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Return to Different: How Empathy is Shaping the Way Forward

This is part two of a two-part series on how new-found empathy for the human experience is shaping the post-pandemic world of hospitality, meetings and events. Part one focused on changes in how the industry functions. Part two explores the evolution of client needs and expectations.

Do you remember the viral video a few years back where an expert on South Korea was hilariously interrupted by his kids in the middle of a live BBC interview? The video was funny because, at that time, we all tried mightily to keep our work and personal lives separate in the name of professionalism. Having the reporter’s very serious television interview crashed by his adorably chaotic kids was a nightmare scenario by those standards. It was made even funnier by his wife’s valiant yet wholly unsuccessful efforts to be unseen as she pulled her children from the room.

Today, we eagerly include our pets in Zoom meetings and get updates from our co-workers’ kids when they make an appearance. As someone aptly said about the reporter’s video in a comment posted on YouTube a year ago:

2019: We laugh at him.

2023: We relate to him.

THIS. That we can relate to others is the definition of empathy, and it’s one of the most positive outcomes of the pandemic.

Living and working in the age of COVID stripped away many of the professional norms that kept us from really seeing each other as multi-dimensional people with lives beyond the office. Leaders realized that we all have more obligations than were acknowledged and honored previously. And, we became more attuned to what our co-workers might be experiencing, including stress, burnout and even mental health challenges. This matters because it’s really difficult to be present and to contribute fully when our well-being is compromised.

Return to Different – A Focus on Wellness

As I said in part one of this series, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to redefine ourselves as humans showing up for each other. As I see it, this means showing up with empathy.

One of the ways organizations are demonstrating a new level of empathy for the human experience is in the area of wellness. For those of us in the hospitality, meetings and events industry, this means asking ourselves how we can better tend to the physical, mental and emotional needs of our clients so they can be fully present and productive.

We’re seeing huge demand for combining traditional “we” group experiences with both passive and active wellness opportunities that honor the individual. We’re also seeing a desire for activities that allow people to opt in or out based on their personal wellness needs.

Examples include creating space and time for meditation, intention-setting, aromatherapy or yoga; conducting walking meetings; offering group runs and hikes; and providing safe routes for people who want to go for a walk or run in their free time.

Speaking of free time, how might a meeting agenda best support wellness? Is it ideal to be together and “on duty” from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., followed by a group dinner? (Hello, introverts. We see you and your need for time alone to recharge.) Maybe we tighten up the time needed for everyone to participate together and give people the flexibility to opt in for other sessions.

Flexibility and intention are also key when it comes to an event’s food plan. Some people feel better when they eat lots of protein. Others prefer carbs. Do we need to offer five courses for every meal? What if instead we provide a variety of nutritious options throughout the day, letting people choose their own adventure of when and what to eat?

The explosive growth of zero proof and low alcohol cocktails is also a driving trend. Some people want the social atmosphere and ritual of drinking without the alcohol. Offering these options is inclusive and honors their bespoke wellness journeys.

Shaping the Way Forward

Our industry will increasingly be expected to create ways for our clients to bring their whole selves into our spaces and experiences. Imagine if people left our events feeling healthier, stronger and better able to focus fully on their work purpose and responsibilities than when they arrived.

The organizations that will be successful going forward are those that are exceedingly mindful about this opportunity. Let’s use our creativity, experience and influence to elevate wellness as a critical component of the human experience for our clients. I’m grateful and excited to help shape a way forward that is grounded in empathy for those we serve. I hope you are, too.