I'm an American and male and am currently filling a 2 year expat assignment in Europe. It turns out that the high level male employees frequent the sauna in the company gym. Naked. I've been told that if I really want my ideas to be heard, the best way to do this is to join the executive team in the sauna. I've also been told that it would be very offensive if I was not naked.
My American sensibilities make me cringe, but should I join them?
Aiyee, just when I thought I'd heard it all, I get this new question. It's perfect timing, really, as it turns out that your company isn't the only one that has, uhh, naked activities. Der Spiegel just reported on, well, here's a quote:
A German insurance company has admitted hosting a decadent sex party at a Budapest bathhouse to reward its best agents for their work. Details of the secretive event include color-coded prostitutes and a ban on photos.In another Der Spiegel article they refer to prostitution as another form of compensation:
At a certain level workers and customers can "no longer be rewarded with money," another industry insider says. But incentives outside the ordinary pay raise or bonus are not simply a question of hierarchy, event specialist Eisner says. The likelihood of such perks is higher for certain roles.Now, this makes me want to send a note to the compensation specialists over at Compensation Cafe and ask how they would work this into a "total compensation" plan, but I shall refrain.
Now, I realize that prostitution is no where near in the same category as a naked sauna conversation. But, in my mind (and yours) naked and business should not be in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence. I couldn't carry on a business conversation with my boss if she was sitting across from me, naked. I just couldn't.
Clearly, the sauna thing is a cultural issue. It's not a big deal to them, but it's a big deal to you. Which makes me wonder how you'd act in such a situation. If you're nervous and prone to giggling at the assets in question, even if you're in the room, you probably won't be making the best of impressions.
I have noted in the past, that if business is discussed in the cafeteria, you should probably not eat at your desk. However, if you're incapable of getting food from the plate to your mouth without spilling it in your lap, it's better to eat at your desk.
It's about trade offs.
It's also about not looking like a fool. If the company execs are having their bonding in the sauna and everyone knows it and you waltz in and drop your towel, it's going to be a clear move to suck up to the bosses. Keep in mind, that unless this European company is in England, the language they will be having these naked chats in will be their non-English native language. If you're not truly fluent in that language you'll look like an interloper.
Is this truly the only way to gain their attention? I suspect it is not. In fact, unless you're explicitly (probably bad word choice there) invited, I'd say it would do more harm to your career than good. I wouldn't stalk the sauna in the hopes of running into the Sr. VP. If you happen to be there when he's there, great. Talk.
But, otherwise, I'd put your efforts into building relationships and understanding the culture of your host company in ways that don't involve naked sweating.
I am, though, very curious. Readers, would you go to the sauna with your boss?
For Further Reading:
- Think Company Culture Doesn't Matter? Think Again
- Can You Say No to Your Boss
- When You Should Suck Up to Your Boss
Photo by badheimkirchheim, Flickr cc 2.0