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Work Retreats
All About Work Retreats: What You Do for One and More
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AnnaMarie Houlis, Journalist & travel blogger
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So your company is hosting a work retreat, and you've been invited. But what exactly is a work retreat, and what's expected of you during a work retreat?

Let's dive into everything you need to know before your first work retreat.

What Is a Work Retreat?

A work retreat is a company outing that brings coworkers together in a unique way.

What’s the purpose of a work retreat? The purpose of a work retreat is to allow coworkers to bond, establish rapport with team members they may not know so well, build a stronger community amongst their office and boost employee morale, which, in turn, will ideally help boost productivity and performance. Ultimately, a work retreat is about bettering the company culture.

While an offsite might be a meeting or a work-related gathering at a site outside of the office, a work retreat usually does not focus on work itself but, rather, it focuses on creating a culture where better work will be done.

Work retreats can be held virtually anywhere, but many companies choose destinations that are easily accessible (so most, if not all, employees can make the retreat) and that boast team exercises. While some companies might choose to visit a camp where they can have potato sack races and play tug of war, other companies might choose to go white water rafting at a nearby river or spend the weekend getting pampered at a resort.

For example, Updater, a company that handles all the tedious administrative tasks associated with moving, heads to the mountains to ski in the winter and to the beach to relax in the summer. And JustWorks, a product that provides users with seamless payroll, affordable benefits and comprehensive compliance coverage, typically holds annual retreats at campgrounds around the country.

Meanwhile, some companies go especially big. For example, AIG reportedly spent over $400,000 on an executive retreat at the high-end St. Regis Monarch Beach in Orange County, with an 18-hole ocean-view golf course, eight tennis courts and a renowned spa. Unfortunately, the retreat happened just one week after receiving an $85 billion emergency bailout loan.

What’s Expected at a Work Retreat?

A work retreat should be a fun time for employees to get away from the office together. It's a time that should be spent getting to know each other more personally, and it should be a time that they build memories together.

"Once, we went to a penthouse and one of our IT employees showed off a hidden talent — breaking out turntables and spinning for the party," John Pelle, head of external affairs and communications at AbleTo, a tech-enabled provider of behavioral health care, told Built in NYC. "We also still talk about the time we booked the private game room in the back of Lucky Strike, and one of our quietest developers surprised everyone when he ran the ping pong table the entire night. He played with his paddle upside down, so he must’ve known what he was doing."

JustWorks head of human resources Erika Cartagena told Built in NYC that a JustWorks Olympics with prizes was one of her favorite retreat memories.

"There was an amazing turnout with 100 of us in attendance," she said. "One of the best parts was just sitting around the campfire and speaking with colleagues about topics unrelated to work. It’s made such a difference in the way we connect and communicate with one another."

While company retreats should be intimate and entertaining, it's important that those in attendance understand that they're still in a professional setting, however. It's expected that attendees remain professional during these team-building experiences, even though they don't need to be talking about work the whole time (nor should they be!).

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Work Retreat?

There are tons of pros and cons to work retreats. Here are just a few.

Pros

1. You can get to know your colleagues on a more personal level. 

2. You can meet colleagues with whom you don't typically interact on a day-to-day basis.

3. You'll learn how to better communicate with your teammates through team-building exercises. In fact, an MIT study reported in the Harvard Business Journal found that teams that directly communicate with each other are more productive and creative than those who only communicate with management.

4. You can relax and unwind with the people who understand your work-related stresses the most. The same MIT study found that socializing away from workstations actually also plays a significant role in boosting your efficiency at work.

5. You'll return to work feeling recharged. Over 52 percent of Americans did not use all their vacation time last year, which means that 705 million unused days off, according to Project Time Off. With a company retreat, you're actually encouraged to take time away.

Cons

1. Not everyone is always included on company retreats. For example, someone on your team may have to stay behind to get the job done while the rest of the company is off enjoying some sunny respite from the office.

2. Things can get out of hand. If not all employees respect that a work retreat is on the company's dime and they're still in a professional environment, these kinds of environments can become breeding grounds for misdemeanors.

3. You might not have the time to go on a company retreat. You don't get to pick when the retreat occurs, which means that, if you have too much work on your plate (or other non-work related obligations), you might miss out on company-wide fun.

4. Your company might be hosting a retreat for the wrong reasons. You might want to stop to consider why your company is hosting a retreat in the first place. For example, is it because morale is especially low? In a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times, contributor Tom Szaky wrote: "I think that if an organization needs a company retreat to rebuild morale or excitement, there is something fundamentally wrong with the organization. The leadership of an organization should always consider the general mood of the staff and try to make real-time changes to improve it. But only to a point. All organizations have grumblers and naysayers, and no matter how many extra hours you give for lunch or how many company retreats you run, that’s not going to change."

Whatever the case, company retreats are arguably worth your time if you have it to spend.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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