How to Survive Your Work Retreat
So you’re going to be at an offsite work retreat for a while, surrounded by your bosses and coworkers. For employees, hopefully it’s something fun and engaging. For managers, hopefully your team will walk away from the event as a more cohesive unit. That is, if everything goes accordingly.
Unfortunately, not all employees can behave themselves on a company retreat and not all managers know how to host one. That’s because company retreats seem to exist in this gray area between work and leisure — except they don’t. While ostensibly all about fun and team building, these retreats can either help or hinder your career.
Follow these 13 guidelines and you’ll walk away from that offsite outing with an even better reputation.
So the retreat you’re going to has a pool, a hot tub, and a fancy reception area. While it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t break out the thongs and Borat mankinis, you also need to consider if your bathing suit isn’t too revealing.
“Around the pool, remember that you’re going to be seeing everyone back in the office at some point and choose your attire accordingly,” says Richard Pummell, HR lead of Develop Intelligence. He says to imagine that a picture of you in your swimwear makes it onto social media. If it “would attract the wrong type of attention or require explanation, it’s probably not appropriate,” he says.
When it’s time for dinner and drinks in the ballroom (or down the street), go ahead and look sharp.
“For cocktail evenings and dinners out, by all means use this as an opportunity to dress to impress,” says Pummell.
Be Careful Who You Invite to Your Hotel Room
Extending an invite to some coworkers for an after party in your hotel room might sound like an innocent gesture — and in most cases, it probably is. But according to our experts, there’s an inherent risk in doing so.
“A male member of a sales team invited his fellow sales colleagues back to his hotel room for an after party,” said Amy Sanchez, a career coach and owner of Swim Against the Current. “While almost everyone received the invitation, one female member of the sales team took offense to the invitation and reported him to HR.”
Why? Because the sales team was “90 percent men and 10 percent women, and all the men were drinking heavily,” said Sanchez. “So you can see why she may have felt threatened, even though his request may have been innocent. He ended talking to HR Monday morning and had a permanent strike on his record.”
Or Just Avoid Another Person’s Room Altogether
Pummell takes it one step farther. He advises employees and managers to completely avoid entering another person’s room.
“It’s smart to think of an employee’s hotel room being no different than their bedroom at home,” he said. “It’s very personal space, and in order to avoid any possible issues, it’s better to just not enter.”
Pummell says it’s more about not allowing gossip to start, to avoid the “why did this person enter that person’s room” whispers that may follow you back to the office. He also says managers should be particularly sensitive in this area.
“Managers entering an employee’s room would definitely be a concern,” says Pummell.
Don’t Act Like You’re Among Friends
When you’re at a work retreat, the environment is more relaxed and you’re likely to act in a more casual manner. That’s fine. Just don’t let this new environment trick you into thinking your coworkers are your college buddies.
“Regardless of what time it is and where you are, you are still among colleagues, not friends, and you must continue to act professionally,” said Sanchez. So don’t break out “Cards Against Humanity” or start a “Truth or Dare” game.
Don’t Skip Out on Sleep
It’s important for both employees and managers to allocate enough time for everyone to get some shuteye.
“Management is notorious for packing tons of activities into these offsites,” said Sanchez. Therefore, she advises managers to be mindful of their employees time and “ensure there’s time for a full eight of hours of sleep so people can think clearly.”
For employees, try and maintain a regular schedule to get plenty of rest. “Lack of sleep mixed with alcohol is a lethal combination,” said Sanchez.
Don’t Forget—You’re Still at Work
Usually if you’re out for drinks with coworkers at 7 p.m., you’re off the clock. In those instances it’s usually a gray area. Yes, you’re around colleagues, but you’re technically not at work. At a corporate retreat, there isn’t a gray area. The company is paying you to be there, which means you’re at work even if it doesn’t feel like it.
“It's essential to remember that you're on the clock twenty-four hours a day,” said Pummell. “No matter what you think, what happens on the retreat will not stay on the retreat.”
You’re Being Observed
In “The Simpsons” episode titled “Mountain of Madness,” Mr. Burns arranges a snowy, mountainside retreat for his nuclear power plant employees. Once there, employees need to make their way through the winter wilderness and find a hidden cabin. The last team there will receive the “World’s Worst Employee” trophy and will be fired.
While no real-world retreat will have such shenanigans, there is some truth in this “Simpsons” episode. A retreat provides a unique way for bosses to observe their employees who may think they’re truly at work. Take this opportunity as a chance to impress management instead of getting rowdy with your coworkers.
The attitude you bring won’t go unnoticed, so try and keep a cheery demeanor no matter how much you dislike trust falls. Robin Schwartz, HR Director of Career Igniter, says that employees should “stay positive and participate as required” and “make the best” of even the most boring events.
Fake it till you make it!
Remember the Staff
It’s easy to get submerged in the politics of career advancement on a work retreat, but don’t let your coworkers be the only ones you think about.
“Remember your pleases and thank-yous” to the staff, said Pummell. “The way you treat staff will be observed by many. Demonstrate humility and tip well.”
Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
Pick the Right Activities
This one’s for management. When choosing planned activities at your company retreat, be mindful not to cram a bunch of activities together without thinking of your employees and how they might best interact.
“The purpose of a workplace retreat is typically to create a safe space for staff to engage in meaningful dialogue, think creatively, and connect more intentionally with their work and each other,” said MaryBeth Hyland, a business consultant and founder of Spark Vision. She says to avoid planning the retreat with only your fellow managers and to query the employees.
“You must involve your people if you want there to be a buy in, and that can be as simple as a short survey,” said Hyland.
Don’t Miss Those Scheduled Events
Those activities your bosses scheduled aren’t suggestions. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, those sessions are mandatory.
You’ll want to show up on time, have a good attitude, and participate. This is a good time to let yourself shine, especially if you’d like to show management some attributes that may not show up on the day-to-day work at the office.
Pummell says “leading a group exercise, encouraging others in a work challenge and coordinating activities” are a few ways that help you make an impression that would otherwise be impossible to do in some job roles.
Don’t Hook Up
Maybe there’s a coworker you’ve had your eye on for some time. You’ve both had a couple drinks, and, late into the evening, you feel there may be a mutual attraction. Now may seem like the perfect time to let those emotions run wild. Should you?
Probably not. It can be a minefield. Pummell says “it's not professional, and as word gets around, it's distracting to other participants who will be subjected to hearing the whispers and rumors.”
Don’t Get Drunk
By far the number one advice from our experts is to not relive your college frat or sorority years. A couple drinks in moderation can be fine, but don’t overindulge. You don’t want sweaty, drunken pictures of yourself appearing on social media, and you don’t want to gain the wrong reputation.
And in some instances, drinking can cost you your job — mainly because you lose your at-work filter.
Sanchez recalls one such time, when a male manager “had one too many drinks and ended up overtly hitting on the women on his sales team. He was let go the next week,” she said.