Joan Eisenstodt Managing Illness and Work

Healing Words

December 07, 2007

By Joan Eiesenstodt

On Thursday, in "What's in a Name", I looked at 'hospitality' and 'hospitable', their definitions and applications for meetings.  Today, the last of my 'guruing' for 2007, is an opportunity to help all of us look more deeply at how we treat those with whom we work and with whom we interact on a professional basis, how we use language and what we really mean in the words we say.

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What's in a Name?

December 06, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

This week, I've written about some broad topics (what the industry holds for 2008) and narrowed some of those to look at meeting demographics, meeting design, and risk management.  It occurs to me that we can bring the discussion back to what our industry is called and what meetings or gatherings should offer - hospitality.

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The Risk Factor

December 05, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

So far this we've talked about meeting design and demographics.  I'd talk about food and beverage, since it is always a major component of a meeting and can often set the tone. Alas, I am not an F&B guru and will leave that to Arlene Sheff, Patti Shock and others.  I will however address food and beverage - and other issues - in ways we don't consider often enough.

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Demographics In Flux

December 05, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

As we continue to look at back as 2007 comes to an end and forward to 2008, anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention realizes that the demographics of virtually all countries is changing.  In years past, demographics impacted meetings little; those who attended meetings tended to be fairly homogeneous.  If one looks at photos from meetings of years past, one sees, mainly, white men attending, many with female spouses.  Not so today.

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Predictions for 2008

December 03, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

For a number of years, as the end of a year approached, Meeting News would ask some of us in the industry what our thoughts were on the year that was ending and what we 'predicted' for the coming year.  In December, individuals begin to think about the new calendar year and the resolutions they will make.   

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Coping with illness

June 22, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Imagine you are sick with cancer, depression, Crohn's disease, or even a cold.  Imagine that you are also responsible for taking care of another or others - parents, spouse or partner, children - while you continue to work.  Imagine you are in an industry that expects you to entertain or be entertained as part of your job, to work longer hours because of deadlines or increasing responsibilities due to cut backs in other staff.  Imagine the stress of having to do it all, and in some cases, while hiding your illness or that of a loved one from your colleagues and employer or clients.

In each session we've done on this subject, two of which Jaimie, the young colon cancer survivor, and Beth, the brain cancer survivor (although now dealing with her third round of cancer), we heard from so many people who were the sole providers for their families; from those who were terrified that their employers would find out their personal medication costs and thus know that a person was ill; from those who had days when it was impossible to work because their illness or that of their loved one was so overwhelming. 

These are our colleagues who struggle each day with who to tell and when and the implications of telling.  These were managers who wanted to know how to ask the right and sensitive questions in order to be more supportive of those with whom they worked who were ill or caring for an ill loved one.

Each illness is as different as each person.  There are no perfect questions to ask nor perfect answers to provide to talk about one's own illness or that of someone for whom we are caring.  We can create an atmosphere in which honesty is appreciated; where confidences are kept; where the value of a human being is far beyond the illness.  We can suggest policy changes in our work places and in our professional settings that are more humane and allow time for those who are caregivers or those who are sick.  We can be supportive of colleagues when they are going through a tough time.

At this summer's MPI WEC and again at the Exhibitor Show in March 2008, we will again delve into these issues.  Join us to continue the conversation so that we can bring illness and caregiving out of the closet in which we found too many who were HIV+ or had AIDS.  Join us as we look at how we can be supportive.  Let's practice our hospitality toward our colleagues.

With What Are We Coping?

June 19, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

In each of the programs, the stories told were stunning in their simplicity and more stunning in the need to talk and to share.  No doubt each of us who were part of these sessions had others in our lives with whom the pain, fear, and anxiety were shared.  Yet, to be with peers, in an industry where 'perky' and 'upbeat' are operative words, and to talk about the difficulty of getting up each day or going on the road while in mental or physical pain, was clearly a relief to each person who attended.

At one meeting, a woman I'd met earlier in the week at another session walked into the session about illness and when asked why she was there - after being so positive and outspoken and strong in the other session - said "I'm going to have a mastectomy this coming week and I'm terrified."  Another spoke about her difficulty dealing with her own depression while helping her husband cope with a major illness about which his employers were unaware.  Another woman of a 'certain age' spoke of her leukemia and the cost of her monthly medication, living in fear that her employer would find out she was the one who might be driving up the company's health care costs and be fired - and be left with nothing.

A man spoke about losing his wife suddenly and then suffering a heart attack himself and his feelings of depression.  There was the young woman whose mother was homeless because of bipolar disease and how she, the young woman, feared 'getting' the illness. 

The stories went on and on about our own illnesses and those of loved ones.  Worse was hearing the fear of losing a job or losing benefits with no safety net.  Or was it worse to hear that those in sales positions were forced, by virtue of our industry and their employment, to take clients out when all they wanted to do was go home to help their loved ones or themselves?

This might be a time to talk about the inadequacies of the healthcare systems in the US and in other countries.  It is though more than I can take on.  Easier for me is to help our industry - an industry that has expectations of perfection in looks and performance, where having a tough day and not wanting to be around others is not acceptable - continue these conversations.

In the coming days, we'll talk more about care-giving, grieving, and managing illness or the diagnosis.  Please add your stories - and send them to me at [email protected] if you'd like them posted anonymously.  If we talk about the issues and personalize them, we will make our industry better and each of us may be able to manage with some semblance of peace.

Living and working with illness

June 18, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

In the '80s, I asked an industry association if I could moderate a session to talk about AIDS and our industry.  Too many of my friends and colleagues were HIV+ and some were dying; our industry was not talking about the personal and professional impact.  The room was packed with industry professionals anxious to get the topic out of the closet so that we could address what it meant for individuals and our industry.

For many years, the "C" word (cancer) was whispered.  There was a sense that if one said it out loud, you'd 'catch it' just like you'd 'catch' AIDS if you said the word or were around people who had it.

We who were hospitable were reticent to show vulnerability when it came to illness and our work.  It was believed that if one were sick, and others knew, it would be the end of a career.

About 3 years ago, two industry friends, one an ovarian cancer survivor and another a multiple cancer survivor, suggested we do a session at an Meeting Professionals International (MPI) conference to talk about living and working while undergoing treatment for cancer or other major illness or being a caregiver for someone while also working.  It was initially done under the MPI Women's Leadership Initiative and was stated for 'women only.'  We thought that if we could provide a safe atmosphere in which women could talk about intimate issues without fear we could begin to dispel some myths and offer a support network.  These friends asked if I would moderate the session and I readily agreed.  MPI agreed that it was an important topic and the session was held.

Into that session came many woman, one of whom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and hadn't told her employer, another, a woman who had undergone brain cancer and was in recovery, and others who were in various stages of various illnesses, and still others who wanted to hear what was said to be personally and professionally prepared. 

Two men also came in and asked if they could stay.  One, Jaimie, was a young colon cancer survivor; the other, Chuck, was someone caring for a friend with a major illness. 

What resulted in and as a result of that session was the ability to talk about working in an industry where we all believe we have to be upbeat all the time - we are, after all,  about hospitality! - whether we feel well or not.  Many people shared their personal stories about employers who were great and allowed time off; others, and in particular the woman who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, who needed to know how to talk about it in her employment situation where she was the only woman. 

We cried and we laughed. We shared and we discussed the importance of early detection.  I shared my story of having my first colonoscopy just before my 50th birthday and the diagnosis: the discovery of 3 very small polyps with the highest level of pre-cancerous cells that, had they not been found and removed,  would have resulted in full-blown cancer in months. 

It was the first time that many revealed their vulnerabilities and their fears and where others talked about how to manage illness and work.

From that session, came opportunities to re-create the experience at another MPI meeting and at the 2007 Exhibitor Show.  Again, this July in Montreal, the session will be held at MPI's WEC where different people will talk and share and learn how to cope.

In MiGuru this week, you'll get to hear the voices of some of those who were part of these sessions and read about the experiences and the need for these discussions.  We are only as good professionally as our health allows and our employers or clients understand.  If you have a story to tell, add your comments to the end of the Guru section.  If you'd like me to post it without your name, email me at [email protected] and I'm glad to post it without your name and hiding your identity.

We still need to do lots of work when it comes to healthcare and our attitudes about those who are sick and want to work.

The Industry’s Future: Risk Factors

October 19, 2006

From Joan Eisenstodt

Everything we do is risky.  After 9.11.01, many in our industry sat up and paid attention to risk factors we faced for meetings and facilities.  Time passed and we waited for the next crisis before we again paid attention.

The tsunami should have been a wake up call – it devastated an international center of tourism.  Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should have alerted our industry to things to come.  The wars and strife in too many countries should have made us more aware.  Watching tourism struggle in




should heighten our awareness.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the water shortages in


and in a post on the MiForum List, I wrote about the impending water shortages in

Las Vegas

.   Currently in


there are water restrictions for hotels.  Is it likely that many planners ask about water supplies or read newspapers local to the destinations to which they take meetings to become aware of situations?  Could your meeting survive without water or on water restrictions?

We have seen a blackout on the East Coast of the

United States



and yet I imagine few planners ask facilities about back up generators. 

We continue to do things the same way we’ve always done them without enough thought to ‘what next’ could hit and disrupt meetings, tourism, and travel. 

In a study done by the American Highway Users Alliance and widely reported in the press, we saw the number of cities that have inadequate methods to evacuate in the event of a catastrophe.  Are you planning your meetings with an eye to the cities that are reported to be safer?  (Report available at )  I bet not.  It’s still about almost everything except safety.

What will we face in the coming years?  Who is preparing and how for possible contingencies?  Did the ‘spinach scare’ frighten you or did you just figure your meeting would not serve spinach and not question what else might be contaminated?  Have you considered how, if a terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado, major snow or ice storm occurs, how you will ensure the safety of those in attendance at a meeting or en route to a destination? If there is an outbreak of food poisoning or other medical emergency for more than a few people – residents or those at a meeting – what facilities will be available to protect and heal those in attendance? 

What future crises will we have to anticipate and manage?  If we were not prepared before how can we expect to be prepared in the future?

This takes us full circle to the first posts this week in looking at the ability to anticipate, think and be curious about what is around us and what is to come. 

Actions you can take:

1)      Read more.  Start with “A Whole New Mind” by Dan Pink.  Then join The World Future Society ( and keep up with bigger trends.  Read “Hospitality 2010” and begin to comprehend the larger world in which we live and how it impacts what we do.

2)      Take nothing for granted.  Question everything including the properties with whom you’ve worked in the past.  Suppliers – ask the planners what they are doing to protect the meeting participants and how your facility can integrate its contingency/emergency plans in with those of the group.

3)      Demand better education.  Our industry can do more to provide education that will expand our thinking and prepare us for the future.  We can make that happen. 

The Industry’s Future: Trends and Conditions Impacting Our Industry

October 18, 2006

By the always reading Joan Eisenstodt

What have you read this week that opened your eyes to future trends and conditions impacting our industry?

On October 17, it is said the population of the United States reached 300 million.  This may or may not be accurate since I read that the US territories like Puerto Rico were not counted.  We thus might be well over 300M.  Regardless of numbers, the populations of all countries are changing rapidly.  In a global society where people move about more easily, we are seeing greater diversity in who lives where.

Who will attend meetings in the future?  Who will work in our industry?  What will the jobs look like?  What populations will be dominant in what countries?  If the “baby bust” continues as it is in many countries (except France– read ) who will fill the jobs currently being vacated by the Baby Boomers? How will hotels and other facilities be designed to meet the needs of aging populations? of diverse religions? of a different gender mix at meetings and in the work force?

“Hospitality 2010: The Future of Hospitality and Travel”, by Marvin Cetron et al (which can be purchased at - ) looks at the trends impacting our industry’s future.  In addition, a white paper with the same title and interesting content, co-authored by Dr. Laila Rach at NYU’s Tisch School, can be found at  In the 23 October 2006 issue of The New Yorker is an article entitled “The Last Drop: Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe” about water usage and the current shortage in many countries and specifically in India.  (An interview with the author can be found at )

While in Dallas last week on business, I read that water use has been curtailed.  This included asking hotels to only serve water on request and cut back on any use to water lawns or to do laundry.  How long will it take before cities like Las Vegas– already facing a shortage in 2002 before more people moved in to take the jobs at the increasing number of hotels ( ) - curtail the use of water for residents and hotels?  How will we manage our meetings and serve guests when there is no water?

This week I’m in Detroit and looking at the buildings occupied by the car manufacturers that helped create a different US that had an impact on travel and tourism.  In the 23 October Business Week is an article about the impact of a change in what cars are manufactured on the rental car industry and the prices we pay to rent cars.  ( )  If there are fewer rental cars and the prices are much higher, what will the impact be on meetings?

Terri Hardin wrote, on 18 October’s MiMegaSite Soap Box about the Frankfurt Book Fair.  In her last line, she asked “Hey, what was the last book YOU read?” I wonder what was the last anything you read – in print or on line – that gave you a clue about the industry’s future?

If you follow the trends, you’ll be more aware and thus smarter about how you work.  Go read something now.

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