I don’t want to dance before meetings at work. Am I being too boring?


My job involves many meetings every week. This is a known issue in my team, and some time ago we had a formal discussion about what could be done to make the whole situation less onerous. I agreed with the consensus that the majority of meetings were essential and that having fewer was impractical. I did not agree with the conclusion that, as an alternative, we would “spice them up” (this isn’t the exact wording used, but you get the idea). Now, before several meetings, we all dance.

I’m not sure if I can express how much I dislike this new practice. I don’t feel comfortable dancing in front of colleagues (often first thing in the morning), but I can swallow my pride and even my embarrassment. What I can’t stomach is the feeling that we’re being infantilized and the implication that if you don’t laugh and show enthusiasm, you’re somehow not a team player. Am I just too old and boring for the modern workplace?

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John ShakespeareCREDIT:

You are absolutely not too old and boring for the modern workplace. In fact, I’m not sure what you’ve described is necessarily a “modern” problem. The fact is that this kind of thing has been happening in offices all over the world for many decades.

Several years ago, when a reader wrote to me about having to come to work dressed as a farm animal, I described the whole phenomenon as contrived zaniness. Much smarter people than me, including some who study workplace culture for a living, have described it as “managed fun”, “mandatory fun”, “forced play”, “prescribed enjoyment” and “managerially-imposed games”.

As you might be able to tell from that list, a lot has been written about this, and we could take so many different paths and detours in this discussion. But let’s just concentrate on a few of the many, many reasons why you (and everyone in your team) have every right to find this new “policy” insufferable.

The first you’ve already expressed eloquently: it’s infantilizing. “Let’s all stand up and dance” is an instruction from a young children’s party. But even at a children’s party, a five-year-old can usually just stand aside as their peers are asked to boogie. The fact that this dancing is not just demanded but that you’re required to reach a certain level of zeal makes it even more degrading.

The second is the psychological phenomenon known as reactance. Researchers have described it as “an unpleasant motivational arousal that emerges when people experience a threat to or loss of their free behaviors”. I suspect there are people in your team who are quite comfortable dancing in front of colleagues, but who feel just as miserable as you do at the beginning of these meetings because this is all so contrived; it’s manufactured jollity. There’s no sense of freedom or spontaneity.

And the third is that cordoning fun off – organizing a workday into strictly defined emotional compartments – seldom works. Prescribing specific times or places for frivolity – five minutes before a meeting, only at lunch, only in a certain room or zone – is not just rigid and dogmatic; it implies that good work and fun are mutually exclusive. That strikes me as a terrible approach to… well, everything. Workplace social cohesion, mental wellbeing, productivity, and on and on.

And this is an approach. Yes, the most enjoyable moments in our lives often happen without any kind of careful planning, but they don’t arrive out of nothing. The fun doesn’t explode into being from a dark void.

Logically, then, managers have a critical role to play in creating a convivial work environment. But there’s a massive difference between foisting a prescription and fostering a culture. Good policies and good modeling behavior can help to create a culture where, for example, meetings feel enjoyable and useful. But strict edicts and precise procedural instructions – “we’re dancing now for exactly five minutes and we’re all going to enjoy it” – sometimes do more harm than good.

It’s not easy. Culture is difficult to define and harder to shape. But those responsible for it can make things easier for themselves by considering some basic principles: not everyone has fun in the same way; nothing – not dancing, not party cake, not table tennis, not any kind of opt-out-at-your-peril pageantry – is inherently and unarguably enjoyable. For both of these reasons and so many more, you can’t engineer fun.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post