Should We Be Forced to Socialize at Work?
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The Insightful Leader Logo The Insightful Leader Sent to subscribers on July 27, 2022
Should We Be Forced to Socialize at Work?

How do you feel about participating in social events at work—those team lunches and happy hours, whether in person or on Zoom? Does it feel like legit bonding among coworkers or is it an attempt at forced fun?

The reality is, these social events have the potential to be both. Adam Waytz, a professor of management and organizations, was recently interviewed by Marketplace to find out why office parties so often feel awkward, and how employers can create more genuine opportunities for employees to chat and bond.

Waytz acknowledges that these sorts of social events can be particularly useful for new employees trying to get a sense of office culture and personalities. But for many of us, it just feels like more work.

We’ll hear more from him today, as well as some advice for innovators.

How to Avoid Forced Fun at Office Social Events

Waytz is not advocating we strip our workdays of any non-work interpersonal interactions. After all, he’s the author of The Power of Human: How Our Shared Humanity Can Help Us Create a Better World. He’s suggesting that offices not try too hard to force people to socialize and instead create opportunities where interactions and potential bonding feel more organic.

Here are a couple excerpts from his interview, which you can read or listen to in full here.

  • “I think the intentions behind a lot of these socializing events are good. You know, people want recognition; people want a sense of being connected to something larger than themselves; people want a sense of shared purpose across the company. And a lot of these socializing events can help with that. All of those components are critical to boosting employee engagement.

    I think the best thing that my organization has done, though, is just put a “do-it-yourself” coffee station on one floor of the building. And that gives you socializing without the forced aspect. People go to the coffee station naturally, on their own time. There’s a lot of autonomy tied in.”

  • “The key thing to watch out for is the forced component. I think, when we have kind of quarterly get-togethers that are encouraged or we celebrate one of our colleagues, even a colleague who might be moving on elsewhere, those events are completely nice. But when you’re trying to get people who have worked together for decades and don’t really have much in common or much to say to each other to have lunch every week, I don’t think that’s going to go a long way. And it’s going to make people maybe just a little bit resentful.”

Advice for Innovators

Innovators of all stripes, whether startup founders or in-house product designers, seek out ideas for blockbuster new products or services—ones that customers might not even know they want.

But how do you arrive at those genius innovations? David Schonthal, a clinical professor of strategy and director of entrepreneurship programs at Kellogg, recently wrote an article for Inc. in which he lays out his blueprint for successful innovations: “most successful innovations speak directly to the progress consumers want to make, even when people can’t tell you that themselves.”

He uses a quote often attributed to Henry Ford to illustrate his point: “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.”

So how do you gain insights into your potential customers when they’re simply going to ask for a faster horse? Schonthal suggests having in-depth interviews with people—if you go deep enough, you might only need 10—12. The goal is to learn what they’re hoping to improve in their lives across three specific dimensions: functional, social, and emotional.

Function is about how people can get things done faster or better. The social dimension is how a new product or service makes people appear to others. And the emotional dimension is how that product or service makes us feel about ourselves.

“Customers can’t always tell you what they want, but they can most certainly tell you what they are hoping to accomplish” across these three dimensions, Schonthal writes.

He offers advice for how to elicit useful responses during interviews in his piece. You can read it in full here.


“Just having a test isn’t going to make hiring so much better. You have to have the right type of tests, and you have to use it in a way that is in the direction of better results, both from a quality standpoint and an equity standpoint.”

—Professor Lauren Rivera in Fortune, on how employers can effectively use skills-based tests to hire the best candidates for a job.