Team spirit | Hot coal walks, slapping co-workers & more disastrous team-building events

Hot coal walks, slapping co-workers & more disastrous team-building events

Team building events have been an integral part of strengthening employee bonds for decades. 

And after two years of COVID-19 restrictions, many firms have spent 2022 thinking of unique and exciting ways to reunite their employees and re-establish the workplace connections that might have been diluted, or lost entirely, to remote and hybrid working.

However, some recent incidents might have HR thinking twice about what sort of activities to organise for their staff.

Hot coal walking

Earlier this week, reports emerged of a team-building event in Switzerland which ended in disaster after 25 people were injured following a hot coal walk – 13 of them suffered such severe burns that they were hospitalised. As first reported by Swiss news outlet Blick, the event was hosted by Zurich-based marketing agency Goldbach, and around 150 employees attended. Emergency services had to be called after several members of the of the group reported feeling considerable pain in their feet a short time after walking on the coals.

"Boys’ night out" leads to £1m fine

In March 2022, an insurance firm was fined a record £1million after an investigation found some of its male managers led an annual “boys’ night out” rife with heavy drinking, initiation games and sexual remarks about female staff.

Atrium Underwriters admitted charges relating to bullying and misconduct during annual "boys' nights out". Some of the behaviour was led, participated in and condoned by two senior leaders, according to the report conducted by Lloyd’s of London.

According to the investigation, Atrium had allowed an ‘annual boys' night’ out over a number of years. Incidents on these nights out would involve male members of staff, two of which were reportedly senior executives, taking part in unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, Lloyds found.

These incidents reportedly included initiation games, heavy drinking and making inappropriate and sexualised comments about female colleagues.

These comments were found to be discriminatory and harassing to female members of staff.

Behaviour by one male staff member - called Employee A in the document - "included a systematic campaign of bullying against a junior employee over a number of years", Lloyd's found.

Atrium accepted the Lloyds ruling and issued an apology, also vowing to ensure these incidents don't reoccur.

‘Build team spirit’... by slapping your workmates?

In 2017, in what might just be the most absurd 'team building' ritual ever, to celebrate its anniversary, a Chinese firm forced employees to slap each other.

In footage picked up by local media, female workers of a cosmetic company, based in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, were seen kneeling on a stage in pairs, repeatedly slapping each other.

The company told local media that the slapping was aimed at building team spirit, to celebrate its 14th anniversary.

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Mr Luo, a spokesperson from the company, told a reporter that it was “nothing special, but a test for the employees.

"They were not simply slapping faces, it was a routine other companies are using as well. This is to build team spirit.”

According to the footage, the company alleged that the slapping aimed to cultivate the so-called 'wolf spirit' in their employees – The Daily Mail reported at the time.

UK workers crying out for more team building events

Of course, such disastrous team building events are far from common, and should only act as a cautionary tale.

But a 2021 survey that that the majority of UK workers (82%) want their workplace to provide more frequent team-building events, a new survey has revealed.

The Lunch Break Bonding survey, conducted by Just Eat for Business, delves into office workers’ perception of social lunch breaks, scheduled meetings and team building events, and is paired with expert commentary on the importance of positive office relations at work.

The results were collated from over 200 UK-based organisations, and were segmented by role (executive, management, CEO), region, and business size.

The survey reveals that - after two years of sporadically working in the office and remotely, for many organisations - workers are desperate to reunite with their team, as 75% say they would enjoy their workplace more with more regularly-scheduled team building events.

It seems that those in larger organisations are particularly keen to get to know colleagues better, as those in organisations of 300+ accounted for the highest proportion (93%) of those who’d be happier with more frequent socialising opportunities.

And as it seems most workers would enjoy their workplaces more with increased team social events, it makes sense that the most important outcome for the majority of workers (62%) is to create a friendlier work atmosphere.

When it comes to how workers like to socialise, the survey found team lunches were the favourite work perk (40%), followed by escape rooms (31%), team vs team competitions (31%), lunch & learns (26%), mixology classes (21%) and quiz or trivia nights (20%).

For most organisations, team building events are scheduled to take place once a week, with the ideal day and time to organise an activity coming out as Friday evenings.

Robin Dunbar, Psychologist at the University of Oxford, comments on the study, saying: “This whole process of creating a bonded community depends on engagement in various activities, one of which is eating together, and that just creates a sense of belonging.

“It has huge knock-on consequences for your health, physical health and mental well-being, by virtue of forming friendships. In addition, it fosters a sense of loyalty to the organisation.

“However, you can’t make people engage. The best thing you can do as an organisation is to provide the opportunity. If you have people in different canteens, no canteen at all, or people eat at their desk, then they’re never going to meet. Put simply, you have to provide the opportunity for organic meetings at lunchtime through organised events.”

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