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I work in a big company and tasked with increasing engagement of employees who more or less have settled in their own (not so efficient) ways of doing work.

One of the suggestions on the table is having more team building events to increase the sense of trust and elevate morale among the workers.

A big question is who should pay for such events? in a world of shrinking budgets and reluctance to spend money, management says employees should pay for such events, and employees of course say management should pay. So I am wondering if there is an objective way to resolve this?

On the one hand, you are essentially asking people to be more productive together. And on the other, you are asking them to financially contribute to achieve that. I read similar questions about the effectiveness of team building events and such topics, and I agree that some events are useless and some are not. Some people see it as a waste of time, others thrive on it. I know it really boils down to willingness to participate in such events and gauging the demand for it.

But when push comes to shove, who pays?? Would a 50-50 scheme work? As in, what ever the employees contribute, management will match it. Just wondering!

edit: thank you for everyone for sharing your insight towards this question! I am really happy with some of the answers on here. I am also happy with this website, it has definitely helped in getting a broad view of this topic.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Aug 2 '16 at 22:57
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    Have you discussed this with management at all? Asking employees to pay for any portion of a team-building exercise has a very the beatings will continue until morale improves feel to me. – HopelessN00b Aug 3 '16 at 3:44

10 Answers 10

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Professional team-building is more than a few co-workers having a good time together. It is designed with specific goals in mind.

  • The event might encourage people from different departments to mingle and talk socially, before they are expected to work together professionally. If people are left to their own devices, they would mostly talk to people they know.
  • The event might put people into a situation where teamwork is necessary. Rowing a boat together, things like that. If the employees design their own event, they might opt for an evening in the cinema or in a bar.

The company should encourage casual social interaction between the employees, but that isn't the same as a teambuilding event.

Regarding the money:

  • Employees are paid for their work time. Even if there is no fixed number of hours per week, there is some understanding how much time they are going to spend at the office. If management expects the employees to come to the event, it should be paid work time. Compared to the cost of the time, everything else will be small change.
  • If the event is not on paid time, you should expect some employees to stay away. They might want to prefer time with their family, they might have other hobbies, or they might want some time away from their co-workers. If that happens, your team-building won't be successful.
  • You probably have no idea about the true financial situation of the employees. Some might have debts to pay off, others might have relatives to care for. You have no right to mess with their budget, or even to ask about it.
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    Dear boss, our team building event at James' Pub went really well. When it came to paying the bill we specified your company as the sponsor of the team and left. The event already had a positive effect on the business, because James was really interested in giving you a call. On a related note, the team has to take a day off tomorrow. – I'm not paid to think Aug 1 '16 at 17:42
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    Dear Team, we want you to spend the afternoon of your free day at the company, playing silly games like balancing a marshmallow on top of a spaghetti tower to lear agile values, and by the way, we want you to pay for it. blueskypersonnel.com/… – o.m. Aug 2 '16 at 5:06
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    "If the event is not on paid time, you should expect some employees to stay away. They might want to prefer time with their family, they might have other hobbies, or they might want some time away from their co-workers. If that happens, your team-building won't be successful." - I'd switch that around, you may expect some employees to come. – SBoss Aug 2 '16 at 8:46
  • I do think a simple social gathering (e.g. meeting at a pub) may be paid for by the employees (you'll get more participation if the employer pays though), but structured "team-building" activities are for the employer's benefit, and should be paid for by the employer. All the upvotes for that third financial point: the employer could be paying someone $100k/year, but that doesn't mean they have any disposable income for the reasons you stated (debt, caring for family, etc). – Doktor J Aug 2 '16 at 16:13
  • I've been at places that do all of the above. There may be a team-building event paid by the company. There may be an event where the employer subsidizes a fun event, like paying for entry tickets to something, but not food/beverages, or for dinner but not alcohol. And, there may be an event where the employer arranges for a discount - like everyone can go to the amusement park for a discount. And, finally, when the employees themselves get together, the employees pay. If you work somewhere where they demand you to pay out of pocket, look for a new job, cause they are going downhill. – MikeP Aug 2 '16 at 21:37
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management says employees should pay for such events

Sadly your management is clueless.

They are the ones who desire increasing engagement of employees. They are the ones who will have something to gain from such increased engagement. Thus any company event must be paid for by the company.

I know it really boils down to willingness to participate in such events and gauging the demand for it.

Imagine a company announcement that basically says "We are holding a team building event - and we want you to pay for it." Now imagine how many employees would say "No thanks." Would this be a good thing? Would this increase employee engagement? I think not.

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    Even if the event is absolutely free, some people would say "No thanks". Making the employees pay is a sure way even more would. It is indeed simple - if management wants the event, they have to foot the bill. If the employees wanted it, they'd have worked something out already - either with the help of the company or not. Seems they haven't, if management wish to be involved. I agree, they are clueless. – VLAZ Jul 31 '16 at 18:25
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    Even if the event is absolutely free, some people will indeed still say "no thanks" - hold the event on company time if attendance is mandatory... – Konerak Aug 1 '16 at 7:33
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    @Konerak - even if it's not mandatory, hold the even on company time if you want people to attend. – WorkerDrone Aug 1 '16 at 19:29
  • This is not one of your better answers. I think it really lacks explaining the benefits of the team building and how to go about presenting it to management. This is little more than a large comment – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 1 '16 at 19:45
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    This. Follow the money: who benefits? the company. Making the event fun is merely a way to have employees swallow the pill. – Agent_L Aug 2 '16 at 12:36
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You will not raise employee morale by requiring them to attend team building events that they themselves have to pay for.

You will, at least, improve team cohesion - they will all come together to hate their company managers in general and the fool who suggested they pay for something the employer should be providing in particular.

The effectiveness of team building events is suspect anyway. If a group of people have low morale then shoving them into a room and making them play party games or look at powerpoint presentations that use the word "team" a lot will not improve their morale. Figuring out what has made them unhappy and addressing it head on is far more likely to be effective.

If a team is unhappy within itself, e.g. team members are just not "gelling" together effectively then again, party games are not going to fix that and again, addressing the issue head on will help.

There are quite a few posts on the subject on the Ask A Manager website and you should, in particular, read the spinoffs on intuit.com: "How to team build" and "5 ways to avoid needing a team building event".

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    I'd like to upvote this answer more than once. – thursdaysgeek Aug 1 '16 at 16:49
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    @thursdaysgeek I will help with that. :) – Masked Man Aug 1 '16 at 17:06
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Assuming the team event is optional:

  • In a great company, official "team building events" aren't necessary, as people will organize and pay such events for themselves because they are already friends and don't see it as a company thing.

  • A good company will pay for the whole event everything included.

  • A reasonable company pays for the fixed costs and leaves the variables for the employees. That might mean the company pays for the room and activity and the employees pay for their own (optional) drinks. Or maybe offer certain drinks and meals for free, if you want something special, you have to pay for it. Where I live, a common rule is: non-alcoholic drinks are paid for by the company, alcoholic drinks have to be paid for by the person that orders them.

  • A bad company will set up a way for the employees to have fun on their own, payed by their own money, even if they don't show any interest in it. This obviously won't raise morale, it just makes for a good check mark on a management checklist.

  • I like this answer because I am definitely not looking for a check mark on some management list. I certainly hope to achieve a true bond between the teams and the goal is to maintain consistent productivity. according to the scale you provided, the company I work for currently rates in the "reasonable" category, or so my perception of it is at least. however, they have shown no interest in spending a single dollar into anything. I agree that in a great company, people are automatically inclined to pay for their own activities and will definitely enjoy it. but companies like that are few! – alhakam.ali Jul 31 '16 at 7:36
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    Re great: assuming that you're referring to colleagues going out or organising trips together, those wouldn't be considered "team building events" as they are typically defined. I agree that those accomplish what team building events are intended for but I think this is confusing your point and risks being read as "in great teams people will be happy to pay for this themselves". – Lilienthal Jul 31 '16 at 10:10
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    The morale aspect of this is answer is important. Anything good you'd get out of any sort of team-building event would be undone by effectively docking your employees' pay by making them pay for it. – Blrfl Jul 31 '16 at 10:48
  • i agree with the morale aspect. this is what I was gunning for in my original question: the thought of who should pay for such events in order for it to be effective because if employees are pointing to management, then they would automatically be bummed out if they had to pay for it. and I also agree that having a budget allocated by the company would be ideal as Kilisi mentioned below. I guess I have to figure out a way to spin my recommendations in a way to achieve just that; a budget for such activities. – alhakam.ali Jul 31 '16 at 11:12
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If it is mandatory: - It should be fully paid by the company - It should be during work hours - Transportation should be organized/provided

If it is optional: - It should be fully paid by the company - If you want everybody to be there, it should be during work hours - Transportation can be up to workers

People have lots of outside variables that contribute to whether they will go to an optional event: - Family obligations - Monetary obligations - Other orgs they are a part of(church, etc.)

If you want happy employees and a good team building event.. have the company pay for it.

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The best way for these things to be handled is for the company to have a budget for it. The employees can contribute, or not show up or whatever they feel like doing. The budget will benefit those who do want to attend, which are the ones which it works for anyway.

This is common enough where I am and works well, other places force all employees to contribute, and those who don't want to attend (and if it's not enthusiastic it's a waste of time) are unhappy about that aspect of it. So I used to attend just because I'd put money in, grumbled until the food was served, ate as much of the food as I could fit, and then left. But I'd much have preferred not to show up.

  • Even when all paid for by the employer they should be optional, in my view. As some people do not fare well in some situations. At my work they keep all work dues secret till already started, which makes that you can not even work out whether they are safe to go to. – Willeke Jul 31 '16 at 11:11
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    @Willeke: Re: "Even when all paid for by the employer they should be optional, in my view": This answer says that. – ruakh Jul 31 '16 at 17:02
  • If you can get away with leaving early, then whoever's job it is to enforce the mandatory attendance has slipped up ;-) I guess even the employer privately acknowledged that the event was unreasonable, since they wouldn't let you goof off like that from a reasonable assigned task. – Steve Jessop Aug 1 '16 at 9:03
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Short answer: The company

Long answer: It depends

  • Would the people participate in the same team building events if the company hadn't told them to do so?
  • Are the employees paid high enough that costs for the specific team building events is included
  • Who would benefit from the outcome? The company or the people?

For example: - If all the people working on a company enjoy snowboarding and the company decides on a trip then it could be 50-50 - If all the people have different hobbies and they have to attend any event for team building purposes then the company will have to pay

My personal opinion is that any company should not 'oblige' employees to pay for anything related to the company (make it attending events, stationary or whatever) unless the employees are also shareholders of the company.

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I once attended a team building event that was sponsored by a big consulting company.

The team had two contractors of that company and they paid for all ten team members (even for other contractors). I was told that they're sponsoring the team event every year. So if there are some contractors in your team, you might contact them, to see if their employer is interested. Of course that might include some marketing talk during the event.

Selling points for the consulting company:

  • Establish a generous reputation in general (consulting companies often have a greedy and exploitative reputation).
  • Advertising themselves as employer to other contractors.
  • Motivating their own employees, which often cannot attend company events of their own employer.

But make sure it doesn't violate any anti corruption laws.

(As others already explained that is the second-best option. Good companies can pay their bills themselves.)

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Granted, this is a US perspective, so take it with a grain of salt, but essentially.

The event should be mandatory, or "strongly encouraged". Many people see these events as a waste of their time. As such, they need to be prodded into attending. You can't do team building if your whole team isn't there.

This creates a lot of "who pays" questions. Essentially, an effective way to handle this, is that the company pays for the "Must Haves" and the employees pay for the "Nice to Haves".

Examples,

Say the team building exercise is a dinner. The company pays for food and non-alcoholic drinks, the employees pay for alcoholic drinks.

If the team building exercise is a group activity outdoors. The company pays for the activity and drinking water. Dinner afterwards is all on the employees.

Now the goal here is that employees can participate for $0, but the truly expensive (and fun) stuff they pay for because it's optional. Of course as a company it may do you good to just shell out the cash for an open bar to show your appreciation, but that is a different conversation.

Other examples are wages while on this outing: I would say no, but if it's during the work week, then yes.

Travel expenses, inside 200 miles no, outside 200 miles yes.

Hotels, basic yes, super penthouse no

Food, during the actual event yes, some basics, dinners and more than basics no.

Again the real goal here is that you want everyone to attend, and at the very least not totally resent the company for making them go. Some people still will, and no matter what, it is a burden on your employees, so you shouldn't do team building every other weekend, but many companies have had great success with building teams using a annual company retreat.

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    "Inside 200 miles" - definitely a US perspective. There's no direction in which I could travel 200 miles without crossing a border, and to the south-east I might cross 4 different borders (!) That's no regular trip. – MSalters Aug 1 '16 at 15:23
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    Even in the US, 500 miles would be a day driving, which is a bit on the high side for a simple team building event. That said, there are enough companies who organize ski trips over even larger distances, but at that point we're clearly not talking about the penny-pinchers that would make employees pay. – MSalters Aug 1 '16 at 16:12
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    Travel expenses, inside 200 miles no, - definitely a US perspective; that's ~5 hours of UK adult minimum wage to buy that half a tank of petrol. (Assumptions: 30 mp(imperial)g), 200 miles -> 6.6 gallons of petrol -> 30 litres, at £1.12/litre = ~£34, and £7.20/hour UK adult minimum wage). – TessellatingHeckler Aug 1 '16 at 19:38
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    If the expectation is that it's a required event "any travel expenses" would be my recommendation, rather than a set mileage. After all, there's little more "Must-have" to attending an event than travelling to get there, and assuming people's transit capabilities is a dangerous game. Do they even have a car? In other words, if I were expected to go to an event 200 miles away without the necessary plane ticket, then it's not something I'd be attending. (Which buttresses your point that essential things need to be covered by the company if they want attendance) – David Ross Aug 1 '16 at 19:57
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    Just a differing U.S. perspective here. If my company asked me to drive 100-200 miles for a team event and provided me no compensation or alternative, I would tell them no. That is a ridiculous request and way too much of a burden on the employee. If they asked me to go 20 miles then fine, but beyond that I would expect for them to at the very least organize a carpooling system for getting there, and maybe even compensate the drivers in that system. – Kevin Wells Aug 1 '16 at 23:39
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People that put money into a company and get rewarded for it if it pays off are called "investors".

I like to go to extremes as it frequently puts things in sharp contrast. So,

Say the company was to make an announcement of a team building exercise, where the employees contribution was to be 2x a years salary, and if the event was sucessful and resulted in the expected improvements the company would increase the employees salary by 3x. The benefit to the company can be whatever you like...

How many would you expect to put up the money? If it's a startup and all of the employees are also owners, perhaps all of them, but for a typical business? None.

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    This hyperbole doesn't make any useful point as far as I can tell. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 31 '16 at 22:27
  • I get it... At least now I know that I'm not the only person to use ludicrous examples the drive home a point. – psaxton Aug 2 '16 at 2:32
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: so you don't like the extreme. How much do you think the employee should pay for the companies benefit? A days salary? A weeks? A month? A years? 3 years? 5? At what point does it become ridiculous that the employee is the one footing the bill? Why is 10x hyperbole? Small team, expensive trainer, the company obviously has no reason to spare any expense that might make things better... – jmoreno Aug 2 '16 at 10:08
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    @jmoreno: You are attempting to form a strawman argument. I never suggested that the employee should pay anything for the company's benefit, nor do I think that they should do so. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 2 '16 at 10:23
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    The employee is the company's benefit. All the work is normally considered their contribution to the company's well being. The salary they get is the company rewarding them for it. How much should an employee invest in a company? Maybe some money, it really depends on the situation, but in all cases they already do. They invest their time and their effort. It's how a company makes its profit. – VLAZ Aug 2 '16 at 12:33

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