Touching Hearts through Guts

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Regardless of the company, food is truly the universal language among its staff. That is why most companies host events like corporate lunches and dinner & dance gatherings that are usually eagerly anticipated by the employees and management alike. Such events, also known as “brown bag” events, allow employees at different levels of the company hierarchy to mingle with coworkers, and upper-level management to be more visible to the workforce.

“Food and drinks certainly do play a part in reinforcing bonds within the company, and a common sense of identity and solidarity,” says Arthur Tan (BBA 1992), founder of wine distributor Wine Tatler LLP.

To employers like Arthur, the benefits of organizing such events are apparent. Not only would morale be boosted as employees feel appreciated, but open interaction and networking between executives and employees can now be carried out in a non-intimidating environment.

Rising Expectations, Rising Budgets

“Companies no longer hold dinners at a run-down & stuffy traditional Chinese restaurants,” says Arthur, jokingly. According to him, companies are paying more attention to the ambience and quality of food whenever they organize employee gatherings.

“Being in the wines distribution business, I also realize that budgets have risen too. Gone were those days when event organizers would buy wines as an after-thought, at the lowest possible prices. Now, attention and adequate budget is set aside to buy the right kinds of wines to pair with the cuisines served,” he adds.

Arthur thinks that this change in attitude can be attributed to the trend of increasing job mobility in the past decade. In the past, employees tended to work for the same company for longer periods of time. These days, employees are easily enticed to move for various reasons such as greater challenge or job satisfaction, higher wages and better work environment. Thus, companies have to be more alert and proactive in making themselves attractive to potential employees and to retain existing staff. Apart from higher salaries, other perks such as work environment, staff welfare and corporate values and culture are equally important.

Notes Arthur, “Employees gatherings used to be the sole domain and privilege of big companies which could afford such luxuries. But corporate employee gatherings like the annual dinner & dance have now become a sort of must, to reward employees for a job well done. Even when there is a recession, companies try not to cut back on expenditures for ‘D&Ds’ as they are no longer treated as luxuries; they are, instead, seen as morale sustaining and boosting measures even in tough times.”

Referring to the organizational theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Arthur highlights that instilling a sense of belonging through such gatherings would also ensure that employees stay and remain productive.

Building and Bonding Teams

Companies are now even more consciously using such food-and-drink gatherings effectively as a tool for team building or bonding. Arthur’s brother and fellow NUS alumnus, Chairman and Managing Director of Food Empire Tan Wang Cheow (BAcc 1981), agrees. Says Wang Cheow, “Yes, we see this especially during our family day or during any festive season.” Like his brother, Wang Cheow is also a proponent of winning the hearts of employees through “brown bag” events as they help to strengthen the bonds between colleagues.

When endurance and physical challenges used to be the theme of team-building activities, companies are taking a step closer to their employees’ hearts with something which most people can relate to – cooking and baking. At such sessions, the process of food preparation is used as a vehicle to articulate team values and ideas.

“Team building used to be associated with physical activities,” recalls Arthur. “Baking or cooking sessions are an alternative and, possibly, a complement to the traditional ones as they focus on softer communication and coordination skills,” he adds.

Cheers to Casual Camaraderie

While companies do play a big part in integrating their staff, some employees can also initiate the creation of genuine camaraderie. There is a natural tendency for colleagues to form after-hours drinking “kakis” to indulge in their own “happy hours” at favourite pubs, thereby expanding their circle of friends. Some of these watering holes even hold promotions that facilitate such camaraderie, such as special discounts for staff of different industries on different nights of the week.

“Forging good working relationships is possible during working hours, but grows difficult due to the existence of office politics and formal reporting lines and hierarchy,” explains Arthur. “After office hours, people tend to let their guard down and socialize more freely, with less inhibition.”

Arthur believes that this employee-initiated camaraderie helps to strengthen rapport and bridge differences at the ground level. He adds: “If one looks at the Japanese culture of colleagues socializing after work, one would see why the Japanese are able to work as one and always at consensus.”

Arthur thinks that with the abundance of fragmented meeting places for dining and drinking to cater to all kinds of people and occasions, fostering deeper and personal relationships amongst colleagues is facilitated, and could prove to be valuable to companies driven by synergy.

He assures that the high sociability of the Japanese can be emulated, as it is an intrinsic skill found in most people. He says: “Human beings are social animals. People will always have that need to connect and interact, be it between family members, friends or colleagues.”

Judging from today’s trend, companies and leaders should not underestimate the power of a simple feast, be it just lunch or an extravagant do. Nourishing the body strengthens team spirit at work.

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