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Why Your Company Needs a Company Picnic

The American workplace's favorite summer pastime was in danger just a few years ago. At the height of the recession, businesses across the country were tightening purse strings, and the first employee benefit on the chopping block was the company picnic.

In 2007, a report from the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) showed that 64 percent of companies hosted a company picnic. That figure dropped by nearly 10 percent according to a subsequent 2011 study.

An even more pernicious issue, many companies were still hosting picnics but making big cuts to the benefits that were ordinarily included. Events became staff-only instead of family-friendly, venues were changed from sprawling parks to places on-site, and many businesses opted for workday events rather than weekend gatherings.

For all intents and purposes, the company picnic was turning into a frugal office luncheon as companies were feeling the pinch. The pastime was losing its luster, and instead of being motivated with a fun bonding experience, employees were being reminded of dire financial straits while attending dirt cheap substitutes. But there's good news.

As the effects of the recession fade and organizations regain their once-stable financial standing, the company picnic has become one of the first workplace perks executives are reinvesting in. The latest SHRM employee benefits research report showed that 60 percent of companies are hosting company picnics again, and the trend is on its slow ascent back to full strength.

But why are picnics considered so important from a business standpoint? Why is it that companies spend money on seemingly frivolous expenses like face painting booths, catering companies and even bounce houses as soon as the coffers are refilled?

Your company picnic accomplishes a number of incredibly beneficial duties over just one day. The money invested isn't wasted on trinkets, booths and refreshments as much as it is invested in company productivity. The event can have a direct and immediate effect on your bottom line. Here's how.

State Your Mission Statement

Nearly every business has a mission statement that expresses an appreciation and commitment to the satisfaction of the workforce. However, some employees and some executives lose sight of this goal in the monotony of day-to-day work. Employee happiness is often traded for the happiness of clients, and the business begins to forget one of its most important tenets: Worker contentment is worth striving for.

The company picnic is the perfect remedy for this tunnel vision. Company resources go directly to making employees happy. That fact won't be lost on them. Most employees feel gratitude toward a workplace that puts effort into delighting the staff, and you might be surprised how easily those feelings of gratitude turn into improved loyalty, motivation and hard work.

The Case for Comapny Picnics

Much like company recreational sports leagues and holiday parties, the picnic is a time for coworkers to mingle with members of departments they don't normally see. Your sales team might play volleyball with workers from HR, your IT workers might bond with account managers over horseshoes. Breaking those barriers does a lot of good. Your workers are meant to feel like a part of one big organizational team. This may be the first time they see the forest through the trees.

There's a humanizing element to the event as well. From 9:00 to 5:00 managers are managers, workers are workers and that's as far as the relationship goes. At the company picnic, those managers and employees turn into family men and women enjoying lemonade and shooting the breeze. Those human exchanges build coworker camaraderie, and those relationships pay dividends when it comes to coordinating company projects, collaborating about business opportunities and more.

The bottom line: company picnics can benefit morale, working relationships, loyalty and the company at large.

The next question is, how do you concoct the best event for your organization?

Family & Interdepartmental Bonding

Picnics, like any other company event, have a lot of moving parts. The little details can make a big difference. Before tackling this list, consider building a party planning committee for support and to delegate tasks. This could be a one-man job if you work with enough discipline and care, but it doesn't hurt to have some backup.

How to throw a company picnic

1. Build a Budget

Ultimately, the budget decides all the other factors related to the event. Where you book, whether you cater, who you can invite it all depends on how much money is available, so you'll want to find a hard figure to work with.

Once you have that number, you'll be able to pick and choose details based on how important they are to you. Keep a few things in mind.

Allowing guests (such as friends and family) can double or triple attendance and thus the resources you need for catering and the like.

Booking venues usually come with a price tag even if the space is a public park. Entertainment and company gifts play a very important role, so don't break the bank with those first two concerns. A water bottle, bag or keychain carrying your company logo will serve as a reminder of the fun day that was had and tie in the importance of the company to the event.

2. Select a Date

You'll want to select a range of days the picnic could occur, as poor weather could mean some scheduling changes. Moreover, the venue you book may only have some particular times available. Select a range of acceptable days. Keep the special day away from pressing business events like quarterly reviews and client meetings. At the same time, you may consider avoiding booking the event on holiday long weekends, as coworkers may be scheduling vacations.

3. Research and Book a Venue

Once you have your range of dates, it's time to look for locations. Keep in mind that the spot should be close enough for your workers to commute to easily. Consider how much space you'll need as well. This should be based on the number of attendees and the activities. Volleyball, softball, booths, seating - they all require additional space.

Then, you need to ensure the venue is available on one of the days you've planned upon. To reduce weather risks, you'll want to request to reserve the space on at least two days if possible.

4. Plan for Catering and Entertainment

Smaller companies may get away with a picnic potluck and some barbecue foods, but larger gatherings with family and friends will likely require catering. For either option, make sure the menu is inclusive. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options should be available as well as a few kid-friendly treats.

Speaking of which, young attendees will influence entertainment, too. Face painting is a favorite at company picnics, as are water balloons, bounce houses, flying discs and other toys. You may even consider hiring entertainment, such as carnival stand operators, magicians and the like.

Under any circumstance, it's best to organize a schedule for the day. This will ensure that entertainment doesn't overlap with catering, booths know when to operate and the event will be less chaotic and easier to manage.

5. Set Some Ground Rules

Finally, keep in mind that this is a work function. While HR concerns shouldn't be a factor, it's best to be safe sooner rather than sorry later.

Set some ground rules a few days before the picnic if you have any worries. Briefly talk about appropriate attire, whether alcoholic drinks will be provided or prohibited and the general professional and social atmosphere. End the discussion with a fun call to action and express some excitement. Then, kick back and wait for the big day.

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