There is a sad, quiet desperation about mandated fun. Companies — well-meaning, perhaps, in their intentions — ask employees to participate in everything from fancy dress competitions (there is invariably an email asking you to dress up during festivals) to office picnics and official unofficial dinners and drinks. For introverts or people who just don’t wish to spend their free time with colleagues, this can be an ongoing, prolonged chore. A man in France, though, has struck a great blow for the rights of the cantankerous worker. He has won the “right to be boring” in office in court. And by doing so, he has managed a victory for all those who have rolled their eyes at the exclamation-mark-ridden enthusiasm of an email from HR.
The unnamed worker was reportedly terminated from his job at a consultancy firm because he refused, among other things, to go out for mandated after-work drinks every week. This, according to his employer, flew against the company’s culture, which believed in “team-building through fun”. His refusal had the company label him boring, tough to work with and a poor listener. The worker sued, arguing that he had a right to “critical behaviour and to refuse company policy based on incitement to partake in various excesses”.
Companies, to be fair, are often merely trying to build camaraderie, to try and make the workplace something employees look forward to rather than dread. And they often do so because it makes financial sense — happy workers, study after study has shown, are more productive. The sad fact, though, is that “fun” and friendship cannot be mandated. Organically, after a hard day’s work, people may end up at a bar, blowing off steam and complaining about those in-charge who pay them. But, the odd person out has the right to spend her time as she likes. And in France, where philosophers have long recognised that hell is other people, solitude should be a worker’s right.