I’m frustrated by my office’s constant Nerf gun battles

A reader writes:

I’d love to know your take on what seems to be a ubiquitous addition to every startup: the arsenal of Nerf guns and ammo.

About two months ago, one of our C-levels invested in a large number of nerf guns and several packs of darts, and now they’re becoming flat out office supplies with new orders coming in regularly. Nerf battles break out not quite daily, but they do happen with alarming frequency.

I would get frustrated because my old desk was in the middle of Nerf Alley, though we have open plan of course, so nowhere is safe. The aforementioned C-level took a shot at me one day, nailing me in the back of the head (“Your hair [bright red] makes the perfect target”), which I made clear I didn’t appreciate. The day that I got two darts to the face (one in the jaw, one in the temple) while just sitting at my desk trying to concentrate on something was the day that I kind of lost it. Not in a yelling screaming kind of way, but in a holding up the dart saying “Really, you guys?!” kind of way. My boss says I need to grab a gun and fight back. I say no, because I don’t want to be involved in any of those shenanigans.

My new desk is more isolated, but I still get a few that find their way into my realm. I also know that once this row fills, I’ll be more in the line of fire. I’m starting to get really testy about it, which I know I shouldn’t be. It’s just so frustrating and annoying when you’re trying to concentrate on something and, even with headphones on, you’re constantly distracted by flying missiles and loud clacking of the guns themselves.

I enjoy fun in the workplace, but getting whacked with flying missiles, no matter how harmless, is not my idea of a good time, and those guns are crazy crazy loud. How can I handle this more graciously and not be the office bitch?

I think I’m going to have nightmares about this tonight.

I get that this would be the height of fun for some people (and apparently is for many of your coworkers), but you know, it would also be the height of fun for some people to blast opera at high volume all day but they don’t do it at work because of consideration for others.

In any case, I’d look at this from two different perspective: the immediate question of what you can do to stop getting hit in the face, and the broader question of whether this is a culture you want to work in.

On that first question, I’d start with telling people directly that you’re not into it and don’t want to be shot at. As in, “Hey, shoot each other to your hearts’ content, but it’s really jarring to me to be shot at. Can you leave me out of it?”

Other possibilities:

* You could see if anyone else shares your dislike of this, and if so, consider banding together with them to either (a) speak with a louder voice (as groups can) that none of you want to be shot at, or (b) see if you can all sit together in a demilitarized zone that’s off-limits for Nerf attacks.

* You could see whether there’s a way to set up some sort of physical barrier around your workspace that will block most of it.

* Hell, you could even try putting up a white flag to signal that you’re unarmed and not to be fired upon.

But beyond that, there’s the broader question of whether this is a culture that you like and want to work in. From that perspective, it’s just like if you were working somewhere that had constant potlucks or rampant profanity or something else you disliked but which most of your coworkers liked. This is more aggressive, yes, since you’re getting hit in the face by flying objects, but it’s ultimately the same principle: If this is the culture that your company’s leadership wants, you have to decide whether you can live in that culture reasonably happily or not.

I do think the organization is probably disadvantaging itself by creating an environment where whole demographic groups are less likely to feel comfortable than others — older people, for one thing, and people with some types of disabilities, and I’d bet an awful lot of women (and start-ups already have a problem attracting women). To be clear, I’m not saying this is true of all women or all older people — I’m talking in generalities here. But those types of generalities matter when you’re running a company that will benefit from not having a homogeneous workforce (i.e., pretty much all of them).

If you have credibility and some political capital to spend, you might talk to someone in a leadership role about why that’s bad for the company if it eventually wants to grow up.

Or you could try this.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

    1. not retarded

      The fact of the matter is this: Most of the young men who champion this type of culture are the creative backbone of these types of (usually start-up software) companies. Being that they are the bread-and-butter of the company, the inventors, the skilled workers (developers), the revenue machines, the reason that any of you are employed in the first place (they produce the product you manage, sell, advocate, etc.) you probably have no ground to stand on. These types of people need a fun, creative, and yes sometimes immature way to relax, remove writers block, and create a culture of close-knit teams. If it takes a few Nerf dart wars to become the next Google, then so be it. You won’t be complaining when you’re driving that pink Aston Martin to work. Either deal with it, ask to sit in a corner, or go find work in an accounting firm…Fun!

      Speaking of Google, I wonder how many of their employees complain about being allowed to have pets at work, or sudden volleyball games, or being able to take a nap at your desk? The answer is zero. Because you wouldn’t apply there if you didn’t like those things. You would go work for the IRS and watch Office Space all day wishing you could burn the building down.

      Make no mistake – a skilled, young, inventive and creative developer is not replaceable. A whiny non-skilled employee (people who think using email is high-tech) who doesn’t adapt and accept an embedded culture is very replaceable. How about instead of whining , you get off your arse, buy the biggest nerf gun they sell on ebay and get them all back one day while they are knee deep in a project. You will gain some respect, find some friends, and maybe even enjoy yourself. Imagine that! The lunacy of it all….

      1. Kethryvis

        … and there’s a reason why most of these companies fail. and i sure didn’t get a pink Aston Martin. i got a pink slip. As did half the developers. Including the one who started the Nerfing in the first place.

        And thanks for the “non-skilled” part. My MA sure didn’t take any skill to get, nor the 15 years of experience in my field. It’s developers that take attitudes like this that bring companies down. i know, because i’ve watched it.

      2. Marakov

        I’m not sure where you work, but places like Google are Google because they respect each and every employee. If their pets are using the bathroom on an associate’s workplace and causing interruptions, that pet is no longer there.

        There is a massive difference between being creative, fun and energizing to being rude, inconsiderate and unemployed.

        “Make no mistake – a skilled, young, inventive and creative developer is not replaceable.”

        Sorry, only immature, young and inexperienced developers say that. Then they find themselves replaced. It doesn’t matter how awesome you believe the development arena is, so does everyone else which is why there is a saturation of the type of developer you are talking about. The REPLACEABLE developer. You want to know who is NOT replaceable? The mature, experienced and managed developer. Startups that end up as a massive day care facility never make it, and if they do the harder they end up falling.

        Get your facts straight and get some LIFE experience before you make comments about someone’s experiences in the workplace.

      3. Googler

        I am a Google employee and BTW if you don’t like (or are allergic to) dogs or don’t like nerf Wars in your area you say so and they go away. We have a very strong respect-your-coworkers policy. So please don’t listen to this and feel free to apply and come work with us whether you like dogs or nerf or whatever.

      4. Guest

        This probably the only occasion where I’ve seen a truly nonsensical comment on this site. Ah well, the streak was bound to end eventually

    2. Lucas

      I share your concern. I work at a technology conference. To live up to the start-up mentality we also have nerf guns. Can’t get any work done.

  1. Katie the Fed

    Confiscate any darts that get shot at you. People will stop shooting at you if you take their ammo.

    And…yeah. This might not be the right culture for you. Nothing wrong with that. My old office did this but only very rarely, and we didn’t bother people who wanted to be left alone. I don’t know if I could work in a place like yours.

    1. Ali

      I work remotely, but from what I understand, my company’s office is part frat house, part professionalism. They openly have a kegerator in their office, along with game days that can make the office rowdy in a hurry. One of my coworkers ended up leaving one day to finish his shift at home because the employees were that loud playing a golf game. There was also a beer pong game one day, and a company “booze cruise” is not unheard of. (They’re in NYC so it’s really just a cruise around the harbor, not some huge trip or anything.)

      I’d say being an introvert, though, that I can generally get out of the rowdy hijinks without a problem. It’s times like that I’m happy I’m at home with my headphones and my pets.

      1. OQ - Original Questioner

        Hi guys – i wrote this letter in to AAM. We have TWO kegerators, my first office Xmas party was held in the office so we could play beer pong (no joke), and a whole bookcase full of Settlers of Catan and other games. Luckily, those tend to come out AFTER work, or on game nights which again start after the day has died down.

        i’ve been looking for something else, but the market is awful in general, and for my specific specialty it’s even worse. i just don’t want to be the bitch while i am here.

        1. Hillary

          After an escalation in the various throwing stuff games (years ago) at a previous company, one of the gals on my team wore a hockey helmet to work one day. The guys around us got the message (or their manager did, I honestly don’t know which) and the games that were more likely to hit bystanders went after-hours only.

          1. Hillary

            Also, never give out ice scrapers in that kind of environment. They were immediately turned into rackets, and I’m still amazed someone wasn’t injured.

        2. manybellsdown

          Video game industry? Because I know a LOT of those guys and they pretty much all have Nerf arsenals. My BIL just posted a Facebook status about the office copier being broken – because they found a Nerf dart had somehow gotten jammed in the middle of it.

            1. SocksofGranduer

              I work at a sort-of-startup sort-of-now-grown-up hosting company. I love my Nerf Guns and love to shoot at people (who love to shoot at me). I know that there are several people that I won’t even shoot my guns when they’re around, out of respect for them, which is in part due to their respect for me.

              I think that building a respectful relationship with your co-workers at this point is going to be critical to them understanding that you value them as co workers. This in turn, will help make it easier for them to choose to value you, and want whats best for everyone. As long as you maintain a certain degree of grace with your coworkers, and try to empathize with them, they will respect you as well, and understand that you work best when hyper-focusing, which is difficult to do when getting hit with darts.

              tl:dr; respect needs to go two ways. I can’t tell either way from your post if it actually is. :P

        3. voluptuousfire

          Oh, OQ, I understand! I’m also in NYC and worked at a start up and if you’re a bit more mature (age or just personality) and don’t like getting shot in the head with Nerf guns…

          As the old saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. I’m all for fun in the office (having bring your dog to work day, parties, video games and ping pong) but that’s rather much.

        4. GrumpyBoss

          Hate to minimize anyone’s discomfort because I know we all have our limits.

          But

          Nerf wars + kegerators + settlers of catan?

          This grouchy 40 something woman wants to know where to send her resume. So she can rename herself as “I’ve died and gone to heaven boss”

          All joking aside, I hope you find something that is a better fit for your personality. I know how much it sucks to not feel like you fit in.

        5. snuck

          I’ve been part of the management team of Australia’s largest IT employer, and there was Krispy Kreme merchandise, Xboxes, all nighters, Friday booze ups etc… but no nerf guns thankfully. The IT merchandise was hilarious, over the top and everywhere.

          I think you could take to this situation several ways, you could get huffy and say something sharp and pointy (sounds like you want to avoid this) – it might stop the situation or might escalate it. You could declare independence (and have some fun with this – set up a Swiss flag or a first aid post with jelly beans or your own flag and fiefdom) and invite coworker to join you in a neutral zone. You could ask for a quieter seat somewhere a little out of the fire (pick a seat and ask for that one specifically – and bolster your request if you need to saying “I can’t code and I’m afraid I might miss something if I’m distracted and that’s not what I want to deliver to you” / equivalent). You could confiscate guns and bullets and be the general police on it (in which case set up a Team America – World Police theme)…

          Basically if you can’t beat ’em (doesn’t sound like you can)… join them… in a way that gets you what you need. And as Alison suggests… consider working somewhere else if you find that you can’t tolerate all these sorts of things because they aren’t likely to change just for you sadly.

          Good luck.

      2. AVP

        The company that I share a floor with has a ping pong table (tech start-up) and I can hear the thwack, thwack, thwack of bouncing ping pong balls through the walls regularly. Luckily it wore out it’s novelty pretty quickly and now the tournaments only start at 5:30 or 6pm.

        They also have a beer tap but I’m jealous of that one.

        1. periwinkle

          We have a ping pong table set up in a nearby break area. I hear the thwack, thwack, thwack. Every flippin’ day. Every flippin’ afternoon.

          It’s not just tech startups that do this. We are a century-old Fortune 50 company.

          Now, if I could borrow one of those Nerf guns and go after the ping pong players…

    2. Muriel Heslop

      I also worked in an office like this but we easily avoided those who didn’t want to participate. It sounds like this is part of the culture and overcoming it might be really challenging. I like to play, but not if I’m working.

      This sounds like a total beating. Maybe because I have red hair I was extra offended at the thought of being a special target.

      1. Magda

        Yeah, this. My workplace is pretty laid-back and a Nerf fight wouldn’t be out of the question. But if anyone spoke up and said “I have work I need to get done,” I’d be shocked if that weren’t respected.

      2. Natasha

        The red hair comment sounds like something that could be considered discrimination. I find that offensive, and I’m a brunette.

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          it’s dyed, bright almost fire-engine red. (tho atm it’s purple) When i came in with it freshly done, said c-level said something to the effect of “wow, that makes you quite a nerf target” and then proceeded to act on that the next day.

          i didn’t take it as discriminatory; just eye-roll worthy.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          As a redhead, I wouldn’t take that as anything other than “your hair is an easy color to spot.” Which it is.

          (But hair color isn’t a legally protected class anyway; if someone wants to discriminate against redheads, the law won’t stop them.)

    3. C Average

      This. My office is crazy for Nerf guns, too, and I’m in the line of fire. If a dart comes my way, I add it to the collection in my locked drawer. I have nearly a drawer full. People don’t shoot at me nearly as often as they shoot at others.

      1. Sarah G

        We started nerf wars in our office a year or so ago and I will totally agree that if you make a habit (and even publicizing it) of keeping the darts, they’ll be less likely to do it to you. At least in our office, the people that said they didn’t like it- we stopped shooting towards out of respect and the desire to keep doing it (since causing office problems seemed like an easy way to get that taken away)

        But also- this really has only a 2-3 months of being exciting on a regular basis. It gets boring pretty quick for everyone involved. (I was a major nerfer early on and I tend to roll my eyes if a dart gets shot anymore- it’s just not that exciting all the time, and work needs to get done.)

        1. Sarah G

          I also instigated an office protective eyewear purchase and make sure that if there’s going to be an ambush that we aim below the shoulders and that everyone has their eyewear on before we start.

        2. SocksofGranduer

          This used to dissuade me, but now I’ve found voberry darts on amazon. 50 of them for $4. It’s not nearly as intimidating now :P

    4. partially retarded

      You can get 500 darts on ebay for about $10. What’s your next brilliant idea?

  2. Mike C.

    First things first –

    Headshots should always be out of bounds. I hate to be the safety monitor here, but it would be really easy to get some dust or something in someone’s eye and that would really suck.

    Secondly, regardless of the company culture, there’s an issue of fundamental respect here. I’ve been places where pranking and nerf battles took place with regularity, but you never involved folks who weren’t interested in being involved. You know how Omar talks about “never hitting a civilian” on the stand? Same thing.

    I don’t really care what the particular culture of a company is, unless the OP is part of the QA Control and Testing department at Nerf, s/he shouldn’t have to be shot as part of the workday.

    1. HarperC

      It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!

      I love Nerf guns as much as the next person, but I totally agree that head shots should be off limits. That’s what Call of Duty is for. There is having fun and there is being obnoxious.

      1. Apple22over7

        “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!”

        At school, I was hanging out with a couple of guys who were fighting with sticks. I said “this is all good fun until someone loses an eye”. 5 minutes later, one of the sticks snapped and cut one of the boy’s lower eyelids so close that a millimetre higher and he would have damaged his vision.

        I’ve avoided the phrase ever since..

    2. Lora

      Good point. I would be very tempted to make a few water balloons full of fake blood and splat them all over the office whenever I got hit, then scream at the top of my lungs “I’VE BEEN SHOT OH GOD HELP ME CALL A MEDIC.” Whoops, your computer! Bonus points if you scream so loudly that the neighbors actually call 911 and evacuate the building, and then Mr C-level has to explain to the police that you guys were just playing…

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Actually, acting like you’re really hurt (not just joking hurt) — like it got you in the eye — might be a good way to get people to never shoot at you again.

        1. The Marketing Chick

          I was thinking that as well. Or if you really want to get them to stop…tell them you have a bad childhood memory and really need to not be shot at. ;)

      2. OQ - Original Questioner

        Haha, i’ve sort of already been a part of THAT extra-curricularly (long story short: belonged to medieval recreation group, was a sword fighter in a skirt, practiced in the park, was greeted by cops who got calls about a bunch of guys beating up on a girl with sticks)

        When the jaw hit happened, i think i did let out a yelp and made it clear i was Unamused. That was when i was told i needed to pick up a gun and defend myself.

        1. LCL

          I found talking about my stick fighting experience worked quite well in getting across the message that I wasn’t to be randomly targeted. Recreational combat with agreed upon rules and boundaries is awesome. Random targeting of people who haven’t agreed to fight is not honorable.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          I don’t have any better advice than what is listed here, but I would be LIVID at this. Being surprised in a physical way causes me huge anxiety. I’d be panicked all day long anticipating this. It really sucks that it’s so hard to say something without being a drag/bitch. I would have a terrible time having a sense of humor or creativity about it, but if you’ve got that in you, it’s certainly ideal. UGH=lack of respect.

    3. Anonathon

      Just seconding the headshots point. Ball-tag was very popular when I was in 4th grade (possible that it’s outlawed now …), and even at at that age, we all agreed that “chucking the ball at someone’s head” was totally against the rules.

      1. De Minimis

        We did not have that particular ball tag rule when I was in 4th grade….

        Incidentally, a group of us played ball tag more or less constantly from 4th to 6th grade, and I think some would have continued into junior high or even high school if they could have.

    4. Lynn Whitehat

      We have Nerf guns where I work. I’m not into it, so I told everyone I’m a non-combatant protected by the Geneva Convention, and they leave me out of it. If that isn’t respected, I have no further advice, and that sucks.

    5. Sarah

      My work is a 150ish employee place… and on my floor, lucky me, all the IT help guys that work on my side of the floor have nerf guns.

      I asked them to not shoot while I was around (they would have about 3-4 battles per day and I’m always under strict deadlines so I find them really really distracting). And I have amazing headphones, but the noise still gets through. They didn’t respect me when I asked them not to shoot while I was around (I have meetings, go to lunch, take breaks etc.).

      So I enlisted a co-worker to steal the nerf guns as a prank and leave a ridiculous little note about getting them back. That backfired because one of the shooters felt bad about us stealing his toys (no joke he can handle nerf wars all day long but couldn’t handle a little prank). So we relented and gave them back.

      BUT LOOKING BACK… I SHOULD HAVE GONE TO HR AS SOON AS THEY IGNORED MY REQUEST.
      When people don’t respect your wishes for a good work environment… you’re dealing with people who cannot be persuaded. And since my boss is not very motivated and did not help what-so-ever in helping the situation I really should have just gone to HR.

      I have a right to get my work done without being annoyed constantly — more than their right to “blow off steam” by my cubicle at any time they please.

      They still have a couple battles a week while I’m around although they said they would stop. Basically I think of them as the office a-holes.

    6. Mildly retarded

      Actually headshots are the only shots that count. Anything else only leaves your victim able to fire back. A clean head shot is the only way to ensure total domination.

  3. Traveler

    Can the Nerf Battles not be quarantined to a few days a week at least? I get that its fun/culture/etc. but you would think it would be in the best interest of the company to have a few productivity oriented days.

    1. Chinook

      “but you would think it would be in the best interest of the company to have a few productivity oriented days.”

      Thing is, not everybody needs “productivity days” at the same time as work often flows from one person or the other. I often joke with the guys here that they work very hard to get their work all done before the long weekend or a staff event, which inevitably means I get my assignment handed to me 10 minutes before I leave (which means it will be done next week, thank you very much). So, it is possible that the shooters are all caught up but the OP now has to do her work (which makes her look like a party pooper for just doing her job).

      1. Traveler

        Maybe if you didn’t have the same days then? MWF one week, T/Th the next – I understand no one really wants to “regulate” fun, but it is a work place after all. I’m guessing with varying projects that it would fall randomly enough that some days everyone would get a break too. Mostly I’m just trying to think of a way that OP can get some peace without getting rid of the nerf stuff completely since others apparently are very into it.

        I hope you shake your fist in disapproval at your coworkers! Haha. That is the way things tend to fall. What I hate is when I’m in a hurry to complete a project so I can get home because I have somewhere to be or something to do after work, and everyone is just dragging along with no sense of urgency.

    2. AnonyMouse

      Yeah, I was reading this wondering if they could institute a “nerf hour” or something…nerf guns are off-limits for most of the day so people can work uninterrupted (can’t believe I’m even having to write that, haha), and okay for, say, 3:00 to 4:00, so people could plan to work remotely or from a closed conference room or something if they really needed to concentrate during that time. It’s obviously not a permanent/perfect solution, but it could buy some time while the OP evaluates if this is really the right workplace culture for them.

      1. Traveler

        Yes, I think nerf hours would be good too. I get start ups trying to do things differently, but back to Alison’s comments about this limiting the work force interested in that sort of thing being problematic.

  4. BRR

    I would like to add from thinkgeek the usb powered rocket launcher. I’m part of the problem, not the solution. Or you could try clipping your nails or flossing at your desk to keep them away.

    But seriously I would think that if somebody chooses to not participate they should have the option not to. I know they’re mostly harmless but you would think that a c-level employee would worry about lawsuits in hitting anybody with a projectile.

    1. stb5114

      I actually though that Alison’s link was for that launcher until I clicked on it. I’d say both the rocket launcher and the nuke are viable defensive tools for OP.

  5. Andrea

    I’d be job hunting. I get that startups are “fun” but getting shot at is not my idea of fun. Even if it’s just foam.

  6. blu

    I think even if I could stop getting hit, I would be keeping feelers out for a new role. The fact that a C-level was actually the one to hit her in the back of the head tells me the management seems to have questionable judgement.

  7. AH

    OMG, this letter gave me flashbacks. How long has this been going on? The novelty is sure to wear off – it did at a startup that I worked for a while back. I like Alison’s ideas of blocking your area or putting up a white flag.

    1. OQ - Original Questioner

      This is my third start up; the first one was mid-90s [we weren’t called startups then], and we didn’t have nerf but we did do other annoying things like paperclip chains in paperclip holders, rubber band balls, all that stupid stuff.

      Second startup (around 2000, right before the bottom fell out) had no nerf guns but we DID have pool noodles, but those were pretty easy to avoid and everyone was super nice about doing their battles away from Large Populated Areas.

      Alison actually gave me a pretty good idea about seeing about making this a projectile free area; my row right now is me and one other person, i’m wondering if we can kind of demarcate this before anyone else moves in and have it stick. We’ll decorate with white flags all around!

      1. Parfait

        I like that approach too. The white flags get the point across but in a light-hearted way. Your office needs a demilitarized zone. There must be at least one or two other people who’d like to set up there.

      2. Anonathon

        Ditto I think if you’re witty about the set-up (“Welcome to the Nerf DMZ”), then people might be more likely to respect it. That said, they should have respected your wishes from the get-go.

        1. Mints

          I like this too. If you can avoid being called a party pooper, I think they’re more likely to listen and respect the neutral zone.
          (Better than white flags, you could make fake neutral flags of Nerfitzerland. Just me?)

        1. Helka

          Get some chicken wire or something and roll it loosely into a cylinder shape, keep it small enough to not be a major impediment to traffic but get the point across. Sounds good!

      3. OhNo

        This may be a little too juvenile for you, but have you considered building a box fort?

        I know it sounds dumb, but hear me out: use sheets or boxes or tape or something to mark off a small area (preferably where you work most of the time) and put up signs and/or declare it a cease fire zone. Doing it this way still lets you be a part of the “fun” culture of the office, but also makes it clear that you don’t want to be shot at or bothered.

        Make it clear that anyone who doesn’t want to get shot at is welcome to work in the cease fire zone. You might be the only one in there sometimes, but I’m willing to bet that your other coworkers will make use of it at least occasionally, when they have a big project or something. If you need to, clear it with your boss first, but I have a hard time imagining that they would say no as long as you frame it as “this is an option for everyone” and not “I need this”.

  8. Magda

    What the hell. I’d love to have a Nerf battle at work… for about five minutes. If it was ongoing, with senior managers gleefully taking headshots at lower-level employees (I just can’t even get into how many levels of wrong I find that), I would go berserk. My sympathies to you, OP.

  9. Apollo Warbucks

    I feel the op’s pain being in the situation that they don’t like, but it sounds awesome to me.

    1. Gina

      I feel this way too…I would like to work somewhere where even the C-levels encouraged a playful atmosphere. If they do, it’s really no one below them’s place to say “Oh, this is unprofessional, etc.” It doesn’t matter if it is unprofessional, it’s the culture and plenty of people would be happy to work there and would really shine creatively.

      1. Magda

        I think it’s pretty mean-spirited (the opposite of playful) when C-level people are shooting lower-ranked employees in the head, and laughing it off because of hair color. Even as someone who would probably enjoy a Nerf fight myself, I find the power differential of that pretty off-putting. Personally, I would not feel comfortable retaliating too strongly against someone a level or two of management above me, even if that person swears up and down that they’re “totally cool with it!” Because if you cross the line where they’re suddenly not cool with it, it’s your ass on the line.

        To be charitable, I think it’s possible Mr. C-level is more oblivious than intentionally cruel, but at a C-level salary it’s like, c’mon dude.

        1. Natalie

          Agreed. And IMO part of your job if you’re C-level is to not be oblivious of the power dynamics between you and your lower level employees.

          1. Nina

            Yeah, the power dynamic is the biggest problem, IMO. OP’s boss should be able to recognize that some employees may not want to participate in these activities and respect that. But if his response is “Join and defend yourself!” then that puts the OP in a lousy position of being the office nag when she just wants to do her job.

        2. Jess

          We’re talking about a start-up though, not a Fortune 500 company. There probably aren’t layers upon layers of management and a C-level salary is likely not quite so astronomical as one might assume based on title alone.

          My significant other previously worked at a start-up with a similar culture. Leadership was early to mid-30s and worked side-by-side with everyone else at deskspace in the open concept office. The workforce was fairly homogeneous (i.e., young) and the flattened hierarchy was just another part of that same frat-like culture that produces nerf fights. While hierarchy certainly existed, it was more like going to work with your friends everyday b/c everybody was friends. (The frat culture and homogeneous workforce tend to lessen and disappear as a start-up expands and matures as a company anyway.)

          It’s not like taking a more traditional office at a large corporation and suddenly having your CFO come in and shoot underlings with a nerf gun. It’s a totally different culture from top to bottom.

          1. Magda

            I actually work at a small company just as the one you describe. There is only one level of management between me and the company owners. I’m familiar with the flatter hierarchy of a smaller company, including the more relaxed atmosphere, and that’s actually why I specifically said “a level or two of management” rather than “layers and layers.”

            Even in such an environment, if a C-level or senior partner treated an employee the way OP describes, I would have a problem with the power differential. A flattened hierarchy is still a hierarchy.

      2. Apollo Warbucks

        I agree with you, the senior management shouldn’t abuse the power dynamic, personally I’d have made a note to get them back later but if the person you’re shooting isn’t into it an apology is in order.

      3. dahllaz

        I think this could be fun, too.

        BUT:
        Headshots should be a NOPE NO WAY NOT GONNA HAPPEN. Always. It’s not just rude, it’s potentially dangerous.

        Leadership needs to be really, really careful about participating and NOT SHOOT at lower level employees who do not wish to participate. The power differential is just, gah. Bad idea.
        Actually, no one who wants to participate should be included. That’s just mean. Fun should not be mean. Make them/their area a DMZ . Leadership should be protecting all their employees, not just the Nerf participants.

    2. Jen RO

      Sounds great to me too! (Except the headshots, I wouldn’t want someone to get hit in the eyes.) OP let’s swap places!

  10. Lora

    You’re GETTING SHOT IN THE HEAD????

    If this is the new thing all the young people are doing, y’all can get off my lawn.

    I would hate (love?) to see them try it with a PTSD survivor or veteran. An employment lawyer would have a field day.

    Had a colleague with a similar problem, people flinging rubber bands and paperclips at each other. One day he got frustrated enough that he picked up a hard-bound 1000-page textbook and hurled it at the worst offender. Hard, we are talking a ten-pound book flying 20 feet. The constant hail of office supplies promptly stopped.

    1. Shana

      This was my immediate reaction – what about PTSD and even general veteran issues.

      I had a prior employer make a big deal out of my not wanting to go play paintball with them for some “team bonding” activity. In that, you’re just no fun, stop being a whiny girl way.

      I summed it up with two statements. 1 I left the military in an attempt to remove myself from situations where I would be shot at and 2 I was a Marine, do you really want me picking you off with paintballs? They backed off after that. I was active duty post 9-11, have been in an office building where there was a shooting, and have been held up at gun point leaving work one night. In general, gun related activities are no longer “fun” to me.

      1. Lora

        I’m reminded also of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, where a demon changes all the paintball guns into real AK-47s.

      2. OQ - Original Questioner

        We have paintball days too. Not as often, but maybe once a Quarter or every-other-quarter.

        i’ve been able to weasel out of a lot of stuff because i live so far away (i have a multi-hour commute one way), but the paintball place is less than a mile from my house. Luckily i’ve been able to beg off by being out of town, and now that we’re larger the pressure to attend such things is much less.

        But yeah, I have concerns about PTSD as well. i’m just waiting for someone to snap in a Bad Way…

      3. Jessa

        Not to mention people like me who if we’re surprised tense up. I have major back and other issues, you get me in a surprise thing and I tense up, we’re talking me having to take medicines that are NOT compatible with being at work. We’re talking medicines that can make me dizzy or make me fall asleep, so you’re talking me leaving immediately, going home, getting my meds, and being unable to work the next day. NOT fun.

        The first time I saw nerf guns out there’d be a discussion about “you do not shoot at me or in my direction, here’s why.” I had the hardest time with one of those poke you in the back to get your attention supervisors once. My cube mates were trained to zero in on him and keep me away from me because OMG the first time he did that I was out for three days, I jumped so much I pulled something in addition to the usual pain stuff.

        People have hidden disabilities and other issues (PTSD, etc.) really nerf and other throw things at people contests need to be OPT IN. Strictly opt in. And I don’t mean finding out someone doesn’t like it by startling them and having them tense up like me, or dive under the desk like a friend of mine. Before hand, someone needs to go “who wants in or out,” and maybe put flags on people’s desks who are out.

    2. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)

      Exactly!

      “The day that I got two darts to the face (one in the jaw, one in the temple) while just sitting at my desk trying to concentrate on something was the day that I kind of lost it. Not in a yelling screaming kind of way, but in a holding up the dart saying “Really, you guys?!” kind of way. ”

      I find this to be a complete UNDERREACTION to getting hit in the face.

      1. Zahra

        Yeah, my reaction would be a loud “HEY! What is WRONG with you?”, followed by angrily chucking the offending missile somewhere else. My higher brain faculties wouldn’t have a chance to express themselves before I said something. Although, it’s a disadvantage because I wouldn’t think of chucking it in the trashcan where it belongs.

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          i have chucked darts at offenders, but the way those things are designed, just throwing them is… rather anticlimactic. Sadly. Tho you’d think it would drive home the “i’m unarmed” bit.

      2. krisl

        I was impressed by LW’s control. I once got hit in the head with a rolled up piece of paper, and I stood up and told the people in that area how I couldn’t work if I felt like I was going to get hit with things, and it didn’t happen again. They kept throwing things at each other, but they left me out of it.

      3. arjumand

        I agree, absolutely.

        And I think that would have been the perfect opportunity to, um, carpet bomb the situation? If you’re ever watched the pilot for Lost, you’ll remember that scene after the plane crash where Maggie Grace is just standing, frozen in place, screaming. Great lungs on that woman. My point is, two darts to the face, and that would have been me, screaming the place down. IF that didn’t put them off, nothing will.

    3. NavyLT

      Oh, I wouldn’t generalize. I enjoy a good Nerf battle every so often, terrible Afghanistan deployment notwithstanding.

      Of course, if people don’t want to participate, everyone else needs to respect that.

    4. Natasha

      I literally just laughed out loud. I feel really bad for your colleague, though. Throwing nerf guns at coworkers who are unable to leave, particularly subordinates is legitimate bullying and/or harassment in my book. This is unacceptable behavior.

    5. A.

      “If this is the new thing all the young people are doing, y’all can get off my lawn.”

      Literally lol’ed at this.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      I actually was planning to get this for my husband for his birthday, and present it to him by having my 5 year old and I maneuver it into our bedroom and have him wake up with it hovering over him (we’re quite infantile).

      Then I read a bit further and found that for it to work it has to be filled with helium. Bummer.

      1. Anonsie

        I got one of those for a friend for his birthday once, we just hovered it around the room and giggled for a long time. It’s extra fun because they’re cheap and crummy so they make this loud WHIRRRRR sound, which makes it 100000x funnier to see it just buzzing around.

  11. cuppa

    Can they take it to the conference room or outside? That way people can participate if they want but not disturb others? I agree that this might just end up being a place you have to consider whether you want to find a new job.

    1. OQ - Original Questioner

      The joy of startup, we’re in a HUGE major metropolitan area… going outside would actually put MORE people in the line of fire :/ Also, cars.

      Our conference rooms are all too small for battles of this magnitude. We also have a foosball table, but it is confined to a conference room, and interestingly enough doesn’t get as much use now that it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

  12. Adam

    I think this kind of environment would be a hoot, but if you’ve made it clear you have no interest in participating then anyone who ignores that is just a buttsmith.

    Maybe print out the flag of Switzerland and hang it above your desk?

    1. Mints

      Oh I just posted this, but I really like this. You could make a fake flag of Nerfitzerland.
      If you get hit, put it upside down in distress (is that right? I don’t remember flag etiquette)

      1. Adam

        As far as flag etiquette goes for the U.S. flag goes, here is what is written in the United States Flag Code:

        THE UNITED STATES FLAG CODE
        Title 4, Chapter 1
        § 8(a)The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

          1. Adam

            I’ll ignore the condescending tone and state that flying an upside down flag was very often seen as a sign of distress among military and merchant sea vessels pre-1900s among many varied nations, although I wouldn’t say it was a universal practice.

            Otherwise flying just about any country’s flag upside down is often considered disrespectful, including the Swiss flag which etiquette states that it should be flown the correct way up even though a quick glance might not make it obvious which way that is.

            http://www.vexillologymatters.org/swiss-flag.htm

        1. Mints

          Wait, I was suggesting a totally fake flag of Nerfitzerland, that someone would make up on photoshop or draw by hand. And if I make up my own country and flag, I think I’m entitled to fly it upside down when I’m hit in the face by a nerf pellet.
          I don’t think that’s actually offending anyone

  13. Turanga Leela

    I like Alison’s idea about setting up a physical barrier in addition to saying something. If they’re going to shoot Nerf guns, you have a right to build a fort. (Not legally, just morally.) Could you investigate tents or cubicle roofs?

    1. Elysian

      Agree – if your workplace is a warzone, you can build a fort. There really shouldn’t be any other explanation required. Even a bedsheet slung over some two by fours might work, depending on how your office is set up…

    1. Windchime

      Me, too. I can’t even concentrate when people are having loud calls on speakerphone; I don’t even want to think about working in a place where people are shooting Nerf guns and hooting and hollering. How is any work ever getting done in such an environment?

  14. Oryx

    “I’m starting to get really testy about it, which I know I shouldn’t be. ”

    You have informed them that you don’t want to participate and they continue to try to engage you and HIT YOU IN THE FACE.

    As far as I’m concerned you have EVERY right to be testy at this point.

    1. neverjaunty

      Yes, so much this. OP, I get that you don’t want to be shoved into the role of No Fun Mommy, but look at this objectively: these guys are shooting you with Nerf darts IN THE HEAD, which would be stupid and dangerous if you wanted to participate in their game on company time,but they are doing it WITHOUT YOUR AGREEMENT after you have made it clear you do not like it. And they are making crappy, selfish excuses for trying to force you to play – your red hair is a perfect target, really? That’s not even taking into account that the jerk here is your boss.

      And the losing an eye thing is actually no joke. Ask anyone who has been hit in the eye with a Nerf dart. It is very painful and with some of those powered guns actually dangerous.

      It really is a no win situation and you have to pick your least worst option. Me, I would be grabbing Mr. Headshot’s weapon, breaking it over my knee and shouting “Melee counterattack!” but less confrontational you might just want to take Boss aside and say that unless you are also carrying a Nerf gun, you are a civilian and want to be left alone and ESPECIALLY not shot in the head.

      And yes, get another job elsewhere. If this is how these guys operate they won’t be in business very long.

    2. Kathryn

      Sign me up with testy.

      I work in a Nerf friendly environment, but we understand non combatants and even situational non combatants. Some days you feel like flinging darts down range, some days you feel like finishing your report and going home. Sometimes darts go astray, but squawks of protest will either shut down or move the battlefield.

      I really don’t understand non consensual ‘fun’ of any sort, and that your management is pushing your physical boundaries is scary and super sketchy. Depending on their character I don’t know if demanding a closed door, one on one, calm discussion or completely losing your shit at them will better underline to them how unacceptable this is, but they have to get that regardless of what they believe is fun, it is not okay to force you to play. I think some direct communication about your limits is in order, followed by a lighthearted demarcation of them so that you demonstrate you this it’s okay for other people to enjoy the Nerf, but it isn’t your thing.

      Nerf DMZ is a good idea, UN observer station maybe? Mesh curtain force field?

  15. Sharon

    I guess productivity isn’t a priority at this place.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the occasional break to relieve stress. But shooting people who are trying to work and concentrate is absolutely not acceptable.

    1. Laura2

      I think this helps explain why at many startups people end up working late into the night, on the weekends, etc. It’s hard to leave at 5 (or just establish a regular work routine) when random outbursts of “fun” keep people from actually doing their jobs.

      1. Anonsie

        My small tech company employee partner got really mad at me when he was at work really late on a deadline day and then came home saying they didn’t manage to make the deadline, and I asked if they would have made it if they hadn’t had a half team building day off at a baseball game and a full team building day off river rafting that same week.

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          i really am annoyed by the team building too. Especially when they say it’s voluntary, but then you get told by higher ups “you really should go to this” which makes it mandatory.

          i have way too much work to do, i really don’t have time to gallivant off and do Things. And if i want to gallivant off and do Things, i’d rather do them with my friends.

          1. Anonsie

            AFAIK it really is voluntary where he works, but I still hate it because I’m a bitter hag and I hate other people’s joy. No one is allowed to have fun if I’m not having fun, dag nabbit

          2. krisl

            I get irritated sometimes at stuff that is supposed to promote happiness at work, because much of it isn’t stuff I care about. Look, if you want me to be happier at work, listen to some of my ideas about improving things, and get at least one of them done!

            I do like my work and my co-workers, really. I just get annoyed sometimes when someone is busy trying to make us happier in a way that is just irritating.

          3. A. D. Kay

            Which makes me wonder, how many hours a week are y’all expected to work, amongst the ping pong and Nerf battles? I see so many websites for tech companies flaunting their Nerf wars, onsite fitness and massage, and the subtext is screaming “60-HOUR WORKWEEK!”

      2. Mouse of Evil

        Thank you! You just clarified for me why I’ve been hesitant about applying at a local company that is really proud of its culture of “work/life balance” that seems to include a lot of enforced “fun” both on and off the clock. I looked at the roster of company picnics, movie days, days of giving, etc. etc.–all of which are supposed to be “family” events–and the job duties, which are fairly intense… and I just felt tired.

        When I was in my 20s, I mainly did stuff with people from work (who were also in their 20s and 30s), and I would have been lost and lonely without them. We had really boring jobs that would have been unbearable without our random outbursts of fun. But I can’t imagine doing any kind of serious work that requires concentration in an atmosphere like that, or being forced to drag my poor family along to Yet Another Picnic when really, we all just want to get everybody’s homework done and maybe squeeze in a TV show before we go to bed.

        Beyond that, I have to wonder about the quality of the software that might emerge from an environment where the programmers never get a chance to sit, uninterrupted, for several hours and get into what I call “the coding zone.” I would imagine that many an essential train of thought has been derailed by a wayward Nerf dart.

    2. krisl

      I was also wondering about productivity. I could not be productive in that kind of work environment. I get nervous about flying objects, even if they’re Nerf, and would be constantly ducking and trying not to scream at people

  16. Malissa

    I’m torn. On one hand I would love the opportunity to nail my boss on the head with a nerf dart.
    On the other hand I can see where this would be terribly distracting.
    I vote for declaring your cube Switzerland and seeing if that works.

    1. Gene

      This one freaks out the cats. I played with it for a few days so they got used to the noise, then poofed one from across the room. The utter confusion was hilarious!

      Once again, I highly recommend that no one here do the things I do or advise.

      1. Clever Name

        My husband does this kind of thing to our cats, and yet they utterly love him. His lap is always way superior to mine.

    1. virago

      I love that cartoon, and it sparked a very interesting discussion here. This is one of my favorite comments from the ensuing back-and-forth:

      I like the way the comic is very upfront about the kind of uncertainty that plagues situations like this, where it’s not 100% clear cut that it’s only about her being a woman but at the same time the likelihood of it being 100% not about her being a woman is really, really low. Hello, life.

    2. OQ - Original Questioner

      Oh yeah, that’s definitely the culture here. When i first started, everything was “he” “him” “his” on anything; that seem to be slightly shifting as i’ve made a point to say “their” “them” and whatnot to make it a little more neutral. Upthread i mentioned the comment my boss/co-founder made a week ago that we needed to “hire more dudes” even though we’re around 70% guys already.

      Management is 100% white male. When i was invited to the weekly leadership meetings, i was the first girl in that room in eight months. (with me came another girl so now there are two against approx. 9 men). We have weekly presentations of which i’m the only girl to have presented multiple times.

      A lot of things in that comic hit home for me.

      i am looking for somewhere else to go… but man the job market is still pretty nuts :(

      1. Ethyl

        I recently saw an article or blog post somewhere that discussed some research done (OMG so specific, right??), which basically said that despite the fact that women are around 50% of the population (give or take), that when men see women represented at about 30% (say, at work or in a background crowd in a movie), they view that as “too many.” It’s insidious the way sexism permeates even our subconscious.

        1. Magda

          I know there was a study done in Australian classrooms that had similar results. Students were asked to rate how frequently the teacher was calling on boys and girls. When the teacher called on boys and girls at an exact 50/50 ratio, it was perceived as the teacher blatantly favoring girls. When the teacher called on girls something like 30 to 40 percent of the time, it was perceived as equal.

          1. Natalie

            Oddly enough, I’ve heard the same about shared household work, with roughly the same percentages. At about 30% of housework, men generally believe they are doing half.

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          Maybe, maybe not ;) I have been in the workforce since the mid-90s, but i’m sitting in a meeting with purple hair [a deviation from my normal bright almost-fire-engine red] and a pair of Converse, and i have PTO next week to go to The Happiest Place on Earth.

          To m, “girl” is more of a state of mind ;)

        2. Jen RO

          And I think that the amount of focus on the word “girl” is getting out of hand on this blog. Why does anyone care what the OP or anyone else refers to herself as?

    3. lonepear

      Though I am a woman and I would love it if my office did this (actually, I sometimes “work from home” at an office which does this kind of thing). I don’t see the nerf gun battles as “little boy culture” or inherently sexist; it’s definitely more casual than traditional work culture and it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but women are individuals and some of us do want that. (The comic goes into more inherently sexist practices, which are of course a problem… but leave the innocent parts out of it.)

  17. TL

    I would probably pull the dart off me, turn around, make eye contact and say, “No sir/ma’am. I do not appreciate being shot.” in a very serious tone.
    But I get like that after people keep on doing things so completely out of the norm after I’ve asked them multiple times not to do it to me.

  18. Jenny

    Oh man! Flashbacks to my first job out of college. The two directors of the department would toss a nerf football over the cubicles every day. They were not good at throwing. The nerf football hit me in the head more times than I could count – hit other people’s heads, hit our coffee cups, hit our monitors, knocked things over.

    One night I worked late with a number of other people, the bosses left. I took the nerf football and threw it in the dumpster outside. They spent two days looking for it and then sadly went out and got two more so they’d have a spare.

  19. Interviewer

    First, I am so sad that the ThermoNERFular Weapon is an April Fool’s joke. This would be an amazing addition to my family’s annual Thanksgiving gathering, where the cousins race around the house to take each other out with an endless supply of NERF ammo.

    Second, I agree that the headshots need to stop. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” I love the idea of setting up a DMZ. Even if you did it humorously, like with a Red Cross hospital sign on either end of your alley.

    Maybe they need to decompress from the fast pace or the insane workload, and this is a great outlet for a certain subset of people. You’re not one of them. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though – eventually NERF wars should go away once the company reaches a critical mass of less people who “love the way the company used to be” versus more people who “act professional in the workplace” – but can you wait it out?

    1. OQ - Original Questioner

      i honestly don’t know. i have been job hunting almost since i got here, but that’s almost more depressing than being here.

      We’re about to outgrow our space (again) and are looking at another floor in this same building, at which time we’d be split between floors. i’m hopeful that the battles will die down as one of the instigator departments will probably move away from where i am. But we’ll see.

  20. EmilyG

    Reading between the lines of this, the OP is probably a woman in a probably mostly male office, so there’s probably no way to object in a way that the immature Nerf shooters don’t interpret as applying to all women being no fun, women just don’t fit in, etc. And people wonder why women don’t flock to start-ups.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep. I asked her about the demographics in the office (but didn’t include it in the answer since I’d already written it and it didn’t change my reply). She said:

      “The majority of the company, for the most part, is under 40. C-levels (like my boss) tend to be older, say in the mid-late-thirties to early-40s range. But they participate just as much as everyone else.

      More guys than girls, but that’s because the boys outnumber the girls by a kind of crazy margin; out of roughly 50 employees there are 15 girls (and that’s including the three interns who are leaving at the end of the month). That is a whoooollllleee other problem that no one blog can solve i think :/ (esp. when i heard my boss say we needed to ‘hire more dudes.’) A decent amount of the girls join in, though.

      AFAIK, i’m the only one who’s spoken up about it. i think everyone sees it as “start up culture” so it’s part of the office, like having a desk and a chair, choosing a Mac or a PC. “

        1. De (Germany)

          People in IT often seem to think that as soon as there’s more than one woman at a given meeting we are overrepresented. And at about a third, outnumbered.

            1. OQ - Original Questioner

              Since we just hit 30% women in our office, and that comment came a week ago… i’d say i have some evidence that this is indeed what happens.

      1. Cat

        (esp. when i heard my boss say we needed to ‘hire more dudes.’)

        OMG. That sucks too because, while it’s probably irredeemably a bad fit for the OP, you hate to think about how successfully leadership can make places like this a bad fit for people like the OP and then free themselves up to hire more 20-something dudes without repercussions.

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          Just as soon as i have a real destination, i am running as fast as i can. Just need the destination first :(

        2. HR Pro

          Oh, I wish people wouldn’t discourage young women from careers in IT. It would be a good thing to have more women in IT! I imagine the problem is being in IT start-ups, not just being in IT. There are plenty of IT jobs that aren’t in start-ups – -plenty of well established companies hire programmers and don’t have a “mandatory fun” start-up atmosphere.

        3. Jen RO

          Your advice to your daughter just makes it easier for the ‘bros’ to argue that there are no women in programming…

          1. Anonsie

            I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, increasing the female staff of a company does have positive effects. On the other hand, squishing more women into environments that are hostile to them in the hopes that change will gradually happen also has a lot of issues. It’s kind of just throwing the suffering of female employees at the problem hoping it will fix itself out of necessity.

            I also like David Wong’s stance, which is that the focus should perhaps be on the fact that women are rather correctly judging many companies as being crummy to work in. Let the female innovators go only to the places that accept them and utilize them well, and then watch everyone else high five themselves to death.

            1. Raptor

              Basically, it works like this.

              If companies refuse to hire 52% (or more, if other minorities were included) of the population, they will fail. Yes, women make up more than 50% of the population.

              Because, statistically speaking, there is someone out there who’s better at a job than you and statistically speaking, it’s probably either a woman or other minority. And they are going to go work for your competitors and your competitors are going to do better in the long run.

              If you want to know if your job is going to be secure, look at the ratio of men to women in your office. Are all the women doing statistics and all the men the programmers? That company will eventually be out competed.

              Is it split closer to 50/50? And don’t just assume. Count. Then that company probably has a long life ahead of it. Because it’s pooling people from the actual top picks, rather than those that fit into its white, male, heterosexual culture.

              And yes, these differences may not bear out right now, or even in 30 years… But it will happen, slowly but surely.

        4. ThursdaysGeek

          No! We need more girl geeks. (I’d say woman geeks, but the alliteration is more important to me. :)

        5. krisl

          I work in programming. I’m female. I like it. My co-workers are good people to work with, and my manager is reasonable and straight forward about what he wants. Not every programming job is awful.

          1. Windchime

            Same here. I am a woman who is a programmer and has been in IT for almost 15 years. It’s a been a great career and in my experience has been a pretty level playing field because I am judged on skills and not whether or not I have lady-parts or man-parts. Maybe I’m just lucky in the organizations I’ve worked for, but IT has been really good to me. And I’ve never had a Nerf missile hit my head (although I have attended at least one Festivus party).

          2. Jen RO

            My boyfriend is a programmer and frequently interviews and hires people. I asked him about women not being hired because it’s a “man’s job” and he was honestly baffled. I think his exact words were along the lines of “Why the eff would I care what she has between her legs? Does she know .NET or not?”

            (As an aside, he has told me that most women he has interviewed undervalued themselves compared to men who had the same skills. I found that interesting and pretty sad.)

    2. Dan

      Do people actually wonder why women don’t flock to startups? I’m not in Silicon Valley, so don’t know the culture out there. (Presuming that “startup” is slang for a tech company getting off the ground. In DC, we really don’t use the term “startup”. Instead, we have “small businesses.”)

      But yeah, I don’ think the OP can raise the objection without perpetuating the stereotype you indicate. The only real solution here is to advocate for a DMZ of sorts.

      1. Jen RO

        The boss’s comment aside, what part of this environment would drive women away? I don’t see any gender correlation.

        1. illini02

          I agree. I know plenty of women who would enjoy this type of atmosphere. Maybe its why we are such good friends. I think its more cultural than a gender thing. Sure, you can say nerf guns are more of a guy toy and a female toy, however I think in general the kegarators, ping pong, and general tomfoolery are just ways these people like to have fun. If they can have fun and have a successful business, whats wrong with it. If you aren’t a cultural fit, thats fine.

          1. Anonsie

            Oh sure, lots of women would like to play with foam darts at work, and all the other classic Fun Workplace stuff like air hockey and shuffleboard. But I think what happens when you throw games into an environment where certain people are already excluded or overly-scrutinized, it just becomes one more avenue for that to happen in. If you want to play then you have to do it exactly right or you’re taking it too far (this is how they always get me– “Oh Anonsie, we were having fun but you took it too far by also having fun”) or you suck at it and it’s part of why you’re lame anyway. If you don’t want to play, then you’re a no fun bee. The fun is often going to be at the expense of people who are already on the fringes, even if they would otherwise want to participate.

          2. J.B.

            Read Deborah Tannen’s book about conversation at work. There’s a continuum of course, but an atmosphere where yelling and aggressive behavior are par for the course can be really off-putting to a lot of women, and tend to create this power dynamic. If you speak up you’re a b****, if you don’t you’re a wimp.

              1. Anonsie

                That’s the thing, though– women that participate and embrace it are still penalized because they’re being bossy and loud. Women who don’t like it are delicate little flowers. Rock and a hard place.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yep, that’s often exactly the problem (at least how it tends to play out in the U.S., which research into how assertive women are perceived backs up).

                2. Dan

                  I was going to write a longer response in the post up thread but decided to keep it short. In some senses, it seems like the only “solution” is to have a buttoned-up atmosphere where no fun is allowed to be had. IOW, a sterile office environment. The less “things” that happen, the less chance there is for someone to feel excluded/judged/left out.

                  But I don’t see that as a good option either. Work has a “culture”, and interviewers generally screen for fit. Some people are sensitive and get offended easily. Do we accommodate the lowest denominator, or do we screen for fit, so that we don’t hire the people who won’t like nerf games?

                  At some point, generalizing across class lines stops helping. One could ask if it ever even helps in the first place. Granted there are some obvious things, but most of those things are already protected by federal law.

                3. illini02

                  Dan, I completely agree. Its very weird in that it seems like there is always something that someone will get offended by, or feel left out by, or just not find as a culture fit. I don’t know how you make a culture that you want in a company that doesn’t exclude some group of people or at best make it more difficult for a certain type of person to work in. Do you just make everything sterile and boring?

                4. LBK

                  No, you work on humanizing women and treating them as individuals rather than letting stereotypes/generalizations persist. It has nothing to do with office culture, it has to do with gender roles and perceptions. An office with an aggressive, brash culture is fine as long as women aren’t judged by a different standard for participating in that culture than men. An office with a playful culture is fine as long as you don’t think a woman who’s not comfortable with an aspect of it is a bitch (which I’m not saying you are, just trying to point out that when it comes to gender, women frequently get judged on a different standard than men, regardless of what type of culture the office has).

                5. Anonsie

                  That’s not addressing the point here, though. If you have a culture where people who do fit in are still considered to not fit in no matter what they do, it doesn’t matter if that culture involves shooting people with Nerf guns or wearing three piece suits with pocket squares. Because the problem is not, in reality, at all rooted in the surface behaviors but an undertow of just not wanting certain people in the club. There are plenty of starched, sterile industries that are also considered hostile to a diverse workforce. Like I said above, the issue has nothing to do with whether or not x group generally likes certain activities and everything to do with people who are already exclusionary using those activities as another avenue through which to needle the people they don’t want there.

                  You can have all the air hockey or bicycle polo or silk gymnastics you want at your company, and it will work just fine as long as the people who are doing aren’t already wads.

                6. LBK

                  Last note on this – I find the “Well I guess we just do NOTHING because OH NO we might offend someone!!!” attitude really dismissive and insulting. Yes, there are some people who seem to go out of their way to be hurt by anything that could be deemed offensive, but it’s far from the majority, and there are almost always middle grounds that can make everyone happy. I often find that people with this “Stop being so offended” attitude make little effort to find that middle ground and/or are unwilling to listen to why something is offensive.

                  Instead of just rolling your eyes, I encourage you to take the chance to ask for education. I’ve broadened my perspective and cut out a lot of the unconscious prejudice in the way I talk and act by being genuinely curious – for example, right here on AAM there was a long discussion about why the word “thug” can be considered racist. I learned a ton of context I had no idea about, and now I can be more careful with my word choice.

                  We’re not going to get anywhere with changing the ingrained biases in our culture if we dismiss the people who bring our attention to them.

                7. illini02

                  I guess here is my problem with finding a middle ground. If you know how a workplace culture is, and you choose to work there anyway, its a bit disingenuous (to me) to later complain about how you don’t fit in. I’m far from a gamer. If I interviewed and took a job at a place that clearly celebrated gamer culture, played LAN games during downtime, and had a had office Halo tournaments, I can’t then turn around and say how I’m being excluded and they need to find a middle ground in order to accommodate me more.

                  I don’t fully understand the point Anonsie is trying to make. Are you saying that people who “fit the mold” on the surface but then don’t personality fit with others should be treated differently? I guess it depends on if they are being “hostile” or just not going out of their way to include these others. Sometimes there just isn’t a personality fit. Personality wise, I’m kind of on the outside in my office, but I don’t get angry that I don’t get invited to hang out with them either.

                8. EM

                  Illini02, I think the middle ground is simply accepting the fact that she does not want to be hit in the head by nerf guns and leaving it at that.

                9. Illini02

                  EM, I have said, MULTIPLE TIMES, that if she doesn’t want to participate, they shouldn’t involve her. From her response, she was only hit on purpose once, and the other times it has been accidental. Without knowing the exact layout of her office, its hard to say how avoidable it is, similar to how based on the layout of my office, I’m often in the middle of people yelling across the room to each other. But I was referring to middle ground that people were referring to about different personalities in the office.

                10. LBK

                  Your example doesn’t make sense. If everyone else in the office loves Halo tournaments, great – as long as they aren’t forcing you to play, you’re not losing out/being judged somehow for not participation (unconsciously or not), and you’re not being judged for doing whatever you like to do in your downtime. How is that a difficult middle ground to achieve? It’s one of the most basic aspects of management, because no matter what your workplace will never be 100% homogenous, even if there is a certain type of culture. And your example doesn’t really make sense because there are other ways to relate to people besides one shared hobby – I can still get along and hang out with my coworkers that are obsessed with sports even though I couldn’t name 5 NFL players if my life depended on it.

                  The OP’s situation is more like if you were being forced to spend your lunch break participating in the office Halo tournament and then considered “not a team player” if you pushed back.

                11. LBK

                  And yes, accidents happen, but the reaction from management shouldn’t be to shrug and ignore it. There have been at least 5 different suggestions between Alison’s post and the comments on what could be changed in the office to allow people to have Nerf battles while still allowing those that don’t want to be involved to get their work done. It’s extremely clear that there are other ways for this to play out than the OP quitting or the office becoming austere.

        2. Mints

          I think this sounds fun too, and I have a set of pump action netf guns at home. But yeah, the military is historically male and war games are historically masculine. It’s a gendered thing, even if everyone participating is deciding on fun/not fun, not the history of their gender

        3. EmilyG

          Yeah, I was being rhetorical in saying “people wonder…”. I don’t think there’s necessarily a gender correlation with the Nerf thing, just that this: http://xkcd.com/385/, and the pressure to be perfect implied by it, would be exhausting.

        4. Zahra

          If a woman says “Don’t involve me in Nerf fights, I’m working”, then she’s a witch, a kill-joy, a stick-in-the-mud, she doesn’t have a sense of humor, doesn’t know how to relax, etc.

          A man says the same thing, he’s dedicated.

      2. A Jane

        When I hear stories of Silicon Valley and the bro culture, I picture what Wall Street must have been like back in the 80s (Wolf of Wall Street / Boiler Room anyone?) 5-10 years from now, the tech world is going to be regulated in a similar fashion

  21. Purr purr purr

    It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye! Sounds like a nightmare legal situation waiting to happen…

  22. A Jane

    This scenario is one of those things I would talk with my coworkers about during lunch time, but never actually do it. I can definitely imagine it not being fun when you’re constantly living a nerf battle.

  23. MurphyB

    I work at a software company that has Nerf Culture. I’m on the ‘professional’ floor, not the ‘developer’ one, so I don’t ever get in the middle of the battles, but I know we have some peeps upstairs who don’t love participating.

    The way they tend handle it is by setting boundaries as a team – not just for the Nerf stuff but for general working conditions. For example, each area has a poster that might read like so:
    – music plays on headphones only
    – must have headphones off from 9-10 for team meeting
    – People wearing headphones can’t be shot
    – please send an IM instead of shouting across the room
    – all team members will be here from 10 – 3

    The key is that these rules have been mutually developed and agreed-to as far as the working environment. It seems to work pretty well and still allow for the fun, stress-relieving breaks that our developers enjoy.

  24. Elizabeth West

    Headshots absolutely nope. I would love the Nerf thing, but not all the time. We used to have rubber band fights at Exjob–we had these big long ones that we put around fat file folders and they were lovely for launching across the room and over cube walls. BUT NOT ALL THE TIME. And definitely not at people’s faces.

    I like the white flag thing, as well as the fort idea. Or you could tell them your experiences in the infantry in WWII made you especially sensitive to being shot at.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      We shot rubber bands at a previous job too. I got good at bouncing one off the ceiling so it would drop on the head of a co-worker. And you know, I never asked if the others didn’t want to play. Perhaps I should have. On the other hand, I’m now an expert with rubber bands, and use them to take out flies and spiders on the ceiling.

      I was thinking a motorcycle helmet with a visor would be good protective gear. Unfortunately, I suspect that would cause some of the more immature co-workers to target her even more. And that’s an issue: sometimes people who react negatively to teasing get it all the more. Is there a chance it will move into bullying territory, or is she usually just collateral damage?

      1. OQ - Original Questioner

        i’m more worried about collateral damage. The only time i got flat out targeted because of $thing was when i was told my bright red hair was the perfect target.

        i will say that when i made it clear i didn’t appreciate it, that particular person didn’t shoot me anymore. Most of the time, the shooting is at people holding guns… just a lot of us end up getting caught in the crossfire.

    2. Anon2

      I was thinking about cammo netting, which is both funny and practical.

      I used to work with this woman who was really sensitive to light, so she had what I termed a “sunroof” over her cube. Swap the sunroof for cammo netting and the OP is good.

  25. AndersonDarling

    If I kept getting hit in the head, I’d bring a paint gun to their nerf battle.

    I seem to remember a story a while back about a lawsuit coming out of a nerf-gun workplace. The owners would run out of their offices and shoot at their employees. I think it was settled out of court.

  26. Mike

    During one of our nerf battles a non-participate got hit and she just said, in a loud and clear voice, to leave her out of it. Being respectful people we made sure to keep fire away from her (and anyone else that didn’t participate).

  27. rory

    This workplace lost me completely when the C-level employee *hit you in the back of the head* after targeting you specifically. Wow.

    Some of my coworkers were once playing with one of those office mini-basketballs and accidentally hit me in the head, and they apologized for about five minutes and were a lot more careful. I can’t imagine existing in a workplace where you have to worry about getting shot with projectiles (soft or not!) all the time. I startle easily, wear glasses, and do things that require intense concentration. Projectiles are a recipe for disaster.

    Run. Run from this company. If they want only people who spend time shooting at their coworkers, so be it. You can do so much better.

  28. Knitting Cat Lady

    …nerf battles are a thing at start ups? Is that a US only thing or does it exist elsewhere in the world (I’m German)?

    I have to colleagues who like to prank each other. Messing with the office chair or putting a piece of tape over the mouse sensor of unplugging the keyboard is the only thing they do.

    1. Jen RO

      I could also see this happening in Romania, and I’m a bit sad that I won’t be able to experience it! (I avoid startups due to other reasons.)

  29. BadPlanning

    I don’t have a new answer other than to agree that this might die out on it’s own. It’s new and shiny and obnoxious, but hopefully it’ll dwindle to a once a week or less thing just for the die-hard fans (hee). These things seem to run on a bell curve. The “good old days” being the up of the bell curve before it hit the crazy peak.

    If you want to go the joke route, in addition to the white flag and Switzerland, maybe pick up safety glasses or a plastic face shield. When nerf starts flying, put them on and keep typing.

    Although if your boss is sneaking up behind you and shooting you in the head…I don’t know. I guess look at them very calmly and say, “Do not shoot me in the head or face.” Then turn around and keep typing. Wet blanket, sure. But shooting people in the face deserves a wet blanket.

  30. snapple

    This sounds like a culture mismatch. I’m not saying the coworkers or the executives are right or that it’s OK to have nerf gun battles but I don’t think they’re going to change unless more than one person takes a stand against it.

  31. SJP

    I don’t know if this is just an American thing, so any UK people please way in on this but WOAH this is so in the realms of weird (in my experience) that this is next level stupid. I mean in the UK we have pretty stringent Health and Safety rules (I’d love to see your C level exec explain this in a tribunal as someone got hurt.. ‘ we were just playing’ does not cut it) and I think this would be really frowned upon here.

    I work in a really cool laid back company where we joke around and have a laugh but I know for a fact that the directors would never in a million years allow nerd guns..
    I saw lots of comments about ‘it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye’ but seriously, someone is going to get hurt, or a company damaged from spilt liquid or knocked over etc and then they’re going to look very silly.

    Really though, I’m a little astonished

  32. Chriama

    Honestly, I think you might have a fundamental disconnect with your company culture.
    Nerf battles in general like a fun idea to me (I know I’m revealing my age here), although I understand how they can end up irritating if they’re distracting you from work *all* the time. Your description of the situation had me imagining myself at home when my younger siblings decide to be annoying. At home, I get up and fight fire with fire, or have a serious talk about how I need to concentrate right now. If you’re unwilling to do the first (which is justifiable if the battles are happening too often or retaliating just causes escalation) and unable to do the second (either you’re uncomfortable speaking up or your coworkers just don’t respect your “serious face”), then I’m not sure there’s much you can do. At home, I chase my little brother/sister down and put them in a heaadlock or sit on them and tickle them until they beg for mercy. Is that an option?

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      You’re revealing your age? Are you a 50+ year old woman too? :)

      I really like the idea of sitting on them and tickling them. It’s not professional, but isn’t that the point?

      1. Chriama

        Haha under 25 woman. I think “startup” as a term means different things depending on the person using it, but I thought the whole startup culture = professional immaturity = “work hard, play hard” stereotype was pretty much a given. The nerf battle sounds fun, but I haven’t worked full time long enough to know my own working stlye and whether it would irritate me in the long term. I like having fun with my coworkers, although the most competitive thing we’ve ever done is a lawn bowling tournament…

        1. Jen RO

          I’m 30 and, while not a fan of the ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality, I want a nerf gun fight now!

          I’m probably going to horrify a few people, but my old company had a ping ping room and we regularly played LAN games during work hours. And, gasp, work still got done!

          1. Chriama

            I don’t like the “work hard, play hard” motto only because it usually involves lots of binge drinking and I don’t consider that playing.

            1. Jen RO

              To me it implies long hours because of lack of planning, and I like to see my boyfriend and cats before they are asleep…

        2. ThursdaysGeek

          I guess I was asking, because I don’t think it’s really age related. I wouldn’t mind nerf battles at work, and have enjoyed jobs where we played in other ways. Or perhaps I’m just not in the norm for my age. :) That’s not to say that we don’t work hard too!

      2. Pennalynn Lott

        I’m a woman who will be 48 next month, and I start most of the Nerf gun battles in my office.

    2. OQ - Original Questioner

      i’m an only child, so i never really developed the headlock/tickling skills, sadly. Darnit, i knew i should have begged harder for a sibling! (notreally)

        1. Chriama

          I have 4 younger siblings, so my skills are finely honed — although we go for full-frontal assult so I don’t know how to play pranks. My current wish is to get some fake swords so I can have a swordfight with my sister. We tried it with barbeque skewers but they’re too shart to jab at each other.

      1. Chriama

        I find being the oldest gives me an assertiveness I might not have otherwise developed — I know my younger brother has difficulty with it. In this case though, I think it’s more an issue of culture fit. Your boss’s recommendation of grabbing a gun and fighting back would be my first response too. If it kept going after a couple battles and the distraction was too much I would ask them to tone it down or only involve me at certain times. But if you totally hate the idea of nerf battles and don’t want to get involved at all, I think it will be hard for you to make the request without seeming like a killjoy.

  33. Alter_ego

    We do this exact thing in the office, though not introduced by one of the main bosses. I don’t participate, but I guess I just find it easy enough to ignore.

  34. Allison

    I’ve definitely worked in startuppy offices where NERF wars were not uncommon – but they were brief, occasional, and only involved people with NERF guns. To me, they seem fun as hell to watch, even though I never participate myself. It it happened all the time and I kept getting shot at while trying to get work done, I’d either request they leave me out of it (“it’s great that you’re having fun, but I’d rather not be a target”), or if the offender was a higher-up, I may have my manager relay that comment, maybe including how important it is to him that I’m able to focus on my work.

  35. illini02

    I for one would love this. For those say its acting like children, get over yourself. Some people have different ideas of fun. However, I do think the problem is that people keep doing it when you clearly don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t really think you have much standing to get mad at others for doing it, especially when you are in a more isolated area. But if people are continuing to involve you, then that is something to discuss. Now, I’d frame it as more of a productivity issue than an annoyance issue, because that may get you labeled something you don’t want.

    Also, for people asking how this can be productive, trust me it can. I goof off at work all the time, then buckle down when I need to. They have no problem with my productivity at all. Some people need complete silence and a certain atmosphere, that would drive others crazy. Lets not be so quick to judge though. I’m not going to call you a stick in the mud for not liking nerf battles, if you don’t say I’m childish for enjoying them.

    1. LBK

      For those say its acting like children, get over yourself. Some people have different ideas of fun.

      I’m not sure I get where you’re coming from – pretty much every commenter here acknowledges that this is part of some office cultures, even if it’s not for them. I only see one person who used the term childish/children. I wonder if this is part of the difficulty of the OP trying to address this issue – she makes a comment about it and the perpetrators take it as a personal attack. Asking you to allow me to be productive in a work environment shouldn’t merit such an emotionally defensive reaction.

      1. Jen RO

        But this is the environment of this company and it’s not gonna change because one person doesn’t like it. The OP’s job is to be productive in *these* conditions. If she can’t, then it’s time to look for a new job.

        1. LBK

          I don’t think she should just throw her hands up and quit without even trying to get it addressed, though. The culture may not change for one person but I think there’s a line between “we have a playful culture” and “we have a culture where it’s acceptable to attack random people who are trying to work and have voiced their desire to not be involved”. I suppose it’s truly up to the company if they want the latter, but IMO any company has a responsibility to ensure the safety and respect of their employees, regardless of their culture.

      2. illini02

        Ok, one person said childish. Another said there was a lack of productivity. Maybe it wasn’t a ton, but if you don’t think that I wasn’t referring to you. I’m not defensive, just saying its very judgmental to make comments like that. I clearly said she shouldn’t be involved if she doesn’t want to. But I don’t think in an office of 50 people, if 1 can’t deal with the culture, they should all change because of her needs for a completely silent workplace

        1. OQ - Original Questioner

          i really don’t need a totally silent work place; far from that, i’d go insane. What i don’t want is to get hit with flying projectiles while working. The guns are also LOUD like, you can’t talk over them loud.

          I don’t mind noise, it helps me concentrate. Loud CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK and darts flying everywhere, though, really doesn’t do anything for my concentration.

          1. Stephanie

            I’ve had a totally silent workplace before. Not fun. I felt awkward even answering my work phone (the three times a month it did ring). The days I forgot my iPod were painful.

            1. Andrew

              I had a job in a workplace that was totally silent as a matter of policy: a memo went around stating that saying “Good morning” was forbidden.

              1. CdnAcct

                I would love to hear more about this! I work in a fairly formal office, and this would seem way out there to us.

            2. Elizabeth West

              It’s pretty quiet around here too, except when my cube neighbors are on the phone. Either way, I cannot function without my phone (it has tons of music on it) and noise-reduction headphones, and I have my iPod in my rolling bag as a backup.

          2. illini02

            Sorry, I was exaggerating for effect. You actually sound pretty chill about this whole thing in your responses. but it really does seem that this just isn’t the right culture fit for you. It sounds like most people aren’t really targeting you, aside from that one time, then it stopped. I see this as similar to people in an open plan just yelling across the room at each other. Its an unfortunate side effect of the layout.

    2. neverjaunty

      Enjoying Nerf battles is not childish. Being unable to respect boundaries and forcing other people to play when they don’t want to? Pretty childish.

  36. Oryx

    Wait, I got it: If your boss is so insistent on you fighting back and participating, next time someone hits you whip out a super soaker and fire.

    I bet they’ll stop in no time.

    1. Jamie

      That was absolutely my thought – that if they want to fight a war they need to whip out the super soakers.

      And water is for babies…a super soaker filled with diluted pudding in a weapon.

      1. Laura

        The most vicious thing I’ve ever heard of loading a super soaker with?

        Diluted cheap perfume.

        (Of course, if the person hit decides to stay, that’s punishing everyone…not ideal.)

  37. Nina

    I would start job hunting. I really don’t see how this situation would work for the OP because she mentioned that even when they aren’t trying to get her to join in, the goofing off itself acts as a distraction, which I understand. Unless she’s in a private room or closed off area, it would be hard to get any work done with all that going on around you.

    1. Lora

      Not a bad idea, actually. Can you commandeer a conference room, book it permanently for yourself, and when people complain that they can’t get a conference room, offer them the use of your office? Become a permanent fixture at the nearest Starbucks? Work from home a lot?

      1. LBK

        Yep, I do this – I work next to a call center that can get rambunctious sometimes, so I’ll take my laptop to an open conference room for an hour or so in order to focus.

      2. OQ - Original Questioner

        i work from home 2 days a week; i have a multi-hour commute one way to my office. i’d love to ask for more, but i already work from home more than anyone else, so i try not to push it. (it was actually a condition of my hiring)

        We don’t have enough conference rooms to permanently book one for myself, but i have considered crawling under my desk at times. That might be next. i LOVE the idea of cammo netting, but the way our office is planned out, i don’t think it would totally work. Tho i’m currently eyeing the ceiling and judging.

        1. ella

          Check a nearby camping supply or army surplus store–mosquito netting comes in a shocking variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate different conditions and types of beds. Outdoor sporting and army supply stores also tend to employ a lot of problem-solving MacGyver types. Bring in some pictures of your office set up and say, “I need to make this impenetrable to foam projectiles,” and they’ll be off.

    2. Chriama

      Noise-cancelling earbuds + white noise. It’s the perfect mix of non-distracting background noise (because absolute silence bothers me too).

  38. Chuchundra

    You know, not for nothing, but if someone doesn’t want to play, it’s not a game anymore. It’s assault.

    Don’t believe me? Go out in public and start nailing randoms with your Nerfinator. See how long it take until you’re in handcuffs.

  39. Nervous Accountant

    Curious, may be off topic but since it was mentioned…..why do startups have trouble attracting women?

    1. LBK

      Tends to be a cultural mismatch – startups often have a very fratty/”brogrammer” atmosphere that not a large percentage of women are attracted to. There’s also something of a history of sexism built into the cultural which also doesn’t endear many women to apply or to stay there long-term.

      1. Stephanie

        Also, there’s sometimes the attitude that you have to be really dedicated to the company/love the brand and be willing to work long hours. That tends to favor a specific younger and male demographic.

        1. LBK

          Also true – I haven’t heard about a lot of these cultures being particularly forgiving when it comes to stuff like maternity leave.

    2. illini02

      I wonder if its because guys in their 20s like that type of atmosphere and they are the ones starting these companies? Look at what 25 year old guys enjoy vs. what 25 year old women enjoy. There is a difference, and if guys are making their culture based around what they like, then that may be it. I mean I imagine a female led start-up wouldn’t have the same problems attracting women, but I could be wrong.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Well, wait a second. Earlier you agreed with Jen in wondering what part of this environment would drive women away and in saying that there’s no gender correlation, but here you’re agreeing that there’s a difference between what men and women often enjoy. I feel like you’re arguing both sides of this.

        1. illini02

          What I’m saying is that in this particular situation, I do know many women who would enjoy nerf fights, kegarators, or ping pong. However I don’t necessarily think every woman would, just like a 40 year old man may not. However, if it is that type of environment, and you have more men than women who it attracts, I’m just giving that as a reason.

        2. illini02

          After re-reading my previous comment that you referenced, I get what you are saying and how it sounds like I’m arguing both sides. I do think in general its a culture fit more than just straight gender. Many of my female friends came from a “party” type school and enjoy beer pong on the weekends, etc similar to myself. Now if a guy who came from that culture started a company with that type of office culture, it could attract more like minded people. Similarly, I have worked with men in the the past who were my age, but hated that type of thing and would probably hate this office. If a woman who was not as into this type of thing started a business that was much more formal and straight laced, I have to assume it would attract more like minded women (as it sounds like many of the women are on here) and less people like me. Not that either is better, just a difference in how you like to operate.

          1. Magda

            Personally, I would not be driven away from a job by nerf fights. I would be driven away by people shooting me in the head and laughing off my objections. The first case is fun — the second case makes me wonder “in what other areas are they going to treat me dismissively?”

            In other words, I don’t just see it as an issue of Fun vs. No Fun, I also see it as “does this place understand the concept of boundaries?” That’s something that can be a problem in the most straight-laced environments, while there are more casual environments where it really isn’t.

    3. Student

      Logical fallacy!

      Many start-ups don’t want to attract women. You’re fooling yourself if you think they have “trouble attracting women” but they really want women on their team and would value their input and experience.

      This kind basic disrespect for anyone “different” is also apparent in the racial and age makeup of start-ups. They are very thin on minorities, except for Asians in the tech industry specifically, where there’s over-representation. They are also very thin on people 30+. Do you think it is because people over 30 are all too stupid to work at a start-up? No! It’s discrimination. It’s sad that many people will buy into the “women and minorities are too stupid to do this kind of thing” excuse that start-ups offer as an explanation, but their discrimination finally becomes too much to bear when it’s directed at older white guys as baldly as it is at women and minorities.

      Hiring discrimination is rampant and nearly impossible to act on legally under existing law. It’s also very, very difficult to address from a social perspective instead of a legal one.

      1. LBK

        Honestly, I don’t think it’s completely discrimination. I think it’s kind of a vicious cycle wherein startups do hire for a certain demographic, but then that causes the office to have a culture that doesn’t further attract people outside of that demographic to apply. It has nothing to do with being too stupid, it has to do with not wanting to work in that kind of environment/industry. I wouldn’t particularly love a company where Nerf battles and other roughhousing are common, so I’m not going to choose to apply there whether I’m smart enough to get the job or not.

        1. LBK

          One note: I do think you’re probably right on the race discrimination because I can’t see office culture preferences being that closely correlated to races (although maybe I’m wrong), but in terms of the age/gender thing my hunch is that there is skewing in the demographics of applicants, not just in who actually gets hired.

        2. Student

          Ok, so – how many jobs have you applied to where you knew the gender / racial /age makeup before you applied?

          1. LBK

            Huh? I don’t see what point you’re trying to make. If we’re discussing startups, you just said yourself what the makeup is. You can’t tell me in one comment that minorities are underrepresented and then in your next comment imply there’s no way to know the gender/race/age makeup before you apply. Obvious you can…because you just told me what it was.

      2. Raptor

        Part of the reason that Asians are in the tech business is because of some raciest immigration polices we have that only allow those who are good at math into the country… which tend to also be mostly male because of sexism going on in those countries.

    4. Lora

      Look up what happened to Anita Sarkeesian. Geekfeminism (dot) org has many many many more examples.

      Trigger warning for rape and death threats, though.

      1. LBK

        While I agree that what’s happening to Anita is appalling and I can’t believe it’s occurring in the US in 2014, I don’t think it’s necessarily directly related to startups. More gamer culture, which has its own host of horribly sexist issue.

        1. CA Admin

          There’s a lot of crossover between gamer and start up culture because many programmers are also gamers, especially in the younger generation. Every programmer I’ve ever met (which is lots–I’m married to one and live in the SF Bay Area) has been an avid gamer at some point in his or her life. They may not all be active anymore, but most have spent lots of time in that culture.

          1. JD

            And all gamers like Nerf Wars? How about a pension, 401k, job security, decent healthcare, regular hours and a good salary? Wouldn’t that be more fun? Oh right, who needs those when you have Nerf Wars and Beer!

            Beginning to see what’s really going on with the “perks” that really aren’t. These companies aren’t doing that well. Titanic is sinking, but you just keep on playing those violins, Mmkay?

  40. Tiffany In Houston

    As a person who wears glasses, this would make me very angry and very nervous, especially the part about being hit in the face.

    I hope you can find something else with a better culture fit soon, OP.

  41. Rebecca

    I would not like this at all. If someone was targeting me with Nerf darts while I was trying to work, after I told them I didn’t want to participate, I’d be mighty peeved. I would confiscate said darts, put them in my purse, and throw them away at home. And, look for another job where work was valued.

    It’s ok to have fun time, but this should be limited to break time or lunch time, taken outside or to another area, and should include willing participants.

  42. Student

    In situations like this, I prefer the scorched-earth approach instead of AAM’s diplomacy. War begets war!

    Post a sign that clearly indicates people must disarm to work with you. Mercilessly destroy every nerf gun of any person who dares to violate your territory. Invoke “all’s fair in war” when someone complains. You are fighting a battle of attrition, and you are in it to WIN. When a dart is found on your turf, destroy it. If possible, destroy the darts and the guns in a public way. Note that, to make this work, you must not harm the nerf guns of people who have respected your territory, only those who have violated your threshold. When you destroy a gun or darts, try either posting interesting pictures of the destruction, or mounting the latest nerf-gun-corpse to your wall. Keep a publicly displayed tally of your conquests.

    Subtle nerf gun sabotage is also allowed – small punctures that keep the air from pressurizing, minor defacement to the dart fins so that they don’t fly straight, mangling of the trigger mechanism. Again, the only fair targets are those that have violated your clearly-marked territory.

    If these people value their nerf-gun habit, they’ll act to preserve their nerf guns and keep them away from you at all costs.

        1. Mints

          I love this. Wear a crown of distorted nerf pellets. All the gruesome things of Vietnam veterans, but with nerf.
          Also, it seems a little difficult to destroy a nerf gun (at least the set I have). Maybe dip them in ink or something?
          Also, slitting the nerf pellet down the side totally destroys the flight, and is hard to notice unless your really inspect them. Or the guns jam.

          Man, I am good at nerf sabotage.

          1. Anonsie

            Also, slitting the nerf pellet down the side totally destroys the flight, and is hard to notice unless your really inspect them.

            Thanks, Satan.

          2. Student

            Gum down the tube that squirts out air would probably get a delectably grotesque effect, horrifying the opponent.

  43. Elysian

    I know this was not the intent of this post, but since you linked to the older post about swearing, I started reading the comments. Boy golly, the ones that came in like months and years after it was posted… they’re something else.

  44. tt

    I like being social and relaxed with co-workers, but at no point (for me) does it include hitting people with things. And certainly not in the head. That’s an injury waiting to happen. And particularly disrespectful to the OP given that she doesn’t want to participate. Even for those people who do want to participate, it’s probably smart to have some kind of rule about not shooting at people’s heads.

  45. Anon 313

    My office in Colorado did this. We had nerf battles. My manager even had a computer controlled desktop launcher. Was a lot of fun. Granted, people were definitely not shooting each other in the face. One older admin wouldn’t play along very often and said shr didn’t like it, but occasionally the guys would still get her…. I think it made her feel included. She would toss thr darts back after collecting a few. I’d play along too. Most of the staff were 35+, but my manager, myself, and a couple others were under that age.

  46. hildi

    I always skim the first few paragraphs of a letter and then jump down to Alison’s first sentence. This one today just about killed me. I am laughing so hard. I’ll be chuckling about it all night.

  47. Anon

    Here’s an idea: How about a demilitarized zone with not just the desks of anyone who wants to permanently opt out, but also some couches or other shared seating set up for people who really need to concentrate on a particular day? This way it’s not just a way for a group of people to opt out of company culture, but something that benefits everyone – I’m willing to bet that even some of the worst nerf offenders have days where they really wish they could work without distractions. Maybe you could even make it a distraction-free zone in general (no loud meetings or music) and sell it in a startup-culture-friendly way like awareness of individual working styles or giving people the option to experiment with different environments according to their needs that day.

    The next time a battle breaks out, watch the faces of the bystanders – approach the people who look most annoyed and you may have your core group to spearhead this request.

  48. soitgoes

    This sounds like someone’s teenage fantasy of having a dream sort-of-artsy job in a loft office. I’ve worked in a few start-ups that thought they were going to be the first business to bring fun back into the workplace, and they ALL ended up failing within a year or two. It’s not directly related to the stupid antics, but it’s an offshoot of the overall immature approach to running a business.

  49. Callie30

    OP – To me, this sounds like harmless fun, although I understand your frustration. I agree with Alison that you can band together with others. Maybe the following would help –

    Bring it up in a Staff meeting and ask about the following:
    – Having the nerf gun sessions restricted to certain areas and maybe between certain times (depending on the layout of the office and if the nerf wars affect work flow for much of the office)
    – You and others who do not find the nerf guns can let them know that you do not want to participate. People can’t read minds and if you haven’t been clear enough, they may simply not know that you (and others) aren’t interested.
    – Maybe those who aren’t interested can put up a sign on their desk stating that.

    Studies have shown that taking 15-20 minute breaks to walk, play games, etc. actually improves work productivity. Nerf wars seem certainly better than people sitting on their iPhones playing a game. At least they are moving around and not sitting in a chair on their phones.

    I would condone the nerf wars (and maybe even participate every so often), but those of you who prefer not to should speak up, but also not put a damper on others. It’s simple enough to ignore and to address directly.

  50. Kiwi

    Someone takes one in the eye and it’s all in good fun.
    One good hit to his own eye and I wager that C-Suite nutter would ban nerf battles immediately.

  51. Editor

    Since you took a nerf dart to the head, why not requisition a good quality pair of safety glasses (the cheap ones can be cloudy or distort vision) and say you need them to protect the company from liability if you get hit in the face again. That might encourage some thinking about liability, plus give you something to protect your eyes when war breaks out and people are careless.

    I wonder if the insurance company or the start-up lawyers know about the nerf battles that result in shots to the face or head? I’m guessing they don’t.

  52. Natalie Anne Lanoville

    My original thought had been to bring a blowtorch to work and tell my co-workers that I was equipped with StarWars(c) technology which would incinerate anything that violated my airspace.

    But my better idea would be that when anything nerf-related hit me, my work, my desk or my chair, I’d just stand up and start screaming at the top of my lungs until the EMTs arrived.

    This is my inspiration (Simpsons, SFW): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsrylO_by2k

  53. Raptor

    I noticed this wasn’t brought up…

    I actually find that getting shot with a dart gun hurts. And I’m very often told that, ‘it doesn’t really hurt’.. or that ‘I should just get over it’. (all the while thinking ‘yeah, thanks for telling me how _I_ feel.’).

    That is, until I actually get a bruise from these things and can prove it hurts.

    I like playing nerf… and other related games. But I had to stop because these sensitivity to touch has gotten worse over the years, meaning that it’s not fair anymore for me to play. I can shoot you, but I can’t get shot because it freaken hurts, that’s not fair. (And I know what this is, it’s not a disability, it’s just the way my family is.)

    Back when I did play, my strategy was to win. And thus, I’d get left out of the game from the start because I was going to win, one way or another. And guys really don’t like being pelted repeatedly by a girl half their size who’s idea of fun is making other people lose and then giggling about it maniacally (think, movie villain laugh). Being ‘that mean girl who’s scary’ has it’s advantages.

    So these days, I’m out. And if people still don’t respect that, I start confiscating things. And then they disappear. Generally to a salvation army (I don’t believe in destroying things to make a point). Having a ‘donations’ box is now my idea of fun.

  54. Jamie

    Haven’t gotten through all the comments yet, but am I the only one who immediately hoped no one is allowed beverages near the IT equipment because a spilled soda due to an errant nerf taking out a computer? Not happy.

    As miserable as I’d be in this office I do now want a nerf gun. No wars, no one else armed – only me and I have license to fire at will when displeased.

  55. OQ - Original Questioner

    Everyone- thank you so much for all the responses and ideas!! Don’t get me wrong, i DO love fun in the workplace… just not with flying projectiles!

    i’m going to talk to some folks today about making my row a Demilitarized Zone; since it’s just me and one other person it seems to be a good time to nail that down. If that gets approved, I’m totally getting Swiss flags for the corners of our divider walls. I may or may not have already been pricing them on Amazon. i may even see if we can reserve one of the desks here to be an “escape zone” for anyone caught in the line of fire and needs to get out. Might even invest in a combat helmet and assist in extractions as needed/possible.

    It is a bit of a ‘bro’ culture here, but when i mentioned to another C-level the comment made by my boss (about how we needed to ‘hire more dudes’) he kind of jumped on it as a ‘oh he was joking, we really are trying to get more diverse’ etc. etc. i hope i managed to drive the point home that no matter how you ‘feel’ about something, those little stray “joking” comments actually go a long way to derailing how you “feel” about things.

    Some of it i’m willing to chalk up to growing pains; i joined this place a year and a half ago and we’ve doubled in employee size, and quintuply in business. We’re finally getting some real “business” feel and features, and tbh it’s already better than it was a year and a half ago. It’s not somewhere i want to stay long term, but if the nerf stuff can come down to a dull roar, i can at least tolerate it until i can extract myself.

    Thanks again everyone!!!

  56. madonnaearth

    I hate being “that girl” at the office, so I know exactly where you’re coming from. I cannot take a joke, I am way too serious, and I do not play games at the office because a lot of people don’t know when to quit.
    I am glad commenters came up with some ideas that you can use.
    More about me: I am now the “10 lb. stapler thrower” at my workplace, even 15 years after the incident. One of my mischievous coworkers kept throwing paper balls at me even after I’d told him to stop, at least three times. So I picked up my heavy duty stapler and threw it at him. It missed him by a mile, but he stopped throwing things. One of my coworkers never let me live it down and she loves mentioning it to new coworkers. “Don’t mess with her; she’ll throw a stapler at you.”
    Another time, my coworkers, boss included, went to lunch together and somebody blew a straw wrapper across the table at me during a working lunch; I immediately, and unexpectedly on my part, lost my temper. I apparently equate it with people throwing trash at/insulting me. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable for everybody involved, even my boss at the time, who was famous for losing his temper and getting in door slamming-level fights with his wife on the premises.

    I would totally be confiscating all offending nerf darts after a first warning to everybody, and I would probably take a 2nd or third offender’s nerf gun and nail it to the wall above my desk, with the sign, “Where Nerf guns go to die.”

    hate having projectiles thrown at me. I don’t play with nerf or any other guns. I am the “go off verbally” type of coworker. I had a

  57. JD

    Hi, I have a rant and some questions. I recently came across a job listing, and I have all of the qualifications plus a good amount (10+ years) of professional experience within that particular industry. It is a UI design position. I am a female designer who can hold my own when coding my own work (read: better than most of the lying / exaggerating designer guys I’ve worked with, whose egos cannot allow them to concede or defer to me). Anyway, in this job description, it referenced ‘Nerf wars’ as if this is simply expected to be considered a perk to any/everyone who excels at UI design. Hm. It strikes me as rather strange to include in a job description, leaving me to wonder: Is this their sneaky way of getting only males to apply?? I know some women might enjoy Nerf, maybe. but really, overall? COME ON now. Not even all men like it. See, I know for a fact that this company markets its brand to an audience that skews mostly female, and my work is perfect for that audience; but it seems as if, because they made a point to include something so clearly ‘geek-coder-stereotype’ they’d rather hire that type, which just so happens to be typically male. I find this incredibly offensive, and not just to me as a female, but to anyone who is great at what they DO but doesn’t conform to silly notion of what someone who does your job stereotypically LOOKS and ACTS like. Seriously, what year is this?! I’ve seen these kinds of job descriptions before, with “Nerf wars” used alongside or interchangeably with “foosball,” “guitar hero” or “ping-pong” etc. However, in this situation, here is the ringer: I came across two open lower-level design positions at this very same company (same dept. even) that do NOT have those terms mentioned in their descriptions (they were for an ‘associate designer ‘ and an ‘intern’). I really think it’s a subtle form of discrimination. Could this be some sick, stealth HR tactic to shun women by painting a picture they might not like so they will not bother to apply go higher level positions in a male dominated department? What do you think? Even if it’s just plain stupidity, I may call them out on it. I mean, just because there might not be bad intentions doesn’t mean the action doesn’t have negative results.

    1. JD

      I see this issue has already been addressed to some degree above. Forget it. I’ve figured it out.

      It’s not just start-ups or game companies doing this either. It’s larger, public, and Fortune 500 ones who have MBAs at the helm. Many of those people were hired to skim costs and yet still keep the company’s public image up for the stockholders. How they do it is not hard to figure out, (because most MBAs aren’t very smart). Part of the agenda is hiring mediocre workers for shit pay, who are also willing to shill for them.

      They start by stereotyping. It’s a really juvenile thing, Nerf wars, but it does attract a certain type of immature employee; those who are just smart enough to get the work done (not well, but done), and who are also just dumb enough to never question why they never get a raise, etc.

      I’m sure these companies are all doing SO much better now than they were before. Oh right, they’re not… But their stock is because the company saved all that money by downsizing, outsourcing, and hiring desperate millennials a who are forced to settle for less pay, and who have no families to go home to so they don’t have to go home. Who give no thought to pensions or social security or mortgages, they just need to get by. That’s how sad this all really is.
      MBAs find the idiots who will accept a crappy job with crappy pay because they have Nerf wars and beer. (For a 22 year old, beer must be really exciting).

      Notice how these days it’s never “my company makes such great quality products!” Never. It’s always, “my company is so AWESOME!” Followed by 20 pics of employees bowling. Yeah, and how much do you get paid? That’s Right. Still not what people doing your job were making 10-15 years ago. Probably not what they were making even 5 yrs. ago.

      But you have Nerf wars. It’s like, Good luck with that when you finally grow a pair.

  58. antinerf

    In some areas shooting someone with a nerf gun would be considered assault. My imagination fails at grasping the liability exposure of a company that allows its employees to be assaulted at work.

  59. AmmoCache

    I just started stealing all the Nerf ammo that came onto my desk. Once it’s on my desk, it’s my property. I’ve collected over a hundred Nerf darts and counting. In the meantime, I told management and the activity is now under review lol boo hoo

  60. Nick

    It’s people like you that’s made society cold and stale. You’re the reason people walk around on eggshells all day, hating their jobs, afraid of talking about anything more profound than perhaps the weather. Lighten up.

    1. Guest

      You sound oddly bitter for a person telling someone else to lighten up. Might wanna consider following your own advice.

  61. AlisonFan

    I love your advice Alison! Lol. You are amazing. Agree with another poster – unsupervised children they are. I would hate it too.

  62. Amber

    This is late, but just FYI: I worked at a well established company where the sales team brought in Nerf guns to try to capture some of that start up spirit and it was just as hellish (if not moreso with people trying to fake enthusiasm.) Nowhere is safe

  63. Anti-Nerf Gun Activist

    I’m with writer: nerf gun battles are SO ANNOYING. In my experience, it’s always guys doing it and it’s like they are ten year olds again. Occasionally they will shoot one at me. It is immensely annoying. I don’t react. I just continue typing. You would think this would be a clear indication that I’m not into playing nerf battle. Apparently it’s not.

    I love the idea of confiscating all the darts that land in my work area. I shall start doing this with the goal of complete disarmament!

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