Industry Voices

Uzma Afridi | Head of Careers | NABS

By Jess Browne-Swinburne

9 Oct 2020

Ahead of World Mental Health Day, Head of Careers at NABS, the support organisation for the advertising and media industry, gives her insight on how best to navigate these difficult times. As we look to work from home indefinitely, Uzma Afridi provides insights into how we can support and collaborate with one another remotely as well as the NABS resources available to us.

What made you want to work with the media & advertising industry, supporting wellbeing in the workplace?

This is a special industry, full of creativity and personality. First and foremost it’s about the people, their talent and love for what they do. That love and drive for great creative work, being ambitious and working hard shouldn’t mean that your mental and physical health should be compromised. I want people to look back on their careers and life and be happy with the way they lived. Our experiences shape so much of how we feel and the choices we make and that will contribute to the quality of the work we put out.

I have a soft spot for our industry as I started my career working in a creative agency. I loved the people and the work but I burnt out and saw many others go that way too. The success of agencies and our industry going forward is going to heavily depend on the wellbeing of those who work for them.

Chart your career from the start to where you are now.

I have always been fascinated by people and business and wanted to use my psychology degree. My career started off working in HR for a large creative agency and I thought I had hit the jackpot in finding a role that focussed on working with people in an industry like advertising where psychology was used (not as much as I had hoped). In my time there the economic crisis in 2008 hit, followed by the recession in 2009. My role became quickly familiar with redundancies and the impact of reducing staff, high workload, late nights and client demands. I wasn’t immune to this either, and when I experienced burnout, I found myself at a career crossroads, questioning my role and purpose. I went on to retrain as a business psychologist and coach, as I wanted to have more of an influence in this area. I freelanced to get a range of experience across different sectors and then I came to NABS, which felt like coming full circle, as in my role I can support individuals, teams and organisations across the industry.

Can you explain what NABS does and the role it plays in the advertising and media industry?

NABS is the support organisation for everybody working in advertising and media, whatever their level or job function. Everything we do is designed to support people’s wellbeing and to help them to thrive in our industry. We provide free support services including an Advice Line, means-tested grants for training and support, career coaching and much more. We also organise mentoring events and inspirational talks (currently online via our YouTube or Zoom) and to help create a more inclusive working culture for all, we run a variety of activities to help people of all backgrounds because we believe passionately in the importance of a diverse industry. For example, there’s our working parents initiative, aimed at those juggling children and work to do well in their careers, and our very popular B.A.M.E Senior Leaders speed mentoring events, where some of the best names in our industry share their career learnings with our audience. Our work is evidence-based and grounded in science and industry insight. Our services are free because we’re a charity, and we’re entirely reliant on donations to keep doing the vital work that we do.

How has NABS supported the media and advertising industry over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak?

We moved all our expertise online as soon as we could to make sure that people could access support 24/7 wherever they were. Central to this is our Knowledge Hub, which we launched just after the March lockdown happened. It features resources including guides to furlough, to managing anxiety and our redundancy guide; alongside access to our core services. These give people the support and knowledge they need in the face of job uncertainty, job loss or issues relating to mental and emotional health. It’s also worth noting that requests for our means-tested grants have risen since the pandemic started, and many of those receiving funds from us will be using them to make ends meet.

How can companies and teammates best collaborate while working remotely?

With structure and planning, it’s possible to collaborate productively while working remotely. What’s important here is to ensure that everybody in the company is visible and is given a presence so that everybody can be seen and heard to make their contributions. It’s important to distribute meeting agendas in advance, as you would do ordinarily, to give people time to consider how they can best contribute, as some people find it daunting or difficult to participate in group video calls. Generally, ensure that your channels of communication are open, and that you’re being transparent about business decisions so that colleagues can understand what they need to do on an individual level to contribute to success.

How can colleagues best support each other while working remotely?

It’s crucial to support each other with wellbeing as well as with work, especially during these times. At NABS, our teams have weekly team check-ins where they talk generally about how they’re doing and what they might need to navigate their week. Our Advice Line team always ask callers the question: “What do you most need?” If you’re speaking with a colleague about their challenges, try asking this question. Hopefully it’ll enable them to give you a practical response, where you can then step in and provide tangible support. A special note for leaders: being open about your reality and your challenges will empower your teams to do the same, and when everyone is open about where they’re at, you can understand where people might need some help or flexibility.

What key resources would you recommend at the moment to support those within industry?

As well as everything we have to offer at NABS, it’s worth taking a look at some of the activities we’re undertaking with partners in order to drive change in the industry. For example, we’re a founder member of the timeTo campaign to stamp out sexual harassment in the industry, and we’re a partner in the WACL Talent Award, which is designed to empower more women to become leaders in our industry. We’re also an ally to Media For All (MEFA) and Outvertising and support them in their work to make our industry a better place for our B.A.M.E and LGBTQ+ colleagues.

During lockdown we've also partnered with Leapers - a community for supporting freelancers, the Brilliant Creative Minds Campaign - an industry campaign to eradicate industry practices that diminish people’s creative potential and the National Bereavement Partnership and Grace Blue Transition - a platform supporting people looking for inspiration and connecting them to employers looking for talent.

How can the industry best use NABS and the free service you provide?

We’ve got a host of resources at NABS, there really is something for everyone. You may need some individual support, in which case bespoke coaching, our online redundancy guide or a chat with our Advice Line could be for you. Alternatively, you might want to watch an insightful and entertaining talk on our YouTube or sign up for a Masterclass on building confidence. Have a look around our Knowledge Hub and social channels to see what’s on offer for you and your team members, and, if you can, please do donate to help us keep making a difference to our industry.