Diana Tickell, CEO, NABS

Ahead of NABS’ first ever conference on workplace wellbeing, the organisation’s CEO examines the challenges facing the industry and the importance of prioritising mental health in the workplace.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


“I struggle to find the balance between compassion and results when managing my team”

“The culture at my last place of work (a massive company) was so bullying, unkind and ruthless I resigned due to stress. I met someone last week who still works there who told me it’s given her PTSD. I felt the same.”

“The industry is not good at recognising and acting on mental health. Teams are under-resourced and ultimately client deadlines need to be met. We all need to do more to protect each other.”

Prioritising mental health in a target-driven environment is a complex challenge for the creative industries. As a service-led and results-driven industry, greater training and empathy when it comes to supporting the mental wellbeing of staff is vital as these three real voices from the industry, surfaced in the Bloom Booth of Truth last week at BloomFest reveal.

Yet, the good news is people within the industry are reaching out for help and support services are there. NABS, the support organisation for the advertising and media industry, is experiencing more and more demand for its services. Calls to the NABS Advice Line have increased by 22% from last year, with emotional health support being the main reason for people’s calls.

The creative industries have done a phenomenal job in removing the stigma surrounding mental health. Yet industry leaders must also ensure they’re taking the right steps to provide active wellbeing support for their employees, whether that’s in the form of training, enabling work/life balance or providing flexible working to empower a diverse workforce.

NABS has been at the forefront of workplace wellbeing for the advertising and media industry since its inception over 100 years ago. A driver for change in the industry as well as a source of support, NABS is set to hold its first-ever conference on workplace wellbeing on 12th November. Ahead of the event, Diana Tickell, NABS CEO, gives us her insight into NABS and wellbeing in the workplace.

Q: Calls to the NABS Advice Line have gone up substantially; can you give us a better picture of the challenges that people in the industry are facing up to?
A: Currently there’s a huge amount of worry out there about redundancy and job security. We’re taking a number of calls from people who are facing or who have experienced job loss. Wrapped up in this, we’re seeing a trend around financial wellbeing, where people are opening up about their issues around money. Some are worried about paying the bills, while others are experiencing shame because they feel that they haven’t managed their finances effectively enough. Many people are also reporting concerns around management to us, whether that’s people suffering under poor management, or being thrust into management roles without sufficient training and support. In fact, in our latest industry survey, management was the top concern. A poor or bullying manager can have a huge and lasting impact on their employees’ wellbeing. The majority of calls to our Advice Line relate to emotional health, and there are many factors that contribute to that. From the two reasons listed above, to the pressures that have always existed in our industry such as long hours and an ‘always-on’ culture.
Q: Prioritising the mental wellbeing of staff in a target-driven environment is a huge industry challenge. Where can the industry start with this issue?
A: Let’s start by acknowledging that where we are is not really conducive to hitting targets or indeed performing well on a team or organisational level. Our industry has a 30% churn rate which is alarming as the national average is half of that. People are leaving adland because they’re anxious, stressed and not receiving the support they need. We must change that situation as an industry by placing wellbeing at the top of our agenda. Support people, and the results can be transformative. We believe that by helping people with their wellbeing, we can move them away from distress into thriving. And who better to work towards a target than an energised, positive and healthy workforce?

People are leaving adland because they’re anxious, stressed and not receiving the support they need.

Diana Tickell
Q: Tell us about the resources available at NABS both for managers and for staff suffering with mental health?
A: We offer a broad range of services for everybody working in our industry. While we do of course provide plenty of help to those who are reaching or who have reached crisis point, through our dedicated Advice Line and our grants, for example, we also offer lots of preventative services. This means working with people on their mental and emotional health before any problems occur, so that when they experience a tricky situation, they’re better equipped to deal with it. That’s why we offer plenty of resilience and confidence training in our Masterclasses and one-to-one coaching sessions. We also have evening talks on the subjects of emotional and mental health, and of course we’re coming up to WellFest, where we’ll be giving people dynamic and practical tools to help bolster their own mental health as well as that of their teams.
Q: The creative industries have done a phenomenal job in breaking the silence and stigma still surrounding mental health. What micro-actions can leaders take to reduce the stigma in the workplace?
A: We’re seeing some wonderful wellbeing advocacy across the industry. There’s some great work going on to break down stigmas and to help people to thrive. Some organisations have dedicated wellbeing programmes, complete with impressive resources to push these through. While it’s great to see wellbeing work on this scale, it’s also really important to note that leaders can effect change on a local level and that this can be very impactful. It’s key to create a culture where people can share their stories and their vulnerabilities and bring their whole selves to work. Lead the way by talking about your own wellbeing and showing what you do to support your wellbeing at work. Get away from your desk at lunchtime and encourage your team to do the same. Enable flexible working and give people the time and space to attend wellbeing training sessions such as our Masterclasses, coaching, talks and therapies when it’s needed. Although buy-in from leadership is key to ensuring the wellbeing of our workforce, it’s possible to drive change at all levels. For example, our NABS Ambassadors are people across the industry who act as a contact point for us in their organisations, helping their colleagues to connect with our services in order to improve their wellbeing.

It’s key to create a culture where people can share their stories and their vulnerabilities and bring their whole selves to work.

Diana Tickell
Q: What advice would you give to people in the industry who may have colleagues struggling with mental health issues? How do they broach the topic?
A: If you’re unsure as to how best support a colleague with mental health problems, it’s a good idea to enlist some professional support before making an approach. Give our Advice Line a call; it’s staffed by a team experienced in mental and emotional health who are used to guiding such conversations. Each situation is so different, but what we can say is that it’s so important to give a safe space and listening ear to people struggling with their mental health. Your HR department is also a useful port of call here; they should be able to help put some support into action. There’s also a growing band of Mental Health Allies and First Aiders in our industry who provide a safe space for people who are struggling and who can point people towards appropriate further help. See if your company has any and if not, suggest that they put some in place and volunteer. There’s also inspiration on our blog, which features stories of people in our industry who’ve opened up about their wellbeing challenges and received life-changing support as a result. The key is to open up the conversation as the first step away from distress into thriving.
Q: NABS has done an incredible job of moving mental health up the industry agenda. Can you tell us about WellFest and who should attend?
A: We see mental health as a major component of wellbeing. Placing it high on our industry agenda is key, for the good of our employees, organisations and industry overall. What’s important is to keep moving the conversation on, to keep exploring mental health issues, and to give people the tools they need to bolster their and their teams’ wellbeing. That’s why we’ve organised WellFest, our one-day conference dedicated to workplace wellbeing. We’ve got a truly fantastic and immersive day lined up; the team at NABS and I are so excited about the keynotes, panel discussions and workshops on offer. It’s an event for everybody in our industry who wants to learn about wellbeing, who wants to help create better wellbeing in their organisations, and who wants to be part of a growing movement where ultimately, we can all thrive together at work. WellFest is designed to be experiential, immersive and above all useful; each of our sessions will give people the tools they need to improve wellbeing in their workplaces. There’s so much going on during the day, from workshops on how to prevent burnout and the neuroscience of collaboration to our headline session, a conversation between the singer and mental health activist Will Young and the editor of Women’s Health Claire Sanderson, who’s also a champion of wellbeing. It looks to be a really fascinating session and, as with the whole day, a unique opportunity to deep dive into wellbeing so that we can all, as one of our sessions is titled, ‘dare to thrive’ together.

WellFest takes place at the IET, Savoy Place, London, on Tuesday 12th November. Visit NABS’ website to book your tickets.

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Mental Health