EN meets Laura Capell-Abra, career coach and founder of Stress Matters, to discuss the event industry’s often unhealthy relationship with the working week.
In the summer of 2018, a New Zealand-based company called Perpetual Guardian announced that it would be trialling a four-day work week. In October 2018, it announced that it would be making the change permanent, citing a 20 per cent increase in employee productivity.
A four-day work week might be highly unrealistic for the vast majority of event professionals, but the industry does arguably have a problematic relationship with the working week.
A study released by Stress Matters, an initiative with the aim of changing the culture of work-related stress, found that that around 20 percent of 200 surveyed event professionals are regularly working more than 60 hours a week.
“People see it as a badge of honour,” says Stress Matters founder Laura Capell-Abra. “They talk about how little sleep they’ve had and how many hours they’ve been working. There’s an expectation that that’s what you do in the events industry.”
Of course, no one enters into a career in events expecting to work a steady nine to five. Working on evening and weekends, seeing an increase in workload ahead of a big event and tight deadlines and turnarounds are all par for the course. Having said that, there’s no denying that the events industry is a high-intensity and stressful environment to work in, and was even found to be the fifth most stressful job in 2017, in a study from job site Career Cast.
Part of Stress Matters is the Stress Matters Pledge, a series of guidelines for employers to create a less intense and more productive working environment for their employees. The pledge recommends giving employees at least two days off for every 14 work days and not expecting staff to work more than 50 hours a week more than once a month.
Capell-Abra also recommends looking at workloads differently, letting staff work to objectives rather than within a specified period of time, which rewards quick and efficient workers rather than providing no incentive to work at a pace.
Working in events means that there are natural peaks and troughs in workload alongside an event cycle, but Capell-Abra says this is becoming less extreme as event companies diversify the type of work they to do.
“What that does mean is that people are operating at a higher level constantly,” she adds. “What I think they’re not doing is thinking about the impact is has on the team, who probably need that two months of down time to catch up.”
The events industry by its very nature is highly entrepreneurial; small businesses are being launched constantly and starting a business is an endeavour that’s long been associated with working all hours of the day to make a dream a reality.
“What you find, which is quite interesting, is that when you look at some of the newer companies in the industry, they’re still very entrepreneurial but their approach tends to be a little bit different,” says Capell-Abra. “It’s not true for all of them but the organisations that were set up 20-odd years ago have the entrepreneurial hard-working spirit and the expectation that everybody will continue that through, and therefore it’s expected that people will work long hours.
“Some of the newer businesses coming through are saying ‘we need to work normal hours, and we need to work around our lives.’”
The other side of the entrepreneurial coin is the freelancer, who is able to choose his or her own working hours, which may be a blessing or a curse.
“I do wonder whether there’s that plus point as a freelancer, whether they feel they have flexibility,” continues Capell-Abra. “They have to work harder and longer hours onsite, but they can give themselves a break between jobs.
“If you’re an organiser or a venue and you’re full time then you just go onto the next job automatically.”
Change in workplace culture inevitably has to come from the employers, which is why Capell-Abra and Stress Matters encourage business leaders to look at their company culture, and examine how issues like stress, mental health and welfare are being tackled and discussed.
Long working hours may be ‘just what the events industry is’ but losing talented professionals to stress or overwork is no good in any industry – and it’s an issue that we need to address.