Public relations is frequently listed as one of the most stressful jobs in the United States (CareerCast.com, 2017). The industry has an annual turnover rate in all specialties of 20.5 percent (Coffee, 2014). Meanwhile, research during the past decade has documented a disheartening fact of high work-life conflict among PRSA members.
It appears necessary to pose an important question for both academics and professionals: What should the PR industry do to retain our best talent?
Practitioners have suggested solutions such as meaningful compensations, a good work-life balance, and a nurturing work environment (Faugno, 2017). On the academic side, PR practitioners’ think turnover has received scant attention.
Organization-public relationships (OPR) researchers have long posited the benefit of cultivating long-term trusting relationships with stakeholders to accomplish their commitment and loyalty toward organizations (e.g., employees’ or internal publics’ commitment and loyalty toward their employers) (Cheng, 2017).
Researchers on work-life issues have called for more studies moving beyond simply work-life conflict and investigating a possible positive enriching interface between work and life (Timms et al., 2015). Employers’ interests are best served by a balanced and healthy work style that reinvigorates PR practitioners’ life and enables them to transfer and reinvest the resources they have obtained in job interactions and professional development into their personal life roles.
Moreover, a supportive work environment could reduce PR practitioners’ perceived conflict between work and life and contribute to their work engagement and organizational commitment (Timms et al., 2015).
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Based on data from a national survey of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) membership (N = 650) conducted in 2015 and 2016, we examined the interrelationships between practitioners’ turnover intention and the aforementioned key factors linking to it. In the final sample of 650 PRSA members (19.4% male; 80.4% female; .2% prefer not to respond), the average age of the participants was 41 (SD = 11.07). On average, practitioners reported to earn $93,061.70 annually.
As for accreditation in public relations, 24.8 percent of the participants have earned APR, and 1.4 percent have earned APR+M. In terms of participants’ highest level of education, three largest groups consisted of 255 Bachelor’s degree (39.7%), 254 Master’s degree (39.5%), and 92 some graduate work, but no degree (14.3%). As for race, 88.4 percent of the practitioners self-identified as White-Caucasian, and 5.6 percent of them reported as African-American, African descent, Black, with 8.2 percent as Asian, Pacific islanders, Asian American, 2.2 percent as Multicultural, and 1.4 percent as other.
Key findings of the study included the following:
- When practitioners perceived an organizational environment to be family friendly and supportive, they tended to recognize the positive, enriching impact of public relations work upon their personal life.
- In addition, when practitioners perceived an organizational environment to be family-friendly and supportive and the interface between their work and life to be positive, they displayed a high level of trust toward their employers.
- When the instrumental resources (i.e., the capabilities, knowledge, perspectives, and skills that practitioners achieve in their PR jobs) that practitioners obtained benefited their personal life, job involvement promoted practitioners’ positive emotional state, and practitioners felt confident and secure about their jobs and careers, they demonstrated low intentions to quit their PR jobs.
- Finally, a supportive organizational environment and a trusting relationship with their employers were another two strong predictors of practitioners’ low intentions to quit their jobs and the industry.
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Findings of the study provided empirical evidence suggesting the critical roles that a family supportive work environment, a positive interface between work and life, and a trusting relationship between practitioners and their employers play in helping the industry keep top talent for long-term business success of corporations, nonprofits, and agencies.
The following are some research-based suggestions for top management, internal communication managers, and leaders in the larger industry to be more effective in planning employee communication programs:
Suggestion 1: Partner throughout the organization to address turnover. Because turnover is a real problem in public relations, industry leaders, top management, employee relations managers and practitioners should all play a significant role in analyzing, understanding, and dealing with it.
Suggestion 2: Cultivate trusting relationships between the organization and employees. Trust is always a key factor. Having trust in their employers makes employees voluntarily stay on their jobs, which is critical for the prosperity of both organizations and the industry.
Suggestion 3: Understand employees’ demands and needs outside of their work and set realistic expectations for them. Make sure the work that your employees perform develops their knowledge and capabilities, fosters a positive emotional state, and encourage them to fulfill their career goals, which, in turn, will bring about high trust and low turnover. Various orientation, training programs and workshops emphasizing these aspects would be rewarding to both employees and employers in the long run.
Suggestion 4: Cultivate a family supportive organizational environment encouraging face-to-face and social media discussions on work and life issues. Open and nurturing communication with peers, supervisors, and top leaders should be encouraged and effectively executed.
CareerCast.com. (2017). Most stressful jobs of 2017. Retrieved from http://www.careercast.com/jobs-rated/most-stressful-jobs-2017?page=0
Cheng, Y. (2017). Looking back, moving forward: A review and reflection of the organization-public relationship (OPR) research. Public Relations Review, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.10.003
Coffee, P. (2014). Why does PR have such a big turnover problem. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/digital/why-does-pr-have-such-a-big-turnover-problem/
Faugno, J. (November 1, 2017). Turnover is a real problem in PR: Here’s how to make employees feel valued so they stick around. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/11/01/turnover-is-a-real-problem-in-pr-heres-how-to-make-employees-feel-valued-so-they-stick-around/#42a0b28f4f08
Timms, C., Brough, P., O’Driscoll, M., Kalliath, T., Siu, O., Sit, C., & Lo, D. (2015). Positive pathways to engaging workers: Work-family enrichment as a predictor of work engagement. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 53(4), 490-510.
Note: The blog was written based on a paper presented at the 21st International Public Relations Research conference (IPRRC) held in Orlando, Florida in March 2018. The full-length paper is available upon request.
Hua Jiang, Ph.D., is an associate professor in Department of Public Relations, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Hongmei Shen, Ph.D., is an associate professor in public relations at the School of Journalism & Media Studies, San Diego State University.