If there’s one thing the show “The Office” got right, it’s that you need a party planning committee to pull off a successful company party. While anyone can throw a party, it takes actual planning to make sure the events you host are well attended and worth the effort.
Company parties are an opportunity to express appreciation, share successes and unify your team.
“It’s just to show our appreciation for how hard everybody works for Green Lawn and Green Pest,” says Alex Wolfington, SVP of business development for Green Lawn Fertilizing/Green Pest Solutions, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “It means a lot to us with what they do every day for us, and we like to give back to them. The culture of our company is taking care of our employees and then in turn, our employees will take care of our customers.”
No matter your company size, employees appreciate and benefit from attending these types of events. McHale Landscape Design, Inc., based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, has over 340 employees on staff spread across five locations.
“Hosting events builds camaraderie,” says Julie Patronik, marketing and creative director at McHale. “They enable our employees – many of whom will never cross paths – to get to know each other and value different perspectives. This supports the entire team in knowing what our company is about and who we are, as well as fosters collaboration that supports our all-encompassing design-build process.”
One reason you might not already be hosting company events is that you think it’s too cost-prohibitive. However, parties don’t have to be extravagant or lavish to be quality events.
“It doesn’t have to be spending thousands and thousands of dollars,” says Angela Barr, administrative manager for Eichenlaub, Inc., based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I think anything that you can do to give back to your team to show appreciation is a good start. Start with that simple barbecue, just to have those conversations and connect with your team because that’s the most important thing to be doing with them.”
Wolfington, Patronik and Barr say they each set a budget at the beginning of the year for their parties, but they also try to be flexible.
“We try and keep within a budget that we set at financial planning time, but we are cognizant that if we do go over slightly here at one function, we even out at the following one,” Barr says. “Usually for a monthly barbecue, we’re usually going $15 per person just to roughly budget it. For our more up upscale events, we’re probably looking at $30 to $40 minimum for planning purposes.”
Wolfington says they know how much their company parties have cost in the past and assume how many employees will come to get a rough estimate. Recently they have put team building events more in the hands of their branch managers as the Green Lawn has 275 employees on staff across six branch locations.
“They’re responsible for having their own company events, so it doesn’t come all the way from the top and it feels more natural,” Wolfington says.
Patronik says they do a preliminary budget for the major items of the event, such as the venue, catering and entertainment. As the event gets closer, they’ll decide on additional elements they can add and what’s really important for that particular party.
“Sometimes it’s worth additional funds to make it a memorable experience,” Patronik says. “For example, guest speakers and employee gifts are worth the cost at times, and sometimes they are not depending on the economy, the priorities and the budget.”
Some of the major factors to decide on for your company parties are how many you plan to host in a year, whether they are staff only or family invited, and the nature of the events.
At McHale, they have two events spread out throughout the year. One is their Spring Kickoff, which aligns the company with their goals for the year. The other is a picnic or holiday party.
“Our company picnic is an important event as well and is often everyone’s favorite,” Patronik says. “Families of our employees are invited – we had about 500 people in attendance at our last picnic in 2019. Even some of the young children at some of our very first picnics two decades ago now work for McHale. We are looking forward to hosting the picnic this fall after taking a two-year hiatus due to COVID.”
Eichenlaub has monthly barbecues for their staff of 80 as well as a summer social and a winter event. At the summer social, families are invited to show appreciation for them sharing their loved ones with the company. The winter event is when awards are distributed and employees are recognized for their past season’s successes.
Barr says they also recently added their halftime report, which takes place in the middle of the season. It serves as a state of the union on how they’re doing and how they can continue to move forward. Last year they had a dunk tank, and this year Barr is working on getting a mechanical bull.
Wolfington says they don’t have a certain number of parties, but they do want to make sure they keep the culture going and keep their employees interested. He says they try to have events in two-month increments.
“It’s really helped us with retention of employees because some of them will be waiting for the next big event,” Wolfington says. “There’s a lot of turnover in our industry and this has been huge with retention of our employees.”
A major aspect to consider is if your company event will include employee families or not. At Green Lawn, they recently held their first company gathering that included families at Hershey Park. They had 585 people attend and Wolfington says team members greatly appreciated it.
“It was awesome to get together with our team members and meet their kids, meet their wives, meet their husbands,” Wolfington says. “That was very meaningful.”
Patronik says their company picnic is the most appreciated event because they can bring their families and connect on a new level with team members and leadership.
As for what and where the event should actually be, Barr says this has become more and more challenging as the team gets more diverse and they try to appeal to as many people as possible.
“Sometimes we’ve even hosted where we’ll have a lunch at one location and then four different venues that you get to choose from after lunch that you’ll get to go do just to try and appeal to as many people as possible,” Barr says. “As much as you want 100 percent participation, realize that you’re never going to get that.”
If you have multiple branch locations, considering the distance your team will have to travel is a must. Patronik says they typically host their events in their centrally located headquarters.
Barr says each event has its pluses and minuses, but staff typically appreciates being able to bring their family and do something they might not have been able to afford, like going to an amusement park.
Wolfington says their individual branches have taken employees paintballing, bowling and to a minor league baseball game. The management team gathers for events and they’ve taken them to Phillies, Flyers and Sixers games. Green Lawn also offers tickets for their employees and a guest to go to an Eagles preseason game where they have a cookout beforehand.
“It’s the reason we attract top talent is because when they come in for interviews, they hear about all the stuff that our owner and the company does for the employees,” Wolfington says. “It’s part of their decision of coming to join our company.”
Tips for Success
While Barr says you shouldn’t overthink it, this doesn’t mean every party should be spontaneous. Green Lawn sends out meeting invites for all their parties for the year shortly after January 1.
“It can’t be something that you just think of and say we’re going to do it next month,” Wolfington says. “If you want to get the attendance that you’re expecting, that needs to be on people’s calendars. They need to know.”
He says the Hershey Park trip took six months to plan and you need to constantly communicate with the venue about your final headcount. Flexibility is also crucial, as Wolfington says they had originally planned the Hershey Park trip for 2020.
“Someone needs to be put in charge of it and needs to own it,” Wolfington says. “It’s not something that can come together very quickly.”
If you are at a loss for event ideas or want to make sure your parties are hitting the mark, take time to survey your team.
“We have found through a couple of the listening sessions that we’ve done that our team members are working out in the heat all day,” Barr says. “They don’t always want to be doing other activities out in the heat. This year I’m looking into some indoor events that are air-conditioned where people can go and have a good time.”
One piece of feedback to seek out is the preferred timing of your events to increase participation. Barr has been working to make sure their events are in the late afternoon, so they don’t cut into employees’ personal time.
“Even with Hershey (Park), the recommendation for other companies is we did it on a Sunday,” Wolfington says. “It’s going be hard to get a lot of people to come out on a Sunday, but we work on Saturdays. Just be mindful of that. You also have to make sure that you’re getting the work done along with putting together these events.”
Hosting company parties require time and money, but McHale sees the company morale boost as worth it.
“If you are going to host an event, do it right and make it fun,” Patronik says. “Invest the time and money which ultimately help to build your corporate culture. Hire the band. Invite the families. Hire a photographer. Capture the memories.”
This article was published in the Sept/Oct issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.