Whether they are post-work happy hours, birthday celebrations at the office, or sporting events, company activities have for a long time been an integral part of work culture.
However, this is not everyone’s cup of tea, as seen in a particular case in France, where a man was fired from his job for not participating in his workplace’s “fun” events, such as outside of office hours seminars and after-work drinks. He proceeded to take the company to court, and his right to freedom was recognised, with the French court ruling that employees cannot be fired for not being fun enough.
Such situations have become even more complicated given that a number of employees were forced to work from home for over two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, completely shaking up office culture. During the pandemic, given the vast restrictions on socialising that were in place, the occasional teambuilding activity via video chat seemed like a great way to unwind after a day of working alone at home. However, as companies return to the office, that willingness to attend such events has come into question.
Following this, MaltaCEOs.mt reached out to a number of human resources (HR) specialists to ask whether such situations could take place in Malta.
“I have never heard of a similar case [to the one in France] in Malta, and I am not aware of any official repercussions due to a lack of participation in extracurricular activities,” Quad Consultancy Managing Director Mark J. Galea said.
“Having said that, I think that it may be natural though, for people to forge closer relationships after they get to know each other outside of the work environment. As a consequence, those who choose to avoid these activities may be at a disadvantage in forging strong, interpersonal relationships with their co-workers,” he added.
Greta Xuereb, Salvo Grima Group Ltd Head of Corporate Affairs and HR, drew upon her eight-year experience working in Central London prior to her current role in Malta to explain that there are no repercussions for not socialising after work in the UK. This is particularly the case since Londoners have “long commutes home by tube or train, so it’s rare for events to be organised after 5pm midweek”. As a result, “most socialising takes place informally in nearby coffee shops or pubs on Friday evenings or during breaks”.
Despite this, she affirmed that “networking is hugely important”, as failure to attend out-of-hours events means “missing out on valuable conversations, friendships, and connections”. “As an HR professional and a mother of three myself, I am very aware that this disadvantages parents who have to rush off on school runs,” she added.
She explained that Salvo Grima Group “strongly encourages” staff to meet and communicate freely across teams, and aside from its voluntary activities, and summer and Christmas parties, it also holds informal get-togethers during office hours. “We bring a coffee truck over and invite all teams to gather and chat over snacks at least once a month, as this helps us generate new ideas, build a good atmosphere, and gets us to know each other better,” she said.
The pandemic brought with it a complete change in work environments, with more companies allowing employees to shift to hybrid or remote work. However, this also brought about struggles when it comes to getting everyone together for company activities at the office, since some workers might not be at the office and others might want to go back home to their families as soon as possible.
However, Mr Galea did not note a change in attendance when it comes to company activities following the pandemic, yet he remarked that it “very much depends on individual circumstances and preferences”.
“There may have been a boost in attendance immediately after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, but now we seem to be going back to pre-2020 levels in many different aspects of life,” he pointed out.
Ms Xuereb acknowledged that there is still a “large demand” for remote and flexible working even after the pandemic, and Salvo Grima Group is “doing its best to accommodate”.
“However, most colleagues are very keen to begin meeting up again and we’ve had some successful company activities recently. Even though we now employ 230 people, we are a family business with strong levels of staff retention, so it is important for us to rebuild our culture and overcome the isolation many felt during COVID-19,” she explained.
Mr Galea specified two “main drivers” that tend to motivate people to attend company events, with these being their “emotional engagement” with the business, and also their “social life preferences, or lack thereof”. As a result, it is this “sense of belonging” that tends to have “more weight on people’s decisions”, rather than remote working.
When asked whether company activities promote a culture of superficial harmony, given workers might feel forced to attend out of obligation, Mr Galea explained that it is important to first clarify whether they “feel obliged in order to recognise management’s efforts” or else as a “need to comply out of fear or retribution”.
“The one certainty, though, is that many studies have shown that a strong social calendar – which obviously doesn’t necessarily mean drinking and bar hopping – has a direct influence on employee retention, motivation, and emotional engagement,” he said.
Both Mr Galea and Ms Xuereb acknowledged that they have never encountered instances where workers quit their jobs because they were forced to attend company activities.
“We would be very surprised if this had to happen,” Ms Xuereb said, before explaining that in Salvo Grima Group’s culture it is “extremely unlikely” that an employee would find themselves in a situation where they would be forced to do something “they’re not happy about”. “It is understood that most people have a private life outside the office,” she continued.
The two HR specialists both agreed that Malta has a healthy culture when it comes to work events and outside of work socialising, and while it is “improving”, Mr Galea noted that Maltese companies, particularly Maltese-owned ones, “can and need to improve”.
“It is important to have a varied social calendar that respects and promotes corporate values while, at the same time, making it possible for the employees to get to know each other better and appreciate the good qualities of their colleagues,” he concluded.
Throughout his long career, Mr Galea has led the HR departments of various Maltese and international organisations, while also setting up Quad Consultancy, a boutique HR consultancy that specialises in bespoke professional services.
Ms Xuereb has worked as Head of Corporate Affairs and HR at Salvo Grima Group for more than six years, where she is responsible for its general compliance, good governance, and HR function. Her background also includes senior management positions at University College London and the Office of the Prime Minister, Malta.
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