An employee has been awarded nearly half a million Euros after being sacked for not taking part in his company’s team building activities, in a legal victory that was dubbed the 'legal right to be boring'.
Consulting firm Cubik Partners had 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 in late 2022, 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”.
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 had previously 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."
Now, more than a year later in 2024, the Court of Appeal in Paris has compensated Mr T to the tune of €496,000 (£423,464).
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, 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 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%).
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.