Back in my university days, what seems like 100 years ago, I made the unwise decision to appoint myself as fun co-ordinator for my halls.
Fed up with days on end watching the Hollyoaks omnibus and playing Pro Evo, I decided we needed to get out more, bond as a group and better fill our time. It ended with my dismissal a week later when I berated them in a nightclub for sitting down. Gaz, Jonny, Jim: I can only apologise.
The point is you can’t force people to enjoy themselves, and if you run a law firm, you have to be careful that efforts to inject some fun into the office don’t backfire.
In the last couple of weeks we have reported on two such attempts that went painfully wrong and ended up in the employment tribunal.
One solicitor has an ongoing claim for disability discrimination after being told to attend an away day at a city farm, while another lost her claim for age discrimination after colleagues were too keen to celebrate and publicise her 50th birthday. Both cases were undoubtedly the result of well-meaning ideas to improve staff morale, but involved employees who didn’t want to take part.
On each occasion the workers should probably have been left to their own devices. It would be tempting for law firm bosses to read such stories and simply not bother doing anything.
The trouble is, doing nothing is not an option either. Workers need variety, stimulation and pleasure to go alongside the daily grind. For every person upset at their birthday being brought up, many more will appreciate the gesture. Some might shudder at the idea of mucking out a pigsty, but others enjoy the time away from the desk, the sense of purpose and the chance to give back to their community. The best firms I’ve come across don’t treat CSR as a chore but embrace it as a benefit to them and the organisations they visit.
The key must be to ensure staff know why they are being asked to do something, and be sentient to those who want to be left alone.
As I found to my cost at uni, forced fun doesn’t work. It needs to be organic, purposeful and ideally driven by those who will be most affected. If someone says no, that’s their prerogative. Don’t take them by surprise, but ask what their boundaries are. And if you really want to ensure someone enjoys their birthday, a day off would probably be more welcome than a card and balloon.