Job search site CareerCast ranked public relations as the sixth most stressful job in 2016 (Suleman, 2016). When we, professional communicators, are at the other side of the table, how are we dealing with our own work-life conflict? In this blog post, I discuss the ways in which work environment and professional identification impact public relations employees’ own work vs. life and how they are coping with reality.

Being the buffer between an organization and its stakeholders, internal and external, public relations employees have found themselves more and more stressed out (Jiang & Shen, 2013). The topic of work-life balance and fit has gained more attention (Shen, Jiang, Jin, & Sha, 2015). Most existing research however looks at it from an individual perspective, rather than identifying organizational and societal contributing factors and solutions. It has been defined as an individual’s choice. In other words, it is believed that you could choose to have better balance and fit between work and life. Also work-life conflict has been identified as a woman’s problem, intertwined with the pay gap issue.

In a national membership survey of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA, N=565), I, along with Drs. Jiang, Jin, and Sha, found that a negative work environment contributed to practitioners’ work-life conflict. Public relations practitioners who are expected to prioritize work over life and separate work from life reported higher levels of conflict. On the other hand, when public relations employees identified with the mission of PRSA, felt a sense of belonging in the professional community, and were satisfied with the profession, they were less stressed out. Unfortunately, the more public relations practitioners felt stressed out between work and life, the less likely they would cope with it proactively. Specifically, they were less inclined to seek out emotional support from friends and families, more hesitant to evaluate the situation rationally, and would fail to see their problems in a positive light and ask for advice about what to do.

Implications for Practice
We need to stop treating work-life balance and fit as an individual employee’s choice or a woman’s problem. Employing organizations should take more responsibility in their employees’ well-being. For instance, public relations agencies could start by changing its workplace culture, encouraging employees’ integration of work and life. Our own professional associations need to do more as well, as public relations practitioners’ professional identification mitigates their levels of work-life conflict. Workplace programs, webinars, twitter chats on the topic are all good structural initiatives, to begin with.

Hongmei Shen, Ph.D., APR, is an associate professor in public relations at the School of Journalism & Media Studies, San Diego State University. Follow her on Twitter @profshen.



Jiang, H., & Shen, H. (2013). Toward a theory of public relations practitioners’ own conflict: work vs. life. Journal of Public Relations Research, 25(3), 259–279.

Shen, H., Jin, Y., Jiang, H., & Sha, B. (2015). Practitioners’ work-life conflict: A PRSA survey. Public Relations Review, 41(4), 415-421.

Suleman, K. (2016). Where does PR in the list of most stressful jobs of 2016? Retrieved from

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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