Published February 14, 2020, at 9:17 a.m.
by Janie Creighton
Stress in the workplace is nothing new. In 2017, American Psychological Association surveyed participants and discovered the third leading cause of stress in the United States is work at 61%. In fact, public relations executives are ranked in CareerCast’s 2019 top 10 list of most stressful jobs in America.
Students and practitioners pursuing careers in the public relations industry all want a step-by-step on how to successfully limit stress and achieve work and life balance. In an attempt to find the answer, I interviewed retired Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at Harley-Davidson Motor Company Joanne Bischmann and Senior Vice President of Global Engagement at American Airlines Ron DeFeo. Bischmann and DeFeo both agreed upon four important but simple tips to ensure limited stress in the public relations industry.
1. Know yourself
“There’s no work and life balance; there’s life,” said Bischmann. “You’re never off.” In order to limit stress in an industry that is “always-on,” you must first know yourself. For starters, know the skills you are good at and enjoy doing. Then, build on your weaknesses. Bischmann recommended developing an alliance with those who excel in the skills you lack.
DeFeo compared public relations practitioners to an athlete in training: “It’s like an athlete, you train and you build-up.” As you know yourself better, you are able to grow and develop skills that will help you in the future. If you know the company and achieve more within the company, you will reduce stress, said DeFeo. “The things that make you successful in life will also make you successful in work. My advice is to know those things,” he explained.
Similar to knowing yourself, you must also know your “escape method,” said Bischmann. It is important to know what calms you down in moments of high stress and pressure. For Bischmann, it’s closing her eyes.
2. Be willing
In order to reduce stress and balance work and life, Bischmann and DeFeo both agreed you must be open and willing to accept new challenges and opportunities. “You will face adversity,” said DeFeo. “The balance is achieved when you discover how to healthily face those challenges.”
For example, Bischmann remembered a time when a pitch was left seven hours away on an external drive, and it was her responsibility to retrieve it. Instead of driving seven hours to pick up the pitch, she found an alternate solution and was later applauded for that.
Similarly, Bischmann said, “You will work weekends and you will work long nights. It is a lot of proving yourself. You must be willing.”
3. Stay connected
“Staying connected is a part of what we do,” said DeFeo. “Always having information available helps me balance stress between work and life.” During the interview, DeFeo pulled out his phone and listed five different operational issues within American Airlines that had happened in the past hour. He said having information on the go allows him to respond to crisis anywhere at any time.
Bischmann agreed. She said it’s all about prioritizing and knowing when and where it is appropriate to disconnect. Bischmann is a wife and mother to her husband and four sons, and she highly values family time. She said she enjoys going to the lake with her family to disconnect, but she always has her phone nearby. “It’s a 24/7 job in a 24/7 world,” said Bischmann. “You always have to be somewhat on.”
4. Enjoy yourself and be positive
Although a career in public relations is a 24/7 position, it is important to find time to enjoy yourself. DeFeo said it’s a long road when you look at work as a chore. Your attitude, willingness to learn and support of others are vital to limit stress, said DeFeo. “You have to be positive and enjoy what you do. You will be criticized and critiqued; you cannot take that personally,” he noted.
Bischmann recalled a time when she was up at 3 a.m. working on a project when she and her co-workers built a bowling alley in the hallway. “Enjoy the time when you are giving it your all,” Bischmann explained. “Work is your life so try to find fun when you can.”