A reader writes:
I’m new to my current job. I like my manager. He seems like a decent enough guy. My team consists of him and 3 other guys (I’m a woman). He has scheduled our first one-day team-building off-site meeting to be at his “lake house.” I really don’t like the sound of it, as it is a bit of a hike from where I live — 90 minutes vs. the 20 minutes I drive to the office.
Can I mention something to him? I find it strange that the company would allow this. I like my coworkers, but not the idea of being at a lakeside camp in the middle of nowhere with them for the entire day. What are my options?
I wrote back and asked if she feels unsafe at the prospect or just annoyed. She responded:
I don’t feel unsafe. I just find it strange that the manager doesn’t see it as odd where it’s in a remote location that doesn’t have internet access (we are a tech group). He has also mentioned that they sometimes get snowed in there.
I would have thought that HR would say something, like maybe it’s not a great idea to have team-building in a remote cabin when it’s 4 guys and 1 woman. And yes, I am a bit annoyed that it would require a 3 hour round trip to my normal 40 minutes. I just don’t know if I’m over-thinking this. I get along with the guys, I just don’t know why he wouldn’t choose a location that is more convenient for everyone.
The thing I’d be most annoyed about is having to attend a team-building event at all, regardless of location, because they’re usually lame. That said, though, doing this type of thing off-site and even 90 minutes away isn’t that unusual.
However … I’m having trouble figuring out if you’re just basically annoyed, or if it’s something more. You said that you don’t feel unsafe and your annoyance seems focused on the inconvenience, but on the other hand, you’ve mentioned the gender split a couple of times, which makes me wonder. And the answer really comes down to which element is bothering you.
If you felt uneasy about being told to spend a day in a remote location as the only woman with four men you don’t know very well, in an area without much reception, then I think you could reasonably talk to HR and ask them to nudge your boss toward another location (ideally without mentioning that you said something, so that there’s no awkwardness around that). You’d perhaps risk HR thinking that you were being unusually cautious, but it probably wouldn’t be a big deal — as long as they handled it well, which means not giving your boss or coworkers the impression that you think you’re in some sort of danger from them. (And you would want to stress that point with HR, so that they didn’t thoughtlessly give that impression.)
But if you don’t actually feel uneasy/unsafe, and you’re more just annoyed about the drive and the lack of Internet access, then I think you need to just suck it up and go. A lot of teams do this kind of thing in somewhat remote locations, often on the theory that being in a nature-filled setting helps people relax, stimulates creativity, etc. And yeah, many employees find it annoying and a pain in the ass … but that’s something you really just deal with, especially when you’re new and don’t have much standing to push back — as opposed to concerns about safety, where you should indeed speak up.
So I think you need to isolate exactly what it is that’s making you feel uneasy here, and then proceed accordingly.