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The PR industry is not for the faint hearted. According to a recent report by PRHK, the majority of the PR professionals in the industry are now working, with approximately 60% of respondents saying that they even needed to work on weekends and holidays. The study added that more than 75% of the respondents said working overtime both in the PR industry and in Hong Kong, in general, was “normal” and “expected” respectively.
Moreover, 25% claimed they worked overtime at least three times a week. More than half of the respondents said they did so every single week. Additionally, over 50% of them worked more than 10 hours a day consistently. Aside from what appeared to be an obvious issue with working hours, 65% did not think they were fairly compensated for overtime work.
The study also examined the reasons for working longer than expected hours, which found 36.5% of respondents stating they needed to handle people and planning including covering colleagues’ work and unrealistic deadlines. Around 25% were required to handle non-urgent duties, while 13.5% of them said they needed to attend too many meetings.
Last-minute requests were also mentioned by the respondents, but only 6% of them defined client requests as "unnecessary overtime".
Some PR professionals were also unhappy about poor time management with their organisation. For example, they did not like internal meetings starting late or meetings being scheduled in the afternoon, as these meetings prevented them from doing the actual work needed for the day.
Although they were not happy about the causes of overtime work, 60% of respondents shared that their concerns were never talked about with seniors.
“We know that agencies in Hong Kong have varying takes on work-life balance, and no one has it 100% right yet. This data gives us a very clear direction and path to take to make things better for our people. It’s time we come together, to share best practices and to hold ourselves accountable," said Jane Morgan (pictured), managing director of Golin Hong Kong and head of client services Asia.
She added, "We need to give our people the time they need to do the work that they and their clients are proud of, then to go off and enjoy their time, as stress-free as possible. Our industry has always been one of uncertainty, with crisis and issues, new business pitches, launch events, and often we need to work long hours, but it shouldn’t consistent and there should always be a recovery period.”
Consequences of overtime work and what do the PR professionals need?
Overtime can take a toll on mental and physical health. More than 70% of respondents said they had experienced negative physical or mental symptoms resulting from working overtime including, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, inability to enjoy downtime, and exhaustion, amongst others.
When it comes to fixing the problems, PR professionals believed that enhancing operational efficiencies, encouraging flexibility and developing policies were crucial. Respondents said proper resource allocation was needed. The scope of work and budgets also needed to accurately reflect the hours that employees need to complete tasks.
Respondents also suggested that businesses needed to identify technology that could reduce mundane tasks and explore ways to enhance productivity during office hours.
More than 90% of respondents said flexible working arrangements could help them manage their time better and improve mental health. Some respondents said working from home at least once or twice a week could improve their mental health and help them manage their personal time and well-being.
Speaking of working from home, some pointed out that a successful work-from-home policy or a flexible working arrangement was dependent upon having already established high levels of trust with colleagues.
Lastly, respondents said the ideal scenario for an average week would be to work 45 hours, equivalent to nine hours a day, with working from home becoming a norm for one to two days a week as well.
“This research shows us the need for stronger industry guidelines around managing working hours and productivity. As a next step, we will be using the data provided by Hong Kong’s PR processionals via feedback to create a playbook. The goal is to help agencies put in place a set of best practices. We will also investigate how we can help agencies prepare for change, to manage overtime issues, and to reduce unnecessary overtime" said Karolis Adomaitis (pictured second to left), vice president of FleishmanHillard.
What's happening in the industry?
In response to the survey, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE also reached out to PR professionals about their thoughts on the industry. Many agreed that working overtime is a norm or even a culture in the PR industry. Terence Yam (pictured second to right), co-founder and managing director of Pinocchio Communications, said the industry is highly stressful. "We are expected to do everything flawlessly. We need to handle clients, vendors, media from different sections, as well as our supervisors. We have early morning meetings with clients and still need to call the assignment desk of different media late at night," he said.
Desmond Ku (pictured right), founder and director of The Bridge Agency, said, "We always work overtime on weekdays and even need to work on weekends. On weekdays, we have many meetings with clients and even need to handle ad hoc duties required by them. We also need to wait for their decisions as they have long meetings. On the other hand, we need to respond to inquiries made by reporters. On weekends, we usually need to handle PR events."
Despite the fact that PR professionals need to handle a wide variety of duties, our respondents said sometimes the practitioners in the industry do not say no to and challenge the deadlines. Yam said:
Plenty of PR folks, especially juniors, tend to accept every single task that is assigned to them without challenging the timeline.
"We need to learn how to prioritise our tasks and negotiate with our colleagues and clients about the timeline, then we don’t need to stay late to finish all the works within an unreasonable timeline," Yam said.
Although both Yam and Ku agreed that working overtime is common in the industry, they believed that there are many ways PR agencies can prevent their colleagues from burning out. For example, Yam said his agency adopts a flexible working hour scheme, allowing its staff to take care of their important personal matters and handle the duties required by the company. "We make sure our staff understands that leaving sharp at 7 pm isn’t a sin as long as they can deliver their works. At the same time, our team supervisors communicate to each other, making sure the staff can better prioritise their works and voice out if they are overloaded," he added.
Ku adopts a different approach. "First, we need to select the clients that we can deliver quality works and sometimes we need to turn them down as we don't have the capacity. Second, we outsource some time-consuming duties to freelances to save some time."
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