Incorporating corporate social responsibility into a conference is an effective way to encourage a culture of well-being. Learn expert strategies for harnessing the power of events for the greater good by registering for the upcoming webcast on "Easy and Meaningful CSR," taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. EST. Register and find out more here
Promoting wellness at an event can go well beyond serving healthy food at lunch and adding a group yoga session in the morning. Increasingly, planners are looking for ways to creating a more all-encompassing "culture of well-being" at a gathering that incorporates mind, body and social responsibility.
"Well-being is a much broader and expanded state of being that includes wellness," says Lee Papa, who facilitates meditation and mindfulness programs for organizations and corporate events. "Throwing activities and activations against the wall to see what sticks is not the best path."
Instead, she encourages planners to take a more holistic approach to wellness at their events, thinking about the event as an opportunity to offer healthy choices in a wide range of ways, from CSR activities to mindfulness breaks.
Here are tips and tactics from Papa and other meeting experts for encouraging a culture of wellness at a corporate event.
Build a Natural Schedule
There's always a lot to cover during an event, and it can be tempting for planners to start breakfast a bit earlier and push dinner back a bit later, packing in education and activities everywhere else. Attendees may find themselves trying to answer emails late at night when they return home and get barely enough sleep to function.
According to the "Global Wellness Trends Report," released on Jan. 28 as part of the Global Wellness Summit, we can expect to soon see a greater focus on "true circadian health," in which "more hotels, wellness resorts and airlines will think beyond generic sleep offerings to offer true circadian solutions for travelers based on their circadian cycle, revolving around the timing of light."
A meeting schedule should take such attendee needs into account, whether it's more tailored to their natural circadian rhythms or simply makes their days more manageable.
"Start sessions later, and release attendees for the evening later," suggests Amaia Stecker, owner and lead designer at Pilar & Co. "Offer optional wellness events in the morning and evening so attendees can select to avoid the party and after party if they so choose. Offer or even promote mocktails rather than cocktails at evening sessions so everyone wakes up with a clear head."
Bring Nature Into the Venue
Plenty of studies have found that exposure to nature or vegetation — even just looking at photographs of plants — can have a positive impact on one's mental health and well-being.
The better connected to nature attendees can be, the better they'll feel. "Studies support the breadth of health benefits of connecting all five
senses to nature — from reduced blood pressure, lower stress and improved
cardiovascular and metabolic health to lower blood-sugar levels and
improved concentration, memory and energy," write the authors of the Global Wellness Report. The report points to the growing popularity of Japanese "forest baths," in which individuals soak up the healthy surroundings of a forest.
While they may not have a forest handy, planners looking to enhance the sense of wellness in a meeting should seek other ways to incorporate outdoor time into the agenda. And if an outdoor space is not an option, Stecker suggests finding creative ways to bring the outside in.
"When the event must be indoors, look for venues that allow for natural light, or at least soft rather than fluorescent light, in the event spaces," says Stecker. "Think: floor-to-ceiling windows on one wall or covered indoor/outdoor options." She suggests instead of cut flowers for centerpieces that planners rent live plants, ferns or trees or even incorporate water features for their sound effects and hydrating characteristics. "These help create a calming and relaxed effect that will reduce stress and promote a positive mental state, which also is going to make attendees more engaged and receptive to your content," adds Stecker.
Make CSR Central to the Agenda
Creating a culture of well-being includes embracing a wider sense of corporate social responsibility into the event. Amanda Ponzar, chief communications and strategy officer for Community Health Charities, has seen firsthand how CSR activities can enhance the well-being of attendees. For a recent gathering of the organization's employees, the attendees packed meals together as a component of the final day's events, which got an enthusiastic response from all those involved.
"Giving back is proven to increase happiness and overall well-being," says Ponzar. "Off-site evening activities can include group volunteer events or simply visiting a nonprofit organization to tour their facility or learn more about their impact."
Beyond including a dedicated CSR activity in the agenda, Ponzar suggests a number of other tactics that planners can use to weave in a sense of social responsibility:
- Purchase centerpieces or plants from a nonprofit or school and donate them after use.
- Ask attendees to bring an item like food or socks for a local food bank, or to make a donation to charity using their mobile devices.
- Invite local schools or nonprofits to provide the music, dance or entertainment, and then make a donation to their organization.
- Display artwork from local artists.
Keep in mind that whether the event includes any or all of these elements, they will only have impact if attendees know about them.
"Most importantly, mention everything you are doing through marketing and from the main stage, so event attendees feel good about your event and the social impact you are having together," says Ponzar.
Create a Space for Mindfulness
Psychologists and health experts have long promoted the benefits of meditation, for reducing anxiety as well as improving concentration and memory. Focusing one's attention on the moment, with breathing exercises, guided mental pictures and other methods, can be a valuable activity at a busy business event.
Lee Papa has incorporated this into her signature Mindfulness Lounge, a room filled with comfortable furniture and calming music where attendees can drop in for guided meditations scheduled throughout the day, or take a few minutes to focus on their breathing and clear their heads.
"The Mindfulness Lounge becomes the heart of the meeting space that when committed over time, grows roots and enhances the shifting mechanism from stress-based navigation — attempting a constant dance of seeking balance — to wellness-based living and the integration of well-being and success, both personal and professional," says Papa.
Stecker agrees that meditation areas can be a huge help for busy attendees. "Set up designated quiet areas for meditation, nap pods, checking in back home, chair massages or simply a break from all the required extroversion," says Stecker. "Giving the mind even a five-minute break from noise and stimulation can allow it to refocus and prepare for more information."