Of Beaches and other Summer Outings
By Carlos G. Naval, MD
A recurrent theme in elementary English essays at the beginning of the school year was "What I did during my Summer Vacation" deeply ingraining into our early formative years the need to do something out of the mundane and go somewhere exciting for the summer. This morphs into shorter summer outings in college when family groups are replaced by friends and classmates, further embedding the practice. After graduation and on to work, we don the more serious demeanor of earning our own money for ourselves and our own families. However, it seems that the summer outing "tradition" (and all other school vacations) are carried forward into our working life.
Filipino employees seem to be always looking forward at the beginning of the year for the summer outing, a time to take off from work in an organized manner you wish they displayed at work. As an employer, who might take off for a summer break himself, you wonder if the summer outing is an indispensable activity.
Purely from an analytical perspective, it doesn't make sense. Graduation promises not only a world of opportunity but also a time clock that runs 12 months a year. The one to two month break between school years should have vaporized from the subconscious, never resurfacing except as ethereal memories of happier times. But for many, maturity does not sever that tether to summer outings. It is justified through various schemes and themes such as a Holy Week break, a recharging of batteries, and an "it's too hot to work in Manila" time. For employers, it is an expense either directly as a company-sponsored event or indirectly as a "closure" of business for a few days.
So should we get rid of it? Should we impose a strict work policy that forbids outings and similar activities? From a completely logical standpoint, we should.
But really should we? Maybe we shouldn't; because we are not just robotic, rational beings. We also have our emotional side, a part of us that is larger and often times stronger that the analytical side.
Over the years, I have seen how vacations, no matter how short, can recharge a work-weary group, mustering them into a cohesive force ready to deal with the challenges of the days and weeks to come. On the other hand, vacations can be tiring too. They can sap the energy from an employee as he confronts the first day of his return to reality. Faced with the demands of work, one can quickly fall into a reverie of the past vacation and work perfunctorily, trudging along, until the next break.
As a manager of people, over the years, I have come out with a compromise - a directed break from work in a controlled atmosphere that is relaxing yet not completely without responsibility. This activity can take the form of a team building exercise or a strategic review and planning session. On the face of it, it might look like a justification to use company funds. Beyond the surface, nothing bonds the employees better to each other and to the company than a moment of fun. It makes the employees associate the company with not merely an atmosphere of serious labor but also a humane side concerned with overall employee well being. The employer-employee relationship is not a one way street where the management only extracts as much work as it can from each hire, but, also gives back to sustain employee motivation and morale.
In short, a summer break or outing should probably be endorsed by the company. However, to be maximally useful, it must be controlled so that it doesn't degenerate into the hedonistic bacchanalia of youth. It can be structured like a planning seminar or merely contained in a series of simple fun activities punctuated with hours of relaxation or "alone" time. Whatever you decide, remember that harmony at work is not based on stringent rules and procedures. Of course that is the foundation, the supporting skeleton, but the cohesive force that moves an organization is brought about by the bonds of trust and friendship among employees and between them and management, something that can only be forged experientially by having fun together. So, as a manager, plan for the summer outing, help it along, or take part in it. It makes for a better workforce.
Good luck and enjoy your summer vacation!