Event WellnessFebruary 20, 2024

Hustle Culture is Out, Healthy Living is In By
February 20, 2024

Event Wellness

Hustle Culture is Out, Healthy Living is In
One way to promote wellness is to incorporate walking tours or hikes in between meetings. Courtesy of The Broadmoor

One way to promote wellness is to incorporate walking tours or hikes in between meetings. Courtesy of The Broadmoor

Meeting planners today want it all. Location, quality and accessibility of meeting venues are not out of fashion, but a key factor rising to the top is event wellness. They are listening to their attendees who say: “The ‘hustle culture’ is out and ‘healthy living’ is in.”

Planners understand that taking better care of yourself is important, but even more important is when you are the one charged with caring for your attendees. But how?

“Establishing a solid health and wellness component within meetings and events allows for permission to detach from what might be an intense experience, depending on the conference or meeting,” says Heather Mason, president and CEO of Caspian Agency.

This permission says that it’s good to focus on health, eating well, sleeping well and exercise, rather than the “hustle culture” that is typically forced on attendees in the corporate or professional meeting realm.

“It is also well-backed by science that these types of breaks are more helpful to productivity and engagement rather than less,” says Mason, who has seen everything from sound baths, meditation rooms, yoga in the morning, nap pods, and also much healthier food and beverages being offered at meetings.

“While we saw mediation rooms and yoga take off at the beginning, we’ve seen a lag on those particularly and more movement towards walking tours, outdoor experiences and less on getting up very early, which was typically when yoga and meditation took place and are not as well attended,” Mason says.

Caspian Agency has incorporated more walking tours, hiking and breathing exercises as breaks between sessions. The snacks and breaks offered have also taken a turn towards health, through smoothies, nuts, fruits, etc., rather than cookies and other sweets. Evening events are featuring far more non-alcoholic options as trends move away from alcohol as well.

For meeting planners looking to incorporate more health and wellness into the corporate events they plan, Mason advises that unless it’s said from the stage, and there are open times in the schedule, it seems less sincere and more of a tip of the hat, rather than commitment to health and wellness initiatives. By saying that there are spaces in the schedule for this, and it is encouraged, then attendees will feel more inspired and comfortable to take part.

Caytie Pohlen-LaClare, president of The LaClare Group, says that, in general, attendees in the U.S. are savvier than they have been in the past when it comes to health and wellness. Attendees are most interested in the quality of their food/drinks and also of how they spend their time.

The trends Pohlen-LaClare are seeing at today’s meetings include more people opting for low/no alcohol. This means planners need to provide quality mocktails and non-alcoholic options; people are more aware of their body and movement. The LaClare Group is making sure to build in more breaks throughout the day with movement options, as the ambience of the meeting space matters to the overall meeting experience.

“This includes all five senses. So, we pay attention to lighting, sound, aroma, touch of fabrics and tastes,” Pohlen-LaClare says.

The Importance of Self-Care | Health and Wellness in Events

The pandemic put an exclamation point on the subject of wellness. Many people within the meetings industry had more time to think about their well-being, so the conversations shifted to self-care. Now, the focus is on the care of others — health and wellness in events.

It was only a matter of time before overworked and overstressed men and women discovered the power of holistic approaches to reducing stress. As a result, meeting planners are integrating the mind and body into exercise programs to restore equilibrium to their body and eliminate the negative effects of stress.

While yoga activities may not be as popular in recent years, it is a great way for attendees to increase their concentration and flexibility, experiencing a sense of well-being, while stretching, toning and increasing muscle endurance.

According to Kara Fulsang, CMP, president of Ginger Meeting Management, due to the growing awareness of the importance of health and wellness in events, her meeting planner firm integrates a health and wellness focus into events in a multitude of ways: physical, mental, nutrition and eco-friendly initiatives.

Some of the key steps Fulsang takes include:

  • Quiet Zones/Unplugging Space – Having a small room, with lights that are a little dimmer where attendees can go to decompress for a couple minutes and get away from the hustle and bustle of the conference. “I have recently seen where many large stores have ‘quiet hours’ telling the hours when the store is typically less busy if a quieter shopping experience is preferred,” Fulsang says. “This solidifies the fact we all need a quiet moment throughout the day to recharge.”
  • Creating small engaging spaces to encourage attendees to mingle and network. This can be done with fun seating in a foyer space and creates a sense of comradery and well-being. Oftentimes, more elaborate and meaningful conversations happen in smaller groups.
  • Giving away exercise items such as resistance bands and having one of the executives demonstrate how to use them. “Not only was this a great item but it added humor when the executive was showcasing their resistance band expertise,” Fulsang says.
  • Bringing in expert health and wellness speakers to engage the audience and discuss current topics and research on nutrition, emotional intelligence, how the body responds to different foods, stress — financial, work/life, etc.

“Attendees are asking for healthy food options such as low-sugar foods, especially during breakfast,” Fulsang says. “Even our ‘steak and potato’ lovers are shying away from sugary foods.”

Fulsang has found that offering nutritional food options help with keeping attendees alert during the conference. They also make sure to have food options available that address the main dietary restrictions (gluten, dairy, nuts, shellfish). Build-your-own food stations are very popular with attendees as this gives the option to omit any food/toppings they are not comfortable eating.

Continuous Evolution

Through her efforts, Fulsang and her team have noticed a shift in the willingness to attend sessions and mental alertness when they incorporate health and wellness into events.

“When we start the day off with low-sugar and nutritional items, we find that attendees do not have that 2:00 p.m. crash that leads them to sneak off to their room for a little afternoon siesta,” Fulsang says.

“Health and wellness in the conference also improves productivity and increases engagement — when attendees feel their needs are met and they are cared for, they are more involved overall in the conference, and build stronger connections among attendees.”

Integrating a strong health and wellness component into corporate meetings and events not only enhances the immediate experience of the attendees but can also have lasting positive impacts on their professional performance, personal well-being and the overall corporate culture.

So are there specific health and wellness components that are no longer popular among attendees? At one point Fulsang thought that organizing morning walks/runs was not something the attendees preferred, but they found when they did not offer this, groups of attendees would make plans on their own to meet for a sunrise walk or a nature hike.

“However, when we organize yoga and group mindful/meditation practices, they do not seem to be as widely attended and accepted as some other health and wellness components,” Fulsang says. “Social and occupational wellness are sometimes underrepresented components and not as common at conferences, but these are vital topics.”

At one of Ginger Meeting Management’s recent conferences, they gave away high quality re-fillable water bottles — the ones that do not sweat on the desk. This saved on cost as they were not buying plastic water bottles, it was more eco-friendly and they found that the attendees were drinking more water throughout the day from the hydration station, which had regular water and infused water.

“The attendees loved the water bottle and asked for us to have hydration stations and water bottles again at the next conference,” Fulsang says. “Outdoor meals, if possible, also are always a fan favorite. This allows the group to walk around and get vitamin D from the sun. Also, designing a conference agenda that is conducive to getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding extremely early starts or late finishes is imperative to a successful conference.”

Pohlen-LaClare says she is seeing the pre- and post-meeting activities are no longer as popular.

One example is the morning yoga sessions, which are not as well-attended as four years ago. People can use their own apps and workout in their hotel room instead of being with a large group.

“Cocktail receptions are another great example of this. While people will still attend, they are more mindful about the reception cutting into their downtime. They guard their ‘after hours’ time more carefully and are more selective about when/where/how long to be at these events. They are also aware of their alcohol use and will limit or abstain from imbibing.

“Tied into this is sleep. More people value their sleep and set boundaries around that. Getting a good night’s sleep, especially when travelling, is so important,” Pohlen-LaClare says. “It will determine which after-hours events they attend.”

Strategies That Work

The biggest factor for establishing a solid health and wellness component within meetings and events is to demonstrate that the host/organizer is aware of attendees and their needs. As Pohlen-LaClare explains, people want to know that they matter as individuals. Their health and wellness is essential to their success.

The benefit to the organization is that healthy people are also more satisfied and more productive employees. Countless studies have shown there is also a huge correlation between health and wellness and high performance individuals. High performers know that health and wellness are vital to their well-being on every level.

Of course, the hardest part in adding a wellness activity is finding the time to incorporate the program into a meeting or event. Part of getting everyone to meet out of the normal office environment is to “hit the reset button” and recharge. Allowing time in the morning or afternoon for their attendees to relax at a group yoga/meditation class or a group bike ride helps everyone bond, collaborate and come into the next meeting with their blood pumping and ideas flowing.

“It’s sometimes an uphill battle to convince the key meeting stakeholders of the value of these things. Yet overall, we are seeing greater awareness and acceptance for these health and wellness components among our client contacts,” Pohlen-LaClaire says. “Specifically, we are making sure to have several non-alcoholic beverages available; we have changed the timing of cocktail receptions to end by 6 p.m. whenever possible; and we build in time to move between sessions. We also have lots of water available for people to drink throughout the day. People definitely do appreciate the water, and we have gotten positive feedback on the updated cocktail times.”

Health and wellness within meetings are here to stay. It will continue to evolve and become more widely accepted in the next few years, especially as more younger people are attending these meetings.

“The age group of 21-35 year-olds won’t tolerate the ‘old’ way of doing things,” Pohlen-LaClaire says. “It only takes a couple years of doing ‘new’ things for them to become normal.”

Healthy lifestyle

The focus is on healthy lifestyles — in both our personal and professional lives. So, incorporating meetings that include healthy components will only become more of an expectation. “Covid led to a greater desire for comfort, and balance, and less allowances for discomfort. Just like high heels and commutes are out, so is making attendees smash in hours and hours of content to prove value,” Mason says. “Instead, value can come from open spaces for networking, commitment to attendee experience and ensuring that they do not leave exhausted but rather inspired.”

Fulsang advises fellow meeting planners to not overpack the agenda with back-to-back sessions and be sure to incorporate a little free time. Otherwise, attendees can feel burnt out and run down. When incorporating health and wellness, start with one or two new items. Once you see what your attendees are most receptive to, you can tailor your event based on their preferences, i.e., What healthy food choices do your attendees like? How much movement can you promote during your conference? Do you offer relaxation spaces? Always evaluate and adapt.

“Health and wellness in meetings will not only persist but will continue to evolve,” Fulsang says. It is a critical component of all aspects of life, including professional events.”

Technology has made it easier to incorporate health and wellness into meetings. As it continues to progress, Fulsang envisions that planners will use more technology to incorporate health and wellness into their events.

“We will use event mobile app push notifications to send mindful notes — similar to how Apple watches tell us to ‘breathe,’ we will use gamification with exercise and food goals with winners at the end of the conference,” concludes Fulsang. “We may even have a virtual trainer/hologram at the morning session. The possibilities are endless.”  I&FMM.

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