Telum Talks To... Iris Ng, Sandpiper Communications

Telum Talks To... Iris Ng, Sandpiper Communications

Sandpiper Communications recently released a study focused on the mental wellbeing of Generation Z individuals. We caught up with Iris Ng, a Senior Account Executive at Sandpiper communications, who shared with us her thoughts on mental health and wellbeing in the communications industry, as well as some insights on how social media affects mental health.

What are your thoughts on mental health in the PR industry in Southeast Asia? Do you think the culture in the profession across Southeast Asia is conducive for supporting and protecting mental health?
The nature of the PR industry has always been extremely fast-paced and with that comes a level of stress. Being in the business of communications can require us to be “always on” and because of this, living in a state of elevated stress has become the norm for many in the industry.

Personally, I think the recognition, openness, and transparency around mental health issues across Southeast Asia has made great strides in recent years. People are beginning to recognise its importance and are more open to discussing their wellbeing with colleagues and managers instead of tiptoeing around the issue.

Organisations within the industry have also increasingly evolved to create workplace cultures where employee wellbeing and wellness is a recognised as a priority. With mental wellbeing becoming increasingly front-of-mind due to COVID-19, it’s important for us to continue building on this momentum and push for honest and transparent conversations around mental health.

Do you think younger PR executives are more prone to mental wellbeing pressures. If so, why?
I don’t think this issue applies only to younger PR executives. I believe that across the industry, we can all be prone to poor mental health if we do not actively recognise the shared responsibility that we have in prioritising self-care and wellbeing, particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic.

With many younger PR executives starting out in the industry amid COVID-19, it is inevitable that they may be feeling heightened levels of anxiety from the novelty of navigating a new job and industry alone, without having ever met their colleagues face to face or the support of an office.

However, I also believe that COVID-19 will be a generation-defining moment. Whether it is being more open to learning the ropes of the business or building resilience, how young PR executives handle themselves in the coming period as the world moves into a post-pandemic phase may deeply define and shape their approaches and attitudes throughout their careers.

Sandpiper’s survey indicates that the Gen Z population in China seems to perceive social media as a positive influence on mental health as opposed to the rest of the participating countries. Why do you think this is so?
According to our study, 71 per cent of Gen Zs in China believe that social media has had a positive influence on their mental wellbeing amid COVID-19 because it has helped them stay informed of what is happening, followed by 66 per cent who said that social media has provided means for them to connect with friends and family.  

While Gen Zs in China perceive social media as more of a positive influence than Gen Zs in the countries surveyed, over three quarters (77 per cent) also expressed that the influx of negative stories on social media has made them more anxious and negatively impacted their mental wellbeing. This was in fact higher than the Asia Pacific average of 61 per cent, exemplifying the double-edged nature of social media during COVID-19 which is consistent across markets.

Given the heightened importance of social media in daily life in China, with the presence of super social platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, it is not surprising that the results in this market are more polarising.

You mentioned the pressure of being “always on” in our industry, which has been amplified by the rise of social media. Given that social media is a huge part of a PR professional's work now, what are your thoughts on this and how is your firm managing this?
When looking at the relationship between PR professionals and social media, it could be easy to assume that there must be pressures to stay connected around the clock. However, through proper planning and application of the right tools and processes, the “always on” requirements of social media are manageable and become no different to any other area of day-to-day work.

Aside from smart management and resourcing to ensure employees roles are manageable, fostering a culture where employees can communicate openly about their challenges is critical. Without this, issues can go unnoticed and unaddressed.

Protecting your mental wellbeing also requires assuming some personal responsibility for keeping yourself well - physically, emotionally and mentally. An easy first step in fostering a greater sense of wellness is to disconnect: to literally put the phone or mobile device down and spend more time interacting with friends, family, colleagues, and the world around us.

Have there been any initiatives at Sandpiper in regard to ensuring / improving the team's mental health?
COVID-19 has definitely transformed the way we work. Since the start of the pandemic, we have very quickly adapted and looked at the different ways in which we can still stay connected with one another while ensuring the continuity of our business.

Besides the regular team check-ins, we started a weekly “team hang-out” where everyone from across our global offices comes together in a game of trivia or other interesting games each week for light relief. Now that the usual water cooler chats and desk banter can no longer be done in-person, these initiatives do come close! Through these initiatives, we can really see how everyone is coping, beyond what they are working on. With many of us feeling anxious and uncertain, it is reassuring that we can lean on each other during this period.

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