Injured and still dancing
25th March 2010
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Not everyone who comes to the dance floor is fit enough to dance all the steps. Sometimes we are aware of our limitations beforehand. Other times, we have no idea until we try to make a move and find we simply cannot. Our mood and level of tension can affect our range of flexibility and options. When I am relaxed, I can reach far further than when I am tense and anxious.

A good tango leader will start by finding out how their follower is right now. If the follower has had a ‘bad day at the office’ and the leader starts the first dance by initiating complex dynamic moves without any warm-up or introduction, the follower may find it impossible to relax and follow. The sudden imposition of demands upon a tense follower makes the job of the follower more difficult.

A good leader starts by relaxing themselves, then relaxing their follower and finding out what their follower’s capability is. They then offer a lead within those possibilities. If the leader wants to dance more complicated steps, they must pick out a follower who is capable of matching them. To demand too much of the follower is to invite distress, even injury.

This responsiveness to the state of the follower is something leaders take a long time to learn. Beginner leaders on the dance floor are barely able to control where they put their own feet, never mind worry about how their follower might be feeling. But tango is an improvised dance form, so there is no need to take one particular set of steps, at any particular time, instead of another.

Back to the world of work . . . . The Government is changing sick notes into ‘fitness notes’. This is an invitation for employers to find out how their ‘followers’ are, and adjust the demands made upon them to take account of their health.

Many organisation are currently unable to improvise when it comes to fitness at work. Hamstrung by decades of bureaucracy, the ‘management of sickness’ is mostly confined to the collection of statistics (rarely used) and the occasional dismissal or warning. The ‘welfare’ issues of health and safety are detached from attendance, while customer care, performance management and other benchmark issues are not integrated in any way.

We live in a world where most people are viewed as either ‘fit to work’ or ‘off sick’, with no understanding of the various in between states where we all fluctuate. The disabled have a special legal license via their adjustments to be ‘half fit for work’, but the rest of us are expected to dance our working dance regardless of how we feel, unless we are so ill as to be unable to attend work.

But there is more room within the music of ‘achievement’ and ‘objectives’ than many managers realise. Sometimes it is necessary to pause, just as in tango, to make time and space for the faster moves that will follow – to emphasise the moment. Our followers can recover their balance and poise (if they have lost it), and we can reconnect with each other and the music before moving on.

Will any organisation in the UK use fitness notes to create the possibility of greater achievement? Or is everyone going to look at this as another malingerer’s charter, another piece of ‘red tape’ that handicaps the boss?

If every leader danced with every follower as if the follower were deliberately withholding their best from the dance floor, the act of dancing would become a monstrous thing of tyranny. If every follower stepped on to the dance floor knowing that however bad they felt, they had no option but to do what they were led by someone with no idea of how they were – would they do it?

If we treated our best dancers as if their off days (and yes, they have them) were a deliberate insult to the world of dance, how long would it be before they went somewhere else? And if we made them get a note from their mother or their GP to say they had a stiff back today before we changed our lead to accommodate that – would they ever dance with us again?

We live in peculiar times where the ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ mistrust each other in the dance of work. The dance seems hard, the resistance seems great, and few are in harmony with the music.

Let’s take a moment, a little balanceo as they say in tango, and discover who we really are and who is able for what. Let’s take a moment for fitness – without a note!

As on the dance floor so in life .......

We will be running a seminar on the new sick pay rules on 13 April 2010 at 11am - click link for details -


Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website :
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About the Author


Member since: 23rd January 2012

My passions in life are employment law, argentine tango and gardening; not necessarily in that order.

I love improvising a solution against complex rules and making it look good - whether it is in business...

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