An Events Industry Leader’s Strategies for Managing Stress

Here’s what changed SITE CEO Annette Gregg’s mind about workplace mental health.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

woman putting supportive hand on another's shoulder

Having a support network can help you get through stressful situations, Society for Incentive Travel Excellence CEO Annette Gregg said during a recent “Everyday Awareness” event.

The pandemic may be officially behind us, but a convergence of other pressures — including inflation, staffing shortages, and other changes in the industry — have kept stress levels high for many event professionals. Nearly seven in 10 planners cite managing stress as a top concern, said Leslie Bennett, a mental health strategist and partner in Mental Health Innovations, which develops peer support and training programs for organizations.

On May 28, Bennett, who also has a background working in the events industry, led an online conversation about managing everyday workplace stress with Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) CEO Annette Gregg, CMM. The “Everyday Awareness” event was produced by Event Minds Matter, a grassroots organization that provides peer support and other resources that address the specific mental health challenges faced by event professionals.

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Annette Gregg

Annette Gregg

On the tools for getting through high-stress situations

Gregg, who’s held a variety of executive positions during a 30-year career, said it’s not as if she’s got it all figured out, “but I have gotten to a place where I’m very comfortable in my ability to handle stress.” Still, when she was involved in a decision to propose a change to SITE’s bylaws only six months into her SITE CEO role, “it was very stressful,” she said. The proposal “was met with a ton of controversy — much more than I anticipated.” When Gregg thinks back to how she got through it, two things stand out. First, “I really tried to have some objectivity, to lift myself out of the melee of what was happening and ask myself: What’s really the worst that can happen here?” She realized, she said, that everything would be fine if the changes to the bylaws didn’t pass.

What she realized when reflecting on what was really going on was that it wasn’t the backlash about the proposed bylaws that was stressful, it was fear, she said — “fear … of having a big failure during my first six months of tenure and really disappointing some of my membership as a new leader.” Once she got to the core of what was triggering her stress, she was able to let herself off the hook and say, “Hey, this is just a normal reaction,” Gregg said. It didn’t happen easily or quickly, she added. It took “a good six weeks and a daily discipline of trying to get some objectivity.” Gregg has learned, she said, “to give myself a little bit of space to bring down that reactionary part of my brain” and ask herself: “What’s really happening here? Why am I triggered? Is it really that serious? And all that sounds like a 10-minute deliberation in my brain, but it takes about 10 seconds at this point.”

The second thing that stands out is the importance of a supportive network, she said, which included her board and her husband. “The advice that I would give anyone in this sort of situation is just find people who you can talk it out with. When I’m in a high-stress situation, I can spin really quickly and create theories in my head about why things may be happening.” She said she needed to find some people who could offer other ways to look at things.

On mental health, individual responsibility, and leadership

Gregg once considered stress management and mental wellness as something that was “really up to the individual. I originally thought you have to take control of your own destiny and your own boundaries and everything else,” she said. Her changed view, she said, is one of “yes — and.” Yes, “it is up to me, but it’s also up to the company I work for. And it’s also up to the leader that’s showing me the way. I think it’s a holistic conversation.”

Workplace mental health is a two-way street, Bennett said. “Employees do have a responsibility to have a level of self-awareness and to understand what triggers them and what support they might need,” she said. And “leaders in an organization have that responsibility to understand that how they’re leading makes a difference.” There is data, she added, that says that managers have more impact on an individual’s mental health than their partner or therapist.

At SITE, where Gregg manages a team of 18, it’s important to her to create an environment where her team feels like it is safe to be honest with her, she said. “I move fast and I’m usually overthinking everything,” she said. “And my fear is that I’m moving too fast for my team. And I don’t want them to be stressed or to feel like they have to keep up with my pace because they don’t want to disappoint me. I want to make sure that I am building in enough safety for them to be able to say to me, ‘Hey, this is a little much here’ or ‘I can’t layer this on.’” But sometimes, “even though I think I’ve created safe space, it’s hard for people to have those direct-communication conversations.”

Burnout, turnover, and the positive effect of empathy and transparency in planner/supplier relationships

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett

The event industry faces an alarming rate of professional burnout, both on the planner and supplier side, Bennett said, with nearly 30 percent of suppliers reporting that they are experiencing severe stress and anxiety. From an event planner’s perspective, Bennett asked Gregg, “Why is this important?”

“I think we absolutely have to pay attention to the stress on both the planner and supplier side,” Gregg said. Turnover, including “turnover due to stress isn’t really helping any of us,” she said. According to SITE’s Incentive Travel Index Report, one of the biggest stressors for respondents on the buyer side has been supply-chain relationships. “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen so many new entrants into our industry,” she said. Some statistics say that more than 50 percent of our industry turned over, she added. “So those are all new relationships that the buyers have to create. And for the supply chain to not know what their business is about and what the client’s is about, it’s really causing a lot of stress on the buyer side.”

As someone who has worked both as a supplier and a planner, “I have empathy for both sides,” Gregg said. “What’s helped me over the years is realizing that we all have stressors and the better that [planners] can understand what’s driving that supplier’s stress,” the better off everyone will be. Suppliers don’t pressure her for answers for no reason — they, too, are working under deadlines and expectations from their employers, Gregg said.

“I think the more transparent and clear we can be in our professional relationships, it helps everybody understand the roadmap,” Gregg said. “If on the buyer side, we can give transparency to the suppliers about what kind of budgets we’re working with, what kind of timelines, what kind of stress and deadlines we’re under, it’s just going to help them understand the ground rules. I think that would help all of us do our jobs a little better and take that stress down.

“And we can really deepen those relationships,” Gregg said. Suppliers “can get to know how we tick, and we can get to know [them].” And, she added, when you get to a point when you have “shorthand relationships, you can get stuff done faster. You build that trust.”

Listen Here

The live event was on May 28, but you can access a recording by registering at

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