A reader writes:
What is your take on a manager who schedules a get-together at her place on a Saturday?
My husband’s boss scheduled a dinner over at her place, and we hesitantly said yes for not wanting to give a bad impression. She only invited a few people (her direct reports). Well, that event was canceled by the manager due to bad weather, and now she has rescheduled it to a different weekend.
How do you suggest we handle this if we do not want to go — we get really busy during weekends with lots of personal commitments — without sending an obvious message that we don’t desire to be there?
In general, I’m a big fan of scheduling work-related social events during work hours if there’s an expectation that people should attend … because people have other commitments (including a need to just sit on their couch doing nothing, which I count as a commitment), or are introverts and don’t necessarily derive pleasure from events that more extroverted people might enjoy. So I’d rather see your husband’s boss take everyone out to lunch instead.
That said, it’s a really nice gesture for her to make … although that doesn’t change the fact that in any group there will be at least one person (often more) who will be seized with dread at the thought of having to go.
As for how to handle it: It’s entirely reasonable for your husband to thank his boss for the invitation but explain that he has a conflicting commitment that night. It’s the weekend; of course you might have other plans. And in this case, you guys even accepted the first invitation, which will help counter any impression that you’re just unenthused about dining with her.
However, be aware that in some workplaces, you’re really expected to attend things like this. Your husband hopefully has a sense of whether that’s the case here or not, based on how his boss operates in general and how she’s talked about this dinner specifically.
Moreover, there can be real benefit to going to things like this, even if you don’t particularly want to. It might be worth looking at it like any other work obligation. If everyone else in his group is going, your husband might not want to be the only one not there, because it’s likely that work will be discussed, bonds will be formed, etc. Being there for that can be valuable, so your husband should at least factor that into whatever decision he makes.
And last, as a side note for managers: Be aware that not everyone on staff enjoys work social functions, and it’s not because they have bad attitudes or don’t like their job or whatever; some people just don’t derive pleasure from that kind of thing, and there’s nothing to read into it past that. If you make these people feel obligated to attend events that you hope will build their morale, you may actually be having the opposite effect of what you intend, so proceed with care…