By Sally Northeast, with Georgia Turner and Darren Caveney
I often recall something said to me by a colleague at the now-defunct Dorset County Council. We were discussing why a particular initiative was taking so long to get going and he said: “Sometimes we talk about something for so long, we think we’re doing it when actually we’re still just talking about it.”
I’ve found this to be true on numerous occasions, not least in the matter of mental health issues among the comms community, and indeed in the modern workplace as a whole.
We started Comms Unplugged to try and actually do something to help tackle the rising levels of stress, anxiety, worry, frustration and struggle we were hearing about from colleagues in comms around the country. We saw this as sitting squarely and logically alongside a strong professional learning offer.
Admittedly we did talk about it for a bit, not quite believing, I think, that we could really achieve anything. Not putting our money where our mouth was. Not actually DOING it. Then one day, it just happened. Somehow, before we knew it, we were organising something based on a completely random, untested idea.
It was different and it was a personal financial risk for the three of us launching a not-for-profit fledgling venture but we knew that more action was needed to help address mental ill health in our industry.
Our first learning and wellbeing event, CU17, saw around 40 brave souls converge on a field in Dorset, wondering what the hell they’d signed up for. But after a day and a half of precious time to connect, to reset, to learn, to vent, to recharge and to focus on our wellbeing, both the original unpluggers and the team behind the event knew that something special had happened.
For CU18 we extended the programme and had increased to 65 delegates and realised our movement (because we now knew that’s what it was) had grown and was taking hold. The community was connecting between the events too, offering practical support on a professional and personal level.
For CU19, less than two weeks away, we’ll have 84 delegates in the field, listening to fascinating speakers, learning from each other, appreciating a different space and developing techniques to support their wellbeing.
And that, in a roundabout way, brings me to the point of this blog. If we’re not well, we can’t be effective communicators (or employees). Managing our own wellbeing is absolutely part of our professional development. Up until now, though, this has not been recognised in practical terms by our industry bodies.
We have worked with the CIPR for previous events and been delighted that attendance at Comms Unplugged qualifies for CPD points. Sort of. Thus far only the professional development has been counted – not the time spent focussing on wellbeing.
In the last few days, started by a fearless tweet from my awesome co-organiser Georgia Turner and the collective voice of the unplugged community, that’s changed. Points will be awarded for all parts of the programme of the main event and indeed for the taster events we ran earlier this year. We’ve also had a commitment from the Director General of the PRCA and we’re delighted that our message seems to be getting some traction.
At #teamunplugged we know that industry bodies are important to many in our profession and we believe they should be leading the way in supporting and championing all aspects of development for comms people.
There have been numerous surveys, reports and online toolkits surfacing in recent months as the industry finally wakes up to the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing support and development for its practitioners.
Maybe people have been talking about it for so long, they think they’re doing it. Well by recognising this stuff is important, by valuing it as part of people’s development, we are all now starting to do it, together.
We, and many others who’ve been campaigning to get this up the agenda, are ready and willing to work with the leaders in our industry to embed this and provide real, practical support that’s available to everyone in comms. Watch this space.
Comms Unplugged is a not-for-profit retreat for communicators, focussing on professional learning and development and wellbeing in a beautiful Dorset field away from wifi, mobile signal and technology. The 2019 event from 5-7 September is sold out but look out for an exciting programme of events for 2020 – we’ll be working on it soon!
— Monday 26th August —