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.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam*

    Oh no. No no no no no no no no no no.

    I sing in precisely one place: in the car with the windows up and radio blaring so the rest of the world isn’t traumatized by my stunningly awful vocal gymnastics.

    I would find a way out of this. Unless not attending might somehow hurt my office representation, any excuse will do right up to the age old “My dog ate my homework.”

    1. Jake*

      I refused to go to my company’s Christmas party the second year I was with them. Best choice ever.

      When I first started making my intentions known I got a lot of push back from colleagues that I’d hurt my reputation. By the time of the party I was part of a group that was 20% of our office that simply refused to go. That doesn’t count the other 10% that couldn’t go due to scheduling.

      The bigger the group, the harder it is for them to hold it against you.

      1. Jill*

        I also refused to go to my work Xmas party after seeing how awful the first one was. Plus, since I work in government, we have to pay for our own parties (so as not to have taxpayers funding non-work functions). Heck if I’m shelling out $40 for an event where I’ll be miserable.

        Once I quit going, others followed. And yes, we got called party poopers. Yes we were told we’d look bad. But we held firm and didn’t miss a thing. Sometimes it takes the courage of one person to create a movement.

    2. Angora*

      Do you have family in the immediate area? This one of the times where I would lie like a dog and say my mother or child has an medical emergency and take off. Or say they need a ride to the doctor’s office because they are having minor out patience surgery. Or say you have a doctor’s appt that if you rescheduled it would be months to get in. Sorry, I cannot make it. Just tell your supervisor … and not volunteer it to the others until the day before hand so you do not have to listen to it.

      Than tell your family members to not answer the phone during that time frame.

      1. littlemoose*

        Yeah, I was going to suggest an “appointment” with a doc who is hard to get in to see and this was the only time available, oh no. The other suggestions (sick pet, helping a family member, food poisoning) are good too. Basically if you know they won’t budge on this, a white lie is your best friend. Hopefully after the event is over the planners will realize what a bad idea it is, and not repeat it.

      2. asdfasf af*

        It’s really bad idea to lie.

        Scheduling something the same time and insisting that’s more important is one thing – that’s actually true to you.

        But lying is a big mistake and giving it out as career advice is bad.

        1. Cat*

          I hate this debate. Suffice it to say that some of us don’t have an ethical problem faking food poisoning in a situation like this, and the chances of it hurting you professionally are minimal.

          1. E.T.*

            I don’t consider it lying if the OP calls in sick during the party. It is not unethical at all. There is no debate.

            If mandatory karaoke makes the OP panicky (and to some people, that means any or a combination of symptoms such as stress, elevated heartbeat, nausea, sweats, headaches, feeling lightheaded, anxiety attacks, etc.), then the OP is sick and the OP should use sick time.

            If this happened to me, I would call in sick, no qualms about it. If the event organizer pressed for more details, I would say the event activities are stressing me out so much that my stomach feels really uneasy, and I don’t want to accidentally throw up on someone while I am being forced to sing. If you give me a pass on singing in public, I will think about attending. But otherwise, my stomach is too queasy to handle the event.

          2. Bea W*

            I find nothing unethical about quietly protecting yourself from public humiliation and embarrassment. In terms of one’s career, it’s probably a prudent move.

            1. asdfasf af*

              E.T. not sure where the sick from stress comes from. Here’s the lying I read about ” an “appointment” with a doc who is hard to get in to see and this was the only time available, oh no. The other suggestions (sick pet, helping a family member, food poisoning) are good too. ”

              AAM – what’s your opinion on lying and careers?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                You shouldn’t lie. That said, saying that you have a conflict with another commitment is pretty generally accepted as a way to get out of social invitations of all sorts, and that’s no different here, especially since that your livelihood is involved. I’m also fine with people having “doctor’s appointments” to go to job interviews, since most employers make it impossible to say “I have a job interview” and you do need to be able to go to them.

        2. Ethyl*

          Forcing people to sing karaoke is also a bad career move. This letter is giving me a huge anxiety attack just *reading* about it. I feel like this is one of those places where the people involved have totally earned being lied to.

          1. Rose*

            I agree; it’s totally not unethical in this circumstance. I just think it might be a bit obvious, since she’s already expressed that she has a problem with the event.

            Someone has to stand up to these idiots and tell them that this idea is beyond stupid. On the other hand, it’s not Op’s job to teach everyone at her work how to not be idiots.

            1. WorkingMom*

              Yes – this is probably already addressed in the comments somewhere – but singing publicly is a LEGITIMATE fear. I am another who only sings in the car, with the volume loud enough that even I can’t hear how terrible I am. I can’t even sing in front of my husband. Seriously, I would probably wet my pants up there before a note even left my lips.

              1. Erica B*

                I am on team No Public Singing as well. It’s best for everyone that way. Not cool party planners. Not cool. I have never done karaoke on my own, with my friends on purpose. Why would I do it for work (when it’s not part of my normal duties)??

                Depending on your work crowd, there are no problems with going to a karaoke bar, but for the love if all that is holy, don’t force people in participating. I’m thankful that my workplace has anti-bullying policies (on top of our anti-harrassment policies) in which if I were put in this situation, would feel like is happening. Feeling bullied into doing something for whatever reason, and especially so if it induces fear, panic and/or anxiety is grounds for calling them out on it, and for them to stop applying the pressure.

                best of luck

          2. Anonymous*

            I’m with you. I am almost always opposed to lying but I’d have no qualms about needing to recuse myself in a hurry because of my penguins appendectomy, cousin’s emergency wedding, or my brother’s super secret nobel prize he just told me about…no, it won’t be on the news because it’s the super secret one.

            Seriously – no problems lying in this instance. If they don’t want people to lie they shouldn’t make it necessary. I really would like to know the mindset behind anyone who thinks this is a good idea. Not only would I spontaneously com bust before singing in public, but I cringe when people who can’t sing well sing on TV – much less co-workers. Guaranteed I’ll be cringing my way through every song where a co-worker doesn’t surprise everyone by belting out like they were cast in Glee.

        3. OhNo*

          In this case, the worst thing that could happen is that you get caught in your lie. Then you ‘fess up. Say, “Yes, I lied, because even the thought of singing in front of people makes me hyperventilate. I figured the best way to opt out and not spoil everyone else’s fun was to just not go.”

          You show me a boss who takes that answer poorly, and I’ll show you a jerk.

          Morally, ethically, whatever, lying is usually not a great plan. But sometimes a small lie, that doesn’t hurt anybody, is necessary to preserve the peace.

          1. Angora*

            There are some people that truly enjoy these type of events and they make everyone miserable that don’t. I have been bullied into doing the karoke thing when I worked a 2nd job as a bartender. I am cannot carry a tone if I had to and I do not enjoy standing up in front of people doing presentations (unless it’s a group I have a working relationship with) … strangers forget it. I was half sick and mad. Than they complained because I wasn’t allowed enough.

          2. kobayashi*

            Lying to say “I’m sick,” is one thing. Lying and saying “I have a doctor’s appointment with a specialist that has limited availability” is a whole different can of worms that can get a person legitimately fired.

  2. Diet Coke Addict*

    This sounds like a perfect storm of horror. Forced participation? Forced participation in teams that you don’t know and didn’t pick? Forced participation with teams you didn’t pick in singing? And then being judged on your performance? And then having someone be awarded the worst performance in this nightmare of a party? Which will take place in mid-afternoon so you can’t (or, at least, it wouldn’t be quite seemly to) get completely loaded to escape?

    Gee whiz. Voice your (very appropriate!!!) concerns and thereby take a bullet for the no doubt many other unhappy employees, that is the most mature thing to do, but I’d be booking a vacation day right now or at least engineering an elaborate fake-sick proposition. (“Gosh, my throat is so scratchy….wow, today I can barely talk…..ugh I’m so tired and sniffly….I’m sick! Who knew?”)

    1. Anon*

      My first thought was also an Oscar-worthy fake illness. The day before the party, start coughing. Fake coughing a few times gets your throat tickly so you’ll be real-coughing in no time. The day of, speak in a lower voice, continue coughing, rub your eyes so they’re a little puffy, and make sure that people see you consuming cough drops and hot tea. If you’re really committed, you can take a decongestant so that your nose will run. At the end of the day, you can either insist that you’re just not feeling well enough to go and must be getting home, even though you are so sad to miss the party, or demonstrate what a sport you are by attending the party as moral support even though you cannot sing. If they still want to force you to sing, insist on some practice rounds and break into a coughing fit a few words in every time, and maybe your team will let you sit out for their own benefit.

      If you aren’t comfortable with such elaborate fakery, push your team to choose a song that allows the 1-2 people with the best voices to carry most of it and the rest of you to just do some backup. (Youtube the House MD “Midnight Train to Georgia” karaoke scene for reference.) With any luck, you’ll have a ham on your team that is thrilled to take the spotlight.

      1. asdfasf af*

        I can’t believe this advocacy for lying.

        I may be underestimating how desperate people are for jobs, but to me, if you really don’t want to go, don’t go. Say it. Say why if you can. And then just don’t go. If you can afford a risk to your job, do that.

        I guess I can understand lying for someone really desperate for the job who thinks they might lose the job if they don’t attend without a really strong excuse. But other than that, lying like this is weak. Step up and tel the truth. Or just don’t go. “I can’t make it.”

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            Then the pro-lying crowd is underestimating just how fragile trust is and how easily people hold grudges. I certainly wouldn’t want my career impacted because my little white lie was found out.

            If you don’t want to go, just say, “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to attend”. Leave it at that. People volunteer more than is required when bowing out.

            1. Cat*

              It’s a risk balancing thing. Does the risk of someone finding out you really didn’t have food poisoning (or whatever) (and how? Is your SO going to rat you out? Just don’t go out drinking or post to Facebook about the chicken wings you’re devouring) outweigh the risk of your crazy nutjob boss not freaking out when you tell them you’re just not going to their stupid party? Normally, maybe it does; but in this case, the people involved have shown themselves to be potentially cray cray.

              Which is not to say I disagree with AAM about the public service OP would be doing by speaking out; but OP knows her office and we don’t. If she knows she’d be punished, a minor lie might be the way to go.

            2. Bea W*

              I’m normally anti-lying but if the environment is such that openly declining will reflect very negatively on her or there will be reprecussions for it, I don’t find this to be much of a moral dilemma. It’s not as black and white as “lying is always bad and one should never ever do it.” It’s a social event, not a court appearance.

              1. Bea*

                Hit send too soon – If someone who knows and respects me is going to end up having their trust shattered over lying to avoid a social event, that’s actually a pretty extreme reaction that is likely to have less to do with me and the one lie I told and more with whatever personal trust issues that person has across the board. I might expect they would be hesitant to want to invite me to things, but to holding a grudge over it and getting back at me over something I did to avoid an unremarkable work social event that I found absolutely horrible, is not a balanced reaction to get from someone, and I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

                1. asdfasf af*

                  If someone lies to me, even about a small thing, I have to wonder how well I actually know that person. Even if they apparently never did it before, I’d have to wonder if they’d duped me in the past and I wouldn’t trust them again in the future.

                  That’s not holding a “grudge.” A grudge is “I don’t like them because they lied to me.” It’s “I don’t trust them in the future because they fooled me in the past and now I doubt them all the time.”

                2. Bea W*

                  The grudge part was in reference to GrumpyBoss’ comment about someone possibly holding a grudge over a lie to get out if an event. I didn’t mean to imply losing trust in someone and holding a grudge were the same thing.

                  I’m persinally not going to judge someone’s trustworthiness based on fibbing to avoid a social event that fills them with dread whether I know them well or not. If it’s something they do regularly it may cause me to raise an eyebrow and think they have trouble saying no, and it may even piss me off if they stood me up personsally, and would cause me to be hesitant to make plans with that person, but I don’t spend any mental energy questioning their overall integrity or how well I know them. It falls under “don’t sweat the small stuff”. I say that as someone who will just say outright “I’m not going.” because I hate lying even to perpetrate some social nicety. It makes me feel terrible and fake. When I’ve fibbed it’s been out of fear and self preservation, but I understand how it feels like to even consider doing it and I have empathy for people who would consider it in this scenario even if their personal lying threshhold is lower than mine.

                  Everyone is different of course. Like I said in another reply (I think). I find this issue to not be black and white even though I personally would probably opt for the truth option.

                3. Ethyl*

                  “If someone lies to me, even about a small thing, I have to wonder how well I actually know that person. Even if they apparently never did it before, I’d have to wonder if they’d duped me in the past and I wouldn’t trust them again in the future.”

                  See, this is what I feel like Bea was saying about a disproportionate response. The LW wouldn’t be lying about like, cheating on their spouse or hiding a body. It’s a small lie to avoid the outsized bad reaction to telling the truth. And honestly, people who are this black and white about lying seem to be poorly socially calibrated. Most people understand that occasional untruths are part of normal social interaction and don’t react with forever distrusting someone because they said they liked your new haircut even if they thought you looked like the bride of Frankenstein. In all likelihood, your friends, family, even your SO has lied to you in the past and will again in the future. If you can’t deal with that then never have any relationships I guess.

          2. KellyK*

            I think he/she is also underestimating how pushy and demanding some employers can be about that sort of thing.

            1. asdfasf af*

              I think it’s worth following AAM’s advice:

              “1. Just not go. Find a reason to use leave that day.
              2. Speak up,”

              But if you’re afraid, don’t. Go to the party and be miserable.

              I stopped going to my office holiday party two or three years after I started working there. it was the second “real” job in my career. Each year since I’d be asked to come and get multiple reminders and every year the next day my boss and others would comment that the noted I wasn’t there. So what?

              If I imagined that that meant they were demanding I attend, I would have empowered them. My fear would have been a tool in getting me to do what they wanted/ Instead I interpreted the invitations as invitations and the post-event comments as just observations. If someone actually meant I had to be there, they’d better say it in those words. I won’t help them turn a request into an order. I don’t play that. I wish more people did. We’d have less stupid stuff at work.

        1. Anon*

          Even if people aren’t going to get fired, skipping office parties can be to the significant detriment of your career in most orgs, ime. If this isn’t one of them, then everyone should be honest – but I’m guessing it’s not if the OP is writing to AAM over it. Otherwise, if a company puts all the employees in a situation where their options are to tell a white lie, jeopardize future promotions, or endure something excruciating and not remotely work-related, I think it’s fair for the employees to choose the option that works to their own advantage. It’s not like they’re skipping out on an obligation to the company – you’re obligated to do your job, not to perform in a karaoke contest for your coworkers.

          I’m posting from the perspective of having worked for several companies where fitting into the “company culture” is vital and stuff like pretending you want to go to a party when you don’t is standard, even expected. Refusal to tell white lies about your feelings on things means that your career can literally be made stagnant because your personality, outlook, or level of emotional investment in the workplace don’t fit the precise “company culture” mold or the expected personality for your position. I get that my outlook might not be applicable in a different sort of workplace where they only care about how well you do your job.

          1. OriginalYup*

            I once expressed mild surprise at the increasing volume of holiday activities that were required at my old office. I was late arriving for one lunchtime event — because I was actually, duh, working — and the CEO showed up at my desk to tell me to get downstairs, now, for the ugly sweater party. I was subsequently assigned to be on the Mandatory Fun Holiday Planning Committee for the next two years, where my non-negotiable task was organizing supplies for team games held during the holiday lunch.

            So, ditto on people needing to gauge the internal environment on this stuff first. It can get ugly.

          2. Anon 2 Electric Boogaloo*

            Yeah, I’m another in the lying camp, even though this event sounds horrible. Like the OP, I can get down with some karaoke after a few drinks with some friends, but I would never, ever, ever do it with a work group.

            At work, I used to be honest, and, sadly, that got me nowhere, and was more often to my detriment. I’ve just come to accept if I take money from the corporate world, I’ve got to play along with it’s social mores, which includes attending those beloved team building events, unless, of course, you’re suddenly sick (cough! cough!), have an emergency (get a friend to call at just the right time) and so on.

            Seriously, you’re better off going to karaoke with friends the night before and unable to come in the next morning because of the drunk flu.

            1. Laura*

              Getting a friend to call could be really awesome, actually.

              “I’m sorry, I really have to go – I just got a call from a good friend, and I can’t go into details, but I have to go. It’s a health issue.” (I’m sorry I got dragged into this, I have to go or I might tell you what I really think of it, my friend rang me as we agreed, if I go into details you’ll go postal, and my health demands that I get out of here and de-stress.)

            2. Elsajeni*

              Yep. I wouldn’t go with the elaborate fake illness with a weeklong build-up — that seems like overkill to me, and also, the more elaborate a lie is, the more opportunities there are for it to be found out — but if someone is going to demand an explanation for your absence, and you really feel that you can’t get away with saying “I’m not coming because I don’t enjoy karaoke,” then absolutely be “too sick” to attend. (Anyway, I really feel like this hardly even qualifies as lying — if thinking about going to the horrible karaoke party is leaving you full of dread and anxiety, you really aren’t feeling well! “About to throw up from panic” counts as “unwell”!)

            3. Anx*

              Oof. “Drunk flu” is a sore spot for me. I’ve worked in food service enough to get pretty annoyed at those that call in hungover (and plan on it while they’re actually out, not just unexpectedly hungover and making the wise move to stay home) since it’s so hard to take off for legitimate illnesses in some restaurants.

              That’s on the industry as a whole, though. Not just the employees. But my heart is racing just thinking of those days I had a fever but was afraid of getting fired for calling out.

          3. Anna*

            I wonder where these places are that skipping out of a party will have a significant impact on your entire career. I’ve never seen them myself and I’ve never known anyone who worked for a place like that.

            1. Stephanie*

              I interviewed at Facebook and the recruiter implied there were lots of “mandatory fun” activities when I asked about the office culture. “Oh, we hang out after work and have community service events and happy hours and team building…”

              I sort of shot myself in the foot when I mentioned I was interested in relocating to that office’s city because I had lots of friends in the area (true). When I said that, the recruiter was like “Oh. That’s great. We’re also all friends at this office as well, so you’ll have opportunities to meet other people, too!”

              Somewhere like that, I’d guess skipping out on the social events would translate to not being involved enough in the culture/company. Luckily, I’ve worked at offices where they just wanted you to get your work done and you could leave at 5.

            2. asdfasf af*

              I think it’s probably true of highly disfunctional organizations, but in those cases people should be trying to leave anyway.

            3. Willow Sunstar*

              I haven’t either. Also, as someone who is getting an MBA degree on the side, I always have the “I’m writing a paper” excuse. If my workplace is going to fire me for getting an MBA on the side, then I wouldn’t want to be there. Luckily, my current workplace encourages higher education.

        2. RobM*

          I totally agree with your direct approach, but there are people out there who are unable to handle that kind of conflict, either because it’s not in their character or because they (rightly or wrongly, doesn’t matter) genuinely fear for their career if they approach this directly.

  3. Malissa*

    I’d purposefully go for the cat-strangling award. Force me to get up and sing….Your ears are going to pay the price.

    I hope there’s a least an open bar at this thing.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I’d hate this too, because I really can not sing. I’m not tone deaf – I recognize that the sounds coming out of my mouth are not the correct notes, but I really can’t make them be the correct ones, even when I try.
      Can you just get up and “meow” once, then say you are going for the cat strangling award? But yes, I’d push back with what Alison recommended and try everything in your power to opt out of actually singing.

      1. Woodward*

        I like this as an option #3 if you absolutely feel you have to participate: use the word “meow” over and over instead of actually singing.

        Also, I’m just sorry this is happening to you. A previous job had a Christmas party with a “game show” component where each table was a team and had to answer random pop culture questions. I didn’t know a single answer and felt bad for my team.j

      2. Kelly L.*

        I thought I was the only one! I call myself “tone mute.” I can hear what the note is supposed to be, and I can hear that I’m not making it, but I can’t fix it.

        1. ggg*

          Meowing is a fantastic idea.

          My standby for forced karaoke is the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It doesn’t really require singing, and usually the whole room will join in.

          I want the trivia Christmas party! (But really I think no one should be forced to play games at work parties.)

            1. fposte*

              And pretty much the whole room knows it and knows the cue, so you can make ’em all join in.

          1. Malissa*

            “Take this job and shove it” Would be an appropriate song for forced work related karaoke.

            1. CEMgr*

              You could “sing”, just in spoken words. No need for tune.

              And act like anyone who objects is just “not fun” and “can’t take a joke”.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I was thinking of “I will do as I am told..”

              And likewise, I would make sure I was the worst singer up there. If I am not tired I can hum along okay, but I would fake being really bad. Just so someone who felt worse off would not have to take the bullet. I would make sure I was the worst one.

              These types of things tick me off, I figure companies get what they deserve on this stuff.

              1. Erica B*

                what if you did, “MMMMMmmmm MMMMmmmmm MMMMMmmmm” by Meatloaf lol just hum the whole time lol

                I like the idea of doing the song as a “Dramatic Reading” as an option or meowing the whole time.

      3. manybellsdown*

        Hah, that’s exactly how I am. I can hear when I’m wrong but not when I’m right. The only thing that sometimes saves me is that I’m a pretty good mimic with a little practice so sometimes I can fake it well. But I actually love karaoke even though I’m pretty bad, and I’m hard to embarrass, so I’d go for the cat-strangling award with gusto.

    2. LT*

      I’d go for the bad award, but then I’d made a point to look genuinely surprised and hurt when I won. Not, y’know, a temper tantrum or anything like that, just a shocked little, “oh.” and a sad, not-meeting-anyone’s-eyes smile, maybe blinking a few tears.

      Guilt me into going, I will guilt you right the heck back.

  4. The IT Manager*

    This is horrible. My sympathies. Also please try #2. Others who feel embarrassed by public shaming will appreciate you for it.

    Point of fact, though. Themed costumes are also a nightmare for some people (although I admit: “wear green” is fairly innocuous) so to each their own. I am sure the people on the karaoke committee think this is all great fun, but their failure to see how some people may not like this/may dread this shows a horrible lack of empathy.)

    1. GeekChick603*

      Public shaming is a perfect phrase to describe what happens when extroverts think that introverts don’t have any fun if they don’t do the same things extroverts think are fun. I’ve been in your position before and purposely found ways around it – family obligations, illness (real and imagined), etc. All are good ideas.

      If you have the courage to follow AAM’s option #2, by all means, do it and save the rest of us the family obligation / illness / lying thru our teeth situation.

      1. mdc*

        Yes public shaming is right. Having worked in an office where surprise mandatory “fun” i.e. humiliating games were part of an offsite work event I know this only too well.
        Looking back now I should have just refused to participate but it’s extremely hard to stand up to that pressure when everyone else is just doing it and your bosses are watching you.

    2. sunny-dee*

      If it’s themed *attire*, that’s fine with me. (Casual Friday is technically a theme.) Wear jeans, wear green, wear your favorite holiday sweater, wear your favorite / most comfortable pair of shoes, wear something with the company logo — stuff like that is so low-key and innocuous that virtually everyone can participate with a minimum of effort and discomfort because it’s so close to what people do normally, anyway.

      Costumes are a whole other ballpark. Rigid themes — even something like “50’s sock hop” — become a burden because of cost and effort, even if there is some (debatable) level of fun payoff.

      And then, there’s this….

  5. Ann*

    A karaoke bar where I have no choice but to sing is my own personal version of hell. I’d be taking leave that day. If my leave was denied, I’d call in sick and just accept the “unscheduled absence” black mark on my record. That’s how much I hate the idea of singing karaoke.

  6. Taren*

    Oh, wow! I’ve always hated mandatory fun. If you decide to go with option #2 that Alison suggested, hopefully the organisers will finally understand that this entire idea is making people uncomfortable. And since they want this to be “fun”, they would realize this was causing the exact opposite reaction. I feel for you!

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      My office had a disco party with a “worst dressed” award. With 70s vintage polyester, it actually became a game for some of us to try to win it. Seriously. I spent way too much time at the Salvation Army assembling my outfit. But at the end of the day, the trophy had been determined in advance to go to the VP (the highest ranking person at the party). It was determined by the committee months in advance.

      In hindsight, it was brilliant. You didn’t risk insulting someone who didn’t know that they were the worst dressed. It also created camaraderie in the office where we could all laugh and point at someone that we wouldn’t normally be able to.

      I’m hoping that the OP’s company knows in advance who is getting this award, and it won’t be someone who is mortified by it.

  7. The Other Dawn*

    the award is actually for “best strangling of cat sound-a-like.

    I’m not normally someone who gets my feathers ruffled easily – I’m pretty laid back -, but this would offend me as a cat lover and cat rescue volunteer.

    And this whole forced karaoke thing sounds absolutely dreadful. I’ve never done and I never intend to. If it was a night at a karaoke bar, fine. But don’t force people to do and then publicly judge them on it.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      The whole idea of mocking people who’ve been forced into doing something is just ludicrous. “Ha ha, we’re going to have an art poster competition and give the worst one an award for ‘Could Be Outclasses By a 3-year-old'” or “OK, time to have a company-wide basketball game and give the worst player an award for ‘Least Coordinated.'” How tactless and awful.

      1. BRR*

        I have a problem with the whole thing but I think the forced participation and the bad singing award combination is truly awful.

          1. RobM*

            I don’t personally feel you can reasonably have forced participation in this kind of thing under any circumstances, but adding a “worst singer” award is a new low.

            Perhaps someone needs to stand up after all the “official” awards have been announced and say that the people who hate mandatory fun have grouped together to award the party committee a cup for “most crass and clueless party organisation”

      2. KarenT*

        I think Dawn is objecting to “strangling a cat” as a phrase that is weirdly violent, not the fact that it’s insulting someone’s singing abilities.

          1. Laura*

            I totally agree with you.
            Reminds me of the time a conference presenter, in a very large session, remarked that she “didn’t have a dog in that fight” about some topic. It seemed to be a prepared remark, not off the cuff.
            I wrote a very strongly-worded evaluation of that speaker, including a suggestion that she spend some time at a rehab facility for dogs rescued from fighting rings (such as the Vicktory dogs who survived the brutalization by Michael Vick) and remember their gouged faces, missing limbs, and traumatized psyches before using that expression again.

            1. short'n'stout*

              I agree with you that that expression is upsetting – but it is also a fairly common way in some dialects of English, and is used to express the idea that the speaker has no personal stake in the outcome of whatever is being discussed. It’s possible that it’s something the speaker didn’t make up and prepare for the occasion, but is simply accustomed to hearing and using in regular conversation.

              1. Pennalynn Lott*

                I have always used, “I don’t have a dog in that hunt.” It means the same thing, but doesn’t evoke quite the same brutal image.

                1. short'n'stout*

                  That is less violent, yes. Doesn’t change the fact that the other version is so commonly used in some regions that it may come naturally to the speaker, even if they are not picturing an actual dog-fight when they say it.

                  Basically I’m saying: don’t judge someone for using the expression unless you have other evidence that they do condone animal abuse. Personally, I will be doing a stock-take of the colloquialisms I use in case there is anything lurking there that might upset people who don’t come from the same linguistic background as I do.

            2. kobayashi*

              I’ve volunteered in shelters and with dog rescues and while the phrase is problematic, I kind of think that response was a bit over the top. Maybe a simple “I found that phrase brought up some very horrific images in my mind” would’ve gotten the point across just as well (and maybe even a bit more effectively).

      3. manybellsdown*

        Mr. Bells had a job where there was an actual trophy labeled “Broke the Build” (he’s a programmer). Whoever checked in code that caused the current build to crash would get it on his or her desk until someone else did it.

        While every programmer is going to break the build at some point, it was not terribly good for office morale. The trophy is now in a box in our garage, as Mr. Bells accidentally-on-purpose took it with him when he quit.

    2. James M*

      I have an interest in non-violent alternatives to violent euphemisms (I once had a professor who made a point of using “more than one way to skin a cat” every month… he never earned my respect). What do you think of “ten cats tied to a vacuum cleaner” as a euphemism for cacophonous singing?

      1. Cucumber*

        Ten cats tied to a vacuum cleaner sounds pretty violent to me… Ten cats just in the room with a vacuum cleaner’s pretty mean!

          1. Bea W*

            I knew a rabbit who loved to be vacuumed. He’d see you bring out the vacuum and coming running to beg for it.

        1. James M*

          Mean?, yes. Violent?, it’s probably just your imagination. Keep in mind that these euphemisms’ connotation is aural, not visual. The point is that you can imagine how <insert euphemism> would likely sound. Obviously I don’t advocate attempting to verify it first hand.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            Actually, yes it would be violent. There isn’t a non-drugged cat in the world who would calmly accept being tied to a piece of machinery. The cats would claw and bite each other viciously in an attempt to escape. I much prefer “bull moose mating call”, as mentioned below.

      2. louise*

        How about “sounds like a mating bull moose”? That’s how we refer to my father-in-law’s singing voice. But not to his face. He thinks he has a lovely, amateur operatic voice. He would be really, really confused if he won an award like that!

        1. Chinook*

          Louise, the example of your fil thinking he can sing but really can’t is what I fear being (I hope my choir would have spoken up if I sucked but fear they may be too nice to deny me a solo). This event with this type of award would terrify me for that reason, and I voluntarily sing solos at church from the altar in front of hundreds (though I also believe that if God gave me a horrible voice, then He should have to suffer for it).

      3. Cat*

        Unless, like the mayor in Buffy, he followed it up with “and I know that from experience,” I guess I get objecting to the phrase but not letting it destroy your respect for someone. It’s a common phrase that isn’t meant literally. And the same goes for the cat strangling here. Even if you wouldn’t use it, why assume everyone who does it doing so to evoke violence instead of just aping a common figure of speech?

        1. Nalley*

          “Does anyone but me miss the Mayor?” (BTW, I met Harry Groener a couple of years ago. Fantastic actor and a great human being.)

          1. Carpe Librarium*

            Without the Mayor, my life is like a Toll House cookie without the chocolate chips… A pretty darn big disappointment.

        2. James M*

          Just to clarify: his repeated use of the phrase, and unusual emphasis of it, was just one tiny facet of his not earning my respect. I do not respect anyone as a matter of course (earn my respect by showing integrity or competence, preferably both), so in his case there was no respect to “destroy” in the first place.

        1. OhNo*

          I don’t understand why they couldn’t just go with “yowling cat”.
          Doesn’t matter the reason, that noise is always pretty bad.

      4. GrumpyBoss*

        My response to the “skin a cat” saying is, “You know, I can’t even tell you one way to skin a cat”. Then I Bert Stare them. Does the trick.

        1. James M*

          Thank you. I knew someone would share my inclination to tone down casual references to violence.

      5. Creag an Tuire*

        Terrible and inappropriate.

        Everyone knows that “ten cats tied to a vacuum cleaner” is a euphemism for -bagpipe- music.

    3. Bea W*

      I love karaoke and even I find this whole event just wrong seven ways to Sunday. I would not want to participate, especially if i caught wind that it was freaking people out and of the awards, OH HECK NO and I’d stand by my co-workers who are despirately praying to be abducted my aliens the night before the party.

  8. Renegade Rose*

    Okay, I’m a good singer (classically trained and all of that) and I wouldn’t enjoy this. Singing is a very personal performance, if you are critiqued as a vocalist your critic is often talking about something you can’t change. In some ways, it is like judging personal appearance, you look the way you look and you sound the way you sound. This is an awful idea.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s funny, I was thinking the exact same thing! Plus, I can’t stand “performing” without hours and hours of rehearsal. I don’t care if I’m not perfect, but I very much care if I don’t sound exactly like I wanted and intended to.

      1. Anonathon*

        Me too! I’m also classically-trained, and the dynamics are awkward at these events. Like you, I want sheet music, some rehearsals, and a nice long warm-up if I’m going to sing publicly :) Otherwise, it’s like expecting a ballet dancer to bust out their pointe shoes in a club, or something. (I also feel obligated to sound less-good so that I don’t seem like an annoying show-off. )

    2. Demeter*

      I agree! I love singing and performing, but being forced to sing in groups and perform songs I don’t like, and then being judged, would take all the fun out of it for me. I also do not enjoy watching (or hearing) other people scream “Summer Loving” into microphones. That was only fun in high school.

    3. Helka*

      Ugh, add me to that! Especially since my training is in opera. I sing quite well — but not at all the way people expect a young woman to sing, and I’m quite well aware that a lot of people who aren’t particularly interested in that type of singing find operatic voices comical or unpleasant to listen to. Either I’m pulling it in to where I’m sounding significantly less than my best, or I’m going to sing in a way that people who have been raised on current music trends are going to mock. Heck no.

      (My job actually used to do “[Company] Idol” events, where people could sign up to perform for colleagues. When a video of a woman with a voice similar to mine was played, everyone in the room with me burst out laughing, because apparently a full-voiced woman with notable vibrato was hilarious. There was my resolution to never, ever let anyone at work hear me sing.)

      1. Cucumber*

        Your coworkers sound like immature weenies. I used to be one of those people who said I liked all music except country and opera. I grew up, and realized that there were good selections in those fields, too.

        Your coworkers sound like they haven’t grown up, and don’t have much of a range when it comes to music listening. Too bad for them.

      2. greenlily*

        Helka, me too! I was a tween back when ‘Les Miserables’ first hit Broadway and all the girls my age wanted to sound like Eponine–and there I was with my choirboy soprano voice. I got all kinds of jokes about ‘chirp chirp little birdie’ and ‘hey, did someone let a puppy in here? I hear whining’. Any time I made the mistake of singing where my family could hear me, my brother and sister would imitate the Mother Abbess from the Sound of Music movie at the top of their lungs with the vibrato cranked up to eleven, which was extra annoying because I had no vibrato whatsoever.

        (I majored in music and now spend several nights a week singing Renaissance music with people who are perfectly happy to have a straight-toned soprano in their midst. My karaoke specialty? ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. :))

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Me too–four years of operatic training. And I hate doing this kind of thing–I always have to rehearse or go over the music, and I never EVER choose a song to sing that I don’t know backward and forward. Not even in an informal jam session!

    5. louise*

      That was my thought, too! I have a limited range, a poor ear, and not great rhythm –but thanks to lots of training and practice, I can do a great job on solos at church. The key is that I pick the perfect range for me and rehearse the heck out of it. Karaoke? No. I do not excel at that and I don’t have fun being terrible at it. Knowing my rhythm is off makes me feel panicky.

    6. Kara*

      Agreed. I’m a good singer too, but I wouldn’t do this. I’ve been asked to sing at work events and I always say no (and have never had any push-back). This sounds … mean, especially the worst-singer “award.” No ma’am.

    7. Elisabeth*

      +1 As voice is the one instrument we always carry with us, and critiquing it can be a very personal attack.

      Am also a classical vocalist and teacher, and the idea of publicly shaming someone for their singing horrifies me, and like the other singers in this thread, would consider this mandatory fun the tenth level of hell. I’ve run into students who take class voice because it scares them, yet a fair portion of the time, they have locked themselves up because someone, somewhere in their past, has shamed them into believing they couldn’t do something, rather than figuring out where things were going wrong and helping them learn to fix it. I’m not saying everyone is going to be “insert your favorite singer here,” but we aren’t learning speaking and singing skills the way we used to, and many seem to thing that singing is this magical process, which would contradict several lesson recordings I have. In the process of teaching that class, I have come to the conclusion that shaming someone for their voice can shut down their “voice.” It’s the reason I regularly visit the writings of people like Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way), and have started the creativity coaching certification process to help my students.

      Please, people who come up with this stuff, never force someone into a situation where they are shamed like this. You won’t get their best out of them for long.

      And OP – am hoping the second option works, but I’d personally go for the sick day if I was in this situation and had no other option. (Carrying a “recording” of John Cage’s 4′ 33″ as a poster down the line suggested would be a nice “in your face” if you could get away with it…)

      1. Lora*

        +1 on the John Cage reference!

        Thought for colleagues who are roped into this mandatory karaoke thing and are indeed good singers: Nicest thing I ever saw at a karaoke bar was a girl dying of embarrassment while trying to sing Aretha Franklin (“Respect”) at the urging of her friends, and a group of Emerson (i.e. theater) students who happened to be boozing there jumped up to sing and dance around the stage with her so nobody could hear anyone’s individual off-notes and squeaks and she wasn’t all alone onstage.

  9. Anon for this one*

    All I can say is don’t try to deal with this by taking an extra dose of ativan to calm yourself and washing it down with a large glass of wine prior to your turn. You may have a black-out period during your “performance” (which consists of no singing and just staring down the barrel of the mic) and then later go on to slap a co-worker.

    I maaay be sharing this from personal experience. It was awful, but at least the co-worker was a good friend, and I didn’t (couldn’t) hit hard.

      1. Anon for this one*

        Best part? The party was at my boss’s home.

        We were all able to laugh about it afterwards, but the black-out part was seriously scary. There were whole swaths of the evening that I just flat out could not remember at all.

  10. Ann Furthermore*

    Oh my God. This would be my worst nightmare. I would be planning to throw myself down a flight of stairs to break an ankle or something on that day. Ugh. Best of luck to you, OP!

  11. ThursdaysGeek*

    ‘Making fun mandatory’ only works if you’ve found that perfect fun thing that EVERYONE likes.

    Besides, I thought you had to be drunk to enjoy karaoke? I can sing just fine (although I bet the songs I know are not in their lineup), don’t mind singing in front of people, but I would refuse to drink, and thus I wouldn’t be participating.

    Part of the excuse I would make is the first line: this is supposed to be a party to celebrate our success. By forcing people to do something they would hate and already dread, you are making it into a punishment for some of your coworkers. That defeats the purpose on all sorts of levels.

    1. Woodward*

      Yes – “I appreciate all the work you put into planning this party. I’m excited to celebrate our team success! For me, forced karaoke is a punishment. I am willing to participate in some other way to help celebrate all the great things we’ve accomplished, but I will not be singing. I’ll absolutely be there and watch, but please remove my name from a singing team.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I like this.

        I especially like that it’s not a request; it’s a statement informing them of how you will be proceeding, while at the same time expressing a desire to be present and celebrate with them.

        1. Woodward*

          Ah! I love that you like it!!

          I’ve been reading your blog for a year and implementing the assertive boundary setting language that you model in my personal and professional life with GREAT results! My friends have started asking me “how would you respond to this?” and I always credit you Alison for what I’ve learned.

    2. PJ*

      “this is supposed to be a party to celebrate our success.”

      …and nothing celebrates success like setting up your co-workers to fail. What a fun party!

    3. Erica*

      If you LIKE karaoke, you can enjoy it just fine sober.

      I suspect the reason drinking is so strongly associated with it is that lots of people are dragged into it by their friends, are scared and stressed out, and drink to psyche themselves up.

  12. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I have been a soloist in front of a large auditorium (yes, full!), and I would probably politely decline to participate in this forced march of frivolity. As others have said, I’m sure there are plenty of other people who are feeling the same way, but are unwilling to be taunted as a spoilsport or party pooper. However, I usually find that I feel better after standing up for myself, even if it means a little conflict, than I do going along with something that just feels wrong. But if you can’t bring yourself to tell them what a bad idea this is (maybe by printing out the comments at the end of the day, and highlighting the best ones?), then I’d suggest at least faking a sore throat as Diet Coke Addict suggested.

  13. holly*

    wow. i will do many “mandatory” fun things with my coworkers, but never this. if they want someone to just stand up on stage holding a mic and not moving for 2-3 minutes, i’m their girl.

  14. BRR*

    What is wrong with people?!?! Everything about this is wrong. Mandatory participation sounds like something in North Korea. It reminds me of an apartment complex I looked at. They had a recreation fee for the pool, tennis court, etc. I asked if I could pass on the use of those facilities and not pay the fee but it was mandatory. There should be a list of words that cannot be preceded by mandatory. Not to mention karaoke is best enjoyed at a level of inebriation far beyond what should occur at a work event.

    Also the worst singer award is incredibly mean in this scenario. If I had to pick my battles I would at least try and take this down. When someone is forced to do something that not everybody in the world is good at they should receive an award for how bad they are. Depending how testy I was feeling I would alternatively try and get it to go to one of the organizers.

    1. holly*

      yes, preferably a level of inebriation where i completely black out and can’t remember a thing. not work appropriate!

    2. DrAtos*

      South Korea still has a lot in common with its relatives in the north. Many South Korean employers force its employees to participate in “bonding” activities such as binge drinking and karaoke. It is standard practice in South Korea and if anyone dares to protest, it could hurt his or her chances of promotion. A New York Times article several years ago discussed these problems and how binge drinking puts women at a disadvantage because it’s more of a male activity and how it could also lead to sexual harassment. It saddens me to see that a Western employer is doing this too.

      1. smilingswan*

        That’s especially bad because women (generally speaking) physically can’t drink as much as men. Great way to encourage alcohol poisoning and drunk driving though!

    3. smilingswan*

      LOLing at “There should be a list of words that cannot be preceded by mandatory”. I completely agree.

    1. iseeshiny*

      Ah! That song was exactly what I was thinking of when you mentioned Shatner! Such a good cover, totally worth a listen.

    2. sam*

      Once, I was supposed to sing a song in a school play, and the teacher decided to teach me the “beauty” of spoken-word poetry instead.

      I was ten.

      I love karaoke, but only when I’m amongst friends, completely lost-inhibition-level drunk, and we’re in one of those koreatown bars where we get one of those private rooms where only my friends are subjected to the awfulness of my tone-deafness.

    3. Anonsie*

      My university did a karaoke party at the end of every academic year, and I remember one of the grad students telling me while we were on our way there that he was a non-singer and the trick is to have one completely silly song that you can do, and do it early. That can be fun even if you can’t sing, and it keeps people from pestering you to participate the whole night.

      Turned out his song was Rock Lobster. Do you have any idea how long and lyric-less Rock Lobster is? I didn’t until that day. He had these little dancing-in-your-seat moves for most of it, so it was equal parts highly entertaining and completely perplexing.

      1. manybellsdown*

        I’ve done “The Bad Touch” by Bloodhound Gang. Which is VERY dirty, and rapped very fast. Guarantee no one will make you go back up there after the chorus of that one.

    1. OfficePrincess*

      The only way I can see a workplace making fun mandatory is to give everyone Friday off and $100 in Visa gift cards (or similar) to go do whatever they want with whoever they want without having to use PTO.

      1. Liane*

        Yes, this!!
        Reminds me of what Judith “Miss Manners” Martin once wrote about office holiday celebrations: “The ideal office Christmas party starts at noon, with the boss saying, ‘Everyone take the rest of the day off.'”
        And add me to the Anti-Manadatory-Karaoke Party. Like others, I do sing–but I do not intend to do so in when forced, for work, in an atmosphere that sounds like it will be somewhere between mocking & toxic. I sign in my church choir, a supportive environment, but I don’t have a solo quality voice; if I want to do a solo, I play on my lovely tenor recorder.

  15. Laura*

    I don’t drink; I don’t like being around drunk people.

    I enjoy singing but after being teased for my ability to hold a tune (spoiler: even with a bucket, I can’t) growing up, I pretty much like to sing when _alone_.

    Reinforced by the fact that even my kids (5 and 2) ask me to stop singing if I sing.

    I think I would actually be ill if they forced me up on stage for this crap.

    Except I wouldn’t be in the building. I don’t care what they call it, I would decline, I would say it’s not my idea of fun and I find it actively nasty, and that in the interests of NOT spoiling the fun for anyone who wanted to do it, I would not be there. Because I couldn’t take part in a nice way, and why should I spoil their fun?

    If they made a further issue of my not attending, I would actively consider going on a job hunt to get away from a company that thought that was okay. I would hate it that much. (I would consider it: what I decided would depend on other factors about the job and job market, as well as on whether my refusing to go had burned bridges so badly I had no choice, or not. But going out and being sick – literally – from tension, while being forced into a scenario I’ve no wish to take part in, that will harken back to all sorts of hurtful memories? Yeah, f*** that.)

    1. OhNo*

      “in the interests of NOT spoiling the fun for anyone who wanted to do it…”

      I think that is the phrase to use when declining. Then it looks less like “Oh, Wakeen is a party pooper”, and more like Wakeen just knows that he’s not going to have any fun and doesn’t want to bring down the rest of the group. if there’s push back, just keep repeating that you don’t want to spoil everyone else’s fun.

      Plus, if you follow it up the next work day with asking how it was and being obviously glad that everyone had such a fun time, it tends to reflect pretty positively on you. And people like telling stories about themselves, so you might even get some good will out of it.

  16. alma*

    Yeaaahhh… I think my lunch would “mysteriously” not agree with me that day. I don’t even enjoy karaoke when I am drunk. And forcing people to participate and then giving out an award for the worst singer? That crosses from oblivious to kind of mean-spirited.

  17. JMegan*

    Yikes. Forced karaoke, with people you don’t know, in front of your boss, with judging? Honestly, I think I would prefer home dental surgery to an event like that.

    And judging by the number of random internet people on this thread who think this is a terrible idea, I’m going to guess there are also a number of non-random people in your office who also think it’s a terrible idea. Maybe you can band together with a few of them and speak up as a group to try and stop the madness?

  18. Jen*

    So I’m the only one that’s jealous?

    Seriously, our Christmas party was at Dave & Buster’s last year and there is a small group of people in my department (and I’m a member of this group) that is trying to get the Xmas party this year to be karaoke.

    I feel that my co-worker will have a better appreciation of me if they hear me sing Hit Me With Your Best Shot.

    1. alma*

      A party with voluntary karaoke on the side is one thing, something my non-participatory self would probably even enjoy. But forcing everyone into a contest with teams and judging (and singling out the worst person) would be like a new circle of hell, for me at least.

      1. Jen*

        Dave & Buster’s is not my thang. I am just a terrible gamer and I’m not good at any of them. We ended up having fun and pooled the tickets so a co-worker’s kids could have a prize. But it was not fun and it was super far away from the office.

    2. NavyLT*

      I love karaoke. After a few beers, I out-Journey Journey. That said, there’s no need to make it mandatory, or to have the whole thing so structured. (Seriously? The organizers actually took time out of their day to sit down and create teams?) Mandatory fun works best when it’s open-ended enough for people who have different ideas of what’s fun to enjoy themselves.

      1. Jen*

        Yeah, structured parties are not fun at all anyway. At my last job we had a party where everyone got lunch at a bar and I was enjoying myself, having a glass of wine, talking to people I don’t normally talk to, getting to know co-workers . . . and then they split us into groups and we had to make a gingerbread office and sing a Christmas song about work. It sucked the fun out of the room. My team won the “grand prize” which was that we each got a bag of sports themed memorabilia for the baseball team in our area. I returned all of it to the store. I hate sports.

      2. Stephanie*

        I love karaoke too. And I probably tortured a couple of friends when I had a birthday outing at a Korean karaoke bar (but that part of the evening was optional). However, I’d be horrified if I had to do this for work. I think my coworkers’ opinion of me would be changed for the worse after they heard my karaoke rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

  19. Nina*

    Oh, hell no. I had a humiliating experience with public singing and I haven’t done it since. I would go for option #2. If they still give you grief, leave. You shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable for others to have a good time.

    What if someone has a social phobia? They are aware that not everyone likes to sing in public, right?

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was wondering how they would handle someone with an anxiety disorder. If the office only had 100 employees, chances are that a handful have some kind of anxiety issue. Forcing them to perform for “fun” would be torture.

    2. PJ*

      “You shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable for others to have a good time.”

      This. Actually, I think this is a good response to the folks at work as you tell them why you’re not participating.

      1. Rose*

        YES. This bothers me so much bc they’re basically saying “you have to do whatever we want, and then we’re going to be jerks to you, but YOURE NOT ALLOWED TO SAY ANYTHING OR YOURE A PARTY POOPER.”

        I always want to slap people like that across the face and say “oh em geeee pal! lighten up!!! it was a JOKE slap!! I was being funnyyyyyy.”

        You’ve made clear it’s going to bother some people (which, even as someone who loves karaoke and is outgoing, seems painfully obvious to me) and their response was basically “we think it’s fun so we don’t really care if it bothers you.” The fact that they feel the need to decide for EVERYONE if they want to participate makes me extra angry. Why not just keep teams out of it and let whoever wants to sing, sing.

        I would take Allison’s advice from earlier letters, when managers tried to impose stupid things like assigned seating (at illogical times). Just refuse, and I’m sure you won’t be alone. If enough people just won’t do it (and I’m sure youre not the only one not wanting to sing) the organizers will know how stupid it would look to make a big deal out of it, and back down.

        Just pretend you’re really having a great time, and say you’re not singing. If they “make you” just go up and say into the microphone “gee! you guys are wild! It’s been an awesome year. No one wants to hear me sing, though!” And sit back down. Do the whole thing with a big smile and in your best good sport voice. They’re your vocal cords. They can’t make you!

  20. Mrs. Badcrumble*

    I love karoake with my friends (name any David Bowie song and I’ll sing it right now. I also do Primus and Squirrel Nut Zippers.) but we had a work karaoke event at my last job, and I’ve never been a part of something so, so awkward and so, so uncomfortable. That was 10 years ago and it’s still one of the things I remember most about the place. If you can’t contract a sore throat in time, I highly recommend scheduling a dental procedure for that day so you have a good excuse not to get dragged into singing because unfortunately, it sounds like these plans are pretty entrenched. Ugh. I really wish these kinds of event organizers would realize if you have to coerce people into an activity, it’s NOT FUN and often even counterproductive.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        You may be like some of us who want to pretend that the swing revival didn’t happen. I know I embarrassed myself quite a bit in those years :)

        Anyhow, Squirrel Nut Zippers were one of the more talented bands that came out of that movement.

        1. LT*

          Argh, I wish the swing revival had lasted longer. We had a nice club at my college, but nothing back home. I miss it but good.

          In the candy-themed band names, there’s also The Atomic Fireballs, who have at least one really good album.

  21. LQ*

    “Mandatory” fun that is acceptable: an extra free vacation day to take on a day of your choice and do with what you want.

    I work for an agency that is terrified of offending people, if someone came up with this and none of my other attempts to stop it worked…I’d point out that singing is against some religions and since we can’t ask what religions people are we might be demanding that someone do something against their religion and get us sued. (It would work because it would scare people, not because it’s true.)

    1. Nanc*

      Mandatory free vacation day–awesome idea! I’d find an extra day off to do some errands or stuff around the house much more relaxing than any sort of party.

  22. Case of the Mondays*

    If you decide you need to do it, consider a rap. I’m a fan of “shoop” though it is a bit sexual for a work outing. Now that I think of it, most Karaoke songs are. The other good thing about rap is the Karaoke track covers the singing chorus parts.

    And if you want some commiseration – I have a friend that works for a large law firm. Every years the partners go on some retreat. The first years are then put into teams and have to perform skits (that often involve singing) in front of the rest of the firm, making fun of the partners. It is a hazing routine that has been done for 20 years but no one really knows until they start working there. My friend is the most introverted person in the world. She had serious anxiety leading up to this. She survived. I still think the idea is ludicrous and she really shouldn’t have been put in that position. If she didn’t do it though, she would have been blacklisted and not received work from the rest of the non-partner attorneys. There was also near-mandatory drinking at this event.

    1. AVP*

      Oh wow, now that I’m thinking about it – there is a very limited number of songs in the karaoke playbook that would be appropriate for colleagues and managers to dwell on together.

      1. Stephanie*

        Exactly. Basically Disney songs. And there will totally be the cringe-y moment when someone chooses a rap song and almost says something inappropriate. This sounds like an HR nightmare waiting to happen.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      I did Ice Ice Baby with a large group at an office party once. I think the sheer ridiculousness of it took away from the fact that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket :)

      1. manybellsdown*

        My husband’s boss did that two years ago. It was funny because he’s a very quiet, reserved guy and he showed up in an over-the-top rapper outfit (like Flavor Flav) and did Ice Ice Baby and Baby Got Back. Then he announced everyone’s large Christmas bonus would be at the reception desk. That’s how you put people in the party mood!

  23. Xay*

    I like singing in public and I like karaoke but I would come down with an illness that day. Singing and being openly judged by my co-workers? No thank you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “openly judged by coworkers”

      Yes, the icing on the cake of “privately judged by coworkers”. Good times.

    2. OP*

      Yes! It’s totally the judging aspect. I’ll sing for fun, but once there’s judging it’s a competition.

  24. Sharon*

    ” the award is actually for “best strangling of cat sound-a-like.”

    In my opinion they’ve crossed the line from mean directly into hazing and bullying. There is no excuse for this, it’s NOT fun for everyone (especially the “winner” of that worst singer award), and it is NOT a team-building experience. They should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. Ethyl*

      Yeah the worst singer award is one of those things that is mean but people can play it off like they are joking. Horrible. I’m going to have to stop reading this thread now because seriously I am so panicked at the thought of having to do something like this I can’t even tell you. Ugh.

    2. OhNo*

      Absolutely the only way giving out that award would be acceptable is is they gave it to one of the committee members, who knew they were getting it in advance. Under the right circumstances, that could even be funny.

      Based on the other details of this event, though, I sincerely doubt that is what they are planning. Let me guess – the committee members are all either really good singers, or think they are.

  25. AVP*

    Any time I get sucked into karaoke, I nominate myself the official back-up dancer. I like to dance, and hate to sing, and other people hate being up there alone with no support, so it works out well.

    1. Empress Zhark*

      That’s a great idea! OP – could you maybe see if you could allocate a “back-up dancer” or two to each team (even with their own special award – best dance interpretation of a Celine Dion song or something), so that those who don’t want to sing can still participate?

      It’s not perfect by any means, but it might be a compromise the organisers are willing to accept.

      1. danr*

        I doubt it… they’ll want the least coordinated to be the dancers, and it will be no choice.

    2. olives*

      I feel like this is doing all the effort of confronting them about the awkwardness for a non-zero number of the employees, while just shifting the “mandatory fun” idea onto a different horse. I’d really not be a fan of being pressured to back-up dance if I declined to sing, either!

      1. AVP*

        Oh, no, I don’t think it works if it’s mandatory – just wanted to give an example of a way to try to turn the event in her favor without having to sing if she really does have to attend.

  26. Name changed to protect the innocent*

    I’ll go you one better. A few years ago, at our annual “retreat”, they brought in these two guys who were songwriters and who conducted a “team building workshop” in which the team members write a song about the organization and it’s goals, and then everyone sings the song. And they record it and give everyone CDs of the song afterwards.

    1. tt*

      That’s dreadful. Having to sing it would be bad enough, but having it recorded for posterity? Ick.

    2. nep*

      I guess to each his own and some might like this or think this is a good idea. But as far as I’m concerned there’s no qualifying how terrible this is.

    3. Lora*

      BWAHAHA! I used to work for a mega-company that had a theme song. They used to make people sing it. I am not kidding about this. It was a terrible song, too. It has been posted online for some years now, and serves as a hilarious joke emblem of the foolishness corporations come up with in response to low morale due to endless layoffs.

      Managers: Never do this unless you want to be a joke. Laughing AT you, not WITH you. Alternate lyrics will be created, which you will not appreciate.

  27. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    So I’m totally in favor of Alison’s answer, but I do want to point out that even if it’s mandatory to GO, it might not be mandatory to actually sing. I have gone to many a karaoke party and not sang (because I am the worst singer in the world) but still had fun. Normally at karaoke there are a handful of people who would just sing every song if they could, and it might even be that that’s what they’re assuming by having the mixed introvert/extrovert teams: that each team will have some people that don’t want to sing, and some that do, so all the teams will be roughly evenly matched.

    Which is not to say that they are approaching any of this in at all the correct way. I just am having a hard time imagining a scenario where they force you to stand up, put a mike in your hand, pick a song for you, and watch you stand there silently for 3.5 minutes. Though, that would definitely teach them a lesson about mandatory singing!

    My *suspicion* is that they know that not everyone will sing, but I could be wrong.

    1. Sharon*

      I once worked for a company that actually forced people to sing on stage at the Christmas party. Nobody wanted to volunteer, so they apparently “voluntold” a bunch of people. I wasn’t picked but it was almost as painful watching them as it was to be them. They had assigned songs and no practice beforehand, but were singing from printed lyric sheets. Their discomfort could be cut with a knife throughout the entire room. Most of the people sitting around the tables watching were just silent and uncomfortable and clearly not enjoying the “performance”. It was complete agony and killed the night.

      1. wanderlust*

        I once worked at a place that had a costume contest at Halloween, and they basically forced people to participate in a runway-type thing to music. Similarly awful, especially for someone like me that prefers to not put my embarrassment on full display. Karaoke, same deal. Hate it – even when drinking.

        1. AtrociousPink*

          Oh, my. I thought being forced to wear a Halloween costume and hand out candy to the bosses’ children was bad. This is worse.

      2. asdfasf af*

        How did they force them?

        I have a white-collar job in an organization that was moderately dysfunctional for a number of years, and it simply would not have been possible to force me to do something like that.

        Work is full of things we don’t like, but something like this that is obviously unrelated to the organization’s outcome would have resulted in my simply sitting in my chair and saying “No” a few times.

        1. Sharon*

          I don’t know, but I assumed at the time that it was “either you do it or you’re fired” situation. Or taking advantage of people who don’t want to rock the boat even though they don’t want to participate. It amazes me how often people (including myself on occasion) will allow themselves to be put into situations they regret because they don’t want to cause conflict.

          But trust me, the level of discomfort (and no attempt to *try* to sing well, and fumbling over the words because they couldn’t all see the lyrics being held by one person) was so high there’s no possible way they just got last-minute stage fright.

          1. asdfasf af*

            ““either you do it or you’re fired”

            I find that hard to believe.

            Maybe in some entry-level and or menial labor situations, where it’s simple to re-fill the position. But there’s a non-trivial cost to the employer of having to re-recruit and on-board a replacement.

            1. Jennifer*

              You may not technically be fired over it, but “not a team player”-type crap can certainly be brought up on Monday morning, or in your performance review, and it can be a black mark on your reputation if the office is crazy enough.

            2. De Minimis*

              Large entry-level accounting firms do this a lot….they know firm-wide that around 10% of the new hires will not make it through the first year. They hire people every year, and people with 0-2 years of experience are somewhat disposable, since they generally have new people coming in every six or seven months. They wouldn’t out and out fire someone for not attending a party, but if that person had other issues going on it could definitely help to cement the decision to cut them loose.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think “forced” in this context rarely means “do it or you’re fired,” but rather so much pressure is applied that you’d have to make a pretty big scene to get out of it … and few people want to do that in a work context. It also often means that you’ll be judged for making such a stink about it, in a way that will affect how you’re perceived beyond this one event.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            Thanks for pointing this out, Alison–in the case where it may seem like something stupid (i.e., mandatory karaoke), the ramifications can be quite large. Many, many people don’t want to make the stink that will result in the potential of years of being “Wakeen who hates fun” or “Lucinda who’s a real stick in the mud” or “Percival who was such an a-hole about that party.” The social ramifications of something like that can be quite intense, depending on the office and office culture, and not everyone wants to sacrifice their future cordiality and teams at work for the sake of something like this.

            1. asdfasf af*

              We’re empowering management/fun committee when we go along like this, or speculate on ramifications.

              If not obeying like this undermines “cordiality” then there is no cordiality.

              If your job is insecure – yeah, do what you have to. If you job is moderately secure or you are secure enough in your life that you can find a new one if push comes to shove, don’t go along with this. Don’t play along. Be the stick in the mud. Let them wreck things, not you.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              This. There are so many ways that it can rain in your life because of one decision not to participate. And it can rain for a very long time. For example: Emergency phone calls from family can be shuffled off to never-never land. Lots and lots of stuff can happen.

          2. mdc*

            Yes there can be ramifications for not participating or participating and appearing unhappy about it. I definitely felt those when I grudgingly participated in the surprise “fun” activities at a work offsite event as above. I was unable to fake enthusiasm for being humiliated in front of my bosses and colleagues.
            Later on I left the work Christmas party (which was an unmitigated horror of immediate drunkenness and sexually inappropriate behaviour) as early as humanly possibly, and that definitely seemed to cause some friction. Even colleagues who I knew must have hated what was going on seemed resigned to just shutting up and keeping the peace so they stayed on the bosses good side. Needless to say I left that place asap.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        My reaction to this appalling idiocy you have just described is this: you* cannot force me to do anything I don’t want to do. Voluntell me? I will fold my arms and stay in my seat and give you the Glare of Death and say, “No.” Repeat as needed until you move on.

        *collective you, not you personally

        1. Mints*

          Exactly. And things will go over better if you’re overall cheerful, and then the “forcer” makes you put on the bitch face, because it’s clear they made you react that way

          1. LT*

            I think there would be something to remaining absolutely cheerful, no matter how often you’re badgered–it really starts to make them look like bullies. Sadly, there’s always this mindset of “whoever shows emotion first loses” in a lot of social interaction.
            “Oh, no, thank you, I really don’t want to.”
            “Oh, it’ll be fun.”
            [Still smiling, still friendly] “That’s okay, I don’t really like this sort of thing.”
            “Oh, you’ll have a good time.”
            “No, that’s okay, really, but thanks.”
            “Everyone else did it.”
            “And they seemed to be enjoying themselves. But I don’t like singing in front of people, its okay.” [Keep cheerfully assuring them that “it’s okay”–pushy extroverts often feel like they’re “saving” introverts]
            “It’s not fair if you don’t do it.”
            “Oh, you wouldn’t force me to do something like that, would you? That would be so mean. It’s okay, I’m good.”

            (Seriously do point out, preferably around people, just how bizarre and mean it would be if they were *forcing* people to do that, but laugh and act like it’s just the silliest thing, because of COURSE grown adults don’t force their coworkers to do karoke, that’s just crazy.)

    2. Nicoya*

      This is true. If otherwise it’d be a fun event, you could do the direct approach above and say “I’m not going to sing” both before and during the event. Like, they can’t actually force you. Be overall pleasant and cheer everyone on, high five your team, and stubbornly don’t sing a note. Even if they give you mike, don’t stand up, force them to sit in silence while you smile and shake your head.
      I’m feeling really stubborn.

      I remember the time at camp “everyone” was supposed to ride a pony, and i refused. It was a pony for kids, and you had to wear a helmet, and were led by a ranch staff. I’ve ridden a horse before, and this was ridiculous, and I was so stubborn. I said “I’m not getting on” like twenty times. They literally can’t make me

  28. Empress Zhark*

    Can we add “your company is forcing you to attend & sing at a karaoke event and will be handing out awards for the worst singer” to the when-you-should-quit-your-job-without-another-to-go-to list?

    1. asdfasf af*

      If you think quitting is better than learning to say “No” and not budging, then sure. That’s a fine thing to quit about.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually wouldn’t put it on that list :)

      You speak up or you have a reason you can’t attend, but rarely would I imagine this would be warrant quitting a job with nothing else lined up.

    3. OP*

      I wouldn’t quit over this. Compared to other jobs I”ve had, this is probably the best bunch of people I’ve worked with, and the most likely group of coworkers I’d be prepared to do karaoke with (I’ve worked with some seriously hostile/nasty people!)
      I just objected to the mandatory fun, and as Alison mentioned, there are things I could have done to help teh situation. Usually the ‘GTFO’ issues are ones where there is absolutely no other options.

  29. NylaW*

    I’m wishing there was a workplace bullying law on the books because forcing people to try to sing and then publicly humiliating them for singing badly seems like it should fall under that.

  30. Mandatory Fun*

    The way to short circuit this, if you can’t get out of it, is to say “I freeze up on stage” and then freeze up on stage. Go on, take the mic, and when the music starts, hold the mic to your mouth and stare straight ahead, frozen. This works better if many people think karaoke is a bad idea and are all willing to do the same thing.

      1. Mandatory Fun*

        Yup. Turns out, it embarrasses everyone except me (and those who are doing it). So all those people who insisted on the mandatory fun… mortified, especially in front of their bosses, who they swore to that everyone loved this shit.

        1. Vicki*

          Many years ago, some people in my department hired an embarrassing “guest” for a co-worker friend’s birthday. Some girl in a costume who came to the company and forced him to chug a beer.

          My friend was embarrassed and drank the beer. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him drink a beer.

          My thought at the time was, if it was me, I would just stand there, holding the beer and staring at the woman who was hired for the “fun”. How long can you just stand there and hold your ground until the “fun” falls apart?

    1. Puddin*

      OK, I love LOVE this idea. It gets the point across without singling anyone out on the committee specifically as the ebil party planner(s). You are attempting to be a good sport, so no harm done to your political prowess at work. I normally would advocate AAM’s #2 option, but if that is a no go, I would keep this idea handy.

  31. Doy*

    This sounds like a group of bullies plotting the public humiliation of their co-workers.

    The committee was ‘full’ when you asked to be on it? They’ve chosen who is put on what team? They have judging and awards for the worst performance? (Tell me they’re not having an award for the sexiest performance.) They’re playing the party pooper card?

    Can you imagine the general office feeling the days and weeks afterwards? “Hey Wakeem- bet the cats in your neighbourhood are nervous. ha ha.” “Hey there ‘Sexy Voice’ how about you give the presentation to the new client?”

    If management doesn’t put the big foot down now I foresee a rash of job hunting.

  32. misspiggy*

    This is daft. If they want everyone to participate, set up teams and have some people choose the songs, some people who volunteer to sing, other people who cheerlead for the singers, other people dancing along, and so on. Out of a team of 5 you could have only 2 who end up singing.

  33. Shortie*

    Dear whoever thinks this is a good idea, this is the kind of crap that causes some overly anxious people to drink way more than is appropriate for a work function and subsequently feel terribly ashamed for the rest of their tenure. Do not do this to people. It is cruel. I may or may not be speaking from experience.

    1. OP*

      Yes. This is exactly what happened to me (except I fortunately didn’t embarrass myself too badly, and there were people who were more drunk, which sucks for them, but makes me look better!)

  34. Coffeelover*

    oh, this reminds me so much of my last workplace. I was a Manager with an international hotel chain. Our new General Manager thought it would be fun during the all employee year end party for us to do musical numbers.
    For 2 months, every Thursday from 6-8pm, the management team had to go to a meeting room and rehearse our dancing numbers, the theme was Grease. There was over $2,000 spent in costumes and decor (raises were held that year btw) and participation was mandatory.
    The men’s number was Beauty School Dropout and they were dressed as women. The year before they were in full gowns and make up and a mock beauty pagent was held.
    You were never told you “had” to particpate however she was such a bully and made your life miserable that if you didn’t you were frozen out for months. The only way to get through it was to take good advantage of the host bar.
    Grease was on television yesterday and I swear I broke into a sweat with flashbacks. I now work for another employer and love telling the story. No one ever believes me until I show the photos. Amazing to imagine I functioned working with this woman as long as I did!

    1. asdfasf af*

      How can organizations function is staff are frozen out for stuff like this?

      The competitive environment in which my organization operates means we would slowly die if nonsense like that was allowed. I don’t get how managers are capable of doing that sort of thing and not having it undermine the productivity of their units.

      1. Ann*

        Are you serious? How can organizations function if it turns out that people are terrified of singing in public? There are plenty of jobs/organizations where people don’t interact with the public or don’t feature a “competitive environment.” Being anxious about humiliating yourself in public is in no way “nonsense.”

        1. Jennifer*

          It’s one thing to be able to deal with the public when you know what you are talking about/ are good at it. It is quite another thing to be forced to do what you suck at in front of everyone so they can point, laugh, and give you an awful award for it.

          1. Coffeelover*

            Absolutely the worst part. I am a very confident, competent manager. Dance routines in full costume in front of employees I am expected to manage on Monday. Not so comfortable.
            What disppoints me most is that I didn’t stand up to her like I should have at the time. She thought it was fun and cute and all it did was alienate her management group.

    2. Stephanie*

      My friend works at the Defense Department. He tells me he was called by a superior and told to clear his schedule for the rest of the day. He goes to the office and sees all these high-ranking officers who were like “Oh thank God you’re here, Wakeen! We’ve needed you!” Turns out all these high-ranking officers were trying to repurpose ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” for someone’s retirement party. They knew my friend played the piano and solicited his help for their lyrics to fit “Dancing Queen.” He said he spent the rest of the day like “Well, ok there’s a triplet on this beat, so you need a three-syllable word for it to fit the lyrics…”

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        Literally not one single thing about this comment surprises me. Somehow I envisioned this is actually what the DoD really does all day and I’m delighted to find it’s true.

      2. anon*

        My dad works for the FCC, where they do something similar. Every year at their Christmas party/event, my dad and a few others write and sing new lyrics for Christmas carols that poke fun at FCC politics, the commissioners, the chairman, etc. Of course, that is 100% voluntary.

    3. smilingswan*

      That is so offensive to me. How would any trans or gender questioning employees feel about that?

  35. allreb*

    If organizers seem like they’d be willing to chill, one line I’ve used before is, “I do want to participate! My participation will be in the form of clapping enthusiastically for other people.” (Though this wasn’t for work stuff, it was for family stuff – we have a tradition where everyone in the family performs something at our Chanukah party. Why? Dunno. This is the typical line for those who want to abstain, but being family instead of work, it’s probably much easier to bow out.)

  36. OriginalYup*

    Blech. Actually, double blech and chaser of yuck. I hate mandatory fun on principle, and the details of the shindig are not working to alter my position.

    If you can’t get out of it, then the diplomatic avenue is to attend and be quasi invisible. Show up approximately on time, have one drink (if you do partake), join in the absolute bare minimum of activity with decent humor (i.e., perform one song with your assigned team), clap politely and make some conversation, and leave as soon as decently possible. I totally understand why you’d rather walk on hot coals but if there’s no way out, grit your teeth and think of it like any other work activity that you dread but do anyway, like required meetings with horrible clients. Mentally treat it like going to a party for a family member you can’t bear — “I’ll say hello, drop off a card, eat some cake, and then get the heck out of there and go have actual fun.”

    1. PJ*

      This would be good advice except for the “(i.e., perform one song with your assigned team)” part. Dropping off a card and eating some cake is in no way comparable.

  37. Lamington*

    I would nominate Sir Mix a lot’s ” Baby’s got back for karaoke. But seriously, how horrible. I always wonder who thinks this is fun. I like to sing in the privacy of my shower.

    1. MeUnplugged*

      Baby got back is the song I sing every time I do karaoke!

      I love to song and used to he good at it, but there’s no way in hell I’d be ok with this. This is just terrible.

      1. asdfasf af*

        “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes or “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies would crush those in turning off the event organizers.

    2. Mints*

      Ooh, I’m thinking “Anaconda” (Nicki Minaj’s remix of Baby Got Back)
      Or System of a Down? Or Slipknot?

      Let them be subjected to my less than mainstream music taste

      1. JMegan*

        I would be seriously tempted to have a go at “I’m Not Okay” by My Chemical Romance, or something equally rage-y. And then be all innocent and “But it’s my favourite song!” if anyone tried to tell me it’s inappropriate.

        Of course I wouldn’t actually do it, but it is kind of fun to imagine!

        1. Stephanie*

          I’d go for the obnoxious 80s power ballad and just get way too into “Separate Ways” (with extra emphasis on the screaming).

          “What? You wanted me to get into this! You can’t half-ass Journey during karaoke.”

          1. OhNo*

            If I was really forced to get up and sing, I would go straight for that classic of bad karaoke everywhere: Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you”.

            You wanted to hear someone sing like a cat that got it’s tail stepped on? Alright, but when your eardrums rupture in protest I want you to remember that you asked for this.

          2. Anonsie*

            I have found that at every karaoke event (I used to live in a city where karaoke parties were a really really common thing to do with friends or coworkers or whathaveyou), there is at least one person besides myself who will happily belt Total Eclipse of the Heart at the top of their lungs and make everyone regret inviting us.

    3. Headachey*

      And to circle back to the original post, there are so many levels of awkwardness when forced participation & singing are part of workplace “celebrations.” One former employer held a mandatory Christmas luncheon on Dec. 24th (or the closest workday to Christmas) – in order to have the afternoon off and receive your holiday bonus of $50, you had to attend the lunch. At which there was assigned seating at tables with upper management, mandatory speeches by the newest employees, and mandatory singing of Christmas carols. Also mandatory-in-all-but-name Christmas greetings to the owner/president, no matter your religion or lack thereof. Those who had one party under their belts knew to get a drink from the open bar as soon as they arrived at 11:30 am, and make sure they got another before sitting down to lunch at noon.

      Good times.

      1. De Minimis*

        One of the events I remember skipping was an evening cooking class with co-workers and managers. It actually might not have been that bad an activity, but it was an entire evening and was at some other location.

    4. fposte*

      There’s always John Cage’s 4′ 55″. “You wrecked it by clapping! Now I have to start from the beginning all over again.”

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        My opinion of John Cage’s talent is that this is the best thing he wrote. And now, if I’m ever forced to do karaoke, it will be what I request. “Oh, you don’t have that one? But it’s the only song I like, the only one I know the words to!”

  38. De Minimis*

    Sometimes they will penalize people, either officially or unofficially for not going. I’ve worked at a similar place, and there’s definitely a pressure to attend company events. There might not be a stated rule, but it’s noted if someone doesn’t attend. In my case I knew my time there was probably going to be short almost from the getgo, so I decided I wouldn’t participate in things if I didn’t feel like it. Still got the occasional phone call, though…

  39. A Teacher*

    The line “have you been personally victimized by Regina George” comes to mind…this has Mean Girls written all over it.

  40. nep*

    Once again, Alison is spot on. Please, employers, heed Alison’s words. Stop trying to enforce ‘fun’ and ‘camaraderie’. By definition, just wrong.
    What comes up for me reading something like this is the importance of genuine mutual respect in the workplace. Mandating something like this, or deriding a person’s reluctance to participate, is disrespectful plain and simple.

  41. Gem H*

    Argh, this makes me want to crawl in a hole and die. If you would be willing to make a stand (and if it wouldn’t harm your position in the company), you’d probably find a few allies.

    The award for bad singers is just – ugh. Like, in a group of friends, or family I can see that being acceptable, but at a work event, where you might not even know anyone in your team? I’m just shuddering thinking about it.

    Mandatory fun is literally an oxymoron, right? That’s how that goes.

    (In a related note, work is organising a day trip to a theme park, which is a special kind of nightmare as I suffer from awful motion sickness. And I can take the day off! Without any sort of sanctions or anything! And I’m not the only one :))

  42. soitgoes*

    It sounds like they’re trying to combine the party with those stupid notions about team-building that lead to office softball games or whatever. The OP could say that she knew about the party, so she scheduled a doctor’s appointment during that time, thinking that she would just skip the party. Say that this scheduling occurred due to a last-minute cancellation of another patient.

  43. ConstructionHR*

    I don’t sing.

    After the accident & I had to have my rhythm surgically removed, nothing ever grew back.

    It’s not pretty. Well, it’s pretty awful.

    1. olives*

      Reminds me of a great excuse that I saw somewhere either on the AAM comment threads or possibly on another advice blog (Captain Awkward?). Someone said their grandmother would always tell people who were pressuring her into events, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I can’t – I have a bone in my foot!”

      Seems like both would work well in this scenario. =)

  44. This is me*

    I hate being the one to say that you should fend for yourself in this instance but, you should fend for yourself in this instance. Employers who come up with these kinds of ideas with the added caveat that it’s mandatory aren’t usually the type that I would give the benefit of the doubt. I’d just come up some excuse not go go.

  45. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m going to keep my actual opinion to myself since I’ve got a feeling I’m in the minority. So, go if you have to go. There’s usually a nice stomach bug or sinus/head cold bug going around that can be “caught” in the nick of time. But no one can force you to sing. Or go ham it up. Make up words to a song about how bad of an idea this is and sing them instead. Or have a serious conversation about it with whoever is in charge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, does minority opinion mean you think this is reasonable of the company? If you’re willing to debate that viewpoint, I think it would be really interesting to have it represented here.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I think mandatory fun is a poor way to get people engaged. I guess my thoughts fall into the “suck it up buttercup” area. You aren’t being asked to do anything illegal, immoral or even in that grey area where most of life operates. I don’t see this as the extreme of bullying/public humiliation/so very horribly bad. Are there better ideas? Most definitely. Every time you get in a letter like this there is a lot of “how dare the company make someone do X”. With lots of righteous anger. Is it really worth getting THAT upset about? If you can’t find a way to get the event changed and aren’t willing or able to get out of it then go along to get along. I find that some of these things just are worth getting upset about.

        My boss wanted to take everyone on our team (50 people) to our local six flags as a “reward” for working hard. It wasn’t required but since she was paying out of her own pocket, it was strongly encouraged to go to show support/appreciation. Directors were tantamount required to go. I was very pregnant at the time and the most I could’ve ridden was the swings and carousel. Isn’t that fun? Not. Well, as it turns out most people ended up not wanting to go, so it was scrapped at the last minute. Big boss wasn’t happy about it. (aka this is why we can’t have nice things) So, even non-mandatory fun is mandatory in a sense. I was speaking at a national conference and that’s how I got out of it. I would’ve gone and ate funnel cake and groused about the heat and not being able to ride rides and how long the day was but I would’ve gone. It’s what you do.

        So, long rambling opinion short, I don’t think it’s not unreasonable. But this is coming from the person who loves team building even when you have to touch other people, really gets into role playing in training sessions and volunteered to participate in the company talent show and will show Idina Menzel who’s boss. So, feel free to discount it on those points.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I was very pregnant at the time and the most I could’ve ridden was the swings and carousel. Isn’t that fun? Not. … I would’ve gone and … groused about the heat and not being able to ride rides and how long the day was but I would’ve gone. It’s what you do.

          I think the outrage you’re seeing from people who are outraged is due to a not-exactly parallel situation in which your heavily pregnant self went along to Six Flags and was required, on pain of $PENALTY (as we’ve established upthread: probably not on pain of dismissal, but there are often legitimately uncomfortable social-at-work consequences that can sometimes lead to restrictions on advancement – and even if they don’t, who wants to be miserable at work all the time because ostracism?), to ride the rides anyway. You can’t. It could be dangerous. But someone who does. not. get. that goes “Oh, one trip on something faster than the carousel won’t kill you or the baby, loosen up and have a little fun.” It’s your and the kid’s health vs. some insensitive cloddish co-worker.

          In your case, of course you stand your ground and general knowledge is such that the insensitive cloddish co-worker will be the one who is talked about and possibly shunned. (He tried to insist that a pregnant woman go on a roller coaster, can you believe that guy?) But in the OP’s case, the shoe is on the other swollen foot: they are insisting that people participate in public spectacle without any consideration for who might have anxiety issues, migraine triggers due to the lights and the amped-up bass, or any one of a number of other reasons not to participate. The option of just going and eating funnel cake and getting through it is not available, and even people who might not mind participating themselves are going to be forced to, metaphorically, watch pregnant women being dragged onto amusement-park rides.

          That’s the point. I don’t have especially strong feelings about karaoke one way or another (and I am a trained singer who does paid gigs from time to time), but I really don’t like the idea of being required to sit in a room and watch people in charge of other people refuse to take “no” (or even “no, thank you”) for an answer.

        2. fposte*

          Interesting, and I see what you’re saying. I do think, more broadly, that we’re gotten to an odd societal place with discomfort, and that that’s something we see underlying a lot of AAM questions and discussions where people will do just about anything to avoid it. Sure, some people could have ER-level panic attacks, but most people who oppose this aren’t in that category–we’re just really uncomfortable with it.

          And on the one hand, I’m firmly on the side of the people saying “If I’m uncomfortable with it, it’s not fun, and why on earth should I go to be uncomfortable after hours in my own time anyway?” But on the other, I think that we can get so locked into avoiding discomfort that it minimizes our tolerances in ways that ultimately hurt us; that learning to deal is a skill that gets developed with practice; and that for a lot of people, including me, it would be unlikely to be the total torture in actuality that we conceive of it in the abstract, and we might even manage to have a good time if we were able face it fresh and with good will.

          So I’d tell the company not to do it, but I’d also encourage the OP to consider the possibility that doing it might actually turn out okay. Because that’s not an outcome that’s getting a lot of play so far.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            I think you captured part of what I was trying to say and did it better than I could’ve. That odd societal place with discomfort theory. I like that line.

            1. 400boyz*

              It’s not really the employer’s place to push people’s boundaries in things that have pretty much next to nothing in common with the actual work being done.

        3. Anon*

          I’m totally fine with getting through things that are not remotely enjoyable, but they make my employer happy so I deal. I think the issue with this is that being on stage is a true phobia for many people, especially when singing. It’s another to be asked to endure a boring or uncomfortable evening – it’s another to be asked to do something that makes you so frightened that you are at serious risk of losing your composure and showing immense fear and vulnerability, on a stage, in front of all of your coworkers. I think it’s likely that the people planning this have no idea how terrifying it will be for many people and may be taking any resistance as just “This won’t be fun for me” and not “I will literally have to take tranquilizers to get through this without freaking out.” To use your Six Flags example, I would whine about but deal with having to go to the park in the first place. However, if it were mandated that I absolutely must ride roller coasters, I’d be pissed, as I’m terrified of heights and that puts me in a position of having to totally lose composure in front of my coworkers and that’s just not fair to require of someone (screaming uncontrollably, maybe cursing or crying). That is why this event is completely unreasonable in my opinion – if I were just forced to go to this party I wouldn’t look forward to it but I’d be okay with it, but this set-up is not like being forced to go to Six Flags, it’s like being forced to ride the most terrifying thing there, with a team that was forced on you who you’ll let down if you back out, and then them rubbing salt in the wound by giving an award to the person with the most embarrassing ride photo.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
              ― Jerry Seinfeld

  46. olives*

    Ugh, this stuff is the worst. I always wonder about what happens to people when they plan this sort of thing – were they just given so much power that they were like, “hey, you know what would be fun? Using our staff for entertainment! It’ll be just like playing with dolls, and at least half as objectifying!”

    Should I ever be in the position to plan a work outing, I hope to goodness that I would never put anyone through this. Terrible life plans.

    1. fposte*

      Honestly, I think it’s just as likely to be people who think it’s hilarious when they’re onstage and would wet their pants laughing at getting a worst singer award themselves; they don’t have to be bullies, they just don’t get that their pleasure is other people’s horror and that making it mandatory means you can’t select for those who’d enjoy it.

      (Frankly, I’d mind singing less than I would sitting for hours listening as people churned through these songs.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, this is my take too — it’s certainly possible that it’s mean-spirited, but I think it’s more likely that it’s simply people who find this fun themselves and genuinely don’t understand that this will be unpleasant for some people (and are thoughtless enough to truly think people will have fun if they just suck it up and participate).

        1. Kathryn*

          This really sounds like a failure of empathy, and maybe of understanding that not everyone is the same. “Other people are not you, your experience is not universal” is a hard thing to get, but really understanding it and acting on it is something that defines maturity in my mind.

          This event sounds like a nightmare, and I’m an extrovert with over a decade of voice training. (Unfortunately for most karaoke outings, I come with a sense of pitch and anxiety about damaging my hearing.)

          I would be hard pressed to do something other than be stubborn and cantankerous, but being stubborn and excessively moral are among my more valued job skills currently, so I don’t have a lot of incentive to try anything else. I would be inclined to try gentle honesty, repetitive, gentle honesty of the sort “I don’t feel comfortable singing, I’m happy to celebrate with the group, but i won’t be singing.” Repeated with a smile, with the fullest trust that of course the organizers are not intending to make you uncomfortable, because that would be cruel and it does not occur to you that they would be cruel. We are all here for fun. Your fun is not singing.

  47. Nicole*

    This too would be my worst nightmare. I enjoy singing, but I know I’m not good at it. I won’t even do it in front of my own very supportive husband, so why would I want to do it in front of colleagues? I hope you find a way to get out of this, OP!

  48. Hapax Legomenon*

    Bring kazoos. Anyone who doesn’t enjoy mandatory karaoke can play the kazoo while their teammates sing. This can be brought in as a “fun participatory alternative,” and when the kazoos drown out the people singing, it’ll be obvious that a lot of people didn’t want to be forced to do something they know full well they’re bad at and then mocked for it. (That sentence just caused some serious gym class flashbacks for me, BTW.)

  49. Dani X*

    I can’t sing – I am probably a contender for the “worst singer” award. I would have a hard time not bursting into tears when I was given it and relationships between me and the organizers of this party would be very very frosty for a long time to come. OP – try to reason with someone – maybe not the organizers themselves, but talk to your manager about how you have no desire to humiliate yourself in front of your colleagues. Maybe that will help put a stop to it. Please update us on what happened.

  50. Nerdling*

    You know, I have a trophy on my desk that says, “You bowl like a hockey player!” courtesy of my horrendous bowling at a team-building from my former job. But it was a VOLUNTARY team-building that we organized ourselves, nobody was forced to attend, and even after almost seven years, it reminds me of the people who banded together to survive a lousy manager. Had it been from said manager’s proposed “We’re all absolutely going ziplining!” mandatory team-building crap, said trophy would have ended up in the trash before even leaving the facility.

    I agree with pushing back as much as you’re able. But you’re going to be the best judge of how much you can push back without suffering too many negative consequences. If you can band together with a number of other employees who don’t want to do it, that can lend more credence to your pushback. Good luck!

    1. Anonsie*

      I would also argue that “you bowl like a hockey player” is a much funnier friendly jab than “your singing sounds like someone murdering an animal.”

      1. Nerdling*

        Right up until you remember that hockey players are known for breaking people’s faces, and that’s apparently how I bowl. :D

        Yes, you’re absolutely right that that’s less offensive than “Hey, you just made us all deaf!” But the company involved mattered a lot, too — that same comment coming from my amazingly horrible boss would have made me madder than a wet hen, just because I didn’t give a crap what she thought about my bowling skills.

  51. JimG*

    Being very hearing impaired, I find this pretty awkward. I hope that no one makes fun of the singing attempt of someone who is hearing impaired. Secondly, I would not like to sit someplace and not be able to understand what’s going on or be able to interact with co-workers for hours.

    1. soitgoes*

      This actually reminds me of another objection to this plan – it takes a lot of time to wait for every single coworker to sing a whole solo song. I imagine even the organizers of this event are going to get bored of their concept very quickly. It’ll be too noisy for anyone to hold a conversation, and voting is going to go awry as people inevitably go to the bathroom or step out for more food. Do they really expect everyone to sit there quietly while each person takes a turn to sing a 4-minute song?

      With as few as 20 coworkers, we’re talking about being forced to listen to an hour and a half’s worth of music that is bound to be outside of most people’s genre and artist preferences. Does the time frame of 3.5 hours mean that some people won’t have time to sing anyway? How many people are employed by this company?

    2. ali*

      I was thinking this same thing, also being hearing impaired.

      I have been to karaoke with some of my coworkers. I even sang (I was classically trained and LOVED karaoke before I lost my hearing). But it was my choice and something I wanted to do. And the people I went with I trusted were not going to make fun of me. Having a good time at the bar or trying to hold a conversation? Yeah, not so much.

  52. LBK*

    I would be really, really, REALLY clear with option #2 that this is flat-out not fun for a lot of people. I might even say “If we’re doing this then the next event needs to be a chess tournament/an in-depth examination of Game of Thrones/a meet and greet for exotic snakes/something else that the ‘fun’ people would probably not want to do” and when they protest that that doesn’t sound like a fun idea, point out that’s exactly how some people are bound to feel about a karaoke event.

    I’ve sung for years – took voice lessons since I was a teenager, did several musicals, was in multiple groups where I had solos, performed at recitals, etc. I still refuse to do karaoke, and I’d be particularly miffed about being forced to do it. It’s just not fun for me.

    (Also, I can’t believe I’m the first person to say “Ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party cause a Liz Lemon party is mandatory“.)

    1. Hapax Legomenon*

      I was thinking it, but every third sentence of mine is a 30 Rock joke, so I’m trying to cut back.

        1. Hapax Legomenon*

          Thanks! I’m a language nerd and a huge 30 Rock fan. Those two things probably go together for a reason.

      1. LBK*

        I just looked up what a hapax legomenon was because of your username and now I have yet another obscure trivia fact in my arsenal. Thank you!

        1. Hapax Legomenon*

          Glad to hear it. I’m always glad to educate on things that are fun but not tremendously useful in day-to-day life!

    2. Anonsie*

      My GOD if someone ever threw a work meet and greet for exotic snakes, I would work there for the rest of my career.

      1. bkanon*

        I would be completely on board for an exotic snake meet and greet. I’d volunteer for that party in a HEARTBEAT. :D I vote that companies start doing that instead of karaoke. (“What? What do you mean you don’t like snakes? C’mon, just hold this python! He’ll try to climb down your shirt, it’s hilarious! Don’t be a bummer!”)

        1. LBK*

          I was petrified of snakes for as long as I could remember until my friend got a pet ball python and convinced me to hold/play with it. That thing was adorable and now I’ve got one on my list of potential pets if I ever get the means together to care for it.

    3. Cat*

      I totally want to require everyone at my office to come to my in-depth examination of Game of Thrones party.

  53. Gene*

    My motto in cases like this is that no one can make you do anything but die. If you choose not to sing, don’t sing; and don’t apologize. Just say, “Not going to do it.”

    But before you do, do #2 in Alison’s answer.

  54. Marvel*

    Dear god. Is it bad that my first thought was “fake a family emergency”? Because that is, honest to god, what I would do.

    Then again, I have social anxiety that’s severe enough that I have to be medicated in order to be able to attend university, so.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And people should not have to explain that to their bosses because forced fun. It’s just so wrong.

  55. MR*

    Can anyone provide proof of blowback from management due to not participating in events such as this? Have people been demoted or fired, or know that they had a promotion withheld due to non-participation?

    1. LBK*

      Yes, I know there was at least one letter about someone losing points on a performance review for not participating in highly physical team building events (like rock climbing and running races).

    2. OhNo*

      I don’t think that blowback has to be at the level of being demoted, fired, having promotions/raises withheld, etc.

      Usually, it’s just being known as the office fuddy-duddy that isn’t any fun. None of your coworkers want to work with you on projects anymore. Every time you try to make a suggestion, especially on social events, people start rolling their eyes and whispering “What does he know about fun?” Your opinions are ignored because you’re “boring”, or your opinion is not sought at all because “everyone already knows what you think”. If you do get in trouble with management, it’s for “not being sociable” or “not getting along with your coworkers” – even though you would love to get along with them, but they won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. It is very difficult to get work done, especially in a collaborative environment, when no one will work with you.

      And yes, I’m speaking from experience, here. The rough part is not usually the response from management, it’s usually the response from coworkers.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. I refused to go to an over night party and get falling down drunk. That worked into “I did not get along well with my coworkers”. I heard about that for years. (Actually, there would be plenty more than booze.) But wait, there was more things that “coincidentally” happened.

      2. Anon*

        This happened to me. I don’t drink. My coworkers meet up for drinks every month or so, and I don’t go. I don’t overshare my reasons, I’m not rude about it, I just “can’t make it.”

        Apparently this means I have no fun ever, hate my coworkers, etc.

    3. De Minimis*

      Nothing like that, but we had a bonus offered each quarter and one of the ways you qualified for it was participation in these type of events. It wasn’t the only metric involved, but there was really no way for you to get the bonus unless you went to X amount of events each quarter, and usually there would be at least a few of them that would require you to do something outside of work.

      Also, as I found out, if you just decided not to participate in the program and forego the bonus, you got a snippy phone call from HR asking why you didn’t participate and that the program was very important to “show your connectivity.”

      At one point I also had random managers [that I barely knew] asking me why I hadn’t been at an event the night before. At bigger firms all of this stuff is taken into account in determining raises/bonuses or in tougher times, whether you keep your job or not. It’s not the only factor, but you’re hurting yourself if you don’t participate.

      1. PJ*

        “a snippy phone call from HR asking why you didn’t participate…”

        These people shame my profession.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Reflective of the way they did business??? Use whatever leverage you have to get people to do whatever you want? (“You” meaning the business.)

      3. Case of the Mondays*

        It’s like the pieces of flare in office space. You aren’t supposed to just do the bare minimum. Out of work events, including the forced fun are still work obligations unfortunately. Those who show the team spirit get promoted. Those that don’t, don’t, or worse – they will be first on the chopping block.

      4. Jillian*

        As a mid-level supervisor, I have been “talked to” when enough of my team didn’t attend a company party. Apparently was my fault they didn’t have enough “company spirit”. My team was told this too, and felt really bad that it reflected negatively on me.

    4. Anon*

      It’s not exactly the same, but I was reprimanded for failing to wear a costume to work on Halloween. I was told that because I had some marketing functions, that I should have known to wear the costume.

      I haven’t worn a costume since the 6th grade, and then I was Dana Scully and it was just a little pantsuit and an FBI badge printed from the internet, and it was just to trick-or-treat with my much younger siblings. I never go to costume-required parties or wear costumes for any occasions. If I had been told that mandatory costumes were involved, it may have influenced my choice to take the job. I didn’t stay at the job long enough to find out, but I’m guessing that if I refused the next year, my boss would definitely have made an issue of it.

      At the same job I was just not given the option of missing the Christmas party (my car was messing up at the time and I was told that I had to get a ride if necessary, I absolutely couldn’t miss it). So if I had skipped that, it pretty much would have been treated like insubordination, and I showed up even though I felt very ill that day. Luckily by the time dinner was over, everyone else was hammered, so I was able to slip out before the dancing without people really remembering.

  56. illini02*

    Forcing this stuff can be bad. But sometimes I also think that any type of work activity won’t be fun for everyone. I’m an outgoing sporty guy, but I can have fun with karoke as well. But, I’ve also had work functions that were far more stuffy and formal than I like. I went and sucked it up because thats what you do. I feel like you will never please everyone. In this case, why can’t the OP just go up there with her “team” and mouth the words in the background. She looks like a team player, with no harm done.

    1. soitgoes*

      I get the impression that the setup will have everyone doing a solo song, hence the scoring and individual awards.

      1. illini02*

        Ah, ok. Well yes, if thats the case, I do think its pretty bad. However, it does say “I have to sing with team members I normally wouldn’t spend time with.” in which case I think getting up there for 3 minutes and lip syncing isn’t the worst thing ever. Again, if they are saying “every team member must do a solo” that is a bit different, but I didn’t get that sense.

        1. soitgoes*

          I thought she was saying that she’d have to sit in a section with her team members (that she isn’t friendly with) and not being able to make small talk because of the constant solo singing.

          I don’t even understand how team songs would work. I don’t think karaoke bars are usually set up for that sort of thing, and it certainly wouldn’t do much to fill up the 3.5 hours. Plus, to take alternating turns where each whole team has to get on and off of the stage every 4 minutes…I don’t see that being the plan. I see it being more like everyone getting scored and adding it up for a team score. Which opens up the low scorers for ridicule and puts a lot of pressure on people who don’t like singing or don’t want to be there.

          1. OP*

            It was a team song. Each team (six teams in all) picked a song and performed, whilst being scored by members of the committee. Then it was open mic. Some of the individual awards came from the team acts, others (particularly the best singer, karaoke king and queen) came from the individual songs.
            The worst singer actually came from my group, a manager who had been sick and barely had a voice at all. Honestly, if they had given the award to anyone other than the obviously sick person, it would have gone down very poorly, but the manager had a laugh and admitted that no one should have to hear his gravelly death rattle.

  57. Anonsie*

    Oh lord. I started reading this one thinking “oh man, why does everyone hate karaoke? It’s just not that bad!” I love love love karaoke and I am more or less constantly trying to orchestrate a karaoke party. I haven ever passed up the opportunity to sing publicly and make a fool of myself. And every time I try to get a group together, a certain proportion of invited people seem to lose their minds at the thought because it’s just the most horrible activity any of them can imagine. Then some of the people that do show up sit there stock still the whole time and refuse to participate with so much as a head bob, and to those people I do say wet blankets, all of you!

    But even I am horrified by the event you’re describing here, and I would have a pretty miserable time. Yes, even me! That is an achievement, really.

  58. Maggie's Sis*

    I wouldn’t have to fake any illness to get out of this “fun.” Just reading about it makes me anxious, if I were actually involved my anxiety level would be so high I’d be making emergency calls to my psych doc.

  59. illini02*

    Do people think that there should be no highly recommended social events at all? It seems that just about anything could be not fun for a group of people. You are going to an Italian Restaurant, what if someone doesn’t like Italian Food? Going to a bar? What if they are a recovering alcoholic. Having an outside picnic? People don’t want to be outside in the heat. What are “safe” options here? Again, I’ve been to plenty of work events that wouldn’t have been my first choice, and I have just kind of dealt with it, made an appearance, then left early if I wasn’t into it. Now forcing people to sing a solo, yes, I think is a bit much. But really it seems that just about anything can be not pleasant for some people.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Safe options:
      * making it truly voluntary
      * asking people to attend but not requiring active participation (like singing, dancing, rock climbing)

      1. illini02*

        Thats fair. But I think its hard to know when something is truly voluntary. I guess it depends on the culture, but even in my fairly laid back company, I feel like if I don’t go to one of the few social events we have (such as a work paid for going away party for someone), it looks bad. I don’t think I’d be punished in any way though. I think it becomes a problem when there are things like every month. A couple of events a year, with enough notice, I think its just one of those things that you should do.

        1. RobM*

          My employer used to have a summer ‘hog roast’ event in the gardens.

          It always amazed me that a college with a large number of muslim and (iirc) jewish staff would run such an event. Of course, there were alternatives, but it seemed like a strange starting place for such an event in the first place.

          In any case, I didn’t go. I’m neither muslim, jewish or a vegetarian but the people doing the hog roast used to set up right under my window and frankly the smell from the early part of the cooking process disgusted me to the point where I couldn’t have eaten anything anyway.

          I just left work early those days. No one really said anything to me or any of the others who did the same.

        2. Windchime*

          These kinds of posts make me feel anxious for the people who have to participate. My employer has a few fun events a year; in fact, we are having a BBQ with hotdogs and veggie burgers this week. But it’s completely optional; if someone doesn’t attend, nobody will think a thing about it. Some people will come and sit for an hour or two; others will just grab a plate and go back to their desks. Other events have been WII bowling tournaments (again, totally voluntary) and a person-wrapping contest one holiday season (voluntary participation, cash prize).

          There will be a prize for the best decorated lawn chair; however, I’m not planning to decorate mine. I’m so happy that my workplace doesn’t force “fun” events down our throats or punish people who would just rather go run errands on their lunch instead of playing WII bowling.

      2. OP*

        Yes! I don’t mind going, and I don’t mind supporting my coworkers, but I hate the idea that I a) had to participate, and b)had to spend time in the lead up preparing, buying cotumes, practising, etc.
        It was also obvious that some people had been pressured by their team members to do things they wouldn’t normally do. The best performances were those who managed a tiered performance with some people leading, and others just playing along (the winner was a team who did Abba, and the two in the group who weren’t keen just dressed as the guys in the Abba and played pretend instruments).

      3. Rayner*

        Also, don’t require elaborate costumes, bring expensive food or alcohol, or sports equipment. If it costs a lot of money, maybe a rethink is in order.

    2. De Minimis*

      I think a lot of it is that this stuff is so forced that it doesn’t really accomplish its intended purpose.

      For me my main issue was generally just not being willing to give up my time outside of work.

    3. Anon*

      For starters, don’t mandate participation in something that is a known phobia of many people. Being on stage (public speaking, karaoke, anything on stage), rock climbing or sky diving, going backstage at the zoo to handle snakes and tarantulas, forced donation at a blood drive — it should be common sense that any of these things would be absolutely excruciating for a significant number of employees and participation in them shouldn’t be mandatory. These things aren’t remotely comparable to a cuisine people might not like – palatable plated dinners are more the exception than the rule for me, but picking at my meal for awhile is no big deal. I consider it a great event if my only issue is that the food wasn’t good.

      Basically…Don’t involve any common phobias or things that make people anxiety-ridden, keep it as unstructured as possible, and make any competitions/physically demanding things/things that put one in the center of attention 100% optional and opt-in rather than opt-out. I don’t think any social events should be unspoken-mandatory but I can accept that going to a holiday party and happy hour or two each year is expected. You can’t really make an event that everyone will ENJOY, the point is just to make one inoffensive enough that no one will find it completely miserable. Focusing the events on eating, moderate drinking, talking, and nothing else is a good way to accomplish this.

    4. soitgoes*

      It gets iffy when a celebration or a reward turns into something that depends on having a lot of friends at work. I think we’d all find something we liked on the menu in an Italian restaurant if the boss were paying. However, team events and other types of competitions have a way of shining an unflattering spotlight on the people who happen to not be very social at the office.

      I don’t want to derail this too far, but when men propose something competitive, especially a sporting event, as something that everyone can enjoy, they jump on every opportunity to insult the women who aren’t interested in it. You’ll rarely find a lot of women who would take a generic office thing, turn it into a competition, and then judge the people who don’t want to compete.

    5. LT*

      Wait, would you actually tell an alcoholic to suck it up and go anyway if there was a highly lubricated office social event?

      You’re very right–different people like and dislike different things. That’s why you don’t make them mandatory and if someone ops out because they don’t like it, then you don’t make a big deal, or even a little deal about it. Do you need to know that Suzy has allergies and can’t really enjoy the picnic? Or that Bob hates football and has plenty of other things he’d want to do Saturday night? (I don’t even know what to say about your Italian restaurant bit. Being forced into activities is the same as having food you don’t like much? Maybe more like having a mandatory office party at a seafood restaurant, even though an employee is allergic to seafood.)

      I’m baffled by this. Off the clock time is not time you should be forced into a social event. I think maybe extroverts really just do. No. Get. how thoroughly awful “forced fun” can be for introverts, nevermind people with social anxiety.

    1. Anon*

      My thoughts too. Or a bit of Zombina and the Skeletones (some you can just scream), the odd WASP song which wouldn’t go down so well, or just straightforward punk.

    2. Nina*

      Imagine the looks on those faces if you start belting out Cannibal Corpse. Add in the headbanging and you have one uncomfortable crowd.

      1. Shortie*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking, Nina! Hahahahahahahaha. *files that idea away for future reference*

      1. Jennifer*

        “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the….FLOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR”

        I’m sure that one will go over well at any work occasion.

        Or anything by the Bloodhound Gang. I had an ex who listened to them and Insane Clown Posse a lot and I’d have the song about the porn star, or “murdering, murdering, murdering fun”-type stuff stuck in my head as I walked into work.

  60. AcademicAnon*

    I’d also point out if it’s mandatory it’s not fun it’s work and they have to pay the non-exempt/hourly people who come.

  61. Not So NewReader*

    Am just so not a fan of this stuff. If a company wants to build cohesion wouldn’t it be more to the point to look at their work processes and figure out what people need to get the job done? Stuff like this is nothing but a distraction from what needs to be done- it sucks up time and resources for something that easily 60% of the employees do not want to do.

    So maybe this comes under the heading of “Bah-humbug” but I feel that I give 200% to my job. I should not have to go rock climbing, singing, dancing, eat raw fish or whatever other thing someone conjures up.

    I understand people’s points about lying. I say 99.9% of the time that is the route to take. But if it’s going to come out of my hide because I refused one of these events, yeah, I would create a vet appointment or some other thing that had to be done that particular day. (Yes, I would actually go to the vet, or car repair or whatever I said I was doing. But it is still a synthetic urgent matter. ) I would, of course, try other approaches first. I have been working for over 3 decades, I think I have done this once. If I had no other recourse and had to do it again, I would.

    Some folks here offered some great questions to ask, it could be that a well-framed question to the right person could put the kibosh on this whole thing. For people facing anxiety issues, I would say to get a doctor’s note to help drive home the point that these types of events are not going to work out well for you and are, in fact, a set-back in the progress of your health care.

  62. Another J*

    I wouldn’t be too hard on the party planners though. I was appointed to plan a Christmas party for the office. There was no getting out of it, at all. The management wanted certain things done and told me what was going to go on and I was just there to plan the rest and get everyone to attend. I hated every minute of it. I still wonder why they wanted the atheist in the office to plan a Christmas party for an office that had people of many different faiths (I think just a little of half celebrated Christmas). I would have preferred to have a non religiously themed event.

  63. Rose*

    I feel like every other office dynamics problem on here is a case of people making very clear that something bothers them, and other people just “disagreeing.” You cannot disagree with someone’s feelings.

    It doesn’t matter if you love karaoke, or loud music, or the smell of tuna in the morning. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get why it would bother them, or if it wouldn’t bother you, or if it never bothered your old office mate. If you are annoying, insulting, hurting, or embarrassing someone and it would be easy for you to change your behavior JUST CHANGE IT.

    When you try to explain to other people why their feelings are wrong or invalid, when you struggle to maintain control of insignificant details just to show that you’re the boss, you are cultivating a workplace that nobody wants to be in.

  64. Bea W*

    I hear there’s a horrible 24 hour stomach bug goin around. I sure hope you don’t catch it and be forced to miss this awesome time. That would be tragic. ;)

  65. AnonyMOOSE*

    It’s so freeing once you realize that there isn’t a single person alive who who can make you do anything.

    My answer: Don’t go, and don’t feel bad about it.

  66. Natasha*

    I would refuse to go beforehand. If I were asked to provide an explanation or pushed further to participate, I would make something up about certain music and/or alcohol being against your religious beliefs and you consider it dishonorable to be in such an atmosphere. No employer will touch that with a ten-foot pole.

  67. OP*

    Hi, OP here. Oh how I wish this post had come up a week ago – the party was last Friday.
    After trying to get into the committee and failing, and telling the committee I disagreed with the ‘worst singer’ award, I wasn’t sure I could do much more without drawing attention to the fact that I didn’t want to participate.
    I figured I’d throw my self into making my team’s performance relatively embarrassment free. We picked the Time Warp (divisible, silly lyrics, easy costume, just a feather boa over what we were already wearing, built in dance moves). I also thought that’d be a good one so that anyone who didn’t want to participate in my group could just shout the “jump to the left” sections rather than sing. I was hoping that would be me but…two out of four people in my group got sick. They still came, but had very little voice. I ended up singing most of the song just to get it done, though with gaps where my group mates were supposed to sing/forgot to jump in…highly embarrassing.
    To get over my anxiety about performing in front of coworkers, I had two glasses of wine. I then proceeded to drink another 3 across the evening. :( So not a great result there for professionalism.
    The cat strangling award went to my manager (who was on my team), as he had been sick all week and barely had a voice anyway. They’re very lucky he was good natured, and him being sick made it funnier. But imagine if he hadn’t been sick! Who would they have given the award to then? Some poor person who tried their best? The judges were the committee – they’d made sure one member of the committee was on each group too.
    It ended up being a sort-of fun night. After the group performances ended, it became open mic. One guy did Michael Jackson with full on dance move, which was awesome. I got up there with some friends and sang Bohemian Rhapsody and Grease Megamix. I even got the best back up singer award (because I was singing along with every single performance. I had drunk a lot of wine).

    I couldn’t have opted out without a gaping hole in my team that would have made it obvious I had flaked, as they didn’t form the teams/impose crazy rules and prizes until everyone had RVSPed to the ‘tax party at a karaoke bar’ invite. There was a networking event directly after with our agency partners, so if I hadn’t gone, I would have missed prime networking opportunities (though after 5 glasses of wine, I pretty much told everyone they were awesome to work with. Lucky I’m a happy drinker!).

    There were awkward songs though: two girls got up and sang Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ and had it turned off because it was ‘too long’ even though they were having fun up there. I didn’t realise that Grease Megamix had some super rude parts in, that I just didn’t sing.

    I think I bristled so much with this party because I hate organised fun. Luckily, I’m not so against karaoke, but it was clear at the party that some people were not. into. it. If it had been, I don’t know, ballroom dancing, I would have run screaming. It’s definitely not something I’d quit my job over, but it did make me question their choice of ‘party planning committee’. I may have even been excluded because they knew my feelings on hyper organised events.

    Thanks everyone for your advice/shared horror! This is a biannual party so…who knows what they’ll come up with for the next party. I may need this advice all over again in six months.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sorry this wasn’t published in time to help you!


      two out of four people in my group got sick. They still came, but had very little voice.

      Um…. you know they might have arranged this just for this event, right? :)

      (See this very suggestion earlier in the comment thread.)

      1. OP*

        No they didn’t sadly. They had each had days off during the week but dragged themselves in on Friday because they didn’t want to miss the fun. They had a ready made excuse and didn’t use it!! Kind of jealous there.

    2. Libby*

      Thanks for the update. I’m glad it all went fairly well, but, on the other hand, the party planning committee are probably congratulating themselves. Blerg! But maybe they’ll listen to your objections in the future, now that you’ve proven your party-fun bona fides.

    3. Bea W*

      Sounds like you tried to make the best out of a bad situation and were very thoughtful about your own team in deciding what to do. You get kudos for that! I can’t believe your co-workers showed up sick to “not miss the fun” when so many people who have responded would have taken full advantage of the great timing!

    4. Livin' in a Box (formerly CanadianWriter)*

      In six months, say that you have a horrible case of BVD*. This excuse has never failed me. For the best results, try to sound really embarrassed when you say it.

      *bloody vicious diarrhea

    5. Anonymous*

      ” I didn’t realise that Grease Megamix had some super rude parts in”

      Ah, Greased Lightning. Catches lots of people off guard. Fond memories of sneaking that mix into the rotation at school dances.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, apparently the original stage version is much raunchier and darker than the 1978 movie.

  68. Lulubell*

    A couple years ago, my company incorporated mandatory belly-dancing at our holiday lunch. When people complained that the loosely-dressed dancing woman – not to mention the forced dancing – made people uncomfortable, those people were thought of as negative party poopers. The owner of my company takes things very personally. After a few events like this, however, and much complaining, we’ve gotten much looser with our mandatory fun activities. Though I did recently have to explain cultural appropriation and why encouraging employees to dress in certain things was a bad idea. Baby steps.

    1. D*

      Ugh, that sounds like the worst. I just don’t understand why a happy hour or lunch with the team won’t suffice. I like to cut a rug and even took nearly 3 years of belly dancing, but I wouldn’t in a million years dream of belly dancing with c0-workers. Dance like no one is watching, um, no.

      In my past experience, it’s always the teams with the lowest morale (most often due to pathetic management) where it’s soooooooo important that everyone attend a team building session.

      1. Windchime*

        My personal philosophy is that I only dance like no one is watching if there actually IS no one watching.

      2. Lulubell*

        I get it from the bosses’ perspective, I truly do. Work social gatherings can be awkward, and having an “activity” gives everyone something to focus on so people don’t get too cliquey or withdrawn. Having an activity also creates a more memorable party, which, as someone who coordinates a lot of events, I truly appreciate. We’ve had some great, memorable activities that didn’t cause anyone embarrassment. And I know our bosses come from a good place. It’s just that sometimes the execution misses the mark, just a little bit.

  69. Fun-&-Games*

    Cowboy up Ned & Nancy!

    If you think your singing is bad you probably will be FAR from the worst. The REALLY horrible singers all think they’re the bees’ knees! Doubly so if you don’t drink, as the drunken ones with high opinions of their own melodic skills will keep anyone from noticing you at all.

    You don’t want to do it? Then don’t. But all the talk about lying to get out of it?!? Shame.

    I’d do some things I don’t care for in exchange for the security of a regular paycheck. Gotta step outside that comfort zone sometimes people, and sometimes you have to play by someone else’s rules.

  70. jasmine*

    Forced fun isn’t fun. For some reason this reminds me of: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

  71. Girasol*

    Go silly and tuneless if you must get up on the stage! The amplification makes even good singers who aren’t used to it sing horribly off key. But if you belt out something silly with a grin, and wildly off key, you can pretend you succeeded in getting laughs rather than failed to sing well. I was lucky to find Werewolves of London on our teambuilding song list. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket but I can howl when I have to.

  72. krisl*

    I hate forced “fun”! I like kareoke, have even sung kareoke in front of co-workers without any alcohol in my system, but to be forced to do it, and for there to be an “award” for the worst singer – that’s awful!

  73. Cassie*

    I would have hated going to this party, but if it was “mandatory” and mandatory to sing, I would have participated at an average level – enough not to be pegged worst singer or something along those lines. I don’t think they should have had the worst singer award. That’s just mean-spirited (if not plain mean).

    The one thing that I would say to people who would be embarrassed to sing in front of others but don’t have a choice to opt out – just fake it til you make it! Especially for a group song. The really bad performances aren’t just people who can’t carry a tune. It would be the people who are so embarrassed about it that they sing really softly and/or keep apologizing or venting (during the performance) for being such a bad singer. I’m not for forcing people to do things they don’t want to do (especially stuff that doesn’t have a true business purpose) but the more you draw attention to the fact of how embarrassing it is for you, the worse it will be. It’s like actors/celebs who go on game shows and then basically refuse to participate. You look 1000 times worse by doing that. (Again, not advocating forced fun… if it were me, I’d try to get my group to perform at the beginning so we can get it over with).

  74. amaia*

    I actually do have frequent karaoke events for my job, that are sort of part of my work duties. I teach English for an online school in a non-English speaking country. We have two karaoke parties every semester, one in one major city and one in another, for the students and teachers to meet IRL (attendance is voluntary for the students). I usually only attend the ones closest to me, though I could potentially be called to the other city if we needed more teachers. It’s happened once and yay free travel!

    Personally I enjoy karaoke, and have a few songs I can do well enough to impress people at the party. To be honest, listening to old drunk businessmen gets old after a few hours though. Most of the staff both enjoy singing and can sing at least passably. I think if someone really didn’t want to attend or sing they could probably get out of it, but as far as I know it’s never been an issue.

    We’d absolutely never make it into a competition though. The students are usually shy enough as it is!

  75. smilingswan*

    This reminds me of that episode of Arrested Development when they had a work party with karaoke. It, too, was a disaster.

    1. Matt*

      We have karaoke at our Christmas party every year … but voluntary and without judgment. I love it, as all the usual participants do, in fact it has gotten me into karaoke so that I’m now going to a karaoke bar almost every weekend, but I clearly see that not everyone does and I couldn’t imagine making this a mandatory work event :/

      1. D*

        I’m glad to hear it. I think there are work teams where activities like this really do work and people actually have fun. It depends on the work culture and if you genuinely enjoy being around your team members. This is getting a bit OT, but I think these activities work when the work team is functioning pretty well, though maybe not perfectly, and there’s good management in place who doesn’t use team building in place of actually managing.

  76. Kim*

    “The workplace” cannot legally force fun. That sounds weird: force fun, but they can’t. Just don’t do it and tell them you don’t WANT to do it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Legally? Sure, they can require this stuff. It’s dumb, but no law prevents it. I mean, they have no way of ensuring that you actually have fun, but they can certain require participation. Hell, they could legally fire you if you appeared to be bored during it.

  77. Victoria, Please*

    Forced karaoke is a terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

    But BOY was it a kick one time when I was one of the main organizers for a huge conference and decided after only one glass of wine (it apparently went straight to my stressed-out head) that it would be a great idea to karaoke “Boot Scoot N Boogie” at the after-banquet party! I suspect I was absolutely awful but it was totally outrageously fun. We are notoriously *nice* in my field so there was no way anyone would ever make fun of me even if I was squalling like a coal train.

  78. M-C*

    Another vote for developing a serious and sudden case of sore throat/measles/bubonic plague at the right time. If enough of you do that, and they have to limp along on half the staff that day, next year might be better..

  79. Jazzy Red*

    I might attend, but I would sing like Jack Palance in City Slickers (basically reciting the lyrics with the appropriate pauses, etc.)

    There are going to be some very unhappy and hurt people after the “awards” for this. The planning committee sounds like a 9th grade cheerleading squad on speed.

    Or throw up just before you’re supposed to go on stage and excuse yourself.

    I wonder what level of hell Dante would put this in.

  80. DMented Kitty*

    I think this occasion calls for ‘singing’ Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen”. It’s pretty much spoken dialogue.

  81. Kevin*

    “you’d be doing some others in your workplace a favor if you’re willing to do #2”

    Just don’t go #2 on the karaoke microphone.

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