Maybe you've worked in an office where the vibe is something like this:
"We work hard, but we play hard, too!"
"It might be 3 p.m. here, but it's 5 o'clock somewhere!"
"Would the person who ordered the singing telegram and the keg of beer please come to the front desk?!!"
No lie; there were times when working someplace like that was close to half the fun for me.
But then, I grew a bit older, and I had a family and a life that involved things besides work, and I was a little less into the "mandatory fun," a little less psyched to be a part of the party at the office.
A French worker known in court documents only as "Monsieur T" had the same issue, or at least a similar one. The fact that he wasn't considered "fun" was a mark against him.
In 2015, the consulting firm he worked for fired him for "professional incompetence," which mainly meant he refused to be involved in the culture of "excessive alcoholism," "promiscuity," and "fun."
That wasn't allowed under French law, the court said. An employee had the right to be fun, or not fun, or even a bit aloof (even as his work colleagues socialized), because he was entitled to "freedom of expression" while at work.
We should point out three key things.
First, this French firm had a funny sense of fun. Among the activities Monsieur T was pressured to join in, according to the court case, were "humiliating and intrusive practices" that included "mock sexual acts."
During at least one weekend seminar, he was also required to share not just a room but a bed with another employee, and the court also pointed to "the use of nicknames to designate people and the posting of distorted and made up photos in offices."
(The court opinion is in French, so the translation above comes from Google, but you get the idea.)
Second, as The Washington Post reported, this isn't exactly a rare situation:
"An auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in England sued the company over severe injuries he sustained at a work event that 'made a competitive virtue' of 'excessive' drinking."
Also, "insurance marketplace Lloyd's of London fined member firm Atrium Underwriters a record one million pounds (about $1.2 million) for 'serious failures,' including a 'boys' night out' where employees ... 'took part in inappropriate initiation games and heavy drinking, and made sexual comments about female colleagues.'"
But third, this whole notion of being protected in employment and the right to "freedom of expression" at work? Is that something you need to be careful about as an employer?
Well, in fact, it's a very European idea. The court cited European law like the European Convention on Human Rights, which doesn't exist here in the United States.
"There's no freedom of expression in the American workplace," attorney Susan Crumiller, a workplace discrimination lawyer, told Axios when it reported on this case.
So, where does it leave us, especially here in the United States?
I think it leaves us once again with the realization that the only reliable tool that any great leader truly has is the ability to create culture.
It's tricky, and it requires leadership with vision, courage, and values.
Fun can be part of it, but respect needs to be a bigger part: respect both for co-workers and for your venture's goals. Otherwise, there's a point at which mandatory fun becomes no fun at all.
7 other things worth knowing today
Bloomberg's Charlie Wells asked financial advisors for advice on behalf of people who are concerned they might get laid off. Here's what they had to say. (Bloomberg)
Young people in France will be able to get condoms free of charge from next year in an effort to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), President Emmanuel Macron announced last week. Health authorities estimate that the rate of STDs increased by about 30% in 2020 and 2021 in France. (Reuters)
Based on a study of 10 million auto insurance quotes, Utah has the worst drivers in the nation. Connecticut has the best. (QuoteWizard)
No interview required: Some employers racing to snap up workers in the tight labor market are omitting a step once considered crucial to hiring: the job interview. Among them: UPS, Home Depot, The Gap. Many of the positions are hourly and in sectors with elevated rates of turnover, such as warehousing and retail. (WSJ)
Odd detail of war: Russian snipers trying to kill Ukrainian fighters as they drive converted military trucks are reportedly being thwarted by the fact that the vehicles are from the UK, so the driver sits on the right side, but the Russians keep shooting at the left. (Business Insider)
For nearly 100 years, drivers have been listening to AM radio, an American institution crackling with news, traffic, weather, sports and an eclectic variety of other programs. But that dashboard staple could be going the way of manual-crank windows and car ashtrays as electric vehicles begin to grab more of the U.S. marketplace. (NYT)
Airlines are lobbying for a change to federal regulations that could put one pilot in the cockpit. (CBS News)
Thanks for reading. Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash. I wrote about some of this before at Inc.com. See you in the comments.
Workplace culture. I worked in a firm once that gave out booze instead of a Christmas bonus. Not good for folks in addiction programs. I gave the bottle back and they were offended. Really? The employees preferred cash.
But the worst, ongoing workplace culture problem that I see as chronic is the lack of respect for those who are not white males. And that is the majority of workers. I see pay discrimination, talking down to people of color, put downs of LGBTQ. It seems more obvious in the workplace because it’s a
microcosm of of our culture in general.
No interviews. A postal worker recently delivered a package to my back porch door that said in 8 inch lettering “No deliveries, use front porch”. Evidently, she didn’t read English.