Senior comms leaders admit it’s lonely at the top…

Our recent Pulse of senior communications practitioners has found that 39% of senior comms leaders are less than communicative when it comes to talking about their feelings at work. Communications leaders cite leadership responsibilities as one of the reasons for putting on a brave face when they are actually feeling anything but courageous. Others say that talking about your feelings is not the done thing. Instead, they draw on skills of self-sufficiency and resilience to stay focused on their work.

The Communications Index Pulse developed by The Pulse Business in partnership with Whitney Murray, was conducted in the last week of April 2021. One director working in the professional services sector explained why speaking up is challenging: “Everyone is experiencing problems of some kind. It’s my job to stay positive and for colleagues to know they can rely on me. I am vulnerable about my feelings at times but I don’t discuss them.”

Another senior freelance practitioner was more direct, suggesting that comms leaders should step up and be role models for managing mental health and wellbeing in the workplace: “To nurture a work culture where mental health and emotional triggers can be discussed in a free and progressive manner, senior leaders need to lead by example.” A director working in the financial sector said: “I think if those at the top do [talk about their feelings], it gives permission for all others in the organisation to follow suit.”

The Communications Index Pulse found that around two thirds (64%) confessed to feeling stressed right now with just under a third (28%) claiming to have lower stress levels. A senior director working in online retail said that to safeguard sanity: “We need to look at what is within our control and what is not.” Another senior consultant added: “Stress is natural, but [it] impacts productivity, so my coping mechanism is to mitigate stress as soon as I feel it coming on.”

While also dealing with all the challenges the pandemic has thrown up, one in-house head of corporate comms said: “Everyone is at a different level of stress – in dealing with the stress of not only my team but other senior leaders and the wider organisation, I am often the one having to ‘take things on’ rather than others. The level of support for senior leaders in comms is very low.”

The Pulse results also show that the biggest headaches for comms leaders come from keeping staff motivated (29%) and managing their team’s mental health and wellbeing (31%). Others cite the need to ensure a good level of personal development for everyone along with helping team’s grapple with today’s modern technology solutions that have replaced the pre-Covid ways of working.

Deborah Oliver, Master of the Company of Communicators, summed up: “It appears we have been overlooking the needs of our senior comms leaders in an industry renowned for understanding the craft of communication. The suggestion that some of our senior practitioners are reluctant to speak up because they don’t want to let the side down is concerning. No one is super human and if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that we all need support and nurturing, no matter how experienced we are.”

Imogen Osborne, owner of The Pulse Business, said: “What is startling is how many senior leaders seem to accept their feelings should be kept under wraps because of the leadership position they hold. The picture in-house is particularly grim. How is this impacting global teams particularly in countries that are at different stages of lockdown? The answer must surely be considerable. And it appears there is no immediate silver bullet to change the status quo.”

Rebecca Whitney, Managing Director of Whitney Murray, commented: “We work with a wide range of senior comms professionals across different industry sectors and all of them hold down extremely demanding roles. It may be progressive talk but if we care about supporting our leaders as much as we care about supporting our teams, then surely the outcome will be happier leaders motivating even happier teams.”

• Online three-question Pulse survey running from 22-29 April 2021.
• Sample size: 1,100 Senior Communications Leaders in both in-house and agency MD positions.
• Response rate based on open rate – 71/318 (22%).


About The Pulse Business
The Pulse Business delivers real time insight to companies on fast track growth curves. We design and deliver incisive Pulse questions that enable and elucidate varied views on many topics. This unique insight is used by our clients to grow and improve their businesses.

About Whitney Murray
Whitney Murray appoints executive level Corporate Affairs and Communications professionals to the world’s leading companies, PR agencies and third sector organisations. Whitney Murray also provides structured business coaching to executives in companies of all sizes and in all sectors. We cover both middle management and board level executives.

About The Company of Communicators
The Company of Communicators is part of the ‘Livery’ – the City of London’s trades associations and Guilds. The Company contributes to society through charitable giving and by promoting the communications profession – including public relations, public affairs, corporate, external, and internal communications. It does so to the Livery movement, the City of London, and the wider world.

Download the results here

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