my office is forcing us to do karaoke for “fun”

A reader writes:

Twice a year, my work throws a party to celebrate our successes. Think of this as a post-Christmas and post-tax season party. Usually it’s a simple affair – they hire out a room in a bar, we have a theme to dress up to (last year for tax it was green, the colour of money), and it’s a social gathering. No pressure to participate, theme was broad enough that everyone could participate, and everyone came along for as long as they wanted.

This year, they’ve decided to make our post-tax party at a karaoke bar. I am usually a fan of karaoke…with my friends, after a drink or five, on my own terms. But singing in front of work colleagues?

To make things worse, they’ve created a committee to hyper-organise the games and teams. I know the usual AAM stance on organised/forced fun, and I attempted to get on the committee in an effort to steer them towards voluntary participation, but I was told the committee was full.

The party is next week and I’m already feeling panicky. We have been allocated into teams. We’ve been assured that these weren’t random, but were purposefully chosen to ensure a mix of outgoing and introverted people. Lovely. On top of being forced to participate, I have to sing with team members I normally wouldn’t spend time with. I’d be happy to do karaoke in front of my colleagues if it was a relaxed, opt-in thing where anyone who wanted to just jumped up there, but the forced, organised activity with judging and prizing is just making me dread it.

And there will be awards, which means there will be judging. I’ve alreasdy spoken up once after hearing a committee member excitedly tell a friend “there will even be an award for worst singer!” I straight up told her that there was no way they could have that as an award after forcing people to participate. I told I was being a party pooper and that it was all in good fun.

The official teams and rules were sent out yesterday and I noticed the award is actually for “best strangling of cat sound-a-like.” Which is infinitely worse.

How do I get through this party without ruffling any feathers, but also not putting myself and my singing abilities up for scrutiny in front of everyone I work with? Short of throwing a tantrum or sitting at the party in a corner and sulking, I’m not sure how to handle this diplomatically. The only people who aren’t going are those who have leave planned. They’ve even scheduled it so that it is running from 3 pm-6.30 pm (so, as my boss explained, those with childcare can still come for a few hours and not have to get a babysitter).

Oh, you’ve just described my worst nightmare. And I say this as someone who recently dropped by a (fully voluntary) work-related karaoke event that was fun and hilarious, but which I did not sing at because … no.

If I were in your shoes I’d do one of two things:

1. Just not go. Find a reason to use leave that day.

2. Speak up, before the event. Say something like, “Hey, I know this is going to be fun for a lot of people, but it’s also some people’s worst nightmare. I’d love to go and hang out and be moral support for anyone who wants to sing, but I’d like to request a team for people who want to play some other role — cheering or handing out awards or whatever.” And if you get push-back on that, I’d say, “You know, I get where you’re coming from on this, but it’s supposed to be fun for everyone, right? It’s a celebration, and not intended as something that some people will dread? Then I’m holding firm on this. I’ll be glad to show up, but I’m really not up for forced singing.”

I suspect you’d be doing some others in your workplace a favor if you’re willing to do #2, and I’m generally a fan of being candid about stuff like this anyway. Plus, it’s good for the organizers to hear from the constituents for this event (employees) that what they apparently assume will be universally fun isn’t quite meeting that mark.

However, there’s a very loud school of thought out there that anyone who declines this kind of thing is a wet blanket (“if you’d just suck it up and try it, you’d have a great time!”). If you’re confident that that’s the response you’re going to get, you need to decide how much pressure you’re willing to deal with at the event and whether it would be better to circumvent that whole hassle and just go with option #1.

And please, organizers of workplace fun: Making fun mandatory undercuts the whole point. Stop that.

my office is forcing us to do karaoke for “fun” was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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