At GXS, bonding over ’80s hair bands

October 13, 2013

Company: GXS

Location: Gaithersburg

Employees: 332 locally; 3,000 worldwide

Since business services company GXS was spun off from General Electric in 2002, it has been trying to shift away from what vice president of global marketing Steve Keifer calls “the blue-suit, very formal corporate culture” of its former parent company.

So the Gaithersburg-based company has designed workplace events and practices that take a cue from Silicon Valley: more casual and more social.

One of the more popular events the company has cooked up so far is a monthly Hair Band Happy Hour, in which staffers dress up in ’80s gear — think poofy wigs, ripped jeans and tank tops — to square off against each other in the video game Rock Band.

It started as a standard happy hour with snacks and drinks, but on one occasion an IT staffer decided to shake things up by bringing his karaoke machine.

“We had alcohol, but that wasn’t enough to get people really involved,” joked Bart Mease, an account executive.

So they decided for future gatherings to switch to Rock Band, which still allowed for singing, but let others join in even if they didn’t love the limelight. Soon after, for a happy hour near Halloween, some staffers came dressed as members of ’80s bands Def Leppard, White Snake and Guns N’ Roses. The tradition has stuck, with employees all the way up to the chief executive regularly arriving in costume.

Mease said he’s not shy about belting out tunes in front of his co-workers. (Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” has been a particular favorite.)

“I go way over the top,” Mease said. “They can hear me on other floors.”

That relaxed environment, he said, has been a great way to get to know his colleagues better.

Keifer said typically about 75 percent of the staff shows up for Hair Band Happy Hour, a much higher participation rate than GXS sees for many types of social outings.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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