Office Party, Anyone?

I heard of a recent court case in France where an employee successfully sued his employer for wrongful dismissal. Apparently, the employee claimed he was let go because he refused to participate in his workplace’s after-hours (and presumably occasionally during-hours) social events. Guess what? He won, a ruling which might make businesses everywhere think twice before booking a venue for that laser tag party.  

Personally, it takes me a long time to feel comfortable around people I haven’t had children with. My timeline is about three years. After that, I MIGHT be willing to sit down and have a cup of coffee and a donut, but don’t bet on it. The term “socially awkward” hadn’t been invented yet when I was growing up, but if it had been, my picture would have been placed next to the definition in the dictionary. Obviously, I’ve never been a fan of office parties either.  

I’ve worked at places where there were many social events and I’ve worked at places where there were almost none. I’ve worked with people who love socializing with their office mates and I’ve worked with people who hide when they spot a coworker at the grocery store. (Tip: look for large cardboard advertising cutouts to crouch behind. They work best.)  

The article describing the French man’s fight for freedom from office parties further stated that women bear the brunt of office social activities more than their male counterparts, not exactly a surprising finding. In the office where I currently work, the men in our group have said that if the women leave, birthday cards, Christmas presents, and get-well greetings are going to leave with us.  

I can see how being expected to visit socially during your nine to five shift might feel a bit intrusive. After all, being social has never been a work requirement, unless you are employed by a cruise ship line. There’s also the thorny problem that just because you work in the same building with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you have anything to talk about even during an amount of time as brief as the elevator ride to the top floor.  

Then again, proponents of socializing more would say how do you know you don’t have more in common with others in the office if you don’t converse with them once in a while and not just about why they always forget to put paper in the copier? The workplace culture is all about inclusivity these days but it’s pretty hard to be inclusive without eye contact or conversations that go beyond “How’s it going?” and then not waiting for the response.   

After being in the work force lo these many years, I’ve come to realize social events can be a plus. It’s a good way to see each other as human beings instead of as competition for favored nation status with the Big Boss. It’s also nice to realize that your work pals can spill onion dip down their shirt fronts just as easily as you do as well as make social faux pas that can only help the rest of the team experience a nice warm glow.  

I guess what it boils down to is that some people will always love office parties and others will always avoid them like the plague. But no one should be forced or socially shamed if they opt out of laser tag because if they are, they might just file a lawsuit that will not only allow them to retire early but will additionally get them out of all office events in perpetuity.  

The added twist of teleworking makes planning an office party a whole lot harder now. If people don’t want to come into the office to work, I just can’t see them wanting to come in to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, unless green beer is being served by actual leprechauns.  

Now that’s an office party even I might show up for. 


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