A few years ago, I wrote a blog on PR agency red flags, after having a pretty rubbish experience and hoping I wouldn’t be the only one to learn from it. It got a lot of love from the PR community and I even had messages from younger people in the industry saying it had helped them make decisions about their own careers. Result!
Luckily, we’re in the times of employers owning up to their past mistakes and working towards creating a more caring industry that nurtures its young entrants – not put them off altogether.
One of my favourite blogs I’ve ever read was about precisely this, it was by Gisele Navarro from Neomam and I implore everyone who works in PR to check it out.
But with all that said, there are still cases of businesses using PR perks as a smokescreen to disguise long hours, lots of pressure and generally bad work environments.
So last week I embarked on a bit of a mission to research this and look into whether some of the astonishing things you hear about, such as unlimited holidays and four-day working weeks, are actually all they’re cracked up to be. Or, are they as many things are… Simply too good to be true?
As I always say, if this blog helps even one person – then I’m a very happy girl indeed.
Me for the last week and a half
When PR Perks Don’t Work…
‘Un’ Flexible Hours
Before I dive in, I would like to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone I spoke to about this. I had some very busy DMs. It was enlightening and interesting, but also sad to hear how many didn’t have good experiences in their agencies too. Naturally, most wanted to remain anonymous but for those who said I could use their name, I’ve mentioned them below.
One person I spoke to said that their agency used to offer perks that sounded great at first – especially for younger people – such as monthly Uber Eats vouchers. But in the end, these were often taken advantage of only when employees were having to work as late as 8:30pm to pick up work! They said: “whilst it should be the norm, and not a perk, actual work / life balance at agencies is crucial to engagement and happiness, as are perks that are genuinely focused on wellbeing make a difference.”
The same person said that another experience that wasn’t quite what it seemed was the flexible working which was presented at interview stage as “work from anywhere… Home, office, or abroad. But then they started encouraging and to an extent forcing (by introducing compulsory 1 day a week) people back to office.” Meaning it would be quite hard to work in another country, for example. One hell of a commute.
Since Covid times, working from home and flexibly is pretty much something I’d expect any agency to offer. And plenty do. But by some, it continues to be dressed up as a perk that employers should be grateful for, and even worse, is sometimes used to entice people through the doors before not actually being offered to employees properly.
I think the main thing to learn from this, is that it’s good to check out the ins and outs of an employer’s ‘flexible working’ policies. It’s not uncommon nor unfair for a business to ask you to come into the office. But, if those expectations are not made clear at the beginning – then this could cause issues once joining a team.
Five Four-Day Weeks
I spoke to several people, all of whom wanted to remain anonymous, that said their experiences of four-day working weeks just weren’t as good as they seemed. A trial has just been carried out in England, with an alleged 92% success rate. But in the PR industry, it seems that some are promised reduced hours – only expected to be available anyway.
Credit: 4 Day Week Campaign
One person I spoke to said they “had so much work that they felt like they couldn’t take four-day weeks. [They] were off on Friday and the rest of the team were off on Monday so felt [they] had to pick up hits on my day off.”
Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be a four-day working week, with the fifth being on-call so employees can better manage their own expectations. It wouldn’t be unfair to ask this. But it’s also equally unfair to promise a day off but then presume availability – as it basically means whatever a person is doing with their day, they need to be close to their phone or laptop. Which is not necessarily the same as actual time away.
There were also several people who said the same thing: that the four-day working week was promised, and on paper, you could take it. But then if you were having to work the extra day, nobody really picked up on it. If you’re going to offer something, it should be properly encouraged and managed. Or it works for nobody.
Therapy For Work-Related Issues
A big eye-opener I had during this research came when speaking to another anonymous individual, who told me all about how one of their past employer’s ‘perks’ was mental health services offered to all employees.
Burnout is definitely a thing in PR and of course, we need to address and treat it. However, it transpires that the mental health issues amongst the teams were pretty much caused by the business in the first place. They were medicating their own sickness instead of actually making sure that people didn’t catch it in the first place. You know the saying, prevention is better than cure.
They said: “whenever I see it now, I just think: why would your staff need it? What are they doing there that they need it?” To make matters worse too, counselling sessions would be held within the office, in a glass conference room so you could see in and out. This isn’t exactly what I’d call a comfortable and approachable environment.
It’s kind of giving this energy
As a rule, I do think all PR agencies should offer a level of support to their teams. It’s not just high pressure that can cause burnout. Marketing is an industry where your mind is very active. Not to mention the amount of news you consume every day. This can affect even the strongest of people, and burnout can still happen with a supportive employer. So, my advice would be to take notice of a firm’s Glassdoor reviews. If an agency is offering mental health services then great, but are they the ones causing the issues in the first place?!
Unlimited Annual Leave
Finally, something I really wanted to get to the bottom of – as it sounds wonderfullllllllll on paper – is unlimited holidays. And whether this perk is actually as brilliant as it seems. Sadly, not always. Though I did speak to several people who had great things to say about it too. I’ll come on to that shortly.
I chatted to two anonymous people who were given unlimited holidays and it didn’t work for them. Both now have moved to businesses that have a set amount, and find it much better which I’m happy about.
One person told me that the endless time off was marketed pretty intensely as an employee perk, but in reality, they were allowed no time off in December at all, and also routinely got holiday requests denied – often because more senior members of the team were granted it as a priority. We also spoke about how difficult it was to book holidays and short breaks, because the time you could take was either limited to a couple of days, or was required to be booked months and months in advance. Most people who work agency side, who have a set number of annual leave days to take in a year, will know that this is not normally the case – and whilst set days can be restrictive, at least you know how much time you have to use. And are able to actually use it.
“I now don’t get unlimited holidays, which I prefer. I have my set days, I have extra days if I need them – and I know I have a supportive workstream and good managers if I ever needed anything else. I think the unlimited holiday is a massive scam if it’s abused, it’s also unfair to just book ‘days off just because’ instead of actually needing them, as it puts others at a disadvantage.”
Another person I spoke to who also once worked at an agency with unlimited holidays said they found themselves taking less than what you would in a typical job, due to presenteeism caused by pressure, but also simply having too high a workload to actually take time off without guilt. They said: “I’m not sure I ever hit the minimum amount of holiday so probably was down to me not making the most of it.”. The other person I spoke to said they were “pretty sure they only took 11 days in their last year.”.
Disclaimer, it wasn’t Iona that I spoke to, but I thought her tweet summed the situation up pretty well. These themes were recurring in all my conversations.
Hits the nail on the head
So to conclude, unlimited holidays sure sound great – but they need to be properly enforced. It should be a given that staff members are taking at least the legal minimum, but you’d like to think they would use more than that, to make it a worthwhile perk. To anyone looking at agencies that offer this, I’d recommend doing some research on Glassdoor, speaking to current and ex-employees and also asking questions in interviews if you feel comfortable doing so. Remember initial conversations are as much for finding out whether a company is a good fit for you, as well as the other way around!
All The Other Bad Bits
Whilst chatting to people about their experiences, many had opinions on perks that might sound good, but wind up actually being a negative part of the job. Or, simply aren’t even a perk – just something that’s offered as standard. These included:
- Working lunches… Training is great – but not when you’re on a break
- Friday drinks, as alcohol isn’t for everyone
- Trips away, but that end up being over the weekend and involve lots of work talk
- Free tea and coffee – should be pretty standard in an office nowadays!
- 28 days annual leave including bank holidays… That’s the law
- A pension, because again, that’s the law
These aren’t things to look at and steer clear of, as they’re mostly good. But if this is all a company has to offer you, it’s a good idea to look at their culture and decide whether it would be a rewarding and nice place to be. PR perks aren’t everything, after all – but being happy at work is.
The PR Perks That Do Work
Whilst I got plenty of interesting insight about things that weren’t as good as they sounded – it was refreshing and lovely to speak to lots of people about the things that do work well for them too. And yes, that does include four-day weeks… So, rejoice!
Again, a massive THANK YOU to those who helped me out here too, and those that I was able to name, I have!
Actual Four-Day Weeks
Jack Darracott, who is a Web App Developer at Marketing Signals is someone who currently has a four-day working week, and has found it game-changing (yay!). He said it saves him “£800 a month on childcare fees” and he has “noticed that since [he] moved to a fully remote business, [he’s] saved a fortune on lunches and coffees.”
“The four-day week has not only helped me financially it’s transformed my life too. It allows me to spend more quality time with my son, and experience all of the first milestones that I would have missed out on had I been working a full week. After moving to a four-day week, I have found that I’m so much happier and more productive at work. My day off serves as a ‘reset day’, so when I’m back in, I can look at work with a fresh pair of eyes and I feel more refreshed.”
It works, when it’s done right
This sort of reverts back to my point earlier that, if managed well, a four-day working week could well be the future for PR – but attitudes to work from those at the top who make the decisions need to change across the industry first.
Unlimited Holidays That Are Actually Unlimited
I also chatted to Louise Parker Peiris who works at Propellernet, an agency that doesn’t just offer unlimited holidays but enforces a minimum number too. To make sure everyone is taking full advantage. Which I love.
She said that “It’s the ability to use ‘holiday’ days for non-fun / holiday reasons that [she] really likes.”
For example, being able to take time off for moving house but also having a few admin days to catch up on life afterwards too, without worrying about eating up into an allowance. The minimum required holiday amount is also regularly monitored and quarterly check-ins take place amongst the team to make sure that everyone is on track and using the perk to their advantage. As well as taking the time off they deserve of course.
A common point that came up amongst those I talked to who didn’t have good experiences of unlimited holidays, was that they weren’t allowed to take off longer periods of time. So not ideal for travelling abroad, for example. I asked Louise about this, and she told me that “if you did want longer than two weeks off (10 working days) then that needs to be given more of a sign-off” – but that it’s still absolutely possible.
So I think the main takeaway from this is, it’s not the perk that’s the problem, it’s the agencies that offer them. When managed well it’s pretty obvious that unlimited holidays would be a good thing for everyone, but it only suits when it’s given without an ulterior motive, and by companies who generally want to do right by their team – not just sound good on paper.
Because we all deserve this without pressure
All The Other Good Bits
I’m sweating writing this, realising it’s turning into quite the dissertation. But I wanted to include as much as I could as this blog was only made possible by all the people who took time out of their days to talk to me. I found out a lot about interesting perks that genuinely made a difference to employees’ lives, and that they would look for in other businesses. They included:
- Advanced maternity and paternity pay
- “Pawternity” pay for those with new pets
- Team building days, that don’t take place on a weekend
- Self-care allowances (such as monthly gym memberships paid)
- Clear progression paths
- Life insurance
- Private healthcare
- Menopause and menstrual leave
So to summarise, if an agency or business you’re looking at has these things, they’re probably one of the good ones!
Just in case I didn’t say it enough, I am indebted to all of the wonderful people I spoke to for this blog, it was enlightening to hear your stories. Especially the good ones. The great news is that everyone I did talk to are now in jobs they love. Which is all you can ask for and something I’m so happy to hear. Thank you thank you thank you.
As always, cheers for reading and for supporting me, and always happy to continue the conversation on my socials. Read my other blogs here whilst you wait for the next one.