Funsponges have always walked among us, of course. Mostly we can laugh at them, disregard them or circumvent them. But a recent court case suggests that they might be, well, probably not organising, but perhaps becoming more of a problem.
This report on a French unfair dismissal case seems to be getting pushed as a victory in employment rights terms. I’m… not so sure. The whole business of company cultures and work-related socialising is more complicated than you might think. For an employer to put on social events for staff is not unreasonable: office parties can be fun. I had a lovely afternoon belting round the treetops at an outdoor pursuits centre with workmates last year, for instance.. Problems often arise when employees are put under pressure to show up at such things. To be very clear: a ‘social’ event, outside work hours, that involves nothing an individual enjoys and which has no particular relevance to the job, should not be compulsory. If attendance is mandatory, then that’s unpaid overtime. A ‘teambuilding’ event, however grim, which takes place during your paid, contracted working hours is different: that is indisputably part of your job. That outdoor pursuits event was not particularly popular with some of my colleagues as some of them have mobility issues so there was absolutely no benefit to them in attending. (I went along because it was something I had fancied doing for ages and I was more than happy to do so when someone else was paying for it.)
So, yes, employees shouldn’t be compelled to spend their free time doing things that are not relevant to their work role and that they do not enjoy. However, there are some hints in the piece about the case that it wasn’t just that this employee didn’t want to have ‘fun’ with colleagues, but was also frequently critical of those who did. Having to work with noisy virtue-signallers who repeatedly express their disdain for your leisure preferences or lifestyle choices can be just as tiresome as working with people who nag you to ‘join in’ non-work social stuff.