I’m being penalized for not participating in monthly athletic events at work

A reader writes:

I work on a team of 15 people in a large office. My direct manager came to our team about a year ago. She is young and very athletic, into running marathons, snowboarding, hiking, etc. She is also very into team-building activities and making our team feel like a family, which is great! My problem comes into play with our team-building activities. She states she cannot make them mandatory, but that I and one other coworker are the only ones who do not participate. I am not against these activities; I used to enjoy them. But with her, every activity has to be extreme and sporty. There was the 10-mile hike, the 5k run, the rock climbing, the parasailing…I’m sure you get the idea.

I have some health problems and cannot do activities like these. I suggested low impact activities like a board game day or a BBQ in the park, and she shot me down without even putting it to a vote with the rest of the team. Those ideas are not exciting enough.

Each month we have one of these activities and I do not show up, she writes on my monthly review that I was not a team player and refused to participate in team-building activities. I have privately conferred with the one other employee who also doesn’t participate, and the same is done to them. She is a good manager otherwise, but I am quite angry to be getting points taken from my performance review because my body can’t hack a 10k hike or run.

Should I speak to her directly and ask her to leave these out of my reviews? Should I take this to HR? I am hesitant to be the office tattletale because I know upper management does not know these things go on and I am sure that at least half of the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited if HR knew. But I don’t want it to seem like I am “threatening” to tell if I continue to get marked down either. I am thankful for any advice you can give!

Ugh, this is such crap. There’s no reason that you should be getting penalized on a performance review for not participating in athletic activities, assuming that your job is not marathon runner, rock climber, or some other title that will give me nightmares tonight.

In any case … Have you told her directly that you would like to participate but cannot because of health restrictions? If you haven’t, it’s time to be more clear with her. As in: “Jane, I would really like to participate in team-building activities (this is you being a good team player), but I have health restrictions that mean I can’t take part in things like running and rock climbing (this is you presenting Highly Sound Reasoning). I’d like to be able to fully participate (look, it’s you emphasizing you’re a team player again), so would it be possible to plan activities that aren’t based on sports?”

It’s hard to argue that you’re not a team player when you’re directly asking for activities that you can participate in.

And you also need to say something like: “I don’t think that my health restrictions should be a factor in my performance reviews. Can those be revisited?”

The mention of health issues should snap her into consciousness. She should already realize that she’s way over the line for penalizing someone for not participating in physical activities unrelated to the core of their job, but the health factor should make her realize that she’s also messing with legal issues. But if she’s not responsive to that, then at that point I really do think you should go talk to someone in HR, because what your manager is doing isn’t okay and it’s worth having someone in a position of authority intervene and point that out to her.

(To be clear, if you weren’t being penalized in your performance assessments for not participating, I wouldn’t advocate going to HR; I’d just advocate being disgusted with her judgment. But you’re being penalized in a way that matters, and that makes it serious business.)

Also: It’s important to note that you shouldn’t need health issues as a reason not to want to participate in this never-ending barrage of athleticism. Health is a reason that no sane person could argue with, so you might as well as raise it — but this constant bombardment of mandatory non-work-related activities in the guise of team-building is poor judgment on its own, and it raises the question of why this manager is relying so heavily on it. As I’ve written here before, what’s fun for some people is often miserable for others, and mandatory bonding alienates many people — the opposite of what it’s allegedly designed to do. And that’s especially true when the activities are physically grueling ones, which not everyone can or does enjoy.

Add in penalizing people who don’t participate, and you have a real clusterfudge of bad judgment.

{ 354 comments… read them below }

          1. Victoria Nonprofit

            Absolutely. I think the main thing was to make (male) gym teachers uncomfortable, so they would just wave you away rather than have to discuss it further.

            1. Adam

              I’d consider it a self-preservation angle. If I were a gym teacher and a young girl approached me about that issue, there is no way I could see the conversation going very far without it being perceived as creepy. So I’d say either “You’re excused” or “Go see the nurse”. I’d be a pushover, but I’d feel secure at least.

            2. danr

              Did it work with female gym teachers? When I was in school the gym classes from 7th grade on were separated into boys gym and girls gym and were taught by men and women respectively.

              1. Loose Seal

                We didn’t have female gym teachers at my school; the football coaches taught gym. But everyone got 5 days a semester where they didn’t have to dress out for gym without it affecting your grade and you didn’t have to have a reason why (which was super nice). My period didn’t really bother me enough to skip gym so I saved my days for when I was behind on homework. But most of the girls took off at least the first few days of their period — not because sports was harder if you were on your period, but because it had a higher potential to be embarrassing when you were changing in the locker room.

              2. tcookson

                I never used the period angle. My tried and true method of getting out of P.E. was “forgetting” my dress-out clothes. We had a P.E. uniform that we had to wear (a one-piece, zip-front, t-shirt material shorts jumpsuit), so several times a week I just wouldn’t happen to have mine with me.

                This was in the days of corporal punishment, and the penalty for the, say, third offence was getting “licks” (a paddling) in the principal’s office. I was sent to the principal’s office with a note that I was to receive three “licks” for not dressing out for P.E. So I went into his office, he closed the door and said, “Stand over there” (in the far corner from him), and he proceeded to administer three “licks” to his leather guest chair.

          2. Sadsack

            When I was in school, the male gym teachers bought it, the women gym teachers did not – they’d tell us exercise was good for cramps.

            1. Stephanie

              Yeah, I would have pretty bad cramps growing up and used to cancel my cello lessons on the regular. My (female) teacher got fed up and pointed out that I should get it checked out by a doctor to ensure it was endometriosis or cysts.

              1. Observer

                At least she realized that it was a real problem. Some people don’t. And – horrifyingly enough – that includes way too many doctors.

          3. AVP

            It must be, because I went to an all-girl high-school with all-female gym teachers, and this did not work at all! (I wish it did.)

        1. Kelly L.

          I think it goes back to ye olde tymes when people thought it was unhealthy to do anything during one’s period? I remember reading the “Kobie” series of books and how the protagonist faked her period to get out of gym for some other reason, and then had to remind herself to keep her trap shut about her actual period when it came because she’d “already had it.”

        2. Anonymous

          I think it does make sense actually. I didnt fake it to get out of gym, (which I actually liked lol) but I often had to go home during middle school or high school bc my endo pain was actually that bad. teachers should probably be erring on the side of assuming you’re actually in pain as long as you only make the excuse like once a month.

          1. TL

            I had a bad “stomachache” once a month. I think my teachers figured it out; though I only ever had one push back and she gave in after I stared her down.

            I was a very good student, however, and generally responsible, so I don’t think anyone would have suspected that I wasn’t telling the truth. Plus, many times it was obvious I was in pretty bad pain anyway.

            1. the_scientist

              I used to get pain so bad that barfing was a regular occurrence and I looked ill enough that I never got pushback from teachers. Because I was actually pretty ill.

              1. TL

                Our nurse sent out an e-mail saying she was getting too many students just wanting to get out of class right before I had the teacher not wanting to let me go – but the nurse held my muscle relaxants so when she read the not the teacher sent, she contacted the teacher.

                But I don’t always look like I’m in pain when I’m in pain, especially if I was trying to get to the nurse before it got really bad.

        3. RKT

          That was my go-to method as well, ha ha. Though occasionally I would fake losing a contact lens. That one got me out of some horrid track & field type thing in high school.

          1. Julie

            That’s funny to me! I was on the track and cross country teams, and I loved that I could avoid the regular P.E. classes because I was running 6-8 miles per day!

      1. Cat

        Maybe she should try Amber’s strategy from Clueless: “I have a note from my plastic surgeon. He’d prefer that I avoid any activity where balls fly at my nose.”

        1. Nelle

          But then the manager could just say inappropriately (as in the movie), “Well, there goes your social life.”

          1. kristinyc

            “social life” is what she says in the TV edited version. It’s a different word in the real one. :)

              1. Kelly L.

                That’s what it was on VHS for me too. I assume kristinyc means “sex life,” though i actually like the censored one better, and not for any reason of prudishness–just because it’s a more subtle joke.

            1. Sharm

              Really? I’ve only ever heard “social life” for the quote and I OWN that movie. What’s the real quote?

            2. Dionne

              I remember that movie Mel Gibson accurately, and that’s the right quote. In the TV edited version the “balls fly at my nose” is taken out, not the “there goes your social life.”

        2. Dr L

          My dentist and my optometrist have both legitimately instructed me not to play sports where things fly at my face. But alas, work has not imposed team-building activities with which I could make use of these as excuses.

        3. Vicki

          I Love this.
          I recall one High School phys Ed class (soccer) where the ball grazed my hair as it passed over my head.
          For the rest of the hour, I ran up and down just inside the white line at the side of the field.

      2. Anonymous

        Am I the only one thinking of “Office Space”? I was thinking it would be awesome to go, get a serious injury and retire on the payout like that guy in the neck brace in that movie.

    1. Felicia

      It would be my nightmare too. I have no health restrictions but the flashbacks to middle school and grade 9 gym class would make it emotionally painful. I’m so happy we didn’t have to take gym past grade 9

  1. PoohBear McGriddles

    If she’s using it against you in your performance reviews, HR probably does need to know about it as it could have legal ramifications. Maybe you are physically capable of Triathlon Teambuilding, but what if you had a disability that prevented you from participating even if you wanted to?

    1. EB

      I second this. In addition to alking to the manager about the fact that she cannot participate due to health reasons and is being unfairly evaluated, HR should be notified. The manager has already used this to say OP is not a team player in an evaluation. OP needs to go to HR and let them know they are being rated on activities they cannot perform because of health reasons and ask how to write a response that will go in their file (a note saying “I cannot participate in the 5k marathon due to health reasons I would be more than happy to participate in team building activities which take into account my physical limitations. As a result I would like to dispute the evaluation that I am not a team player because I did not participate in the 5k marathon team building event.”).

      Are the poor evaluations going up the chain of command? If so OP should start doing damage control.

    2. Piper

      Even if you weren’t physically incapable because of health conditions, most people who don’t exercise regularly or intensely aren’t capable of just going out and running miles and miles and miles or doing other activities like long hikes. Short hikes? Yes. 6 mile hikes? Maybe not.

      I’m also very athletic and run a lot (marathons, etc). I’m continuing to run even though I’m pregnant (doctor says it’s okay). But I would not be okay with this constant barrage of team building athletic activities. I love doing all of that stuff, but ugh. I like doing it with my friends, on my own time, and not being forced into fun with coworkers.

      Also, what kind of office is this that’s filled with all of these athletes? In my department of about 15 people, there are only two of us that even closely equipped to run anything more than a mile. And I’m the only one who runs half and full marathons. Everyone else thinks I’m nuts.

      1. Katieinthemountains

        Yes! I run and hike, but my weekends are precious and I’m not going to spend all that many with my coworkers.

      2. AnonAthon

        Same here! I’m a marathon runner, and my co-workers generally think the distance running thing is a little nuts. Also: especially when I’m marathon training, I need to follow a very regimented plan to avoid injury. Throwing in a massive hike with my boss on a weekend would not work, even though it wouldn’t be a physical issue on its own. So even for some hardcore athletes in the OP’s group, this might not be their favorite arrangement.

        1. AdAgencyChick

          Seriously. You could be unathletic and not want to; you could be athletic and an exercise buff who’s annoyed because this particular choice of exercise clashes with whatever training program you’ve chosen for yourself. Either is a perfectly good reason not to want to do this.

      3. Penny

        I wondered that too! I’m not disabled or overweight, but I can’t even run 1/4 of a mile, I would be miserable here! And I don’t think doing constant activities outside work should determine if you’re a team player- how about how you work with people on the job?

  2. Diet Coke Addict

    Where on earth do you work? Is it for some kind of outdoor company like Patagonia or what have you where your manager might think it’s reasonable to encourage this type of thing among staff? Because I’m envisioning an average office and finding it very difficult to imagine everyone else being on board with, say, parasailing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP is not the only one finding this weird and alienating.

    1. Cat

      Interesting point – I do know someone who works for a large athletic shoe and clothing company and I gather that they all wear athletic clothing to work and go running in the afternoons. But still.

    2. AB

      The work my office does had no relation in any way, shape or form to the outdoors or athleticism, yet we also have a constant barrage of team events that require physical exertion (we have a softball team, a volleyball team, a soccer team, a kickball team, we do volunteer work that requires physical labor, sponsor and encourage employee participation in a number of running/ cycling events, etc).
      I am a massively uncoordinated person who is terrible at sports (and has a pathological fear of any sport where something could possibly be thrown/hit/kicked at my head). Part of me does want to get involved so I can get to know my co-workers better and feel more included, but I know that I would always be the person dropping the ball or ducking when the volleyball passed my way or the person huffing and puffing in last place. Rather than being seen as a team member, I know I would just be embarrassing myself. I would kill for a scrabble tournament or a dinner club or a knitting circle.

      1. Jen in RO

        As someone who plays (amateur) volleyball , I can tell you that your coworkers are probably glad that you don’t join in. Our team did not exclude anyone, but I have to say the game is more enjoyable when the less experienced (or running-away-from-the-ball) people are missing.

        And I would *hate* to be pushed to do any kind of running-type “team building” stuff. I used to do athletics and I hated long distance running even when I was in shape; no way in hell I’d subject myself to this now.

        1. Cat

          If so, this kind of illustrates the flaw in the whole idea. If your “team building” exercise makes you glad that members of the team are sitting it out for skill reasons, it’s a lousy team building exercise.

          1. monologue

            +1000000

            sporty people need to put their competitiveness aside at sports team building events or another type of event should be organized instead

            1. sunny-dee

              Well, I think it depends. If there is a company softball team, it’s totally okay for 1) not everyone to participate and 2) for the sporty competitive people to be sporty and competitive. It’s like an extracurricular. Just like a book club or knitting circle — my project manager (for example) despises reading of any kind, and that wouldn’t be a good “extracurricular” for him. It’s just be torture. But I’d love it.

              There’s a difference between “activities your workplaces hosts” (which don’t need to be inclusive) and “teambuilding activities” (which have to be inclusive or what’s the point?).

              Like, I am physically capable of doing a 10mile hike or 5k (if you give me a really long time….), but I am afraid of heights and cannot do rock climbing or parasailing or those horrid ziplines they do for teambuilding exercises. Doing only one type of activity is alienating.

              1. Jen in RO

                For the record, ‘my’ volleyball was paid for by the company, but it was optional (about 15 out of 250 people participated). And I’m still welcome even though I’ve since left that job \o/

                1. Elle D

                  This sounds more like a company perk (“We have a volleyball team you’re welcome to join”) then a team building activity. A team building activity should be inclusive, a perk does not necessarily have to be.

                2. Jen in RO

                  Yep, it was never meant as a team building exercise! The company didn’t even offer to pay, we decided we wanted to play and then asked about reimbursment.

                3. TychaBrahe

                  But nothing is ever going to appeal to everyone. And just because not everyone is doing it doesn’t mean it isn’t team-building. If a softball team has a guy from accounting, a woman from engineering, the CIO, a guy from legal, a woman from PR, etc., they can build connections that link their teams even if the entire accounting group or engineering group isn’t playing. And then there’s a book club with a woman from the executive group, two guys from engineering, a guy from legal, etc. The goal is not to get everyone doing something the majority of them don’t find interesting, but to build cross-connections between different groups that otherwise might not interact.

            2. tcookson

              Or there could be events for the non-sporty and competitive, such as a Winner-Take-All, Cage-Match, Sudden-Death Grammar Smack-Down.

          2. CEMgr

            Right. I’ve had to plan team building and I work hard to make it comfortable and feasible (physically and psychologically) for everyone.

      2. Penny

        I know how you feel. I actually enjoy kickball and volleyball but SUCK at sports, can’t kick, aim, hit, catch. yet I would have fun if I could be on a team with people who weren’t super competitive or that good themselves. I really want to start a Last Kids Picked in Gym Class team.

        1. TychaBrahe

          There’s an exercise group in Chicago that focuses on “recess sports.” They’ll meet once a month for rousing games of Red Rover, Red Rover or Duck, Duck, Goose.

          1. Jamie

            Are you kidding me? The only sport I miss is dodgeball.

            I’m not a joiner and strangers aren’t my thing, but I find this kind of awesome.

            Company dodgeball team I could get behind though – at least when I’m crabby.

  3. Claire

    My office is far from perfect, but letters like this make me thankful our “team building” activities are confined to strictly-optional monthly “staffy hours.”

    1. Aimee

      My husband’s old boss did a once a year team building exercise for all of the managers that reported to him. I was even invited a few times (I work for the same company and closely with many people in his department). They called it “Happy Hour,” and he paid (at least for the first round).

      That’s my kind of team building!

      1. Anon for this one

        As a nondrinker (alcohol = instant headache, among other things), I would not be thrilled with happy hour. Most of what I know about bars comes from reading about them, so even if I can order ginger ale on the rocks, I am always somewhat uncomfortable because a bar is unfamiliar territory.

        My idea of team-building is being friendly at work and working with friendly people while we try to get the work done. Plus a few minutes of gossip in the break room when people are getting snacks or coffee or eating lunch. A nice breakroom does more for team-building than any outside activity, I think, especially if it has nice seating, a good and large refrigerator, two microwaves (unless the staff is tiny), a coffee machine (or better these days, a Keurig). I myself like breakrooms with toasters or toaster ovens, but they are a fire hazard so it isn’t surprising most places don’t have them. A beverage vending machine with juice and water in addition to soda is helpful, too. I’ve seen a breakroom with a television, but I don’t see the need for that, especially if the volume is set high and it’s intrusive. One place I worked subscribed to three daily newspapers and a few magazines for the breakroom. My favorite breakroom had couches and a couple of loveseats along the walls in addition to tables and chairs in the center. The knitters really liked the couches.

        One place I interviewed had a staff of about 50 people, and each worker submitted a casual photo of themselves that they liked, which was posted on the breakroom wall with their name on it; HR said it really helped new employees learn who was who. All the photos had been scanned or cropped to be 4×6 and were mounted on the same type of backing with the name, so it looked really nice.

        1. clobbered

          My idea of team-building activity is doing awesome work with everybody pulling their weight.

          I mean I don’t get it. You don’t practice guitar by playing tennis, why should you practice work by parasailing?

        2. TrainerGirl

          As a former teetotaler, I get your apprehension, but I went to many happy hours and had a ginger ale or a Coke. I didn’t care for happy hours either because going to a bar wasn’t my thing, but I would go for an hour to show my face.

          I’m lucky that I finally work on a team where I enjoy going to happy hour with my coworkers. But we always choose a restaurant, so it’s not just about drinking. We pick a place where we can go right after work, have some food and whoever wants drinks has them, but it’s just about having a good time.

          1. Windchime

            Yes, this. Our team has had a few Happy Hours (usually a going away party for someone), but many people who attend will order a soft drink or an iced tea. Not a big deal at all; those of us who drink usually limit it to one beer or glass of wine.

            The idea of mandatory, physically-stressfull “team building” events is just so weird to me. I agree with the poster who said that “team building” should consist of workers all getting along and working hard together. At their…y’know…..job.

          2. Audrey

            My team does team building by going out to lunch every Friday. Those who want have wine with lunch. We go to the same restaurant each week and the staff know us. Not everyone goes every time but there is always Friday lunch. My team got an award for excellence last month from tptb and I am sure that one of the reasons we work so well together is that we have this time every week when some of the conversation is personal and some about work.

            1. Julie

              And does the company pay for the lunch? Or do the employees have to pay for their own lunches?

  4. kdizzle

    So…

    I think that workplace sounds awesome.

    But it’s certainly not fair to hold it against you. Diff’rent strokes..diff’rent talents. I can imagine that for someone who didn’t want to / couldn’t participate, it would be similar to asking me to prepare a meal for 40 people at my director’s house without any notice.

    1. LMW

      Yeah, I’m a runner so this sounds like fun, but the way she’s handling it is all wrong.
      Honestly, it’s not that you aren’t a team player; it’s that she’s excluding you from team-building activities by choosing things you can’t participate in.

      1. Colette

        Well, even if you are a runner, I wouldn’t expect a group of random people to do any teambuilding while running. Running is, as I understand it, pretty solitary, and it’s unlikely that a work team would all run at the same pace.

        Of course, I only run if I’m being chased by fierce wildlife, so unless she supplied the lion, I wouldn’t run.

        1. Piper

          Eh. I’m a runner. I think it’s a myth that it’s solitary. I’ve run with several different training groups, coached runners, and done some pacing for races. I have run, arm-in-arm up a tough hill with someone I was helping pace to help her keep moving. It’s anything but solitary. There is so much camaraderie in the running community. I’ve made some of my best friends that way. I mean, really, you’re going to end up talking about a lot when you’re out for an 18 mile run with a group of people.

          1. Piper

            I should note, it can be solitary. And I certainly have several of those peaceful, solitary runs. Cheaper than therapy! But overall, it’s a community and I’ve met total strangers from all walks of life who have become my good friends because of our mutual love of running.

            1. Rebecca

              I am definitely a solitary runner/exerciser! My job involves talking with people all day so running helps clear my mind of that.

              Plus, I am totally cool with the majority of people seeing me gross and sweaty – but I don’t really want all of my coworkers to see that side of me. Just in the same way I wouldn’t want to do any activity with them that required bathing suit attire.

          2. AnonAthon

            I agree. Runners tend to be a very friendly bunch! One of my friends and I also use uber-long training runs as our designated catch-up time. That said, we are on the same page in terms of pacing, water breaks, etc. It can be kinda stressful running in a big group in which everyone is at different levels, especially if you don’t feel comfortable telling your boss to back off the pace.

            1. DEJ

              YES. And this is the biggest reason that I run by myself – I know that I am slow, and I don’t want to throw anyone else off.

          3. TL

            I can’t speak to recreational running, but nothing bonds a competitive team faster than a 5 mile run in 100 degree heat because your coach is annoyed with you.

            You develop a very close and strange relationship with your teammates.

          4. Penny

            I find my heavy panting and overwhelming thoughts of stopping get in the way of communication while running.

    2. Christine

      It absolutely sounds like fun, minus the manager’s mentality that people MUST participate. But that’s the problem with “team building events” – it’s hard to come up with something that everyone will enjoy. That’s why it’s best to make them optional!

      1. sunny-dee

        Actually, while the activities themselves are an issue, I am wondering about the time. Is the only during the workweek? Because my husband and I work different schedules. We get one day a week together, and that’s Saturday. There is no way in heck I’d give up my one day a week to be with my husband every single month. I also do freelance writing (hey, my husband works nights — gotta fill the hours), and I wouldn’t want to give up my extra work to do activities every month. Add in fixing up a house, laundry, church work… People are busy. It just sounds like overkill.

        1. Christine

          Good point! It would make these sort of events sound a lot better if they were held during work hours. That way no one has to juggle their schedule and, bonus, less time for actual work. :)

    3. Lora

      The meal for 40 people…oh my goodness, that was a great post.

      Yeah, what’s wrong with an Iron Chef competition? Putting together a comedy skit about the office? Forming a Workplace Band/Chorus? Friday lunchtime potlucks? Even if you do work at REI, healthy eating/recipe type activities should go over well, I’d think.

      Best team building exercise I ever participated in: Texas Hold Em tournament over beer and pizza. It was way fun. We actually still have them at people’s houses on our own, even though hardly any of us work for that company anymore.

      At another workplace, everyone took turns writing haiku on a central whiteboard–the haiku was usually something they were working on, something they were frustrated with, stuff that was problematic. It was a great catharsis for everyone. We also sent around email updates in the form of poetry, which was often hilarious, and made the running jokes into clever t-shirts.

      1. TL

        Food allergies over here! I would love to cheer on optional events like Top Chef competitions – but I would hate to always be that awkward person bringing their own meal if it were required team-building, especially if it happened frequently.

        1. BookWorm

          I volunteered at a cooking school. A company had a private teambuilding event there. The coordinator let the cooking school know about food allergies etc, so the cooking staff could plan the menu. The event was during work hours.

          There wasn’t any kind of competition at their event.

          Everyone seemed to have a good time & they learned proper knife skills (how to safely use knives).

          1. TL

            I have a very long list of (non-deadly) food allergies and anything from a box/can/bottle I have to check myself and beyond that, there’s cross-contamination issues, the importance of which depends on the allergy, and beyond that, I’m also following a modified elimination diet for digestion issues. And on top of that I’m a fairly picky eater.

            So, I would really, really rather not do a cooking class, especially since it would be quite an involved conversation to find something that to make that I a) could eat and b) would eat and then c) probably dealing with a reaction because of cross-contamination anyways.

            1. BookWorm

              Yes indeed. Good point.

              I’ve not dealt with anything like that, so it didn’t occur to me that someone could have so many concerns about it.

              Something for me to keep in mind. I’d hate to arrange a “fun” cooking activity & inadvertently make someone ill.

              Thanks for your reply.

              1. TL

                Yeah, it can get stupid complicated. But mostly people with allergies are good about taking care of themselves, so probably no one will get ill – it’s just when it’s mandatory food things, suddenly not eating becomes a big deal.

            2. Woodward

              TL, you sound like me! Especially the “importance of which depends on the allergy.” I can have spices that contain gluten if it’s the only gluten-thing in the whole dish, but I’m otherwise gluten-intolerant, plus a fun bunch of other things.

              As much of a pain as it is to deal with, I’m happy to know I’m not the only one. :)

              1. TL

                :) It’s crazy, right?! I’m that way with lactose – a little bit once in a while is fine but it can’t be a part of my daily diet.
                And corn syrup is okay but corn starch is a no-go and on and on and on. Crazy!

                1. Julie

                  “Stupid complicated” is right! I always just say I have allergies, but then people want a quick answer to “what are you allergic to?” Well, wheat. But also tomatoes, and a few specific other things. And I don’t like olives or mushrooms, but they won’t make me sick. And, and, and… I just feel like I’m going to bore everyone to death if I have to go into the details, and chances are I’ll forget something that then gets put into the dish, and then someone who took my needs into account and spent a lot of time and work making something special has wound up creating something I can’t eat anyway. Blech! Now I understand why my great aunt used to bring her own food to the weekly lunches with my grandmother and her sisters. It’s just easier, even when the cook is willing to modify recipes.

  5. Zelos

    I’m livid just reading this. Even if you work for MEC or REI where exercise is incorporated into the culture, unless it’s part of your job it should have no bearings on your reviews, irrespective of health problems!

    Alison’s advice is sound, but if your manager won’t back off, have no qualms about going to HR… and I’d feel vindicated at the chewing out she’ll get after.

    1. PJ

      As an HR professional, my hair is on fire. If she is being marked down in her reviews for not participating, then this is a WORK ACTIVITY and any injuries would be Workers comp issues. Parasailing?! Are you KIDDING ME?! Give me that manager — I’ll straighten her out!

      1. Zelos

        If the OP’s HR department is in any way similar to yours (and it should be, if the HR department has any shred of sanity)…I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the dressing down inevitably happens.

        Said dressing down should be noted in the manager’s file, too…just for irony’s sake. :P

      2. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, I read this and it just screamed insurance issue, insurance issue.

        Especially if she is forcing people to do this if they don’t want to- some one is going to get hurt. It’s just a matter of accident victim or rescuers.
        Take people that are out of shape- not toned up for the particular activity. Or people that might be in good shape but don’t do anything involving heights.

        For me any one of these activities would be such a struggle that I would not be feeling a sense of team. I would be feeling a strong sense of isolation/humiliation/failure/etc.

        1. Puffle

          Same, I do not have a disability, but I am NOT a runner/ hiker and parasailing would scare the shit out of me. I would spent the whole time feeling embarrassed and upset and wanting to find a new job asap.

  6. MW

    I am a runner and enjoy hiking and other vigorous sports activities. And I still wouldn’t participate these things. Given the nature of the plans, I’m assuming they take place outside normal working hours, too. No thanks. I pick and train for my races. And I choose my own workout buddies.

    1. MW

      And ditto to all the comments about them being tied to your performance review being ridiculous and inappropriate.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Now I want the OP to tell her manager that her trainer won’t allow her to participate in outside sports, as it might interfere with her rigorous and meticulously planned training regime.

      1. MW

        +1000

        Seriously though, when I am training for a marathon I’m not running races that aren’t part of my schedule. Or doing risky activities that could injure me and wipe out months of training. I injure myself enough through daily life…..

        Also – is the manager paying for the entry fee and other associated costs for these activities?

        1. Gruntled Gal

          Yikes! Ditto the comment about injury. What about company liability: If you’re rock-climbing and fall, then what? What about a heart attack after a 5k?? Or is the boss having people sign some insidious “waiver,” pre-activity? I say insidious because insisting upon an activity that could result in injury (including disparaging those who refuse,) without being willing to accept responsibility for the situation such coercion puts the employees in… UGH.

        2. Piper

          This! All of this! Even a perfectly healthy, athletic person can have very legitimate reasons for avoiding these kinds of activities.

      2. Adam V

        On the other hand, the manager might be upset that you’re skipping out on work-related physical activities in favor of personal physical activities. She’s already shown that she thinks you’re “not a team player”, so I wouldn’t put much hope in her coming around without a serious talk from HR or a higher-up.

    3. wanderlust

      Totally. When I was at my old job, I was bullied into participating in a half marathon with my office. I had just finished training for a full and was really looking forward to my break. Did they care? No they did not. “You’re a runner,” they said, “You have to participate!” And then most of the office didn’t even show up for the race.

      At least I PR’d.

        1. wanderlust

          Yeah, afterwards I joked that I was never training for a race again since I had a very apathetic take on the company-sponsored race and ended up doing so well!

          Most of my coworkers look at me like I’m contagious when I tell them my weekend plans include going on an 18-mile run. I wonder where OP works that everyone is so on board.

          1. TL

            They’re doing short races, right? Just 5ks? Most people could run/walk a 5K in under 45 minutes, I feel, which is much more feasible than an 18 mile run.

            1. wanderlust

              A 10-mile hike is like an all day excursion, and depending on where OP lives it could be a pretty rigorous event. But yeah, I doubt his/her manager is forcing them to run marathons. But (as I know first hand) – it definitely happens in some office!

              1. TL

                I just can’t imagine someone giving you the side eye for a 5K; unless your manager is requiring it, of course.

                I don’t hike much, though, so I had no idea a 10 mile hike would be that long!

                1. Loose Seal

                  The word hike, to me, implies mountainous terrain. Otherwise, it’s just a walk. Back in the day, when I was physically able and reasonably active, I could do a 10-mile mountainous hike (not climbing/repelling) in 5 hours or so.

  7. Anonymous

    doesn’t this person know that when you’re organizing repeated events for the same group like this you need to offer a variety of events to take everyone’s differing preferences and other diversity stuff like health, food restrictions, cultural differences etc etc into account? That’s event planning 101.

    1. Elysian

      Yup. One or two sports things aren’t bad, but you really have to vary it.

      “Always sports” is just as bad as “always a pig roast.”

  8. Del

    Ugh, as someone with a physical disability, I would be absolutely livid in your position! This is appallingly bad judgment on the part of your boss, and is openly discriminatory.

    Honestly, I disagree with Alison on the point that if this weren’t affecting your performance review it wouldn’t be worth taking to HR. Whether or not it impacts your review, your boss is still choosing team-building activities which you are physically unable to participate in, which is exclusionary and divisive. You deserve the same opportunity to participate in work activities as your coworkers. Something like this hurts your ability to network and build connections with your peers.

    Someone needs to sit your boss down and give her a really thorough talking-to about what constitutes being a team player. Because right now, the one who isn’t playing nice with others is her, not you.

    1. Del

      Also, with regards to your last paragraph:

      I am hesitant to be the office tattletale because I know upper management does not know these things go on and I am sure that at least half of the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited if HR knew..

      This isn’t tattling. If you reasonably believe that the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited with good reason by upper management, then it’s being a good team player with the company at large to alert them that things they would deeply disapprove of are going on. You’re looking out for the company this way, by protecting them from liability suits, workers comp if someone gets injured, and of course, the fact that there is discriminatory behavior against employees with disabilities going on.

      1. Labratnomore

        Yes, Workers Comp is a big issue here and upper management should know about the risk so they can make informed decisions about acceptable activities. We had a Kickball tournament at my work once (It was completely voluntary and those who didn’t participate were not judged for it). It was billed as our first annual kickball tournament. After multiple injuries it also was the last annual kickball tournament!

        1. PuppyPetter

          hence the reason you cannot have a “First Annual” anything!
          (Why yes, I would happily participate in the Winner-Take-All, Cage-Match, Sudden-Death Grammar Smack-Down.)

      2. Yup

        I concur. There’s a very good reason that HR would prohibit these activities if they knew — the manager is actively exposing the company to all kinds of serious risks!

        Honestly, I’m so disgusted with this manager. I have Hulk rage at the stupidly unnecessary awfulness of this situation.

      3. kelly

        The worker’s comp question is a good one. Several of the activities listed are in what would be considered high risk (rock climbing, parasailing). I’m sure your HR dept would have a fit if someone filed a worker’s comp claim for an injury that happened during a rock climbing trip that they were unaware of. Those type of activities generally require extra permission and release forms if they are done as part of a high school PE class because of the higher chance of injuries.

        The activities listed seem like more things the manager likes to do and not what would be associated with team building sporting type events. They are more solitary and individual events than group events.

        1. Del

          Think of it this way, OP – you are probably doing your boss a favor if you take this to the higher-ups before anything actually happens. Right now, the risks are potential. If upper management finds out about these extracurriculars via a worker’s comp claim for a broken leg, I can only imagine the kind of hell that would break loose!

    2. OhNo

      This is just what I was coming to the comments to say. I also have a physical disability, and if any of my places of work did something like this I would be angry beyond all reason.

      I also strongly disagree with Alison’s recommendation to go to the boss and explain the health concerns. Your health is your own business, and none of your boss’. You should never feel the need to explain health-related restrictions to anyone, unless it is required to accommodate changes to your work. These “team building” activities are voluntary, and not part of the work you were hired to do, so my understanding is that you should not be required to disclose any health/disability-related info in order to get out of them.

      If it were me, I would go straight to HR/upper management and tell them what is going on. As others have said, this could have some very serious ramifications for the company if someone gets injured or decides to file a lawsuit for disability discrimination (based on the fact it’s being used against people on their performance evaluations, there might be grounds for it).

      1. Del

        Absolutely. There’s only one person at my job who knows any detail on my disability beyond “stuff hurts, sometimes a whole lot” and that’s because she and I are friends outside of work. It’s no one else’s business. (Luckily, I haven’t needed much in the way of accommodation so far — fingers crossed!)

      2. some1

        “These “team building” activities are voluntary, and not part of the work you were hired to do, so my understanding is that you should not be required to disclose any health/disability-related info in order to get out of them.”

        Thank you! I have no athletic talent whatsoever and was ridiculed for it when I was in school and always the last picked in gym and it hurt my self-estemm. Signing up for something like this would just bring all of that back again for me.

        1. JM in England

          That was my experience at school too! Basically, if you weren’t good at sport or music, you were made to feel somehow inferior and marginilised.

          The same concept carried over into the workplace too. A case in point was at a former company: two of my then coworkers were in line for a promotion. The one who got it played football (soccer to those of you in the USA) with the department manager……..go figure!!

      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think that’s an absolutely valid way to handle it. My concern is whether there’s a way to handle this that minimizes damage to the OP’s relationship with her manager, and often going straight over a manager’s head without trying to address it with them first will harm the relationship. Frankly, the OP may end up needing to go to HR anyway, but I think she’ll get the best outcome if she starts with the manager.

        1. Del

          Like I said below, given how the boss has reacted so far, I think it would be good to have HR in the loop before talking to her due to the possibility of retaliatory behavior from the manager.

          Not necessary “Hey HR can you please talk to my boss for me?” although the liability issues might indicate this as the company’s preferred course of action, but “Hey HR I am going to have this conversation about disability-related issues with my boss and I am concerned how she’s going to respond, can you have my back please?”

      4. Ask a Manager Post author

        Oh — I meant to add a response to this: ” These “team building” activities are voluntary, and not part of the work you were hired to do, so my understanding is that you should not be required to disclose any health/disability-related info in order to get out of them.”

        That’s actually why she might need to mention there’s a health issue. If there’s no health issue in play, the manager absolutely can require these activities and/or penalize people for not participating, no matter how unrelated to the job they are. There’s no law that says otherwise — unless the ADA is in play. But to put the ADA in play, she needs to make it known.

    3. Anonicorn

      Exactly. Those activities (snowboarding! for real?!) completely exclude many older people as well.

      This manager seems to be forcing her outside interests on the team, then punishing those who don’t share them.

  9. Michele

    Wow, it really is crappy and out of line that she is handling team building in this way. I think we all can agree on that. Even though you can’t participate physically can you at least attend and watch, maybe even bring water for everyone. It might just shut her up because you would be making an effort to participate.

    1. Zelos

      I disagree. Seeing as the manager is already treating team building activities in a highly problematic way, I would not want to do anything that may seem like I agree with this kind of behavior. This is an divisive activity, and turning the OP and his coworker into the water boys for an activity they resent will not further any team building.

    2. ThursdaysGeek

      Or as someone who has no disabilities, but is slow and fat, I could go ahead and do the 10K run (walk for me), and point out all the team building the rest of the team was able to do in that hour when they were standing around together waiting for me to finish. :) (I’d be tempted to do that once, and then like Jen in RO’s volleyball team, they’d be happy to exclude me.)

      No, I agree with Zelos, being the team water boy isn’t helping any team building, any more than being excluded altogether.

    3. Rayner

      Being the team’s water person can be highly exclusionary, and is reminiscent of the way in Physical Education classes, the fat kid(s) was always benched, or made to do laps around the pitch while the ‘athletic kids’ got to play.

      Side note, I was that fat kid. Every freaking P.E lesson.

    4. Emma

      I can tell you from personal experience that that is not a good solution. I have mild muscular dystrophy. I can walk (slowly) but if someone knocked me over (a common risk in a a lot of PE activities) I can’t get up on my own, which is kind of scary and humiliating. Because I could walk, I could theoretically do most of the activities in PE (just not very well), so I still had to come to gym like the other kids. However, the gym teachers always let me sit out of stuff if I told them I didn’t feel comfortable..

      This might sound good in theory, but in practice it was INCREDIBLY isolating. Every other day in gym class I had two choices:

      1) I could try to participate. For stuff like soccer, this often meant being terrified every time kids came running towards me. For pretty much everything else (except ping pong and weight training) it also meant being forcibly reminded of how inferior my body was. Capture the flag is not fun when everyone can run twice as fast as you.

      2) I could sit on the sidelines. This meant an hour and a half of isolation. I had no one to talk to. All there was to do was watch the other kids do stuff together, knowing that I could not join them because my body was inferior and wrong. (This is basically the option that you are saying the OP should take).

      By 8th grade I had decided option #2 was preferable, but only slightly. Mostly that was because I’d taken to walking laps around the gym/field, writing anime fanfic in my head (I *was* in middle school :P). At least it took my mind off things. But notice that I had to *turn inward* on myself to make the experience bearable. That is pretty much the *polar opposite* of team building. So there is zero benefit to the OP doing what you suggest.

      (In hindsight, I realize that if I’d seriously lobbied to be allowed to do weight-training year round instead of rotating activities like the other kids, the school might have listened. It would have been light years better: my high school offered a pure weight training class, and that was the first time in my whole life that I actually *liked* PE. However, no one told me that that kind of accommodation was possible in middle school, so it never occurred to me to ask).

  10. Beebs

    Ah, what a nightmare. If the “health issues” conversation doesn’t snap her into reason, “ADA” ought to–as in, “Since my inability to participate in these activities is impacting my evaluation, I think I need to schedule an interactive meeting with HR to discuss possible accomodations under ADA.”

    Not that anyone should have to do these kinds of activities unrelated to their jobs, with or without health concerns. I’m usually in the “suck it up and try to get some fun out of it” camp, but I wouldn’t go rock climbing or parasailing–fear of heights. And if these events are on a non-work day (OP doesn’t say one way or the other that I saw), even worse!

    1. Emma

      Personally, I’d avoid mentioning the ADA to the boss directly. If saying “I have health reasons” doesn’t work, then the boss does not have a rational perspective on this issue, and there’s an elevated chance that the boss will react badly if the OP brings up legal issues. If the boss doesn’t back off when you explain your health reason, I think the OP’s best option is to go straight to HR and let them be the ones to point out the ADA stuff to the boss. (If HR doesn’t take your concerns seriously, you can point out the ADA issues to them, though hopefully it won’t come to that).

    2. Laura

      …which raises another interesting question. Are these events on ‘personal time’ and if so, are all the employees exempt? Or are there non-exempt employees on this team? Because these are not “optional” if not going affects your evaluation, and if they are unpaid and there are any non-exempt employees involved…well.

      I think this manager’s next team building exercise should be a fishing trip, with all the cans of worms she has open already!

  11. Chocolate Teapot

    Being somebody who follows the Winnie the Pooh Stoutness Exercises workout, monthly extreme sport activities would fill me with dread.

    1. m

      nothing of value to add just have to say that I LOVE this and may be stealing “Winnie the Poo Stoutness Exercises workout.” yes.

    2. Kerry

      I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been singing “I’m so rumbly in my tumbly” to myself all afternoon thanks to you!

  12. Anonymous

    I agree AAM’s advice is practical and reasonable but that may not work with this woman :) You mention she is young and if you are older than her and you cite health issues as a reason you can’t do the type of team things she wants you to, that may just be another black mark against you as far as she is concerned. With the caveat, that of course it wouldn’t be right/reasonable for her to do that, but that doesn’t mean she won’t. “Ugh these old fuddy-duddys are dragging down my team”.

    1. Del

      This would actually be a really good argument for going to HR first, because you want them on your side and alert for any possibility of retaliation.

      1. Sadsack

        Yes – the manager shouldn’t be holding anyone to the athleticism-based performance evaluations, not just OP. HR needs to reign the manager in. OP should just talk with HR and have them explain things to the manager.

    2. H. Vane

      In which case it’s even more important to notify HR if your manager keeps causing problems. I have no idea how old you are, but something like this might move you into age discrimination territory as well. Hopefully the manager is reasonable once you present your concerns though.

  13. Stephanie

    Argh. I hate physical activity as team-building. And I stay active, just that the team activities chosen tend to be things I run far, far away from (like running). These just bring back too many memories of being the fat kid in middle school gym class.

    1. My company participated in a 3K fun walk. Yes…3k, not 3 mi.
    2. Another company where I was an intern had a local hike (purely as a social outing/networking). Between weak knees and being out-of-shape, I fell behind and couldn’t finish. So I turned around and went home. Welp, turns out EVERYONE noticed. I got about four missed calls and had several emails in my inbox asking what happened. I appreciated the concern; it was just kind of embarrassing and kind of made me feel like the fat kid in gym class again.

    1. Laufey

      But 3k is shorter than 3 miles. Wouldn’t be better to have a shorter distance on something you didn’t want to do?

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        Yeah. I mean, I am never in favour of enforced walking or running for company purposes, but 3k is a bit less than two miles, actually.

        1. Stephanie

          True. And the other choice was a 10k run. I just thought it was a farcically short distance for a leisure walk (and kind of contributed to the whole absurdity of the event), but I could see the counterpoint that some people might have unforeseen health issues.

        2. Euchre

          Yes, 3 km = 1.9 miles. I’m not sure if the original commenter thought that it was more or not. It’s still a lot to walk for someone with health problems or even for people who aren’t used to walking as part of their daily commute.

    2. Katieinthemountains

      I lead hikes, and I move up and down the line of hikers checking on and chatting with everyone. I generally appoint a “sweep” to make sure that no one is left behind in addition to pausing the front-runners to let the others catch up. The fact that you were able to escape without setting off a manhunt is worrisome. What if you had turned an ankle and couldn’t catch up or turn back?

      1. wanderlust

        I’m with you on the hike thing. That’s how episodes of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” come to be. Tell people before you leave the hike!

        1. Stephanie

          Oof, yeah. I had left my phone in the car and just felt kind of ashamed that I couldn’t keep up. =\ I figured it’d be NBD and people would just figure out that I turned around.

          1. TL

            No, it’s not okay. :P

            But they should have assigned someone very easy-going to stay back with you, anyway. If someone’s comparatively slow, you put someone laid-back and encouraging with them so they a) don’t get lost and b) can feel like they’re accomplishing or enjoying themselves rather than holding everyone back.

            1. Anonymous

              Not to mention it’s bad not to know that someone had to back out during the thing. What if someone had fallen/gotten injured. There seemed to be no plans to make sure everyone was okay.

            2. PuppyPetter

              Keep in mind though, that having to have someone “hang back” and “encourage” you is never very comforting. As the slow-poke, you know you are holding them back and keeping them from the “fun” of the group. And the “encouragement” can be truly detrimental – “you go girl”, “you can do this!”, “you’re doing great” and the like is really annoying when all you are trying to do is get to the end of the Bataan death March without keeling over.

      2. Judy

        I know most of my hikes have either been with family or scouts, but certainly when we’re hiking with the scouts, even with parents, we have someone who is supposed to be in the back, and we stop from time to time and make sure everyone is there.

        After day camp one year, I think I was counting to 22 in my sleep for weeks. Hike to next activity, count. Leave activity, count. Before heading to bathrooms, count. Now I’m with older girls, and by the end of the week last year, we had the girls counting themselves.

  14. Stephanie

    Also, seems like there would be nightmare liability issues with rock climbing, parasailing, or even with running (speaking from personal experience with tendinitis in my Achilles from improper running/stretching =/).

    1. H. Vane

      Holy crap yes. Would an injury during one of these activities be eligible for worker’s comp? I imagine corporate would hate to find out about this unsanctioned activies because someone has to file a claim.

    2. teclatwig

      +1 The Workers’ Comp liability for all these events is staggering. I can tell you that I would probably stagger away from every single one injured (hooray for weak joints and being hit by a car as a kid).

      I agree with Alison’s point, and think it should be emphasized, that this much team building reflects poor managerial skills. Although, repeated exposure to intense situations does create a sort of Stockholm-y bond among participants, doesn’t it? It seems a lot like a startup mentality.

      1. Not So NewReader

        It has nothing to do with the work itself. I could see if everyone in the office used program X. So for an afternoon, they challenged each other over their program X skills. That is relevant. People learn something they can use. They learn a little bit about each other’s skill level. Side conversations start up about what to do when problem abc happens. They sip cofee, eat donuts and absorb information that they will probably use the next day.
        That makes sense.
        Conversely, they go rock climbing and come into work the next day cut and bruised and exhausted. What a great plan. (NOT)

      1. Elizabeth West

        I have limited energy thanks to my thyroid issues. If I do stuff like this, I don’t have enough that week to skate, and skating is more important to me than rock climbing (which I would probably like if I wasn’t terrified of heights) with my boss. And I wouldn’t skip my lessons to go to a team-building thing on Saturday, either.

        1. Puffle

          Just wanted to say how nice it is to find another poster with thyroid-related low energy commenting…

          Most of my social activities have to be an either X or Y deal, no way I’m doing both cos then I don’t have the energy to do laundry or cook dinner. So many people don’t understand that yeah, I might look healthy enough, but I just don’t have the same energy levels as them.

      2. Short'n'stout

        Oh, I’m so with you on the office radio! I don’t understand how people can work with noise blaring all the time :/

        1. the gold digger

          I have discovered it is A Thing in my office and I have bumped up against an enormous powerful wall that must have a protector somewhere because she does not work and neither does her daughter, who told me, when I asked her to turn it down, that this was how they had always done it and I would have to talk to my manager if I wanted to change it, a reply that left me dumbfounded because we are not in second grade and we do not appeal to the nearest grownup to resolve our disputes.

  15. ali

    I too have health problems and have faced team-building events that I can’t participate in. In my case, it was installing solar panels on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house (we were a renewable energy company, so this makes sense). I have extreme vertigo and it would not be safe for me to be on a roof, even with proper safety gear. So instead I was the person on the ground who handed out water bottles, took pictures of the event, organized lunch, etc. It was a way to still participate when I physically couldn’t.

    I do completely agree with AAM here, just to be clear. This kind of requirement is ridiculous. But if it doesn’t change and you’re stuck in your job, maybe look for ways to participate that aren’t physical, even just showing up for the event and providing support for those that are doing the physical part.

    1. WFBP

      If you haven’t figured out what’s causing this, go to an Otolaryngologist. I had vertigo for years before getting a simple inner ear surgery that fixed my problem. I had been to 15 other types of doctors, all who said different things. This guy was the one who knew and got me back on my feet.

      The same doctor who fixed me also fixed 8 other people I know, some who had vertigo, some who had massive debilitating migraines.

      That’s my PSA of the day.

      1. ali

        oh, I know my cause. I have autoimmune inner ear disease. It’s left me mostly deaf, but I’ve had it for 12 years now so I’m used to it (unfortunately). My vertigo attacks have mostly lessened over the years, thankfully.

        I do appreciate your concern and am glad to hear you have successfully gotten rid of yours!

      2. KJR

        Thank you for this. My vertigo seems to accompany migraines, and no one seems to know what to do about it. I will try the Otalaryngologist next.

        1. ali

          Yes, seriously see as many doctors as it takes. If you can’t solve the problem it can at least usually be treated. I think I probably saw 8 doctors before I had a diagnosis and had to go out of state to find someone who could figure it out.

          I wish every doctor were more like Dr. House!

  16. StellaMaris

    Is it possible that this is a clumsy attempt to “winnow out” the older or less physically abled employees? The fact that all the team building activities are geared toward things that the manager enjoys, and that she rejected your suggestions immediately without allowing others to vote suggests that there is more than one agenda operating here. It also suggests that she’s a bit of an ass.

    1. Mike C.

      Just to add, what really matters here is the result of the actions, not the intent.

      So if I want to organize a local golfing trip, but the only course nearby is a country club doesn’t allow women to play, it’s still discriminatory even if my intent was to get drunk and hit a little ball around.

    2. Katieinthemountains

      Ehh, she probably just really loves this stuff and doesn’t comprehend that not everyone else does. She’s managing badly, to be sure, but probably from ignorance rather than malice. So if she won’t listen to you, OP, then I think you need to take it higher since it’s bad for team morale and a huge liability for the company.

  17. Cloudy

    Egads, mandated non-job related risky extracurricular activities without telling HR (or risk management, I assume)! What if someone gets hurt? Would it be covered by worker’s comp?

    1. Reix

      If I read it correctly, the manager does say she can’t make them mandatory… and the takes them into account for performance evaluation!

      Liability = another reason upper management will be delighted to learn about this (if they have any brains)

      1. Not So NewReader

        If it’s on the eval then it is mandatory. The boss’ walk has to match her talk. But here her words say one thing and her actions say the opposite.

        1. Windchime

          That’s what I’m thinking. If opting out of an activity shows up as a black mark on a performance review, then it’s a mandatory activity. And if it’s mandatory, then non-exempt people must be paid for it, I assume.

  18. Reix

    I also wonder… activities like parasaling sure have a cost. If it’s not being covered by the company, I see another reason why some people wouldn’t like to (or couldn’t afford to) participate!

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, who is paying for this stuff? All the equipment involved … OP are you still reading? Where does the money come from for the safety gear, the equipment, etc.?

      Is the crew going to places that offer these activities? Or is she taking the crew to a park or lake? I am asking because I wonder if she could be held PERSONALLY liable if something happened.

  19. LizNYC

    OP, I’m SO sorry you’re going through this. I like to be as active as the next person, but this sounds like h-e-double hockey sticks. (I’m also someone with a non-visible health issue who would be unable to do half of the things you mentioned. Ugh.)

    I’m going to caution you when you mention that you have a health issue that precludes you from participating. I know this guy (to call him a “friend” would suggest I like his company) who seems to think that any health issue, from a simple cold to a faulty congenital heart valve, can be cured by simply doing more exercise and eating better. I’m not joking. I hope your manager isn’t one of these people. I’m only saying this because you may get push back when you say you have a health issue. Your manager may see these highly athletic activities as the perfect Rx for whatever ails you. It’s baffling when you say “I have a legitimate health condition that means I can’t trek the entire Appalachian Trail this weekend,” and all your manager hears is, “I’m lazy and not a team player and if I took better care of myself, I wouldn’t have this ailment to begin with.”

    1. Mike C.

      I hope your friend never breaks a leg or gets cancer.

      And you’re absolutely right on the money when you talk about what an employee says and what the manager hears. The OP is being punished for not living the same lifestyle that the manager chooses to live. Simply disgusting!

      1. fposte

        I have a friend, quite a good friend, who was like that for a long time, and getting cancer did indeed make her a lot more understanding of what people had been talking about as far as pain and debility.

        1. Anony-Catamount (for this)

          I have a brother-in-law who thinks like this: anyone who gets any disability or disease must not have been eating healthily enough or exercising enough. It drives me nuts, particularly given the set of genes I’ve received from both sides of the family. (Their family is uber-healthy on both sides, so I don’t think he gets it.) I don’t wish anything upon him, but I really wish he’d ease up on the comments. (All I can say is that if I ever do get any of the many issues that are common in my family, I will not be sharing any of them with my in-laws.)

          1. Anony-Catamount (for this)

            (Sharing that I have them, that is. I don’t think you can share diseases and disabilities with people…)

    2. Elle D

      This was my immediate fear as well. I know people who have this attitude, and it can be very hard to reason with them. All the more reason for the OP to approach HR about the issue before speaking to the manager.

      1. BellaLuna

        I agree she should ask HR first for advice on how to approach it with her manager for many of the reasons listed above. And if she is comfortable she can discuss with her manager and then HR can follow up with the mgr.

    3. Not So NewReader

      Exercise and diet are wonderful things. But the body’s ability to repair itself is based on how much is wrong, how long it has been there, environmental factors, heredity, and so much else. There is no match bullet that cures all ills.
      Let’s face it for the amount of money we have donated to research we should have found that magic bullet by now.
      It’s comforting to believe that diet or exercise will fix anyone. But it is not reality.

  20. Betsy

    The real non-team-player here is clearly the manager, who is ignoring the team she’s supposed to manage and selfishly planning only events she personally will enjoy.

  21. Anon

    My former boss had this mentality. She was super-athletic and super-competitive, and she actually organized an event every summer where we would challenge other workplace teams to competitive sports in a pseudo-Olympics format. These days would begin at 9 or 10 in the morning at not end until 9 or 10 PM at night, and we would all have to carpool to gyms, track fields, and parks to hold different “events” like deadlifting, tennis tournaments, track, basketball, volleyball, etc. And she insisted that we WIN, and only wanted athletic staff members who were good at these events to participate. I exercise regularly and am in decent shape, but I am not and have never been athletically talented. I also didn’t want to risk injuring myself with events like deadlifting (which for women, was minimum 100 lbs! ). So basically I just made it a point to be present and cheer loudly, but it was still held against me. She was the type of unreasonable manager who had no concept of fair treatment and played favorites very blatantly. Her favorites were always the ones who were most like her – athletic, competitive, and generally hypocritical.

      1. Anon

        It didn’t work out; I moved on. This happened early in my career, when I naively thought that being awesome at my job, being hard-working and dedicated to doing my work, and being professional and nice to coworkers, bosses, etc. would ensure my success. I didn’t realize I was in a highly political environment – in which, no matter what I had done, I couldn’t have thrived in – until later.

    1. EG

      I was going to suggest that the OP offer to be there at these events as support for her coworkers, such as overseeing water for runners, etc, but that probably wouldn’t be enough participation for the manager.

    2. anon attorney

      What a nightmare. Also, as you say, very risky. Deadlifting is probably my favorite exercise to do, but it requires good technique or your lower back will tell you all about it! I can’t imagine doing that, or any other power/Olympic lift, without proper training in technique first.

      1. Emma

        Was just coming here to say the same thing. Consider that just this week, a Crossfit fella severed his freakin’ spine after failing a snatch lift at one of those CF events!

  22. Ann O'Nemity

    My company is really into activities for team building and employee engagement. The important difference, though, is that there are several concurrent activities and not all are athletic. So for example, one day we’ll have relay races, speed typing, and a trivia game. Employees can choose to participate in an activity or be a spectator. And the activities are always scheduled during the regular work day, usually on a Friday afternoon. Apparently the company has been doing this kind of thing since its start-up days, and it’s seen as a positive part of the culture.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Speed typing! I would rule that one. (But it would not be team building, because I would alienate everyone else by loudly boasting of my unbeatable typing speed and implying they were lesser beings because of it.)

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        Oh yeah, speed typing is hugely popular. We did typing leagues to add the team concept, but it’s probably more about having fun than literal team building.

      2. Brett

        Many years ago, I played MUDs and MUSHs. One particular MUSH was a real-time battletech MUSH, and amazingly massive text based game with an enormous array of commands.

        By far the best player was a player named Darkhosis. People accused him of cheating, of using bots, of having some sort of direct fiber connection to the internet backbone.

        But his real advantage was something much more gloaty and impossible to match. He was a dvorak typist who could type a sustained 140 wpm and a peak 180+ wpm. In the world of telnet games, that made him a god :)

        1. Zelos

          This reminds me of the pro StarCraft gamers who can hit 450+ APM (actions per minute) while they’re gaming in a tournament. I don’t know how to translate that into words per minute while properly typing (since APM often has redundant clicks), but it’s amazing to watch.

      3. Laura

        I would love to be in a speed-typing competition with you! I get comments from my coworkers all the time about my typing speed when I am only trying to send email and do my job.

        Partially that’s because I’m also heavy-fingered and type loudly, of course. I learned to keep my fingernails SUPER short after I (over the course of a few years) typed arc-shaped HOLES in the more commonly-used keys on a laptop…. (That was when our company still allowed use of personal machines for work, so I was using that laptop for all my personal stuff at home and all my work stuff at work. But still.)

      4. Windchime

        I actually won a contest to see who could 10-key numbers the fastest. This was years ago, and something that we just organized ad-hoc. And yeah, I feel strongly that I should have gotten a medal or something. :)

    2. ThursdaysGeek

      A good team building event for me would be shooting rubber bands. I have a deadly aim and would rule at that!

  23. Chocolate Teapot

    We had an Office Olympics the other year. I seem to remember coming last in the “How many elastic bands can you flick into a teacup in 60 seconds?” event.

    I did do slightly better in the “How many post-it notes can you stick to the cupboard?” relay race though.

    And then we all went off for lunch.

  24. amaranth16

    This made my blood boil! Ugh, the manager sounds absolutely appalling, and deserves a serious dressing-down from upper management.

  25. EB

    I just had a thought – If a co-worker gets hurt on one of these events they might be able to file for workers comps citing OP’s negative evaluations as proof this is basically a required activity. So many problems with these kind of events.

  26. Brett

    Anyone else think the OP’s manager is pulling a fast one here? Some of these activities are pretty expensive. Is the company paying for them? Is everyone paying out of their own pocket, but getting a group discount? Either way, the manager is getting some sort of discount on expensive activities for which she would normally have to pay full price.

  27. the gold digger

    The only reason I exercise is that my real hobby is eating. I hate exercising. If it didn’t get me out of my office during lunchtime every day and let me eat from the Emergency Drawer of Chocolate when necessary, I would never do it.

    I would have to be paid a lot more than I am paid now to exercise as part of my job.

    1. louise

      I keep used to keep emergency cookie dough in the freezer. Now it’s emergency cool whip. Fewer calories, but also gives me less happiness, sadly. :/

    2. JamieG

      I get annoyed enough when, at our five-minute daily meetings, we have to do mini stretches/warmups (ten seconds of arm circles! walk in place! wiggle your fingers!). I barely get paid enough to do -that- much exercise. If my boss started marking me down for not hiking on the weekends, I’d feel totally justified in quitting.

      1. A. D. Kay

        They have you do dopey exercises in your daily meetings??? Yeah, I’d exercise my fingers all right. The middle ones.

  28. Anonybod

    Ugh. As a fairly sporty person myself I relish a 10-mile hike, or half-marathon or rock climbing – but I do these things for fun, outside of work because I enjoy them. I could not imagine wanting or enjoying doing these activities with co-workers, particularly if those co-workers felt coerced into participating under threat of poor performance reviews.

    OP – is it possible that others in the team are only showing up to these activities because they feel forced to? If so, it may be worth gathering people together and approaching your manager as a group to see it you can at least try other activities which aren’t so physically demanding. But really, the best way to build team spirit is to foster a culture of collaboration, openness and togetherness in the office, not by enforcing participation in athletic extra-curricular events.

    1. gabrielle

      As a fairly sporty person myself I relish a 10-mile hike, or half-marathon or rock climbing – but I do these things for fun, outside of work because I enjoy them. I could not imagine wanting or enjoying doing these activities with co-workers, particularly if those co-workers felt coerced into participating under threat of poor performance reviews.

      Especially climbing, where your life is essentially in the other person’s hands.

      The circle of “people I trust to belay me” and “coworkers” do not intersect.

      What is this manager thinking? Sheesh!

  29. Poe

    Reading this just made me want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep! I am so, so sorry that you are dealing with this. Even if you had no physical limitations, what if you had some body image stuff going on and had to participate in something requiring a swimsuit, or something that would expose a surgical scar you’d rather not talk about, fear of heights, the list goes on.

    1. Kerry

      I haven’t had a review in 4 years! Because that’s the last time they had enough money to give anyone a raise. :/

  30. Mike C.

    I find it pathetic that your boss can’t find other people to do her EXTREME activities with and has to force her employees to do it instead. Are you guys paying for this stuff as well, or is it at least covered by the company? I can’t imagine that parasailing is cheap.

    I mean christ, in addition to everything that’s been said already, talk about blurring the lines between work and personal life! Is your boss considering a move to company dorms as well?

  31. Colorado

    Urgh! This is annoying me to the core for some reason. I am a runner but the reason I run is to be alone and not think about work, to get away from work and not think about anything really. I would hate this. Good luck!

  32. JM

    Does the company cover the cost of these activities or does she expect you to throw out your own money for this? These sound like they can get pretty expensive.

  33. LCL

    This seems like one of those rare times to actually go over your manager’s head. Ask to meet with the manager/supervisor above her to discuss your performance review. This will bring it to upper management’s attention.
    Where I work (sort-of-government) we have a very, um, layered management structure. Most of the managers would be grateful if someone had the courage to bring the shady practices of another manager to their attention. Managers have been demoted for the bad practices of their employees that they didn’t know about, but should have because they were the manager.

  34. MaryMary

    I’m not an athletic person either, but I tend the give the manager a little benefit of the doubt here. I agree with Alison’s advice to be blunt with her about why you’re not participating in team events. OP, you say your manager is young, it may have genuinely not occurred to her that some people cannot participate in the activities she’s planning, and that even more people would not enjoy them. If she has never managed before, I can easily envision a scenario where someone advised her to have monthly team building activities, and instead of planning happy hours or a volunteer activity, she’s going with 5Ks and rock climbing. Some people can be oblivious, and in my experience, people who are naturally athletic have a hard time understanding that not everyone is born with the same physical gift. I’d say your manager needs a little reality check, and a reminder that as a manager, she needs to be more inclusive.

    1. TL

      If she’s seriously athletic, there’s no way she’s reached working/managing age without knowing some athletes who have career-ending injuries (of whatever level).

      Off the top of my head, I can think of 3, including myself.

      Also, OP, I developed permanent shin splits in college and had to give up running (it was awful; I ran competitively from junior high to college) and if someone was docking me in my job for not running, I would blow my top. That is awful and needs to be stopped.

    2. Sadsack

      How can it not occur to someone, anyone, that not all people would enjoy or be able to go parasailing? No offense to you, but that seriously makes me want to replace the word “oblivious” with “stupid.” (Again, not directed at you!)

    3. MaryMary

      I’ve worked with a lot of recent grads and young managers, and you’d be surprised how many don’t understand that the activities they planned for their fraternity or Young Teapot Designers club won’t work in the workplace (most of them get that keggers are off the table, but not all…). I can seriously see this manager thinking of how much her sorority enjoyed rock climbing when planning team activities. If she blows off OP after a blunt conversation, then absolutely go to HR. But I still think this sounds thoughtless, not malicious.

  35. Jamie

    You all covered the important stuff, but can I just say this makes me want to give my employer a hug for never, ever suggesting this kind of insanity.

    Well, not a hug because I’m me and …no…but totally a hearty handshake. Except it’s flu season…okay – a smile and wave it is!

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Has your manager looked worried and come over to ask what is wrong and why you are waving and grinning? Or is she now avoiding you?

    2. Windchime

      Yes, this. My boss is a younger, very fit guy who is competitive in his sport. Thank goodness he doesn’t try to make us do this kind of “team building”.

  36. Kit M.

    One of my great joys in life is thinking about how I am done with high school and will never have to take part in mandatory athletics again. I can’t even imagine how angry I’d be if someone took that away from me.

  37. Mike C.

    So at what point does it become required to pay hourly workers for time spent doing these activities? They aren’t explicitly required to be there, but the are being punished in a concrete, traceable form.

  38. Elle D

    On a totally shallow note, when I arrive at work I’m well dressed and well groomed. I like exercising, but not in front of people who see me in a professional capacity. I sweat bullets, turn bright red and generally look very uncoordinated and disheveled when I run. A mandatory 5k with co-workers is my worst nightmare. I’m also deathly afraid of heights, so mountain climbing and parasailing are out.

    I would hate working at this company.

    1. AVP

      Agreed! I was mortified a few years ago after a few colleagues and I, including my boss, had to run across an airport to catch a connecting flight. My face was bright red and I was breathing hard, even though I run and bike pretty regularly. So embarrassing!

    2. Andrea

      Another red-faced sweaty person here! I am in good shape and I exercise regularly, but if I get the slightest bit hot and sweaty, I’m red. Maroon is more like it. And it’s embarrassing because people are all, “Oh my god, are you okay?” Sheesh. This is why I exercise alone. Or at least far away from people I know.

  39. Kathryn T.

    This is such a terrible idea. Not all health concerns are obvious, or even intuitive — a person of my acquaintance has autoimmune / inflammatory arthritis, for example. He’s very active and very athletic, but all his activities are low joint impact, stuff like cycling and swimming. He can do century bike rides, but rock climbing would be a literal impossibility because he just doesn’t have the grip strength, and running a 10k could have months-long consequences for him. Or someone could be a complete gym rat, but have digestive or IBS issues that make a ten mile hike a terrible, horrible idea for everyone involved.

    Really, the ways this could go poorly are limited only by the human imagination.

  40. B

    I am not sure if this was mentioned but it seems like a HUGE workers comp liability issue. I cannot imagine HR would approve of this because at best someone sprains an ankle and at worst…. This seems like a huge lawsuit waiting to happen that could bankrupt a company pretty quickly.

  41. Mona

    I went back and re-read the OP and this stuck out, “She is young and very athletic.” It makes me wonder, how old is the OP and the other person that doesn’t participate? Could it be that the manager has purposly chosen these activities knowing that they can’t participate due to age, and is using the comments in their reviews to possibly get rid of them by show they are not team players? It’s a very subtle way to get rid of someone using age discrimination. It’s happened before at a company that I worked at years ago.

    1. Adam V

      Exactly. Drop that line to HR (“I’m afraid she might be targeting us due to our age”) and they should snap to attention (“AGE-BASED DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT”).

    2. A. D. Kay

      Even if it weren’t the manager’s intention to discriminate against older workers, that is the effect.

  42. Para Girl

    Parasailing? Besides being cost prohibitive, what about the insurance? Isn’t parasailing kind of dangerous for a work event? If HR is unaware that your manager is basically forcing people to engage in dangerous sports, they may appreciate the warning!

    What’s next? Sky diving?

    1. CEMgr

      It should be possible to anonymously tip off your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer about mandatory workplace parasailing.

  43. Laura

    The more I read this, the more I think the OP needs to go straight to the manager’s manager or to HR. Because it’s not enough to get the manager to stop doing it. There are already negative reviews (review?) on file for not doing it, when it as billed as optional. That has to be addressed, or it could follow the OP until they leave the company, long after this manager has parasailed off into the sunset. (We can hope, anyway.)

    Also, the OP has already tried to suggest other activities, and isn’t taking part in these. The manager SHOULD have gotten a clue from that, that not everyone likes this sort of thing, at a minimum. Yes, health might FORCE the manager to deal with it, or it might not, but the OP already reached out to the manager. I don’t think disclosing health issues to the manager should be necessary to resolve this. (“Oh, well, since it’s a legally required concern, now I’ll address it” is not the most winning mantra, and even if you’re lucky and it appears – and I’m not at all sure it would – the underlying issue of “this isn’t okay even without health issues” goes unaddressed. And upper management/HR remains unaware that this manager has such bad judgement, from the company point of view, as to open them to all this lovely liability.)

  44. yasmara

    At my husband’s work, there was a curling outing a few years ago & someone injured an ankle on the ice rink. Curling was subsequently banned. Why yes, we live in Minnesota.

    1. the gold digger

      As a Wisconsin resident, my first thought any time I see any kind of injury or accident is, “Was alcohol involved?”

      Which is a reasonable question for curling-related injuries, I believe.

    2. Cath@VWXYNot?

      I used to work with someone in Scotland who went curling for the first time on a team bonding event, slipped and fell head-first into one of the rocks, and knocked her front tooth out and got a black eye. This was a few days before she was set to be a bridesmaid in her sister’s wedding.

      Alcohol was involved, but according to everyone who was there, not enough to make someone fall over

  45. Kinrowan

    I haven’t read all comments but the other thing that jumps at me is the potential liability for the company. When we do company sponsored events, even if not at the regular location, the company is usually liable if we get hurt (think worker’s comp.), isn’t it? Having people who may not be totally fit participate in these activities could be a nightmare for the company if someone gets injured.

    1. Ruffingit

      Totally agreed, that is a major concern. Rock climbing? That is a pretty extreme sport right there and ripe for injury even if someone just breaks an ankle or something (as opposed to slipping off the rock and dying). The OP mentions that HR would probably not sanction at least half of these activities and I’m guessing she’s right.

      You’ve also got the factor of people who are not in great shape, but do this stuff anyway and then end up having health problems because of it. They do it so they aren’t dinged on their performance reviews. Good luck with that wrongful death lawsuit. I can just see so many issues here that make me want to push this manager off the ravine on that 10-mile hike.

    2. Elizabeth West

      Not only what you and Ruffingit said, but rock climbing is not something rank amateurs, even if they’re in excellent shape, should even do without training. You don’t just go out and climb a rock. It’s freaking DANGEROUS even for experienced climbers.

  46. Ruffingit

    This sucks. It’s not team building when you plan activities that not everyone can participate in. I think some people forget the distinction between won’t and can’t. It’s not that you won’t participate, it’s that you can’t. Your health doesn’t allow it. Some people who are sporty and athletic think everyone should be into that. They forget, once again, that not everyone can do those things and that not everyone wants to. And that is OK!

  47. TBoT

    Oh man. This reminds me of the era in which the office manager at my office was a stereotypical bro, and our department was overwhelmingly stereotypically geeky. The year we were all made to go to the office Christmas party at ESPN Zone particularly sticks out.

    1. Ruffingit

      Not quite the same thing, but I am allergic to seafood and for the company party one year for our five-person team, the owner took us to a seafood restaurant. When I ordered steak, she said “Oh, the seafood here is great, why don’t you have that??” I said I was allergic and she said “Oh, well I didn’t know that…” Yes, because you didn’t ask. You informed us with very short notice of where we’d be going and told us to meet you there. You took us to a restaurant that YOU enjoyed, not something the rest of us would have chosen so…yeah.

  48. A. D. Kay

    I know that I would JUST LOVE going rock climbing, with these neato bone spurs that I have in my thumbs. It would just make it extra-challenging, and make for an even more awesome team-building experience. *

    *When my team has to carry me out on a stretcher after I fall.

    1. Ruffingit

      Yeah, and the team will be thrilled to pick up your work while you’re in that body cost recovering from said fall. Seriously, these activities are just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

      1. Jamie

        I agree. Not everyone is super coordinated even under mild conditions.

        I can’t walk to the ladies room from my office without bumping into the corner several times a week – and apologizing to it because it takes me a second to realize it wasn’t a person.

        There is a reason I chose a job where I sit for a living. Indoors.

        To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, if outdoors was so great man wouldn’t have spent thousands of years perfecting indoors.

        1. Judy

          As much as I enjoy camping, I did laugh out loud when a fellow scout leader said her best friend didn’t like camping because “it’s basically practicing being homeless”.

  49. MikiSA

    A rock climber here, just pointing out that rock climbing
    a) is not a group activity
    b) could be very hard for novice people
    c) definitely not team building experience (it’s you and the rock, no team) and most new people back off half way up the route, even the easy route (scared of heights, not athletic enough, bad knees, bad hands?)
    So I can understand this whole group activity also from a point of being no runner myself and trying to be dragged into running is just pure torture for me. OP needs to let the HR people know about this one.

  50. Jess

    I would first take Alison’s advice and try to deal with it by talking directly to her manager about the entire issue. Only then, if the manager refuses to change after a direct conversation, would I elevate the issue. But it sounds like the OP hasn’t even directly addressed the issue with her manager yet- that seems like a better first step.

    While I agree with the comments above that the manager’s actions are ridiculous and discriminatory, going immediately to HR with the issue seems pretty drastic. If this is a manager that the OP otherwise respects (and yes, that’s a big if), why immediately jump to the conclusion that this is in any way malicious? Or even that that the manager is fully cognizant of the implications of her actions? The OP described the manager as young and athletic; often it seems that the naturally athletic don’t recognize the inability/dread/discomfort that others have for sports & physical activities. (Especially if the OP’s health issues are not obvious to the casual observer.) I realize that this sounds pretty clueless, but sometimes people have “blind spots” in areas that seem obvious to everyone else. If the manager otherwise seems like a reasonable person, why not first give her the benefit of reasonable doubt that this isn’t just a terrible oversight on her part?

    1. Sadsack

      I think some people, such as myself, figure it is HR’s responsibility to advise management on what may be deemed as discriminatory practices. They should advise the manager on what she needs to be conscious of with regard to ADA, liability for injury , and other issues people here have mentioned. Plus the higher-ups may want to be in the loop about all these off-site monthly activities going on and who is paying for these, anyway?

      1. Sadsack

        Basically, what I am saying is, it is not the employee’s responsibility to advise or otherwise correct her manager, it is the responsibility of the manager’s manager and HR.

  51. Allison

    I think the best team building events are ones where attendance is mandatory (or strongly encouraged) but participation is optional. Like a video game tournament or karaoke night where everyone’s present, hanging out, and encouraging the team members who really put themselves out there, but they don’t actually have to participate in the activity themselves if they can’t or don’t want to. Also, variety is key, and that’s where the OP’s manager is messing up. You can’t have all your team building activities favor the same lifestyle or set of interests or hobbies.

    Personally, I like the outdoors; going on a hike with friends would be fun. But if my boss made my whole department go on a hike, I don’t think I’d have as much fun.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      If you have a video game night can I bring a book? And can I use my earplugs at the team karaoke night?

      That’s the problem with a lot of team activities — we all like vastly different things. So even strongly encouraged to attend is problematic at times.

      1. the gold digger

        I wouldn’t mind a karaoke event, but whatever the event is, it needs to be during work hours. Otherwise you are cutting into my personal time and that makes me very cranky.

        1. Windchime

          Karaoke is like dancing to me. I have to be kind of inebriated to even consider doing either one. So a karaoke team-building event doesn’t sound like fun to me at all.

          I like where I work. We have potlucks, or sometimes our employer sends an ice-cream truck to our site and anyone who wants gets a free ice-cream or sorbet treat. Wii bowling or tennis is set up at the potlucks for people who want to play; it’s off to the side of the room and absolutely nobody pays attention to whether or not anyone bowls.

  52. Rose

    What bothers me about this is that she shouldn’t have to make excuses for not wanting to go rock climbing out side of work hours. You get a few hours off each night plus two days a week to do laundry, food shop, cook, clean your house, visit your elderly grandmother, go to therapy, see your girlfriend, whatever.

    Maybe I don’t want to spend my freaking free time with people I already spend 40 hours a week with. I have my own friends and family that it’s hard enough to make time for. You shouldn’t have to make excuses. That’s not “not being a team player.” It’s having a f***ing life.

    Also, this is not you throwing your own personal parties for fun, right? So maybe instead of planning all activities YOU like, plan a variety that everyone might enjoy.

    1. Windchime

      Exactly! I have a couple of co-workers who are also friends. If I want to hang out with them, then we plan an activity that we want to do. And –this is the important part– if someone has a conflict or decides they can’t go, there are no demerits or black marks on the Friendship Evaluation.

  53. Ella

    Dear OP, I can feel your pain.
    Been there, been there. My solution (sort of) was to be there with the team and PRETEND, with no pride and no shame, to do the run/hike/climb. After these super fun we usually moved to the easy part – dinner. At least I was there, present, in person, 100%, though my athletic performance was what it was.

  54. Kerr

    Ugh. I had an interview once where I was asked if I would be willing to run a marathon (this was for an office job, by the way).

    I ran, all right. In the opposite direction.

    This sounds, if possible, even worse. Marked down on a performance review because you can’t/won’t do extreme sports?! That’s awful. I hope you get this resolved.

    1. Ruffingit

      Unless you’re working for the USA Track and Field team, what a weird question! Willing to run a marathon? My reply there would be “Am I being chased?”

      1. Kerr

        The company was very sports-focused, so there was a tenuous connection between that and being familiar with certain things for customer service purposes. But the job ad never mentioned any need for experience and/or interest in sports; if it had, I wouldn’t have applied. I didn’t want to even start discussing all the reasons, health included, why I had no interest in devoting my free time to running a marathon.

        They seemed to want the moon for tuppence in other areas, too.

  55. Jamie

    I haven’t had time to read all the way through yet, so my apologies if this has been said…but how is running a marathon a team building activity?

    One of my kids ran cross country for years – the pasta party the night before and Gatorade after aside, it’s a pretty solitary sport.

      1. Who said head?

        Hashing is certainly a social running group, but as a hasher myself, I might warn against considering it as a model for work-related team building. The songs alone could keep your sexual harassment team busy for years.

      1. Ruffingit

        Yes, this is probably the case. Runners who are really into it form a pretty strong bond with each other through the training and participating in races even when they are running those races not as a team, but individually. I like to run (not good at it) and I hope one day to run a marathon, but it’s not something I would ever, ever, ever think is a work activity. If I’m running a marathon at work, it’s because I’m being chased. That is not a work activity. Also, I have close friends who are marathoners and we’re talking a minimum of six months of training, plus equipment that gets spendy. People think it’s shoes, shorts, shirt, let’s roll, but it’s not. You generally have several pairs of shoes throughout training plus the ones you run in and those are not cheap. You can have your gait tested at sports stores to see how you’re running and what you need. You have a coach or running club with dues, you have special clothes that wick away sweat, you’ve got Gu and hydration drinks and and and…

        This is something people do because they seriously want to. It’s not a work/team building activity.

  56. Anonymous

    I used to work for someone who was planning a team-building outing for us, and she ran a couple of her ideas past me first. One of them was Outward Bound. I gave her a “you be a crazy woman” look and flatly said “I will not be doing that.” We had a good relationship, so she just laughed and ended up taking the team to the Grove Park Inn for the team-building weekend.

    She wouldn’t tell us ahead of time where we were going, and most of the team building we did was trying to figure it out from the different clues she was dropping to different people for an entire week before we left on the trip. She was a clever one, that manager!

    This, however, I would be taking straight to HR because it’s already on your “permanent record”. You need to protest that. Officially. In writing.

  57. Loose Seal

    Just another thought: OP, are you certain that you are getting marked down on your reviews because you don’t participate in the sports activities or could it be that your manager thinks you don’t participate in team stuff in the office? In other words, have you asked during one of your reviews, “What do you mean by this?” If you haven’t, maybe lead into Alison’s dialogue with that question so you can be sure that’s what your manager is referencing. It would look bad, I think, if you went to HR with your complaint but the manager said it was because you never refill the coffee pot or some other thing that had nothing to do with the sports.

    [Of course, a good manager would specify what you could do to improve your performance so you’d know already she means the sports activities. But, hey, she might not be a good manager!]

    1. Anonymous

      Since she said “Each month we have one of these activities and I do not show up, she writes on my monthly review that I was not a team player and refused to participate in team-building activities.”, I don’t think this is as simple as not filling the coffee pot.

      1. Loose Seal

        Sure, I think it’s highly likely that it’s the sports. But wouldn’t you want to hear that confirmation from your manager before you start assuming?

    2. Not So NewReader

      Does her boss review the evals with her before she hands them out? I cannot believe the upper boss is okay with this.

      What is up with the upper boss? Why is s/he not involved in this story?

      I think the manager already knows what she is doing is wrong that is why OP knows that no one else is aware of what her boss is doing.
      The boss is keeping it hush-hush.

  58. Confused

    This reminds me of “Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure” on The Office. Oscar, Stanley, and Creed start running, intentionally fall behind Michael, and take a cab to a local restaurant to hang out and relax.

    Someone should give HR a heads up about this at some point, it is a liability issue.

  59. Anonymous

    Unless the company is specifically into outdoor adventure/sports, I find this hard to believe:

    “10-mile hike, the 5k run, the rock climbing, the parasailing”

    No way. This reader mail is exaggerated or made up. 5K walk/run… maybe. But the rest, no way this is real.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Really? I’ve heard of teams going rock climbing and I can easily believe the rest.

      It’s worth noting that some people thought the letter earlier this month about the job candidates required to cook dinner for 30 people was fake as well … and it was then confirmed by the employer publicly. Weird shit abounds.

      1. Anonymous

        I don’t believe 13 of a random selection of 15 people could go rock climbing. A 10-mile hike is a big commitment of time. And parasailing is costly.

        One of these things happening once in a year, but monthly events of that scale – no way.

        1. Tinker

          I think it depends a lot on your area, and then on the particular culture of the company. Here in Colorado, for instance, it’s not all that uncommon for folks to think of a ten-mile hike or going rock climbing (particularly if at an indoor gym) as a casual weekend activity, and while parasailing is not a thing hereabouts so far as I know, I wouldn’t entirely put it past my current company to float an idea like skydiving.

          A place that skews young or geeky or both around here can easily end up where the least sportsy person is the one who does bodyweight strength training, yoga, and practices a traditional martial art rather than being into Crossfit and MMA.

  60. Not So NewReader

    I dunno, OP. When some of us were growing up we went through hell AKA gym class. As adults we should have some control over what is happening to us.

    I could never do somersaults in grammar school. Thirty five years later a chiropractor laughed right out loud- “Of course. With a spine like that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do somersaults.”
    And I think of what I went through trying to do somersaults. I didn’t know I shouldn’t be trying.

    I think that any good chiro would say these activities are not good for people. So without revealing your real medical history by having a note from a specialist you could probably get a note from a chiro instead.

    But first things first. We aren’t seven years old any more. We are cognizant adult capable of knowing our abilities and our limits. That stands alone and needs to be respected. If I say I cannot lift that 60 pound box I do not expect an argument over that. And I do not expect it to show up on my eval when it has nothing to do with my job.

    I trust you were not informed of these team building requirements when you were hired, right? Did you ever submit to a physical for the company? If no, then the boss has no basis to assume you CAN do these activities.

    I had a problem at one job where I was not informed of physical activity Z when I was hired. Later, it became a big deal that I could not do Z. I simply said “I was not informed when I took this job that I would be required to do Z. Most certainly, I want to contribute as an equal to my coworkers efforts. However, that needs to be part of the hiring process that people need to be informed that they must be able to do Z. I am most willing to contribute in other ways, for example I can do X and Y and W. But I really feel this job was misrepresented to me at my point of hire.”

    Maybe you can ask HR if there are jobs in other departments that do not require these extreme team building activities.

    Give it one more shot with the boss. Have plan B ready. Like you, I don’t believe the boss is going to get this concept any time soon. Someone else will need to explain it to her.

  61. JustWondering

    So… if OP blows out a knee at one of these mandatory extracurricular athletic activities, is she covered by L&I? Seems like that would be a risk for the company if the supervisor is attempting to compel attendance by tying participation to performance evaluations.

  62. Anonymous

    The place I work is hugely into athletics and some of the managers were on the Olympic team and we don’t even do this nonsense. (Good thing Cus I’m super clumsy)

    1. Ruffingit

      I think this type of situation would be helped by managers who had been on an Olympic team because they know better than anyone what it takes to train for events. Obviously, not everyone is going to train to elite Olympic standards, but those people are aware of what it takes to even get to the starting line, let alone win the race/event. They would probably be the very last people to suggest that your every day employee would want to participate in such a thing. Sports activities are something you should only undertake if you really want to do it. They are hard, the training is hard, the event is hard. Very, very rewarding, but hard. It’s not something that should be done as a team building thing.

  63. Vicki

    I don;t think that going to HR is drastic at all. This sentence from the original letter worried me:

    ” I know upper management does not know these things go on and I am sure that at least half of the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited if HR knew.”

    If you’re running the risk of an OSHA claim, this needs to stop. Now.

  64. Matt

    Another former “kid who went through hell at gym class” here … I wasn’t fat, but clumsy and fearful (which included balls thrown or kicked at me), and always the one no one wanted in his ball game team.

    I cringe at the very thought of working for this manager. OMG. Luckily there isn’t a big sports culture at all where I work – I have joined the chess club :)

    1. Windchime

      The scariest, noncircular thing I do at work is knit with a co-worker. She is another woman about my age and we take our knitting to the lunchroom and knit together on occasion.

  65. RedSonja

    A veterinary company that I used to work for once had the residents take their yearly retreat at the Grand Canyon. Where they had to go on a multi (I want to say 10, but it may have been more) mile hike. And since they were residents, they were constantly studying and on call, so often didn’t have the luxury of preparing.

    I jokingly called it the death march. I also pointed out that it was a TERRIBLE team-building activity, and if I were a resident they could kiss my butt if they expected me to do that kind of crap. I think the company was fortunate that nobody filed an ADA claim.

    1. Stephanie

      OMG! The Grand Canyon?! That’s not the easiest hike for novices between the extreme weather fluctuations and the worst part of the hike being the return leg.

  66. Tina

    I’m mad on behalf of the OP! Those expectations are ridiculous, whether someone is physically able or not.

    I’m grateful not to have many forced “team building” activities. I have a good working group, and we make up our own activities – besides having lunch together regularly, we sometimes play hangman or other games at lunch, we compete to see which staff member guesses the right number of students who attend our large events and the winner gets a little prize, we’ve had crossword or haiku contests, etc. Everything optional, and a far more effective team-building activity because it’s by choice.

  67. Amy

    I might also suggest going along on one of these excursions to the point you can, and then sitting out. Example: parasailing – show up at the beach/marina, go to the staging area, get on the boat, but do not don the harness. You are there participating, but to the limits you are comfortable with. I do not know what health issues you face, so perhaps this is not a viable suggestion.

    In addition, it is obnoxious that everything is competition and sports oriented I am sorry that you have to navigate through that. My guess is that there are others who are uncomfortable or at least tired of it as well, but without anyone speaking up, nothing will change.

  68. Erin

    Count me in as someone who would find this to be nightmare scenario. I work out and run on a regular basis, but am pretty terrible at organized sports. I don’t really want to look like a fool while also not enjoying myself in front of my coworkers. I think HR needs to know ASAP. I think sometimes athletic people have no idea how awful it is to particpate in something like that if you’re not inclined to it. It’s a form of torture.
    I worked at a place that had an annual “broomball” tournament (sort of a version of ice hockey minus the skating), and it was okay, if not my favorite thing. It was optional, but I always went to be a team player. The guy who organized it was a former hockey player. One year he decided to bring a bunch of his hockey friends and it turned brutal quickly. I left the ice when some guy almost broke my finger trying to get to the ball. When I looked around, I realized most of the women had left the game while a bunch of guys who didn’t even work with us battled it out.

  69. Kim

    My wife worked at such a place. Her co-worker didn’t participate during a recent ‘team building’ outing ,due to physical limitations and she was called the “team turd” by her team captain ( a senior exec.) For a Halloween costume contest, weeks later, she posed for a photo in a brown blanket with her name “team turd” tapes to her costume. She was fired for that entry, as well as her co-worker, my wife, for not stopping that photo from being submitted! Some of the other activities they had to part take in were: Laser tag, rock climbing, zip lining, rope walking etc. The boys, including HR, all had a great time participating though. Nearly 3/4 of the staff are women over 50 yrs old!!!

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