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How to Select the Best Summer Event from Management's Perspective

The summer event!  At first glance it seems pretty easy.  Let a group of employees research some fun ideas and then figure out what idea is best.  The key question is what does "best" really mean.  Clearly it is important that everyone has fun.  Nobody wants an event that isn’t engaging.  However, there are young employees without kids, employees with kids and some older employees whose kids won’t attend.  Does the company even want families attending?  Additionally, should there be a benefit for the company beyond just a thank you?  Maybe you should just give everyone $50 instead?  If you do want more, what do you want?  Boost Morale?  Enhance relationships?  Give back to a charity?  While a summer outing lets you get so much more out of it than just a thank you, the key is finding out what is “best” for your company.

Let start looking at this one step at a time:

Why is the company spending the money for this event?
Most senior management feel the purpose of a summer event is to bring employees together to build goodwill, boost morale and enhance relationships amongst employees.  For this to happen, the event needs to be focused on the employees and if invited, the families.  Employees need to be in an environment where they stay in a central and ideally private location so they can talk, interact, play and fundamentally engage with many fellow employees and management.  For example, a skybox or a private rooftop for a Cubs game is great for this goal but buying 50 seats at a Cubs game is not ideal.  People are stuck in their seats for the most part and only talk to the people right next to them.  Renting out the rooftop at Navy Pier for a private outing with various entertainment options is terrific.  However, by sending everyone to Navy Pier and giving each person food money and entertainment passes, you end up doing very little for the company as people go their separate ways and probably don’t see each other for most of the event other than their normal group of friends.

The goal is to intertwine employees at a summer event.  Each employee meets and chats with people beyond their inner circle of friends.  Ultimately, stronger bonds are created with the company and hopefully lasting relationships are built amongst employees.  In the end, both impact the employees’ happiness with the company, motivation at work and longevity with the company.  This only happens when the employees are put in an environment for the summer event that is focused on the company - a private event with many different opportunities for them to engage with different employees.  One great example of this type of event is a summer picnic held at a private venue.

Families or Employees only at your summer event?
Again, this question comes back to the key impact of the event.  If the company goal is focused largely on the employees, the event should be employees only.  If the goal of the event is to also build goodwill with the families of employees, then families should be invited.  There are however, very significant consequences of this decision.  These consequences are not good or bad but management needs to be aware of these consequences.

1. Employee Only Events:
Employee Only events are best held during the week to maximize employee attendance.  A weekday event during the day usually results in 85-95% employee attendance.  If you shift the event to weekday evening, you will see employee attendance around 75-80%.
There are a many different employee only event options at many different price points but you should expect Employee Only events to be less expensive than Family events.

2. Family Events:
Generally held on weekends, the Family Events attract about 65-70%+ of employees and their families.  Given typical family weekend commitments (kids activities, weddings, etc.), a smaller percentage of employees are generally able to attend.  However, given that family members are also in attendance, while the percentage of employees in attendance drops, the overall number of attendees increases vs. an Employee Only event.
Another way to increase the overall attendance at the event is to start the event later in the day around 5pm.  This accommodates families with kids in sports and other activities during the day and employees that may have daytime commitments such as sports leagues, golf outings and more.

With increased attendance numbers, children needing more entertainment options than a typical weekday Employee Only Event and weekend venue rentals more expensive than weekday rentals, a weekend Family Event ends up being the more expensive choice.  Again, this end result doesn’t make it bad or good, it just helps your team or committee understand how the event type affects the overall budget.

Location – Does it matter?
Now that you have decided on your event being employees only or employees with families and the day of the week and event time, another key component affecting your overall attendance is location.  Location can’t just be about what is most convenient for the small few on the committee or in leadership.  This choice has a significant effect on your event attendance and also the goals of holding the event in the first place. If your company has various offices or a diverse employee base living all around the Chicagoland area, location is a key consideration when attempting to maximize attendance at your event.  For example, should you hold it in the suburbs for a downtown company if many of the employees do not have cars?  While bussing can be provided, most of these employees would simply not attend.  Take the time to understand your employees travel times to and from the venue.  You may select a great venue and offer amazing entertainment and food options at your event but if you put it in the wrong place, you will not achieve your goals for the event.  Assign someone to survey your staff or review your database of employees to find the best location to maximize attendance and the value from your event.  Many times, holding your summer outing on the grounds of your offices is a great option if you have the space.  Another rule of thumb is to keep it as close to possible to the office if you don’t have a base of employees living in one central area.

Timing is everything!
One of the most common mistakes in planning an event is simply not planning it soon enough.  Employees are busier than ever outside work whether they have a family or not.  If you wait too long to announce your event date, most employees will have already planned their summer vacation, signed up for a charity golf outing or bought the family tickets to a game.  You can’t do anything about sports schedules for the kids but you can avoid a lot of conflicts by getting the word out early to your employees about the event date and time.  Typically, you should set your event committee on the task of planning the event by early spring each year.  That isn’t always possible given business needs but the sooner you are able to schedule a date, the better.  While you won’t avoid all conflicts by planning it early, your employees will enjoy the lead time for their own planning, you will maximize attendance and as a side benefit, you will receive value from the excitement leading up to the event in addition to the benefits from the event itself. 

The Final Decision
Now that you have selected the event type, date, time and location, it is time to make the decision.  The goals for each company vary greatly but for many companies, the ability to boost morale while also strengthening relationships amongst employees and their families is worth the additional cost of holding a summer event – Family or Employee only.  If you plan it well, it is well worth the time, effort and cost.  Just make sure you know how each decision along the way affects attendance and the ultimate outcomes from the event.  The key is selecting the right venue, the right time and the right activities to maximize the value for your company.

- Murrel Karsh                       773.486.7403
- Alexa Wierzbinski               773.486.7436        
- Shuva Brodley                    773.537.7523
- David Jackson                    773.537.7524

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