How can we manage stress?  

Matt Rickard, Operations Director, WONDER London

I recently saw a worrying stat on Eventbrite. A career in events is one of the most stressful out there, alongside firefighters, pilots and soldiers.

While events can sometimes feel like you’re fighting fire – particularly when you’re up against the clock – it seemed surprising that they are comparable to doing it literally.

But is it really that surprising? Our industry is usually all systems go, particularly with the looming pressure of a live event on the horizon and little time to decompress before the next one arrives. On the rare occasions that there is a more prolonged quiet period between events, it is not uncommon for people to get ill as their body slows down. As with many creative fields, burnout is a real concern.

These are not just things that we need to look out for or be mindful of; we need to actively help people to manage their stress levels. This is no easy feat. In my role at WONDER London, which involves overseeing the efficiency and effectiveness of the business as well as ensuring we are a nice place to work, I know first-hand how hard it is to strike a balance. Events are stressful, there is no escaping that. What businesses can do, however, is acknowledge this fact, provide support for their team on a daily basis and introduce initiatives to help them cope.

Because, after all, there are so many positives about a career in events, otherwise why would we be here? One of the most exciting and exhilarating things for me is that I get to work shoulder-to-shoulder with incredibly creative and passionate people. You can find these characteristics in all sorts of industries, but in events we rigorously apply them! As a result, the buzz you feel when everything goes to plan – and the team nails it together – is second to none.

At our agency we currently have a full-time team of 26, with 12 freelancers – and the teams are likely to keep growing in the near future. From creative to project management to production, the team is a mixed bag. Each person has their own unique skillset and vision; but they also have their own way of doing things and pressures to overcome, particularly given the scale of some of the events we produce. Business leaders need to learn the warning signs of stress and be prepared to take action immediately. To some extent, this is about prior research and education, but it’s also about getting to know each member of your team to understand what makes them tick. Only then can you monitor how they might be feeling.

With this attitude, a more inclusive culture will likely follow. Ultimately, what you are aiming for is a team that works collaboratively, with people looking out for each other and being ready to pick up work if someone needs assistance. Facilitating this on a practical level, for example by making sure the right communication channels are in place, is a must.

This doesn’t necessarily require massive investment – and you don’t need to do it all right this second. As a relatively young agency, we admit we’re at the start of our journey in developing an approach to our team’s well-being. On a personal level, I’m investing time in research, looking at the experiences of other companies and groups during growth periods, attending workshops, and trying to “skill up” myself and the senior team with the knowledge of how to manage stress in other people. Just because managers occupy a senior position doesn’t mean they don’t experience stress too – and helping other people is very different to managing your own stress levels. The responsibility isn’t simple.

Right now, we have lieu days, social away days and activities, summer working hours, remote working, and we’ve just moved into a new office with more light, more space and quieter areas for when people need downtime. But we also talk regularly about what the future will hold. Free massages for all? Why not? We have a Google Drive folder where we collect all sorts of well-being inspiration found in the news, reports or even by attending events ourselves, to help inform our long-term aspirations.

Managing stress for people is never going to be easy, but it doesn’t need to become overwhelming. The key is to focus on what you can do now and do it well. But it’s also about dreaming big to make sure you’re constantly improving things for your team. Who knows what the future has in store?