Should we all be fun at work?

Guest post by Matthew Kay, partner and managing director of Vario at Pinsent Masons.

Kay: Fun looks different to all of us

A French court’s now-viral ruling recently held that you don’t have to be ‘fun’ at work.

The man, referred to as Mr T, refused to take part in after-work drinks and team-building activities and was dismissed as a result. The company, based in Paris, accused him of professional incompetence and he countered by alleging that it had a culture which involved “excessive alcoholism” and “promiscuity, bullying and incitement to various excesses”.

This decision shines a spotlight on post-pandemic work culture and could prompt some reflection on how law firms are putting the pressure on for employees to bond, get together and ‘have fun’.

Especially when many firms are still getting to grips with hybrid workforces, we are in the Christmas party season and, for lots of organisations, the first in-person festive parties for three years.

However, post-pandemic, many organisations have reported difficulty in getting attendees to take part in after-hours events – particularly as more and more people aren’t in the office five days a week and have altered homelife commitments to suit – picking up the kids from school, for example.

Firstly, is it worth it? Or is trying to introduce elements of fun at work just a zero-sum game which results in cynicism and minimal engagement?

Arguably, it’s the former. The concept of fun is important at work. Studies show that having fun at work increases productivity, creativity and engagement. A team which can have a laugh and relax together is bonded and more likely to work cohesively, deal with grievances productively and speak more honestly and openly.

However, it’s not controversial to say the concept of fun looks different to us all – a day on the golf course could be perceived as pure heaven or sheer hell. Some love an afternoon of competitive team-building activities and organised fun, others would love nothing more than sitting in the corner of a pub chatting to a few colleagues in an altogether quieter, more relaxed atmosphere.

In short, cultivating a fun atmosphere, particularly in a traditional profession such as law, can be difficult.

At the risk of sounding like a buzzkill, one of the first things to consider is how to accommodate everyone when planning your fun. Think about the different personalities in your team and come up with an activity which suits everyone – one which allows the extroverts to shine but doesn’t make the introverts feel super-uncomfortable.

Relax the atmosphere too – it’s meant to be fun, after all. Multiple emails and piling on the pressure to boost attendance doesn’t really set the right tone.

Asking staff what they want to do for their Christmas do may not sound radical, but it could be a great way to come up with an activity which suits all – or generate new ideas rather than the same-old drinks and canapes after-hours in the office.

As I say, think too about making it accessible – events in lunch hours or during work time could be a nicer way to boost engagement and accommodate those with caring responsibilities.

Remember also that splashing out on a fancy Christmas do with all the trimmings once a year is not a sticking plaster of fun for a toxic culture. It feels forced and fake.

Trying to inject elements of fun and positivity throughout the working week is a much nicer way to reap the benefits of a relaxed and bonded team and these elements of fun can be appropriate and in keeping with your firm’s personality and culture so they don’t feel false.

Finally, don’t abandon fun! Getting together with colleagues to celebrate the festive season, for example, is a time-honoured tradition which shouldn’t die off.

At Vario, we have a community of freelance lawyers and we certainly recognise the benefits of getting everyone together. We recently took our freelancers curling for their annual Christmas gathering. We received lots of feedback about how good it was to still have a Christmas do to attend, as this often gets left off for those who have chosen the freelance career path.

However, just be aware that people are much happier to, rightly, set boundaries and not add to the average 1,730 hours per year spent at work if they don’t have to or want to. Factoring that into any fun can make it more accessible for all.

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