Conference Organisation and Mental Health: How to Promote Among Professionals
There’s been a significant increase in awareness and discussion around issues of mental health in the last few years. Numerous initiatives have been launched to remove the stigma around conditions, improve tolerance and understanding, and stress the importance of mental wellness as much as physical health.
The MICE industry is an area where the promotion and consideration of mental wellness is particularly important. There’s a lot to be gained from attending events, facilitating meetings and partaking in exhibitions, but all of these things can also be mentally taxing and pose a risk of burnout if not managed correctly.
Improving worldwide mental health starts with talking about it openly and establishing support systems in a range of areas to ensure that help and advice can be given to those that need it. Conferences are an event that can really benefit from this approach, both helping to promote the importance of caring for your mental wellbeing and creating spaces that actively allow for this.
In this article, we delve a little deeper into mental health and the events industry before sharing our advice on how to promote mental wellness amongst professionals when organising a conference.
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Mental Health and the Events Industry
Plenty of industries took a significant hit during the events of the 2020 pandemic, but businesses in the MICE industry were significantly impacted. A recent study conducted by PCMA on how professionals in this sector were feeling emotionally two years on found that a third of event planners reported feeling anxious and/or burnt out, and just under a third of suppliers reported the same.
But it’s not just the toll of helping the industry recover that has been impacting the mental health of people working in this area. The role of event organiser is consistently rated as one of the world’s most stressful jobs, bringing with it plenty of challenges that place a strain on your mental health.
Whilst working in event, conference and exhibition planning can be incredibly exciting, it’s also a job that is fast-paced, deadline-oriented and regularly involves last-minute changes or problems that need to be quickly rectified. The experiences of months of work building up to a single or several-day event can also create quite an intense post-event comedown that can leave you feeling drained and lacking in motivation.
Many people in the MICE industry are extroverted and thrive on the opportunities for socialisation and connection that the job provides. However, it can also be mentally taxing being constantly switched on and having to engage with people every day at your job, which can also lead to a lack of mental energy and overall fatigue.
These outcomes aren’t inevitable for people working in the events industry, however. It’s clear that there are elements of common roles that can make this sector more mentally demanding to work in, but that only indicates that steps must be taken to help protect mental health and provide appropriate support services.
Along with considering the state of mental health for those working in MICE, the industry should also consider how mental health is handled for those attending the events. Conferences, trade shows, networking socials and exhibitions can all be stressful, overstimulating and tiring places for attendees, and organisers should also think about how they can offer support in these instances and promote positive approaches for protecting your mental health whilst at an event.
Below, we’re going to be sharing suggestions for conference organisers on how you can do just that.
How to Promote Mental Wellness at Conferences
Conferences are large events that can take place over several days, often involving a range of activities including talks, workshops, networking opportunities and sales meetings. As a conference organiser, you can help to promote the importance of positive mental health and improve your attendee’s experience by implementing a variety of approaches that can support mental wellness and acknowledge that these events can be draining.
Burnout is described as a kind of exhaustion that can be physical, mental or emotional and is often accompanied by other symptoms including a low mood, lack of motivation and negative self-esteem. It can be triggered by a variety of things but is often the result of working too hard for too long, failing to take necessary breaks for rest, or just pushing yourself for an extended period of time.
Burnout can be a problem for both event organisers and attendees, but from an attendee perspective is most likely to happen at a conference if someone’s schedule is overly full or they fail to give themselves a break for the entire event. They might be fine whilst the conference is happening, but may feel burned out as soon as it’s over.
To help prevent burnout in your attendees, consider promoting the message to spend time at the conferences mindfully, plan in breaks and avoid an overflowing schedule. Try not to schedule major events immediately after each other and consider putting breaks into the schedule that will ensure people take time to recharge.
If your conference involves sales meetings or even a hosted buyer program, consider advising attendees to stick to a maximum number of meetings, which can help to avoid burnout.
The importance of a good work/life balance is something that has been thrown into sharp relief in the past couple of years. Whilst putting in extra hours and thinking about projects in our free time is sometimes unavoidable, everyone should be able to switch off from their jobs and dedicate a fulfilling amount of time to things outside of their career.
Conferences are tricky to navigate when it comes to work/life balance, as many people feel as though they can’t switch off whilst they are attending. To try and mitigate this, consider hosting talks or workshops offering advice on finding the ideal work/life balance and avoiding any speakers or events that centre around ‘hustle culture’ that may promote a negative approach to dividing your time between work and your personal life.
You could also consider when and where your conference is held and whether this allows attendees to consider coming just for the day, travelling home in the evening instead of staying in a hotel, or even just fitting in time to enjoy other activities around the schedule.
Alcohol and Networking
Networking is seen by many people as an essential aspect of attending a conference, and many organisers set up specific events so that attendees can mingle, meet others in their industry and socialise outside of more formal items on the itinerary. There’s sometimes an expectation that these kinds of events need to involve alcohol, which can present problems.
Firstly, plenty of people are sober for a variety of reasons, and attending a networking event focused around drinking and socialising may not be an option for them. Consider hosting sober networking sessions as an alternative, or just make sure other activities are available so there isn’t such an emphasis on drinking.
Some people may use alcohol to cope with their mental health issues, and being in the unfamiliar environment of a conference may lead to more of a reliance on this. The intensity of a conference can also lead to overindulgence with alcohol, which can cause problems in the days that follow if people act without inhibitions or just feel unwell for the remainder of the conference.
If possible, control the alcohol available to attendees to avoid issues caused by an open bar for example, and try to promote a culture where excessive drinking isn’t a given aspect of the event.
Accessibility for people with physical disabilities is incredibly important at events like conferences, but the same kind of considerations should be taken when it comes to mental health and neurodivergence.
Conferences can be very loud and overstimulating environments, which can be difficult for all kinds of people with everything from anxiety to autism. It’s worth allocating support spaces in a conference venue that allows anyone to take a break from the event when needed, such as quiet rooms with low levels of light or calming activities.
Offering a hybrid event can also make it easier for people to attend whose mental health may otherwise have made in-person attendance very difficult.
It’s also definitely worth having an allocated member of staff to handle any issues or access needs when it comes to mental health and disorders so that anyone who needs help whilst at the conference knows who to contact. This can also be very useful if you identify an attendee that appears to be struggling and you think would benefit from some support.
As well as accessibility, consider what kind of support systems you have in place for attendees at your conference. These events can often be overwhelming or draining and when people are away from familiar environments it can be harder to manage mental health.
As part of your conference schedule, you could organise wellness activities like yoga, meditation sessions, walks, art classes or more informal socials to give attendees a space to take care of their mental health. These should be advertised clearly and without any kind of euphemisms - make it clear that mental health is important for your organisation and that these services are for everyone.
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Protecting Your Mental Health as a Conference Organiser
Once you’ve put systems in place to promote and support mental health at your conference, make sure to protect your own whilst organising the event. As we’ve already touched upon, the MICE industry can be a very stressful place to work and the nature of these events often leads to periods of high stress and then emotional comedowns before the cycle repeats again.
Where possible, ensure that you have coping mechanisms in place to manage stress and provide mental breaks in between work. Prioritise your mental health as much as possible and don’t discount the necessity of giving yourself time to unwind or disconnect.
It’s also beneficial to promote the importance of mental health within your organisation and create a culture where people feel that they can talk about their problems. As an event organiser, you can set an example by being honest about setting professional boundaries and needing time away from work to manage stress and should encourage your colleagues to do the same.
Whilst the event is taking place, allow yourself time to celebrate pulling it off as well as managing the schedule to keep everything on track. Anticipate that you may feel a bit of an emotional crash afterwards and have self-care systems in place to manage this and stay well after your hard work has paid off.
Promoting caring for your mental health in the workplace is essential in improving everyone’s mental wellbeing and creating a culture where these issues can be talked about openly and people know how to get the support they need. No matter the severity of what you are feeling, everyone can benefit from rest, self-care and support, and incorporating these into a conference is a fantastic way to improve attendee experience and set the standard for how this industry should approach mental health.
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