Natural Foods Merchandiser

Think outside the cake box when planning staff events

The Natural Employer

I know somebody who used to work for a newspaper that had a cloudy future and high staff turnover. The company?s way of saying goodbye was to hold a party, featuring a sheetcake, for each departing staffer. As more and more people moved on, this bland confection became synonymous with an employee?s going-away party, as in ?I have to get this finished before So-and-so?s sheetcake,? or ?So-and-so is getting sheetcaked at 3 p.m.?

Meanwhile, new employees were issued an identification badge and pointed to their desks, and that was that.

The events that warrant a party send a message about what the company values. A goodbye party can be a nice gesture. But aren?t there other occasions that could be celebrated with festive food and time out from daily work? And couldn?t the company do something more creative than buy a mass-produced sheetcake from a supermarket?

For an alternative kind of party with more fitting refreshments, consider the annual Chili Feed at Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, Wash. October is a busy month for most natural food stores, particularly for co-ops, which celebrate Co-op Month with membership drives. Every October, to recognize the 124 staff members for their hard work, the Community Food Co-op deli prepares and serves a spread of chili, cornbread and cookies all day long in the staff break room. Employees on their day off are welcome to come in and partake along with their coworkers.

Massage Day, also held in October, is another way management shows appreciation for staff during a busy time. Two massage therapists come to the store and give 15-minute massages to all employees who sign up for them.

The staff picnic in August features baked salmon, deli salads and desserts, group games like bingo, and drawings for gift certificates from local businesses.

To pay for these events and other celebrations, management allocates funds to an annual staff appreciation budget administered by the human resources department, explains assistant human resources manager Renee Hover.

Deciding what to celebrate is not exclusively in management?s hands. Each team at Community Food Co-op has a budget for meetings based on the number of employees on the team. Some teams spend their budget on food and (nonalcoholic) drinks for their meetings. Some save up their money and spend it on a party once a year. For instance, one team went bowling, Hover says. Another chose to donate its unused funds to charity during the holiday season.

For a more adventurous sort of celebration, follow the lead of Lifesource Natural Foods in Salem, Ore. Owner Alex Beamer puts on a Christmas party for his 40 employees—last year they, too, went bowling—but for the summer season he takes his staff on a whitewater rafting trip on the Santiam River. ?Employees get squirt guns and get to shoot at management. Basically, it?s a big water fight,? says Beamer. He covers the cost of the trip for each employee and half the cost of a guest.

Beamer doesn?t have to close the store on the day of the raft trip. There are always enough employees who don?t fancy whitewater rafting and are willing to cover for their coworkers. In the evening, however, all are welcome at the store manager?s home on the river, where they camp out and play music.

As for my friend?s former employer, the newspaper company, management finally listened to staff suggestions. Now they celebrate the arrival of new employees as well as the departure of old ones. The company instituted an orientation program to help new people understand the company culture and be successful. And now the sheetcakes are served at welcoming parties, too.

Carolee Colter is the principal of Community Consulting Group. She can be reached at 206.723.4040 or [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 10/p. 24

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