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Party on

We’ve been having a friendly debate around our office in recent days about whether work parties and other social events serve any real purpose. One side asserts that get-togethers—informal or organized—break down the walls we naturally erect around our own teams; if you do nothing else but use the time to chat with one person you see every day but normally ignore, it is time well spent. The other side worries, however, that while it’s nice to have fun with coworkers every once in a while, forgoing parties for workshops would be a more productive use of everyone’s time. And then there are those individuals who simply don’t like socializing, period (those grumps).

While reporting our story “The Wonderful Wizards of the Workplace” (Page 40), I had a conversation with Denise Clemens, SVP of People Resources for Corner Bakery Cafe. As we proceeded through my questions, covering the necessary topics of training programs, community intiatives and health insurance,  the one thing that showed up in every response was an unabashed view that celebrations are important.

Employees at Corner Bakery get their birthdays off, Christmas and summer parties are a big deal and anniversaries are recognized with cards and stickers. At the five-year point a worker also may receive a gift certificate; a 10-year anniversary is marked with an award and celebration. At 15 and 20 years of service, Clemens says, the company taps managers to come up with personalized gifts tailored to that person. “At 15 or 20 years, you should know something about them,” she says. Longtime employees at Corner Bakery have received big-screen TVs, iPads, Kindles and dinners out.

Joe Webb, vice president of operations, and other executives at Corner Bakery regularly give out up to a half dozen personalized awards a month to employees while on the road. For example, President Gary Price, a former Army ranger, issues his Ranger Award. Paul Hicks, vice president of training and operations (and former director of catering operations) bestows an award decorated with a catering truck. Clemens may grant her Passion Award to a worker who is singled out in a guest satisfaction survey. “That personal touch keeps people going,” she says.

The company does recognize that one size does not fit all, Clemens says. Whether it’s the methods they use to communicate internally, benefits options or training paths, “we provide an environment that gives people options and choices,” she says. Still, “not everyone likes to [take part]. So, some people will self-eject out.”

Perhaps that’s the best approach: Give people the option to join in the fun if they want to; if they don’t, they can opt out. Besides, that leaves more cake for everyone else.

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