Lou Kiwanuka, MD EventShaper and ESSA vice-chair, on the age-old question of juggling work and play.
With the juxtaposition of Spring Season and Mental Health Awareness Week a few weeks ago, I can’t be the only one giving a lot of thought as to how much our industry is talking about good work/life balance and positive mental health, versus the reality of sustaining people and their family life.
Speaking for myself and my business, trying to strike a balance between managing a fulfilling family life and meeting the needs of clients can be really stressful. I am not the only one juggling the school-run, making dinner and sorting bedtime with the demands made on my time by work — especially when more and more people expect immediate responses, often out of hours.
In the short term, stress keeps us focused and alert, but over time constant stress takes a heavy toll on mental and physical health. There is no doubt that we should be looking at how we can diminish the negative impact of our jobs on our home life — the problem is where do we start?
I know how tricky it is for me to manage my family and work life, and I know that there are others in the event industry who are really suffering, especially after this year’s Spring Season, and an untimely Easter, which has seen many event companies working frantically to keep up with demand.
We can’t change events – shows will still need to be built and broken down late into the night, and people will have to pull out all the stops as usual. But can we change how we work and organise our businesses to lessen the amount and impact of workplace stress? After all, when is a good time to not play our ‘A’ game?
Many individual businesses have taken measures to help improve people’s work/life balance – like flexible hours, work-share, overlapping roles and home working arrangements – and these are relatively straightforward changes that have had great benefit. Our industry might consider some of these to be impossible in light of our unique circumstances, but perhaps now is as good a time as any to investigate ways we could operate in a less traditional format. We do, after all, have some issues around recruitment and retention.
Is there something we can change about our whole culture and way of working that could have a positive effect? Social contact is hugely important, and I wonder if we haven’t all become too isolated. It’s partly to do with how our industry works today. With so many layers of subcontracting and so many businesses involved with a single project, it’s difficult to create a collegiate atmosphere, but also the spaces that were available for social contact at work have evaporated.
Some of this desire for a conversation about wellbeing and mental health in the event industry is purely for selfish reasons – I would like more time to spend with my family, without having to start work again when they’ve gone to bed. I’d like to know that my team can do the same and I know I’m not alone in this!
But the other reason is more important. We need to have this conversation, industry-wide, if we want to attract a new generation of talent to events. Few graduates and school leavers will want a career in the industry if all they see it stress, stress-related illness, ‘burn-out’ and constant late nights. But an industry that seems to have wellbeing built-in or ‘wellness’ by default may be exactly what they are looking for.