PR agencies dial up empathy for employees during the second wave

From giving paid leaves to sharing workloads, here’s how PR agencies have been working towards providing an optimistic work environment to their employees

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jun 2, 2021 1:20 PM  | 8 min read
PR industry

“It is during adversity that we get closest to each other”. This adage cannot be truer as we realized the severity of the second wave of COVID 19 pandemic, which has put survival at the apex and business objectives at a spot. Organizations are more focused to safeguard the interests of their employees rather than regaining numbers, especially when it comes to the public relations industry.

PR fraternity is not only emphasising the happiness of the employees but also ensuring that each employee feels fulfilled in their role, is supported by their manager and leaders, and feels connected as a family, and knows that the employer will be there when in need. The leadership in the industry has pivoted employee engagement strategies to maintain a healthy business in times when external factors deeply impacted people along with the prevalent distress of the pandemic. 

In the last story of the series, we look at such transcending efforts taken by PR agencies for their employees’ welfare, which are also nurturing them by providing an environment that keeps them at ease during the crisis; 

Embracing flexibility

The second wave got people from the industry closer. There has been an enhanced sense of belongingness and unity among the fraternity. Not only teams among themselves but team leaders and managers too have become more supportive towards their employees. From sharing workloads to taking care of each other's physical and mental health, the communication industry has been proactive in boosting morale.

In keeping with the remote working world that we are all a part of today, Candour Communications has evolved its internal delivery mechanisms to reflect the same. The agency has moved the management of client accounts to location agnostic cross-region collaboration. This approach has reduced the pressure of deliverables on one regional team, brought in new contributions, enhanced the quality of work and has increased efficiencies for clients.

The pandemic has not only been an eye opener for the way the PR industry at large works, but also questioned and re-jigged the archaic practices of bending backward at the behest of clients even if that meant stretching teams and health. At Tute Consult, the approach has always been 'people and planet first'. Sharing workloads and daily tasks were always a practice, however, what is different this time is to be able to tell clients honestly and transparently who are more than willing to reconsider deadlines, offer support, and more, if required.

Allison+Partners, India is guided by their credo, “The Allison Way” which reflects values and best practices they embody as an agency. Not only does the firm encourage a ‘team first’ approach, but also checking in with one another, to ensure that no single team member shoulders an unfair burden. The firm organises weekly catch-up calls to ensure equitable distribution of work, closely examining client deliverables and mapping workflows between team members and wherever needed, asking clients for extended deadlines and support.

The PRactice follows the Business HR Model where each team member in the HR team is aligned to each Vertical Head, and hence have an intimate sense of each team members’ workload, availability, etc. Being in constant touch with the teams has allowed them to quickly realign resources across teams and geographies, if there is a spike in the cases or if a team member is unable to log in and work. The firm has also ensured workload adjustments for those employees who are primary caregivers and those who have returned to work after their recovery. Limited hours have been offered to ensure that employees have enough time to manage their responsibilities at home and the side effects from COVID post recovery. The firm has also proactively reached out to clients letting them know that there could be challenges with servicing.

First Partners realized that given the magnitude of the impact the virus was causing, it was not practical to divide or pass around the workload anymore. Hence, it decided to focus on reducing the workload, with support from clients. During the period when the pandemic was raring its ugliest head, the firm sought the support of clients to hold back work requests, as neither was it practical to attend them without making compromises nor was the media and the external industry receptive to discussions on anything beyond the immediate priority of saving lives. As a work-back arrangement, it was decided that only one person per team would be deputed on a rolling basis to attend to any emergency needs or for managing something that cannot wait.

The health of employees is a priority

Such distressful times call for leaders to have a meaningful relationship with their employees. While there were so many uncertainties, fostering healthy relationships with employees helps build more resilient and passionate workforce. Maintaining mental health of employees thus is one part of the healthy relationship establishment.

The talent and culture teams across Allison+Partners’ offices in India and around the world, rolled out complimentary subscriptions of the wellness and meditation App, ‘Calm’ encouraging A+P’ers to take out some ‘me time’. Allison+Partners’ culture teams ran a series of global ‘gratitude weeks’ that encourage people to self-reflect, find their ‘blue sky’, and be grateful. 

Being a boutique agency, Candour Communications employees are well connected on platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom, etc. Team huddles are frequent and have supported team members with time off when they needed it. Part of mental and physical health is also about feeling good about oneself. The firm makes it a point to give due credits on accomplishments, appreciating even small contributions to keep the team spirit up. Occasionally, it also arranges Fun Fridays on Zoom, or a drink & chat session together.

The Practice’s Mental Health Helpline, which started last year, continues to be in force, giving employees access to mental health professional counseling at their convenience. The firm continues to have regular catch-ups with individual employees to identify cases of burnout or any other challenges they may be facing. internal communications mailers continue to provide relevant information and updates within the organisation. Regular talks with renowned doctors and mental health professionals have also been facilitated. It also organises a Freaky Friday every month that has the entire organisation come together for some healthy and fun competition.

An internal group #FPCorvidSupport was set up at First Partners by internal volunteers, to share verified information on names of doctors to be consulted, sources for getting oxygen, information on hospital beds availability and measures to prevent and manage potential infections at home. The firm decided to introduce a paid leaves policy for those members who tested positive, whether they were recovering at home or got hospitalised. While the First Partners Founders joined the PR industry leaders’ initiatives to extend support to the fraternity collectively, the firm also made arrangements for procuring our own oxygen concentrators in case any of the colleagues needed them.

At Tute apart from a lot of social work that teams have done, the firm offers paid leaves as and when anyone requires with no questions asked. It recognises mental health as a leave just like any other. Fridays are meant for a lighter workload, sharing grievances/ ideas, hobbies, and anything non-work too! Currently, the firm is working towards sourcing vaccines for teams and their families apart from financial assistance which is being given to back offices and staff. 

A step towards sustainable work culture

A business can be viewed as a plant sampling that undergoes changes, challenges, grows, and recedes as well. A business can also heal its people. Employee engagement activities can be seen as steps to heal employees, especially during these times to make sure that a sustainable environment is created where people are taken care of, productive and engaged- during a crisis and beyond. 

Candour Communications intends to follow a hybrid workplace environment. There is certainly an upside to work from home even though physical working models cannot be replaced. Now that the team is dedicated and committed to delivering quality work, the firm sees no cause for concern in adopting a hybrid model. 

At the peak of the surge in cases during the second wave, with a focus on sustainability, First Partners decided not to do any media pitches for two weeks, except where the information was of high relevance to the crisis. The firm believes that a by-product of the new challenges is a new reoriented way of working – with people having a sharp focus on a narrow set of goals. Even in terms of planning, the teams are now going after precision-centric strategies, rather than wide-lens approaches. Focus is on what is the most important tasks to be done, and resources are put behind those to get optimum results, which is more sustainable.

The Practice has already started encouraging teams to take time off on a rotational basis. It is also keeping track of the working hours that employees are clocking in. Any employee working more than our regular 9 hours is flagged off.

For Allison+Partners it is largely predicated on a blend of smart planning from a people and staffing perspective, managing workloads and client expectations in as much as it can, along with placing a strong emphasis on building a culture that encourages individual and team empowerment at every level, including focusing on wellness and in taking time off.

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