What has become exceptionally clear since the UK effectively went into lockdown on Monday 23rd March 2020 is that mental health wellbeing is now being considered on a par with that of physical health. The first week of lockdown saw numerous organisations including mind, the NHS and PHE outlining tips for promoting positive mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. A common theme is maintaining social interaction, whilst sustaining the need for social distancing. The event profession is by its very nature based on social interactions. We, as the event industry, have the potential to be adversely impacted by the implications of social distancing. However, our industry is also incredibly solution focused as the current conversion of event venues across the UK to temporary Nightingale hospital locations demonstrates.
Identifying hazards and implementing controls in an attempt to reduce the likelihood and severity of the adverse consequences is a common place risk management strategy widely practiced throughout the event industry. We routinely apply the risk assessment process to a multitude of typical event hazards from fire safety to food safety, crowd management to waste management, seminar theatres to water features etc. However, can the tried and tested risk assessment approach be applied to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have identified six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with poor mental health:
Consideration of each of these areas, referred to by the HSE as Management Standards, are the basis of a work-related stress (WRS) risk assessment. It is highly likely that the onset of the pandemic itself compounded by unquantified periods of unprecedented change will have altered the dynamics of each of these aspects.
Demands. It is clearly not business as usual. There is the potential for employees to be overwhelmed by competing demands. Line management duties should be re-established as much as possible providing employees with a clear direction on what they should be focusing on. Bear in mind however that individuals are also juggling other demands whilst working in the home environment such as family, home schoolers, careers and concerns relating to health and wellbeing of family and close personal friends, job security and finances to name but a few. Aim for providing employees with the opportunity to feel that they are using their time productively without overloading them.
Control. In a time when we have little control, (which is certainly not the preferred operating state of event professionals!), provide employees with opportunities to exert some control. Encourage employees to set their own routine. Freelancers who often spend their time working from home when they are not onsite can testify to the importance of this. Set out and agree work hours including regular breaks and meal times but build in flexibility. For many event professionals lunch away from their desk may be a little luxury not typically afforded when working from the office!
Support. Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Make sure employees continue to feel supported by considering technological methods for regular catch up meetings and team conference calls. Remember to check in on the person as well as the project. The events profession can be somewhat task orientated at the expense of people. This is an ideal time to readdress the balance.
Relationships. It is perhaps more likely than ever that professional relationships will at times become strained. Employers should ensure policies and systems are in place to respond to any individual concerns. Policy development and review can slip down our priority list during busy event seasons. Consider utilising this time for developing a wellbeing strategy and associated policies.
Role. Employees maybe currently undertaking different roles on behalf of the business. Line managers, should ensure that not only are employees clear about what their role is but also how they fit into the business and that everyone in the business has an understanding of each other’s current role. Undertaking tasks outside an employee’s usual remit can also provide individuals with the opportunity to learn new skills. Encourage employees to maximise these learning opportunities and to also actively undertake CPD.
Change. As an industry we actively seek out change, challenges to the norm, creative and sometimes revolutionary ways of actively engaging with audiences Take time to recognise the positives in our new normality. It is reasonable to assume that post pandemic, there will be a new norm. But that in itself is a new and exciting proposition and an opportunity for the events sector to evolve and seek out new ways of working to ensure that the events sector continues to thrive. One thing is for certain, as restrictions on movements and public gatherings are relaxed over the coming months, the demand for events will be as big as ever as people look to satiate their appetites following a protracted, forced withdrawal from social interaction.