my employee delivered a status update … in song

A reader writes:

I am a newly promoted manager and am stumped on how to handle something bizarre that happened in a meeting today, primarily because my sense of humor is getting in the way. I asked one of my employees to explain the progress he’s made in the assignment he’s been working on, and he said, “I would love to tell you…in song.” He proceeded to pull out a harmonica and “find his note,” before erupting into a musical ditty explaining everything in detail. It was so weird…that I did not know how to respond in the moment. Making it worse is that I find this hysterical, and I could not stop smirking the rest of the meeting. Whenever I think about the occurrence, I start to laugh again.

However, that doesn’t mean I find it acceptable, and intend to have a serious discussion with him tomorrow. But I’m curious to know how you would address it, particularly since my potential laughter and smiling will not convey how unacceptable I find his behavior. I do not want this to seem like a suggestion. Am I immature in not being able to hide these emotions? Am I making too big a deal about the situation? I never thought I would have to deal with this as a manager.

I actually think this is hilarious. Is there a reason you find it unacceptable and want to address it with him? I mean, obviously you don’t want all status updates being delivered in song, but unless it becomes a pattern, I’d just assume it was an amusing one-off from someone having a good time (which is not a terrible thing if it doesn’t impede people’s work) and leave it at that.

I’m not saying this is necessarily happening with you, but some managers — especially newer managers — have a tendency to feel like they have to establish capital-A Authority and sometimes see casual behavior or things that deviate from the norm as Things That Must Be Stamped Out. But if you’re having that impulse, it’s important to ask yourself why. Does the behavior in question really have an impact on the work? Is it something where you’ll do more harm than good by coming down on someone for a one-time occurrence? Is it really a significant problem?

If there’s more to this — like you didn’t get important information you needed or you think he has a habit of not taking work as seriously as you need him to — you should address that. But if it’s just a single song? Let yourself laugh (with him, not at him), appreciate his musical talent, and move on. It’s okay to have a little silliness at work.

{ 198 comments… read them below }

  1. Anyonymous

    I also find this hilarious, but I currently work in a place where we regularly change lyrics to popular songs to reflect the products we’re selling and then sing them to each other while we’re working.

    1. Muriel Heslop

      We sing to each other at work all the time. It would not surprise me at all if someone delivered a status update in song and I would love it.

  2. NYC Redhead

    I did this once and thank goodness, my manager feels like Alison does. It does get brought up more than I would like, so I am not sure I would do it in retrospective, but it was fortunately taken in the good humor in which it was intended. I didn’t use a harmonica, though.

    1. AMG

      I can’t believe there are two people in the world who did this (aside from being a musician at work). Too funny! Having coworkers you can share a laugh with is so important.

    2. Soharaz

      I’m laughing just thinking about someone in my office doing this. I can’t imagine anyone getting a talking to about it…unless it became a regular thing.

      Or maybe if they were a really terrible singer and no one wants to be the guy who points something like that out, so it would probably just be really awkward…

      1. Sadsack

        I suggest that OP just wait until the next song starts and then say, “thanks, Bob, but how about we just do a simple read through this time.”

  3. K.

    I think this is funny too. A little random, maybe, but I’d have laughed in the meeting and maybe applauded when it was over.

    1. Kyrielle

      If I’d thought of it fast enough and were running the meeting, I’d have been tempted to move the meeting along afterward with a grin and “On that note….”

      1. K.

        Brava! Actually, that’s the sort of thing I would say too if I were quick enough on the uptake.

  4. Kyrielle

    I would _love_ this if I were his coworker and would take it as a bad sign if the manager objected to it – as a one-time thing. If it became a habit, I might feel differently, because it would get old. But honestly, if it had all the needed information and wasn’t using up a ton of extra time…I’d enjoy it.

    If it happens a second time, maybe pull him gently aside and say that while you find it fun and funny, it is a funny-once or maybe -twice thing, but can’t be a regular habit.

    Then again, I now work in a place where every code change one person makes is accompanied by a (clean, polite, and clear) comment in limerick form, and someone else manages to use a haiku most of the time (most of the time because some changes cannot be described with a single haiku, in which case we get a sentence or three followed by a haiku – for that matter, the limerick has followed a more descriptive paragraph on occasion).

    The information is there, and everyone gets a smile – this seems like a win (as long as the information was there).

    1. M-C

      +1 I would really think twice about continuing to work for someone who’d object to this on grounds of .. nothing?
      Also said as someone who participated in a 6+-month effort to deliver every daily status report in haiku form :-). But there’s nothing wrong with trying to liven things up a bit, when it doesn’t interfere with actual work.

      1. Spooky

        I would, too. I can’t figure out why this is a problem. It’s not like it was in front of a client…so what’s the big deal? The employee sounds fun!

    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I’ve had a co-worker explain a software issue using interpretive dance. It was great!

      1. the gold digger

        That would be great for me if I could ever understand interpretative dance. Or software issues. :) All I would get is Sad Face, Angry Face, and Happy Face.

        1. WorkingMom

          Which would translate into “it’s not working… IT’S NOT WORKING… it’s working now!!!” lol :)

      2. Cath in Canada

        This reminds me – I met someone at the weekend who said his ex-girlfriend once said that she needed to express how she felt, and then proceeded to do so via interpretive dance. He waited until she’d finished and then broke up with her on the spot :D

      3. SnowWhite

        I think I would have liked our old IT guys a lot more if this was how they explained my computer woes

    3. Cath in Canada

      I’ve seen someone request a status update on a Jira ticket in limerick form, too. It got the attention of the person who’d been putting the task off, and made the rest of us smile!

      1. Kyrielle

        Just to be clear, these are the comments on the check-ins in source control; the comments in the actual source are more standard. (Which is good – what’s humorous when looking at a single change to see why it happened, or when reading the “this was changed” email notifications, would get annoying if every code file you opened was full of poetry of various types from various times. In…much the way that a single sung status report is fun, but a routine musical status meeting would need a very particular type of organization to work, actually.)

  5. Alyssa

    I think the only problem I would have with this is that the manner of presentation would amuse/confuse me sufficiently that I wouldn’t actually be getting the information I asked for from it. However detailed the song, my focus would be on the “what the hell is he DOING?”, not on understanding the progress he’s made and the next steps needed, etc. I’d therefore end up having to ask him for that info again, making the whole thing a waste of time.

      1. Alyssa

        Yup, which was my point about the wasted time. If I’d wanted a written update, I’d have asked for that to begin with.

        1. lawsuited

          IF it’s the case that you really can’t understand what’s sung and you have to ask for the information again, you’ve still only wasted 3 minutes or so. Meh is right.

  6. TotesMaGoats

    I would have laughed along as well. Probably joined in on the chorus too.

    AAM is right on, as always. If this was a one off, let it go. If the status update was that everything is awesome and on track, then your employee is not only good at his job but enjoying his job. That’s a good thing to have. I wouldn’t go overboard on this.

    Maybe something simple like, “I enjoyed your song the other day. That’s super creative and takes confidence but it’s not something that should happen on a regular basis.” Or something like that.

    1. The IT Manager

      Hmmm … I don’t have much of a sense of humor, but I agree with Alison and ToteMaGoats and I think Totes has the perfect feedback for him. It didn’t hurt anything. He pegged your sense of humor because you did find it funny.

      I agree with Alyssa above that I might be shocked to comprehend anything sung to me in that manner, but it sounds like you got the info you needed. The only thing to do now is make sure that he or others don’t decide to try to keep one upping each other because that is something that could get old fast.

    2. Beezus

      Yeah, I don’t see the problem if this was a one-time thing.

      If the status update was related to something the employee messed up, or there were other indicators that he wasn’t taking his job seriously enough, I can see saying something, but otherwise I’d just assume he really likes his job.

      I once brought a CD in just so I could play a few bars of a relevant (appropriate) ZZ Top song at a department meeting when one of my coworkers reporting that a particularly difficult problem that had plagued us for weeks was finally solved.

  7. UKAnon

    If you are worried about this becoming a regular event, maybe a lighthearted note around the team? “I look forward to all of your updates (please remember we are not in a musical!)” Somebody I am sure can come up with better, but something suitably lighthearted and amusing that says “Please try and be serious” anyhow.

    (Sorry if this isn’t clear – I am in ‘brain in need of sleep’ mode today)

    1. ed

      I once went out with someone who said, “Life is a musical comedy, but no one knows the song cues.” Apparently, he did.

    2. Artemesia

      This is a passive aggressive slap that would leave a bad feeling with the person chastised publicly and probably with others as well. Not necessary. Enjoy it as a one off. If it happens again then have a low key ‘hey this was pretty funny the first time, but let’s not make it a habit’ personal one on one with the guy. A public slap is awful.

      1. AnotherFed

        I agree – this could come off badly in email. Either it’ll come across as passive aggressive, or it’ll be too softened to get across that you don’t want this or similar to happen again (especially because the manager clearly found it funny in person).

        The general rule of thumb is to praise in public, chastise in private. If there is only one person who needs to hear not to deliver their updates in song, telling the whole group runs counter to that rule.

      2. Spooky

        I agree with Artemesia. There’s no need to humiliate him – he didn’t really do anything wrong. Not every workplace has to be solemn and serious.

  8. Gene

    At least it shows he put some (a lot) of thought into his status update rather than just something off the cuff at the meeting.

    1. fposte

      Seriously. It takes a lot of work to write song lyrics! I’d see if there was a way to use this talent for broader organizational good.

      1. fposte

        Should have been clear that I think the update in song is fine and hilarious; I just work in a place where if you reveal a talent like this, we will find a way to use it.

      2. TotesMaGoats

        I once had to rewrite the words to “Oh the places you’ll go” by Seuss as a going away party poem. For someone who’d been with the org for 20+ years and worked her way up to Senior VP. I had to include the words rope and goat. It was a success…that I got no credit for.

      3. Not So NewReader

        I was thinking, how could OP tap this for the greater good of the group. Interesting to ponder.

  9. LBK

    I find this hilarious, although I’m wildly curious about what his motivation was. Was it on a dare? Is he just a generally goofy guy? Did he hear you have a great sense of humor and wanted to bond?

    (Also, I’m reminded of Scully from Brooklyn Nine Nine bursting into operatic song on occasion.)

  10. Laurel Gray

    I busted out laughing reading this!!!

    I also pictured the OP’s employee with the harmonica singing in Huey Lewis’ voice. It sounds like you may have a great working dynamic going on if you have workers who are performers and have a great sense of humor (and know when to use it/turn it off, of course).

  11. Jerzy

    I think it’s great if people feel the ability to let their hair down at work a bit in a totally non-offensive way and have a little fun in doing their work. I think it also shows that this employee enjoys his work, since he felt comfortable enough to start to be a little creative with it.

    If you want to say anything to him, I’d keep it brief, and just say, “While I appreciate you bringing a little mirth to your status update, let’s not make a habit of turning our meetings into “America’s Got Talent,” ok?”

    And I think it’s also ok if you tell him you did find it amusing. That doesn’t mean you’re condoning it for other meetings moving forward.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I agree. “Hey that was really great, you have some talent there. Please don’t do it again.” [OR “please limit your singing reports to once a year.”] I’d probably be smiling the whole time, fully expecting his next report to be in poem form minus the melody, yet, really hoping I did not have to explain this one again.

  12. Ashley K.

    It’s really unfortunate that, as AAM points out, the first instinct of a Boss is to quash any sign of amusement, jolliness, enjoyment, or happiness an employee expresses in an official setting. It really is okay to enjoy your job, or find ways to make it enjoyable, right? … right?

    There’s definitely a time and place — springing this on an exec meeting probably would not go over as well — but as long as AAM’s points were addressed (it still conveyed the information, it wasn’t mocking, it didn’t take away from anyone’s work, etc.) it’s harmless.

    I agree with others that sharing your enjoyment with the employee but making sure he understands it can’t be a regular thing is the best way to proceed. Really, being a manager shouldn’t mean you have to distance yourself *that* much from your team!

    1. Not So NewReader

      My problem has been that I admire the creativity it takes to do stuff like this. My amusement gets in the way. But I also believe that sharing a joke as a group is really healthy. However, I don’t see anything wrong with concluding my comments by saying, “but we can’t do this again.” This tends to let the group know that they should not take turns at this.

  13. Original Poster

    Thank you guys for all your insight! I did want to clarify two things:

    1. This employee does not take work as seriously as I need him to. The first week as his manager – and the first week of me being a manager ever for that matter, I caught him bouncing a ball off another employee’s back (while they were on a conference call), loudly whispering “Pssst! Guess what?!” I spoke to him immediately, and my worry is that this is a pattern that will continue if I don’t speak up again.

    2. I think Alison is absolutely right about me maybe trying to exercise too much authority. I have always had to have control over everything I do – that is how my own work was good enough to get me this promotion. I feel I do not have a good sense yet of things that need chastisement vs. things that are bizarre but fine. However, I have had micromanaging bosses and do NOT want to be one myself, except in extreme circumstances of severely underperforming employees.

    The flash mob musical thing is RIGHT up my alley. If an exceptional employee did this, I would absolutely love it…I wouldn’t consider chastising them for a minute. I wondered if it would be double-standard-y to say something to one but not the other…especially if I would be smiling!

    1. Jerzy

      I think disturbing another employee while they are on a call is one thing that you were right to speak to him about, because it is making it difficult for them to do their job. But singing his status update, as long as he didn’t leave out any vital information, or keep someone from being able to do their job, is a bit of harmless fun. You can tell him you thought it was funny, but it won’t be funny if he does it again.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yup, the ball thing is obnoxious (and we even had a thread once about someone else who did that), but a one-off song update is OK, IMO.

    2. Katie the Fed

      OK this changes things.

      I would definitely say something like “hey, a little goofiness is great in the office, but I need to make sure you’re also taking the job requirements seriously. Email jokes are fine. Distracting a coworker during a conference call is not.”

    3. Andrew

      Bouncing a ball off someone while they are trying to work – not cool
      Giving status update in song – okay probably once. The humor would fail with repeated attempts.

      If he has a pattern of goofing off too much, I would probably talk about boundary issues. I think the most important thing is getting the status update, even if it is in an unusual format. I have trouble getting that sometimes from employees during meetings. I think internal meetings should have somewhat of a less rigid format than you would expect in the workplace the rest of the time. People should feel free to speak their minds in a meeting so that possible errors or bad ideas can be caught or corrected before they get too serious. That’s not going to happen if you quash every attempt at expressing individuality.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        True about the ball bouncing thing but am wondering if those two have that kind of rapport where they’re always pulling pranks on each other? Because otherwise if I were the guy on that call I would have turned around and stuffed that ball in his mouth I’d have been so angry… Just sayin

        1. AnotherFed

          In my office, that would have gotten the ball superglued to something once the conference call was over. But it would not have been an issue for management, it would have been self-policed and resolved.

      2. AnonaMoose

        + 1 Great point and it goes along with Alison’s theme about getting your team to provide feedback regularly in meetings.

        OP, I think it’s a slippery slope if you would allow an overperformer to sing while updating, but not one underperforming. When it comes to those kinds of dynamics, it would immediately be seen as favoritism (people catch on quick). I would try really hard in this first year of understanding how to ‘herd the kitties’ – eg, allowing them space to have their own work personality while still leading them to be as productive as possible.

        I think another thing to note is what is the troubadour’s relationship with his coworkers? Does he annoy them? Provide a much needed break from the monotony of every day office life? Some class clowns occur because there is a need of one. I would take a look around your environment and make sure that it’s balanced and how he fits into the team. If they all get annoyed by his pranks (awkward laughter when he sings, rolled eyes after he tells jokes, etc), then there is definitely room to coach him on his boundaries, and why it’s in his best interest to heed professionalism for his career advancement and development. If he’s loved by the staff and management and his body of work is good, then simply realize you need to ‘herd’ him more than others. By squashing his amusement you may squash the team’s fun, is all I’m trying to get at. Make sure you understand his place first before making a decision on how to move forward. :)

    4. Dr. Johnny Fever

      The only concern I can think of is how much time did it take for him to write his song, or even practice it, before the update. That’s time taken from work.

      I don’t think I would worry about how the status is delivered – our team has fun during our standups – but more around the prep time. He can have fun, but he needs to manage priorities well.

      1. Clarissa

        I thought the same thing. As someone who has had experience re-writing songs for childhood camps and during my college years, writing song lyrics can take a considerable amount of time.

        1. Meg Murry

          It can – or he might be the kind of person who can pull it off quickly. I have a friend from high school that used to always burst into random song about whatever we were talking about, and he could do it completely off the top of his head with no rehearsal – so it is possible this guy didn’t actually spend much more time than pulling together a standard update would take, or put it together during downtime like waiting for his computer to reboot or another participant to come on a conference call.

          I think it’s worth mentioning to him though, something along the lines of “the musical performance was amusing, but I just wanted to make sure – there isn’t anything else I need to know that was left out in name of musical flow or making the song rhyme, right? While we were all amused, I hope it didn’t take up too much of your time to put together.”

          1. Nashira

            I could absolutely see it coming together fast. I once rewrote Santa Baby to be about the elder god Cthulhu (from H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novels) as I sang it. Sometimes it just flows.

          2. Clarissa

            All good points. Also as someone mentioned lower, we don’t know he used work time to come up with the song. Could have been on his own time.

          3. S

            Yeah, not to show off too much, but I can pull together passable rhyming/scanning on the bus, making tea etc – for some people it’s just something they can do

      2. Kelly L.

        Not necessarily from work. I get all my best ideas either in the shower or during my commute.

    5. TotesMaGoats

      The ball bouncing thing isn’t cool and you were totally right to say something.

      However, how is his performance? Regardless of his “seriousness” while on the job, if his performance is what you want does it really matter if he’s the team goofball? Cracking down on someone who has a good time at work, provided it doesn’t impact his coworkers, but who also produces at a high level is a jerky move. If his performance is an issue, then address that! Not his behaviors.

      1. AnotherFed

        It’s also worth remembering that the office goofball, when still kept to the same performance standards and appropriate boundaries as everyone else in the office, generally brings up office morale. Squashing the goofball on anything fun or oddball shows your other employees that you won’t tolerate making things fun and makes people think twice before offering more creative, off-the-wall solutions or ideas because they aren’t sure they will be tolerated.

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          And, while everyone is saying to remind him that once is enough, most people already know that. Just pointing it out to him is a way of showing disapproval, because you’re saying he isn’t cluefull enough to know that. I’m a bit of a goofball, and I know humor repeated loses its humor.

          I wouldn’t bring it up with him, UNLESS he actually repeats it. Look at his performance, make sure he’s not being too disruptive, but let him continue making his coworkers happy, if that is what is happening. Something like that can be very valuable.

          1. Chickaletta

            “…let him continue making his coworkers happy, if that is what is happening. Something like that can be very valuable.”

            Agree 1,000%. If employees are getting along well and enjoying coming in to work, you’re ahead of the game. Crush their spirits and you’ll find a whole host of problems starting to crop up. For this reason alone I’d let it go.

          2. plain_jane

            My nieces are trying to explain the law of diminishing returns to their much younger brother when it comes to repeating jokes. If this employee does repeat, you could try having that discussion?

          3. TootsNYC

            I agree as well! It would come across as very scoldy. Sort of pre-scoldy, even.

            And I think people should have fun at work. I sometimes worry that my current department doesn’t have enough fun at work.
            But, it should always be fun that moves in the direction of work, not against it. So, an art gallery of labels for the “monthly closing” file drawer–that’s “with” work. Writing an email in limerick form: with.
            Using goofy names for generic people when writing up a procedures manual: with.
            Making a crown out of paper and having a fake coronation of someone who just did a good job: with.

            The song moves in the direction of work. The tossing a ball at someone’s back–that moves against the flow.

            I think if I were going to say anything, I might say, “That was funny. I’m still laughing. The nice thing about this particular goofiness was that it was going WITH the flow of work. It had all the relevant information, and it wasn’t in the least mean-spirited. Thanks, by the way, for not doing it when the CEO was visiting!”

            I feel that praising its strengths sends the message: I was actually scrutinizing your stunt and evaluating it from a professional standpoint, and I will continue to do so for any future stunts. And here is what I will be judging them on.

        2. Lily in NYC

          Thanks for this. I am definitely the “goofball” of my division and my bosses have actually brought it up as a good thing in my review – they said it was great for team morale and that they appreciated how I know when to be serious and when it’s ok to joke. But I have definitely worked in places where it would not be ok. It’s about knowing your audience.

        3. Today's Satan

          My manager at the toxic job I was at for two years (and that had me taking FMLA for three months to try to unravel my escalating physical symptoms, which were all a result of the job), chastised me and a few other people frequently for “enjoying [our]selves too much at work”. As in, we’d IM each other a sentence or two of something funny and then giggle about it. She’d hear the [quiet] giggle and come over to berate us. She also liked to remind us that “In this economy you ought to be grateful you have a job at all. Quit complaining.” I still have nightmares about her.

    6. caryatid

      this was the feeling i was getting from your letter. i was going to ask how this employee’s performance and attitude are overall.

      i think if i was in your position, and this was coming from an average to poor performer, i would be a little irritated that they were putting in that much effort into a jokey musical status update rather than their actual job. so maybe that’s part of it too?

    7. fposte

      You say something to him about the update in song if other stuff didn’t get done as a result of his prepping it. Otherwise, it has no behavioral relevance to the ball-bouncing, even if you can see how it fits with his personality. This is classic “is vs. does” stuff. Worry about what he *does* that’s a problem, not whether or not he *is* unprofessional.

    8. ToxicNudibranch

      Given the additional info, I would definitely address the lack of professionalism (bugging the coworker on a call, etc.), but I don’t know that I would specifically address the song.

    9. Golden Yeti

      Just wanted to agree with what the other posters have said, and add that balance is important. It’s hard enough for employees to truly enjoy their work, much less be excited about it, so you don’t want to squash all flickers of enthusiasm. At the same time, though, you also can’t let enthusiasm run rampant at the risk of productivity. You made the right call with the ball bouncing, and I would agree with the above statements to just make sure singalong reports don’t become a regular thing.

    10. Natalie

      Does anyone ever really need chastising? I don’t find dealing with people harshly to be all that effective, even with a genuine performance issue. I think it might help if you can reframe your understanding of a manager’s job. You want to be *correcting behavior*, not berating your employees.

    11. Victoria

      Is his work suffering due to his playing? Does this guy not have enough work to keep him busy? Maybe talk to him about additional tasks, or reduced hours. It sounds like he’s pretty bored.

      1. NutellaNutterson

        I can’t help but think of a destructive puppy! Clearly the songster needs more challenging material. And maybe a bizzy toy.

    12. kirsten

      unrelated, can I just tell you I had no idea what OP stood for until I saw your name on this post lol.

  14. The Expendable Redshirt

    As long at he isn’t turning the workplace into a Disney musical, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    1. The Expendable Redshirt

      Ah. I just read an update saying the employee doesn’t take work as seriously as required.

    2. Myrin

      I’m just thinking of the movie Enchanted and the main guy’s (totally blanking on his name right now – he was also in Grey’s Anatomy) total confusion when everyone around him breaks into a song/joins what the others are singing: “I don’t know that song!!” I’ve rarely seen something so hilarious, it’s just great!

  15. Katie the Fed

    I have a team that’s a lot like this – silly and goofy but also very competent. However, once in a while someone will cross that thin line and I have to remind them about professional decorum and ensure they know that things that are ok in one setting aren’t necessarily in another.

    I might say something to him like “I enjoyed the song, but I just want to make sure you don’t do that in a meeting with clients” or something like that.

    1. FiveWheels

      I once sang showtunes for clients during a meeting.

      It was very much s know your audience situation, and yes, I am one of the small group of office goofballs.

      I don’t know if I improve morale, but on throse days when I keep my head down and work quietly it certainly hurts productivity as people from other departments spend time finding out if I’m depressed, ill, resigning, or being quiet for some other sinister reason!

    2. TootsNYC

      Or, “I enjoyed your song. Thanks for doing it at a staff meeting, and not in front of clients!”

      Assume he KNOWS not to do it in front of clients, and praise him for his judgment. Then, if he was thinking of doing in front of clients, he’ll know you don’t think he should. But you didn’t have to insult him by telling him something obvious or “be always correcting” him.

  16. Anony-moose

    Oh man, I love this guy.

    I think if you feel the need to address it, just clarify when that type of informal rapport is ok and when it is not. I joke around with my boss and team a ton and I don’t think that they’d blink an eye if I burst into song or did cartwheels. But with our CEO? Hell no. With our Board? Hell no x 100. Making sure that these behavioral boundaries are clear is important.

  17. Clarissa

    I’m not a manager, so I’m imagining this as a coworker in the meeting. I think that my reception to this song would be heavily based on my relationship to the person singing. If I thought that this person was a bombastic show-off who had more of a tendency to goof off than work, then I would be rolling my eyes and wishing that they would stop always bringing attention to themselves.

    But there are certainly jolly, endearing, hardworking coworkers who I would be happy to have sing a song update and would love the break in the usual meeting monotony.

    I think reactions would differ considerably depending on who it is singing.

    1. Substance D and Vermouth

      > bombastic show-off

      +5,271,009 this.

      I love a good funny. There’s a part of me that hears “he did his status as a song” and I *want* to think “right on!”

      But also I cringe and think “”uh oh…” Because work is a really unforgiving environment for funny. People who can pull off a gag and get a genuine chuckle from everyone in the room are very rare. But when people try and fail, or only get it partway right? That shit gets old *real* fast. Like Mr. Bombastic that Clarissa mentions above – imagine sitting through his weekly musical status reports that everyone thinks are so special. Except that they induce nausea in *you*.

      I guess I just want to say that if someone doing funny – especially if it’s a single point of focus performance thing like singing – look at everyone in the room and take note of their reaction. If you notice that some of the audience is only ‘kinda’ laughing – you may need a private talk with someone.

  18. Amber Rose

    That’s amazing. You should praise him! I might say something like “I really enjoyed your song. Maybe don’t make a habit of it, but thanks for the laugh.”

    I make up parody lyrics and limericks at work every so often because it’s fun. Awhile ago I sent off The Work Day Never Ends, to the tune of The Song That Never Ends, and it made a rather crappy day better because people laughed.

    1. Nanc

      Oh lordy, me too! Every time I read “is this legal” here or someone says it in the office, I start mentally singing a little ditty around this to the tune of Queen’s Barcelona.

      Bringing it back around to the post: is this guy available to get cracking on Ask a Manager: The Musical?

    2. Elizabeth West

      I made up a song once when I worked in the cafe in CA, to the tune of “We’re in the Army Now:”

      We’re in the deli now,
      We’re slicing up some old cow,
      We’ll never be rich
      It’s really a bitch
      We’re in the deli now.

      My coworkers thought it was hilarious. I can’t remember if I had the guts to sing it to my boss.

      1. Nashira

        Omg. I have a friend who owns a deli. I am going to have to sing this at him sometime.

  19. Chocolate Teapot

    As somebody who has been known to answer the phone as the office mascot, I agree that boundaries are important. I even once wrote a profile for the office mascot (a cuddly toy) for the company intranet, but it was felt that not everyone would get the joke.

    Funnily enough, the office mascot had far more sensible and intelligent answers to their profile questions than most of the human employees!

  20. Q

    I was eating a sandwich and when I read the title I stopped chewing. Unless it was an update on a musical theater production, just wow.

  21. Kay

    I love the question and answer, but am I the only person who would have found this acutely cringe-worthy? I dunno. Maybe I have a bad taste in my mouth from the holiday party musicals (with choreographed dance routines) I was forced to participate in at my previous job. I feel like I have no sense of humor now, which I know isn’t true!

    1. Amber Rose

      It would depend on the quality of the lyrics and singing voice.

      I am a literary geek so grammar errors or terrible rhyme schemes would make me wince. Its bad enough i’ve had to tell well meaning romantics never to write me poetry because I’m bad at faking enthusiasm.

    2. AnotherFed

      It depends on the quality – I probably wouldn’t find it too funny, but as long as the song wasn’t offensive, I’d be all for something like that to break up the routine and get coworkers laughing. Even when the fun isn’t my cup of tea, I’d much rather work in an office where a sense of humor is welcome and wacky things are allowed – it makes it easier to work together and it’s easier to bring up crazy, out-of-the-box ideas when the environment encourages (or at least doesn’t squash) non-standard things that don’t cause any harm.

    3. K.

      “Maybe I have a bad taste in my mouth from the holiday party musicals (with choreographed dance routines) I was forced to participate in at my previous job.”
      I bet you do, and I don’t blame you! I can sing – I have been in musicals! – but this would be a no go for me.

    4. the gold digger

      Depends. I dated a musician who played the harmonica. He was (is) a really good musician and he wrote good music with clever lyrics. I can totally see him pulling this off.

    5. Claire (Scotland)

      You’re not alone. I would have been cringing so hard in that meeting. Just, no.

    6. Clarissa

      I think it depends on the singing messenger. Is it someone obnoxious and constantly drawing attention to themselves? Then yes – I would find it very irritating. But if it’s someone that’s generally not an attention hoard, then I might not have a problem with it.

    7. Zoe UK

      I’ve been reading through these comments in disbelief that it seemed everyone would love this. I would HATE it. I was cringing and feeling uncomfortable just reading it.

      And I have a great sense of humour by the way. Perhaps it’s my British reserve. ;-)

    8. Rana

      You’re not alone. I find being sung to one-on-one to be a very intimate thing, and having a co-worker – let alone someone I was managing – do this to me would make me deeply uncomfortable.

      Goofiness and random songs while going about one’s work = okay. Focused singing directed at me in a context where I’m not at all expecting it = awkward and embarrassing.

  22. Cafe Au Lait

    Letter writer, maybe the employee is trying to tell you something? That even though you need to know where the employee is at on his projects, you’re coming across quite formally and it’s intimidating. And he choose to create a song in an effort to reduce the stress of the meeting.

    I encourage you to step back a bit and see if there’s a larger picture. I’ve been a new manager before too. You want your employees to respect you, but at the same time, you don’t want to terrify them.

  23. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

    Jeez, OP, you sound like a real buzzkill of a boss to work for.

    Yeah, if the guy starts trying to do it every day, I’d say something to him… but the fact that you Strongly Feel The Need To Reprimand after a single instance means that you could probably lighten up a bit.

    1. Lily in NYC

      OP wrote in that she found it funny and was asking for advice; there’s no need to insult her.

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

        I feel like that makes it even worse. OP’s report did something that s/he found enjoyable, and s/he says the impulse is to punish him for it? I don’t know, but I think that if you are looking to correct behavior just because you think you’re supposed to be some kind of hard ass, maybe you should look inward and consider what your issues are as a manager.

          1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

            Haha – my browser saved it and I thought I’d just keep using it until someone noticed…

            Anyway I’m reading on my phone today, so I might not have seen all the responses. Sorry, OP, it sounds like I was being harsh when it was unwarranted.

  24. Did you remember your TPS cover sheet?

    Tough call. If it was me, I’d ask myself: “was it really funny? Or – was it just ‘mostly funny’?”[1] There are some people who really are good at being funny. Quite often these people also tend to know when it’s appropriate or not. Bill Murray comes to mind. If that’s the case, I’d just leave them be until they proved to me that they couldn’t be trusted.

    But if they’re “mostly funny” – or maybe “not very funny” – yeah, I’d have a talk with them. And if you have problems with making the call “not very funny”, some things to look for are: did it run on too long? were any of the jokes somewhat painfully forced? I wouldn’t tell him “sorry, it just wasn’t funny” – I’d just point out that what he did plays best if it’s infrequent, and also he knows better to try that in front of customers or the CEO, right?

    [1] and even that question is tough, because not everyone is a good judge of what’s funny or not.

  25. Lady Bug

    Maybe every time he tried to tell you the words just came out wrong, so he had to give a status update in a song?

    1. So Very Anonymous

      My gift is my status report, and this one’s for you. And you can tell everybody, this is your status report. It may be quite simple, but, now that it’s done…. I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind, that I put down these words…. how wonderful Project A is, while it’s in the works.

  26. Purple Jello

    One of our company tenets is to have fun AND make money. If you have plenty of both fun and revenue at your workplace, then the business will thrive.

    If the song lyrics were inappropriate, then address that. If the song was disruptive, address that. If he sings out of tune, address that (a deal-breaker for me!) It’s okay to laugh at work.

  27. MM

    What Alison said, and in addition, just wondering if there’s any possibility that this is a “creative” environment (like marketing, design, advertising, etc) where that type of response might be thought to be more acceptable.

  28. Florida

    I once worked at an opera company. Before we sang happy birthday To staff members, one of the opera singers would always pull out a pitch pipe. That was different though because singing in key was part of our brand. ;)

      1. TootsNYC

        The opera person had probably memorized the standard starting note.

        And it doesn’t matter if someone has perfect pitch or not-it’s incredibly valuable to have SOMEone give everybody the SAME starting note! We just sang it at fellowship hour after church, with no starting note, and it was painful. It’s so much more fun when people can be on the same pitch.

        1. Florida

          I will say that since I left that opera company, every office version of any song has been a letdown. A real estate company just doesn’t carry a tune as well (and everyone starts on whatever note they want to.)

      2. Substance D and Vermouth

        Perfect pitch is so rare that there’s still debate as to whether or not it truly exists (not unlike eidetic memory). But a fair number of people get by with relative pitch.

        If you’ve got a group of pro singers, I don’t think the actual note matters – just having *a* reference note helps everyone start off in the same set of pitches and relative intervals.

    1. Al Lo

      My favorite somewhat judgy thing to do is listen in to people singing “Happy Birthday” in public places. The number of people who can’t hit the octave and end up hitting a fifth or sixth and changing keys midway through the song is ridiculous. For such a commonly-sung song, it’s certainly not the easiest to get right.

      At work, we always sing Happy Birthday in harmony (no pitch pipe, but once you get a starting note, you can sing relative harmony) — and we have only one non-musician on our admin staff, who always just “conducts” us instead of singing.

      1. Florida

        You don’t really need a pitch pipe. But when you work with a bunch of classical music nuts, they do weird things like carry pitch pipes in their pockets.

        I think part of the reason that people sing the song so badly in public is that they never learned the right notes to begin with. You learn it from hearing bad renditions of it where everyone is in their own key and an octave is actually some random interval that sounds big, so you think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I think it would be a great service to the world if we started teaching this song in kindergarten and requiring a Happy Birthday Audition as a requirement to be admitted to first grade. Are any of our presidential candidates reading this and taking this to heart?

  29. Person of Interest

    Good advice from Alison. Once at a staff retreat, each of the directors had to give an update on the accomplishments from their departments over the previous year, but we were instructed to do it “creatively” – no PowerPoints! So one person did a cheer (she was a cheerleader in HS), one did a song, one did a game show skit, I used the Mac comic book program and wrote a comic book that I presented on a big screen, stuff like that. So it can be fun to break out of the mold once in a while, but we certainly didn’t do it on a regular basis, and our boss was clear that this was a one-off (plus, the off-site retreat setting helped – it made sense to do something off-beat given the context).

  30. Cup of Joe

    I wish I’d done this at work before I left to study music full-time. It would have made the job way more fun!

  31. bopper

    Once we had a client to responded to our new web-version of our software (e.g., called “SLAM”) in Dr. Seuss rhyme. It was very effective. The ignoring of the engineers by our mgt. when we asked what problem this was solving and it we were to do it wouldn’t it be better to redesign it from scratch to work with the web was not effective… Of course you can guess that later the whole thing was scrapped as there was an easier cheaper way to solve the actual problem. But anyway:

    “Green Eggs and SLAM”.

    I do not like green eggs and SLAM. I do not like them, Sam I Am.
    I want my blue gui back and no green eggs please. I want my blue gui back now.
    This web interface is not very friendly to me. It makes me wrinkle my brow.

    Sam I Am tell me, is it a he or a she? This web interface I’m talking about.
    Why does it treat me in such a way that makes me want to give up and shout?

    etc etc

  32. Original Poster

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful advice, everyone! I have decided that I will not discuss this with the employee after all, as there is no evidence that it impeded productivity, added to the fact that I enjoyed it immensely. I am still settling into this whole management thing – this blog, Alison, and all the commenters have been a goldmine for me already!

    Who knows, maybe I will lead off my next meeting….with a round. ;P

    1. TootsNYC

      I had one suggestion for how to actually address it without being negative. Details up above.

      But basically: single out the “good judgment” parts of the performance, and name them specifically. Praise them. That says: “You are being judged on these criteria. Keep them in mind for the next time.”
      (i.e., “your song was funny without being mean-spirited; it had all the relevant information; you didn’t do it when the CEO was visiting or in a meeting with a client.”)

      1. TootsNYC

        Positive feedback is very powerful–more powerful than “chastisement.”

        Parents are often encouraged to “catch your children being good.” So, catch him being good: he picked his time well, he met the workplace goal of transferring complete information, he made people laugh without making anybody feel bad. That’s good!
        Praise that, so you see more of IT, instead of more “just goofball.”

    2. Not So NewReader

      Good for you, OP. Separate it out- you can monitor his work quality as a stand alone. I can see where one could think, “If he’d stop messing around he’d do a better job.” You can say that by using specifics from the work itself. “I’d like to see you put a little more time in when you do X, because Y needs to match up with B and you seem to be missing that detail. So I think that if you put a little more time in on X, you will start to catch some of these details.” Notice no reference to the clowning around here.

      But I do get it, you are worried you have the class clown in your group. You can use a redirect, like I mentioned above. Or you can find ways to harness it. It sounds like he does not mind speaking in front of groups or being the center of attention. Are there opportunities for presentations to a broader group?
      The thing with the ball might be a safety issue. If you know he has done something like that again, you can encourage him to think about safety in the workplace before he pranks someone.
      Lastly, sometimes people like this settle in once they are busy. Does he have enough to do or is he bored?

  33. Kathy Spence

    I must really be an old fuddie duddie, but I think a pattern has already been established of him not taking work seriously enough. Work CAN be fun, but work still needs to take priority. Any talk with said jokester guy could encompass all the ways he has come off as less than serious about the tasks at hand. Its not mean’t to crucify, but to rein him in so that he doesn’t continue to take liberties with his own, and other peoples time at work.

    1. TotesMaGoats

      But if work is taking priority then why can’t it be fun. Those aren’t mutually exclusive things.

    2. TootsNYC

      In this instance, his work *did* take priority. The status update was complete and delivered when asked for. So he met his responsibilities then, very thoroughly.

  34. Cheryl Becker

    I would totally deliver an update in song! And the fact that the OP enjoyed it, makes it seem to me that it was OK. I agree, I wouldn’t want to encourage this as an everyday occurrence. :-)

  35. LeisureSuitLarry

    In my last job we were frequently encouraged to find new and creative ways to deliver information to our managers and our clients. I think the theory was that if we presented them with something that was not your boring, run-of-the-mill report or update that they would be more receptive to the information. Some suggestions were to do it in song, art of some sort, and even interpretive dance. Of course, being the boring-as-hell auditors that we were no one ever tried singing their audit results. I’m still not sure how I’d get the point of an IT security deficiency issue across via interpretive dance, but I would have loved to see it.

  36. EvilQueenRegina

    Am I really the only one who thought of Buffy the musical? “I’ve got a theory, it could be bunnies…”

  37. orangepanda

    Interesting – I guess I am one of the only dissenters. Our office laughs a lot during staff meetings and we have many running jokes. Overall it’s an atmosphere of levity. But something like this would go over like a lead balloon. I can’t say I’d find something like that all that funny. It strikes me as “class clown” type of funny, and I feel that kind of humor is best left in high school.

    That being said, I’m not sure I would say anything about it. But the fact that overall the employee doesn’t seem to take his work very seriously IS something I’d address.

    1. Fuzzyfuzz

      Agree here! Nothing to add. I’m kind of surprised everyone else finds this kind of thing hilarious. I’d find it attention-whoring and annoying. Though, in fairness, I wouldn’t reprimand an employee for it unless it became part of a larger problem.

        1. ggg

          Fourth. We have a pretty light hearted office culture, but singing status updates will never be part of it.

  38. Ruth (UK)

    I would find this really amusing
    But possibly slightly bemusing
    To update with a song
    I can’t say it’s wrong
    Though the update could end up confusing.

  39. NavyLT

    I would see it as a good sign. No one on a team with low morale is going to take the time to do that, and while I wouldn’t want to see it every day or anything like that, it seems totally fine to me as a one-off.

    1. TootsNYC

      “No one on a team with low morale is going to take the time to do that, ”

      I agree.

  40. nep

    Hmmmm. Looks like I’m in the minority here, but I would not like if a co-worker (or report, if I were a manager) did this. Just too flip. I would be thinking, ‘Can we get serious and get back to work?’

    1. Coach Devie

      Too bad… why do you have to be “serious” in order to be productive, effective or hardworking?

  41. Human Resources Manager

    I wish my employees would deliver updates to me in song, that’s awesome! Unless it becomes a distraction I think it’s hilarious and fun and don’t we all love it when work can be at least a little fun? :)

  42. Vicki

    This sentence: “However, that doesn’t mean I find it acceptable, and intend to have a serious discussion with him tomorrow. ” really worries me. I want to ask “Why?”

    I want the OP to spend time asking him/herself _WHY_.

    1. Original Poster

      Hi Vicki,
      To answer your question, I found it unacceptable because of his larger pattern of care-free behavior, which I know I didn’t make clear in my question. He is often unfocused and tries to elicit laughter from the rest of the group. Our team has a good sense of humor, but I can tell co-workers are getting tired of his antics (e.g., apparently he has taken to doing impersonations of the Spongebob laugh when I am not around, and it breaks some other employee’s concentration). To be fair, his work is totally on point, but I feel he is a distraction.

      I’ve also never worked in an environment where this sort of thing is okay, as much as I love random musical moments, so I guess I felt like it just…shouldn’t have happened, based on principle…and maybe that was misguided.

  43. Sonya

    What about some variation on, “That was hilarious! I don’t even want you to try and replicate/top that, it was so clever that it deserves to stand on its own. I’m sure we will definitely remember it every time you give us an update from now on. Can we just hold on to that one occasion and keep it a little less boisterous moving forward? Excellent, thank you!”

    If the employee asks why or doesn’t take the hint, say something like, “Seriously, it was completely hilarious the first time, but I’m not sure that turning work into a Broadway show is the best approach. You never know who’s watching or what their impression of it will be. Going forward, let’s err on the side of caution and stick to something a little more conventional at update time, okay?”

  44. Us, Too

    One of our C Team members delivers a brief annual status report via song at our company holiday party. It’s not a big deal and makes it a fun place to work. IMO, let it go and focus on things that are actually causing issues in productivity and efficacy.

  45. onekjp

    Take some advise from Ed Catmull – Pixar and lighten up! :-) “The problem isn’t finding ideas,” he said, “it’s finding a team that works well together. You can’t judge the product you have to judge how they are working together, how they interact with each other—the laughter in the room.

Comments are closed.