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The right to be boring: Team building without legal repercussions

After being fired for not being ‘fun’ enough, an employee took the company in question to court and won. How can employers ensure their team building events are successful and, above all, don’t land them in legal hot water?

By Natasha Kearslake

With a court victory for an employee sacked for not joining in with team-building activities, is it time to ditch the ‘forced fun’ approach – and focus on making events more inclusive?

Employees of a certain generation will have spent most of their careers bonding with colleagues outside of office hours with copious amounts of alcohol. 

But one recent court case, dubbed the ‘legal right to be boring‘, could prove sobering for senior managers. 

An employee took consulting firm Cubik Partners to court after they sacked him for not getting involved in team building activities involving partying and drinking. A French court awarded the employee nearly 500,000 Euros.

While it’s an unusual case, it shows how the conversation around work-related socialising is changing. And why leaders need to adapt a fresh approach.

The conversation around work-related socialising is changing

The importance of team building

When done well, team bonding can foster collaboration and communication, boost morale and engagement and encourage creativity and innovation. It can also enhance employee retention and improve conflict resolution.

This results in more engaged employees who feel more valued, which in turn has a massive impact on your company culture, staff retainment and productivity.

Away days and team bonding events are generally popular. But most of us have attended one where we’ve felt uncomfortable or bored, and ended up watching the clock until we could politely leave.

Common mistakes to avoid

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is adopting a one-size-fits-all approach. Not recognising the diverse preferences and needs of employees can lead to disengagement. 

Events shouldn’t be dictated by what the bosses want to do (and therefore what they assume their employees want to do). 

Other mistakes include:

• An overemphasis on alcohol: Relying heavily on activities centred around drinking, or on party activities in general, can alienate non-drinkers and may not always be appropriate

• Not considering activity levels: Some people are fit and active while others aren’t. This can make it hard to find a balance that truly engages everyone

• Forced participation: Making people feel they have to take part can lead to resentment. It’s important to respect an employee’s right to opt-out and for them not to feel left out of the team overall if this is their choice

• Lack of clear objectives: Team gatherings without a clear purpose or benefit can be viewed as a waste of time by people taking part

Events shouldn’t be dictated by what the bosses want to do

How to get it right

No business wants to waste time or money on activities that aren’t going to achieve its goals. Or, worse, will make employees switch off because they don’t enjoy them or see the point of being there.

But with the right approach, team bonding can happen organically – and therefore more effectively, with the results lasting well beyond the company away day. In fact, it can be the best investment you make in your business.

Ways to win at team bonding

Make activities diverse and inclusive

Offer a variety of activities to cater to different interests and abilities, and aim to include everyone. Encourage team members to embrace more and judge less.

Involve employees in decisions

Give people a say in what you do. By offering a  choice, people are more likely to get on board with the less desirable parts too.

Embrace wellbeing

Include activities that promote mental and physical health like mindfulness sessions or outdoor events. Think about outcomes you’d like to achieve. What difference will it make to the people, the team, and the project?

With the right approach, team bonding can happen organically

Volunteering opportunities

Getting involved in community projects can have a big impact on morale and motivation. Let employees vote on which local charities they’d like to support so they’re really invested.

Keep building on it

All that good work shouldn’t come to an end when the day or event finishes. Create a culture where regular, informal communication is encouraged with frequent check-ins. 

Focus on properly building relationships and helping your team members to take responsibility for healthy relationships at work. Leaders need to learn to facilitate – and that means getting out of the way so teams can align and work well together.

Recognition and rewards are also important. Acknowledge team achievements in bonding activities to foster a sense of accomplishment and belonging.

And implement a system to gather feedback on team bonding activities so that you’re able to continually improve and adapt to your employees’ needs.

Implement a system to gather feedback on team bonding activities

Part of the bigger picture

Regular team bonding activities can enhance job satisfaction, reduce stress and increase employee engagement and loyalty. It isn’t just about throwing money at a one-off away day or event. 

Successful events require a thoughtful, inclusive approach which recognises the diverse needs and preferences of employees, aligns with company culture, and contributes positively to the overall work environment.

If you enjoyed this, read: Upcoming employment law changes: Your need-to-know guide

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