Navigating Burnout for PR Pros in the Public Sector


By Katie Brenneman

Doing public relations in the public sector is much different than doing PR in the private sector.

Working in the public sector generally means that you are engaging in some very high-stakes (and high-stress) fields. This might include anything from public health to government to education to transportation. No matter what your particular arena, though, the odds are good that you’re going to encounter crises and emergencies on a fairly regular basis.

It’s for this reason, above all, that turnover rates in the public sector often far outpace those in other industries. The chronic stress of PR work in the public sector can leave you particularly vulnerable to burnout — but it does not have to be this way.

It’s possible to learn to manage the stress of doing public sector PR work. This article shows you some of the best strategies for doing just that.

Burnout and Public Sector PR

It’s not difficult to understand why burnout is such a significant threat for PR professionals in the public sector. Perhaps more than any other public sector employee, the PR person is often the primary point of contact between the community and the public organization the PR pro represents.

Thus, it often falls to the PR person to endeavor to communicate critical information in a clear, responsible, empathic, and timely manner. However, because these communications may frequently occur in times of crisis, stress, and uncertainty, creating and delivering such messaging can be a fraught endeavor indeed.

PR persons don’t just craft and communicate critical messages, including and in particular during times of crises. They also are often charged with the formidable task of engaging with the public, of responding to the questions and concerns of citizens and officials alike. When there are fears, grievances, and uncertainties, it’s usually the PR person who will hear and address them first.

It’s little wonder, then, that public sector PR pros are so vulnerable to burnout, which is a physiological and psychological response to chronic and significant stress. When you are experiencing burnout, not only do you lose motivation for your work, but you’re also far more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and an array of physical illnesses.

Preventing Burnout Through Self-Care

When it comes to protecting yourself from burnout while working in public sector PR, the most important thing you can do is develop a habit of self-care early in your career. It’s imperative, for example, that you take time away from the job, avoiding the temptation to be “always on,” especially when a crisis hits.

What you will learn is that crises and potential crises are more common than you might have imagined, but that doesn’t mean you have to shoulder the burden for everyone. Emergencies arise all the time, but no one’s life is going to be lost if you leave the writing of that urgent press release to your colleague.

If you try to be present and available for every contingency, you will soon find that your work never ends, nor does the stress that comes with it — and without regular downtime, without consistent self-care that includes unplugging, getting away, and having fun, you will flame out. Your mind and body simply cannot and will not sustain such an unremitting pace forever.

Be Realistic, Embrace Uncertainty

Working in the public sector is stressful enough. There’s no need to put more pressure on yourself than your job already does. So take care to avoid unrealistic expectations in your professional life.

Recognize that there will be setbacks, there will be periods of career uncertainty, and there will even be disappointments, failures, and frustrations. This is all a part of being a grownup human person navigating the working world.

However, if you want to maintain your mental health and avoid burnout while also cultivating your PR public sector career, then it’s essential to find balance in all things. This includes striking that golden mean between dreaming big for your career trajectory and setting realistic goals and milestones to help you get to that ideal end point.

It also means cultivating other areas of your life that bring you joy and peace. Focus on the meaningful relationships in your life. Engage in interests and passions outside of work. By maintaining a clear sense of who you are, what you love, and what you want outside of the job, you will be better able to maintain your spark and your joy both on the job and off.

The Takeaway

Burnout is a threat for every worker, but professionals working in PR in the public sector are especially at risk. This is because public sector work is, inevitably, a high stakes and high stress endeavor. The good news, though, is that it is possible to manage stress and avoid burnout if you are a public relations PR pro. The key is to start early and maintain your commitment to consistent self-care and to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

Katie Brenneman is a regular contributor to Culpwrit thanks to her passion for writing about business, public relations and other major topics of the day. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.

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