A reader writes:
My husband worked at a marketing firm last summer after 18 months of unemployment and learning website design. They offered him a very low salary due to him being new to teapot design, even though he had a 15-year background in the broader field.
On his second week, the owner insisted that all new hires have to get up in front of everyone and sing a song during their weekly meeting. My husband was nervous and expressed that he would rather not participate but was forced to do so anyway. It’s no surprise that he was absolutely humiliated, as he was being laughed at while being forced to sing a full three-minute song in front of a group of young women and the owner. I told him that if it were me, I would have taken it as a sign that this job was not meant for me and I would have left. However, he spent so long being unemployed that he was fearful of losing the first opportunity he had gotten in 18 long months. How should he have handled it?
I agree that that’s awful. I’m sure the owner thought this was a fun way to haze a new hire (and it’s pretty likely that people were laughing with him, not at him), but good lord, for many of us this would turn “decent new job” into “house of horrors.”
How to handle something like this depends on how much you need the job and what other signals you’ve been getting about how happy or unhappy you’d be there. If you really need the job and/or this seems like an aberration in a company that you otherwise could be reasonably content in, walking out over this would be overkill. Tempting, but overkill.
But if you have lots of options, don’t need the job, and/or were already seeing a bunch of other signs that this place wasn’t right for you, then the answer could be different.
For what it’s worth, it’s good to remember that no employer can “force” you to participate in this kind of thing, and if they try to, that’s actually a much worse sign than any of the rest. If you firmly say “no, thanks” and “that’s really not happening, but I’m excited to get to know more about (work topic)” and they don’t give up the pressure, that would alarm me much more than the original request itself.