The Annual Employee Retreat: Best Practice or Worst Decision?

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Apr 4, 2013

Are company retreats a good idea?

Ask yourself: Does it really make sense to pack up your team and their gear, ship them off to a hotel somewhere nice, and spend a few days developing a long-term vision, cranking out a new product, or getting to know each other better without outside distractions?

Or, would it make more sense to save your money, spend a little more on the perks you know your team enjoys, and focus on building a stable, scalable, in-it-for-the-long-haul company culture?

Let’s take a look at both sides of this issue.

Company retreats improve HR metrics

The logic behind company retreats is compelling. If your business requires teamwork to succeed (and most businesses do), a company retreat is a great way to build and solidify those important relationships among employees.

The regular workday is full of distractions. If it’s not dentist appointments and traffic jams, it’s new employee onboarding and overflowing in-boxes. It can feel almost impossible to block out a few hours to work together as a group, never mind a few days.

A company retreat cuts out the distractions, and lets your team focus on getting the job done.

Better still, when you eliminate the distractions and force your team to join together, the relationships and teamwork skills they develop will carry on in the workplace far into the future.

Even aside from performance improvements, an all-expenses-paid trip is a compelling job perk for many workers, which definitely helps with both retention and employee engagement.

Retreats cause more problems than they’re worth

Packing a bunch of adults into a confined space for a prolonged period isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. The costs of transportation, food, lodging, and entertainment for several days can get very steep. But it’s the emotional toll can end up having the highest price.

Not everyone can connect several days end-to-end to dedicate exclusively to work, especially if they’re part-time employees or are sole care providers. And even if they can, not everyone will be able to do so at the same time. Those who are excluded will no doubt feel left out, while those who attend may actually come to resent the absentees.

Worse yet, the little personality quirks that make your team interesting can cause tempers to flare for other employees when they can’t get away at the end of the day. Distractions help to cut tension and relieve stress. Without them, peoples’ boiling points have a tendency to get a lot lower.

Choose your battles

So is the company retreat a good idea? That depends on your unique circumstances, but it’s usually a great thing to at least consider.

If cash is flowing, your team’s receptive, or you want to integrate a group of new employees, go for it! If money’s tight, the team has incredibly busy lives, or the stress level is already too high, take the time to plan your retreat very carefully as you move forwards.

Before you organize a company retreat, think about who really needs to be there. While the accounting department and programming interns might get along fantastically, the benefits of their collaboration are limited, no matter how much time they spend together.

Most importantly, don’t make this a one-time event. Repeat as often as is feasible, and follow it up with regular team lunches or drinks out on the town.

Bonding time is important, even in small doses.

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