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#EventCareers: Stress management

The third #EventCareers instalment looks at the effects of stress across the event industry.

#EventCareers: Managing stress
#EventCareers: Managing stress

STATS FROM EVENT'S STRESS SURVEY

  • 33% said their employer does not view stress as a genuine health concern
  • 58% said they are unable to take sufficient breaks
  • 67% said they feel their hours are too long

Late nights, long hours, constant travel, weekend working and pressure from big clients. With a career made of this, it's no surprise that stress is all part of everyday life for event professionals. While this can be managed, and occasionally offset by a daily diet of free canapes and champagne, workplace stress can often encroach on personal lives and cause mental and physical health problems. In fact, 83 per cent of event workers in our recent survey said they believe stress to be a significant problem within the sector.

Kelly Baker, president of ISES UK, is aware of the pressure. "The event industry is infamous for being inherently stressful, no matter what level of seniority you're at," she comments. "Possibly the largest problem is that you can be immersed in one event with the next three coming over the horizon. It demands that those working in events are permanently on the ball and flexible to ever-changing demands."

This influx of work can slowly manifest into a genuine health and wellbeing concern. "Stress occurs when we try to fit too much into our lives," says Claire Cox, hypnotherapist and psychotherapist at London Stress Management. "A sustained amount makes us work and achieve things, but too much can lead to a number of health problems, such as heart disease, psoriasis and inflammation."

The feelings associated with stress, such as panic, agitation and anger, all stem from the body's instinctive 'fight or flight' mode that kicks in when the pressure is on. "In general, we're not in survival mode anymore," explains Cox. "The bottom rung of our hierarchy of needs - food, drink, shelter and so on - is fulfilled. But when we feel overloaded, our primitive instinct restarts and affects our frame of mind."

Vicious cycle

The event industry is one where 50- or 60-hour weeks are not uncommon and sleep is often sacrificed to work late nights, which makes event professionals much more susceptible to feelings of stress. "Sleep is an essential basic human need - you have to rest to regenerate," Cox says. "Those people who are driven ignore signs of tiredness, which makes them feel even more stressed than usual. A lack of sleep will always end up making it worse."

Further up the rung in the hierarchy of needs is feeling that you belong and are loved, with support from family, friends and partners. But in the event industry, being asked to work long hours in lieu of a personal life is widespread: only eight per cent of those surveyed said they can easily balance their work and private lives. Many respondents said that missing social occasions and meet-ups with friends is commonplace, while others commented that working in the industry has put stress on romantic and familial relationships.

There are many easy steps that can be taken both in and outside the workplace to lower stress levels, without having to reduce workload.

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, says taking the time to prioritise your to-do list can make even the most stressful deadlines seem easier. "Look at your in-tray and say to yourself 'What do I really have to do?'" he suggests. "For an event manager, this could mean asking yourself what comes first: dates, venues, speakers and so on. It's important that you don't try to handle this all at once - and don't get diverted by other tasks."

Managing the load

This tactic works for Baker, who is also sales and marketing director at Well Dressed Tables and Spaceworks. She says: "I always push myself to work as far in advance as possible: keeping up to date with my workload and looking ahead to upcoming projects helps me manage potentially stressful activity. I also have excellent colleagues at all of my workplaces, and I recognise my job would be remarkably more stressful if I didn't have talented people around me to ask for support."

Cox advises that if stress levels feel unbearable, it is worth looking at what you can do for yourself before asking your GP for medication. "We have so many strengths and strategies to cope with stress, but a lot of the time we don't realise they are there or don't believe in them, especially when we're stressed," she says. "Mechanisms such as hypnotherapy and meditation should always help, but you have to believe in them and put them into action if you want them to work. To not do so would be like reading a self-help book but not putting it into practice."

However, if there seems to be no way of addressing the problem yourself, speaking to your employer about how you are coping is the next logical step. And in the event industry, this appears to be a very feasible option, with 75 per cent of respondents saying they believe they can talk to their line manager about something that has upset or annoyed them, and 100 per cent believing their colleagues will help them if work becomes too difficult. A total of 73 per cent also mentioned that their company ran regular appraisal sessions.

Cooper says simply speaking to your employer can be a highly effective way of alleviating stress levels if done the right way. "Too few people approach their employer because we're no longer in a time when our jobs are secure," he explains. "You can still raise your concerns, as long as you do it early on. When approaching your boss, you should always aim to come up with a solution to the problem. For instance, if you know that a date set for a deadline is unworkable, offer a series of alternative dates straight away and explain why they would be better. Don't say that you can't do something, say that you can do it in a different way."

MY MOST STRESSFUL SITUATION IN THE INDUSTRY...

"An artist didn't turn up for our awards show and never told me. It was panic stations and one of the hardest events I worked on, but we managed to cover it. The client was understanding and said it was 'one of those things', but I've never used that artist again."

"I was under lots of pressure from demanding clients while needing to manage a large team to deliver a big project. The on-site supplier jeopardised the set-up. We pulled through but strong words were said. I didn't work with the supplier again."

"I had to miss social occasions and home life completely for a four-month period. I was on-site at a week-long event in a big team, where roles were not defined. I arrived exhausted, with limited support, and was taken ill twice during the event."

Keep up to date with our latest careers, education and workplace news via our dedicated hashtag, #EventCareers.

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