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mental health

Keeping a clear head

Mental health awareness was brought to the fore in 2019 and Conference News has covered the topic extensively. But now is the time for businesses to put words into action to look after not only their events teams, but delegates as well.

In November’s issue, we spoke to Leigh Cowlishaw, managing partner at Blackbox Partnerships and former HBAA chair, about looking after events teams, among other things. We ran out of pages, so caught up with her again to revisit practical steps events organisations should consider.

As clients have come to expect more and more from agencies, this puts more pressure on events teams. Is the industry behind the times in managing working hours for agency staff, as this will impact on their mental health, I ask Cowlishaw: “The events industry remains high-pressured due to multiple factors and therefore to be able to manage these expectations and deliver to even tighter deadlines, tighter margins and shorter lead times; this is having an ongoing impact on staff and their mental health. 

“Hours are longer, nights are longer, breaks are shorter, relationship with food completely changes, pressure mounts and stress levels can increase. All of which will have an impact on your ability to self-care and manage wellbeing. This point becomes the least priority for some and yet could have the biggest impact to you, your business and success factors. 

“In some sectors they still use a “clock in and clock out system” to monitor staff hours and teams will do their exact contracted hours – no more and no less. In the events industry these controls can go out of the window, simply to get the job done and to deliver for your clients.”

While at HBAA, Cowlishaw spearheaded the Mental Health First Aiders programme. I ask her what basic steps an agency take to ensure their staff is rested and not burnt out. She says: “Basic steps should include that staff receive proper breaks. They should be factored into the project plans. This needs to be quality time away from it all. You need this and ideally to take time outside and rejuvenate for the little time allocated.

“Quality food is also important, and not just ‘crew food’. Your team should be eating what other delegates are eating. The same is true of water stations. Bottle refills should be encouraged throughout and added to the project plans. It does sound basic, but this could support them.”

Cowlishaw concludes that if you’re feeling like you’re being stretched too far, to speak out immediately, and don’t suffer in silence. Burn out is real and you can’t escape it if you are over-stretched.