Avoiding Stress in a Stressful Industry

Mental health problems affect one in six British workers each year and it is known that mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK. The difficulty is that every employee will experience stress in different ways; it can present itself in a myriad of ways, but it cannot be fixed with a headache tablet or a blue plaster and that is what can make it so hard to recognise, or to address.

The catering and events industry is known to be one of the most stressful industries to work in, usually sitting somewhere around 4th or 5th place in the top 10. This is not a claim to fame, but rather a constant reminder that we must always be vigilant in looking after our staff.

For us, there is an added factor to consider, as we don’t only want to protect our staff from the effects of stress, but also our clients! As a business we work hard to do this through our involvement with each event from day one. We help with the choice of venue, with floor plans and table plans, we use our knowledge of each venue to offer advice on all aspects of the day, from where to put the DJ, to the best place for wheelchair access, or where to sit guests with a new baby in a pram. We offer our clients a planner to work by their side right from the off and full access to our ‘Little Black Book’ of useful contacts – trusted event professionals – Florists, DJs, Bands, Photographers and more that we know will deliver a fantastic service. This close relationship means we know every tiny detail of each event, and there is no risk of mishaps on the day.

As we take each event to heart, so we know that the key to reducing anxiety or stress is all in the planning process. We follow procedures, and have clear ‘to do’ lists so that we know each element of an event has been carefully planned.  From the menu (including allowances for the 14 recognised allergens and all other possible dietary requirements), to the staffing, the hire equipment tailored to the venue and the menu, the guest list, liaising with other suppliers like florists and musicians. There is so much to think about and even with all our procedures I would lie if I didn’t admit to the odd sleepless night.  You can’t care about your clients as much as we do without feeling anxious in the final run up to some of the really complex events – but that’s all part of the process, and to some extent can be likened to the ‘pre performance butterflies’ an actor feels before stepping into the spotlight!

But there is a point when workplace stress becomes unmanageable, and when that happens it can lead to serious emotional, behavioural and cognitive symptoms such as:

  • feeling depressed
  • withdrawing from responsibilities
  • procrastinating
  • exercising poor judgement
  • absenteeism and presenteeism
  • lack of sleep or feelings of exhaustion
  • loss of appetite
  • headaches or stomach ache…..

…….and the list goes on.

So, what can we do to help ourselves?  Unless we, as event professionals, look after each other, and ourselves then the industry will never change.

When I set up my company 20 years ago, I made it a rule that the company would provide a hot lunch for the entire team and that everyone would gather around a table and eat together every day. This brings the entire team – kitchen and office together and everyone gets a sit-down break (particularly important for chefs) for at least 30 minutes, returning to work fed and rested. Still today I am asked if this is normal when new staff join. All I can advise is that it is at Suzanne James Ltd, and it should be elsewhere too. We all need a bit of ‘me time’ during the day and a lunch break is necessary for everyone not just everyone in another industry!

We know that there are other ways to help staff too:

  • Physical activity is known to reduce stress and some of the team choose to flex their hours to allow time to go for a walk around the park or visit the gym.
  • Moving in the office can help too – this is harder to address, but there is always the opportunity to step away for a break, to make a welcomed cup of tea for the rest of the team, or to go and help with folding laundry or loading a van if a break from screen time is needed!
  • Making our employees feel valued – we work hard to let our team know that they are appreciated. We pass on customer feedback and offer training and career development where appropriate.
  • We take time to show our staff what is expected, rather than simply telling them how to do something.
  • We encourage a ‘safe environment’ where staff feel they can discuss any anxieties or concerns with us directly, but also have an independent HR consultant who is available to them if required.

Employee wellbeing is beneficial to every business. If employees are happy and well, they’re more productive and so the business thrives. It is an employer’s duty to ensure their staff are happy with their working environment and we are committed to ensuring this happens.

The Mind website is an excellent resource for both employers and employees who are concerned about mental health.

This “how to be mentally healthy at work” page is a good example:

Taking care of our staff, and our customers has and always will be one of our top priorities.

So relax, hire a professional company and enjoy your event!


With thanks to Mind.org.uk for use of images