The first time I ever heard about Casual Fridays, I hated the idea from the start.
“Guess what we have at our company,” a friend enthused in the early 1990s.
Great pay? Wonderful, emotionally evolved supervisors? Luxurious offices? European-style, month-long vacations? On-site day care?
No, of course not.
“We have Casual Fridays!” she announced proudly.
“What’s that?” I wanted to know.
“Oh, it’s really cool,” she said. “On Fridays, we all get to wear jeans and casual clothes. It’s so much fun!”
Good grief. I found the whole idea so demented and sad, I could hardly speak. (It’s almost as bad as those horrible off-site office get-togethers where you form teams and climb rocks so you can all bond and trust one another and forget that the person you work for is a tyrannical prick with severe anger-management issues and a tendency toward pathological lies, when necessary.)
Let me get this straight: Your workplace is telling you how to dress, day in, day out. On Fridays, the rules are especially specific and you “get to” wear jeans and that’s supposed to be some kind of reward? Every time I think about it, I can feel myself breaking into a severe rash.
“I’ve got a new idea,” a guy I worked with told me a few years ago. “We need to institute some fun around here. I’m thinking we should have Casual Fridays. Have you ever heard of them?”
“Fifteen years ago,” I said. “Is that horrible idea still around?” Thinking silently — while my face had probably gone into spasms — you can’t institute fun. Don’t you understand?
“Well,” he said, looking pained at my total absence of team spirit, “you wouldn’t have to wear jeans if you didn’t want to.”
You bet I wouldn’t. Every time Casual Friday rolled around after that, I took care to dress up more than usual. I also became even more suspicious of the kind of let’s-have-a-good-time mandates like bringing childhood photos of yourself (a very, very old and bad idea that still seems to hold sway in every ad agency I’ve been to in the past few years), so everybody could screech about how cute you were in the third grade. (When I was in the third grade, I had buck teeth, a skinned-back ponytail and I was fat. I was not, using anyone’s but a blind person’s definition, cute. I keep my third-grade photos to myself.)
Show me a workplace mandate from Up Above that announces we’re all going to have fun, and I immediately want to become a Marxist with a grim disposition. It’s like forcing creativity or humor. It doesn’t work.
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and it’s also a Friday. Just so no one will think I’m participating in a Casual Friday, I plan to dress up especially nicely, the way I always do.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)