Employee travel for training and staff development in off-site meetings or retreats often is the first casualty when government agencies and private businesses look for ways to cut expenses. So it's no surprise that a hullabaloo erupted this week when one of the suggestions for cutting Minnesota Department of Transportation expenses called for curtailing meetings at lakes area resorts.
Brainerd lakes area resorters, of course, take umbrage at such a suggestion. Loss of those state meetings wouldn't be helpful to the resorts' own budgets. And in the long run, they reason, state employees might be less productive.
There's several ways you can argue the issue. On the negative side, you can say they shouldn't meet at all. Memos R Us. Or they could use teleconferencing and never be forced to log any miles traveling to a gathering of fellow state agency workers. Or maybe a huddle around the boss' desk?
Among many tangible assets, one of the pluses for holding these meetings in the Brainerd area is the central location. The whole state, you know, doesn't revolve around St. Paul.
The folks at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake, where some of the state government employees have gathered for conferences, believe meetings far away from the office improve morale. The resort argues: "State employees need to know that they are important and are expected to participate and work toward procedures and processes to economize, improve and be more effective. Overnight meetings away encourage change. The extra bonus is overnight post-meetings reviewing meeting topics and networking while recreating, socializing and bonding, on their own time away from home and family.
"In contrast, imagine state employees staying late at the office, on their own time, reviewing the meeting topics. (Never happens.)"
Further, Cragun's argues that employees meeting in state offices fail to absorb and retain the whole message. ""Even with a serious effort to focus," say the Cragun's people, "the psychological distractions of routine and familiar surroundings combine with interruptions and competition from office and family. When a meeting at a state office ends at 4:30 p.m. participants punch out and drive home, thinking about the problems at home -- the yard, the kids and the spouse, quickly forgetting the meeting content. There's limited retention -- about 40 percent less, some studies show."
Of course, you didn't expect Cragun's or any of the other large resorts to ask the state agencies to keep their employees in St. Paul for staff meetings. But there's something to the argument that the retreats are beneficial.
It gives state workers a chance to see their counterparts in other parts of the state as real people, not just as bureaucrats on the other end of a computer or telephone.
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