Americans are more stressed than ever. As a result, according to the American Institute of Stress, 48% of Americans surveyed say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life. In addition, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In fact, a steady diet of stress is responsible for the majority of illnesses, and has been linked to such life-threatening conditions as heart disease, cancer, stroke and immune-system disorders.
Emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are often traced back to stress. Unfortunately, the meetings and events planning industry is considered by many to be a very stressful industry, as professional planners must deal with a multitude of details and deadlines that are frequently in flux. But stress can impede a planner’s ability to do their job effectively. And in the meetings industry, job effectiveness and customer satisfaction are paramount to a planner’s success. “What we do is innately stressful — and I don’t think anyone in our industry would be surprised that our career path consistently earns us a ranking among the most stressful jobs,” says Heather Herrig, CMP, president and chief event strategist at Every Last Detail Events. “The pressure’s on to get it right, and the buck stops with you if it isn’t.”
Everything meeting and event planners do could be considered a key stress-producing area: Planners are always on deadline, they’re trying to please multiple stakeholders at once; and they’re trying to make it all come in at or under budget. “And at the end of the day, so much falls outside of our control, yet we keep pushing on,” Herrig says. “That’s pretty stressful. But being aware of these stressors, in addition to our reactions, is key to maintaining our sense of well-being — including both mental and physical health.”
Herrig admits that being an event professional was stressful before, but in Q1 of 2020, the stress multiplied exponentially, thanks to the global pandemic that gripped the world. “First and foremost, we take duty of care seriously, and work toward creating safe and healthy spaces for gatherings and meetings. So when COVID-19 first came on the radar as a threat to our meetings and events [and, of course, those potentially in attendance], we had to re-evaluate everything about how we planned and executed events,” Herrig says.
This planning evolution has only intensified over the past 18 months, so planners today are constantly reading and learning all they can, which, while necessary, is extraordinarily overwhelming. Planners are also continuously faced with the threat of canceled events, lost income and job loss. “The recent COVID variants [like Delta] have shown us, unfortunately, that we still need to be on high alert and prepare ourselves for anything,” Herrig says. In addition, the increase in virtual and hybrid options has pushed many planners to learn completely new ways of planning and hosting events, and with that comes the learning of countless tech platforms, enhancements, add-ons and related strategies. “In essence, not only have we had to deal with the threat of losing our livelihoods and what we are so passionate about, but in order to preserve what we can, we’ve had to relearn pretty much everything about what we do,” Herrig says. “Stress levels are at an all-time high.”
Genny Castleberry, CMP, director of sourcing at Brightspot Incentives & Events, agrees that the ever-changing COVID-related restrictions, from national to local regulations, are one of the leading causes of stress in the meeting planning industry today. “Additional focus on attendees’ well-being and safety protocols, on top of all the other program elements and logistics; how to deal with HIPAA regulations; vaccine requirements to attend in-person events and ensuring well-being of attendees’ experiences, are also stressful elements,” Castleberry says. “We also have to stay on top of emergency protocols in the event attendees test positive for COVID on-site during the event and how to manage such situations. Also working through hotel inventory shortages is making it very difficult to find space and attractive rates for clients’ programs during the sourcing phase. Finally, the repercussions of the shortage of staff during program operations brings service-level challenges.”
Castleberry adds that in today’s meetings and events environment, a lot more scrutiny on a venue’s health, hygiene and cleaning protocols are top of mind. “We also have to plan for fewer guests in vehicles for airport transfers — to ensure social distancing, as well as the higher cost of driving budget expenditures, making it more stressful for planners. And the hotel inventory shortage is really pushing clients to make buying decisions much more quickly. Essentially, working through hotel and other local partners’ shortage of qualified staff is making it more difficult to pull off a flawless event.”
For Chris Chan, founder and CEO of the event planning and management firm 3C Strategies LLC, uncertainty is definitely a key stress producer for today’s meeting and event planners. With the challenges surrounding people’s willingness to get together in large groups, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to plan a meeting or event, including whether or not to plan one at all. “Planners need to keep stress top of mind because a lot of the stress we are dealing with is outside of our control,” Chan says. Where industry professionals are used to being the “fixer,” today’s planners need to recognize that they can’t fix some of the key decision points in the industry today, such as if people feel comfortable in mass gatherings, or a government mandating new mass gathering capacity limits.
Meeting planners also agree that technological advancements have made many event planners technologists, forcing many into unfamiliar territory. In addition, hybrid events add a layer of stress as planners now have to essentially plan two events in one. Chan points out that figuring out the level of social distancing that’s acceptable to an event’s audience can be difficult. In addition, decisions to cancel or postpone events are even more difficult than in 2020, when venues were more sympathetic and willing to work with meeting planners.
“Remember, even the best fixer isn’t able to fix everything,” Chan says. “It’s important to remind yourself that some factors are out of your control.”
Also be sure to educate key stakeholders early in the planning process about changes in the way plans are now developed. A major stress factor can be a lack of knowledge from clients or superiors about how much more complicated planning an event is in these times. “It’s a mistake to assume clients or supervisors are cognizant of the changes in event planning,” Chan says. “Saying you’re only allowing vaccinated people in an event is easy; implementing a system to check and verify is much more complicated and expensive.”
Too much stress creates negative frenzy, which impairs our brain’s resources, hampering our ability to be focused, organized, creative and productive. Our memory doesn’t work as well, we make more errors, and we find it more difficult to connect with others. On top of all of this, chronic stress damages our health, and we are more likely to get colds and flu. “A lot of planners I talk to, myself included, frequently feel triggered by all of this uncertainty and stress, which makes it hard to think clearly,” says Allie Magyar, chief product officer, Notified. “Meeting planners are great at reacting — we solve problems and put out fires like it’s nothing. It’s our superpower,” Magyar says. “But sometimes that can hold us back from strategy and planning a path forward. We get can caught up in a cycle of reacting to every challenge that pops up, never having the space to break the cycle and forge a future.”
There are many techniques that meeting planners can employ to help mitigate and manage their stress levels. First, it’s extremely important to acknowledge your stress and be aware of your mental state. “Know that whatever you’re feeling, you are not alone,” Herrig says. “We are all going through this time together.” Accordingly, holding tight to community is a critical technique — talking to others [friends, colleagues, and, of course, mental health professionals], sharing what you’re going through, asking for advice and help, and just expressing yourself is vitally important and beneficial.
There are also countless other techniques, and it’s good to try them out and see what works. Some examples are meditation, physical activity such as yoga, jogging and other types of fitness, etc., connecting with the outdoors and nature, positive self-talk, healthy eating, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, smiling and laughing, aromatherapy, doing things you love and that make you happy, and last, but not least, breathing. “By default, we are doers, and we want to take care of everything,” Herrig says. “The biggest mistake you can make is trying to push through it or deal with your stress on your own. Lean on your community and take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries in order to prioritize your health.”
Castleberry recommends taking deep breaths, starting the day with some meditation or allowing yourself 10 minutes at the beginning of the day without any email or external interruptions. “Give yourself the opportunity to get focused on the tasks and don’t let yourself dwell on the ‘what if’s,’” Castleberry says. “Most importantly, know that you are doing all that you can and things will continue to evolve where you may not have control of it, and that’s OK.”
Chan also says the meetings and events industry works in waves of peak stress with valleys in between. Often event and meeting planners excuse the craziness of the moment by saying they’ll have time to decompress when they’re less busy. “Planners should encourage themselves and their staff to take self-care seriously during peak times of stress, not just in between events,” Chan says. “Make time during the busiest times for working out, relaxing, meditating or whatever helps you decompress. And don’t think that there’s going to be a good time for a break — make your breaks happen.”
And Magyar suggests meeting planners make sure they’re not in meetings 15 hours a day. Leverage your calendar to create space and time for you to either take a break or simply get your work done. “I block off time for workouts, lunch, hikes or simply breathing breaks. If there is a project that I need to focus on, I’ll block off half a day or often an entire one, marking myself as out of office or throwing on a ‘do not disturb’ status so people know not to bother me,” Magyar says. “Then, stand by your calendar and enforce the time you block off. I mentioned earlier that event planners can solve problems like no one else. That’s partly because we love to solve problems. It’s also partly because we are Type-A personalities that like to control every aspect, so when something goes wrong, we are ready to jump in and fix it. But that also means that when people recruit us to help solve their problems, we say ‘yes.’ We say ‘yes’ to the point that we end up with 15 hours of meetings a day and no time to solve our own problems.”
And specific to the financial and insurance meetings and events industry, planners need to recognize that there are a lot of compliance and control considerations to financial and insurance-based meetings — all of which add to a planner’s stress level. “Now that those meetings are hosted digitally, there are new rules and requirements. So, planners not only have to learn these new rules, but also we have to get in these weeds to understand every element of the tech that runs these meetings,” Magyar says. “Because if we use tech that either doesn’t meet the new compliance-and-control considerations or set up the tech incorrectly, then we put ourselves at risk. Set aside enough time to thoroughly learn the tech and experiment with it. Finally, the tech is always evolving and improving, so don’t train up and then think you are good to go. Subscribe to product updates, newsletters, and get demos of new features and releases.” I&FMM