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• Employers should set out their objectives and what they want to achieve from the awayday.
• A seniority-free environment will get the best out of the entire group.
• Timing must be appropriate. For example, an awayday for the accounts team will not go down well around the end of the financial year.
• Consider the differing physical abilities and tastes of all staff members.
• Get staff feedback after the event.
Case study: Source takes employees sailing and skiing
Media recruitment firm Source boosts employee engagement with quarterly nights out for the whole company, plus weekend trips away twice a year.
These events are kept separate from work-related activities, and range from dinner and drinks to go-karting, bowling, medieval banquet nights, wine tasting and a karaoke party on a private barge on the Thames.
Weekend trips away have included sailing on the Solent, visiting Christmas markets in Hamburg and skiing in Austria.
Tammy Wray, operations manager for Source, says: “We do not tend to book specific and organised team-building days. We find that our events are more suitable for our staff, plus they are more informal and relaxed, which our employees have told us they prefer.
“Weekend trips are especially great for team bonding as well, because everyone in the organisation has the opportunity to spend the weekend together, which would not generally happen in a normal work environment.
Employees are motivated by being rewarded and we feel that by offering employees the right mixture of incentives, benefits and training, this will help us to attract higher-quality candidates, as well as help to retain our current employees.”†
Case study: Argos staff plan a robbery
Milton Keynes-based retail giant Argos runs ad-hoc awaydays for employees, often incorporating team-building activities with the aim of promoting closer working between teams and departments.
At an awayday in December, organised in conjunction with events company Spy Games, a 35-strong team took part in an activity called Diamond Heist. Staff were asked to work together to plan and implement a robbery, deal with villains and security staff played by actors, and then carry out the fake robbery and getaway.
The day was designed to be fun, creative and collaborative, taking staff as far away from their daily work duties as possible, yet developing the key skills the company desires.
Maura Watson, business delivery manager at Argos, says: “The day included lots of variation. The raids, in particular, were great fun. Everyone got to take part and all activities suited all ages and abilities. Feedback from the team was excellent. Everyone enjoyed it and the team felt they all worked well together.”
Case study: Awaydays drive engagement at Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Car hire company, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which employs 3,000 staff in the UK, runs various awaydays throughout the year.
These include monthly Elite Club events, a sales incentive in which the top 10 performers from each region are treated to a day out or a weekend away as a reward for sales results, and its annual Branch Manager Retreat.
Donna Miller, European head of HR, says: “These awaydays are hugely beneficial to our company. The Branch Manager Retreat allows our management team to network with their counterparts and senior leadership to share best practice, while the Elite Club events both recognise and reward employees, who are performing at the highest level.
“These days all have a positive effect on staff morale and engagement, which ultimately impacts the bottom line.”
Miller says it has been necessary to evolve the awaydays to ensure they are accessible and motivational for all employees.
“Some constructive feedback we have received in the past is that the events we were running were somewhat one-dimensional, because the activities gravitated towards a narrow range of competitive, often physical activities such as assault courses, paintballing or clay pigeon shooting,” she says.
“These have now been widened to include visits to theme parks, bowling competitions and spa days.
Case study: Volunteering is a revelation for Cancer Research staff
Cancer Research UK avoids traditional team-building days, instead encouraging all of its 3,500 employees to take part in volunteering days away from the office.
These include working in Cancer Research shops during the busy Christmas period. Jane Vivier, the charity’s reward and recognition manager, says: “We offer opportunities which benefit individuals, teams and the organisation, but which can be provided at low cost.
“For us, allowing employees to step away from their day job and go and see first-hand some of the work we do is very important. It is easy to lose sight of such things when you work in an office.”
Volunteering days, either in the charity’s shops or at special events, such as the Chelsea Flower Show, also allow employees to gain a wider understanding of colleagues’ personalities. “They are great team-building exercises as role and rank are unimportant,” says Vivier.
“Feedback from staff volunteering days is always positive, and many are surprised how much they get from it, in terms of morale and understanding.”
Employee awaydays can be inspiring if they are planned correctly, says Tom Washington
Trying to build a raft from a few branches and some string, and then sailing it across a lake with only your work colleagues for company, is how many view the archetypal employee awayday. And for the cynics in the workforce, it may conjure up more dread than excitement.
Employers should be aware that an experience designed to be motivational could, in reality, be the exact opposite. Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at P&MM Motivation, says awayday activities need to be suitable for all attendees.
“The differing physical abilities of staff members must be considered,” he says. “If an employer plans activities that are too physically demanding, it risks excluding those who are less capable. Physical activities are a great way to get a team to bond, but not everyone has the same level of fitness.”
The staff day out remains an important tool with which employers can seek new and creative ways to motivate employees, particularly during the economic downturn. For HR and reward professionals, who are likely to be responsible for organising such events, these awaydays, or in some cases weekends, are an opportunity to get staff involved in an activity or experience they will enjoy, while encouraging the skills and behaviours that are needed to achieve the organisation’s strategic goals.
For small employers, an awayday might involve the entire workforce, but for others it might be more suitable for a small team, department or a handpicked group of talent from across the organisation to participate.
Graham James, director of sales and marketing at motivation specialist AYMTM, says awaydays have traditionally been used as a celebration or part of a team reward. But in the past two years, more businesses have been using them to drive organisational change, as a way of sparking creativity before launching into new markets, or to assist product development. They are also being used to boost motivation within teams and to improve teamwork.
“Strain on resources can often mean certain projects get ignored within a normal day’s work,” explains James.
“Awaydays are a great way to step away from the hectic daily grind and refocus the organisation and individuals on what needs to be done. A correctly thought-out awayday, with the right content and experience, will result in a focused and motivated team capable of driving business requirements.”
Proper planning and research
Proper planning and research must be undertaken beforehand, to ensure the day is productive for the organisation, as well as being a hit with employees. Whether it entails work-related activities or not, fun should be the overriding factor.
Staff do not strictly view such days as part of their traditional benefits package, nevertheless they should be considered as an element of total reward.
Hellen Kelly, events director at Team Tactics, says that when the day is organised correctly, the impact on overall motivation can be huge. “Employees will feel valued, see that [their employer] is investing in them, that their personal performance is a key part of the [organisation],” she says. “Also, the anticipation ahead of an exciting day out is great for keeping staff morale high.”
A growing recognition of the value of awaydays has increased the scope of the type of events that can be achieved. With team-building events, for example, the old stereotype of orienteering, problem-solving and even raft building no longer rings quite so true since the emergence of several providers offering bespoke days out.
Now, talent contests, treasure hunts, rock climbing, football tournaments and even a competition for people to film and edit their own music videos are among the activities available at a cost.
Dave Thomas, managing director of corporate events firm Spy Games, says: “The key is to ensure the programme is exciting, engaging and infused with key messages tailored to the particular business. What we constantly hear from employers is that they want to do something different. They have exhausted other options and want to excite their employees with something brand new.
“It is no longer valid to run team-building activities like a household chore that everyone would rather avoid, but feel has to be done. Nor is it acceptable to throw money at activities that provide fleeting enjoyment but bring no long-term business benefits.”
Volunteering for charity projects
Many employers also offer staff the chance to volunteer for a charity project for the day. This is often done through a local charity partner, arranged by the employer itself or through a third party. Volunteering not only helps a good cause, but also gives staff a sense of achievement and wellbeing to bring back into their day job.
Justine Clement, managing director at incentive and reward provider Unmissable, says: “Employers should pick activities their employees will find enjoyable, and make it fun. They must also think carefully about what makes their staff tick and what will push them a little out of their comfort zone – but not too far.”
A key advantage of awaydays is that they involve employees in roles they may not usually perform, which helps to highlight talents, strengths and abilities in a new way. They also promote leadership skills by giving employees a new element of responsibility beyond their normal working duties. By working together to achieve a goal, employees can gain an improved awareness of the value of teamwork.
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