Estonia's ministries hosting summer retreats on weekdays

Someone working on a laptop while eating fried Baltic herring.
Someone working on a laptop while eating fried Baltic herring. Source: Renee Altrov/Brand Estonia

Most ministries planning to or that have already organized summer retreats for staff are doing so on weekdays, which is usually considered working time. Some are calling the events summer seminars, emphasizing that they're serving as development and team-building events.

Employees of Estonian ministries are expected to pay around €10-20 for participation, while the budgets of ministries' summer retreats range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of euros.

Representatives of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education and Research told ERR they are not planning summer retreats this year.

Gerly Mägi, PR adviser for the Ministry of Climate, said that the ministry held its summer seminar on July 29 (Thursday – ERR), immediately before it was officially established.

"The participants included former Ministry of the Environment employees and that part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications employees who moved to the new Ministry of Climate – for a total of around 300 people. The event, held in Viljandi, featured activities (sports, trivia etc.) that foster teamwork, allowing colleagues to get to know one another and try working together," she described. Mägi added that Minister of Climate Kristen Michal and Permanent Secretary Keit Kasemets told the participants about the new ministry's goals and vision. The ministry paid €39,600 for part of the summer seminar's costs, while employees had to come up with a €15 entry fee.

"We held the summer seminar during the workweek so as many people as possible could attend," the spokesperson said.

The Ministry of Finance's summer retreat was held on August 4-5 (Friday-Saturday – ERR) at Paunküla Wellness Center and involved sporting activities and spending time together. The summer retreat's budget was €10,600 (excluding VAT) and the participation fee was €15, the ministry's press representative Geili Heinmaa told ERR.

Asked to explain why the event started during a working day, Heinmaa had this to say: "The summer retreat kicked off in the afternoon and people could spend the first half of the day working. High-speed internet offered on location allowed people to fulfill urgent tasks, which opportunity was taken."

"The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) held its summer retreat on August 10 (Thursday – ERR) and paid €29,000 for it. MKM staff had to pay €20 to attend, while bringing a plus one cost €35," Paul Pihlak, press representative for the ministry, said. "As befits the Be Active Year, the MKM's summer retreat program was athletic and active. Teams competed in basketball free throws, precision football kicks, disc golf and running an obstacle course. There were other opportunities to stay active besides the competitions. After the sporting events, participants could take a sauna, with live music and a DJ crowning the evening."

Asked whether holding the event on a Thursday also affected the following workday (August 11), Pihlak said: "August 11 was an ordinary working day at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. The event started late enough (3 p.m.) for employees to finish their urgent tasks. People could also work during the event, which opportunity was taken."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture are set to celebrate summer days this week.

"The ministry's 2023 budget includes €25,000 for organizing a summer retreat. Even though the ministry's staff grew by one-third from July 1 following reorganization, we will be able to organize the event for this amount. The participation fee is €7 per person," said Marko Gorban, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture. The ministry's summer retreat will be held August 16-17 (Wednesday-Thursday – ERR).

"The event has special meaning this year as reorganization and a substantially larger team make it important to contribute to organizational culture, good relations and teamwork. The summer days program includes team exercises and activities that showcase the ministry and its administrative area. Because crisis readiness is an important strategic dimension for us, a part of the program will see the Defense League educate us on civil defense," Gorban said.

When asked why the ministry has decided to organize the event during working time, Gorban said: "Our people are used to working remotely ever since the coronavirus period. Attendance at the summer retreat does not mean work will go undone. It will simply be done at a different time. The event is aimed at meeting vital organizational goals as opposed to entertainment. The summer retreat program is flexible enough to allow people to perform urgent tasks."

Disc golf. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is hosting a joint summer retreat together with the Estonian Center for International Development (ESTDEV) this Thursday and Friday, August 17-18. Included in the summer seminar program are a time- and self-management seminar, employee-organized sports activities as well as trivia, said ministry spokesperson Anna Tisler-Lavrentjev.

"In all, around 180 people will be taking part, both from ministry headquarters and representations as well as from ESTDEV," Tisler-Lavrentjev said, noting that the event budget is €32,500, with the exact amount to be determined following the event.

"The summer seminar is taking place on working days as this is first and foremost training," she stressed.

The Ministry of Defense was most reluctant to provide info regarding its summer retreat plans, taking two days to do so and with ministry spokespeople declining to specify the planned dates for the event.

According to ERR's information, the Defense Ministry's summer retreat is likewise taking place on August 17-18, kicking off on Thursday afternoon and wrapping up by midday Friday.

"Team spirit and investing in people are crucial at the Ministry of Defense," a ministry spokesperson quoted permanent secretary Kusti Salm as saying. "We demand a lot from our people year-round. Therefore we consider it important to meet once a year in an informal environment, to strengthen that team spirit even further."

"The program of the Defense Ministry's summer outing includes various group activities and a musical interlude," ministry spokesperson Andra Nõlvak said. "Together with accommodations, catering and a performer, the budget is approximately €22,000. There is no registration fee for this event; it's the only major employee event of the year."

Justice, social affairs, culture ministry retreats later this month

Both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs will be hosting their respective summer retreats next week, with the Ministry of Culture to follow during the final week of August.

"The Ministry of Justice's summer retreat will be held in Lääne-Viru County on [Thursday and Friday] August 24-25," said ministry public relations adviser Elisabet Mast. "The budget for the summer retreat is €30,000, and that includes participants' transportation, rental of the vacation center, a band as well as outdoor activities. Those who want to enjoy the bar will have to pay for that themselves."

According to Mast, the justice ministry's summer retreat kicks off on Thursday night, following the end of the workday.

"Likewise there are a few more activities scheduled for before noon on Friday, and in the afternoon people will be returning to work," she explained. "All summer retreat attendees will nonetheless be reachable for urgent work-related matters, and no work tasks will be left undone because of this [event]."

"Motivating people is one of the most important jobs of an organization," Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) added in his written comment.

"The Ministry of Social Affairs' summer retreat is taking place on [Thursday and Friday] August 24-25 this year," said Taavi Audo, director of communications at the ministry. "The plan is to work on the ministry's development plan and conduct team-building activities. Approximately €5,000 will be spent on organizing the summer retreat; there will be no registration fee."

"The Ministry of Culture's summer seminar will take place at the end of August," said ministry communication adviser Liisa Johanna Lukk. "As part of a one-day field seminar, [participants] will be visiting Järva County's cultural institutions and culturally significant buildings, among them, for example, Kirna and Purdi manors, Koeru Church, the Wittenstein Time Center and the Paide Music and Theater House."

As every year, participants will be covering part of the costs themselves, she noted, adding that the fee for the ministry's summer seminar is €10.

Asked to specify when their summer seminar is scheduled to take place, Lukk acknowledged that it will be held on Tuesday, August 29.

"Yes, the summer seminar will take place on a workday, because this is an event promoting the expansion of professional knowledge," she explained.

HR chief: This is the current trend

Estonian Human Resource Management Association PARE CEO Kai Saard told ERR that hosting summer retreats on workdays is common these days.

"Based on personal experience, I'm seeing more and more companies hosting summer retreats within the workweek or starting on Fridays," Saard said. "Although there are also a few institutions still typically hosting them on weekends."

According to the HR association chief, hosting summer retreats during the workweek is connected to reconciling work and personal lives and finding a balance between them.

"Although summer retreats are mostly entertaining in nature, people nonetheless still want to keep their weekends for their families and personal lives," she explained. "That's why company management often schedules summer retreats during the workweek."


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Editor: Mait Ots, Marcus Turovski, Aili Vahtla

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