Forced Fun: Solving Staff Socials
We all have different attitudes towards social events at work. Some of us are more than happy to head to the pub with our deskmates after a particularly stressful Wednesday. Others see our job as just that, feeling no desire nor obligation to associate with our teammates outside of working hours.
This makes organising office social activities tricky, to say the least. It’s a classic case of trying to please everyone at once, which rarely goes to plan, even at the best of times. At the worst, you end up like Cubik Partners, the French firm who fired someone in 2015 citing “professional incompetence”. Under the jargon, this essentially meant that the man wasn’t participating in the business’ social culture. The fired employee has won his case against Cubik Partners, saying that he was exercising his “freedom of expression” by refusing to attend after-work seminars and drinks.
It’s easy to dismiss him as a contrarian curmudgeon. According to the court, however, Cubik’s social culture consisted of “excessive alcoholism” as well as “promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses.” To some, it sounds like a dream. But, you can see why someone who may be a little more introverted would shy away from these activities.
Granted, this is somewhat of an extreme case. But, it’s got people talking about work socials and how obligated we really are to attend them. It’s all very well making Friday drinks or a Christmas party ‘optional’, but some people may fear they’ll be seen as ‘boring’ or not a committed member of the team if they opt out. Sure, there’s a hiring element here – you should communicate your culture effectively to people in job interviews. That way, you can both decide whether or not they’ll fit. However, if you only hire a singular ‘type’ of person, you’ll wind up with a woefully homogenous workforce. You need diversity in thought and personality, as well as background, for a balanced team.
So, what’s the solution?
Inclusion Is More Than an Invite
The same way of working doesn’t fit everyone. In much the same way, people have a good time in different ways, too. Businesses are already finding that treating their staff as humans with varying requirements and preferences in their approach to work is having a sizable effect on productivity. The same boost could be seen in wellbeing and morale if employers take this more flexible philosophy to fun.
Let’s say you’ve planned a great Christmas party for the business. You’ve booked out a huge venue and paid for an open bar. Venues are cheaper in the week, so you’ve gone for a Wednesday evening (it’s okay, you’ve let everyone know they can come in an hour late the next day!). You, of course, invite every single employee.
You’ve already risked excluding those who:
- Don’t celebrate Christmas
- Don’t drink
- Have childcare/life commitments outside work hours
- Live far away, making it impossible to go home late at night
- Have neurodiverse traits that make loud or crowded places uncomfortable
The issue isn’t that the people in these groups can’t attend the party – they don’t have to drink, they could stay with a work friend who lives nearby, they could get a babysitter. The problem here is that people in those groups will feel that the event isn’t for them.
This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw that party. But you should ask yourself: do all your social events look like this? Do members of those groups have any alternative opportunities to hang out with their colleagues?
Imagine it this way: every time your boss throws a social event, he takes the team rock climbing. You have a paralysing fear of heights. Sure, you can spend the time moving horizontally along the climbing wall, and you can still chat to your mates between climbs, but… it’s not the same.
Taking the time to design a varied social calendar can do wonders for your team’s sense of belonging. You can’t please everyone with a single party, but you can cover your bases throughout the year.
What if you had a coffee morning from 09:00 to 10:00 on the first Friday of every month? An hour where people can chill out, chat to each other, perhaps play a board game or two. While this might not seem as fun as the Christmas party – and to many, it won’t be – it is far more inclusive of those within the groups listed above. If they regularly had this chance to chat with their teammates, perhaps it would help them feel less left out when the Christmas party rolls around.
Of course, Wednesday night parties and Friday morning board games are brilliant when your team is all in one place. We, however, are living in the 2020’s, meaning there’s a whole new side to the social conundrum…
Tech Barriers & Bridges
We all remember the heady days of early lockdown – barricaded in our bedrooms, bent over a laptop screen with a bottle of Bordeaux, trying desperately to think of quiz round ideas. It was the first experience many of us had of trying to socialise entirely virtually.
Now that we’re allowed out of the house, our social plans don’t have to be conducted via an internet connection. But, the pandemic didn’t leave our work unchanged, and lots of us have team members that live too far away for a cheeky pub visit on a Friday night.
Helping remote team members feel like they belong is a challenge – especially when most of your team works in the office full- or part-time. Covering travel costs for the occasional get-together is wonderful, but it’s not always feasible for smaller businesses. So, what can be done?
There are always the options of casual video calls and catch-ups, or informal WhatsApp groups where people can share memes and personal updates. But, these solutions often fall short.
As tech presents the problem, it can also offer a solution. There are plenty of platforms out there that can boost belonging amongst your team. Some apps match up team members with similar interests, allowing them to form friendships that may otherwise have slipped them by. Others gamify everyday processes, encouraging a little healthy competition.
All of this can help your staff feel that, even if they’re not in the same place, they’re still part of the same group.
Inclusion is a tough task not to be taken lightly. It requires you to be mindful of each team member’s interests, preferences and personal circumstances. Less about establishing one general norm, a great social culture is built from a range of smaller sub-cultures that employees can slide in and out of as they see fit.
And if some, like the man fired from Cubik Partners, choose not to participate socially at all, there has to be room for them, too!
To find out how tech can help you solve your social problems, make sure you attend HR Technologies UK, where we’ll be hosting a super selection of businesses with tech solutions in employee engagement, retention & wellbeing. Register for your free ticket today and we’ll see you on the 3rd and 4th of May!