Give Your Employees a Break



Summer is the perfect time to treat your employees to a respite from the daily grind. Rested and rejuvenated, they’re a much more effective return on investment.

Summer is short but sweet in the Pacific Northwest, home to Ritani. To take advantage of the ideal weather, which typically spans only July and August, Brian Watkins, president of this clicks-and-bricks Seattle-based retailer, throws a huge barbecue event each year for employees and their families.

This isn’t just about enjoying cloudless skies. Watkins is aiming for something else: to connect and engage with his ­employees in a non-work environment.

“Turnover is lower, there’s better customer service, and morale is higher when you have highly engaged employees,” ­Watkins says. “When people find meaning in their work, they are willing to go the extra mile, which ensures an outstanding customer experience and makes our company healthy.”

There are hundreds of ways to help your staff bond out of the store—from lunches to weekend retreats, from cooking contests to volunteer projects. JCK talked with several retailers who have developed their own ways of boosting team spirit as well as the experts who counsel companies looking to create a more cohesive—and productive—staff.

“A company is much more efficient when people can depend on one another,” says David Goldstein, team-building specialist with TeamBonding in Boston.

Indianapolis-based Reis-Nichols Jewelers invites employees from both of its stores to an outdoor concert every summer. “We get about 90 percent participation—many times 100 percent,” says spokeswoman Lori Roberts.

At Atlanta’s Worthmore Jewelers, its annual team-­building activity has a more explicit connection to work. Every May, founder and owner Harris Botnick invites all full-time ­employees to attend the JCK show in Las Vegas.

“They get to meet the designers and help pick out merchandise,” says Botnick. “From our standpoint, it’s a buy-in—they’re now invested [in our business]. It’s helped us have a stable long-term group that treats the store like its own.”

And indeed, vested employees are the return retailers should expect on their investments in team-building and external events. “Employees feel a sense of obligation in terms of what they’re achieving,” says John Paul Engel, founder of Knowledge Capital Consulting in Sioux City, Iowa.

Benefits With Friends

Friendships among coworkers are another team-building bonus. “When you have someone you can confide in and trust, that really is one of the most meaningful components of work,” says Deborah McMahon, vice president of global marketing and retail operations at Chamilia in Minneapolis.

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Having friendships in the workplace can make it a more comfortable place to be and more of an extension of your employees’ personal lives. “Good friends at work listen to you vent, validate your feelings, and create a sense of shared effort,” says Steve Albrecht, a business coach in San Diego who teaches team-building workshops.

When Worthmore employees attend the JCK show, they work together and apart, but the schedule is largely left up to them. “It lets them bond on a friendship level rather than as coworkers,” Botnick says. “Everyone realizes they’re there for a purpose, but we want them to have a good time, too.”

By fostering such opportunities for employees to form on-the-job friendships, store owners are, at the same time, ensuring a productive and stable workforce. “One of the top signs an employee is engaged at the workplace is if they feel they have good friends there,” says Ritani’s Watkins. “And research shows engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave the organization.”

Just Rewards

Chamilia takes a more organic approach to team building, largely with regular staff lunches throughout the year. But last summer, the 12-year-old company invited all 35 employees from its four offices (two stateside and two in England) to a Minnesota Twins baseball game.

Events like that, McMahon says, lead to employees who are more comfortable talking to each other. “It’s very hard to address conflict or a challenge with someone you haven’t built a relationship with.”

After these events, the goodwill continues. Work tends to be more enjoyable because employees are more connected. And stories about a team-building experience are recounted in the office long after the event is over, prolonging the payoff.

While summer is an ideal time to gather your employees together, the fun can keep going throughout the year, including holiday parties, of course.

“Episodic rewards are how all casinos run their businesses,” says Albrecht. “Every now and then, [customers] win and that keeps them playing. For any business, a road trip, field trip, meal, or other activity can be part of the episodic rewards, when [employees] least expect it.”

Reis-Nichols Jewelers encourages staff to come up with their own innovative ideas for team-building exercises. In 2012, one employee suggested a beanbag toss tournament.

“So we did a big, very formalized grid system at the flagship store and employees paired up with a partner and came up with a funny team name,” says Roberts. “For about a week we’d go outside in the summer at lunchtime and have our tournament.” At the end of the week, the winning team received a humorous trophy, plus a free lunch and cash prize.

Staff Appreciation

McMahon says holding events throughout the year is a good way to remind employees how much you value them.

For employees of Atlanta’s Worthmore Jewelers, sharing a shopping trip is caring.

Worthmore Jewelers has treated its employees to a haunted house tour at Halloween, spa days that include lunch, trips to a local gun range, and foot massages. On one occasion, management transported employees to an outlet mall and gave them money to shop. Although these outings are mostly focused on providing a way for workers to get to know each other, Botnick occasionally sets up a presentation featuring a motivational speaker. His ultimate team-building goal, he says, is to take his staff on a three-day summer cruise.

While Worthmore’s ambitious program boosts employees’ job satisfaction and fosters loyalty, ultimately its customers feel the payback, too. Says Botnick: ­“Jewelry stores can be intimidating for people, so every little bit you can do to help lower that feeling pays off in dividends.”