Secretarial: It's Friday, it's four o'clock and it's time to boogie

Why your boss wants you to drink and dance at work. By Kate Hilpern
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FRIDAYS, MOST office workers would agree, is the best day of the week and over the past decade, many employers have tried to improve the day further by offering staff the opportunity to dress casually and/or have a complimentary glass of wine at 4pm along with a departmental "social hour". But this year is witnessing the most controversial Friday phenomenon yet - "Dance Down Friday".

For the uninitiated, this involves playing music, in particular hardcore dance music, one day a week. Recruitment consultants Office Angels have found it is becoming increasingly popular even among some of the more conservative companies in Britain. So does this mean a four-day working week where Friday is just a jolly? Not so, insists spokesperson Sarah Eldoori. "It actually improves morale and productivity."

Indeed, Dress Down Friday - the original concept - began in California when it dawned on employers that the idea of conservative attire contradicted that of their new-age innovation. "Dance Down Friday," says Eldoori, "is an extension of this. British employees are finally realising that fun is not contradictory to work. It can, after all, be an inspiration."

James Godfrey, a music psychology expert, agrees. "There are two parts of the brain - the `spatial' and the `verbal'. If you work in a `words' industry, you predominantly use the verbal area of the brain. As a result, when you listen to music with lyrics, you often sing along and this can interfere with your concentration. However, listening to music without lyrics utilises the spatial side of the brain, masking out irregular background noise and offering constant stimulation. It can keep concentration levels up, especially on a Friday when the brain is beginning to tire."

Surprisingly, he says, although pop and rock can be draining, dance music with no lyrics provides the perfect balance, "and for the younger generation, it is a lot easier to listen to than classical".

Jim Byers of DJ magazine adds that dance music has a repetitive beat that taps into your natural rhythms - an opinion seconded by Elliot Jacobs, a 19-year-old secretary at a public relations consultancy in London. "I listen to Jazz FM or Radio1 on my Walkman at work as it helps me concentrate." If you want the proof, he says, consider manufacturing companies and factories which, for years, have recognised the benefits of music at work.

But not everyone agrees. "If you work in a normal office environment for four days a week, by the time Friday comes and you've dressed in your jeans and trainers, had a glass of wine and a bop round the office, you don't have much chance of working effectively," says Judi James, adviser to the Industrial Society. "I therefore think we should be concerned about the latest Friday trends."

The argument about staff in factories and manufacturing doesn't wash with her. "For one thing, they don't use their brains in the same way as office workers, and for another, it is practised every working day so they are used to it. It has to be all or nothing to be potentially productive."

Sue Whittard, business psychologist, believes that we should worry about any kind of compulsory fun in the workplace. "If I want to go out for a drink with some colleagues after work or listen to my Walkman while I'm typing, then fine. But what happens when you feel like you're letting your employers down just because you want to go home to your family on a Friday afternoon rather than have a glass of wine? Or you're a recovering alcoholic? Or you don't want to hear music because it makes you an emotional wreck?"

In any case, she adds, aren't offices supposed to be becoming less ageist? "Let's face it - most fiftysomethings don't listen to dance music out of choice. So if you're going to be fair to everyone, there needs to be a mixture of barn dance music, classical and hardcore which is going to annoy some of the people some of the time and so cannot be a motivator."

Indeed, James has found that when she has used classical music as a stress- buster in training courses, it has caused many a chief executive to relax for the first time in weeks, whereas for others, it makes them fall asleep or it irritates them. "I only use music as a motivator by encouraging staff to create it in their own minds. For instance, music can make people more confident. Individuals have, after all, gone off to wars and are made braver because of bagpipe music or marching music. So I get people to think of a piece of music they find inspirational. Mine is the Thunderbirds theme - it can make me overcome almost anything! But I wouldn't want it played over a loudspeaker. It would just sound silly, and I'd be aware that some people would hate it. The same argument goes for whatever feeling you're trying to create."

The fact is, concludes James, that when you ask most employers why they've introduced these Friday phenomena, they tend to say that employees like it. "But let's face it - employees would probably like the idea of having Friday off even more."