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Dear Meeting Planners: It’s OK to Not Be OK

Events-industry research suggests that while stressors like tighter deadlines are not going away, removing the stigma around mental health would allow planners to help attendees and themselves.

October 10 is Mental Health Awareness Day, and the U.K.-based HBAA, formerly the Hotel Booking Agents Association, has released a survey of its members on mental health which highlights some disturbing trends within the meetings and hospitality business.

Sixty-five percent of HBAA members—who work in accommodation procurement for meetings, event facilities, and other services—reported that “workers in the sector are more likely to suffer from mental health issues than five years ago.” Among the reasons cited for this were shorter lead times for meetings as well as changing work practices, which include expanded responsibilities and adoption of new regulations and technologies."

Leigh Cowlishaw, HBAA past chair and board member, said that “when we are creating content, or inviting delegates to attend, their well-being has to be a key component of the agenda. Consideration for their start times each day, being away from home, the standard of hotels and facilities, staying hydrated, healthy food options, bite-size content with breaks scheduled in—are all a must. We can’t allow guests and delegates to have their welfare compromised due to lack of thought or lack of budget allocated to this element." However, she added that “we need to ensure that our own workforce has the tools and support required to sustain their pace.”

For planners, this means pushing for a workplace environment where it is OK to ask for help or apply to themselves some of the well-being elements offered to event attendees, such as quiet time and meditation sessions. To remove the stigma associated with mental health, it’s time to take this approach: “If you feel something, say something.”  

In the U.K., HBAA runs accredited educational courses for mental health first-aid training to recognize problems and to support staff and attendees struggling with mental health or those who need preventative measures, such as some downtime.

For U.S.-based event professionals, here are some tactics to help manage stress before work becomes overwhelming, 5 Ways to Survive Your Pre-Event Crazy Time and some longer-term strategies to prevent problems in this high-pressure profession: Stress Management for Planners: A Guide. Even the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recognizes that the nature of event planning can be stressful, and has these tips.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness Day, go to the World Health Organization’s page about “40 Seconds of Action”  or Mental Health America's information page.


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