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Corporate bonding or corporate humiliation?


Would you care to risk a fine of £275,000? Hardly. So perhaps it’s time for a close and thoughtful look at the kinds of activity some companies force their employees to undertake in the name of "corporate bonding" or "team building".

A few weeks ago, such an exercise went badly wrong. In a bout of mock sumo wrestling, sales executive Anne Shackley was knocked to the ground and hit her head on the concrete floor. She has developed epilepsy as a result, and can no longer drive. The company had made it clear that she could not opt out of the activity, on the grounds that team-building ‘games’ were part of the company culture. Now Ms Shackley has been awarded that massive sum in compensation.

In a recent feature in The Times, headed "The height of nonsense", writer Julian Champkin attacks the whole idea of creating loyalty and team spirit through, as he puts it, "ritual starvation, exhaustion and humiliation".

He goes on, "The idea is that shared painful experiences build group bonds and team spirit with your workmates. If this ghastly medieval horror were applied to criminals, the Court of Human Rights would be up in arms."

It’s certainly hard to see any obvious link between the work of a finance department and a training session with the Royal Marines. Yet companies continue to pay huge sums to subject their people to such treatment. And perhaps even worse is corporate humiliation - forcing an entire team to dress as clowns, introducing compulsory karaoke nights.

A lawyer once remarked that a public limited company has "neither a body to kick nor a sould to be damned". It follows, says Champkin, that "loyalty of body and soul is not something that it can, or should, demand."

He goes on, "People join companies for one simple reason: to earn enough to pay their mortgages and keep their children fed and clothed. In return, they ….. turn up most days at nine or nine-thirty, work reasonably conscientiously, even at deadly boring jobs, and take a not excessive number of days' sick leave. That, surely, is loyalty enough and pretty good value for the money."


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