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Get your head around it

Last month, I was watching Alastair Campbell’s BBC2 documentary on his battle with depression.

It was both enlightening and alarming. This is Alastair Campbell, the former director of communications to Tony Blair, a man at the centre of British politics for a decade and who played an unenviable role in the invasion of Iraq.

It’s hard to comprehend a more stressful job. Yet listening to this man, who I had the pleasure of interviewing at International Confex this year, open up about his fragilities highlighted an intriguing trait: the most resilient of people in the toughest of jobs, someone you would expect to be absolutely bulletproof, are not immune from mental health issues.

Right Angle Corporate, an events management and teambuilding agency, recently undertook a body of research into mental health in the events industry. Hearing from more than 500 event professionals across the UK, it is clear that many are still struggling to deal with the stresses that the job brings.

Indeed, one anonymous quote cited in the report, which I have extracted verbatim, reads: “Everything seems to be such a huge mountain and so super important, life-or-death kind of thing. When in reality we’re organising events, it should be a joyful thing to do. I see my colleagues who’ve been in the same hotel for over 20 years doing the same and they’re still super stressed. This can’t be fair nor right.”

So, what do we make of this? Are eventprofs being overloaded with too much work, are they under resourced, or is it down to poor organisation and time management?

According to Right Angle’s research, 73% of respondents stated that they were under pressure to get their work done on time. This, says the report, exacerbates stress, anxiety and depression. Yet conversely, 80% of respondents said they were satisfied with the amount of responsibility connected with their jobs, while 60% say they have been asked to engage on jobs beyond their level of competency either sometimes or all of the time. 

One of the common discussions on this subject over the last year has been the implementation by individual companies of a mental health policy. However, this is where we start to see a split between words and action. There is no shortage of hot air from employers who claim to take the issue seriously, but as indicated by one response in the report, submitted by the HR director of a large public service organisation connected with the events industry, they “have no intention whatsoever of implementing mental health wellbeing policies due to cost.”

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This ignorance to the issue, I fear, is more commonplace than a lot of organisations let on. It is at odds with what the industry wants, as backed up by responses to the report: eventprofs want systems and policies for dealing with mental health.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers are legally obliged to carry out risk assessments, which includes mental health appraisals of its staff. In Right Angle’s report, 64% of respondents said there was either no policy in place, or that they weren’t aware of one. This contrasts to 36% who said that their organisation does have a mechanism. 

This statistic arguably underlines the need for compulsory Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace, something being pushed by industry associations like the HBAA.

Another interesting statistic highlighted in the research was that 73% of respondents feel under pressure to complete their work, and arguably where the cynics begin to question where the line gets drawn. Everyone in all lines of work is under pressure to get their work done; to a high standard and on time. So, what makes eventprofs any different? Is it down to being under-resourced, or poor organisation from director level downwards? It would be churlish to point to an individual’s inability to time manage effectively as so many eventprofs share the same concern. This is something organisations should be looking at.

Of course, what is the point of research if it doesn’t provide tangible solutions? Right Angle’s report asked respondents to tell them what they wanted to see the events industry undertake to improve mental health wellbeing. 

The most common response was education, wellbeing and mindfulness. The report says the industry needs a mechanism to offer properly accredited training; managerial training was included in the recommendations. Coupled with this, 11 respondents suggested charter standards. 

However, this still relies on individual companies undertaking such education, as not all are affiliated to an industry association, which would be the logical adjudicator or enforcer.

The report goes on to say that greater support is needed. This could be resolved when married to education. But how exactly how do you offer support? This drills into leadership and management issues, the report adds.

The research shows workers are not being properly compensated for working long hours. Staff costs are always a commercial decision. Many firms continue to pay staff for a five-day week (which is arbitrary, and perhaps a touch old-fashioned) yet expect staff to work hours that go beyond this threshold. There is no doubt that some companies do not provide either overtime payments or time off in lieu. Proper compensation must be addressed.

The report offers solutions on the minimum requirements events companies should adopt, starting with having an existing staff member trained as a Mental Health First Aider. Other solutions posited include encouraging communication of mental health between staff in order to de-stigmatise and issue an anonymous questionnaire to gauge the current state in the office.

Of course, as business owners, it always comes down to the bottom line. There are cynics who will be reluctant to spend so much as a penny on implementing any form of solution. They should assess how much time their staff take off as sickness for reasons owed to stress, and if that doesn’t change the attitude, then they’re probably not worth working for.

The issue of how mental health is managed in the events industry isn’t going away any time soon. Expect further research.

 

To read Right Angle Corporate’s full mental health report, visit www.rightangleevents.co.uk