Staff away days are too artificial to be of value

Now this is going to make me sound like a real killjoy, but can someone
explain to me what an "away day" is? Yes, I know what management
teams mean when they say they are planning to have an away day but the actual
purpose of these events always seems, how should I put this – unclear. But then
maybe that is the whole point.

I am not sure what the derivation of the word is, but I seem to remember the
original Away day was a train ticket, launched as part of a marketing campaign
by British Rail.

It did not matter too much where you ended up – the whole point was just to
get "away". Anywhere away from where you were, as long as you got
there on one of its trains. Of course, that was back in the good old days, when
there was a fair chance you could actually get somewhere, and back again, in a
day.

Everyone had a fun day out, but there was also a subliminal message that you
would get a bit of company bonding into the bargain.

A bit of fun and some indistinct effort to aid team spirit is what most
management away days are about. They have no particular destination in mind or
even a route map. Sometimes they are intended to give busy managers time to
think and reflect on their roles.

Time, especially thinking time, is an increasingly scarce commodity back at
the ranch. If that is their purpose then I suppose it sounds just the sort of
thing some management teams could do with.

It’s just this idea of going "away" that bothers me. It is
artificial. When everyone is away from the workface, it is easy to forget all
the barriers, obstacles and frustrations that are part and parcel of our daily
working lives in the office.

Without these restraints it is relatively easy to achieve a temporary high,
a feel good factor which will always make such events popular. This is why many
away days are "facilitated" by "inspirational" or
"motivational" speakers, because the element of fun and the high are
seen as crucial elements.

As any honest trainer knows though, getting good happy-sheet scores is
relatively easy – just make sure they have a good lunch and a few laughs.

Unfortunately, the reason that no-one takes such scores seriously is because
they know that the likely effects are about as substantial and durable as a
stick of candyfloss.

On a personal level, it might well be more interesting to travel hopefully
than to arrive, but organisations should at least know what their destination
is. Otherwise they might as well all sign up for that other great day out – the
mystery tour.

By Paul Kearns, Senior partner, Personnel Works

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