how can I get out of having lunch with coworkers?

A reader writes:

How can I successfully get out of lunches with coworkers? When I say no, they try for another date. And another and another. How can I politely say, “I’m not interested in spending my one work-free hour in the day with coworkers?” I don’t like spending the money and I don’t like wasting the calories. I feel compelled to say yes when my boss asks, but I don’t want to! Having lunch with a boss, whether you like them or not, means you have to be “on.” I’d like to spend my lunches doing what I want. How can I say no without alienating my coworkers and boss?

If you say something that is essentially “I don’t want to spend time with you,” you can’t really avoid alienating people. So you need an answer that’s about what you are doing with that time instead — an answer that’s about doing X, rather than not doing Y. For instance, you could explain that you’re running errands at lunch, or like to spend that time walking and decompressing, or that you usually read at lunch. And you have to say in a way that still sounds friendly. There’s a difference between “No, I read at lunch” and “Oh, no thank you, I usually read at lunch, but thank you for asking me!”

That said, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally have lunch with coworkers, even if you don’t do it most of the time. It’s an investment in your relationships at work, can that can pay off in terms of your professional relationships, ability to get things done in your office, networking when you leave this job, and the way you’re perceived. And yes, it might feel annoying that you have to do that, but some relationships work that way, and it’s in your interests to recognize that reality. That doesn’t mean you need to eat with them every day or every week, but once a quarter or so isn’t a bad idea.

However, that’s for your coworkers. Your boss might a different story. Are her invitations only occasional, or is she suggesting lunch regularly? Assuming it’s only occasional, you should really suck it up and go. Investing in your relationship with your boss is hugely valuable — plenty of business gets done at lunches with managers, in ways that you might never predict, and opportunities to talk with your boss informally often come with opportunities for feedback, mentoring, and overall insight into your company’s work that will be enormously useful to you. Plus, plenty of managers deliberately choose to have important conversations over lunch (about development, promotions, concerns about fit, and other topics), believing it’s a less charged environment. (We can debate whether that’s the right approach, but the fact remains that plenty do it.) So if your boss asks you, go — unless it’s regular thing, in which case you should feel free to treat it the way I suggested you do with coworkers.

And for what it’s worth, I get how annoying this can be. I take my time alone very, very seriously, and I don’t like it being encroached on either. And if you really feel strongly about it, you can choose to take a hard line on this stuff — but you’ve got to do that with the understanding that there’s a trade-off you’ll be making in terms of how you’re perceived … and not just in social/cliquish kind of ways (which you might not care about), but in ways that can have a real impact on your career.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. EM

    At one of my previous jobs, we had a small office and almost everyone ate together every day in the conference room. They never even left the building! I used to like to get out of the building for my hour, but it was obvious they expected me to eat with them when I first started.

    I told them that I liked to go home for my lunch break so I could get my dog out of the house for a potty break. It was true, so it wasn’t really an excuse, but sometimes I would run an errand or just sit outside for awhile. My dog didn’t really NEED me to come home, but I usually did.

    However, I would stay for lunch if it was a special occasion — the office liked to do “pot luck lunch celebrations” when it was someone’s birthday, etc. I sucked it up and participated in those.

    I understand your frustration, but maybe come up with something that sounds like you do it every day — like maybe you can say you like to do a brief work out or something, or if you have a dog, it is a good excuse. :)

        1. CC

          I AM CURRENTLY IN THE SAME SITUATION.
          I find it odd that I want to take 1 hour off and do my own stuff for at least one hour. Since it is a small company me eating alone puts out a HUGE spotlight within the office culture I guess. But I am a temp worker and I do not feel comfortable eating lunch with my directors and managers. Everytime I go out for lunch they give me certain looks. A few co workers have approached me and commented on how its not good for me to eat separately. I do eat with them on special occasions- but when it comes to out of my work hours dinner I do not go. They find that very wrong…Even though I give them excuses on why i eat alone-they immediately just classify me as an outcast and it has begun to influence how they treat me at work! I am always nice to them, make little mistakes…

          1. CC

            Sorry-correction: I find it off that they think its odd that i want to take 1 hour to myself for lunch **

  2. themmases

    I’m also a person who likes to read, walk, or generally be alone on my lunches. I’d suggest setting up standing lunch dates with people.

    When I was new in my job, my coworker (who is also senior to me, but not my supervisor) suggested we get lunch together monthly to check in on our program and our personal workloads. It’s actually been really great! Some months we turn out to have a lot of work stuff to talk about and the lunches run long because we’re brainstorming the whole time. Sometimes there’s not much ground to cover and we just talk about personal stuff until we’re done eating and go back to the office. I find I really look forward to them.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that I hate looking forward to reading my book at lunch (or whatever) all morning, then getting roped into an invitation I feel I can’t turn down. But if something is on my calendar, as these lunches are, I look forward to them just as much.

    1. Kelly L.

      Me too! I enjoy a planned lunch date, but don’t like having my reading session yanked out from under me!

    2. fposte

      I think this is a great point, and I’d definitely recommend this to the OP. It keeps you in control of your private time, it reduces the “come and play” begging and gives you an easy polite answer if it happens, and it reduces your co-workers’ concern that they’ve ticked you off in some way.

    3. Miss Betty

      Worse than that – “I saw you eating alone and just reading and I felt so bad that you’re eating alone, so I’m joining you.” Don’t feel bad – if I’m eating along and reading, it’s because that’s what I wanted to do.

        1. smallbutmighty

          Believe it or not, I read the most wonderful poem about this very phenomenon the other day. It’s by Billy Collins, one of my favorite living poets. (Yes, this thread just went WAY afield!)

          Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant

          I am glad I resisted the temptation,
          if it was a temptation when I was young,
          to write a poem about an old man
          eating alone at a corner table in a Chinese restaurant.

          I would have gotten it all wrong
          thinking: the poor bastard, not a friend in the world
          and with only a book for a companion.
          He’ll probably pay the bill out of a change purse.

          So glad I waited all these decades
          to record how hot and sour the hot and sour
          soup is here at Chang’s this afternoon
          and how cold the Chinese beer in a frosted glass.

          And my book –– José Saramago’s Blindness
          as it turns out –– is so absorbing that I look up
          from its escalating horrors only
          when I am stunned by one of his gleaming sentences.

          And I should mention the light
          that falls through the big windows this time of the day
          italicizing everything it touches ––
          the plates and teapots, the immaculate tablecloths,

          as well as the soft brown hair of the waitress
          in the white blouse and short black skirt,
          the one who is smiling now as she bears a cup of rice
          and shredded beef with garlic to my favorite table in the corner.

  3. Anon

    It’s funny, I’m having the opposite issue. Many people from my organization eat lunch together in our cafeteria (which is open to the public), and I would love to be invited! It seems like a great opportunity to network with others in my organization, and maybe even make some work friends. But no one in my department seems to joins these group lunches. I guess the least awkward way to do it is to scope out someone I know at the table, and mention during a non-lunch interaction that I would like to eat lunch with them some time.

        1. CheapRevenge

          True, not usually – but adults are still weird sometimes. Once I asked to sit down with an awkward labmate whose response was to stare at me blankly without saying anything. I sat anyway, though, because I knew his friends were friendly, and we all ended up having a pleasant lunch.

        2. Anon

          Yeah, it’s not that I think they’ll bite. But this is a place where people have worked together for a very long time. Often decades. And it feels awkward as the relative newbie to just sit down with them unprompted.

  4. I Hate Lunch Hour

    I feel your pain! I feel like I’m forced to have lunch with my coworkers too! I work in a small office where there are only three of us . I’ve only been here for 3 weeks so I feel weird about asking to eat by myself. Lunch is so awkward because we all don’t really have much in common so we don’t talk at all. I’d much rather eat by myself!

  5. Coelura

    Alison – your first sentence is missing a word. I think you meant to say “I don’t WANT to spend time with you,” – the want is missing.

      1. Terry

        Hi Alison…I happened on your website when I Googled: How do I decline an ivitation to lunch/dinner with a former co-worker and her husband (I’m now retired) whom I do not have anything in common except work? Do you have any suggesltions? If you have any ideas, could you email to me at the above email address? Thanks fo anything you can come up with! Terry :-)

  6. Jen

    There’s a happy medium. I am currently getting my masters so I like to use my lunch hour for reading the assigned texts. But every other Friday or so, I’ll eat with co-workers. It helps keep the relationship going with them, I find out about things I might not normally hear about (and not just gossip but projects and new hires and things like that). There are a few co-workers who just never eat with anyone at all. I certainly understand that but it’s very hard to get to know them. I’m not saying I expect to be best friends with everyone but sometimes being friendly helps out in the long run work wise. Someone will hear of a promotion and think of you or you’ll find out that a VP is also training for a marathon and you can get some chit chat time with them.

    1. Gilby

      I agree. I like lunching by myself for the most part. But during the summer I like to walk. I like to read at my lunch when I can’t walk. But… I recognize the need to chat and sometimes eat with other workers.

      It makes life easier when I have a question with work or meet at the copier and stuff like that. Or we know what each other does at work better and you never know when your worlds might intersect and that already friendly bond is needed.

  7. Elizabeth West

    At Exjob, I usually wrote on my lunch, but I went to the break room to nuke my food and set up my computer about fifteen minutes before the shop personnel were off their lunch so we could socialize. (I almost never had lunch with any of the office people, except my supervisor–with whom I am still friends, btw.) I felt like it bridged the divide between the office and the shop a little bit, and besides, it was usually fun. Then I had the rest of the hour to myself (except when people would come in asking me for something–bleah). Headphones usually helped with that.

  8. Chocolate Teapot

    Regular lunchtime appointments come in handy in this situation. (Sorry I can’t join you because I have my Yoga class, lunchtime swimming, lunch with a former colleague etc.)

  9. BCW

    Wow, you seem kind of standoffish. I mean, yeah I get not wanting to eat with them everyday, but would it really kill you to do it once a month or so? It also comes off like you think you are above them, especially if everyone else goes out together on occasion. I get that for many people, work is work and you are there to do a job and go home. But you spend half of your waking hours with these people, is it that bad to spend an hour socializing not about TPS Reports on occasion?

    1. Anon

      “You spend half of your waking hours with these people.”

      My first reaction is, so why do they deserve more?

          1. BCW

            Thats true, but I think maybe if she said yes on occasion, she may not be asked as much. So if she was asked today, maybe say, no for today, but agree to go on Friday or something. I think a lot of times once you agree to go on occasion, people don’t ask everyday anymore.

            Also, its hard because often you’ll here about people who aren’t invited yet want to be, and accuse people of being cliquey. Its a delicate line to balance

            1. llamathatducks

              Huh, I’m not the OP, but if I ate lunch with my coworkers *only* once a month I’d be perceived as extremely standoffish. Some part of my team eats lunch together most days, certainly at least a couple times a week (and we have two different weekly scheduled lunches with other groups of people within the company). It’s considered normal to split off to eat while working, or to meet with someone else, or to prefer other food that day, but I haven’t seen people read for fun during lunch.

              Though I’m an introvert, this doesn’t bother me much because I like my coworkers and my work is pretty solitary – but if the OP’s company/team culture is like mine, there may be a pretty big gap between their preferences and the rest of their team’s.

        1. badger_doc

          I agree. I really get the introvert/extravert thing, but I feel strongly that these lunch events (or even happy hours) are HUGE networking opportunities! Especially in large companies where you might not know everyone. I don’t know how many times I’ve brought up a problem I’m having at lunch only to have someone say “have you talked to X in formulation?” Not only that, but think about all the network connections you can make through your coworkers to other job opportunities! The network is infinite! Please reconsider–you never know when you will need a recomendation from one of these people or what you might learn.

      1. Felicia

        I think (maybe) the OP is being asked constantly and probably wouldn’t mind once a month, if they had warning. At least I know I had co workers who’d ask every day, and I find being “on” all the time exhausting and need alone lunch to recharge. I wouldn’t mind once a month either, but if they were asking nearly every day, I wouldn’t know how to politely ask for that. I’ve had experiences where if you tell people you only want to socialize with them at lunch once in a while think that you hate them.

        1. badger_doc

          Why do you have to be “on” during lunch with coworkers? Are you talking about work things or do you not know them well? We pretty much bullshit around at lunch because it is a time to escape work. We have a pretty good group with a good rapport so most of our lunches are spent laughing hysterically at something someone said.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Two reasons that I can think of — first, that she’s not as close with or as comfortable with her coworkers as you are with yours, and second, that regardless of that, she’s someone who recharges by being by herself, in her own head. To a lot of people who recharge that way, being with all but your most intimate circle feels like being “on” and can be draining. (And sometimes even with the intimate circle.) Doesn’t mean you don’t really like them or enjoy spending time with them; it’s just a matter of recharging your energy and feeling re-centered.

            (This is the classic introvert/extrovert difference, which isn’t about being social or shy, but rather about what drains you and what recharges you.)

            1. Felicia

              Yes, exactly what you said! All of it. I like my coworkers well enough, but we’re not friends. And even with people who are my friends, I enjoy hanging out with them so much, but I recharge and relax by myself. If I’m out with friends I can come home and think of how much fun I had, but I’ll still be exhausted. So if I’m socializing with people on my lunch break , it’s not really a break for me, because it’s what drains me rather than recharges me. Not that i’ll never do it, because I do sometimes but I’ll never find it relaxing. And no, we don’t talk about work things at all. We talk about fun bullshit, some of which I even enjoy. But I feel “on” regardless of what we’re talking about, because I get energy from being alone, and by the time it’s lunch time i’ve already spent 3-4 hours interacting with others and am tired.

          2. A Bug!

            It’s easy to be dismissive of something like this if you haven’t experienced it yourself, but it’s absolutely real. As AAM says, it’s the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. It’s nothing to do with being standoffish or shy.

            It helps to have coworkers that you like and with whom you can be yourself, but that’s not always enough. And if you respect your coworkers professionally but don’t feel a connection with them personally, then socializing with them can be even more emotionally-draining than working with them, and to add insult to injury, you’re having to pay for this privilege.

            1. Stephanie

              And if you respect your coworkers professionally but don’t feel a connection with them personally, then socializing with them can be even more emotionally-draining than working with them, and to add insult to injury, you’re having to pay for this privilege.

              Dear God, yes. My last two jobs I had friendly coworkers who I didn’t click with at all on a personal level. The rare times we did do lunch, we ended up talking about mundane things like the Metro or the weather. A straight hour of small talk is painful.

          3. Kit M.

            Your “off” might involve cheerful banter, but some people’s “off” is monosyllabic; completely silent; or doesn’t require eye-contact or following conversation.

            1. Felicia

              My “off” is completely silent and alone. Anything other than that is “on”. It has nothign to do with teh topics of conversation. If I were friends with my coworkers it wouldn’t be as bad, but it would still be draining. I’m not shy, and no one would guess I’m an introvert by the way I interact with them, it’s just that I’m much more relaxed alone with a book, and I need a break after heavy socializing.

          4. Scott M

            For me, being “on” means keeping to safe topics. I’m a liberal atheist with no interest in sports. I work in an office with very nice people who are very religious, very conservative, and very sports oriented. It’s exhausting and painful to bite my tounge for an hour.

      2. Dan

        At my previous job, my coworkers and I left the building for lunch. We certainly weren’t on — we had many NSFW conversations.

        1. Jen S. 2.0

          But I think what people above mean by “on” isn’t being professional and watching their step.

          By “on,” they mean having to put energy into interactions with other people.

          There are a lot of people for whom having a conversation of any kind with coworkers — no matter how NSFW or unprofessional — is a lot of effort, and they need to conserve that energy for work-related interactions while at work. Those are the people who don’t care what the lunch conversation is about; they don’t have the energy for it. “On” has nothing to do with working; it has to do with interacting with others. Your NSFW lunch conversations still involve interacting, right? Even though it’s fun and relaxing for you? It’s not fun or relaxing for them.

          I don’t have that issue, as I’m not very introverted and dealing with people doesn’t tire me, but I try to understand that others have different experiences.

    2. AnonEMoose

      Wow – contemptuous of those who are not like you, much? As you said, we spend half our waking hours with coworkers, so I don’t see why they deserve more. And I can chitchat for a few minutes with coworkers at the coffee machine, water cooler, or when I need to stop by their desks to ask a question, or they stop by mine for same. If that’s not enough socializing for them, then I don’t think I’m the one with the problem.

      No, if I were the OP, it wouldn’t “kill” me to have lunch with them once in awhile. But while it’s recharging for some, for me it’s an additional drain. Which has nothing to do with liking or not liking my coworkers; it’s just how I’m “wired.” Socializing can be fun, but it’s tiring. So I definitely wouldn’t be interested in the every day thing. Every other week would probably be about the maximum for me.

      I don’t think it’s fair that those of us who would prefer to spend our lunch time (which is, after all, OUR time) doing something alone, are perceived as weird or standoffish or as “not team players” (a phrase that makes we want to smack whoever says it…preferably with something heavy).

      But I also know that life is not fair. So I agree that the OP should figure out if she can handle doing the lunches once in awhile, just so she can be seen as “playing nice” (which I think is every bit as kindergarten-ish as the phrase implies, but it’s still the unfortunate reality).

      1. Felicia

        It’s definitely not fair and you shouldn’t have to do anything you don’t want to do during your lunch . It’s a break after all! I’m never going to want to socialize with my coworkers at lunch, and not because i’m stand offish or shy, but because it’s draining, and I’ve already spent a few hours interacting with others so I want my break to recharge. Sometimes I still do lunch with coworkers because I know it looks bad if I never do, and ya that’s not fair but it’s what I’ve got to do.

      2. BCW

        I’m not trying to be mean about it or saying she is a bad person. However if I was trying to be polite and not constantly exclude someone, and every time I invited them to lunch with good intentions, they seem annoyed and look for excuses not to go, thats how I would feel. Is it fair? Maybe not. But as I mentioned earlier, if these people never invited to OP, it could look like they are excluding her as well. Thats why I just think the OP should suck it up and go once in a while. Who knows, maybe she actually won’t be miserable and will enjoy getting to talk to these people. Or maybe she will hate it and it will be just another thing that she does even though she doesn’t want to.

        1. Jamie

          I get this. I mean, sure, it’s not fun for everyone. I mean some days my job is really people intensive and I’m more drained than others…but it’s my job and sometimes that’s the deal.

          I’d prefer to stay home and be continually on my own mental charger…but I’ve yet to find someone willing to pay me for that.

          One benefit of these things is often making contacts with others in different parts of the organization you might not come into contact with while working very often.

          If BCW asks me to lunch because I’m new and also going is that guy from marketing…it can be handy to have met and had some small talk with marketing guy before I need his buy in on a project. Just saying I know it can feel like an imposition to some people, but it can be a pretty easy way to raise visibility and help your coworkers see you as a person with a name and a face and not just that X from department Y.

        2. Jessa

          If you keep asking someone who keeps politely saying no, why is it on them? Stop asking. Why is that so hard. You made an effort, they didn’t want to. You’ve done your look towards friendly/etiquette/whatever. They’re not obligated to say yes and it doesn’t mean they don’t like you, they just don’t want to go. You’re no longer trying to be inclusive, you’re being pushy. You’ve decided that they need to go with you when they don’t want to.

          And not just because they’re introverted, maybe they can’t afford to go out, maybe they don’t like/can’t eat the food you favour when you go. Maybe like someone else said they don’t like your politics or something that they know you’re going to talk about and they don’t want to.

          But it’s NOT being inclusive to keep asking and asking. Someone should be able to say no thank you without amplification. Miss Manners just did a column about that I think (or maybe it was one of the other Agony Aunts,) but the point was “no thank you,” to an invitation, to an offer of food, drink, whatever, used to be completely sufficient. Without explanation, as a polite response.

          1. Jamie

            I think asking 3 times over as many months is more than enough. Any more than that it’s pushy (for me) and after someone turns you down 3 times if they want to get together after that it’s on them.

            I’m only saying 3 to be generous – 2 is more than enough, actually. Or even once and then – “okay well if you ever want to grab lunch let me know.”

            If it were me that’s what I’d say though. “Thanks so much for asking me, I actually do X on lunch, but if that ever changes and I have a free lunch I’ll let you know! Have a good time.”

        3. Windchime

          I think if I kept inviting someone to lunch and she kept saying no, then I would get the hint and quit inviting. There is a point where “inviting” becomes “badgering”.

          Posts like this make me glad I work in IT. I have lunch with various friends maybe 4-5 times a month. The rest of the time, I eat at my desk and read AAM or other professional blogs. Nobody gets offended or upset if I decline lunch, because most of us are introverts and like some re-charge time during the day.

    3. ven

      For some of us, it is traumatic to engage with coworkers. Supervisors & colleagues can be offensive, prying, insulting, demeaning, condescending & rude. It’s a pain to feel obligated to eat lunch with jerks and creeps, and give up the 1 small break available in a long tedious tiring work day.

    4. Truth

      People/co-workers who are offended or turn up a brow because a person wants to spend their only 1 hour out of the work day for a break, these people are very insecure and pathetic. Why should you care how a person spends their lunch break? So what, they don’t want to eat lunch with you and the gang. What is this, elementary school? Why make simple small talk so that your co-workers can get into your life. Take that 1hour lunch if you have better things to do such as make calls, run errands, take a walk, read or just be in peace for that 1 hour before they are on the clock again. The workplace is the workplace. You don’t have to be liked, you are there to make that money and go home to your private personal life.

      I never hang out with co-workers, I spend my 1 hour lunch how I please, and I never discuss my personal life with anyone at work. Note the insecure, nosy and catty people on this board, they are the ones in everyone’s business, including that 1 hour lunch break that everyone deserves to spend however they want.

  10. Felicia

    I prefer alone time at lunch – where I used to work we’d get an hour, and I’d like to eat at my desk and then go read for a while in the library next door. It’s not really a break for me if I have to talk to people. Even if I like the people, socializing in an energy zapping idea, and reading alone is how I recharge. I also liked to take the occasional walk. Both for exercise and to be alone with my thoughts. I had coworkers who wanted to have lunch together every day, because everyone there had lunch in groups because they liked it. Usually I’d say “I really like to take a walk/read during my lunch, but thanks so much for asking!” I’d be sure to be reasonably social with them the rest of the time while still getting our work done , since we worked in like a “pod” of 4 people. And then 2-3 times a month I’d say yes to lunch with them, just so I could have a good relationship with them . If I did it every day I’d burn out fast, because that’ d be like a day with no break at all for me

    1. Stanley

      You don’t say this, so it’s not aimed at you. But, I’m always annoyed by people who eat at their desk and then take a full hour break to do other things. I really don’t think most people are productive during the time they are eating at their desk. A previous coworker of mine used to spend 30 minutes eating, not answering the phone or doing any real work, then taking a hour to nap in his car. He never understood that he was taking an hour and a half for lunch since being at his desk counted as being at work to him.

      1. Jamie

        In that instance, yeah, he’s not really working when he’s eating.

        But I can certainly run reports, receive POs, log tickets, install software, etc, while eating a burger. If you’re unavailable that’s a different story, though.

        But then I just eat at my desk and get back to work, I don’t eat at my desk and then take a full lunch. It really depends – but I don’t think sipping on soup or bites of a salad or whatever make you less productive.

      2. Felicia

        Oh I totally agree! I count my break from the time I start eating. I’d usually eat a sandwich for 10 minutes and then go read for 50 minutes.

      3. Scott M

        I eat at my desk and then take an hour out side the office. But I make sure I answer emails and do actual work while I’m scarfing down my microwave dinner.

      4. Jessa

        Yes, but that’s a separate thing, eating without working then taking “lunch” is something that needs to be addressed by their supervisor. And not in a “nobody can ever eat at their desks now because wassisname is taking advantage,” that’s not fair to the other employees and I hate it with a passion. Seriously hate when some perk is completely taken away because the management are too chicken to deal with the ONE employee who is abusing something.

        1. Anon for this

          When I was a nurse working night shift, our “breaks” were paid time, so we had to be “on” during them. Invariably, as soon as I had begun to eat my meal, a patient would want a bedpan (or worse) for a “big job”. Talk about an affront to human dignity. We did try to cover for each other, at least to quickly eat something undisturbed but it wasn’t always possible. I’ll never do that kind of work again.

  11. MissDisplaced

    I understand your reservations, but I really think it’s in your best interest here to compromise and meet in the middle as they are obviously making it a point to include you.

    Why not try every (or every other) Friday and making it a standing lunch date?

  12. Anon

    Ugh I have gotten harassed about this sooo much. I actually spend lunch on skype with my boyfriend and/or our friends. As we’re really big introverts, it’s more stressful to spend lunch with co-workers. Being able to be ourselves for an hour helps so much. We usually just talk about tech news or get a bit of gaming in. We’ve been doing this for years and it’s really helps us feel refreshed for work.

    The problem is I can’t exactly say, “I spend lunch on skype with my boyfriend.” Even saying I’m on skype with friends doesn’t help because a lot of people (okay, I hate to be this way but particularly older co-workers) judge me for it.

    So when people try to get me to go to lunch, I have a hard time explaining why I don’t want to go. I’ve even had a few who know I get on Skype, make fun of me saying I must be “oooo sexting.” All this because some people can’t possibly understand that I have a routine that makes me feel comfortable and is different from theirs.

    So yea, I have my own reason for not going to lunch but it’s the same thing. I suck it up and go about once or twice a month but I always, always, always, hate it.

    1. Jamie

      I doubt it has anything to do with the medium, but yes, people can look askance at those who need to connect with an SO or others as part of their work day routine.

      I don’t care what people do on lunch, but I can’t imagine having to spend a half hour to an hour every day talking to my husband just to chat. I know it’s not fair but a lot of times we judge others by our own responses. The only time I’d need that is if I were feeling really insecure and needed support…so I consciously remind myself it’s not the same for everyone and try not to judge. But there are plenty of people who would find that oddly dependent.

      1. Judy

        I had a co-worker raise an eyebrow when I said I try to call home every day when I’m on a business trip. And I have kids, I generally didn’t always do that when it was just me and hubby. But with the kids, I always call daily at a time I expect them to be available. (When in Europe, I call right after lunch, which is while they’re getting ready in the morning, if time zones are right where I can contact from my hotel room, I usually skype, but firewalls are pretty heavy in my company.)

        1. Jamie

          This is what I mean – we tend to judge others by what is normal to us – as unfair as it may be sometimes.

          Personally, I think it would be weird to not call home at least once a day on a business trip…because I would do it and in most of our heads we’re always the standard bearers of normal unless we consciously choose to remember we aren’t. :)

          Seriously I can’t imagine not calling home once a day if I were on a trip, the same way I can’t imagine calling my spouse or kids and talking to them on lunch every day just to chat.

          It’s funny because I know someone who calls their wife and spends every lunch on the phone and I thought that was so sweet and wondered aloud why my husband would never do that and my work friend asked how many times he could call me just to chat until I blocked him number or answering the phone with “WHAT??” LOL. We’re not all cut out to be that close.

          1. Anon

            “The only time I’d need that is if I were feeling really insecure and needed support.”

            You know to be 100% honest I think that’s part of why we talk every day. And really… I don’t feel bad about it because right now that’s what works for us. I just want people to try not to judge. Two things I didn’t mention:

            – It’s a long distance relationship that’s been going strong for 3 years. We see each other for a couple weeks about every 3 months (thank heavens we’re finally moving closer together soon.) I feel like with the limited physical contact, it takes a lot more time for us to get as much out of being together (if that makes any sense at all.) It’s easy to hold someone’s hand and just “be” but not so much on skype.

            -We both suffer from anxiety/depression. I was on anxiety medication to be able to function but since he’s come in to my life I’ve been able to stay off the stuff. I’m sure using each other as anxiety medication isn’t the healthiest thing… but it sure beats mood swings from forgetting to take pills.

      2. Jen in RO

        I can’t imagine *not* chatting to my boyfriend on Gtalk all day – I feel very disconnected when one of us is away for some reason. Actually, I can’t imagine not chatting online at all during the day… and unless I was truly desperate, I would turn down a job if it involved Internet restrictions.

        On the other hand, I would find it weird if someone spent the same amount of time on the phone with an SO… maybe it’s because I ‘grew up’ online.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          See, that would totally concern me if I were your manager! I suppose it might depend on what type of work you do (and what your workload is), but I generally assume you can’t be fully focused (and thus fully productive) if you have a chat always going on in the background. I would tell you to cut that out!

          1. Stephanie

            Yeah, I used to lie and tell myself hat I could be fully focused and on Gchat all day. And then I noticed I was way more productive when I kept my chat status as invisible.

            This was also when realized I had incredibly boring jobs (Gchat was great at breaking up the tedium).

        2. EM

          How are you not distracted from your work if you are IMing with your SO all day? See, I can’t even wrap my head around that. I could be wrong, but your sentence “I can’t imagine not chatting online at all during the day” makes it also seem like you are chatting with various friends, etc.

          We had IM at one of my previous jobs, but it was for INTERNAL use — to quickly ask a co-worker a question or to check if they were available for a more in-depth chat or problem. I don’t think it would have been seen as kosher if someone was using that IM to constantly chat with their SO/family member/random friends in a different office.

          1. Jen in RO

            Yes, I also chat with friends. I’ve always wondered how other people can just be in work-mode all day! I work in bursts and I need the distractions, my brain would be fried if I worked non stop 8 hours a day. (I’ve done it, and by 5 pm I was fairly incoherent.)

            As for my managers, they didn’t care as long as the work was done before the deadline… and it always was, even if it sometimes meant I had to stay late. I’d rather spend 9 hours at work and be able to chat/surf than spend 8 hours cut off from the world.

            Maybe it’s because I’m in software development of maybe it’s because I’m on a different continent, but my experience sounds so different from everyone else’s, it’s quite scary!

            1. Stephanie

              I’m with you. My past two jobs, I never had meetings and could very easily spend an entire workday not talking to anyone (and did fairly regularly). My work was all at the individual contributor level and required almost no teamwork. My boss was also in a different office. Gchat was a way to talk to someone else during the day.

              Bosses didn’t care as much as long as you were getting your stuff in on time and done well. I did have to be honest with myself that I wasn’t doing my best and focused work when I had gchat dinging all the time.

              I did have a coworker complain once that my typing was too loud (yeah, my office was that quiet). I used to play the cello and that gave me really strong (and nimble) fingers. That caused me to cut back on the Gchatting as well.

              1. Jamie

                I think it’s great you noticed the hit on your productivity yourself and addressed it. For me I think it depends on what I’m doing. I’m on here more when I’m setting up machines, or like today, cloning drives and migrating archives where I need to attend to things and swap stuff out, but I don’t have to sit and stare at a status bar as it loads.

                But work where I need critical thinking? Any type of chat would drive me crazy – because if I’m developing a report and my code isn’t running correctly, or I’m testing formulas, the worst thing for my relationship would be my husband flashing in a chat box wanting to hang out.

                I get the concept of stuff in on time and done well – but if one can do that and still have time to spend all day chatting off and on with people in their personal lives maybe the deadlines and goals are too lax.

                If I could do my job in 30 hours a week, I wouldn’t expect to skate for 10. I’d assume the expectations would be re calibrated.

                I do get the need for little mental breaks, totally, and yes – I’m on here more than I’d like when I’ve worked excessively up to a point where I’m seeing burnout on the horizon – because you can pop in and read a post or two – comment as much or as little as you want but there’s no expectation to be available all day or have someone in a chat box waiting on a reply. Honestly, the week I didn’t put in a solid 45-50 hours of work (not just butt in seat – but actual productive work) I would only read and comment from home.

                Besides, when I’m at work and if I have the need for small talk or something funny occurs to me it’s almost always about work – and co-workers appreciate that a lot more than people in my personal life who wouldn’t get why something was so funny.

                I guess what I’m saying is I see how it’s not detrimental for some jobs where the hours and position are such that work and personal time bleed into each other as a rule (as long as obligations are being met)…but I think it would be a serious issue in most jobs.

                I just don’t think it can be a one way thing. If work doesn’t bleed into your personal life and you’re not on call 24/7 and not dealing with stuff on your off hours then time in the office should be focused on work with the exception of personal emergencies – because those people have blocked off free time which is their own. But if you regularly put in long hours and are still available on your off time to where you can’t turn your phone off …then the boundaries are blurrier and something one needs to work out with their boss.

                1. Jen in RO

                  Different strokes and all that… Luckily for me, the other person I talk to all day is a former coworker in the same job… I’m the only one in my position in my company, so no current coworker could understand my daily frustrations, whereas this friend faces the same things.

                  To me IM is not so demanding. Everyone I talk to is at work and might disappear mid-chat because of an urgent task, so I don’t feel guilty when I do it too. Luckily for me, my brain tends to ‘background process’ – I can read some specs, go out for a cig, and when I’m back Ms. Brain already has a document outline ready. Of course, this kind of thing absolutely does not work in all jobs, or even most jobs.

                2. Cat

                  (I might be agreeing with you here, Jamie, I’m not sure – this just seemed like a logical place to put this comment.) My experience is that this is highly variable. I am someone who regularly has gchat up at work. If I’m doing something that is by its nature “multitasky” – making phone calls; answering short e-mails; organizing something – I don’t. But if I’m drafting something long that requires serious mental effort and organization? Absolutely. Gchat. Almost always. I’m also listening to music almost always. Apparently the way I write things is to do it in rapid fire bursts followed by microbreaks (e.g., a gchat window) while I mentally organize my thoughts. I’ve tried without the distractions – it takes me just as long to write whatever it is and it usually ends up more lackluster. So I stick with my process and don’t feel bad about it in the slightest.

                  I work in a writing intensive job in a demanding environment and the stuff I produce this way is well received; I’m praised much more for the briefs and pleadings I write using this method than stuff I don’t. Granted, I have no way of proving this over the Internet, but I’m still putting it out there just to suggest that if someone is doing good work, there’s not necessarily a need to second guess or micromanage their process!

                3. Cat

                  (SA. I guess I should note I’m definitely in one of those jobs where you’re not just putting in 9-5 and going home.)

            2. Jubilance

              I’ve done this in my previous roles, when I would have a lot of downtime. Working in the lab I was bound by the time it took to complete a run for a lot of my equipment, and even after catching up on all the little things I’d find myself with a lot of downtime.

        3. Katniss

          I totally get this. I’m forever chatting online with whoever I’m dating. I also chat frequently with my best friend, and right now he’s moving so the whole online world feels like a vast, empty void right now!

          1. Katniss

            Though I will note that I don’t tend to chat much at work. A quick note here and there is usually about it unless the day is really slow for some reason.

    2. EM

      Question because I am nosy & fascinated by this — on your lunch hour, are you Skyping with the boyfriend/friends at your desk? Or are you taking a laptop/iPad/etc out of the building and going to a coffee shop or something to Skype?

      I just can’t imagine Skyping with anyone personal from my desk at work! That sounds horrific to me and if I happened to glance over at a neighbor and saw they were Skyping with someone in a non-professional capacity, I think I would be equally horrified!

      1. Anon

        No, I almost never skype at my desk. I usually try and find an empty conference room or vacant office. Worst resort is skyping in the lunch room but then we don’t really talk because it’s too loud.

        Coffee shops are way too loud for skyping.

  13. Elle D

    Agreed with everyone who says to have lunch with your co-workers every now and then. It doesn’t need to be daily, but would once a month really hurt? I generally prefer to use my lunch to decompress alone as well, but every now and then I’ll join my co-workers and it usually turns out to be a nice time!

    You note that you don’t like wasting the money or calories – it sounds like you typically bring your lunch from home? If so, do you mention that? I think rather than just saying no or making an excuse about an errand or going for a stroll, it would be worth bringing this up. I’d find “I brought lunch from home, thanks for asking” hard to argue with if I were the co-worker extending the invite. You can even make a blanket excuse next time someone asks you – something like “I’m on a budget (and/or) follow a specific diet, so I really prefer to eat a packed lunch every day instead of going out.” Maybe you can agree to eat in the break room or conference room with a persistent co-worker every now and then so you’re accepting the social invitation without spending additional money or eating something unhealthy.

    1. Mephyle

      Glad you brought this up – the discussion up to this point hasn’t dealt with the other aspect – having to spend money you don’t want to budget for food you don’t want to eat. These sound like good strategies.

      1. the_scientist

        Yes- these are totally valid reasons and they are difficult excuses to argue with. I am a prolific packer of lunches when many of my co-workers like to buy lunch (there is a plethora of delicious and reasonably priced food options surrounding our office) but I have similar qualms to the OP. One, because I’m admittedly vain as hell, I’m trying to avoid sedentary desk job-associated weight gain, and two, my student loans are coming due next month! I pay a lot in rent and am trying to simultaneously maximize saving and aggressively pay off my loans. What little discretionary income I have goes to my hobbies, and I consider a $10 lunch out a rare treat.

  14. thenoiseinspace

    Another option would be a bit more preventative (so wouldn’t help if they outright ask you, but still) : around the office, start saying things like “Thank goodness for lunch hour, otherwise I’d never get anything done/be really behind on X/ etc.” If people hear you, then they’ll realize that you want to spend your time your way, and might stop asking altogether. Just a thought.

    1. A Bug!

      I’d be very careful with hint-dropping, even if it’s true that you tend to work through your lunch break. There are a lot of ways to interpret that sort of hint and most of them will reflect poorly on you in the workplace.

      I say this as an incredibly non-confrontational person. If there’s a way to avoid an awkward conversation, you better believe I’ve considered it. But over time I am learning more and more that the indirect route rarely avoids awkwardness. Rather, it trades the awkwardness in the short term for more awkwardness later, and increased stress in the meantime.

      1. TL

        +1000 for your second paragraph.

        I have had several people end up in truly awkward or awful situations because they didn’t want to say something directly and only spoke up after they’d hit the end of their rope.

        And I’m not a person who gets angry at direct requests – these people had all seen other friends tell me things like “that’s super annoying, quit.” or “wow, you’re being really jerk-ish today.” and seen me immediately apologize and either stop or leave until I was in a better mood.

        1. Jamie

          I love people like you.

          One of my best work friends is pen clicker and she isn’t offended by the direct approach.

          So she clicks, I ask if I need to confiscate her pen until she leaves my office – she laughs at how weird I am and stops clicking.

          1. TL

            :) That sounds like something people would say to me.

            It boggles my mind that people think that asking directly, with a firm but polite or humorous tone, is going to be worse that blowing up and being offensively rude or yelling at them in a few months, which is what nearly inevitably happens. (I mean, the first time it happens, it’s forgivable, but after that you have to start to notice a pattern, as A Bug! pointed out.)

            I, and most people, do not respond nearly as well to yelling or insults as to direct requests.

          2. Windchime

            I actually snatched a pen from the hand of a co-worker and taped the clicky thing with tape once. He was a guy with a great sense of humor and he thought it was funny. And he stopped with the incessant pen-clicking. (He called me “Buddy Rich” once when I was drumming my fingers while thinking, so it went both ways.)

    2. SevenSixOne

      You may want to reconsider the message this sends– I’ve had a few colleagues who had a reputation for Always Working Through Lunch, and I never ever thought “she’s so dedicated and hard-working!” or “she really values her alone time!” or really anything positive, especially since she’s not usually any more productive/efficient/whatever than colleagues who do take breaks.

      Instead, I thought something like “working without a break– is she crazy?” or “she has no idea how to manage her time!”

      1. Stephanie

        Eh, depends on the company. OldJob was deadline-heavy and a billable hours environment, so working lunches were the norm. OldBoss used to walk around and tell us “Hey guys, go take lunch.” He in particular took his lunch hour daily, but he was the exception at our office.

      2. Jamie

        This totally depends on the culture. If the culture is such that a significant percentage of people work through lunch it’s not seen as a negative thing.

      3. Truth

        I’ll go with she’s crazy. Everyone needs that down time for a moment per day. I say per day that down time is needed for the next round of workload. To be a workaholic is a real.

  15. The Editor

    I’m the same way. I’m very money conscious and use my lunch to recharge, take a walk, and talk to my wife on the phone. I’m okay with a lunch ever now and then (read once a month or so), but I don’t want to do lunch daily.

    My standard has been to explain what I do with lunch and why that matters to me. I also make sure that people who ask know that I’m typically not open to spontaneous lunches (it helps that I bring lunch from home and don’t want it to spoil) and to make sure to schedule something in advance.

    The last thing I do is make sure that I am active socially in other ways with my coworkers. It balances out the lack of lunches with good opportunities to socialize and be part of the team.

  16. KJR

    Everyone knows I have a standing date with the treadmill at lunch time. Actually, it would be nice to be asked to go out every so often so I could skip a workout! :) But I do really value that alone time.

  17. smallbutmighty

    I’m on a budget and do PB&J for lunch most days. I know some people consider it taboo to talk about money ever at all, but I’ve taken to just saying to people, “No thanks, I’ve already made plans” and, if they press me on it, “I’m trying to stick to my budget by eating what I’ve brought from home.” Part of my budget process includes actually leaving my debit card at home, so I literally do not have the option to spend money on my lunch. I’m saving for a trip to Shanghai in the fall, and it’s more important to me than eating something interesting for lunch.

    1. Anonymous

      My office is really into group lunches, and I was struggling to pay for going out every day. Instead of saying “no” (and losing out on the informal networking), I set up days where we would plan to bring lunches in. Knowing the days ahead of time made it easy for others who wanted to take part to join in, and it wasn’t awkward at all to explain that I was trying to save money. It turned out there were a few other people who felt the same way about all of the eating out.

      1. Jessa

        There have been studies about group think. Sometimes when one person speaks up they realise that everyone else was just saying yes because they thought the whole group wanted to.

  18. AB Normal

    I’m one of the people who loves to use lunch time to decompress and read a book. However, I entirely agree with AAM that doing so all the time has consequences for one’s career, so I make a point of going out once a month or every 2 months with a group of coworkers (more if two different groups invite me during the same month).

    I find it’s a small sacrifice for the huge opportunities you get to interact with colleagues (yes, we see each other for 8 hours a day, but most of the time each person is busy with their own projects, so we don’t even get to know who’s working on what). Also, I’ve learned about promotion opportunities this way, as well as established long-term relationships with people I can now ask for a reference any time.

    If you are OK with missing all the opportunities that come with developing relationships with peers and superiors over lunch, then I think it’s just fine to provide an excuse like the ones suggested here — just don’t expect to be treated the same way as the people who do accept these types of invitation on a regular basis.

  19. Dan

    Since most people are emphasizing the social aspects with peers, I’ll talk about the boss aspect of it.

    I’m used to working in highly matrixed organizations, which frequently means that I rarely see my official manager. And when I do, it’s not going to be for an out of cycle promotion or raise.

    I used to find meeting requests from my boss to be stressful and tense, because I was never sure what they were going to be about, or what I did to piss somebody off.

    Now, I frequently worked with one of her peers, and when he would send me a “got a minute” email, it was always no big deal. And if I did screw up, I could take that criticism just fine.

    So, if lunch is an opportunity to have less stressful interactions with your superiors, then do it every once in awhile.

    1. AVP

      Can someone explain what it means to be highly matrixed? It’s been used a few times here and it seems to be one of those corporate phrases that Google isn’t very good at explaining.

      1. Scott M

        I always took it to mean that job responsibilities were very specific and separated. You did your specific task and passed it off to another team without much interaction.

      2. Kelly L.

        +1

        I’ve never heard it before in my life in this kind of context, and then twice in the last two days on this site! :D

      3. Dan

        TBH, I’m not entirely sure either, but here’s the best answer that I can give:

        In a highly matrixed organization, your org chart home is not your day-to-day home. In my previous role, I saw my manager about three times a year. Once for the mid term review, once for the real annual review, and once when I would get into trouble for something. She had a peer who I did technical work for, and I saw him three times per week.

        In my current role, I’m officially in the “metrics” group. But my day to day tasking has nothing to do with metrics. And in six months, I could very well be off finding work in simulation.

      4. Alex

        If I remember right, it’s a type of management/organizational structure – instead of the traditional, top-down, pyramid org chart shape, it’s more of a grid shape where you may report to several different people and who you report to can shift depending on the current type of work you’re involved with.

      5. Judy

        I’m in a highly matrixed organization. We have functional managers, so in our teapot company there might be a lid manager, a materials manager, a spout and pouring manager. Then there are the project managers, one for each product line.

        So the org chart looks like a matrix. Ours has the functional managers across the top, and the project managers along the side. So the value line teapots might have one lid engineer, and one materials engineer, and two spout and pouring engineers. The super-duper line might have 3 of each.

        From day to day, our activities are directed by our project manager. But our functional managers do our evaluations and decide which projects each person is on.

        Our company swings between this and having everyone working for the project managers, and having a “weak” link between the technologies. Either way, you have a “solid line” boss and a “dotted line” boss.

  20. Jamie

    When it comes to the boss I wouldn’t say no, but bosses should understand this mindset and not ask too often.

    I’m not a huge fan of lunching with co-workers except on rare occasion when we’re going out because the kitchen is always so crowded and I can’t stand lots of people in a small space…and then they’re eating…so…no. But I did it when I was new and I’d do it now if there were fall out from not doing it.

    There is a group of about 10 people who eat in the kitchen each day – the rest of us hole up at our desks. But there are plenty of opportunities to say hey and make small talk throughout the day waiting for meeting to start, grabbing coffee or a soda, or hanging out for a little bit at the end of the day before heading out into the cold. If you have good relationships with your co-workers the lunch thing matters less than if you don’t.

    It sucks that this is most important when people are new, and that was the time I most desperately needed the alone time to recharge. I remember the first day at a crappy promotion and my boss said he was taking me to lunch like it was some huge treat. I had been looking forward to that hour to sit in my car and decompress all morning and I was devastated …because he was a very emotionally exhausting person to deal with.

    Two of my best office buddies are kitchen eaters – once you develop real relationships this stuff tends to matter less or not at all.

    1. AB Normal

      ” Two of my best office buddies are kitchen eaters – once you develop real relationships this stuff tends to matter less or not at all.”

      Jamie, in my case, the “effort to go out for lunch with colleagues” is mostly for people I hardly see, not best office buddies, whom I can see over a coffee break. It’s possible that in companies with low turnover it’s not necessary, but in larger companies where you always have people coming and going, if you are not careful, soon you may become the person who doesn’t know anyone in other departments (because outside of lunch time, you don’t get a chance to meet them).

  21. Meredith

    My small academic department has a group of people that regularly meets up for lunch around noon in our common area. Some people come, some people don’t – but I find it to be a valuable networking tool for me, and a kind of equalizing experience. The faculty and the staff all eat together at the same table, and sometimes good ideas are generated (or at least the discussion is interesting!). I definitely don’t feel up to it all the time (and many people don’t join us or only go occasionally), but it’s helped build good working relationships in the department. On days when I don’t feel like eating with the group, I take my lunch elsewhere or run errands. Nobody’s offended – just explain in a friendly way that you often can’t make it to a group lunch – just like Allison advises!

  22. Lynn Whitehat

    Can you do both or split the difference somehow? I am totally with you on not wanting the workday to be work, lunch with work people, work every single day. (I have small children, so having time in the middle of the day where I’m not accountable to anyone and I can do what I want is special and magical.) But I also understand that it matters a lot to build these relationships.

    I have a job that is fairly flexible about what hours people work as long as the work gets done (software developer). If you have a job where it’s a big deal to only take a lunch hour, this may not work exactly the same way for you, but I have compromised in the following ways:

    1. Say yes to lunches once a week or so
    2. If there are people visiting from out of town or something, go out to lunch with co-workers more, but also take my own little break during the day sometime
    3. Talk with co-workers about what I am doing during lunch on days when I don’t have lunch with them. It helps them feel like I am choosing to do something specific, rather than “I need some time away from you jerks”. This works especially well if it is something your co-workers recognize as “really doing something”, like jiujitsu class. “Running errands” or something that seems like it could be done anytime doesn’t work quite as well, but still better than not saying anything, because that comes across more as “I have ‘getting the eff out of here’ scheduled from 12-1 every day until forever.”

    1. Prickly Pear

      I’m totally using “sorry, that’s my ‘getting the ‘eff’ out of here appointment”. That’s utter hilarity.

    2. Stephanie

      Yeah, “running errands” is like the work equivalent of “I’m washing my hair.”

      (Although has someone who has a ton of hair (the Gravatar is old), “washing my hair” is a legitimate reason why I’m staying in.)

      1. Lynn Whitehat

        For me, “running errands” is actually legitimate. If I don’t do them at lunch, I have to do them on Saturday dragging the kids around with me, which is 10x harder. But yeah, it does come off that way.

  23. mel

    I wouldn’t specifically say it’s your “one hour of the whole day free from work”, as that would open the conversation up to excuse busting such as “wow, you work 23 hours a day???”

    I’ve gotten the hang of scarfing down lunch in 15 minutes and then jumping back into work, I don’t know what I would do for an entire hour. Day-um. But I get you, I feel really self-conscious when I’m eating and really look forward to that privacy.

    1. Scott M

      If you are married with a family, house, and pet, then your lunch really could be your one free hour away from work (not counting commuting and sleeping)

  24. Fucshia

    You might need to work on your “no” in general too. I doubt very much that you are actually saying “no” and nothing else and that they then propose the alternate date. I expect you are saying “I can’t today” which is not the same thing to everyone. That can also mean, “I can’t today so ask me again tomorrow.”

  25. A Bug!

    I’m not sure if this question is relevant to the topic; if it’s not, I can save it for an open thread.

    If the boss invites an employee for lunch, who is expected to pay for the employee’s meal? Because of the power differential, my instinct is that the boss should cover the meal, and the employee should be mindful to stick to the more reasonably-priced items on the menu.

    But what’s the “real life” expectation?

      1. A Bug!

        Thanks to all of you for confirming this for me. Sometimes what seems obvious to me isn’t in line with what’s expected, so I appreciate knowing that’s not the case here.

    1. Stephanie

      That’s always been my expectation–the boss pays (since he invited you) and you order something reasonable. I usually offer to pay.

        1. Stephanie

          It was tempting.

          Back in college, I interviewed for a couple of entry-level roles at a very large computer company (you’ve probably bought their insanely expensive ink sometime in the last decade). This was when the company was doing better (back in 2007). You do an all-day interview with multiple team members and then the hiring manager wanted to take you out to dinner.

          So turns out the hiring manager used this interview dinner as an excuse to get a nice meal with his family on the company dime (it was at a nicer place in town). Dinner turned out to be me, the hiring manager, his wife, and infant daughter.

          I thought this was an anomaly. I interviewed for a different role. Same deal: all-day interview and dinner with the hiring manager afterwards. The hiring manager brought her husband to dinner.

          I also interned at this company and remember having a large going away lunch at the end of the summer. People I barely met were at my going-away lunch in order to get a free (nice) meal.

    2. some1

      I think the boss should pay, because of the power differential and that etiquette states the person who asks should pay, especially for invitations when the person being asked may feel (somewhat) obligated to accept. I’ve never been asked to go to lunch by a boss when my boss didn’t pick up the check.

    3. Jamie

      Boss or company pays – always. And yes, stick to something reasonable.

      It would never occur to me to even offer to pay if my boss invited me.

      1. Stephanie

        When I worked in the government, there were weird regulations about gifts flowing downward. IIRC, a supervisor couldn’t spend more than $10 or something on a subordinate. I think this is where I picked up offering to pay (or assuming I might have to pay my share of the meal).

    4. fposte

      Though there is the “Let’s grab lunch together” (and maybe even bring it back to the office) phraseology that’s signaling that we’re each paying for our own. I do that sometimes too.

      But a subordinate should never pay for the boss and shouldn’t be pulled into a lunch out of her regular price range without adequate forewarning.

    5. MaryMary

      The boss should pay. However, when I worked at an office with a company cafeteria and a boss and subordinate had lunch, each usually paid for themselves. A lot of people brought lunch or brought some of their lunch and bought some of their lunch, logistically it was easier for people to follow their usual routine payment-wise.

  26. Artemesia

    It is all in how you carry it off. Start off with errands that take you out of the office. Or have a book you have to get finished. Say it pleasantly “oh thanks, but I have to get this book finished before Friday’ (which will set you up on Monday.

    Then about once a month at least, gladly and happily and charmingly join in. Or if they are eating in the break room, ask to join in. And when you do so be engaged and pleasant.

    And be sure to be especially attentive to being friendly on arrival and in other situations where you interact, so that your desire to get things done (like have your own space) at lunch will not seem like general grumpiness and unfriendliness.

    I am totally sympathetic as lack of ‘me time’ makes me crazy. I was grateful that for most of my career I had my own office and thus could have that privacy and isolation I crave. But if you are in a cube farm then either find someplace else to go at lunch or have something that is clearly engaging you, but be very friendly when interacting at other times.

  27. Scott M

    I was just wondering… What exactly is the benefit of personal relationships with coworkers? Can someone give me some specifics? Maybe the idea is foreign to me because I tend to get along with everyone, even if it is in a superficial way. For me, connecting with a coworker on a personal level doesn’t make me work better with them. What am I missing?

    1. AVP

      Well, I think people covered it pretty well above, but having the type of relationships where you chat for a few minutes per day or have lunch once in a while are good ways to find out about things that can help you in your own work/career, which you might not hear about through your everyday work.

      Things like- wow, did you hear about the problems Jane is having with Client A? I heard Bob is up for a big national award, how great for them! You know, my good friend works for a different local company and he happened to mention that they’re looking for someone who does exactly what you do, but a step up, hmmm.

    2. Jamie

      It depends what you mean by personal. I don’t think it’s important to have true personal relationships with your coworkers where you discuss truly personal aspects of your lives. That’s a friendship – I have a couple at work but that’s just a coincidence – not needed to work well together.

      But pleasant and friendly relationships are a different story. Everyone should do their job properly regardless of how much you like your co-worker. The people I like don’t get different IT treatment based on my fondness for them.

      But if you’re pleasant and friendly it can make people want to go out of their way for you when needed. If you’re that nice guy named Scott who works in (whatever department you work in) and you say thanks when I help you out or we have a friendly “hey how are ya” kinda vibe if you need to kick around an idea or want some advice about something before going to your boss in my area of expertise it’s easier to drop in and ask to bend my ear.

      Or a little chit chat while brewing coffee can hip you to tid bits about other departments and projects you might not hear through official channels. And if you’re personable and not a pita maybe someone offers you a cool project – when they might not with an unknown commodity because they have to work so closely.

      If we’re co-workers we don’t need to connect on a personal level like sharing problems…but if we have a friendly rapport we might be more inclined to give each other a hand than if one of us never made eye contact and just came in and plowed through work.

      And a lot of big projects require buy in from various departments and if you have good working relationships people are more cooperative and less suspicious.

      1. Scott M

        I guess maybe my work environment is just different than most. I don’t get ‘offered’ projects because someone likes me. I get assigned projects because it’s my area of expertise and there isn’t anyone else in the department who can do them.

        Perhaps most people in my company are just more friendly than other companies. Its very rare that I hear of any kind of huge argument or interpersonal conflict. Everyone is very professional. So if you need to go ‘bend someones ear’, you don’t have to have built up any goodwill- you just go talk to them.

        I like to think that I’m perceived as a nice and helpful guy. But I almost never see coworkers outside the office, and tend to avoid most company functions (even those during office hours).

        1. Jamie

          You’re perceived as a nice helpful guy – that’s enough.

          I think when people talk about personal relationships they mean they know you well enough, at work, to make the judgement that you’re nice and helpful. Not that they need to know your politics, get together outside of work, or know how you feel about your parents.

    3. Anonymous

      Some coworkers have all the interesting gossip, some will cover for you if you screw something up, if its shift work then the coworkers that like you are more likely to want to switch shifts, etc.

    4. Jen in RO

      I do work better with people who are friendly… it’s pretty much that. We don’t need to be BFFs, but if I never get to form any kind of connection to Joe, I’d rather work on a project with Tim, whom I chat to every morning by the water cooler. My work-life is better when I have opportunities to socialize… despite the fact that I lean towards introverted. To be honest this letter and the comments are pretty depressing to me – no offense to anyone here, but I hope my future co-workers don’t need that much alone time.

      (That being said, I understand not wanting to have lunch with people you actively dislike. I ate alone for a year, before a few new people joined my team and I connected with them better. Spending time with judgey-other-coworkers was horrible.)

      1. Scott M

        But if you HAVE to work with Joe, and he is a polite and professional employee, that’s OK, right? He doesn’t have to be a chatty-cathy all the time?

        I’ve worked with people who are very curt and direct, and I’ve worked with people who are very friendly and chatty. To be honest, as long as they know their job, I don’t prefer one or the other. They are just different coworkers who require different methods of handling.

        1. Windchime

          That’s kind of how I see it, too. However, I also tend to connect with certain people at work and then they become friends. To me, a friend is someone that you spend time with, voluntarily, outside of work.

          But I definitely like and get along with most people at work. We are friendly and professional, but not necessarily “friends”. There are only a few people that I can think of being offended if I turned down a lunch invite, and their feelings about it don’t really matter to me. I would always be polite when declining, but I won’t be guilted into having lunch when I’ve got other things to do.

        2. Jen in RO

          Yeah, of course. Having to work with new people is just another opportunity to network internally.

          What I meant was that, for example, I had to ask someone to review some documents for me last week. I was told to talk to Mary or Steve, since they were both experts in that particular application. I chose to email May simply because I’ve never talked to Steve and I don’t even know what he looks like… I’m not friends with May, but at least we chatted a few times.

          Then again, it might have been a good thing for Steve! My job involves a lot of getting information out of busy people, and I have a feeling most of them are happy whwn I don’t bother them.

          I do try to be as helpful as possible (from work stuff to grabbing coffee for them), since in my experience I am more likely to get answers if people see me as ‘Jen in Doc who helped me with that translation’ rather than ‘one of those technical writers who keep asking questions’.

          1. Scott M

            I certainly understand that. We run so lean here though, that there is rarely more than one person doing the same job. So if you have to talk to someone about chocolate teapot quality control, that’s only going to be Joe. Maybe, on rare occasions, you have to talk to Sally if Joe is on vacation. But either way you don’t have the pick of who to talk to depending on who you know.

            So I guess that colors my perceptions a bit.

            1. Jen in RO

              Yeah, that’s understandable. I’ve mostly worked on projects where I could ask any of 4-5 people for information, so I could pick and choose :)

              1. Scott M

                Wow…I would love to be in that situation. When I have 4 or 5 people to ask, it’s because only one has the answer but nobody knows who it is!

          2. Jen in RO

            And another example, from the other point of view: many coworkers refused to use the search functionally in our help system and instead asked me to find stuff for them. My job description didn’t include teaching people what search terms to use, so I could have told them to leave me alone, but I was more likely to go out of my way for someone polite and friendly rather than for someone who treated me as their personal assistant.

        3. Cat

          I think your last sentence is actually the key here. In order to know what kind of person your co-worker is, and how it makes sense to interact with them, you have to have spent some time interacting with them. In some jobs, you’re doing that a lot naturally throughout the day and so you will learn your co-workers personalities by default. In other ones, however, you may be mostly doing your own thing until you hit a speed bump – or until it’s crunch time. That is the worst possible time to be trying to figure out whether Ann always talks like that or whether that tone of voice means she secretly wants to strangle you. Having friendly (not necessarily personal) conversations and interactions with co-workers before you hit that point can let you get to know them in a low stakes kind of way and ultimately pay off in terms of substantive work.

          1. Jen in RO

            To add to this: in my type of work, it’s very important to see how people prefer to be contacted. Some of them like emails, because they can prioritize better; some of them like talking face to face at their desks, because it’s faster; some like setting up meetings. Knowing a coworker a bit better meant that I could tailor my approach to their preferences and increase my chances of getting a speedy reply.

  28. KarenT

    The OP mentions not wanting to spend money or calories on lunches out. As a dieter on a budget, I totally get it. OP, if this is your true objection, can you suggest an alternate activity? Like grabbing a tea together, or a quick walk at lunch?

  29. Steph

    I’m sort of the opposite. I enjoy spending SOME lunch hours or whatever with co-workers – and kind of view the entire work day as being “work-time” regardless if I’m being paid or not for that “lunch hour.” However, in my company or group, it’s regular to work through most or part of lunch — and more common to meet for a coffee or breakfast in the AM.

    These informal settings are a key networking and relationship building opportunity — and whether that’s your personality or not, it’s reality that relationships are important in the office. I personally put happy hours/after work functions in a similar category, but YMMV. I also think that after-hours functions, although you’re not asking about that here, are easier to ‘get out of.’

    My suggestion to you, similar to AAM, to help you address that “relationship reality” and keep your budget, is to mentally pick a schedule that’s appropriate or comfortable for you to join your coworkers in some sort of activity during the work day. I personally would shoot for a couple of times a week – but my job function (project manager) is heavily dependent upon relationships. Your needs/schedule may be different. The key thing is the relationship aspect of it — once you have the great relationship, it’s easier to get things done professionally – and it’s also easier to “get out” of some of this stuff if it’s totally stressful to you.

    Example 1 – “I’d love to go out to lunch with you guys once in a while, but I’m saving for a TEAPOT/TRIP/IGUANA or trying to eat healthy, etc., and have to bring my lunch. Let me know when the lunch rotation goes to [Awesome Place A that is in your budget].”

    Example 2 – “How about going to a food court where I can bring my lunch or eat in the conference room after you pick up your lunch?”

    Example 3 – It’s 9:15 AM. “I’m about to make coffee/tea/slip Baileys in my coffee – anyone want to take a quick break with me so we can catch up?”

    Example 4- It’s 2:30 PM. “I need to stretch my legs. Want to go outside and enjoy the sun for a few minutes?”

    Example 5 – “Let’s try tomorrow/Tuesday. I am dying to get through this next chapter in XYZ book. I stayed up way too late last night reading it, and I can barely concentrate on anything else.”

    For your boss, I think that you have to say yes, or propose an alternative. Maybe it would be helpful to get something on a schedule so that you can prepare yourself for it mentally. Not sure if the “unscheduled” is what causes stress. Perhaps you could say something like, “I’m sticking to X diet or budget because of the Iguana that I want to purchase. Can we go somewhere I can bring my lunch or meet up in the conference room after you’ve grabbed your lunch?” Or suggest a monthly or quarterly touchbase with your boss when you hit up lunch.

    1. AVP

      Yes, I would like to join you on your Bailey’s coffee break, particularly with this day I’m having…!

  30. Elle

    Can some extroverts write in and complain about introverts for a change? I’m so sick of this “introverts good (and sensitive quiet geniuses) and extroverts bad” narrative that seems to seep into EVERY discussion on the internet nowadays. My experience is completely the opposite. When it comes to handling client relations, motivating staff, advocating for change in the workplace and getting things done, many extroverts are the ones to thank. Maybe they are all too busy getting on with their jobs to complain…

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I get sick of how much we talk about introverts here too sometimes (and I’m one myself), but I’m not seeing an “introverts good” narrative here … it’s just coming in up the context of people asking why it’s a burden to her to be “on” at lunch.

      1. Alex

        Also I think it is maybe easier for people in general to understand extrovert personalities, but introversion can be harder to understand because it’s so easily confused with shyness, moodiness, anti-social, etc. It makes introverts feel like they have to be defensive. Extroversion isn’t generally confused or associated with socially negative traits.

        1. Cat

          I’m an introvert, but I do actually see one particular confusion about extroverts in these discussions (generally, not so much this particular one), which is that there seems to be an assumption that extroverts are never anxious or uncomfortable in social situations. So for instance in this case, as AAM pointed out (which is perhaps why that misapprehension hasn’t shown up much in this post), one of the reasons you have to be careful about rejecting people’s lunch invites is that you have to be careful about making your co-workers think you personally dislike them. Extroverts can be as prone to worrying about that as introverts, but that’s often lost, I find.

          1. Rana

            Yeah, I think a lot of people confuse the energy aspect of intro/extroversion with the social aspects. I’m very social – I love people, I enjoy their company, I will talk people’s ears off if given the chance… and yet I find it very tiring and need many hours by myself to recharge. So I’m an introvert, but not the stereotype of an introvert.

            So I find it easy to imagine an extrovert who gets charged up by interacting with people – say, a sales person or someone else in a customer-facing service job – who at the same time isn’t all that interested in socializing with people he or she doesn’t happen to enjoy or need to interact with for work.

      2. BCW

        I see what Elle is saying. I think it often tends to say if you are an extrovert, you need to look at the other side of things and that you are being judgmental if you don’t. However, I feel like the same would be said to an introverted person. Its like its easy to say an extrovert is being pushy/loud/insensitive, but you rarely, for whatever reason, see those negative things said about introverts, and if they are people immediately chastise someone for saying them.

    2. Jamie

      The vast majority of comments in this thread that even used the word were saying that going to lunch from time to time is a good idea and worth the time.

      The word genius wasn’t used at all.

      The only judgmental post about the difference is yours.

      1. Felicia

        I think people are only commenting that being an introvert is a reason that one might not want to go to lunch with coworkers every day, and then mentioning that it’s good to go to lunch with coworkers from time to time is still good.

      2. Stephanie

        I see what Elle’s saying. I don’t see it here as much, but I definitely have seen articles/discussion boards broadly characterizing introverts as good and extroverts as bad. There definitely are a lot more negative connotations to extroversion.

        1. Felicia

          I think it’s because in real life there’s more negative connotations to introversion – like being though of as shy/anti-social/not a team player/not able to communicate professionally/being stand offisish. So some people get defensive. I also think that introverts tend to flock in disproportionate numbers to online discussion boards because it’s a less energy consuming way to socialize.

          1. Jamie

            I also think that introverts tend to flock in disproportionate numbers to online discussion boards because it’s a less energy consuming way to socialize.

            I love this – I thought it, you typed it. Like you’re right there in my head.

            There are misconceptions about both types, there are negative stereotypes about both, and there are narrow minded people on both sides who feel the other is inferior. I personally think it takes all types of people to run an business smoothly – people of wildly diverse temperaments, personalities, and work styles can meld beautifully to kick all kinds of ass. And people of both diverse and homogenous types can grind the gears to a halt.

            People need to play to their own strengths and not assume that anyone not just like you is inherently wrong.

            Although if you are exactly like me in every way you may just be inherently a little bit more right. (I kid, I kid…)

            1. Felicia

              Obviously I live inside your head stealing your thoughts:) i think there are negative stereotypes on both sides for sure. I’ve been called a “faux extrovert” in work situations because i’m outgoing and friendly and pleasant, but i’m not being faux anything and I wonder if they know what t hose words mean, it’s just a tiring way of being, while looking myself in my room with a book would be energizing. Both are being my authentic self.

              1. Jamie

                Great – I’m about to head home in near white out conditions. Since you’re already in my head could you drive?

              2. Susan

                I’m a project manager, talk to people all day long, am probably considered one of the most talkative people you would meet in the day – and I am a total introvert. There are way too many days where I just don’t want to talk, but do, and at the end of the day I am so happy to be away from people. I love my job, but aspects are very draining.

          2. Lynn Whitehat

            Exactly. Most introverts have spent our whole lives hearing how unfriendly, weird, and generally bad we are. “You’re so QUIET” (said with a look of disgust). “You need to come out of your shell!” Ugh ugh ugh SO SICK OF IT.

            I’m happy that the message is getting out there, that there are also positive things about being an introvert, it’s not just a character flaw. People aren’t always going to follow it with “oh, but extroverts are nice too.” Because everyone seems to agree that extroverts are the Right Sort of People, it seems redundant. Like ending a fat-acceptance post with “oh, but naturally thin women are fine too” or something.

      3. TL

        Yeah.

        However, a lot of discussion on the internet does turn to “I’m an introvert and can entertain myself/am not desperate for attention all the time/have deep introspective thoughts/need ” which generally is presented in a way that is a) negative towards extroverts and b) makes introverts seem superior to extroverts.

        I can understand the grump, even though this wasn’t really the place for it and I didn’t see anything suggesting introverts>extroverts myself.

        1. Jax

          I’m with Elle. I was rolling my eyes because I’ve read this argument online many times.

          What annoys me is that lots of people decide their preferences are needs. There’s a big difference between needing to sit in your car, eyes closed in the silence because you’re on edge versus wanting to go read a book because you don’t like chit-chat at lunch.

          The person in the car is trying to regain control. The person reading made a choice that her book is more valuable than chit chat. More people need to say, “No thanks, I’m really into this book!” and stop with the introvert excuses.

          If you can be “on” when you have to be “on”, then it’s within your control. You’re choosing to opt out at lunch, on the weekends, etc. because you’re valuing your personal time above the other options. There really isn’t shame in that–so just be honest!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yeah, but I don’t see people saying “I can’t do this”; I see them saying “I don’t want to do this, and I’m annoyed that I’m being asked to in my private lunch time.”

            1. TL

              I’ve never seen it happen here (best comments section on the web) but I’ve seen it lots of places, up to and including the point where introversion is mentioned as equal to a disability. (They absolutely cannot do that. They’re introverted.)

              I think some of us extroverts are venting a little on this thread! A lot of time extroverts are just dismissed as “you can’t understand introverts.” (Again, not here! People tend to listen so … we’re venting…)

    3. Joey

      I don’t see that although I frequently feel like people too often try to use their introvertedness as an excuse or justification. I rarely hear it the other way around.

        1. Jamie

          Yeah – people need to knock this off. Seriously.

          I have a son with autism – I’ve got diagnosis and a file cabinet full of paperwork and test results for the last 2 decades.

          Watching an episode of the Big Bang Theory and identifying with Sheldon isn’t the diagnostic equivalent! I mean, I don’t let people park in my spot either, because it’s my spot….but that doesn’t put me on the spectrum. :)

    4. Jen in RO

      I’m not going to write and complain, but as an introvert I do find most of these letters puzzling. I do need my alone time, but I get it in the evenings and weekends, when it’s just me, the boyfriend and the cats. For me, work time is also socializing time, so I’m surprised there aren’t more people like me! I guess I’m more antisocial than most, since I rarely go out with friends…

    5. CaliCali

      As an extrovert, it does get tiresome when you hear endlessly about the special needs of introverts, just because most of us are entirely aware of the introverts’ need for solo time to recharge, and most of us are considerate to those needs. I’m married to an introvert and completely understand that alone time is essential for him to feel energized. What I think people can forget is that the extroverts need their time with other people to recharge in the same way, so that lunch break with coworkers might be exactly what the extrovert requires to power through the day, in the same way that the introvert needs to be by herself. Sometimes we extroverts can find each other, but since we don’t base our bonds on interaction styles alone, we sometimes want time with the more introverted people too. I have a friend here at work who is definitely introverted and lets me know straight up if she needs alone time, but who will also get lunch with me when I need my people time. It’s give and take, and unfortunately, extroverts need other people to sustain their energy. I sometimes wish I weren’t so reliant on that interaction, but here we are.

  31. Ajax

    Your coworkers are just being friendly! I’m very introverted, but I love getting asked to lunch. It is a chance to get to know people in a low stress, small group or 1/1 situation. This is exactly the sort of networking that pays off down the road when you are job hunting or up for promotion.

    If the problem is too frequent offers or too expensive meals, you just need to be more proactive. When Suzy asks, “Want to join us in a bowl of pho?”, you say, “I can’t today, (optional reason why) but how about we do a brown bag on Friday?” This way you are in control of the meal and day, and can plan for itin your schedule.

    One last thing. As I said I’m an introvert. If I go to lunch with more than 1 person sometimes I don’t say a word. You don’t have to be on for your peers. They just want the pleasure of your company; they aren’t expecting a show.

    1. Scott M

      (I know I’m commenting a lot, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart)

      I don’t perceive being ‘on’ as ‘putting on a show’. For me, being ‘on’ means not being able to be yourself. We all show different faces to different people, and some of us can’t really be ourselves with coworkers. It’s part of being professional and getting along with a diverse group of people. Let’s face it, the only thing many of us have in common with our coworkers is that we all get paid by the same company.

      1. Us, Too

        I agree wholeheartedly. But, even if we work with people who are very similar to us, I still don’t think we’re ever going to be 100% ourselves. I’m being the person they are paying me to be as much as I’m able to. They don’t pay me to randomly speak up about anything that occurs to me, regardless of relevance or propriety. And, let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t willingly be attending meetings with annoying people for fun – they pay me to do this because nobody will do it for free/cheaper! :)

        Frankly, I’m not even 100% myself when I’m with my husband. Part of being in a relationship with someone is filtering out anything you say or do that you think may be damaging to the relationship. Not everything you think should be shared.

        Filtering is a valuable skill. :)

      2. Ajax

        But you don’t have to be yourself at work – you have to be your “work self”, I.e. professional and pleasant. IMO this includes some low impact socializing, such as lunch or a cup of coffee once in a while. The costs are low, (itco an occasional bag lunch) but the benefits are great.

        1. Marcy

          I think it depends on the workplace. My small group is a part of a larger group and we go out to lunch once a month to celebrate birthdays. The smaller groups do not interact with each other at all at these lunches. They only talk to each other. There is no benefit whatsoever unless you count that the boss buys the birthday person’s lunch. I understand that there is a benefit in some workplaces, there just isn’t in mine. We just don’t have anything in common to talk about.

  32. webDev

    I think it is awfully nice of the coworkers to continue to try to include the OP. They don’t have to, and having worked at jobs where I was excluded, I really think OP should just go once or twice, or find some other nice way to connect. While I as another introvert totally understand this can be exhausting, the gain achieved likely outweighs the personal costs.

  33. MaryMary

    OP, if your boss schedules regular lunches with you and you’re not a fan, talk to her. Many managers see (or were trained to believe) having lunch with someone they manage is a slightly less formal way to build rapport. Since you prefer to spend your lunch hour on your own, bring that up at your next lunch and suggest an alternative. Maybe grab a cup of coffee or walk around the building, if you want to keep it informal. If in your mind any meeting with your manager is formal and somewhat stressful, say you prefer more structure and you’d like to meet in an office.

    1. Us, Too

      This is going to sound terrible, but… I’d find that a little strange for anyone who reported to me to have any issue with taking an hour to go to lunch together. It is really a pretty basic job requirement in most jobs that you are willing to invest in a relationship with your boss. I have a hard time imagining a “good” excuse for refusing me.

      Staff member: I’m on a diet
      Me: you pick the place so you can order something you’re comfortable with.

      Staff member: I’m on a budget.
      Me: I’m buying.

      Staff member: I need to work out during lunch. (or let out the dog, or run errands or…)
      Me: we can go before or after you are done.

      Staff member: I have trouble hearing over the noise of a restaurant during a busy lunch period.
      Me: Good point. I’ll bring in sandwiches and we’ll eat on the benches outside.

      It’s going to be VERY hard to come up with an excuse that won’t look really bad to not meet with your boss for lunch because almost any excuse can be worked around by reasonable people.

      1. smallbutmighty

        My lunch break is sometimes the only unallocated chunk of time in my day. Maybe I need to go to the post office. Maybe I want to go outside and watch squirrels. Maybe I want to surf the AAM archive. Maybe I want to schedule an informational with someone from another department. Maybe I want to go to the doctor without taking scheduled time off. The point is, it’s MY time. To do with what I want.

        If my manager wants me to eat lunch with her, that’s not my lunch break. That’s a meeting where there happens to be food. I am never opposed to having a meeting with my manager, so long as we’re calling it what it is. Treat it like any other meeting.

        1. Cat

          I think this is just going to depend on the kind of job. If you’re an exempt worker, you can’t really count on your job never impinging on your lunch break; in fact, in most, it would be a miracle if it didn’t. It’s not going to look good to insist on taking one. In a lot of other jobs, though, that would be completely normal.

          1. smallbutmighty

            I actually am exempt. I come early, I stay late, I work on weekends, but I always, always take about an hour sometime during my day to grab some food and take care of stuff I need to take care of, whether it’s a workout or an errand or some me time. If something urgent comes up, I’ll take it later in the day, but I do just about always take it. I plan around that time being there. I’m flexible about it and take it where it fits. Once in a while, I really do literally have meetings all day, and obviously I don’t skip out on my meetings, but that’s pretty unusual.

            I’m grateful that my manager respects me and my time enough that when she asks me to lunch, I have the option to say “no, I have plans” and not have it held against me. And if she does want to schedule a lunch for which “no” is not an acceptable answer, she makes that clear to me by setting it up as a meeting and sending me an Outlook invite.

            I’d be pretty annoyed if she felt entitled to claim my time without advance notice, regardless of what I might have planned, and then felt that I was “making excuses” when I expressed an honest preference to do something other than “invest in my relationship” with her.

            1. Us, Too

              I’m NOT saying that you should drop everything and go to lunch with your boss on a moment’s notice no matter the circumstances. I am saying that routinely refusing your boss’s invitation and not showing a willingness to meet (even if it must be scheduled in advance) is going to look bad for most folks. I’d certainly have no issue with someone telling me “I have appointment today, but how about tomorrow instead”.

              But the OP seemed to be looking for a way to never join her boss for lunch because she just didn’t want to, not because the boss wasn’t giving advanced notice or being flexible.

              1. smallbutmighty

                Yeah, that makes sense. I think I was conflating your scenario (lunch with the boss) with the OP’s scenario (getting inveigled into unwanted spur-of-the-moment lunches with colleagues, including the boss). That would really grate on me if it came with the expectation that the answer had to be “yes.”

                I work in a pretty tight group where spur-of-the-moment lunches do happen, sometimes with the boss, but “no” is always an acceptable option. I’m grateful for that. I’d be a big ball of nerves if I knew that on any given day, I might get summoned to a non-optional lunch with my boss. I like my boss a lot, but I like being prepared for lunch with her the same way I like being prepared for a meeting with her.

                1. Us, Too

                  OP didn’t actually indicate that these were spur-of-the-moment lunch invitations. I think that’s where some of the confusion lies.

        2. Us, Too

          Of course it is a meeting even if it’s being called “lunch”. I’m not sure why the label matters. And, of course, it may be YOUR time. But the people who take an hour of their time to periodically meet with their boss instead watching squirrels or going to the post office are more likely, all other things being equal, to get better projects, promotions, and raises. If those things don’t matter to you, then by all means squirrels and your neighborhood post office are fine choices. But it is naive in most fields to think you can treat these asks from your boss as just niceties.

          1. MaryMary

            Well, and that’s partially why I advised OP to suggest an alternate time/activity. So it’s less, “I don’t want to meet with you for an hour, boss” and more “Could we meet at another time?”

            Although that did make me think of a good point: it could be lunch is the only time the boss can carve out of her day to meet. In which case, I’d suggest OP keep the lunch meeting.

            1. Us, Too

              Agreed. Lunch sometimes is the only time that folks are available, especially the higher up the ladder they are.

              I get the idea of personal time and I do everything I can to respect those boundaries, but I’d have a hard time wrapping my head around someone outright refusing to have any flexibility on this. I’m sure there are exceptions, but an outright “no, I don’t want to talk with you at all during lunchtime ever because I prefer to read” is not typically a message you can deliver with career impunity. Yikes! Surely there is some reasonable compromise the OP can work out with her boss. Maybe they meet for an early or late lunch so the OP still gets a few minutes to do what she needs to do. Or she takes an afternoon break instead, etc.

  34. Us, Too

    I am amazed, absolutely AMAZED at the candor/quality of informal coffee breaks and lunch conversations, especially those that are help outside the office. Direct reports who were reluctant to talk about issues in a conference room would be night and day different in a Starbucks a block away. I’ve noticed the same thing when I ask higher ups to join me for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Or even lateral colleagues. Suddenly I’m “in the know” on things I never would have had access to in a quick hallway conversation. It’s been an eye-opener and career builder.

    To anyone thinking that this kind of social activity is unimportant, I urge you to reconsider if you wish to climb the career ladder. If you stay in your cube/comfort zone and never leave it, well… you’ll never leave it.

    1. Scott M

      Its odd; all the things that have put me ‘in-the-know’ during casual conversations have been things I didn’t WANT to know! :)

      In other words – gossip.

      1. Us, Too

        The fine line between gossip and useful information depends on the situation. Admittedly, I’ve learned some inappropriate-for-work (overshare! tmi!) things at times, but I’ve also been privy to some very relevant information. You do have to filter out the nonsense, though, but that’s true for just about any conversation whether it’s happening in a meeting room or a bar.

        1. doreen

          Depends on what you consider “gossip”. I never get TMI in these informal situations , but I often get “unofficial” information about planned changes in policy or organizational structure , about (non-sexual) relationships between people, about who’s planning to retire or transfer. And it can be very helpful. Last summer, I was able to figure out that my position was about to be eliminated in a reorganization , that three particular positions would be open for potential reassignment and that the two highest-ranking people in my part of the agency were expected to retire within months of the reorganization. With the advance knowledge , I was better able to ensure that I was reassigned to the one I preferred.

      2. Us, Too

        My absolute favorite kind of “gossip” is listening to people kvetch about their job. Hellooooo, recruiting! :) My dream conversation involves a web developer who feels unappreciated and bored in her current role and is looking for a fun, high energy place to work like ours (*swoon*).

  35. Malissa

    At least it’s only lunch. My coworkers keep planning things in the evening. And not late enough in the evening that I could go home and get ready or early enough I could go straight from work. And it’s always a “girl’s night.” I’m well past going out and drinking, which is what most of these nights amount to.
    So I’d be thrilled with a lunch invite. And if it’s the boss inviting me out, hey free lunch! Granted having a meal with my boss at this point would be tons of awkward and not much fun.

    1. Ajax

      Girls’ Night Out should banned after age 22. (Only half kidding.) And events/outings organized in the workplace that deliberately exclude one gender? Yikes.

      1. Jen in RO

        My former coworkers and I are planning a girls’ night out in a few weeks. I just turned 30 and they’re 2-4 years younger. I can’t wait!

        We also had a girls’ night out while we were still employed in the same place… and I don’t see the problem of excluding one gender or excluding certain people on the team. It was not a work lunch, it was a bunch of friends going out.

      2. BCW

        But if its not occurring in the work place, then whats the problem? I mean, people bond of their commonalities. Sometimes its as easy as gender. Would you also say that its bad when people with kids all get together for group play dates? Thats just as exclusionary. But it happens, and doesn’t bother me a bit when I’m not invited since I have no kids

  36. Not So NewReader

    I remember one temp job that I reeeally liked. The pay was good, the people were good. And I refused to go to lunch with them time after time. I will always wonder how much that weighed in when I did not get called back for a permanent position. But more than anything there were a couple of really nice people that I wish I had gotten to know.

    I didn’t go for all the reasons people are saying here, diet, budget, down time etc. If I could change that choice I would in a heart beat.

    I think the abundance of introvert comments comes from more than one factor.
    The net works well for introverts.
    Speaking for myself, I remember too many times where my introversion got me into trouble in family, school, work. I was not being quiet to mean. (Actually in school, I had constant ear infections, I could not hear the person next to me! I was always put at the back of the room because I was a “good kid”. No, really I was an average kid, I just couldn’t hear. My introversion got worse because I never knew if I had just missed something.)
    And I think that talking about introversion helps us introverts. We don’t have to hide it under our beds any more.
    I cannot picture a world without introverts or extroverts. Both types of personalities are needed to keep the world spinning. We need those folks that are able to blurt out “there is a dead horse on the dining room table”. It would be awful here, if we did not have those that can speak up.

    Confusingly, introversion can be situational or it can increase/decrease as the years go bby. I hate this part. It’s not like it used to be but I still can find myself falling silent. I don’t like that it feels unpredictable. But I do like that things have changed enough so we can sometimes say “hey, I am taking some quiet time, can I talk to you later?”

    OP, seriously consider saying something to the effect ” you know, for me lunch time is my down time. But I would love to join you once in a while.” Unless the people you work with are total fools, please, consider going once in a while. I think that it is important to let them know you do not think badly of them. Maybe chose a Friday or a day before time off- that might help with keep the energy level from being totally depleted.

  37. Feed Fido

    I suggest going occasionally to lunch- even inviting co-workers, say 3 times a year. The rest of time let it be known you have something to do/attend to. Just be polite it pays dividends; and a lunch three times a year is not much, but may help you in your work.Refusing to ever go to lunch doesn’t make much sense if you want to work well this folks.

  38. Anonymous

    The OP didn’t mention this, but I’ll throw it out there anyway – maybe they don’t have the money to go out for lunch? I know several people at my company who brings their lunches (myself included) because they can’t afford to go out for lunch every day.

    Several people on my team do go out to lunch together almost daily. I do go occasionally (if we’re celebrating something usually). I agree about these lunches being good opportunities to network, learn about news, etc. but I really can’t afford to dine out all the time and I have to be choosy about when I do go. Luckily, I’ve made it pretty well-known around the office that I’m saving up for a very large purchase and trying to cut back when I can, so my co-workers understand (or seem to, at least).

  39. Feed Fido

    Re: Gchat I see people glued to devices all day long and doing other things. Gchat, texting, checking whatever all the time… I was going to write it’s generational, but then I remembered a 50 year old male colleague who got in trouble work wise b/c of constantly checking phone. Thinking about work now vs. 15 years ago, it’s odd to realize back in the day no way would anyone sit through a meeting with a walkman on….I think it’s the smartphone illusion- pretending it’s work when it’s really candycrush!

    1. Cat

      Nobody would sit there today in a meeting with earbuds on either. And fifteen years ago people could and did doodle, do the crossword, and day dream in meetings. I’m not saying smart phones haven’t altered people’s focus patterns at all but I think less so than they get credit for.

      1. Feed Fido

        I was trying to find a comparision and there’s really none. From my exp. I see lots of people on phones during meetings. And I think from observing kids too- technology is changing attention spans. Few are ever just in the moment, they’re online and standing line etc. I have even seen people checking phone during church!

        1. Anon

          Checking a phone in a meeting could easily be calendar, email, scheduling reminders, making notes, or any number of relevant things.

  40. Andrew

    This isn’t an issue where I work. Our office is small, so only one person gets to take a lunch break at a time.

  41. MissC

    I could write this nearly identical post except we’re constantly having potlucks. It feels like at least one a week, sometimes it gets to be a bit much (especially for the waistline!). Not sure if non-participation is socially acceptable, it doesn’t really feel like it.

  42. Another Idea

    I also need time to myself to re-charge. I’m an attorney so my goal daily is to get my work done. I don’t have set hours. What I do in these situations is I have lunch with the boss or coworkers and then come back to my desk and screw off on the internet for an hour recharging and then get back to work. On that day I might bill a little less but throughout the month it all works out. I eventually work late or come in early some day. Everyone needs downtime. You just need to get creative to get it sometimes. I usually look like I’m working while taking my down time.

  43. Ruffingit

    A little late to the party, but I’m definitely a person who enjoys my alone time and needs it to recharge. BUT…cultivate relationships with your co-workers and if that means you give up a lunch hour or two even as often as once a week, do it. I just got a job through a co-worker I knew four years ago and with whom I’ve kept in touch. If I hadn’t cultivated those relationships while we were working together by going to lunch (as one of the many things I did to keep the relationship going), I would never have known about or gotten this new job. Just saying that networking begins long before you think you need it and it’s worth it to give up some time to bolster those relationships.

  44. OP#5

    I once told my work team laughingly that I spend 8 hours with them and I need my lunch hour to keep from hurting them the rest of the day! It was one of those not so far from the truth jokes

  45. Another Emily

    “Thanks for the invite, but I like to eat alone so I can recharge my batteries.”

    My coworkers are all fantastic people, but I absolutely love eating alone. It’s easy for me to have it this way since the company culture is such that people almost always eat alone (nowhere to eat but at your desk unless you go out), however, this is an absolutely valid reason to turn down an invitation, and people should understand that.

  46. anti-social

    Hmm….I never go in the canteen when my colleagues are there now, simply because of the group cohesion between them which makes me feel uncomfortable and I don’t like feeling ‘expected’ to do something. If you feel forced into something, just don’t do it…If the environment was more relaxed we’d probably be comfortable going in the canteen. I’m very single minded personally and my fault is that I expect people to be mature, not act like insecure 12 year old school girls who like to get together and gossip all the time on cue every fu$&ing day.

  47. Alyssa at work

    Previously, I worked for a very small company. In fact, I was the first full-time employee who did not work remotely. I did not think anything of it when my boss (and owner) of the company asked me out for lunch every single day at sit-down restaurants. I assumed he was just being friendly and wanted me to feel comfortable in my new role. Well, the lunch invites never ended. He asked me out to lunch every day that he was not traveling for the 2 years I worked with this company. I hated it and thought it was weird, but I also felt bad, since our company was so small and it was really just the two of us in the office. I’m a relatively social introvert, but it’s crazy to have to go out to lunch with your boss every day. What made it more painful is that I did not click with him AT ALL on a personal level. I wanted to talk about family, home improvement, the outdoors, or work… While he wanted to talk about strip clubs, Las Vegas, and the attractiveness of the waitress. So yeah, it was awkward and creepy and one of the primary reasons I left that company. It’s a shame. Managers need to recognize the importance of personal space!

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