...or more specifically, corporate retreats.
When Neal and I got married, he had already worked for the state of Kentucky for about 12 years. And once or twice every year, the state would pay for the entire technology department to spend a week at one of the state's parks on a retreat. There would be brainstorming and lots of drawing on the dry erase board, as well as some "team exercises" and dinners together.
I thought it was the most absurd thing I had ever heard.
When they returned, they weren't any more cohesive as a department and rarely did these week-long escapes to the woods result in any sort of tangible plan for the forseeable future. It was a week or two each year set aside for everyone to get a free pass to not do any real work and instead make a bunch of plans and then celebrate with beer and s'mores. And then, when the realization was made that the state was deeply in debt, all retreats came to a screeching halt. Coincidentally, one year later, Neal (after 15 years of dedicated and selfless service) was deemed no longer needed and escorted from the building with his copier paper box full of picture frames and whatever he had in the fridge. Was he let go because they didn't have a chance that year to hold hands around the campfire and give warm fuzzies to the person to their left? Or is it really that, at the end of the day, the workplace is all about money and it doesn't matter how many hours you've spent catching people in trust falls...when someone feels her job is being threatened, she will sing Kum Ba Yah while throwing your ass right under the bus?
Fifteen years of corporate retreats didn't result in anyone coming to Neal's aid. It was just a bunch of tax dollars spent in the name of team building and when Neal turned around for support during his darkest hour, his team was nowhere to be found. I would call that a profound waste of time and money. Kentuckians, you should be pissed.
Neal came home tonight and said that he has to attend a "bonding" trip to conclude a colonel's command this month. And my first reaction? Well, that's a total waste of time. You are going to go spend more time with people that you just spent a year in Iraq with? Was that 24-7 for 10 months not quite enough? But of course, the colonel wasn't in Iraq and he's the one who wants to go play in bouncy castles or go on a hayride or roast s'mores while singing the Army fight song ....or whatever the hell is on the agenda.
Y'know what builds a team's morale more than anything? Extra vacation days. Time spent with their families. Retreats WITH the families. Because by the time you become a working adult, you have created a family...whether with a spouse, a partner, or close friends. And that family will always outrank the job. Pulling time away from the family to spend more time at the job (and under the guise of "fun") not only annoys the employee, it pisses off the family. I can't think of a single work-related retreat that I've ever been on where, when it was all said and done, I said, "That was time well-spent! I really feel like I have connected with my co-workers on a whole new level and we will now exist peacefully and produce high-quality, squabble-free, final products." Not one. I went to Hurricane Katrina-devastated Mississippi once with staff from other YMCAs around the country and we worked like dogs all day and then bonded at night. But the bonding was incidental...not the main purpose. I did connect on a whole new level with those people, but then we were sleeping on the floor of the Y's karate room and walking past tent cities everyday.
I think retreats have their place. Youth retreats and camps are excellent because there are classes to attend and friendships to be made that have nothing to do with salaries or promotions or parking spaces (or retaining the right to be senior rater for an officer's evaluation). And family retreats are nearly necessary because we live such scattered and chaotic lives that we need something, after the work commitments and soccer seasons, to get us back on the same page. And if I'm going to invest time getting on the same page as anyone, it's going to be for my family.
My rant doesn't change the fact that this colonel is going to get his way and that Neal is going to pack his bags to fly to some yet-to-be-determined location to bond with other Soldiers who are either leaving the unit this month or within the next 6 months. And these plane tickets will be bought with money from an Army that is reducing its force and looking for ways to make severe budget cuts. It makes total sense, right? I hope they don't char their weenies.