Episode 413: “Forced” Workplace Fun

Events outside of work are super common, and sometimes even encouraged. Hosting your employees for after-work drinks or holiday parties to show appreciation is nice. However, are you inviting employees to these in the right way? A post on Reddit went viral where an employee felt pressured to go to the events that took place outside of working hours as if their position in the company would be in jeopardy if they didn’t attend. Remember, if it feels required, then it is required. Listen to Paul Edwards and Ally Dagnino unpack this situation in this week’s episode.

Transcript

Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

 

Ally: Yes, I’ll start with a brief introduction. So I’m Ally. I work on the compliance team. And so a lot of that, aside from researching laws and getting policies and updates out to our members, also involves checking in on what are common topics that our members are talking about. And a lot of that involves kind of monitoring the queue, seeing what people are talking about. I do that with our Facebook group as well. 

 

Paul: Right. 

 

Ally: So I’m kind of involved in a lot of the things that everyone in our community is chatting about, has questions about, things that might be coming up.

 

Paul: So for everybody’s benefit, because not everybody hears every podcast or knows where this podcast, What The Hell Just Happened in HR, is kind of an offshoot from a company that I co-founded called CEDR HR Solutions. We work primarily with medical related practices across the country. We have lots of dentists. We have Medi Spas, we have Urgent Care centers, we have all sorts of medical people in there. They can reach in to CEDR, out to CEDR and ask for help solving just about any kind of issue. And some of them are very technical and very much related to the law, and others are less so, like it can just be two employees who are warring with one another and, you know, do we have an idea for how we can get the situation to calm down? 

 

Ally: Yup.

 

Paul: So Ally is, like she said, her job is to monitor all these things. And we have a system whereby we will receive over, CEDR will receive over 12,000 requests each year for our experts to help them with some kind of compliance or HR problem solving thing and, you know, big and small. So we love on the podcast, we can draw for that. So it’s very, very helpful because we can get the pulse of what’s going on across the country.

 

Ally: Yeah. And –

 

Paul: So, okay, so What the hell just happened in HR? That’s kind of something that I think you found on a Reddit? 

 

Ally: I found this on Reddit. And the reason I wanted to talk about it is because I’ve seen many tickets asking about the same thing, many tickets. And then, you know, aside from our members, as you said, reach in with thousands of requests a year, we also have a very active Facebook group that’s got over, you know, 9000 members in there. And I’ve seen this question in there as well.

 

Paul: HR Base Camp.

 

Ally: HR Base Camp. Yep. And so I know it’s something people talk about and this is really about social events outside of the workplace. 

 

Paul: Uh huh.

 

Ally: Not trainings. Not, you know, lunch and learns. Purely social events for team engagement and whether or not they should be required. So the Reddit post that I saw was an employee talking about how they were really struggling with this because they get a lot of anxiety around these mandatory after hour work events, but their workplace was requiring them. And these were purely social, you know, happy hours, going to Top Golf, that kind of thing. 

 

Paul: Right. 

 

Ally: There was no work element involved. But they were told that they have to attend them.

 

Paul: Okay, so I want to knock the wage an hour. I want to, I’m going to knock the part out very quickly. That is the yawning part. 

 

Ally: [laughs] Yeah.

 

Paul: But the part that for all the HR professionals and owners out there, this is just basic employment law 101. But it’s not always that clear. So you have to be careful as an employer about what you require. So I’ll use the word require. Even if it’s implied – 

 

Ally: Yes.

 

Paul: That it’s required, if the employee has a reasonable belief that if they don’t attend, that it could kind of count against them or at least not give them double secret bonus points. So if it’s implied or required, then it’s to be paid that’s –

 

Ally: Yes. 

 

Paul: Yeah, that’s just it. 

 

Ally: Like full stop.

 

Paul: Full stop. 

 

Ally: Yeah.

 

Paul: So, you know, emails go out, conversations are had. Slack channels are open, people are talking. If it feels required, then it is required. And then what you’re supposed to be doing is tracking those hours and paying those employees. So if you’re saying, “Look, everybody meet me at Top Golf. I’ll pay for all the golfing. I’ll pay for all the food. I’ll pay for all the drinks. Everybody meet me over there. We’re starting at 6:00. I expect to see you all there.” You’ve just made that a paid event is what you’ve done.

 

Ally: Yep. And then just to touch on that, if you’re requiring it and you’re paying it and you’ve got nonexempt employees attending it, you’re paying them overtime.

 

Paul: You could be.

 

Ally: Because chances are you’re not, you know, having them come in 4 hours late so they can stay 4 hours later. So just something to keep in mind. But I like what you said about “required.”

 

Paul: We’re air quoting.

 

Ally: Yeah. Sorry.

 

Ally: For those of you watching on the thing, we’re air quoting.

 

Ally: Air quoting “required” because one of the things that was mentioned in this Reddit thread was that they were told, “You know, you have so much talent and so much potential, but, you know, the fact that you don’t really want to go to these things, it might limit you.” So they’re not saying necessarily.-

 

Paul: Wow.

 

Ally:  “Hey -”

 

Paul: Good point. 

 

Ally: “This is part of your job description.” This is a job duty, but it might not turn out so well for you if you decide to skip out on these, even though they, as this thread started, this person said they struggle with anxiety about these events. That brings in a whole other element right? Or just simply that’s a long day, you know? And saying that you’ve got to stay nine to five and then stay another 4 hours while we go to this event and you’re not getting home till ten. There’s a lot of different variables there that could make a person say, “No, I don’t want to attend this one.” So think like, what is it? What are you asking for when you’re saying it’s required? 

 

Paul: I, you know, different cultures and these sort of events come about in different ways. So, okay, different cultures and these events come about in different ways. That’s not a good segue. I have worked for places and I have actually managed and owned a place whereby I would take the team out for food and appetizers and drinks 2 hours every Monday, because we were closed on Mondays, every other Monday. So about twice a month and I would pick up the bill. The reason for doing it was I wanted to do something special for the team. They were all college students, so they all appreciated it. Nobody was pressured to drink. Probably. We did pressure them to drink because it was a, you know, that was the atmosphere, but no one was, you know, it wasn’t my goal to pressure anybody to drink. Appetizers and we would kind of bounce around from place to place that was open and this was our way of paying back to the service industry, of which my business was in. So we were kind of showing up in mass anywhere from 10 to 20 people. We would let them know we’re coming. We’d have a couple of tables and we’d sit there and then we’d tip really well and we left. That was a kind of a culture thing. It went on for years, but I didn’t care if anybody was there or not there. We might tell them, “Hey, we missed you,” but there was no pressure and there was never any. It wasn’t really work related, you know?

 

Ally: Yeah.

 

Paul: There wasn’t a lot of bonding. I kind of kept myself separate from everybody and I guess I just wanted to point out that was just a little piece of our culture. And I’ve worked for other companies that were small and we started that way. Well, I think we’re people kind of get off that path is your team grows or people begin to join your team who really don’t want to participate in anything and have to work like that.

 

Ally: And that’s okay.

 

Paul: It’s okay. It’s okay. They’ve got kids. 

 

Ally: Yeah.

 

Paul: So this affects women, I think, more than it affects others –

 

Ally: Yes.

 

Paul: Because whether it’s fair or not or true or not, for the most part, women are caregivers. That means they’ve got to get home to the kids or, you know, it’s just part of their responsibility. And taking an extra couple of hours to go hang out with people from work and maybe not even drink because you can’t because you’re going home to the kids. So you can’t really have the fun that everybody else is having. Never mind the drinking. Maybe it’s just the 2 hours of just being there in a way, is not team building for that person.

 

Ally: No, it’s actually detrimental to the whole, I think, the whole reason a lot of employers want to do this is for the engagement part of it. 

 

Paul: Yeah.

 

Ally: When you’re having employees that, like you said, it’s really a burden for them for whatever the reason may be, you know, as you said, if they’re the primary caregiver and they’ve got to get back in time or there are many people who, you know, have substance abuse issues and being around an environment –

 

Paul: Right.

 

Ally: That they’re serving alcohol might, even if they’re not going to drink, might make them really uncomfortable. That might be something difficult that they have to, you know, go to and yeah, and so it kind of defeats the whole purpose of why you want to get everybody together, because these employees are likely going to feel, you know, either left out because of –

 

Paul: They’re pressured. 

 

Ally: Yeah. Or because they’re in an event that they don’t really want to be in, you know, so yeah, it’s not keeping it, keeping that as a required thing or implying that they need to attend and in order to advance their career can be really detrimental.

 

Paul: I do want to make one thing clear here. There’s nothing wrong with having after hour events. 

 

Ally: No.

 

Paul: It’s okay to go to Top Golf. It’s okay to do those things. It just is. I guess the point to make is, is some people are introverted. They don’t do well at these things. It causes them a ton of anxiety. And, you know, just overall, I think a better approach for this is to do stuff during work hours. Obviously you’re not going to bring the keg in and you’re not going to have bartenders serving drinks while you guys are at work and maybe having to return to work. But you might do it towards the end of the day. And you might say, look, we normally close at five, but we’re going to shut the doors down at 2: 30 today. We’re going to get our last patient out or last customer out by three. And after that, we’re going to do the following, you know, and if it involves you know, whatever it involves, it’s something that’s kind of all team inclusive. Another thing to do is to just spread the lunch hour out over a couple of hours in the middle of the day and bring food in for everybody. And just give everybody a chance to come in, eat and have a little friendship fellowship and get to know one another. 

 

Ally: Yeah.

 

Paul:  I just want to add one other thing, Ally D. There are…We call her Ally D here. There are – does anybody else call you Ally D? We had to at one point.

 

Ally: I think you and Jennie because you’re the only people, like we’re the only ones that are left from…

 

Paul: From the previous thing –

 

Ally: Yeah those years. Yeah exactly.

 

Paul: We’ve had other Allys. So we had to call her Ally D or change her name to Fred and she wouldn’t agree to that.

 

Ally: [laughing]

 

Paul: So where was I? Okay, oh, look, there are other ways to team build inside of your business. So we do something tongue plug here, but we don’t get anything for it. There’s an organization called Real Colors, and they work with military and private businesses and they can work with your practice if you want to get in touch with them. And we, it’s kind of a teambuilding thing because we all come in and we go through these exercises with them and we learn so much about each other. And I got to say, there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of really getting to know one another in that process. And that’s a great thing to do. It’s work related, it’s paid. It’s just part of what we do.

 

Ally: Yeah, that’s a really great example. Because you’re mingling with departments that you might not talk to all the time or, you know, even for smaller business if you don’t have a bunch of departments, but people that probably don’t interact on a day to day basis and so that’s a perfect example. I was going to suggest that as well, keeping things to within those work hours is a great solution to that. And again, like you said, it’s not bad to have an after hours work event. Just don’t make it required. You know, if you’re if it’s not a work related thing, if there’s no training, if there’s something that’s purely social, give the option. The option is appreciated. I know we sometimes have after work events here, we’ve been having these trivia nights. They’re so fun. Everyone’s invited, not everyone goes. And at no point is –

 

Paul: I hate trivia. And I’m like, “No, you guys are stupid. I’m not going to your stupid trivia thing.”

 

Ally: I’ve placed the last two times so I thought I didn’t like trivia. 

 

Paul: Last or first?

 

Ally: First the first time.

 

Paul: There’s a trophy by the way, everybody, that gets passed around.

 

Ally: Second, the second time. 

 

Paul: Oh, Ally.

 

Ally: So we don’t want to talk about it. 

 

Paul: Second? Really?

 

Ally: I know. Yeah. [grumbles] Sawyer. Anyway. But like I said, everyone’s invited, not everyone goes. And at no point during the evening are managers looking around saying, “Oh, who from my team didn’t come? This is reflecting poorly on them.” You know, it’s just for fun. And I do want to touch on, and this is something that I’ve kind of the whole reason I brought this up, because this is something that I’ve seen talked about both on social media and in tickets from our members. 

 

Paul: Right. 

 

Ally: The whole point is that you can’t you shouldn’t be basing an employee’s performance off of attendance – 

 

Paul: Right. 

 

Ally: To these. I think that’s a really key point because I have seen people who say, “You know, we got this new employee and she’s so good at her job, she gets everything done. But she just hasn’t really wanted to participate in any of the things that we do and you know, and we’re a really small team. We’re like family,” and you’re kind of toeing a fine line there – 

 

Paul: Yeah. 

 

Ally: I think, about what is an appropriate way.

 

Paul: So I’m going to end this with a…I’m going to in this particular podcast with, I hope, some kind of pragmatic guidance here. So I’m thinking about that example you just gave. And so I want to give this scenario. You do have an employee who is not gelling with the team as well as you would like for them to. Right? And you and you do feel like I just need to get them. I need the team to get to know them. I need them to get to know some of the other team members or maybe some of the other departments, because I just think it would be better for our business overall. And the person is just not really integrating the way that everybody else has. There is nothing wrong with doing something at work like Real Colors and saying this is mandatory and you have to come to this now. You still have to listen. If someone comes to you and says, “Look, these kind of team things have a lot of, create a lot of anxiety for me and I’m not good in these situations.” And at that point, you may have to do a little bit of accommodation for them. You may need a little bit of extra HR guidance. You maybe you should have made it more clear that these sort of team building events are part of the job. It’s something that they have to do and they have to go through. So, look, I’m big on integrating teams. We do another thing, positive focus. Believe it or not, we try to start every meeting or end every meeting, and sometimes we start and stop long meetings with positive focus. I believe that positive focus makes it hard to start complaining right out of the gate if everybody’s been in a place of gratitude and kind of sharing. And what we learned during positive focus is about people’s cats and, you know, all sorts of things happen in positive focus, which are just part of team building. So I am for this kind of everybody get to know each other and the more you can know about another person, you know, work related generally, the better it is. So, you know, do it at work. 

 

Ally: Yeah. 

 

Paul: You know, if your team’s getting bigger instead of doing everybody’s birthday, have one birthday party a week just to honor everybody’s birthday, you don’t have to make anybody go to it. It’s like we got cake and I bought lunch today, it’s all in the break room and, and just kind of keep it in the work context.

 

Ally: Yeah. Keep it work focused, I think is kind of the key thing to remember there. Once you’re heading out after hours, that’sa personal thing.

 

Paul: Be intentional. Yep. Be intentional. And recognize it’s not easy for everybody. And as much as you might want to continue something you’ve been doing, kinda be…Look around. Be present about the impact that it’s having. Is this actually a good thing or is it just something you like to do and it’s fun and you and a couple of other people kind of enjoy going out and doing this sort of stuff. 

 

Ally: Exactly. 

 

Paul: Okay, so that’s What The Hell Just Happened in HR. This is a continuing, always coming up issue. It usually comes, “We’re having these events and we have this one employee who doesn’t seem to want to do it ever.” And in the back the back context that is, is we’re actually trying to fix them and they’re not showing up at the fix after work. They don’t seem to want to do it. 

 

Ally: Yeah. 

 

Paul: And they didn’t, not everybody wants to do it that way. Okay, thanks, Ally.

 

Ally: Thanks Paul.

 

Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, and you’d like us to discuss it on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives. 

 

Aug 4, 2023

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.