For many white-collar workers, the annual company retreat was once a time-honored tradition, designed to bolster employee bonding and productivity while giving staffers the opportunity to blow off steam.
In recent years, however, the corporate retreat has gained an increasingly bad reputation. Staffers at a Swiss ad agency became the latest victims of a company outing gone awry, when more than two dozen attendees were hurt walking barefoot over hot coals during a team-building exercise.
A total of 13 of the Swiss staffers were hospitalized Tuesday after the hot-coal incident, which drew 10 ambulances and two emergency medical teams to the scene, according to local reports.
While the activity, also called fire walking, has long been a spiritual practice worldwide, it also is now a popular challenge for the corporate set one that often renders results similar to those at the Swiss outing.
According to The New York Times, life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins features a fire walk at his annual seminars, which prompted injuries and hospitalizations in 2012 and 2016. And in 2001, several Burger King employees were similarly hurt walking over hot coals during a retreat.
And it’s not just the third-degree burns raising eyebrows. Before the pandemic, buzzy startups became known for their exclusive, lavish summer outings, often held at lush venues or beachside towns like the Hamptons. These events like Camp Glossier and Camp Rent The Runway were often documented on social channels, where followers would watch wistfully and live vicariously from home.
Such retreats have since taken on a new level of scrutiny, especially after reports of wild behavior and hefty spending at events like WeWork Summer Camp – even while the company hemorrhaged money behind the scenes unbeknownst to investors.
“We’re talking people having sex in the bushes, people openly popping pills, railing lines [of drugs] in the middle of crowds while watching Bastille perform,” an employee requesting anonymitytold Business Insider’s Julie Bort and Meghan Morris in 2019. “You could hear people audibly having sex in their tents all day and night. People peeing all over the place, and pulling down their pants and defecating in between the tents because they are so drunk they can’t even make it to the bathroom.”
Many companies had to rethink their strategies around corporate retreats in the face of the pandemic, which temporarily halted annual outings. And with many staffers now dispersed and working remotely around the globe, this adds another layer of difficulty in structuring a retreat.
Still, new studies show that workers are more productive and creative in real-world settings as compared to virtual, Zoom work environments, which means the corporate retreat – or iterations of it – is likely here to stay.