Year after year, in survey after survey, event planning has earned a reputation as one of the top 10 most stressful careers. When one considers the fact that the other occupations that make these lists involve life and death situations, it’s so unnecessary. Why should planning events be just as stressful as careers in the military, police force, and hospitals?
Let’s look at the reasons why event planning is so stressful and discuss strategies for preventing and recovering from stress and burnout.
A Stress-Producing Mindset
There are a number of factors that contribute to high stress levels for event planners. To reverse this will require a drastic change in mindset.
- A lack of basic consideration.
Since the situations that event planners face are non-life threatening, why does almost every request have to be “urgent?” Last-minute requests and urgency create a pressure-cooker environment. No wonder event industry professionals are under stress.
The unfortunate part about this is that once everybody scrambles to prepare quotes and get information to the parties who have requested it, decision-making drags on for weeks, sometimes months.
Scenario: I recently spoke with an event industry professional who received an urgent request when she was on a well needed and long overdue vacation with her family. She let the party who requested the quote know that she was on vacation and that she would be back Monday. The response was that if the proposal was not received by Thursday, it would not be considered. The event planner took time away from her family and burned the midnight oil to submit the proposal before the deadline. Six weeks later, there was still no decision.
Clearly, the request was not really urgent.
Solution: Respect your colleagues and stop making unreasonable demands that stress them out. Before you label a proposal or request for information as “urgent,” clarify the real timeframe for decision making. By all means, build in a buffer, but please be reasonable.
When you receive an urgent request, take the time to determine if it is really urgent. This may involve a brief conversation with the ultimate decision maker. A knee-jerk response in which you also demand an urgent request from hotel partners and other suppliers will just compound the level of stress in an already overstressed industry.
- Failing to set boundaries.
In the event industry, there is a failure to set boundaries. Bosses and colleagues make unreasonable requests after hours, on tight deadlines, and, even on weekends. This is perceived as “a part of doing business.” In fact, individuals who try to set boundaries tend to be labeled as “inflexible.”
Solution: Begin to set boundaries with colleagues, bosses, and clients. It will take small steps at first but, gradually, it is possible to train those around you to stop making unreasonable demands.
- The customer is always right.
This mindset results in giving in to unreasonable requests and failing to set boundaries. We’re expected to achieve the same result in a fraction of the time. If two days is really what is required for an agenda, the request is to compress it into one day. If one hour is a reasonable timeframe to debrief an exercise at a conference, the expectation is to achieve the same results in 15 minutes. Sessions are getting shorter and shorter leading to stressed out event planners, presenters, and participants.
Solution: If the customer knows it all already, why do they need your expertise? They hired you for your expertise, not just to implement a flawed plan. Don’t be afraid to share it and suggest alternatives that are more reasonable.
- Change for the sake of change.
This is one of the biggest sources of stress within our industry. How many times does one have to change a rooming list, shift items on an agenda, and reprint material because the content has changed? Too often.
Solution: Make deadlines clear to everyone. Definitely give venues and caterers what they need in terms of final numbers. They can’t do their job otherwise. Work with venues to accept rooming lists closer to the date of the event. Schedule printing for one or two days prior to a meeting. That is far less stressful than changing them over and over again.
These fairly simple changes in mindset can make all the difference and we should see the profession fall to levels of stress more in line with the core focus of the profession.
- Feast or Famine
During times of prosperity, event planners are super busy. In periods of uncertainty or economic slowdowns, event planners are often among the first to be let go. This leads to some insecurity. It contributes to a mindset in which event planners feel they can’t turn down work or refer it to colleagues. There is also a tendency to take on projects that really aren’t in one’s area of expertise. Internal event planners feel that they can’t negotiate when workload demands are unreasonable. The result is overextending oneself and running on a treadmill that leads to exhaustion.
Solution: We are once again in a period of global uncertainty so it is important to realize that trying to be all things to all people serves no one. There is a need to identify core competencies, set boundaries, and refer to others projects that aren’t within your own wheelhouse.
Preventing Stress and Burnout Checklist
- Make self-care a priority. This means paying attention to your diet and ensuring that you get regular exercise.
- Build enough time into your life for sleep, relaxation, vacations, personal interests, and your family.
- Get as much rest as possible during the final weeks and days before an event.
- Book your accommodation on a different floor or in a different wing from the participants so that you have the space to unwind during downtime.
- Arrive at a foreign destination early in the day, one or two days before the event. This will make it possible to ensure smooth logistics and get enough rest the night before the event.
- Hire enough staff to handle the workload. Saving money should never be at the expense of your health or the health of your staff.
- Especially for conferences and other multi-day events, insist on healthy meals and snacks for yourself and the rest of the event crew.
- Replace caffeine, soft drinks, and alcohol with plenty of water and fresh juices.
- Even independent meeting planners, don’t have to be a one-man or one-woman show. Hire an off-duty hotel staff member to help with set-up, manage the welcome desk, and liaise with the various departments when there are special requests or unforeseen logistical challenges.
- Build margin into events. Leave some wiggle room in agendas so that you can accommodate the unexpected without scrambling. Clients will often try to pack an agenda. This is where setting boundaries comes in.
- Schedule breaks for your crew and ensure that you take YOUR OWN breaks. (Green rooms or lounges for event crews can be very helpful, even if they are small).
Recovering from Stressful Events
It’s easy to feel awake and refreshed when the adrenaline is pumping. But once you return home, jet lag and/or exhaustion sets in.
- Allow sufficient time for recovery. This may mean spending an extra night at the hotel instead of driving home exhausted and getting into an accident. Get a massage, spend time in the whirlpool, and go to bed early.
- Drive home the next day after you are rested.
- Instead of accepting back-to-back assignments, schedule rest days following major events.
- Stay on at a destination for a few extra days to relax, unwind, and explore it at leisure. Travel is one perk the industry offers. Discovering new places and cultures can be very refreshing.
- Incorporating CSR into your corporate events.
- Building a strong events team can be the key to success, start from the ground up.