measure.

3 Build personal resilience

Mental and emotional wellbeing at work should be a priority for both the individual and the employer. Hannah Massarella, a certified professional coach and founder of the third sector wellbeing consultancy Bird, recommends five strategies to build resilience and prioritise self-care.

These include identifying your inner critic and acknowledging that you can create and believe a different story, practising mindfulness, and being your own cheerleader by talking to yourself in a positive way. Each strategy is designed to distance people from their inner critics and improve their wellbeing.

4 Support wellbeing from the top down

Every charity, regardless of size, should have strategies in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff. It’s all very well to have this written into policies, but it’s actions that count.

Within a supportive organisational culture, staff should feel empowered to talk about their mental health and wellbeing, and confident they will be supported if they do. Checkingin regularly with staff and colleagues to see how they are, and if there’s anything they want to talk about, is a practical way to demonstrate this.

Other measures could include offering access to third-party support (such as counsellors), providing resilience training and facilitating “wellbeing days”.

But one of the most important – and simplest – actions you can take is not expecting staff to reply to emails at night or over the weekend. It’s crucial that staff get to switch off when they leave the office.

Shirley Morgan, communications manager at Trinity Hospice, offers some great advice: “Be mindful. Talk to your colleagues.

“Start a relaxation group or a lunchtime meditation session. Develop your listening skills, and never be too busy to hear the concerns of others.”

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant. Read the free wellbeing guide for comms professionals on the CharityComms website

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