Staff social clubs can aid performance

Rachel Gordon turns her attention to subsidised social clubs, which while a little outmoded can be made to pay their way, as organisations seek to bring staff together

If you read nothing else, read this …

Organised social and sporting events can improve performance.

Management and HR buy-in is important, both for funding and organisation.

Allowing staff to have a say in selecting activities should increase take up.

Article in full

For most employees, socialising at work means a drink in the pub. But, for others, it could be a game of squash or going off on a coach with colleagues to the theatre. Subsidised social clubs can be a fantastic way of bringing employees together – but have they become outdated?

Gary Hall, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says: "There are not as many around. They can be costly and organisations see targeted away-days as more useful. It’s about bringing the right people together – you’re less likely to achieve that with a social club."

Certainly, the works social club does have an old-fashioned ring to it. Employees may now be able to afford gym membership and won’t necessarily want to go on trips with colleagues.

But, John Lewis is proud of the diverse range of activities it offers employees, known as partners. Social events manager Jon White says: "We have numerous clubs and societies, financially supported by the Partnership. Each branch can organise events such as quizzes, go-karting, parties and trips abroad. Partners can also join, or set up, clubs such as football, drama, wine-tasting, netball, golf, fishing, surfing and sailing."

He explains the Partnership has always acted on the principle there is "more to a job than work and pay. Clubs and societies help develop staff as people. Apart from networking, it’s amazing to see the impact on an individual’s confidence as they achieve goals". Charles Cotton, reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says: "Paternalism has become almost a dirty word, perhaps unfairly. Employers say it’s now about having an adult relationship with employees."

This, of course, is also cheaper. Managing cost is not always easy. Friends Provident has a country club-type social club at its Dorking office. Mike Hampton, director of business services, says: "We have four main sites throughout the UK and Dorking is definitely envied."

There is a charge, but it’s heavily subsidised. Facilities include grass and hard courts, while individual departments also use the facilities for team building "It’s a Knockout" tournaments and barbecues. "It’s popular and great for networking, not least round the bar," says Hampton.

But costs must be justified and there is an increasing emphasis on making facilities self sufficient. "We’re hiring them out for weddings and social events," he adds.

Whistle manufacturer Acme Whistles, meanwhile, is based in a run-down part of Birmingham. Simon Topman, managing director, believes passionately in employing local staff from representative backgrounds. "You get employers round here who only employ people from the same racial background – it’s not right," he explains.

Consequently, the workforce includes a mix of Afro Caribbean, white and Asian staff including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. In the past, racial and other tensions have erupted, so Topman felt a solution could lie in social activities. "Back in 2001, we asked our local rep theatre to help, and of our 62 employees, over 40 agreed to put on their own play."

This involved "team work and lots of laughs". The Bollywood-style drama was a hit and others followed. Staff regularly visit local attractions from museums to Balti houses. He adds that some female staff who were anxious about socialising without their men folk now feel more confident.

"Employees often take time off on a Friday for drama or other activities, but productivity is unaffected. We now have an atmosphere which is supportive. People want to work here, which keeps recruitment costs down."