The Dreaded Team Building

M. Francis Enright
4 min readJan 16, 2019

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You worked sixty hours that week. Friday has finally arrived and you’re thinking, “Thank God. I am having dinner and drinks with friends tonight. I’ll stay out late. I am going to sleep in tomorrow, have brunch at noon, watch some Netflix, go for a hike, read a book…” In a word, relax. Do what you want to do, whatever that happens to be. It is your choice.

Then you hear a ping from your computer with an email reminder. Your manager has organized a 5K run as a “team building” exercise. Everyone is meeting at the south entrance of the park at seven am.

“Can’t wait to see everyone there!” she writes. “And dress warm, it’s gonna be cold!”

Dear God in Heaven.

Are you required to go? Well, no, not required. The company can’t require you to attend an event outside of work.

But, do you have to go?

Well, if you want to positive rating on your next performance review you might have to. In doing research for my podcast, The Working Experience, I have come across more than one account of employees’ ratings being tied to these “voluntary” events. One woman, whom I will call Janice, revealed that she had received negative performance reviews from her manager that specifically cited her lack of participation in events that the manager had organized outside of work. Her manager was about seven years younger than Janice and a real fitness buff. These events consisted of twenty mile hikes and ten mile runs, rather intense stuff. Janice has some health issues that do not allow her to participate in those types of activities and yet her manager was calling her out on not being a “team player”. (I take a lot of pride in not being a team player.) Janice was at pains to understand what running ten miles had to do with her ability to manage accounts effectively.

Another woman worked at Facebook, a company which seems to excel at invading employees’ personal time and headspace. They are really into extracurricular activities that promote a positive, cohesive culture and reinforce the idea that everyone loves working at Facebook. (The term “cult” was used several times in the article.) She was going through a divorce at the time and had a young child so she could not attend these functions. Once again, this was counted against her in her evaluations and were a factor in her not getting a promotion and pay raise.

Can’t people just show up and do their goddamn jobs without having to spend the weekend rolling though a field of mud laced with exploding barbed wire? Why do companies insist on this crap?

One of the reasons might be that these jobs are, despite the chic veneer, so unfulfilling that management needs to convince everyone that there is some higher purpose. If a job is rewarding and serves as a benefit to society then it would be evident; the employees would not have to have their arms twisted into believing that. If I like my coworkers and want to spend time with them outside of work, even better. But that should be my decision. I think what bothers people is the obligation. They are being forced to give up what little free time they have to prove their devotion and worth. If a person has to be forced to do something its value must be suspect.

Perhaps another reason is control. The more of your time that is monopolized by your employer, the less time you have to explore other avenues for your life. If your job keeps you on edge all the time and jumping though hoops to gain approval from the higher ups, the harder it becomes to realize your worth outside of the company. Your value as a person becomes more and more tied to your job.

Maybe they are afraid that, if left with too much free time, people will discover their true calling in life, not give a shit what their manager writes in a performance appraisal, and quit.

Years ago I spent some time working at a Coca-Cola warehouse in Massachusetts. It was not the most fulfilling job in the world. It wasn’t what I would call rewarding. But it was honest. There was no rah-rah bullshit from management. We didn’t do team-building. We stacked cases of soda onto wooden pallets, wrapped them in plastic and placed them on the loading dock, for eight hours a shift. If we worked more than eight hours we were paid overtime. When the shift ended, you went home. No one was calling you on a Saturday or sending emails. We didn’t run ultra-marathons together. There was no work to take home; the weekend was your own.

Having someone try and cajole you into believing something that is obviously not true is insulting and demoralizing. Ex-employees of Facebook describe a culture of forced cheerfulness. An employee dare not exhibit any sign that working for Mark Zuckerberg is anything less than amazing. So, not only do they work depressing and unfulfilling jobs, they have to like it. If the manager sees a frown or hears sobbing emanating from a cubicle, there will be a note made of it in the next performance review.

Save your tears for the car.

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M. Francis Enright

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!