'Legal right to be boring' | Worker sacked for refusing to take part in team building days

Worker sacked for refusing to take part in team building days

An employee has won a legal case against his former employer after being sacked for not taking part in his company’s team building activities, a victory being dubbed the 'legal right to be boring'...

Consulting firm Cubik Partners dismissed the worker for being “insufficient professionally”, mainly because he didn’t get involved during company outings, which consisted of partying and drinking, and outside of working hours.

Court papers from an employment hearing, which took place in France, found that the events involved “excessive alcoholism encouraged by colleagues who made available very large quantities of alcohol, and practices pushed by colleagues involving promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses".

The employee, identified only as Mr T in legal documents, claimed that he had a right to “refuse company policy based on incitement to partake in various excesses”.

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A letter from his employers cited “his disagreement with the management methods of the company and the criticism of their decisions”.

Cubik Partners also claimed that he was a poor listener and difficult to work alongside.

But the court ruled that Mr T “could not be blamed for his lack of integration in the fun environment”.

It was also said that the firm couldn't make him "forcibly participate in meet-ups and weekend drinks that frequently ended up in excessive alcohol intake, harassment by colleagues who made very large quantities of alcohol available."

It was ruled that Mr T had a legal right to refuse to take part in such activities, awarding him more than £2,500 compensation in the process.

Millions wasted on team-building every year

While the case above highlights a rare example of inappropriate team building, at some point in our careers, most of us have taken part in one of the classic workplace away day activities. Escape rooms. Obstacle courses. Raft building. You name it.

However, new research suggests that a whopping £100m per year is being wasted by UK firms when it comes to organising such away days.

According to a recent study conducted by Opinium, on behalf of one of the UK’s leading brand experience agencies, The Park, a huge amount of money that is being spent each year on company away days is ineffective and therefore fundamentally being wasted. Of the £200 million believed to be spent annually, over 50% isn’t working.

Away days are popular among UK businesses across multiple sectors and are seen as crucial for boosting morale, increasing retention and helping with staff development as well as aligning the workforce with the company values and vision.

They take a variety of formats with the basic premise being to take staff away from their day-to-day role to take part in different team building and social activities as well as presentations from senior members of the company.

The research uncovered a number of interesting statistics proving that currently there are a number of issues that need to be addressed in order to make them effective and therefore providing value for the huge investment.

The main issue is the disconnect between senior management within a business and those with no management responsibility, what we currently have is a “top-down” approach which isn’t working.

A sign of how ineffective “top-down” away days are can be seen by the responses to the question of what people look for in an away day. Alignment (8%), company strategy/goals (16%), and company values (17%) all score towards the bottom whereas the top answers are dominated by fun (40%), team bonding (39%), a chance to speak to colleagues (34%) and an escape from everyday work/stress (34%).

There is a correlation with seniority - 90% of CEOs think away days are important vs just 50% of those with no management responsibility. A further sign of away days currently being (incorrectly) top-down focussed.

There are clear gender differences with women being significantly more likely to be looking for fun (45% vs 31%), team bonding (48% vs 26%), connection with their team (36% vs 18%), and a chance to speak to colleagues (42% vs 23%).

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In a sign that away days need a renewed approach, the top answers for “what do you feel team/company away days are lacking?” were “something for everyone” and “a sense of purpose”

A sign of how times have changed in that just 9% look for alcohol at an away day (the thirstiest region is the North East with 15% looking for alcohol at their away days, and the thirstiest sector, possibly unsurprisingly, is media at 21% and tech at 22%).

Commenting on the research, Will Worsdell, The Park’s Global Strategy Director, said: "It's clear that away days and team gatherings are an important part of company culture and productivity, but currently they are being approached in the wrong way. There's a pressing need to focus less on top-down approaches, and more on areas such as creativity, collaboration and connection.

Toxic workplaces on the rise

Sadly, recent data from Instantprint shows that over 70% of workers believe that they’ve worked at a toxic company. And, it seems that toxic culture is far more prevalent in certain industries. Those in marketing, PR and advertising are statistically more likely to have such experiences; 88% of people surveyed in these sectors noted that they’d experienced it.

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Unsurprisingly, toxic culture can have a devastating impact on worker health and wellbeing. Data from APN Lodge ascertained that those experiencing such culture are 36.7% more likely to have anxiety, 32.5% more likely to have panic attacks and, 27% more likely to have depression.

And toxic culture doesn’t just negatively affect workers; more than half of those who took part in Instantprint’s survey noted that they would now quit a job if they sensed a toxic culture. Further research from MIT’s Sloan Management Review explained that toxic workplace culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to an employee quitting. Given the current talent crisis and the ‘Great Resignation’, the ramifications of extremely high turnover could be severe for HR and businesses.

What contributes to a toxic culture?

There are innumerable ways an organisation’s culture can turn toxic. However, research from Glassdoor, taken from 1.4million Glassdoor reviews of nearly 600 major companies, confirmed that employees describe toxic workplaces in five main ways: non-inclusive, disrespectful, unethical, cutthroat and abusive.

“Employees can have hundreds of different criticisms about their organisation that they discuss on Glassdoor,” Charlie Sull, a Researcher on the analysis, recently told CNBC. “Most won’t have a powerful emotive effect on their assessment of the organisation, but we’re looking at a small sample of topics that do have a large effect on a company’s Glassdoor rating. Those same factors can cost companies billions of pounds in employees quitting,” Sull added.

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