Attracting Talent to the Business Events Industry

Today’s workforce prizes purpose and flexibility. The business events industry already has one of those covered, but the other may require a shift.

Author: Sherrif Karamat       

Sherrif Karamat

Sherrif Karamat, CAE,
President & CEO, PCMA and CEMA

At the onset of COVID, many sectors with diminished commercial activity were forced to lay off or furlough employees. This meant that employees, in many instances, had to leave their professions to seek employment in completely new industries or even start their own businesses. For organizations of all stripes, leaders were forced to look at their business models and value proposition, focusing on high-performing assets. It was most certainly one of the most difficult periods in our lifetime.

Now, as we evolve into a new business reality and continue to learn how to live with COVID, we suddenly find ourselves going from zero to 100 almost overnight while facing new headwinds — high inflation fueled by high energy and labor costs, supply-chain breakdowns, and a potential recession — with a greatly reduced workforce.

There is no question that the fight for talent is challenging the business events industry. Convene’s editors explore that issue from several different perspectives in the August cover and CMP Series story.

As associations, one of our core reasons for existing is to foster lifelong learning and engaged communities. If there is a silver lining to the current employment challenge, it’s that we can dig into that larger purpose to attract talent, like never before — it seems that the nonprofit sector hasn’t been successful in making employees feel that their work has meaning. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, of the survey respondents who had quit their jobs between April 2020 and April 2022, more than seven out of 10 in the public and social/not-for-profit sector did not return to the same industry. They either moved to a different one or did not return to the workforce at all.

The fourth most-common reason respondents gave McKinsey for quitting a job between April 2021 and 2022 — after a lack of career development and enhancement, inadequate total compensation, and uncaring or uninspiring leaders — is a lack of meaningful work. How can we leverage our inherently mission-driven organizations to attract new talent and re-engage those who have left? One theme emerged from McKinsey’s research: Offer both purpose and flexibility.

McKinsey identified five different personas in the labor pool. We’ve heavily relied on the first group — traditionalists — to keep the business events industry humming along. These are career-oriented people who care about work-life balance but are willing to make trade-offs for the sake of their jobs. Unfortunately, these folks don’t exist in high-enough numbers anymore.

As for the other four personas — do-it-yourselfers (like third-party planners), caregivers (with child-care responsibilities and/or parents to care for), idealists (students), and relaxers (those who retired or are not actively seeking work but may return under the right circumstances) — McKinsey says playing up your organization’s purpose and its flexible work options could sway them to come on board.

Defining Flexibility

According to a blog post published by employee-recognition company Top Work Places, “flexible work arrangements” and “work-life balance” are often used interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing in the eyes of organizational leaders — who “often shudder when promoting work-life balance because it can feel like it encourages less work and more play,” the company writes.

But work-life flexibility is not about finding balance, they say. It’s about creating a culture where employees meet the demands of their personal lives while maintaining high levels of work performance. Flexible work arrangements include options for when, where, and how the work gets done.

RELATED READING: Energage’s “What Is Workplace Flexibility?