Many people within the agency and marketing sectors are facing a tough time due to the ongoing pandemic. To provide support, the ICA is interviewing a range of people at all levels within the industry who have overcome mental health challenges and built resiliency. The series is intended to remove the stigma around mental health where it exists, and to provide help where it’s needed through relatable stories and strategies. In the first interview Jordan Friesen, Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy, talks to Andy Krupski, Chairman of The Hive and Chair of the ICA Board. Friesen set out to discover Krupski’s story, what he’s faced and learned in terms of mental health, and how this can be seen through the perspective of the past year and the disruptive impact of the pandemic.
Andy Krupski has worked in the advertising business for 30-plus years. First as a client, then as CEO at both JWT and Grey in Canada. Eighteen years ago, he bought into independent agency The Hive, where he still works as Chairman, and he’s been on the board of the ICA for close to 10 years, currently serving as Chair.
He spoke about the challenges of the industry in terms of workload and the pressures it puts on people at all levels, before opening up about a mental health journey impacted by a divorce and the importance of maintaining strong relationships with his three children.
“You do get very self-critical, blame yourself, and say it’s all your fault,” he says. This led Krupski to seek out therapists, first with his daughter then one-to-one. He says of his therapist: “Through that process, she played a very big role in giving me guidelines and advice. The biggest being – put your children first and the rest will sort itself out.”
But what was it like going through such a difficult time in terms of the work environment – were peers and colleagues there to support him? “Some were supportive, and some were uncomfortable. I think that, early on, it was easier to work harder, but I don’t think I was working smarter, and my behaviour altered. I was shorter with people, a little more demanding, less accepting of their problems because mine were always bigger. I don’t think I was as good a leader, as amenable to human failure. So, it was more about how I reacted.”
Resilience and wellbeing strategies
With that in mind, what can he recommend in terms of strategies to get through such difficult times? “I was dwelling on my weaknesses, thinking it was only me, my problem, no-one else’s…. I think the sooner you get help the better, because it takes time… The more opportunity to get that negativity out of you and find ways to deal with it, the better. And you need to talk to people to get that done.”
Krupski also found benefits in using The Gratitude Book premise, writing down each day those things that you’re thankful for. “It started engraining in my brain that life isn’t so bad, that there are some things we have to deal with,” says Krupski. “Really it was about trying to isolate, define, and spot moments where you can think ‘you know what, I’m pretty lucky.’”
This strategy of using gratitude as a way of reframing a perception of the world, and those around you, can certainly help to end a negative spiral, and encourage response in healthier ways.
The impact of COVID-19
The ongoing effects of COVID-19 include many Canadian’s experiencing a decline in mental health and wellbeing, regardless of industry. But often this is harder for those with less secure employment. How has Krupski faced the impact? “No-one’s been through this, and the loss of control. The unpredictability of it – where your world will be at a personal level, what my kids’ world will be like. You worry about when, and if, it will end. It creates worry about things you can’t effect.”
There are certainly challenges with control and lack of it when it comes to COVID-19. So how best to deal with this? Krupski thinks that acceptance can prove helpful, together with a bias towards action rather than inaction. He says: “You’ve got one of two options. Lie around and hope it gets better but, as many have said, hope isn’t a strategy. Or go and do what you’ve got to do.”
From an organisational perspective, Krupski talks about taking pride in The Hive culture and its attempts to value individuals and celebrate differences. But how has he responded as a leader, especially in terms of helping people feeling stress and a lack of connectivity with others? The Hive has attempted to help its people with personal one-to-one meetings with leaders and a “barometer” that invites regular views from team members. But he says: “People are still working 24/7. We’re trying to figure out now how to help people manage their world. We tried to mandate no meetings before 10am but we can’t make that work. So, we suggest book meetings for 50 minutes then go and have a coffee.”
It’s not all bleak – Krupski believes that through education and transparency the business can help its people thrive. He even sees some silver linings: “Our industry will only survive if it’s populated by passionate learners, and I think that now we need to be passionate about learning other things. Especially the human connection and how to be better at it, because COVID has really put a bright light on what that means.”
Towards positive mental health
In conclusion, then, what does Krupski say to people in the industry struggling with their mental health, and for leaders trying to support wellbeing of their people? “I would suggest people talk about their issues and find somewhere where they’re comfortable enough. The sheer act of talking and verbalizing makes a massive difference, even if it’s to someone who can’t give any advice back. Find someone in your organisation, or your world, to tell ‘here’s the stuff I’m dealing with, and what I’m going through’.”
And advice for business leaders? “Leaders have to create an environment where everybody can bring their full selves, and feel comfortable enough to speak about their issues, and not hold them in until it’s too late. Because what happens is, they’ll either quit and you’ll lose really good people, or they won’t be all that functional.”
He ends on a human, encouraging note: “Transparency and communication with integrity are, in my mind, the fundamentals. Ultimately, though, you have to create the environment where no-one has the fear that if they speak about something really bothering them at a personal level they’ll be judged in a negative way.”
Jordan Friesen is a registered Occupational Therapist and Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy. He uses his skills as a consultant to assist organizations who want to take progressive action to support the mental health of their workforce as a competitive advantage and business imperative for the future of work.
The Hive is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.