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

Remember the letter-writer whose office was planning a “party” where employees would be divided into teams and forced to perform karaoke? Participation wasn’t optional. Here’s the update.

I ended up attending the karaoke night and having a really great night. Unfortunately, my nerves meant that I probably had a bit much to drink, but thankfully did not engage in any “party fouls.” The “cat strangling” prize ended up going to a manager who was recovering from a throat infection, and had very little voice but still participated, and he took it with good grace.

There was quite a bit of mismanagement when it came to that event – the venue the committee had originally booked went out of business without telling us and they had to change venue with 30 minutes notice, and quite a bit of budget was wasted on crappy plastic prizes (you know, for the best cat wailing), certificates for the winners, and then some high-end prizes (think Fitbits, GoPros, etc.) for the ultimate winners.

So for the next party we are planning, we have an all new committee, and I’m included on it! Our department Christmas party will consist of: food, drink, a DJ, and trivia run by an external company. Instead of hyper organised groups with preprep involved, we will have people pull their group out of a hat as they enter the venue, and trivia is usually low key enough that those who are super keen can get into it, while those who are not so keen can just mingle, eat and drink. It’s non-compulsory, though I don’t think I can prevent our department head from leaning on poeple to attend, but I’ve done my best to make sure that people can attend without the obligation to participate!

Thanks for the advice – I found the best way to tackle things is to get involved and make the change I want, rather than hoping someone on the committee will magically do things the way I want.

{ 56 comments… read them below }

    1. OP*

      We sang the Time Warp. Lots of ‘spoken’ parts, and I correctly assumed that everyone watching would get into it and sing along with us. PLus ready made dance moves so I wouldn’t be left standing up there with a mic in my hand.

      1. Couldn't do it*

        This song choice would have made it even worse for me. I know I’m in the minority but I absolutely hate Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just watching it feels embarrassing to me. I can’t handle this kind of stuff. This event would have had me crying in a corner.

        Glad you had fun though, OP!

  1. manybellsdown*

    Should have been an equally good prize for the caterwauling. That takes the sting out of it, and people would actually compete to be the “worst”. I mean, I would, knowing that in no universe am I the best singer!

    1. OP*

      If I remember correctly, the prize for cat strangling was a package of tube socks and some novelty sunglasses. Not exactly a GoPro. :)

  2. Jamie*

    Maybe I’m grinchy, but any significant monetary prize going to the best singer for a workplace thing, assuming that’s not a job requirement for daily work, stinks.

    Why not make it a beauty pageant and give high dollar prizes to the best looking – or have everyone take an IQ test and reward based on that. Maybe who has the brownest eyes or the most unusual shoe size.

    People can either sing or they can’t – it’s kind of inherent and while if this were me I wouldn’t make a fuss about it because there are bigger hills to die on I think the reward system was rude.

    And no way would I have gone. Not enough medication in the world to squash my terror and anxiety over singing in public nor to mitigate the horror and/or boredom of having to listen to others.

    ‘Tis the season for me to be very grateful my company does the Christmas party during work hours with no singing or games.

    1. Helka*

      While I agree overall with your point that rewarding for singing ability is really arbitrary and crappy, I disagree entirely on the basis. Singing ability isn’t inherent — a really significant portion of it is trained. So you’re not so much rewarding “who won the genetic lottery” as you are “who won the I-took-singing-lessons-in-high-school lottery.” Either way, it’s a pretty lousy feeling for the losers.

      1. Jamie*

        I know that people can train and improve, but when we’re talking about people at a random non-singing workplace there will be various talent levels just inherent – right?

        I can’t sing at all – I’m very what my son who can sing calls “flat.” My mom couldn’t sing to the extent the dog who loved her would put his arm over his ear to block her out. As little ones when she’d sing we’d beg for a story instead. :) And she looooved to sing and did it all the time – she knew she was awful but it brought her joy.

        We’d beg her not to sing at church and she said God thought her voice was beautiful. Well, he clearly sat further away.

        But yeah, I think you can go from good to great with training, or even crappy to good maybe…but if it’s not something one does and it’s just inborn talent or not it’s pretty variable, I think?

        1. Arjay*

          God bless your mom, Jamie. The church I attend embraces St. Augustine’s idea that when you sing, you pray twice. And the idea that the choir is there to lead the congregation in song, not to “perform” for us. So I sing out loud and proud and awful, and if the people around me can’t stand to hear it, I expect them to sing louder themselves!

          1. reader*

            Psalm 100 – Make a joyful noise … doesn’t say anything about being in tune. Love to sing but not that good but can fake it under the right circumstances.

        2. Lisa*

          And this is where Jimmy Fallon – lip synching wars should be swapped for karaoke. Most heart-felt performance wins.

        3. Phyllis Barlow*

          Jamie, I understand about your mom. When my oldest was a baby, I would sing to her, and after she was about a year old, she would put her hand over my mouth!! I never sang again. At least, not where anyone can hear me. :-) I get chided for not singing at church, but I can’t get that image out of my mind of my child covering my mouth. It’s a moot point, anyway, because after I had lung surgery (when child # 2 was born) I haven’t really had the lung power to sing. But having said that, there are some in our church who I would love to apply the hand over mouth to, but as they say, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

      2. BRR*

        Being a musician in a past life while a lot is practice there is a hurdle of genetics involved. You can teach someone to hit a note but vocal timbre is pretty genetic. I have to agree with Jamie they might as well hold a beauty contest.

      3. Emma the Strange*

        (Long time singer here.) IME, training is only part of it. Yes, you can improve a lot with training, but genetics still play a role. Tone deaf people exist, for example. And not everyone is capable of developing perfect pitch.

        To use a metaphor, suppose the company were giving out big monetary prizes for home runs in a company softball tournament. Yes, they’re rewarding people who won the “I-played-varsity-softball” lottery. But they’re also rewarding people who won the “I’m-not-physically-disabled” lottery (physically disabled person here, I know whereof I speak).

        But otherwise, I think we mostly agree that this sucks.

        1. manybellsdown*

          I am super tone-deaf, but am oddly an excellent mimic. So the very little singing skill I have comes from my ability to imitate the singer. Also I have a very low natural range for a woman; I have scored as a tenor with computer programs that don’t take gender into account. Most alto parts run too high for me.

    2. Career Counselorette*

      There is a lot more than just singing ability that can help you win a karaoke contest. One former co-worker with an awful singing voice did an unforgettable drunk rendition of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” that was full of comic relief. Had there been a contest I’m sure he would have won.

      1. KerryOwl*

        Yeah, that’s what I was thinking as well. If you put effort into a performance, you could win without actual singing chops. It’s still something that some people will be better at than others, but I don’t think that the most accurate rendition is necessarily going to be the most popular.

      2. OP*

        Our ‘karaoke King’ wasn’t the best singer, but he did a full on reindition of MJ’s “Man in the MIrror” with MJ dancing and he had the hat and did the moonwalk and everything. Same with the karaoke queen, who belted out, no joke, five different songs without even looking at the lyrics. Definitely more points were given for showmanship.

      3. Anonsie*

        The best karaoke performance I have ever seen was a classmate whose go-to song was Rock Lobster, which you forget is like 10 minutes long and consists primarily of instrumental interludes and weird noises until someone gets up in front of you to act the whole thing out.

        He had told me beforehand (it was a departmental event that he sort-of had to go to) that he can’t sing to save his life and he’s also not a dancer or anything like that, so he had his own strategy for every time the annual karaoke night came around. I thought it was a pretty good one.

    3. Singing Teapots, Ltd.*

      Actually, singing well takes time, patience, and intelligent work. Not to mention blood, sweat and tears. I’ve got good friends who shall go nameless who were told early on they’d never sing, but are now singing at incredibly high levels after lots (LOTS) of hard work. It is not a magic thing.

      1. tt*

        I’m sure training helps, but if you’re tone deaf, there isn’t much to be done about it, or is there?

        1. misspiggy*

          It’s like most things – anyone can learn, but those with the least natural ability will need to work harder and get more help.

        2. Singing Teapots, Ltd*

          Very few people are actually tone deaf – you’d have to speak in a monotone for this to be true. Much of what we hear has to do with lack to training today in speech as well as singing. We now generally learn by osmosis through what we hear on tv, which for women in particular includes a dropping of natural pitch to compete with a male dominated society, up-talking (everything sounds like a question), and the constant vocal fry that makes those who speak that way sound world-weary, no matter how young they are. Questions of physical alignment and tensions can mess you up – carrying your head forward from your spine from carrying a heavy backpack through school and sitting hunched over a desk all day can create fun tensions, including the base of your tongue that can create pitch issues. No knowledge of vowel formation can make one sound flat or sharp. Heavy use of consonants can affect pitch. But the number one reason I’ve run into as a voice teacher is the psychological damage done that makes people believe they can’t do something. In particular, never tell a teenager going through a voice change they can’t sing. They’re going through a voice change. Pitch matching will be a challenge until that physical change is done. Get them working with someone who knows how to help work the teenage voice in a purely technical manner (may not be the choral teacher, FWIW).

          Because society thinks they know about voice makes everyone feel they have the authority to weigh in on who can sing and who can’t. Not everyone will be the next major multi-million dollar voice, but much of that is hard work meeting opportunity and sheer dumb luck. There are days on the audition line for professional musical theater gigs that it comes down to casting directors “wanting ranch dressing rather than ketchup on their fries” than anything else.

          Voice can be learned.

      2. LQ*

        It’s not magic, but it isn’t my job. (I’m not actually a professional singer.) I’m a professional something else. Why do I have to be Judged At Work on something that is not my job. If I’d wanted to be judged as a singer, I’d go do that. I’m at work, you’re welcome to judge me on my work.

        And if I want to put my spare blood, sweat and tears into a different hobby why am I being punished for not having picked that hobby?

        1. Singing Teapots, Ltd*

          Very true about the important point of being called to work on a particular skill! It is important at the same time to know what can happen and what it takes, rather than blithely saying singing can’t be taught. “I choose not to work on that skill” is the authentic response, not “I stink at singing.”

    4. Z*

      Meh. You can win a karaoke contest without singing well, if you know that you can’t sing well. You could pick a rap song or a song with a significant amount of talking or one that’s so popular that your audience knows all the words and will do the heavy lifting for you. It’s about enthusiasm and performance. As a huge karaoke fan, I can tell you that people who belt out perfect super serious renditions of torch songs and diva bait do NOT usually win and in fact bore most people.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        Yeah! The ever-popular “Theme from Shaft” comes to mind.

        I thought that these kinds of karaoke ‘competitions’ tended to have several categories of prizes that were handed out for “most spirited” (bouncing around the stage pretending you’re John Lydon to “Anarchy In The UK”), “most feeling” (crying while singing Celine Dione’s “My Heart Will Go On”), “party animal” (three guys get up and make like they’re the Beastie Boys), “coolest” (someone with a deep voice who knows all the words to “Mama Was A Rollin’ Stone” or the aforementioned “Shaft” theme)?

    5. illini02*

      I guess it would depend on if it was really “best singer” or “best performer”. I’m no great singer, but I can perform a great karoke song. So I dont think its all bad

    6. Anonsie*

      Grinchy Grinch Grinch Grincharoo!

      I get what you’re saying, though, if this was the only time any such a prize was ever given out that seems like a mine field. I’d be pretty miffed if my company was generally stingy and then gave out GoPros to the best Halloween costume wearer or something. But if your company already does nice bonuses or gifts and then gives out additional ones for weird “team-building” contests, big deal.

  3. BRR*

    We have karaoke at this year’s holiday party. At least it’s not mandatory. Someone on the committee loves attention and likes to sing (at least they’re pretty decent) so it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

  4. AMT*

    I like this. Trivia is one of those games that that can introduce friendly competition and prizes without involving public performance, humiliation, peer pressure, unnecessary rigidity, expensive preparation, forced participation, or unfairness. No one’s that terrible at trivia, and it’s pretty hard to ruin a trivia contest–you have to really, really want to. (Then again, I’ve watched the British version of The Office, so I know it’s possible.)

    On the subject of office parties, I didn’t have a holiday party story for the last thread, but I do now! I just went out to lunch with coworkers and our beloved office gossip showed me a video of last year’s Christmas party. The video showed, essentially, a drunken mosh pit, and featured one of the attorneys from our branch (who is apparently really jacked) tearing off his shirt like it was paper. This is a very old, very respectable nonprofit, mind you. I’m really looking forward to this party, and now have an explanation for this paragraph from an all-staff email: “As always, please keep in mind that judges do come to our party. You will see them again, and more importantly, they will see you again so please act accordingly.”

  5. Ann Furthermore*

    I love the trivia idea. Like the OP said, people who love it (like me) can participate, and those who aren’t can just hang out. Great solution — one that I will keep in mind!

    1. Beezus*

      I love it, but make sure you have a good range of difficulty and topics on your questions. My husband organized a trivia event once, and bless his heart, made too many of the categories things that appealed to his favorite flavors of geekery and way too many of them were too challenging. The table of his friends, who love the same things he does, had a great time and won the event by a pretty wide margin, but most of the rest of the guests didn’t particulary enjoy it. (He didn’t throw the game in favor of his friends on purpose, he just emphasized topics he was interested in, and of course he has shared interests with his friends.) This happened *after* I told him his questions were too difficult and his categories not varied enough, and he tried to make it better.

      Also, topics related to work are LAME. Don’t do a “History of ACME Company” or the like at the company holiday party.

      1. OP*

        That’s why we are getting an external company to do it. They are complete professionals and know what they are doing. And they specialise in corporate events so know exactly the right tone/difficulty to hit. :)

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve always wanted a Dundee – I want the one Angela refused. Who doesn’t want a Tight-Ass award for everyone’s favorite stickler.

      1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        And also because she’s got a great caboose!

        (I know I’m super late on this one but I couldn’t resist)

  6. RobM*

    Why would I have to pick “my” group out of a hat? If I went to a party like this and got told I couldn’t sit with the people I actually wanted to, I’d quite cheerfully spin around in the doorway and leave and not give a hoot what others thought about that.

    I guess I just find this kind of “mandatory fun” to be absolutely painful, at best.

    1. Anon-y-mouse*

      It doesn’t sound like the OP is forcing people to sit in a certain spot – just that if they want to participate in the trivia, they have to pick a team out of the hat. Plus, she said there would be plenty of opportunity to mingle, which means you can get up and move around if you don’t like where you’re sitting.

      Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    2. illini02*

      I agree mostly, but I guess it depends on the point of the event. If your goal is to make teams cross department, then I get it. Although I still don’t think thats the best way. Maybe say each team of 5 must have 3 departments represented. That way if I’m in finance and someone else is in marketing, we can still mingle across departments, but enjoy your friends as well.

    3. Mister Pickle*

      My wife’s company did the DJ w/ Trivia thing one year for their party, and it was a good time.

      I can see picking teams out of a hat being a necessity sometimes – any contest you can name, somebody’s going to get all competitive and need to win, and if you know the people you work with at least slightly well, it’s not hard to figure out who probably slays at trivia. It wasn’t an issue at my wife’s party, but they’re a pretty laid-back group.

    4. OP*

      We are having people pick a group out of a hat to keep the group sizes small (6 people max, we’ve been told). We didn’t want big clusters of 10 people or more to form, as it kind of takes away from the spirit of the thing and our space requirements mean that we can’t have groups of any bigger than that. We also didn’t want to preorganise groups if people don’t turn up or don’t want to participate, and thought it would be very simple (pull a blue card out of the hat, you’re team blue over there by the couches).
      I’m sure there will be people swapping groups to get with the right people, but hopefully we will avoid having clusters of 10-15 people with scatterings of pairs and trios, which can result in either tooany groups, or super groups who lock out all other competition. Plus, my favourite, itr’s random. Unlike in the karaoke, where I had weeks to dread singing in front of a bunch of extraverts, knowing the coordinators had labelled me as an introvert who needed to be put with extraverted singers. It only goes for an hour and a half of the whole event, which is running for 4 hours.

      1. KT*

        I would also consider that, while you’re right about some people being into trivia and some people not (making it a good party activity: it’s easy to accommodate both), assigning those groups to the same team randomly could end in conflict. As someone who is competitive (in a good-natured way, I hope!), I hate being stuck with a team who doesn’t care (Cranium seems to always go this way for me!), but for people who aren’t, the people who are into it come off as obnoxious. If people can chose their own, you might avoid that type of conflict. Let the trivia wizards wizard together!

        1. TootsNYC*

          But I actually think that forcing randomization would be better for the company’s goal.

          The goal isn’t really to create a true contest; it’s to create a way for people to interact.

          if you let people form their groups ahead of time, you’ll end up with some really fiercely competitive people–and they ruin the dynamic for the people who aren’t all that terribly good, don’t care extremely about winning, but are game to try their best and have fun.

          And believe me, those fiercely competitive people will “come off as obnoxious.”

          Also, randomizing the teams may mean that Fergus from accounting ends up on a team with Janet from marketing–which would be one of the things I’d want, as a top manager authorizing this sort of gathering. I’ve been in those situations, where I got to know someone that I’d never met from a department I seldom interact with, and it has always been a good thing. From a practical, work standpoint–suddenly I know someone I can turn to for resources, info, etc.

  7. Anonsie*

    I was staunchly pro-karaoke-being-fun in the original post (though mandatory karaoke is gross even to me) so I’m relieved to hear it was actually a good time! Do you see now, karaoke haters? Do you see??

    The trivia idea is a lot better. I may have to steal it.

  8. Chocolate Teapot*

    It was our Christmas do last night and it started with a posh gourmet dinner in a posh gourmet restaurant. Then the bosses decided we needed to be partying properly, so back to the bar where the aperitif had been held. Unfortunately it was like sardines in there, and fearful for my outfit (something chic, and suitable for a posh gourmet dinner in a posh gourmet restaurant) I decided to go home.

    There were catcalls during the speeches for people to sing, but nobody did.

  9. T*

    I agree with Jamie, who put it so much better than I could, about awarding prizes based on talent. I feel the same thing goes for trivia. Would it be possible to have some awards for the trivia and other prizes given based on drawing names?

    1. OP*

      Our prizes for trivia are nominal, as we have a tight budget that we’ve mostly funneled into drinks and food. They are $20 vouchers to the local department store. So hopefully no one will be too attached to those prizes!

  10. TootsNYC*

    I don’t usually hate hate hate those sorts of things (cheesy team-building exercises, etc.), but I occasionally an not in the mood or don’t like them. However, I find that they have less of negative impact on me if I cheerfully go along with them.
    If i make my own internal goal align with the -underlying- goal of the activity (creating positive mental/emotional links w/ coworkers), then I can actually find that somewhere, even if it’s not my favorite thing to do.
    Sort of like eating the food you don’t really like much quickly, and then hey–you’ve got the vitamins and calories, and you can focus on the other food on your plate that you love.

    I’m glad you ended up having fun.

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