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It’s officially time to cancel forced fun at work

These things are an unnecessary evil of corporate America; they’re rarely fun and are more effective in putting folks behind in their workloads than actually boosting morale.

It’s officially time to cancel forced fun at work
[Illustration: Michael Kennedy]

The Only Black Guy in the Office is co-published with LEVEL.

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Office life is back in business, word to EPMD. And while I’m not mad at the hybrid model that my company has put into effect, there are still some aspects of working IRL that cause that feeling of Not this shit again to bubble up in my spirit. Namely, our first company retreat in more than two years.

This may be a shock to longtime readers—who should be well aware of my mild distaste for many of my colleagues—but I have joined the planning committee for the next corporate field trip. I’m in senior management, after all, and sometimes, if you want to be a part of the solution, you have to be part of the problem. Or some shit like that.

These things are an unnecessary evil of corporate America; they’re rarely fun and are more effective in putting folks behind in their workloads than actually boosting morale. Truthfully, my joining the committee is a selfish move—an attempt to prevent the kind of forced fun events that I loathe personally, and I know others despise as well.

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After the kind of deliberation you’d expect from a grand jury, we settled on bowling. Sure, you have to wear those hideous shoes, but it’s indoors, there’s food and drinks, most people don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and it’s easy enough to merely sit on the sidelines and judge others’ prowess for hurling a heavy-ass ball down a slippery wooden strip. That latter point is all the more true if you’ve never achieved a score higher than your age.

Still, there were lots of ideas that were left on the cutting room floor—mostly due to my own resistance. Alas, lay your eyes on five terrible, albeit common, activities for a company retreat.

Escape rooms

I knew we had reached peak escape room when a friend of mine who works at another company mentioned her team’s virtual escape room experience during the pandemic. I’ll admit, the first one I did was fun. The reason: Everyone accepted defeat about halfway through and spent the remaining time Googling places to go for happy hour. Every other time I’ve participated in an escape room, there’s always someone who wants to act like they’re Indiana Jones, and gets mad because you can’t solve some riddle about if a 2 was a 1 what number would feel like a 0.

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Scavenger hunt

What do I look like running around hunting down a Hello Kitty notepad, a pencil sharpener, and a cassette tape? Sure, scavenger hunts are not the worst, but they also never excite anybody, which is why they should be left out of the potential activity discussion. As a team-building exercise, I couldn’t tell you what the benefits are to a group of people walking around a building or a neighborhood like they lost their keys.

Personality test

At this point, when it comes to a personality test, I register as an IDGAF. Personality tests are astrology for the Fortune 500 set and really, we learn nothing from them. What they actually end up doing is affirming the best and worst of our personality traits by putting it in some flowery language and acronyms. This is how Molly from biz ops gets away with being argumentative, because she can just say she’s an ENTP, put it in her email signature, and we’re all supposed to accept it because Myers-Briggs says so.

Physical competition

If you want to make some aspect of your team activity competitive, go to Dave & Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese or some other venue that allows guests to play games that make you feel like a big-ass kid. Do not plan any games that will remind you that you are not a child—this includes field day favorites like potato sack race. Even seemingly harmless activities like tug-of-war are not going to do anything but make some of your employees feel weak or slow and give those who won some delusions of physical strength they really don’t have. Let the weekend warriors release all their endorphins on Saturdays and Sundays and keep the company retreat activities to jumbo Jenga and pop-a-shot.

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Karaoke

A former manager of mine came up with an icebreaker question that asked folks to share their go-to karaoke song. (Mine is “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green—an iconic, singalong-friendly Black love song that tells you which of the White people in your party knows their R&B and who doesn’t.) But with the exception of that one Drake song, karaoke is never a vibe. There’s always going to be some coworker who will not waste any opportunity to finally put their Berklee music degree to use by singing multiple ’90s classics by Celene Dion. I love bops as much as anyone else, but having to sit through that overzealous person who gets into concert mode while the rest of us ironically croon T-Pain? In the words of Randy Jackson, “It’s a no for me, dawg.”


This essay originally appeared on LEVEL Man and is reprinted with permission.


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About the author

The Only Black Guy in the Office is a Seattle-based marketing manager who writes about navigating the White waters of corporate America. He’s like a modern-day Dilbert — that is, if Dilbert were Black, woke, and outspoken about the foolery, joys, and microaggressions that Black professionals experience on the daily.

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