Ever been miserable on St Valentine's Day? Abigail, 34, from east London has. One 14 February, whilst at work, she received a parcel from her boyfriend. "I thought it was quite fun and romantic," she says. "It was beautifully packaged with a wonderful love poem on the front." But to her horror, upon opening it, Abigail found an obscene sex toy lying in the box. "I was really embarrassed – the laughing stock of the office." The couple broke up soon afterwards.
One academic wants to see an end to this. Dr Andrew Kuczmierczyk, a consultant clinical psychologist and director of the MSc health psychology programme at City University, argues that Valentine's Day creates more hate than love in the workplace, and we should instead embrace his version of things: a friendship day.
"St Valentine's Day has its function. It's a wonderful thing," says Kuczmierczyk. "But in the workplace it can be a bit inappropriate. People may not feel comfortable receiving things; others may be boastful." He says that it is sometimes a big deal among employees if they don't receive any cards. "It can cause upset and distress," he says.
Kuczmierczyk argues that, as the office is an intimate environment, it would be good to have a friendship day. He says that workers have become hamstrung by the stresses of daily life, competitiveness, and political correctness gone mad.
"I think we're so preoccupied with work that we forget about the people around us. It's nice to consciously recognise the way people look or perform without needing a formal appraisal." Friendship day at work would be about these little things: telling a co-worker that they look good, or complimenting their efforts in the workplace.
Kuczmierczyk claims to be driven by his philosophy on life and has been inspired by the process of putting together an anthology of poems, Transitions: Of Love, Faith and Hope, which he hopes will be published later this year. He also admits to being "miserable" at 14 when he received no St Valentine's Day cards.
But he hopes that having a Friendship Day each 14 February could set a precedent in the office – people would become more aware of the need to recognise the efforts of those that surround them.
"I'm sure lots of people think about these things, but they don't consciously go out of their way to voice them," he says. "People are a lot more comfortable receiving criticism than praise in this country – people aren't as positive. Friendship Day is about becoming more aware of this."
So do people like Abigail, who is now married, recognise this St Valentine's Day workplace situation? "Not really. I'm not competitive in that kind of way. I wouldn't say to my husband, 'send me flowers' to make other people jealous. This whole showing-off thing – I don't think it should be a threat to people at work."
Richard Hall, chairman of Showcase Presentations and author of the forthcoming book The Secrets of Success at Work, adds that, though Kuczmierczyk's motive is sound, there's no argument for getting rid St Valentine's Day in the workplace.
"I don't think you can hijack an event like this by simply calling it something else," he says. "Yes, there is paranoia about political correctness and people almost don't want to talk to each other because of it. But that's why St Valentine's Day is an opportunity to lighten people's lives." Hall used to run an advertising agency, where each employee received a card on their birthday, a chocolate egg at Easter, and a red rose on Valentine's Day.
He sees the day as a chance for management to show how much they care about their employees. "Management all too often misses out on opportunities to parade their caring," he says.
"I think it's an opportunity to be collectively nice, not selectively nice. Everybody gets something out of being in an office – the esprit de corps of the place, the banter. Valentine's Day is banter with roses."
Richard Hall's book 'The Secrets of Success at Work' is published in May by Prentice Hall Business, £9.99
How to behave on the day
Try to think of something nice to say to your co-workers: perhaps they're looking good; maybe they've been performing well
Be nice to everybody: don't single out the attractive secretary or handsome manager for praise
If you must buy a gift for someone, keep it simple: a bunch of flowers or some chocolates will be fine
Don't boast if you have received cards; but don't feel glum if you haven't: Valentine's Day isn't the be all and end all.
Management could use the opportunity to make employees feel wantedReuse content