mandatory company book club

A reader writes:

Today, the owner of my company called everyone into the conference room and handed out copies of a book about the power of influence and persuasion. He announced that during our weekly team meetings, we will be discussing one chapter per week until we get through the book…like a forced company book club. We are allowed to do our reading during work time, which makes it a little better…but I sort of feel like I’m back in grade school. When he handed out the books, we all just sort of sat around dumbfounded.

I could see this being a useful exercise if we were a sales department…but we are graphic designers (and not the kind who get to come up with cool persuasive advertisements).

I will participate because it would create unnecessary drama if I didn’t. But I find this request really odd. Have you ever heard of mandatory company book club time?

Yes! And actually, when the book relates to your work in some way, it can be really useful, because so often the rush of day-to-day work means that people don’t have time to step back and focus on larger concepts. So setting aside time to learn about something relevant together and talk about it can be great.

But when the book doesn’t relate to your job, it’s potentially annoying.

It might be interesting to ask your boss at your first meeting what made him choose this particular book — not in a confrontational way, but in a sincerely-interested way.  (And actually, the topic of influence and persuasion can be pretty relevant in the workplace, regardless of what your job is, but that may or may not be his angle here.)

In any case, even though you’re a little put off, try to stay open-minded about it until you see how it goes — sometimes these things can end up being more worthwhile than you think. And if it’s not — well, in that case, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t at least be entertaining.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

    1. Arts Nerd

      I agree – but only on the condition that my workload allows for that time, which hasn’t been my employment experience thus far.

  1. Elizabeth

    I’m a teacher, and we have a book club every year focused on some aspect of multiculturalism or diversity. One year it was LGBT students, the next it was books about socioeconomic status and schools… It’s been great at helping me become a better teacher to a wide range of students. We also usually have a summer reading book about some broad philosophical aspect of teaching or child development. Discussing it is a good way to start the school year inspired.

  2. Sarah G

    Hmmm…the title of the post gave me an image of everyone being required to read a novel and discuss it over drinks after work!
    It seems entirely reasonable to me to read material that’s somehow related to work and career, at a reasonable pace (one chapter weekly), then discuss it during team meetings. I have had to do this quite a bit in my current position, and though I guess we’re allowed to read during work hours, I think we all do it at home because it’s hard to fit it into the workday. I don’t mind, as long as it’s not excessive and as long as I’m learning something.
    I imagine some of this varies by field (I’m in social services), but I’ve had to read material that’s not about social work, and more along the lines of what you’re reading.
    Maybe this practice is more of an anomaly in the world of graphic design, but it sounds like your boss must’ve gotten something out of this book and thinks that you will too. Like Alison said, keep an open mind, and ask why he chose this particular book. There’s probably an interesting answer!

  3. Elyse

    As a person who works in a library, I’d be ecstatic if I were even ALLOWED to read on the job, hahaha!

    Anyway, I’ve heard of these kinds of things before. It sounds odd now-a-days, and I don’t blame ya for the dumbfounded-ness. But hey, if it’s one chapter at a time on the company’s dime, I definitely wouldn’t mind. Sure beats a boring lecture-style meeting if you ask me.

    1. Flynn

      As a person who works in a library, I’d be ecstatic if I were even ALLOWED to read on the job, hahaha!

      This, so much this. Librarians live in a special kind of hell – all those books and not allowed to read them.

        1. danr

          Indexer is the profession where you sit and read almost all day. There is some writing involved, as you do the indexing. I did periodical indexing for awhile and it was wonderful.

          1. Rana

            On the flip side, though, indexing reading isn’t anything like reading for your own interest or pleasure. You do learn a lot about topics that would never have occurred to you to seek out otherwise, but it’s not at all the same sort of activity as curling up with a great book until the wee hours of the night. It’s work. Interesting, rewarding work, but still work.

            (Says the current freelancer indexer/editor who also reads a spit-ton of fiction every day on top of her projects… *laughs*)

            It may explain why there are so many ex-librarians working as indexers, though!

  4. Jen

    I love to read and I think this is beyond silly. Having to discuss a book on influence and persuasion (a topic that is way at the bottom of my list of interests) with my coworkers… uh, what? I don’t remember going back to school. Having someone at work *recommend* a book – reasonable, and I might or might not read it in my own time, at my own pace. Having a mandatory book club? I would follow the OP and read the book, but I would participate as little as possible in the discussions.

    1. Kate2

      I would suggest the OP keep an open mind and participate in discussions if she/he has something to add. Going into this situation dragging your feet and knowing you’re going to hate it isn’t going to help anything! Remember being in a classroom with someone leading a discussion and no one responds? Just silence and you see the teacher/presenter struggling up front? That to me is cringe worthy.

      1. Jen

        It might be cultural too. Literally all my classes, from primary school to university, were as you described. The top management in my company is in the States and they’ve all been warned that if they hold a meeting, people will very, very rarely speak up, and it doesn’t mean the manager is doing something wrong, it’s just the way we are.

  5. EngineerGirl

    I’ve been part of several book clubs at work. They’re great! Not only do you get to discover new topics, but you get to find out other peoples perspective on it. I found that we all bonded together just a little bit more because of it too.

    A book on influence and persuasion is absolutely a part of everyones job. How many times do you need to get cooperation from someone that does not report to you? You’re going to need influence and persuasion to do just that.

    I’d say this is a wonderful opportunity – and you are being paid for it too.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree, and I ESPECIALLY agree if the workplace is one like what Kate2 mentions above, where people don’t say anything or pitch ideas. Unless it were a truly absurd or offensive choice of book, I just can’t imagine getting paid to read a book and feeling all pissed off and bitter about it.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I was trying to decide what books I’d be really outraged by having to read (but could imagine a horrible workplace wanting people to read — so 50 Shades of Grey can’t go on this list since that’s unrealistic). I came up with:
        – The Secret
        – The Celestine Prophecy (okay, someone on Twitter gets credit for this one)
        – anything political if my employer wasn’t related to politics
        – anything specific to women because I find that condescending

        1. mh_76

          What about starting a favorite/least favorite books page and working on it as time allows? It could be solely geared towards workplace- & job-search-relevant books or could be divided into sections for relevant & not relevant (or whatever categories). There are so many books mentioned here (and movies and other resources).

        2. KellyK

          I haven’t actually read Who Moved My Cheese, but my mom had to read it at a previous job and found the implication—“We’re going to change a bunch of stuff, and if you have issues with it, then *you’re* the problem,”—pretty insulting.

  6. AdAgencyChick

    Oh god, OP, I sympathize. A few years ago my boss’s boss decided we (meaning all the copywriters and graphic designers in our group) were all going to have to read some corporate bullshit book. I call it “corporate bullshit” because it was some gimmick that was supposed to instantly make you into a better manager, but it was actually…just a gimmick. (The person who made us read it is one of the worst managers I’ve ever encountered, so we were all amused and annoyed by turns.)

    At least you can read the book during work hours! (We weren’t told when we could read ours, but if the number of client-billable hours had dropped because of reading time, you bet we would have heard about it.) I’d say give it a chance at first — if it turns out the book actually contains valuable advice, great! If not, I highly recommend scanning each week’s assignment quickly, coming up with one or two talking points so that you can pipe up during the discussion, and giving the reading no more thought than that…just like grade school, come to think of it. :P

  7. Hugo Stiglitz

    I’d get a synopsis of the book online, rip the cover off and put it over something that I really WANT to read, and use the work time to get through some good novels.

    “How are you coming along on reading that book on influence?”

    “Great, boss, thanks! Wonderful pick!”

    NOT.

  8. JT

    The problem with this is in the execution – if the book isn’t closely related to work or the time involved outweighs the benefits to the organization. I’d imagine, for example, that reading strong magazine or journal articles would generally be more effective in terms of time than many book chapters. Feeling like you’re wasting time at work can be demoralizing so the benefits should be clear .

    But the general concept of being paid to learn? Great!

  9. Scott M

    I don’t have a good feeling about this, but that may be just because of the description given by the OP. If the owner had spent some time giving a overview of the book, and explaining why he thought it was important for everyone to read (even if they aren’t in sales), then perhaps the OP would feel better about the assignment.

    But it sounds like the owner just thought it would be obvious that this was a great book, so he just passed it out and assumed it’s greatness would become obvious when everyone read it. He is probably someone who thinks everyone is just like him – a go-getter, wants to move up and own their own company, ambitious as heck. It probably doesn’t occur to him that others may not have the same goals and therefore may not find the book useful. In other words he didn’t think this through – this is a knee-jerk reaction to his enjoyment of the book.

    I suspect the discussion sessions are going to be very frustrating for him.

  10. Indie_Rachael

    I *wish* I could force my coworkers to read — anything to give them something to discuss that would take away from the constant whining, gossiping, and updates on pointless reality shows.

    OP, I’d say that as long as the guy doesn’t continue to roll out pointless books one after another, just play along. It may not be your cup of tea, but you’ll get through it and you may even learn something useful (and if you’re like so many people and hate reading, I’m sure there’s an audio book version out there you could rent our buy).

    1. Jamie

      “I *wish* I could force my coworkers to read — anything to give them something to discuss that would take away from the constant whining, gossiping, and updates on pointless reality shows.”

      Hey! There is no book which will cause me to bond with my co-workers more than discussing the joy we felt when Robyn was booted from Hell’s Kitchen. Reality TV has it’s workplace uses. :)

      I think we should all do a book club at work with Alison’s management book. Then not only could it force everyone to read the copy I bought for the office, but then I’d get to be super cool because I post here.

      Actually, a former co-worker tried to get a book club similar to the OPs going and every so often people still bring it up in a mocking way. This won’t go over well in every workplace.

  11. Elizabeth

    I’m a graphic designer. At one of the places I worked, the owner talked about the book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable”. He actually raved about it and recommended that we all read it. But instead of being forced to read it and discuss it, several copies were made available to borrow. Surprisingly, most of us read it and got some interesting discussions going. (Highly recommend the book; since then I’ve gotten a copy for my library and refer to it once in awhile!)

    I’m not usually involved with the business side of things either but reading books like the Purple Cow does get you to think “outside the box of your job description”. You never know where or whom the next good idea is going to come from.

    1. Vicki

      “Hey, I recommend this book because….” is a lot better than “Everyone read this book and we will discuss it one chapter a week”.
      Make copies available to borrow? Good.
      Give everyone in the department a copy? Great.
      Insist that they Must Read It because There Will Be A Test? Not so good.

      I have worked in several companies and departments where a co-worker or manager recommended a book. In many of those cases, every member of the team was given a copy of the book.

      I have never been in a situation where a manager said we were going to “discuss a chapter a week”. I love to read but HATED the “read and discuss” parts of elementary and high school.

      The only good side I can see of this whole idea is that I just finished reading the “how can we make our staff meetings less boring?” discussion. I suppose this os one way… or not.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’ve seen group book discussions done very effectively when it’s a book that has obvious links to people’s work. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand just because it makes you think of school :)

        1. Anon1

          We have a leadership reading circle that’s worked its way through three books at the recommendations of various members. Discussions tend to stray widely off topic: “in chapter 3 he says…and that reminds me of…and that reminds me of…” until pretty soon we’re discussing some aspect of leadership not even mentioned. But that’s okay since sharing ideas is part of the objective. The best thing about it is that it’s optional. If you don’t want to be there you don’t go, and those of us who go get to enjoy people who want to be a part.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.

        I also think at there’s a big difference in the situations, in that in elementary school you have to read it because you have to. At work, you’re (or at least the OP is) getting paid to read and discuss something that your boss thinks will help your work.

        In general, I really dislike conflation between work and school… especially college! In one, you get paid to do stuff. At the other you PAY to do stuff. That alone is sufficient for me to approach them in completely different ways.

  12. OP

    Thanks everyone for your viewpoints. After reading the comments here, I do think this could be the case of the manager who thinks everyone is as ambitious as he is, but at the same time he is a nice guy and he also probably thinks we will enjoy the book as much as he does. Maybe I will use the tactic of sincerely asking him why he chose this book to see if there is more meaning behind the selection. I will try to be a little more open minded about it, and report back to let you all know how our first discussion goes. Thanks again!

    1. Vicki

      Please do, and do let us know what he says.

      And also, for those of us in the studio audience – what is the title of this book?

      1. OP

        The title of the book is “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

        1. Jamie

          Too bad it isn’t Machiavelli’s The Art of War.

          That could make for some very interesting office politics.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.

          Honestly, every book that I have ever read about the science of persuasion and decision making has been fascinating. And I think it’s worth it to note that this isn’t a silly business self-help book by some self-appointed guru. This is an academic book.

          And look at the Amazon reviews! Out of 398 reviews, it has 302 5 star reviews. It only has 9 one star. The featured comment is “I highly recommend this book to all professionals.” It seems like there is not a workplace where this would be a BAD choice.

  13. bemo12

    I don’t quite understand some of the people on here who are actively encouraging you not to read the book.

    1) You’re getting paid to read it.
    2) They’re allowing you to read on company time.
    3) Just because you don’t know the purpose of the book (before you read it) doesn’t mean it’s not important, and even if it isn’t, see #1 + #2

    Sometimes things don’t appear useful at the outset, but then most people get something out of it. At least they’re not making you do trust falls and team building ropes courses.

    1. Anonymous

      This does have the feeling of an enforced ‘team building’ exercise though. If its presented with the same level of fake ‘ we are all going to love it and be sooo empowered/improved!’ enthusiasm that (sometimes) comes from team building organisers then it can lead to resentment due to “do we really have time for this?” feelings.

      Some of us prefer an understated presentation rather than an over the top “oh isn’t this wonderful!!!” attitude and I’m wondering if that is part of the OP’s view.

    2. office person

      Yes I agree. You are told to read the book. Read it. We are being asked to read a book as well. So… I read what we are told to read during work, as it is a work related book.

      It amazes me how many on my team are taking issue with it. They don’t think it is a part of their ” work “. It is, as the bosses said…. “read this book “. Whether I like the book or not doesn’t matter. When we are given our next chapters to read, I make time and read it.

      It is not for me to judge the managers intent and then decide whether I should read it or not.

      1. Vicki

        Actually, I think it _is_ for you to judge the manager’s intent, or, at the very least, to question it. He works for you.

        Ask why.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          While I agree it’s reasonable to ask — politely, not adversarially — about the manager’s thinking in assigning the book, I don’t understand the “he works for you” part of this.

          1. Office person

            Yeah I think it is OK to ask generally about what the managers wants us to get out of reading the book but I don’t get the ” he works for you ” statement either.

            My point was that we can’t just decide we are not going to read the book because don’t agree with the manager on it. It is still a directive to follow.

        2. Your Mileage May Vary

          Maybe in this scenario Vicki describes it’s the CEO wanting to know why a manager is picking this book?

  14. MillenniMedia

    I’d actually say that those subjects in particular are relevant to any job. You might be a graphic designer now, but chances are that you’ll move up the ladder and be in a position of power at some point. At a management level those are good skills to hone. Also, even if you plan to be a designer forever, who’s to say you’ll never have to persuade your boss to add another person to the team or buy some fancy new software?

    Most people will have a bad attitude about this assignment, so if you go in with an open mind and see it as a growth opportunity, you’ll likely stand out from the crowd.

  15. Rachel B

    A director at my old company had her immediate reports participate in mandatory book club. She selected the book each month, almost always a business book about “confrontation” or “difficult conversations.” As you can imagine, it wasn’t a big hit. I think something like OP described, where the required reading selection is brief and can be completed during the normal work day, is just fine, provided the “why” of reading the book is explained.

  16. Lisa

    I loved book time at my first company. My boss would hand me books all the time, and he prob expected me to read them on my own. Nope… When it got slow in the office, I would perch my feet on a drawer in my desk, and start reading. It def stopped my boss from giving me every business book he read, and made him focus on only the good ones. I read one that was so awesome, as a manager, I had everyone in the office read it. Positively Outrageous Service by T. Scott Gross, its awesome. Basically gets you to think of points within your business-to-customer relationship where you can provide amazing and awesome service that goes over the top, and in theory produces a viral like response in which the customer goes out and gushes about you and your business because they felt special and felt like you went out of your way for them. Of course, I worked at a produce and most workers were not sales guys so no one understood why the book mattered to them. Until they understood that the goal wasnt a sale, the goal was awesome service. That means that the office worker that greeted customers, would start learning more about every repeat customer that came in, and treated them ALL like they were our #1 priority. Its little things. For instance, Peter would buy 8 cases of fruit a month for his convenience store. In comparison, Stop & Shop was buying hundreds of cases of fruit a day. We started calling Peter ahead of time, to take his order. We started carrying his cases to his car (he was like 80, but could still pick them up like he was 20 yrs old). Peter would say he couldnt pick his order up today, but can he come tomorrow. We delivered them. Peter became just as important to us at the big grocers, because HE became our advocate for other small grocers. We got more business from other small grocers, and it added up to a nice chunk of sales, all because we gave Peter …Positively Outrageous Service! god, I sound like I wrote the book. lol, seriously though, I read it like 6 years ago, and I still treat every client like they are my my most important client no matter how much I actually make from them. Over the years, I have gotten more business from the little clients because they talk me up so much, based on me overdoing my customer service. After awhile, it doesnt feel like I am overdoing anything, and it became my new level of service. Clients know I have their backs, and that “we’re in this together”, they are not just a paycheck and the result has been very rewarding personally and financially.

    Anyway, when I had my employees read this book, it was such a fun joke to be like “did you give that customer some positively outrageous service?” or in response to anything “was it positively outrageous?” It got them thinking, and we would brain storm ways to make customers feel special. A lot of it was real simple, talk to them. Learn their names, learn their kids names, ask what they did over the weekend, remember what they said the next time you see them. Not rocket science, but we made it into a game of who could be better at POS, and while it started as everyone being flirty and sickeningly sweet, it made the office a happier workplace cause we were laughing at ourselves and eventually it became the norm.

      1. Lisa

        lol. i ordered another copy, cause I cant find my other one. I want the purple cow book too (mentioned above)!

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Along the same lines is “The Nordstrom Way” (http://www.amazon.com/Nordstrom-Way-Americas-Customer-Norddstrom/dp/0471354864/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345679868&sr=1-3&keywords=nordstrom+customer+service).

      I read it and it really opened my eyes. Customer service is not something you really understand as nuanced or complicated someone points out a better model. Sometimes people need a nudge to view things differently, and a book is a great way to do it!

  17. Sara

    I think this is totally reasonable. It’s not much different than sending someone to a conference or seminar, but it’s much cheaper and less taxing without the travel. The guy gave you a reasonable amount of time to read it and is allowing you to read while at work. Even if it’s not directly related to your work as a designer, maybe it will help you understand where he wants the business to go, or how you ultimately help clients. The topic sounds sales-related and maybe he just wants everyone who interacts with the clients to have some knowledge in that area — after all, every interaction with a client is basically customer service, which is part of sales and retaining clients. If my boss asked me to read a book because he thought it would benefit me or our company, I would not bat an eye.

  18. Carrie

    As a former salesperson myself, I would have loved for my graphics department to understand a bit more about our process and how their role really does play into our role. I’m assuming OP works with a sales staff, but if not, its still good to understand the mindset of other cogs in the machine, so to speak. It will get everyone thinking a little differently, and taking the big picture into consideration. So many times the graphics people were not involved in my sales process and I wish they could have been. Makes for a much more compelling persuasion with a potential client.

  19. Lisa

    An organization that I worked for bought the book “Who Moved My Cheese” for everyone in the office. Along with the book that we all found in our mailbox was a cover letter suggesting we read it. It was magnificent and extremely appropriate as we were undergoing organizational change. Not required reading but we all read it as it was very relevant to the changes we were facing and it was very enlightening. I still applaud management for providing us with a resource to read and discuss with our co-workers about the changes that were going on in a positive way.

    1. ooloncoluphid

      Ah yes, “Who Moved My Cheese”: A wonderful way to make your employees feel good about the layoffs that are about to occur.

      Read “Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich instead.

    2. Another anon

      I was forced to watch a video version of “Who Moved My Cheese?” at a staff development retreat. I suppose it had some useful perspectives, but the animated anthropomorphic mice pretty much killed it for me. It did provide us some entertainment for a while, though, whining “Who moooved my cheeeeeese?” at inappropriate times for the next few months.

    3. Scott M

      “Who Moved My Cheese” is a book you either love or hate. The reviews on Amazon.com show it at a 3.3 stars out of 5. There were 641 5-star ratings and 481 1-star ratings.

      Personally I disliked it. It’s really too simplistic to be useful. There are lots of reasons people have trouble with change, and none of them are relevant to a parable about mice in a maze.

      1. Vicki

        I’m with you. One of my dept directors advocated it. I read is in what, under 30 minutes and thought it was lame. As you say, “It’s really too simplistic to be useful. ”

        It’s a Pet Rock of Workplace books. It sold how many copies? And why???

    4. Lisa

      I had an ex give me that book when he wanted to break up with me. Idiot. He thought the book would be a great way for me to get that “things change, you need to cut your losses”. I took it as “things change, you need to adapt”. We were each others first loves, and he was convinced that since the honeymoon faze of tearing each other clothes off was over, that it meant he wasn’t in love anymore. And the lovely statement of “you don’t end up with your first love” so we need to break up was a real winner too. I hate that book, because of him.

  20. jennie

    I worked for a company that hired a lot of young, inexperienced front-line managers and we always had a management book assigned to read and discuss at staff meetings.

    It made me realize that adults read at very different levels. We’d have to read parts aloud and many people struggled with that. It also seemed that these books were written in the largest fonts and smallest words available to try to encourage people who hate reading to get through it.

    I think it can be a great tool as long as the boss realizes not everyone loves to read or is comfortable with it, so you can’t get 100% buy-in.

  21. Anonymous

    Our whole leadership team had to read the same management book. We had to read it on our own time though but they told us the most important chapters to read so we’d all be on the same page. It was useful for framing conversations for awhile after, but I don’t know that any of it stuck, to be honest.

    1. JT

      For alignment, reading the same book is good. Another option is each choosing a different book and then presenting on what was learned – this builds more diverse knowledge and presentation skills.

  22. Kristi

    The timing on this post is perfect. A number of posts are re: difficult bosses and/or coworkers, habits, routines, etc. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things are just the way they are and we can either decide to stay or move on. Depending on where you’re at in that process, something as simply as a book club at work might be therapeutic. These books offer classic examples of what we deal with so often, and maybe talking about the book (rather than our own real-life examples which wouldn’t be appropriate) would help us get some of the frustration out. And I’m sure all our friends, partners, and families wouldn’t mind hearing less about work.

    Also, depending on what kind of challenges we’re facing at work, a book club could be a productive way of absorbing our attention for a short time before returning our attention to our job. (Kind of like taking a break from your computer screen every 20 minutes and focusing your eyes on something else for 20 seconds.)

    Finally, I generally like the idea of a book club as a way of interacting with co-workers. This is much more my preference than forced chit-chat at a holiday party. And if everyone is allowed to recommend other books for future readings, they may feel more included in the process.

    1. Vicki

      >I generally like the idea of a book club as a way of interacting with co-workers. This is much more my preference than forced chit-chat at a holiday party.

      I agree with you – if it is truly optional. I think making a book available, telling people why you like it, and setting up _optional_ discussion groups is a great way to learn and interact with co-workers. Each person can recommend their own favorite books. Post the book topic for each month and different people can attend. Do it as a brown bag or otherwise on work time.

      But don;t require it. Don;t require the “discussion”. and never do this without providing the Why and the What do we expect you to get out of this.

  23. Vicki

    I just realized why this situation rubs me the wrong way (aside from bringing back bad memories of high school).

    I _love_ reading “business books” of all kinds. I even enjoy discussing them.

    But I want to discuss them with people who were also interested in reading the book and _want_ to talk about it and learn from it. If I recommend a book to you, it’s because I enjoyed it, learned from it, and think you might get something out of it too. It’s because I want to share a Good Thing.

    I do _not_ want to pretend to discuss a book with a bunch of co-workers who feel they were forced to read it, didn’t want to read it, don;t like to read, and above all don;t want to be required to talk about it one chapter a week.

    Way to kill a good book. And a meeting. And a relationship with your manager.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But I think you’re confusing reading for pleasure (what you describe here) with reading something because your manager wants you to learn and reflect on something as part of your job.

      1. Rana

        I think, for me, the problem lies with the “reflecting” part. What if you hate the book? What if you think its argument is poorly crafted, and the conclusions stupid? I mean, you can’t really say that…

        1. Rana

          As my comment below suggests, my experience has been that I, personally at least, can’t. I’m better off just keeping my mouth shut, because no one wants to hear me tearing down the boss’s favorite book.

          1. Rana

            I should also admit that I have a pretty low tolerance for books of that type, period, because it always feels like they are saying things that are either painfully obvious or way too oversimplified. I think I’ve read maybe three that I felt were actually worth reading – your book (no lie), Bright-Sided, and a book on the Renaissance Soul I know I’ve mentioned before.

              1. Rana

                *laughs*

                I’m mostly just grizzling here, I have to admit. In actual practice, I’d read the thing in an afternoon and mostly forget what it said, show up to the discussions and plaster an interested expression on my face, say a few bland nothings about it, and grumble about it to my husband after work about the absurdity of it all.

                Somehow, though, I doubt that’s what the people who plan these things hope will happen.

  24. Rana

    Even after reading all the reasons why this could be a good thing, and all the reasons why one should go along with it even if you think it’s not…

    I have to admit that I, personally, have my hackles up a bit about it. Here’s the problem for me: as a result of both my personality and my background, I have a pretty low tolerance for facile arguments and/or simplistic conclusions, and I’ve been trained to shred arguments that are weak with a pretty brutal efficiency, and I’ve been socialized to be outspoken with my opinions. This makes for a good scholar but a crappy subordinate, in most situations.

    So when it comes to these sorts of things, I guess I feel a bit like a person armed with an intercontinental ballistic missile being asked to participate in popping balloons at the fair; if I participate, it’ll destroy everyone’s fun and likely blow myself up in the process. Usually I just bow out, knowing this, but if something’s mandatory, then that’s not an option. Generally my coping strategy is to show up and tune out, because I don’t trust myself to keep my mouth shut if I allow myself to become too interested in the discussion.

    So my take-away from this is that whoever’s leading this thing needs to realize that not everyone’s going to like the book, and to take extra care to not punish those who vocalize their dislike or badger those who choose not to speak.

    1. Jen

      I’m bad at debating, but I usually feel the same about any type of “self help” or “let us explain things in short words anyone can understand”. Most of the information could be summarized in 5 pages, so why should I have to suffer through 200 pages? I asked my boss for some books related to my profession (technical writing) and they sound great to me, but I wouldn’t want to force my coworkers into discussing them in a group setting. For what it’s worth, I feel the same about regular literature: I love discussing my favorite books, but I’ve always felt awkward when someone recommended *their* favorites, I ended up hating them and then I had to face the excited friend.

  25. ARM2008

    OK, reasons to get upset would be if they asked you to buy the book from your own money, said you had to read it on your unpaid breaks and they would be checking to make sure you were, wanted you to write a book report over the weekend, and then meet at a bar to discuss it after working hours and you had to pay the cover charge to get in the bar and buy your own drinks.

    The book may be stupid, but if your weekly team meetings are anything like the ones I suffer through a discussion on a stupid book would be a major improvement.

  26. Ask a Manager Post author

    Full disclosure: I had a client who had us all read and discuss “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” and it was awesome and has been something we’ve often referenced in discussions since.

    I can totally imagine how this could be done ineptly, but I’d give it a chance because you might be pleasantly surprised. And if nothing else, you get to read a book on company time.

    1. Rana

      I dunno. Having to read a bad book is far worse than working, at least for me. Or maybe it’s that it feels too much like work (given that currently my work is editing and used to be teaching writing).

  27. mozandeffect

    My old workplace tried this three times. The first two times it wasn’t mandatory. I refused to do it b/c 1) I didn’t like the books that were chosen (they were both fiction novels, which had nothing to do with the office’s biomedical mission, even remotely) and 2) the book club was conducted during a working lunch hour once a week.

    But lunch time is my time! Still, I didn’t like the feeling that my coworkers looked down on me for not joining their little club, like they thought I was being a snob for not joining. Not a good feeling at all.

    The third time my boss tried it, she bought the books off Amazon for $12 each and it was related to third world medicine, so ok, I can understand how it relates. But it was so boring and like Rana, I thought it was terrible. The only good thing about this was we were invited but not required to repay our boss for a copy of the book (she said if we wanted to, we should leave the money anonymously in her box in the mail room). Even though I didn’t like the book, I felt bad that she’d bought all the books and my coworkers were unlikely to put anything in, so I stuck a $5 bill in her mailbox.

    I guess it depends on the field but our job (protocol abstraction) required us to read so much, I hated being forced to read something I didn’t want to.

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