Let Me Entertain You
About this programme by Peter Day
One radio programme I worked on a long time ago had just one office party, the first and the last. It proved to be far too expensive to ever be repeated.
At the centre of the story was an imperious and effective presenter, a powerful woman. The drinks were poured and the party was humming along nicely when the departmental boss appeared.
He fell into animated conversation with the presenter, and gazed into her limpid eyes.
Flirtatiously he praised her work to the skies. Pulling rank, he asked what she was paid for her two days a week freelancing. She told him.
Inflamed by wine, he gasped. "You’re worth double that," he exclaimed. She dragged him across the room to her editor. "Repeat that," she told the boss, batting her eyelids.
First thing the next day she was round at her editor’s office, negotiating in full the mighty pay rise their boss had been lured into endorsing. As I say, we never had another office party.
Things like that add to the gaiety of nations, but it is often awkward when people at work let their hair down after hours.
It can be even more awkward when the bosses decide to intrude play into everyday office life.
In Victorian times 150 years ago, the clerks in the City of London worked at their ledgers for 40 years in the same counting house with the same supervisors, and rank was never pulled. Their swelling ranks reflected the growing power of London as an international trading centre : they were the computers of their day, the adding machines. They knew their place.
But now the bosses are besotted with the idea that work constantly needs improving and they will get more out of people if they find ways of unspringing the workplace formality with an injection of "fun", or teambuilding.
Hence the office "awayday", when team members troop off to a place far from the office and outsiders are brought in to lead the workers in surprising stunts: the distinguished orchestral conductor who gets everybody to sing or at least hum, and (as in this Global Business programme) the comedian who teaches the skills of improvisation to people who normally interface mainly with their computers.
To be fair, lots of the participants say they like it, but I still have my doubts, from personal experience.
A good awayday lets you off the leash for just one single day. People who’ve shunned you in the corridor are amazed by how amusing or insightful you are, how readily you come up with a stream of ideas to add to the gaiety of the occasion.
You and your colleagues (your new team players) buzz with the exhilaration of seeing work and the workforce in a new light.
The bosses normally take a back seat, or make asses of themselves, which is satisfying.
And then next day, you’re back at work in the cubicle, and nothing has changed. Except that you have been let off the leash for that single day, seen what might be possible and then had it closed off again, so that work is actually even less interesting than it was before.
As I say, my cynicism is not echoed by the people I shared comedy improvisation time with, nor the rock and rollers who make up another part of the programme.
Some of them derived even deep wisdom from what we all experienced.
I hope they went on being changed when they all got back to work later in the day. I know that the presenter who batted her eyelids was changed, for the better. She got more money.
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