Work Retreats – The Rules (#1: Don’t Have Fun)

Don’t kid yourself – work retreats are not really “retreats.”  They are work events.  A work event that permits your boss and your boss’s boss to assess if you are emotionally intelligent enough to mingle, not get drunk, to wear appropriately conservative clothes, and to represent the company with key clients or the Board—what I call the BBQ factor.  And while a work retreat may have more relaxed dress and allows time for you to get to know your team as people and you may actually have moments of fun, the BBQ factor is always at play.

I once knew a woman who earned the company’s Presidents Club trip to Hawaii.  She didn’t show up at most of the group events because she had “earned this” and wasn’t going to spend her earned vacation with the yahoos from work.  She came to one dinner, visibly intoxicated, in a low-cut dress.  She was fired within six month, ostensibly for performance reasons, but they were performance reasons others could have overcome.  It was the BBQ factor.

Some advice about work retreats/conferences:

  • Mingle.  While it is perfectly acceptable on a personal retreat to cocoon with your partner or best friend at a private table, or stay in your room and meditate, it is a “no-no” at work retreats to act like junior high students and move around in packs or sit at the table by yourself texting.  It goes without saying that you should show up, right?
  •  Dress appropriately.  Think Jack Welch or Meg Whitman.  You can’t envision Jack in an unbuttoned shirt with gold chains nor Meg needing to use double-sided tape to keep her dress in place.
  • Eat and drink less than you normally would.  You might say to yourself, “but my company is more creative, less corporate” or “it’s acceptable here.”  Maybe.  But note that there are separate rules for the SVPs and the C levels; separate rules for the men and the women; and until you’re a “C” (sorry women, doesn’t matter your organizational level . . .I know, it’s 2012, I don’t make the rules), best to not join in the shots of Jack.
  • The point isn’t fun.  Like I said, you might have fun, but it isn’t the point.  Have fun at your 4th of July BBQ with your family, on your Mexican vacation with your college roommates, on your mountain getaway.  At the company retreat, you’re working.

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