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The Pursuit of Happiness

by Nicola Macdonald

From training mental health first aiders to healthy living incentives, here are some of the wellbeing schemes events businesses are adopting. 

For the last 19 years, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has carried out nationwide research into the health and wellbeing of people in the workplace. The most recent edition of the survey, carried out in November 2018, surveyed more than 1,000 HR professionals representing around 3.2 million UK employees. The results of the survey are intriguing and reflect some of the insidious trends that we’ve witnessed within the events industry. While absences are at an all-time low, 83 per cent of respondents said that employees work while unwell and that 63 per cent work while off sick or on holiday. Thirty-seven per cent of those surveyed had seen an increase in stress-related absences. 

When it came to long-term absences, the two top causes were mental ill health and stress, while the top three causes of work-related stress were volume of work, management styles, and working relationships with colleagues.

While this survey covered many industries, its findings are undeniably applicable to the events industry, which is why wellness and company culture have become increasingly important elements of an event prof’s working life. 

To find out more about how companies in the industry are tackling workplace issues, we asked a range of businesses what internal changes and initiatives they have implemented. 

Classes, events and teambuilding

Ali Blows, head of commercial events and business development at the National Theatre: “We’re always looking for ways to increase the positive wellbeing of our team and one thing that has gone down well is introducing weekly yoga classes. Running events can be quite full-on so it’s really great to be able to go along to a free yoga session, switch off, zen out and enjoy a moment of calm in a busy week.”

Among various wellbeing initiatives, in June the Paris office of Comexposium had 150 people sign up for the ‘Challenge contre la Faim’ a sports day, teambuilding activity, and opportunity to raise money to fight worldwide hunger.

Work/life balance

Liz Young, head of events at Historic Royal Palaces: “We make an effort to be flexible across the teams in order to support everyone in busy periods. Our managers take care to allocate events evenly, and this applies to weekend events too. While we all work normal office hours, we make sure that we allow the team time to rest after an evening event; for example, taking time off in lieu.”

Lee Ali, MD of Expo Stars: “Working in exhibitions can be physically and mentally exhausting, so it’s crucial you look after the wellbeing of your staff. Keep them well fed and hydrated and schedule regular breaks. Make sure your team onsite doesn’t have to worry about what’s going on in the office – this can add to the stress and prevent them from being present with attendees.”

Emma Cartmell, CEO of CHS Group: “As we’ve grown as a company, we’ve had to introduce a more structured approach to our new starters which now includes our ‘tailor-made home-workers health and well-being strategy’. Our shared culture is important to us and we recognise that flexible working offers great benefits, but the contradiction of this, is that home working can, on occasion, be isolating.” 

Mental Health First Aid

Companies such as the Association of Event Venues, the Business Design Centre and RefTech have been sending employees on mental health first aid courses to enable them to better understand and spot warning signs in their colleagues.

Helen Moon, MD of charitable social enterprise EventWell: “I get asked regularly what change I would like to see in the workplace to assist with increasing levels of mental health issues and stress experienced by event professionals, and my answer has always been to see Mental Health First Aiders in businesses working alongside Physical Health First Aiders, and in the very near future to see this as part of an employer’s legal duties under the health and safety regulations.”

Margaret Reeves, managing director of RefTech: “I recently completed a two-day mental health first aid course which I found to be mind-blowing and really beneficial to us all.”

Healthcare benefits

Offering private healthcare and eyecare allows businesses to demonstrate the value they place on the physical health of their employees, and many, such as RCP Meetings and Events and Olympia London, have gone down this route.   

Gillian Kiamil, Olympia London venue director: “In addition to long-established benefits such as season ticket loans and free dental & healthcare, we have introduced an Employee Assistance Program, which offers confidential support for to our team 24/7 and have developed a new training program which concentrates on resilience, difficult conversations and how to read body language.

“Over the past two years, we have introduced flexible working hours, trained 12 mental health first aiders and provided masterclasses on stress management, how to sleep better and mindfulness. One of the best-received classes that we run provides financial awareness and education training to our staff, something that the company received no direct benefit from, but we recognise the needs of our people and the stress that money concerns bring.”

Making wellbeing-focussed appointments

Anthony Bennett, co-founder and director at Bennett Hay: “We will spend such a large chunk of our lives at work that it’s imperative to instil a positive environment where employees feel part of a community and come together to work as part of a team; this is where a Happiness Officer adds value. We created the position within our business this year to support and engender employee welfare. Celebrating individuality and positivity not only opens communication across different business functions, it allows teams to socialise, learn and share knowledge with senior management.”

Lorraine Thorne, venue sales manager, Royal Horticultural Halls: “We have wellbeing champions who are trained in mental health first aid in each department. There are posters all around the office to educate people on the signs of stress and declining mental health which point people in the right direction.”

Twickenham Stadium has announced a partnership with Stress Matters, pledging to show a measurable improvement in its wellbeing activities. Make Venues has introduced ‘Wellbeing Champions’ at each of its venues. 

Healthy lifestyle

Businesses have been encouraging their staff to be more active and healthy in their day-to-day lives, with ICC Wales allowing staff to make full use of its nature trails and wildlife viewing and RCP Meetings and Events introducing a cycle-to-work scheme to staff as a salary sacrifice scheme, attracting tax and National Insurance savings. Center Parcs encourages its staff to take advantage of the site and have walking meetings and one-to-ones outdoors. 

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