As the business world is gradually returning to normal, rewarding employees with incentives is a priority for many companies. Research has shown that when kept happy, whether through recognition, free trips or experiential rewards, employees are more productive.
But rewarding employees can come with risk at times, and there can be huge financial risks when a company books an off-site work event at a theme park if things go wrong, such as employees breaking the rules.
Recently, I told you about friendly but clueless correctional officer “Rudy” not having enough common sense to realize that if administrators at the prison where he worked learned that he was in possession of an illegal drug, it could cost him his job. Yet, along with his wife and three children, he went to a theme park (though not as part of a company trip) and ended up banned from entering any of the company’s properties after it was discovered he had magic mushrooms in his pocket. (See the entire story at “Can a Private Business Ban Someone From Entering?”)
Getting the impression during our phone call that he was clueless rather than someone trying to get away with violating the park’s posted rules, I spoke with the head of security at the park, and we agreed that Rudy could write a letter of apology. Rudy wrote a beautiful, heartfelt letter, and a short time later, he sent me a family photo taken at the park.
Voices from Park Management and Visitors Who Were Banned
Following that article’s publication, a number of park personnel across the country and individuals who had been banned emailed me, suggesting a follow-up story on the things that can prevent you from ever visiting one of these theme parks again, in addition to what it can cost an employer renting a section of the park for employees and their families if things go very wrong. For obvious reasons, no one wanted to share their names, the names of the parks or their locations.
The range of venues that can be booked for a business event is incredibly varied and tempting, from dude ranches to chartered yachts to, yes, theme parks. Just type “theme park business retreats” in any search engine, and you’ll be impressed by the scope and quality of venues offered, many in your neck of the woods and at price points that are often in the vicinity of $2,500 to $5,000 — or much more per person — depending on where and for how long.
“It is possible to rent an entire venue for several hours or after it has shut its doors to the public for the day. You are talking about potentially several hundred thousand dollars in expense, and you want to be sure that your employees and family are aware of what could get them kicked off the premises and what your company would be charged for whatever that costs,” said “M.K.,” chief of security at an East Coast theme park. He added, “And you would be amazed at what some people do once they arrive.”
Suspension of Reality
With degrees in both criminal science and psychology and “experience working security on cruise ships,” he vividly described the “suspension of reality that affects far more people than our industry wants to publicize, but it is serious and can be dangerous.”
“For example, when was the last time you saw someone at a buffet restaurant push people out of a line so their intoxicated friends could get in? That’s what we have often seen, even among highly educated and well-placed business executives who drank too much. It is as if the normal rules of society don’t apply while the people are on the ship or in the theme park. Fights breaking out on warm summer days fueled by booze does the trick.”
What Can Bosses Do About Workers’ Unhealthy Eating at Work?
He went on, “We have seen children from very well-known families at retreats acting like the cast of Animal House engaging in a food fight. Others will walk right by signs that say, ‘Do not feed the animals! It is dangerous to their health,’ and give the poor critters junk food. Or they’ve tossed balloons inside their enclosure, which were ingested, resulting in emergency surgery! Guess who got the bill? And then handed it to the employee attending the event?”
Lack of Courtesy and Abuse
I heard from other employees at theme parks that host business groups. One delightful 23-year-old law student, who works part time at a large Florida theme park, told me, “I dress up as a variety of characters, and no matter what I wear, someone comes up and pulls at the clothing or punches me, thinking it is a big joke. Well, it isn’t, and this gets people tossed out of the park.”
No Selfie Sticks!
A med-tech who works at a theme park told me, “Mr. Beaver, you would be amazed at the number of guests who completely ignore the rules that many parks have about selfie sticks. As a med-tech, I have seen far too many cut faces and other injuries caused by people taking videos on rides where it was clearly posted, ‘No selfie sticks permitted.’ Honestly, over the years that I have worked at theme parks, there has been a general lessening of courtesy shown by so many visitors to each other and staff members that the fun of working here for many of us vanished long ago.”
Common Sense Advice for Event Planners
Companies can take a proactive approach to try to prevent costly employee misconduct at off-site work events. For example, they could remind employees that even though they’re having fun at a theme park or other venue, they’re still representing the company. Let them know that any behavior that’s unacceptable in the workplace would also be unacceptable at the event, including breaking the venue’s rules.
Some event planners don’t do enough to warn employees to behave, though, according to M.K., who said, “I have discussed many of the issues with event planners. While some actually provide lists of do’s and don’ts, in general I am disappointed by a failure to address these problems before hopping on a plane and coming to the event.”
I discussed his analysis with several of the people who read that story. They agree.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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