Sometimes you will fall: Enacting resilience in emerging public relations practitioners

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Public relations practitioners face daily challenges in the workplace as they build and nurture relationships, direct engagement and manage issues. As the translators and sense-makers in organisations aiming to develop and maintain trust in the New World Order, challenges are ever-present, increasing in complexity and regularity, requiring practitioners to be resilient. This qualitative study explores how emerging practitioners perceive resilience from a public relations perspective, and examines how the educators may enact resilience within the curricula. By asking emerging practitioners about their lived experiences, we found challenges to building patterns of resilience occurred on multiple levels and ranged from the routine to life-changing events. The student perspective for building resilience was largely seen as a personal responsibility. Enacting resilience was described as symbolically as bouncing back, the ability to adapt in the face of adversity (Sameroff & Rosenblum, 2006) with a view to restoring equilibrium (Bonanno, 2004). We define resilience as ability to respond positively to ongoing challenges while maintaining momentum to pursue personal and professional goals (Authors, 2019). Research on the concept of resilience is proliferating (Buzzanell, 2010; Russell, 2015). This trend aligns with a shift towards positive psychology and mindfulness practices in education (Stallman 2011) and corresponds to the increasing incidence of mental health challenges reported by young adults (Tynan & Thienal, 2018; Galante, Dufour, Vainre, Wagner, Stochl, Benton, & Jones, 2018). However, unlike students in high risk or caring professions such emergency services, social work or health industries, emerging communication practitioners do not receive context-based training in resilience. Yet it has been recognised that the very currency of the profession, communication and consequently decision–making can be the first casualty for an individual who is unable to perform under sustained pressure and demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges (Hassed & Chambers, 2014; Shin & Kelly 2015). Scholars issued a call to delineate the process and construction of resilience in specific contexts to contribute to our understandings of resilience, particularly the interactions between individuals and the communities of practice of which they are a part (Buzzanell, 2010; Brewer,van Kessel, Sanderson, Naumann, Lane, Reubenson, & Carter, 2019, ). Public relations is seen as an ideal discipline to study resilience, due to the profession’s intensity on a daily basis with few scholars investigating practitioner resilience as a construct pertinent to professional success and longevity (Guo & Anderson, 2018; Berger, 2005; Berger & Reber, 2006). METHODOLOGY Much of the scholarship in the discipline investigates the functions and practices of public relations while limited attention is given to the lived experience of practitioners (Edwards & Hodge, 2011). This current study utilises a qualitative methodology that privileges how emerging practitioners construct an understanding of resilience in personal and academic contexts. Following Braun and Clarke (2006), a thematic analysis analyses data gathered from first, second and third year students including both on-campus or online cohorts, with participants completing an online questionnaire. The findings presenting as recommendations for those involved in educating new and experienced communication practitioners and discussed against existing conceptual models of resilience (Turner, Scott-Young & Holdsworth, 2017). FINDINGS/RESULTS This study contributes to public relations and resilience scholarship by: Uncovering emerging practitioners understanding of resilience and how it may be enacted making connections between the specific nature of communication practice and scholarship; Exploring the connections between individual resilience and academic and personal performance and extending our understanding of resilience and how it may be scaffolded and enacted within curricula explicit to the communication industry context. This work identified individual responsibilities for wellbeing as well as institutional responsibilities for supporting emerging practitioners during study to prepare them for practice. The findings contribute to articulation of skills and attributes required in the PRIA Professional Framework (Public Relations Institute of Australia, 2016) which requires emerging professionals to routinely contribute to problem solving and decision-making in a complex environment. CONCLUSIONS Resilient individuals stay committed and increase their efforts when faced with challenges. This study shows the responsibility higher education has in helping students to improve their resilience and equip them with the right skills and confidence to respond positively to the many pressures and adversities they will encounter in the workplace. Studies show that resilient individuals with high positive emotions and the ability to manage negative emotions can find meaning and overcome stressful situations (Tugade and Fredrickson 2004; Cooper 2013, Stallman 2011). We cannot force students to be resilient as it is a personal and situational construct, with the individual holding ultimate responsibility for his own health and wellbeing. That said, there are of course many ways in which higher education providers can support the wellbeing of their students. Academics can play an active role in helping others to recognise the responsibility and ownership they have for and of their own wellbeing, and more importantly the effect their actions and behaviours have on the wellness of students. The task of improving the wellbeing of students can be daunting, however it is reassuring that some of these initiative are embedded in designing learning and teaching opportunities: Support, challenge, feedback, authenticity, integrity and awareness all play a major role in enacting resilience amongst students. The key message of the paper is that resilience can be viewed as a set of skills and attributes that can be developed through experience to benefit both the individual and the discipline students join, post study as long as the training is resourced appropriately to the professional context. (Stallman, 2011). This finding supports Bakker and Demerouti’s (2008) argument that through personal qualities such as resilience, employees can become more engaged as they may have greater ability to control their work environment and their response to it. Research indicates that resilient individuals are better equipped to deal with the stressful events or conditions at work (Avey, Luthans and Jensen 2009). Positive psychological capital has been identified as antecedents of well-being and crucial for success and longevity in your chosen profession (Higgs and Dulewicz 2014).


ConferencePublic Relations Institute of Australia Research/RMIT Research Symposium 2019
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