M&IT’s Mental Health Survey 2019 reveals an industry on the brink

“The unstoppable work demand makes me feel I am drowning, I know how to swim but my arms and legs have been tied up, so I cannot swim to save myself…”

This response to M&IT’s first ever mental health survey was one of many that painted a picture of event professionals struggling to stay afloat.

In fact, our results only reinforce the much-referenced 2017 CareerCast survey that ranked event planner as the fifth most stressful job in the world, beaten only by roles in the emergency services and military.

2018 was a year of national mental health awareness, with initiatives such as #EventWellWeek and high profile campaigns from Capita Travel and Events and George P Johnson leading the way in the events industry.

However, our survey shows that initiatives like this are sorely needed, with 40 per cent of respondents saying that they had at some point suffered from or been diagnosed with mental ill health.

The results of the survey showed:

• More than half of respondents said their current role was either extremely (20 per cent) or very (32 per cent) stressful

Just 1 per cent said that they did not experience stress at work

• Nearly half of planners (46 per cent) said that their current role was more stressful compared to this time last year

• Only 12 per cent of respondents said that they thought the industry was accepting of people with mental ill health

• Just 21 per cent of respondents said that their workplace had a formal mental health policy

• More than one in three (36 per cent) of respondents said that working in the events industry has had a negative effect on their mental health

What factors in your current role affect your mental health?

“There is a finite time and date that events need to take place so there is pressure to have everything in place to ensure the event is a success. This has an impact on your mental health as a result of the stress involved.”

“Being 100 per cent responsible for everything – positive or negative – and not having enough hours in a day to finish my daily tasks, means I have lost appetite and sleep.”

“The biggest factors affecting my mental health are demands from clients and their far-reaching expectations, and a larger work load from staff members leaving and not being replaced.”

“Pressure from clients to constantly improve service and/or lower cost of delivery is a factor.”

“I am the only PA for a 30-strong team, a partner, another partner and a director and I seem to be bombarded with work all the time.”

What would you like to see change about the industry with regard to mental health?

“Everyone needs to look after their mental health in the same way you need to look after your physical health. We need less stigma and more acceptance that the industry is high pressure and to admit to feeling stressed does not make you weak – it just makes you human.”

“Companies should support the provision of training for mental health first aiders. Senior personnel could be open about the impact of stress on their own mental health.”

“Too often companies say they are cognisant of mental health challenges within the industry but don’t have anything in place to support it.”

“Some companies expect you to work far more than your contracted hours in the events industry. We should either get paid for the additional hours or get time back in lieu. It should be unacceptable for companies to exploit people this way.”

“Events is high pressure, high stakes. If people can’t cope then they don’t last and they are not supported long term. I would like to see managers and senior leadership lead from the front and support team members when it gets tough. Show them it’s OK and be open and honest with their own experiences.”

Industry comment

Jade Ball, operations director, Top Banana

“Companies would be naive to brush the importance of formal mental health policies under the carpet. Mental health isn’t going anywhere and the most important thing we can do is give people the tools and resources to cope with their problems, in a safe environment in which they feel comfortable. By addressing the issue earlier on, we can help prevent the physical strains that come hand in hand with mental health problems.”

Leigh Cowlishaw, HBAA member and director of proposition for Capita Travel and Events

“I find it worrying that only 12 per cent feel that the events industry is accepting of people with mental ill health. Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo subject in any industry, and we have to let people know that it’s okay to talk about it. As an industry, as employers, and as individuals, we need to support ourselves and each other.”

Chloe Modaberi, marketing manager, The Meetings Show

“In the past I suffered quite badly from anxiety at work, so I understand how crippling it can be, but many people are unaware of just how seriously it can affect someone’s mental and physical health.

“The most important thing that needs to change is acceptance, and that can only be achieved by educating people and talking about it as openly as possible. There has to come a point where we put people first.”

Jane Longhurst, chief executive, mia 

“From our own research with the Roffey Park Institute, we’re all too aware that there’s more work to be done. We discovered compassion, understanding and empathy have not been offered to employees because demonstrating these emotions is regarded as unprofessional, or colleagues are simply too busy.

“Our increasing reliance on technology was also blamed, with email removing the human element provided by face-to-face meetings or a phone call.”

Sarah Mayo, co-founder, POINT3 Wellbeing

“We need to be given permission by our employers to prioritise it, and this has to be led from the top and embedded within the culture of an organisation.

“The nature of our industry is not going to change – it is high-pressured, it is live, deadlines are immovable – but what can change is the attitude to mental health and awareness around managing the effects of stress. Organisations need to provide their people with the tools and permission to maintain and manage their mental health on an ongoing basis, to avoid a pressure cooker scenario.”

Julia Phillips, MD, Crescendo

“The stigma is still so strong and, as an industry, I believe that we are encouraged to ‘just deal with it’. If we can change the way we talk about mental health and the support we offer as employers to our staff, I hope that we can have a positive impact on the burn out rate that is still so high.”

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