Compulsory tasks arranged by management for staff to carry out in the name of fun during festive workplace outings may be putting a crimp in the Christmas party spirit, according to new figures.

In a poll of 1,000 workers, employee benefits consultancy Perkbox found that just over a quarter (27%) of respondents are none too keen on the idea of work Christmas parties, because they don’t believe employees should be ‘forced’ into fun at the whims of their bosses. The party-pooping doesn’t stop there: 34% said they don’t enjoy socialising with colleagues at Yuletide bashes whatsoever, never mind what shape the occasions take. Meanwhile, 30% said they find Christmas parties too intimidatingly cliquey.

By an interesting contrast, almost a quarter of the sample (23%) were leaning in a more cliquey direction, saying that they would rather have a celebratory meal with their immediate teams than go out with the entire company.

Perkbox CMO and co-founder Chieu Cao said: “The Christmas party is something that many employers rely on to commemorate the festive season and use to reward staff for their hard work. However, the data shows that actually this Christmas perk is creeping out of favour among some sections of the workforce.

“It is telling that this mostly seems to be due to the social aspect – either because they don’t want to be forced to socialise with colleagues, or because they find this kind of situation where often people will break into groups too cliquey.”

On whether Christmas parties would be better pitched as team-based events rather than company-wide knees-ups, Cao added: “Given that rewards and incentives tend to be most effective when tailored to individuals, businesses looking to swap out the Christmas party for this kind of alternative could even give departments or teams a budget and allow them to choose what they want to do. But whatever businesses choose to do to mark Christmas this year, it is best organised as part of a year-long reward strategy that will help maintain good morale, staff retention and a sense of team.”

With his tips in mind, then, should bosses at least hold back on ‘forced fun’ activities that compel weary workers to jump through hoops, and simply allow staff to relax and enjoy some downtime with each other?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This is amazingly pertinent research, with lots of thematic links to last week’s blog about staff benefits. If you take the view that a specific type of party event or setup will be good fun for everyone, then almost by default, it will not! There can’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that will suit every taste, and that everybody will have a great time at. It’s rather unfortunate that if you signal a lack of enjoyment amid whatever management or HR have determined to be the programme of festive events, you are labelled some kind of Christmas-phobic Scrooge.”

Cooper explains: “We should be particularly thoughtful when arranging social events, because different personality types, age groups or other social categories are inclined to enjoy different sorts of experiences. In the corporate world, there’s a pronounced tendency for office managers to hire out massive venues that are then filled with copious quantities of tinsel, festive illuminations and thumping, loud music.

“Now, for any neurodiverse individuals – who may have a strong aversion to noise, crowds and flashing lights – this could be a daunting challenge. Indeed, there are plenty of people who are not on any sort of autism spectrum who could be put off by those very same stimuli. So what are these employees to do? Do they refuse to attend, only to be accused of being miserable? Or do they grit their teeth and go through with it, only to have an actual, miserable experience?”

Cooper notes: “Of course, there is often a significant investment in these celebrations. As such, it would be in so many ways better to arrange more tailored teambuilding events designed to boost cohesion and morale within the teams you are trying to nurture. Then, at the end, put on a far more relaxed type of social, with no compulsion to join in and be jolly – underpinned by a high tolerance for those who would prefer not to take part.”

She adds: “It is undeniably the case that workforces are becoming ever more diverse. On that basis, we have to be increasingly sensitive about what we think constitutes overall enjoyment.”

For further thoughts on HR matters, check out these learning resources from the Institute

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