Tag Archives: Amanda Cecil

Instead of Job Burnout, Try This

Originally published Meetings Today

Instead of Job Burnout, Try This

All who work in any part of the meetings/hospitality/tourism industry experience face often unrealistic deadlines and people and events outside of their control that pull in competing directions.

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Competition between quality meetings and service versus budgets.
  • Long and irregular hours.
  • Failed attempts at work-life balance.
  • Commuting.
  • Technology, that while helpful, keeps us always available.
  • The exhaustion of travel and onsite meeting and event management.

It’s nearly impossible not to feel burnout!

Meeting planning—or as defined by studies as “event coordinator”—has been listed as one of the most high-stress professions.

Other jobs in hospitality must suffer a similar level of stress and burnout, such as hotel and venue sales, with constant revenue goals and wrangling contracts, plus evenings entertaining clients; and convention services, because there are too few people working in these positions, which take on the stress of facilitating what salespeople sell.

Burnout results in not just the need for time off. It results in a dearth of new ideas because we can’t see, well, the trees for the forest! (Yes, I intentionally reversed the adage.) With that comes meetings that look and feel way too alike.

We are overworked, overwhelmed and in need of being refreshed in body, mind and spirit. We want to bring back the energy we felt with a new job or new concept with fresh insights. When people talk about managing burnout, they speak of time away from work…time away from all responsibility.

Is a Vacation Actually Enough Time Away?

I’ve long said I want to find a way, like what I want in my next reincarnation (a super-fan of the film Defending Your Life, I believe the possibility), to enjoy days with zero responsibility to clients, the industry, learning, my spouse and family, my beloved cats, home, etc.

Then again, I love learning, so maybe it’s that I want time to learn without other responsibilities.

I do not believe that vacations alone can renew and refresh. They are too short or not taken at all. This Travel + Leisure story cites statistics that reveal one-third of all Americans haven’t taken a vacation in more than two years.

When people do take vacation, the planning alone, especially for those in our industry, feels like work!

You probably saw US Travel’s National Plan for Vacation Day and, like I, chuckled that there are now guidelines to plan a vacation. Sheesh, most of us are asked to do so by others.

In the last months, the number of industry professionals I know who retired was mind-boggling. The numbers plus the aging of meetings and hospitality industry professionals led me to write the December “Friday with Joan” about those who are feeling “aged-out” of the industry.

Not one of those who had or were planning to retire soon expressed regret. Suzette Eaddy expressed it well—not having to be somewhere and do something specific every day. Sandi Lynn said she “rewired” instead of entirely retiring, which has elements of the alternative you’ll read about below.

This op-ed about the so-called “Megxit” decision by the Sussexes was a big AH-HA. The first line reads, “Step back is the new Lean in, and I am here for it.

It went on to describe what the writer, Michele L. Norris, believed it meant: “I am going to assess the landscape and figure out how to move forward on my own terms—or figure out whether the prescribed path is even the best fit.”

It screamed “SABBATICAL!” to me.

Colleagues Share Their Sabbatical Stories

Jean Boyle, whom I met through MPI years ago, was someone I remembered had taken a sabbatical. When I asked her, I learned that she had taken two sabbaticals in her work history.

I reached out in various industry groups via social media and to specific colleagues to find out if others had taken sabbaticals or if they were an offered or negotiated option.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Shelley Sanner, M.A., CAE, senior vice president industry relations at McKinley Advisors, about how associations can easily align their missions with a sabbatical, she said she took a sabbatical in 2017 and alas, said that no one at their company has since. A shame, we both agreed.

Sanner said all the pieces must be in place, including who will pick up one’s work while away and if that means hiring others or providing training to staff currently in-house, before someone goes on sabbatical. As others, and in particular, Amanda Cecil, said, one must step totally away from one’s job in order to use time on a sabbatical well.

Mike Gamble, president and CEO of SearchWideGlobal, said one of its employees was on the verge of quitting. Instead, they negotiated time to travel, about which you can read here. It was clearly a sabbatical that benefitted the person and company, broadening their scope of knowledge.

As sabbaticals are more common in academia, I reached out to Professor Deborah Breiter, PhD, CEM, at The Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida (UCF), also profiled in the December “Friday With Joan,” remembering that she had taken one.

During hers, she wrote:

I used the time to edit a book of event case studies with Amanda Cecil, earn my CEM, and create a series of videos for one of my online classes. I took two semesters off at three-quarter pay. I could have taken one semester at full pay.”

Deborah told me that Amanda Cecil, PhD, CMP, professor, Department of Tourism, Events and Sports Management, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) had also taken a sabbatical, about which you can read in the next part of this edition of “Friday with Joan.”

It made sense and fit with what I’d wanted to do years ago: Have a select number of senior D.C.-area planners rotate jobs for a period of up to six months to learn what other organizations do in order to refresh and renew thinking, to bring new ideas back to their employers and work.

Many of us believe we are indispensable. We’ve fed that assumption by keeping much of what we do and know “in our heads.” We talk about what would happen if any of us were “hit by a bus,” believing that no one could ever manage without us. (Okay, yeah, they probably couldn’t, but if we burn out and can’t function, isn’t that almost as bad as being hit by a bus?)

In my conversations and reading, I learned of all the potential sabbaticals offer to any profession. Sadly, what I also learned is that many so-called “sabbaticals” are really extended vacations without a specific purpose.

Even more sadly, I know how little money is set aside for industry colleagues for professional development and fear paying someone to learn for longer than a few days will be pooh-poohed. If we can incorporate different thinking, we can change this.

I asked those with whom I spoke if they thought sabbaticals were feasible for those who work in our industry.

Deborah Breiter Terry wrote:

“I think sabbaticals are feasible for any professional employees (as opposed to hourly) who have been with an employer for a certain number of years (probably seven). They would have to go through some sort of application process and show how they would use the time and what the eventual benefit to the company would be. Perhaps somebody wants to take six months to go to school or maybe they want to be a visiting lecturer or executive in residence at a college or university.”

From Mike Gamble:

Work life balance is now a competitive advantage, and companies who truly ‘walk the talk’, will recruit and retain the best talent. Sabbaticals are one way to reward tenured employees and show them that you care about their health and well-being.”

Jim Zaniello, FASAE, president of Vetted Solutions, told me that he’s seeing more associations offering sabbaticals in their hiring of senior level positions:

Associations should offer all staff—not just the CEO—a sabbatical for a significant tenure, say, their 10-year anniversary. It’s a great employee retention incentive as well as an investment in employee wellness.”

This 2017 article makes the case for associations to provide sabbaticals. In emails with Ernie Smith, the author, I learned he’d not heard from any associations that had implemented sabbaticals.

This article from Inc. details companies that offer sabbaticals. In checking with someone with the parent company of Kimpton Hotels, I was unable to learn if they in fact still offer them and what the guidelines are. Stand by—once learned, I’ll add to the comments to the blog.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering any kind of sabbatical:

  • How then do you decide if you want a structured sabbatical v. more vacation time?
  • What guidelines could and your employer develop to justify sabbatical, with pay?
  • What benefits would you ascribe to you and to your employer?
  • What are you willing to do in order to avoid (greater) burnout and instead focus on new learning to enhance your thinking and energy?

Rosen College of Hospitality’s Sabbatical Guidelines

How can you structure the sabbatical application and process?

With permission, linked here are the full guidelines from Rosen College of Hospitality Management University of Central Florida SABBATICAL POLICY. [Note that numbers and letters are not in order. We left them as they are in the policies to maintain the integrity of the document.] Where it refers to “this college,” translate that to “organization” or “company” for the purposes of thinking about what your organization could do. I’ve captured a few sections of the entire body here to add to the questions above.

”Based on the University of Central Florida Sabbaticals and Professional Development Programs as stated in Article 22 of the most recent version of Collective Bargaining Agreement, the following sabbatical policy has been developed for the Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

A. Purpose

Policy. Sabbaticals are granted to increase an employee’s value to the University through opportunities for research, writing, professional renewal, further education or other experiences of professional value. While such leaves may be provided in relation to an employee’s years of service, they are not primarily a reward for service.

B. Types of Sabbaticals

  • (1) Type I Sabbaticals: Each year, each college shall make available at least one [Type IA] sabbatical, either at full pay for one semester or one [Type IB] at three-fourths pay for one academic year, for each 20 tenured and tenure-earning employees, subject to the conditions of this Article.

C. Eligibility for Sabbaticals

  • 1. Full-time tenured and tenure earning in-unit employees with at least six (6) years of full-time continuous service with UCF shall be eligible for sabbaticals.
  • 2. No paid leave(s) or family and medical, parental, administrative or military leave(s) will be considered a break in continuous employment.

D. Application and selection [See full policies for more.]

a. Faculty must have served in the college for at least six continuous years since the year of hire and shall be eligible for a subsequent sabbatical six years from the completion of a sabbatical. Previous sabbaticals will be taken into account when ranking sabbatical proposals.

b. Proposed sabbatical projects shall show connection to the UCF mission as well as the Rosen College of Hospitality Management’s mission, goals and strategic directives.

c. If seeking an affiliation with an organization, faculty should include the project description and a letter indicating acceptance by the organization.

d. Faculty projects that designate measurable outcomes will be given priority in selection.

e. Upon completion of the sabbatical, the faculty member must submit a report of the project within 30 days. The report is subject to review by the College Sabbatical committee, the department chairperson and the Dean of the College.

f. Successful completion of the sabbatical shall be taken into account for the faculty member’s annual evaluation.

(8) In ranking the applications worthy of a sabbatical, committee members shall consider the merits of the proposal and the benefits of the proposed program to the employee, the University, the college and the profession; and the length of service since previous sabbatical. Committee members shall not disadvantage an applicant due to his/her academic discipline.

(10) In the event of an exceptional opportunity for an employee to participate in a prestigious academic award/activity for which deadlines prevent application during the normal application process, the dean may award a sabbatical outside of the above defined process. All employee eligibility requirements must be met and all sabbatical terms defined below apply.

E. Terms of Sabbatical Program

  • (1) The employee must return to the University for at least one academic year following participation in the program. If the employee fails to return to the University for at least two consecutive semesters (excluding summer) following participation in the program, all salary and fringe benefits received during his/her participation in the program must be repaid to the University within 30 days of resignation or job abandonment. If the employee makes little to no effort to complete the project described in the application, the employee shall receive an “Unsatisfactory” overall annual evaluation and will be ineligible to apply for a sabbatical for ten years.
  • (4) Employees shall be eligible to apply for another sabbatical after six years of continuous service at UCF are completed following the end date of the previous sabbatical.
  • (5) University contributions normally made to retirement and Social Security programs shall be continued during the sabbatical leave on a basis proportional to the salary received.
  • (6) University contributions normally made to employee insurance programs and any other employee benefit programs shall be continued during the sabbatical.
  • (7) Eligible employees on sabbatical shall continue to accrue leave on a full-time basis.
  • (8) While on leave, an employee shall be permitted to receive funds for travel and living expenses, and other sabbatical-related expenses, from sources other than the University, such as fellowships, grants-in-aid, and contracts and grants, to assist in accomplishing the purposes of the sabbatical. Receipt of funds for such purposes shall not result in reduction of the employee’s University salary.”

What’s Your Take on Sabbaticals?

If you’ve taken a sabbatical, want to put together a proposal for one, or if you think, “No way will this work,” tell me about it! You can write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.comI’m glad to publish your comments anonymously.

And finally, a special note:

I’ve voted since the very first time I was eligible to do so which was, then, 21 years of age. If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, go to this link and register. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote.

Vote in upcoming primaries and national elections. There are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all.

The views expressed here are those of the author or those interviewed and may not express the views of our publisher.

Related content from the February 2020 edition of Friday with Joan:

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

9 Ideas to Innovate Meeting Design and Delivery

With thanks to Anu Garg of A Word A Day for this:

“Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the ‘Aha.’ Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in—the one that we think is reality.”
— Alan Kay, computer scientist (born May 17, 1940)

Surprise and joy. These are the emotions I have felt when an educational experience, in particular one in a school or meeting setting, was creative and transitioned from the usual straight rows of chairs to a more audience-centric setting and from a lecture to an engaging, interactive experience.

These same emotions were felt in Stanley Blum’s civics class in my Ohio high school where the (awful!) tablet chairs were set in a circle versus the straight rows in most other classes. Surprise and joy are also what I felt when (the late) Lenore Clippinger allowed us to bring pillows on which to sit on the floor of her English Literature class in the same school. And when Mr. Blum invited us to his home for current events discussions and we sat on comfortable furniture and were served cocoa and cookies.

Come to think of it, it’s similar to what Bill Host, and I created at a PCMA discussion “session” about Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”: some cocktail tables, beanbag chairs, lots of windows, small vases of flowers on the tables, and cocoa, tea, coffee and cookies. [For that, thanks to Kim Peterson at Seattle Sheraton who helped create the setting].

Yes, I’ve written about some of these experiences before (here and here). Additionally, in the sidebar of the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter (which also includes this blog post), I interviewed the Blums’ daughter, Sarah Routman, about her work. Clearly she too was influenced by her dad’s examples of good education and learning.

Jeff Hurt, a colleague and friend since his long-ago days working at MPI, and now Executive Vice President, Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting—who describes himself as “a lifelong learner trying to embrace learning, unlearning and relearning”—reads and writes extensively about learning and the brain.

Janet Sperstad, Ph.D., Program Director of the meeting and event management degree at Madison College in Wisconsin, wrote her dissertation, “Purposeful Meetings: Driving deeper meaning, insights and innovation,” on the topic of better meeting design.

Janet was also recently interviewed in this great article from PCMA about the paper she and Amanda Cecil, Ph.D, CMP, associate professor and chair of Indiana University’s School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, are writing entitled “Purposeful Meetings: How to Plan with Deeper Meaning, Innovation and Insight in Mind.”

(You can learn more here about Janet and Amanda’s work).

For years, in teaching “meeting planning 101” classes for MPI, PCMA, ASAE and others, I’ve conducted an exercise by first saying “Adults learn and participate best in pleasant surroundings” followed by the question “What makes it pleasant for you to learn?”

This is often paired with an exercise of drawing a three-panel cartoon of one’s best learning experience. (Thank you David Johnson from whom I learned, at an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) meeting, this activity that can be adapted to many situations and makes me think of the exercises in the aforementioned Dan Pink book).

>> ACTION: Try this. Identify what makes it pleasant for you to learn, and if you’re willing, add what that is, in the comments section below. <<

Were you able to quickly identify the elements of “pleasant”? Or were you, like most, in need of parameters to identify where the “pleasant experience” and the “best learning experience” occurred (at a conference? in a school setting? in the office? at home?)? Or was it difficult to remember your best learning experiences?

It may be like the (in)famous quote from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, about pornography: “you know it when you see it”. We know a good meeting or learning experience when we we see it or don’t.

Mine? I’ve cited some from high school. I know I don’t like straight rows of chairs or tables—even crescent rounds in straight rows. The sight lines are always awful and the rigidity of the settings sets a “bad school” atmosphere for me. I love natural light from windows, food and drink available at all times, interaction—natural not forced—with others with whom I’m learning [one day, on a plane or train, I know, after reading a great article, I’ll engage those around me in discussion!], and the ability to do what I need—sit, stand, put my feet up, or leave if it’s not working for me.

If you read the May 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter you learned I was in college full time for only a year where most classes were in auditoriums with seats with tablets. Even without the formal education of the colleagues cited and interviewed I am an avid reader and observer of people interacting and learning in different settings.

I am curious about those, who like I, abhor straight rows and lectures, find TED and all the spin-offs effective since they are, in essence, well-rehearsed lectures. I watch many “TED talks” and especially like this one of Sunni Brown on doodling. She’s engaging as are many TED-talkers and programs. They are really lectures but they are lectures with personality, right? And they are lectures with opportunities to engage with others.

When I think about what makes it pleasant for me to learn and the experiences I’ve had that were conducive to learning in meetings, I think of these:

1. ODNetwork: in working as the planning consultant with them, they set a standard meeting room as theatre-in-the-round which created a different mindset just by walking into the room. And it was low key and worked—just a short stage in the center of the room and chairs set around the stage, circled, with multiple aisles.

2. ODN and IAF both had areas for creativity where, at any time, one could color, build and use different materials to relax and use one’s right brain. Disney created similar experiences for PCMA and ASAE in rooms that I remember going to often because the spaces themselves were differently set with lots of creative materials. In one, at an ASAE meeting years ago, in a session held in the room, the first instructions were to take our shoes off and put our heads down on our arms on the table and to listen to a (children’s) story. (Yes, this can be adapted for those who are differently abled).

3. ASAE, at a meeting in Boston years ago, set all general sessions in the round. The stage was round with a rotating center on which a lectern stood and behind which a few people delivered their messages. Screens were flown from above and all around the stage, easily visible for each section of seats. More speakers—(it must have been the early ‘90s because James Carville and Mary Matalin were among them)—walked around the stage. Because, if I remember correctly, no one was more than 10 rows back from the stage, seated with lots of aisles down which there was entertainment each morning before the general session started, I looked forward to going to each general session which is not my norm! More it meant that those who like to sit on the aisle could more easily do so and not disrupt those who wanted to leave since the rows were short.

4. ASAE again created a novel setting also in Boston (hmm…was it Boston?) years later where there were different seating configurations in the ballroom foyer and lots of screens on which you could watch the general sessions without being in the large dark room set in rows. I’d started in the ballroom and was driven out by the size, dark, and “usual” set to the foyer.

What didn’t work: the foyer set was conducive to, and I believe intended for, conversation, perfect for Aural learners. (One could even get a shoeshine and still watch the programming in the general session in another area of the convention center).

A colleague and I sat in the foyer and talked about what we were hearing and seeing, and were “shushed” by others. When doing something different, explain the how and why and how to use it to the best advantage. Different for the sake of different doesn’t work unless we educate those in attendance.

5. PCMA, at one meeting, set general sessions and breakouts in theatre-in-the-round. A lawyer colleague and I presented our session in one of those breakout rooms. Outcomes?

  1. People entered without having been told why the rooms were set differently.
  2. Most everyone stayed in what would usually be the “back”—that is by the doors—rather than going to the sides or other side of the center of the room’s slightly raised platform.
  3. PCMA, I was told, didn’t use that set again because a) speakers didn’t know how to use it [see the sidebar interview and in particular what Paul Radde has to say] and b) it wasn’t explained to the meeting participants. They expected a lecture at which they could stare. (Yes, there were screens around the room so any visuals could be seen easily no matter where one sat).

6. When PCMA first experimented with “Learning Lounges”, and other interactive areas for those of us who prefer learning with each other (like the hallway conversations many love and the “peer learning” that MPI’s Foundation discovered years ago was really what most of us call “networking”), it was far more intimate than it has become.

Remembering the first year, a colleague and I sat in the area behind the stage where we could watch and still talk with each other. I tweeted with someone who was in front of the stage wishing she weren’t “stuck” and not permitted to talk during the session and for whom leaving felt awkward and rude to the speaker.

Maybe what we need are more “norms” or ground rules that allow people to move as needed without feeling they can’t leave like what, in Open Space Technology used to be called “The Rule of Two Feet” (“If it’s not working for you, you may leave”) and which has been renamed “The Law of Motion and Responsibility” to be more inclusive of those who may not have or use two feet.

7. MPI has experimented with different designs including using Open Space Technology where the audience, with some subject matter parameters, sets the agenda. Having used Open Space (for which I am eternally grateful to Harrison Owen, initially, and later to Lisa Heft) for a variety of clients, it’s one way to accommodate different types of learners and peer learning. It’s not for every person or meeting. With World Café  it’s one more option in one’s toolbox of design.

8. Loretta LaRoche, the capnote (closing) speaker at an IACC meeting years ago, did just what Sarah Routman suggests in the sidebar: her very being and work created laughter, great big tear-rolling, doubled-over laughter. She allowed us to leave feeling good about our work, ourselves, and the conference with her style and words. I can’t remember leaving a conference ever feeling so good. (This, a Loretta LaRoche YouTube clip about “wearing your party pants,” should make you feel the same now).

9. Recently at ExhibitorLive, I presented back to back sessions about creating different meeting settings and delivery methods. I asked for and through the understanding of Dee Silfies, responsible for education, and of CORT Furniture for the different furniture—not all of which was too low for those who may not be able to get down to or up easily—we created an example of what can be done. At the break (30 minutes versus 15 or even the back-to-back-to-back with no time between sessions at too many meetings), some participants who’s not signed up for the second session, did so.

They liked my style of teaching, the creative tools used, the “norms” and permissions given, and the set that was more relaxed and comfortable and included some crescent rounds for those who wanted more traditional seating.

Here’s the thing: it is messy and more difficult to design conferences and meetings to accommodate different learning preferences and comfort levels, and adding genuine laughter, for and from those who are participating and delivering.

As we continue to learn more about learning and interactive—”audience-centric,” experiential, community-focused—gatherings, we will need to change what we do. And to do so means involving our partners (aka “suppliers”) and those responsible for the fire laws and other safety and security issues, and policies governing spaces. Having suggested that many years ago after being told “no rounds” in a convention center unless we were serving food, I’ve not yet seen that the industry is meeting with all the right participants to make massive changes.

There are enough researching and talking about changing learning models at meetings that the revolution to create better conventions and conferences is upon us. ASAE just completed XPD about which the reviews are still coming in. I’m hopeful you’ll join in and tell others the creative ways you’ve designed and delivered events and meetings and more, suggest ways we can better truly partner with venues and vendors rather than just looking to them for underwriting. I’m convinced they are the key to making it work by understanding education and how their spaces and work can contribute. Share this with each other and your partners. Let’s move meetings forward. Really!

This blog post and the June 2017 Friday With Joan newsletter are dedicated to the people and organizations noted below because they want people in sales to learn more about how to help market, sell and service more creative, comfortable, conducive-to-outcomes, experiences. It seems our industry has relegated “suppliers” to a category of “sponsors” and “underwriters” versus full partners in learning and creating (or co-creating if we’re still using that buzzphrase) and suggesting different uses of their spaces.

Thus, this blog post is dedicated to Michael McQuade, Director of Sales, Washington State Convention Center, and founder of Emerging Sales Professionals, an organization committed to helping those in hospitality sales learn more to aid them in making meetings and eventsand those who sell space and servicesmore rounded in their knowledge beyond “rates, dates and space”, and to Convention Sales Professionals InternationalI had the privilege this Spring of presenting sessions to both organizations on how to be consultative sales professionals by understanding the elements of good education at meetings.

Additional thanks goes out to Brent Grant, CMP, for patience to create the right audience-centric room set. Also to Jane Kantor of Visit Bellevue and the Meydenbauer Center and Julie Deweese of the Oregon Convention Center, for their creativity in programming.

Click here to view additional content in the 06.02.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.