STRESSED: What the CIPR survey says about public sector comms


Have you seen the meme doing the rounds about journalism?

“Journalism it’s a tough job with insane pressure and pretty crappy pay. But on the other hand, everyone hates you.”

Thinking of public sector communicators, its a line I thought of when I read the CIPR State of the Profession report.

This is a remarkably fine document that maps where the wider profession is.

In the public sector, its a tough job being a communicator with insane pressure with okay pay and if you read the Daily Mail you’d think everyone hates you.

But what does CIPR’s report say?

Across the profession as a whole, two thirds are women and a third men with the median income £30,000 pa.

In the public sector, its closer with 49,660 men and 43,889 women and an average salary of £44,292 – which falls behind the industry average of £51,804.

That male – female split surprises me seeing as I do teams where men are in the minority.

But that’s just it. The stats don’t lie.

You can download the full report here.

The top line for public sector comms: #1 stressed

Almost one in four public sector comms people have been forced to take sick leave because of stress, anxiety or depression, the report says. That’s almost double the national average.

In addition, public sector comms is also the second most stressed sector behind consultancy and agency work.

But the report also says that 73 per cent of the public sector have a policy in place to deal with the issue which far outranks other sectors.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

What strikes me talking to public sector communicators is that stress on its own is rarely mentioned. But the factors behind the stress are. A lack of resources. A lack of respect. Those two issues shine through.

The top line for public sector: #2 men still hold the top jobs

When I’m training I tend to see a sea of female faces. The LGComms Future Leaders intake are overwhelmingly female, for example. But the survey has a slight majority of men over women.

But the study says that across the profession, there is a £5,000 pay gap between men and lesser-paid women and the top jobs are more taken by men.

Are other across the board issues an issue for the public sector?

Across the profession as a whole a series of additional issues are raised.

  • A growing trend to privately educated communicators with across the board more than a quarter coming from a fee-paying background.
  • A lack of representation from minorities.

Are they issues in the public sector?

Hard to say.

On my travels working across the public sector, an issue with a battalion of Public Schoolboys trying to communicate with working class communities isn’t one I’ve come across.

However, I think the issue of a lack of ethnic minorities is an issue in the public sector.

Comms is an ageing profession

One thing that did come through from the survey, however, was just how few younger people there are in communications.

This can’t be healthy.

Just four per cent of comms and PR people are under 24 when more than 30 per cent of people are in the UK.  Tacked together with the fact that almost 60 per cent have been in the profession for more than nine years it makes me question if the profession has the life skills to communicate to younger people in such a rapidly changing landscape.

The skills needed at the start of older people’s careers are quite different in many ways.

The skills of 2019 are better evaluation, a need to be web-savvy and a knowledge of how people are using channels.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

The public sector is the largest sector

What is fascinating to me is that the public sector is the largest sector outside of London everywhere apart from the East Midlands.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

A video summary


Public sector communicators are the bedrock of the industry in the UK.

But this remains stressful and pressurised work.


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1 Comment

  1. As an ageing communicator I beg to differ from your statement ” it makes me question if the profession has the life skills to communicate to younger people in such a rapidly changing landscape.” surely communicating principles remain the same – understanding your audience, even if that is not you, use channels that they use/ are most receptive too, and use language that they understand. I am hoping that I can continue to stay relevant in my choosen profession (fingers crossed).

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