For over a year, the future was fraught with uncertainty. No one really knew what it would look like, least of all the event industry. But partly thanks to the vaccine, that future is finally taking shape, and exciting things are on the horizon. Now more than ever, people are viscerally aware of both their health and mortality, which has inspired lifestyle changes for many. These changes include the events and media that people consume. When people’s sense of well-being is in question, a new consciousness emerges: Many people are prioritizing health, which influences consumer behavior. In the wake of the vaccine, some have even changed their attitudes about data privacy and advocated for vaccine passport requirements at events. All in the name of health and safety, which is understandable as we emerge slowly from the grips of a pandemic.
Health Consciousness and Consumer Behavior
According to the DeLoitte 2020 Survey of US Healthcare Consumers, consumers are increasingly inclined to tell their doctors when they disagree with them. They are also accessing tools, such as medical record data, to track their health conditions. They’re using that information to make lifestyle-related decisions. New data shows that consumers are more willing to share health data during a crisis than they were pre-pandemic.
What does this have to do with you as an event prof? Well, it directly relates to consumer activity, which informs your event, marketing, and sales strategies. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has increased consumer behaviors in some areas while decreasing it in others. We know that consumers are still relying on virtual interactions more than ever; this is true in health, work, and entertainment settings. However, the strain of health, financial, and economic worries will indefinitely impact consumer behavior.
Making Holism Accessible for Everyone
What most businesses need to do now is develop a strategy that caters to health-consciousness and limited budgets. Considering the costs associated with some corporate wellness events, that may sound like an idiom. But it’s not! Holistic event profs are defined by attributes that have little or nothing to do with their budget. For example, according to an Endless Events’ recent interview with the hosts of the Event Brew podcast, holistic event profs are “able to make changes quickly and to evolve”. Over the last year, the industry as a whole learned how to think on its feet based on their attendees’ changing, health-related needs. In other words, we learned to think in more wellness-related terms, and do it on a moment’s notice.
Both event profs and consumers are generally more focused on maintaining a healthy work/life balance than before. Virtual and hybrid events lend themselves to this balance by providing options to attend events at home. At this point, you’d have to live in a cardboard box to believe that returning to in-person events means that virtual attendance is a thing of the past. Among many other reasons, society has embraced virtual events because they help people have a healthier work/life balance.
You’d also have to be a recluse not to notice the self-care craze that has infiltrated the internet- and, as a result, the event industry. (Actually, even if you were a recluse with minimal access to the Internet, you wouldn’t miss it). Everyday people have emerged from obscurity to become world-famous influencers simply for acknowledging the need for self-care in their lives, and sharing creative ways to incorporate it into their daily lives. Influencers do this on many levels: They meditate, advocate for therapy, share mental health resources, and practice self-love by honoring their individuality. Now more than ever, there’s a central focus on following one’s own path and loving oneself regardless of whether we fit into long-held conventions of what society tells us we should do by a certain age. Naturally, millennials and Gen Zers have been the biggest subscribers to this philosophy; for some young attendees, it’s how they were raised and what they know.
Take It From the Pros
It comes as no surprise that wellness events are more popular than ever following the pandemic. Recently, Johnnie White, CEO of American Society of Appraisers, shared his pandemic experience with Endless Events. White pointed out that the hospitality industry was hit the hardest by COVID-19. According to him, a lot of hospitality professionals either lost their jobs or were severely overworked, leading to burnout. White worked with the Events Industry Council (EIC) to develop resources to help hospitality workers not just with employment, but stress management. Part of this process was figuring out how to teach new skills and transfer existing skills to new job requirements. Many of these tasks involved working digitally or facilitating and/or participating in hybrid or virtual events.
Along with the stress of losing substantial income and/or rapidly changing job demands, family life became demanding for many professionals. Children had to be taught from home, which placed tremendous responsibility on parents or families who normally worked during the day. Others found themselves alone for extended periods of time, either suddenly out of work or suffering from cut hours and income loss. Many coped without any face-to-face support from loved ones during the quarantine. Not to dwell on the past, but it would be imprudent to overlook the oppressive sense of stress and isolation that still hangs society even as restrictions are lifted. Yes, life is going on and people are moving forward, which is a wonderful thing. But COVID-19 is hardly gone, and safety and wellness concerns are still prominent in daily life- as they should be.
An interesting observation was born from the pandemic: Despite individual stressors, of which there were many, the overall impression on the events industry was that people were more driven by a need to connect with others than ever. Ironically, while events were based almost entirely on technology, their focus was more humanized than ever. For many professionals worldwide, networking and sharing resources became a staple. Technology became more affordable and accessible to the mainstream population. Meditation, yoga, fitness, and other hobby-related classes cropped up all over the internet at more affordable rates. The goal was to keep people connected in isolation, and it brought about a new, health-conscious awareness. During the pandemic, many people lost things they had taken as for granted as breathing before; things that were intrinsic to their existence and part of who they are. People lost loved ones, jobs, and their peace of mind.
5 Dimensions of Wellbeing
Events had already taken an experiential turn pre-pandemic; now they’re starting to reflect a holistic view of human beings, including professionals. People are beginning to recognize that physical, mental, and spiritual and/or energetic balance is necessary to live healthy lives. Rachael Riggs, a former wellbeing consultant for Maritz Global Events, developed a comprehensive guide to wellbeing before joining their Design Studio team full time. It’s called the Maritz 5 Dimensions of Wellbeing, and it highlights key components of wellness: Personal wellbeing, financial wellbeing, social wellbeing, career wellbeing, and environmental wellbeing. Recently, it’s been incorporated in the latest EIC APEX COVID-19 Business Task Recovery Force resource guide.
How can these five components of wellbeing be measured on the job? The Maritz team provided their employees with checklists to review periodically. Because stress can cloud clear thinking- especially when it’s ongoing- people don’t always realize they are experiencing signs of stress. This can be true even when it’s severe, so awareness is a crucial first step. The company worked to provide safe spaces for their employees to process stressors and concerns as a team. Webinars in which employees could vent their emotions and talk through solutions to problems became a staple at Maritz.
However, the company recognized that wellness needs would continue to evolve as time moved forward and society reopened. This may sound redundant, but in a culture where productivity is valued over wellness, workers don’t always realize the profound impact of stress on their lives. It can leak into every area of wellbeing, creating an overactive stress response, which has a depleting effect on the body and overall health.
Wellness In The Workplace: What Does It Really Mean?
Wellness in the workplace is about so much more than immediate safety and public health. Many people are returning to jobs that require new skill sets and expose them to a new environment after working from home for a year. This kind of change can be associated with both positive and negative stressors, and requires support on the behalf of employers. Previously, we may not have realized that. Before the pandemic shifted our awareness, it was normal to just thrust employees into new situations without regard to the wellbeing component. Event professionals are beginning to see- and act on- the importance of stress management across the board.
Kristin Horstman, senior director at Salesforce, says she was shocked to discover how much empathy her co-workers and employees showed for one another during the pandemic. While many were sorely unprepared to stay connected through a crisis, some even lacking a basic LinkedIn page, their empathy prompted them to work on solutions as a team. This kind of support not only improved the morale at Salesforce, but led to better learning and efficiency. Horstmann found that empathy decreased stress, which improved learning and motivation. It’s pretty simple math, but when workers don’t feel supported on the job, stress can seriously impede empathy. If anything, the COVID-19 crisis showed us just how inherently interconnected we are, and that the success of a business truly lies with how well its employees work as an ecosystem.
How can you begin? As they say, health starts at home. The same applies to creating a more holistic culture for your events and consumers. Your first order of business is to cultivate a more holistic work environment for your employees and partners. To start, open the lines of communication. Use surveys, online, and in-person conversations to ask your employees what’s important to them. What are their priorities? Do they want more hands-on help with problem solving from management? Do they want more empathy and to feel heard? Do they feel assimilated and comfortable with any new tasks they may have had to learn when returning to work in person? As in Horstman’s experience above, a little empathy goes a long way toward creating a holistic environment, which can bring about better productivity. And when positive changes are made based on employee feedback, people feel valued and heard. The goal is to make your employees feel like an integral part of the business rather than props that support a structure that doesn’t prioritize them. After all, they are the lifeblood that runs through the heart of your company.
The good news is that the event industry was already headed in a holistic direction. By personalizing events to cater to the specific needs of unique demographics and psychographics, you’ve already begun the work. As society reopens in earnest and consumer priorities shift to adapt to a changing world, check in with both your employers and attendees. More good news: You’ve likely already established a strong, communicative foundation with your audience over the course of the pandemic. Use these relationships to find out what your attendees want and need from your events, products, and services to prioritize their wellness.
Being part of a broad effort to be healthier and most holistic as a society offers vast opportunities for business growth. Don’t worry if you’re starting out slow; in this case, every effort- even a shift in attitude toward health consciousness- matters. Think about the overall message you want your attendees to take away. How do you want your brand to make people feel? Then work toward that.
For example, if you would like your customers to feel more like a valued community than consumers, give your marketing strategy a personal touch. Start social media conversations to learn what your audience is struggling with, and what would help them achieve their goals while nurturing their wellbeing. In the event world, everything is communication. Invitations, entertainment, venue, and how you share information all say something about who you are as a company. Going above and beyond to get to know your audience- and keep up with their ever-changing needs- builds strong personal connections. And these connections foster loyalty and brand growth, especially as we all wake up into a new world.