How to support stressed-out events professionals with workplace wellbeing
Event management has always been considered one of the top ten most stressful professions in the world (usually just after being a firefighter or serving in the military). However, in a post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, stress levels among planners are seemingly on the rise and can lead to more serious mental health challenges such as burnout.
Mike Fletcher speaks to Laura Capell-Abra - a workplace wellbeing advocate and Founder of the BCorp-certified company, Stress Matters, to find out how to spot a colleague who may be struggling and some key coping mechanisms for stressed-out events professionals.
In this article:
- Difference between stress and burnout
- How would you notice that a colleage working in a highly stressful environment is on the verge of burnout?
- Who is most at risk from stress spilling over into burnout?
- What actions would you recommend to reduce workplace stress for events agencies?
- What about after an event? How should companies cope with the comedown?
- Finally, what one piece of key advice would you give to events professionals coping with rising stress levels?
Hi Laura, let’s start by defining the difference between stress and burnout…
In basic terms, burnout is an accumulation of stress. It’s a bell curve where stress levels increase and your performance declines in tandem. Burnout tends to be the point where someone’s performance has declined so much that they’re physically and mentally unable to function effectively anymore. So they’re intrinsically linked.
How would you notice that a colleague working in a highly stressful environment is on the verge of burnout?
The way we describe it in our mental health training is that you’re looking for significant changes in an individual’s character. Unfortunately, there’s no single set of signs since everyone is different. For instance, when I’m stressed I wake up at the crack of dawn and I can’t get back to sleep. But when my husband is stressed he sleeps for longer and gets up later. Some people won’t eat, while others will overeat or drink too much. Some people grow quiet, become less punctual or they're slower in responding to requests. As a team leader or manager, you need to be in tune with colleagues, consciously listening and looking for signs of behavioural change.
Every Friday, we have a company check-in meeting that’s completely people orientated. It encourages staff openness and for leaders to be more vulnerable so no one is allowed to hide the fact that they have both good and bad days.
Who is most at risk from stress spilling over into burnout?
It’s generally more junior people working in events who are impacted the most by stress. They tend to be passionate and ambitious and buy into the industry’s long-held cultural expectations to always be available and go above and beyond. They’re less likely to feel empowered to push back or ask for additional support. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There will always be pressures, due to it being a very deadline-orientated industry but we need to remove the cultural acceptance that stress is inevitable. Events manager is a high-pressure role but it doesn’t have to be a high-stress role.
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What actions would you recommend to reduce workplace stress for events agencies?
Clear briefs and in-built working agreements help tremendously. From the outset, clients need to understand that as part of the event’s delivery, decisions will be upheld based on employee wellbeing. So for instance, team members won’t be allowed to work onsite for 19 hours straight and instead, the client will be required to pay for shared job roles.
As an events business, you need to be clear on the policies you have in place to protect staff from burnout and ensure they are non-negotiable with clients.
What about after an event? How should companies cope with the comedown?
It’s a great question. Our online courses for events professionals have whole sections dedicated to the post-event comedown. Stress is our response to adrenalin building in the body and adrenalin leaves people at different speeds. Companies need to acknowledge how long individual team members need to come down by allowing them to regroup, take time off or spend longer doing basic admin tasks before getting back onsite.
Finally, what one piece of key advice would you give to events professionals coping with rising stress levels?
I was brought up in a culture of ‘work hard, play hard,’ but no one ever told us to ‘rest hard’. You have to get good at resting and that can mean different things to different personalities.
Some people rest by getting energised and going for a run or a gym workout. Others rest by being the energy and just sitting quietly, meditating or reading. Resting doesn’t have to mean not doing anything, but it does require you to use your brain differently from when it’s in work mode.
Stress Matters has launched a free Wellbeing Diagnostics Tool to provide practical insights into how your business stacks up in its approach to workplace welfare. To take the survey or discover the courses and support offered by Laura’s company, head to https://stressmatters.org.uk.
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