I’m in trouble for not participating in athletic events at work

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 282 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. (Mr.) Cajun2core

    I would suggest checking into getting an ADA accommodation for this. That way you are covered if she comes back at you even after you go to HR. Talk to your doctor first and then HR about getting the accommodation.

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca

      AFAIK you don’t need ADA accommodation to refuse to do something that’s not technically part of your job in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Nope, you do. You can be required to anything at work, in or out of your job description, as long as it’s not illegal or based on an illegal reason (such as your race or sex), and as long as you don’t have a contract or union contract to the contrary or an ADA thing in play.

        I mean, you can refuse. But then they can fire you for it.

        Reply
        1. a Gen X manager

          That’s actually really upsetting to read (AAM’s reply). It’s one of those things that you kind of “know” as an employee, but there are so many misconceptions about this that reading this objective, succinct summary is a bit startling.

          Reply
          1. Super Anon for This

            Yeah, it’s actually kind of scary and sad to realize how little protection employees have. If I understand it right, my boss could, at any moment, require me to scrub the floor with a sponge, or go to the nearest store and buy him socks, and I would have to or be fired. Thankfully most bosses don’t do this, but it is terrifying to realize that your income, your life, is really dependent on the charity and good sense of whoever your boss is. And if that changes from when you were interviewing . . . well your SOL.

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              Unless you work in govt – personal services are very much excluded from contracts. It’s a big flippin ethics deal if a govie were to ask for subordinates/contractors to buy them socks.

              Reply
              1. Working Hypothesis

                I think that’s the way a lot of sane private companies handle this issue as well. Yes, they legally CAN ask you to do things which have nothing to do with your job function — or anything that directly or indirectly contributes to the health of the company — but it is a serious breach of ethics in their management to ask that you do so.

                The problem with that is that it requires the company to police their managers, rather than the government policing the companies. A lot of people take the political position that asking government to police companies is inviting tyranny. They forget that businesses, or any entity with sufficient power, can be tyrannical also, and it can sometimes take something with greater power to ensure protection from tyrants of lesser power (but still enough to enforce their will on individuals).

                Reply
                1. SarahKay

                  Speaking as someone in the UK, where the government does (mostly) police companies like that, I’ll live with the tyranny.

                2. MK

                  Tyranny? Because the government (any and all of them) is usually so up to the task of going after businesses.

                3. One of the Sarahs

                  I’m with SarahKay. I’ll take the “tyranny” of decent working conditions and employee protection over the “freedom” to have a boss decide pretty much anything is in my job description.
                  Super-happy to have the tyranny of the European Working Time Directive, too, over the freedom for my boss to suddenly decide I should be working 60 hours a week.

                4. Mookie

                  Agreeing with the commenters that appreciate regulation, oversight, and comparatively robust labor protections (“tyranny” and other slippery-slope libertarian fallacies).

                5. Leticia

                  To One of The Sarahs – I read somewhere that the 8 hour day was built around the industrial revolution – machine work – and that intellectual workers like us can do around 3 hours of real work a day. The rest of the 8 we fill with Facebook, gossip, distraction. I know I do.

                  I find that people who stay in the office longer than those 8 hours usually are a) procrastinating b) so tired they can hardly think c) trying to impress the boss d) all of the above.

                  I can’t find the exact article I read, but this one comes close: https://crew.co/blog/why-you-shouldnt-work-set-hours/

                6. partypants

                  Mookie – option E) we are working the jobs of 2-4 people at a time and therefore wind up working an extra 10-20 hours every week in order to get everything done.

                7. Candi

                  What bothers me when people say “We need oversight” is it fails to acknowledge that government can screw up too.

                  Businesses and government and unions and nonprofits and all -they’re run by humans. Humans, even with the best of rules (laws, regs, policies, etc.) in place, and the best of intentions to follow them, screw up. And this is the ideal; there are selfish, ignorant, bigoted, jealous, and lazy workers at all levels in the government as well as in private business.

                  It is important to find a balance. A lack of moderation -in anything- tends to cause problems, ones that can often been forseen. That balance needs to take into account that some people just won’t do their freaking jobs.

                  The biggest issue is humans like neat, tidy solutions -but real life is complicated and messy, not a crafted story. Passing legislation to protect workers is a good thing -but there’s a reason laws have such complex language.

                  For the US specifically, with our population and land coverage, it is likely best that the states take the lead, being as active, or more than active, then the federal government. At the same time, the federal government has to keep an eye on states that are trying to stay in the social/cultural/legal Dark Ages -such as these idiots who continue to ban gay marriage in spite of the 2014 court ruling. (growl)

                  Again, it’s a balance.

              2. Mabel

                I used to work for a state representative, and I was always getting his car washed, waiting at his home for repair people, taking in dry cleaning, etc. I didn’t want to do those things, but I always thought it was OK because it let him spend more time doing his job. Your comment made me realize that this probably wasn’t legal. I’m not surprised because he had us “volunteering” for his campaign for a different office during the workday, when the state was paying for my time, which I know is illegal. After he was elected to that office, he ended up having to leave due to questionable activities.

                Reply
                1. Sandman

                  I did volunteer-for-the-campaign work from my state office job, too – “illegal” meant “in the back office with the door closed,” I guess. The rep I worked for was otherwise a great boss. Go figure.

                1. Katie the Fed

                  Excuse me? We’re still governed by ethics rules and can absolutely be investigated and fired for such things.

                2. Slippy

                  Leadership may not be, but the rank and file are held to a higher standard. Also, and this is a generalization, most public employees are held to a higher ethical standard than private employees.

                3. Candi

                  Wow, this is rude.

                  One, the rank and file are rarely up to the shenanigans leadership is; the closest I’ve seen is (badly) family-owned and -run businesses.

                  Two: Government, like any other entity, is made of humans. It’s multiple nests of very intelligent ants/bees/wasps/etc., not The Blob.

                  Three: Snarking about X may feel good in the moment, but it’s not conducive to constructive conversation or action. Snark alone tears down without relief; snarking briefly, then heading into a ‘what can we do?’ conversation, is in the long term mentally healthier.

        2. a Gen X manager

          Many employees joke about the last line in a lot of job descriptions being “Other Duties As Assigned”, but AAM’s description of the employer’s right to require nearly anything really takes that joke and applies it more broadly than I (and I suspect a lot of other people) realized it does in reality.

          Reply
        3. (Different) Rebecca

          I guess where I’m confused is that (it seems that) ADA should cover things you could reasonably be expected to do, not things that are so far out of the ordinary as to sound ludicrous, like ‘requiring’ office workers to do extreme sports.

          Reply
            1. The OG Anonsie

              I think the question (or at least the one I have) is how does this work when the thing your health limits you from isn’t actually work? Your employer can require you to do anything, sure, but when it’s a team-building activity and not a work assignment is that treated exactly the same way? The language around accommodation pivots somewhat around the idea of accommodation to perform your job duties, and I’m curious if non-productive and technically not mandatory social activities fall into that category or not.

              So you’re not required to come to this thing, and it’s not work. And the penalty on reviews is for generally not being a team player, which easily bends into an amorphous thing that may or may not include the technically not mandatory sports. I’m not saying the LW shouldn’t speak up in the way you suggest, but I would also be entirely unsurprised (based on my own experiences) if the manager and HR both just shrug at her and carry on.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yes, it’s basically treated the same way, regardless of what the specific activity is (work related or required team building). The only way in which it really would be different is that the ADA looks at whether you can perform the essential functions of your job with reasonable accommodation. This isn’t going to be considered an essential function of the job, so it would be basically impossible for them to argue that exempting you would be “undue hardship” to them. But the law and the overall process are the same.

                Reply
                1. Ego Chamber

                  “whether you can perform the essential functions of your job with reasonable accommodation.”

                  I don’t think this is universally accurate. I have type 1 diabetes and refused to eat cake at the monthly company birthday parties, or participate in office pot lucks (there was also a financial component to that last one). I was marked down for “not being a team player” and the only thing my manager could specifically cite was my refusal to eat food with the team, even though I was present and interacted at these things.

                  I talked with HR about getting an ADA on file, but they refused to participate in the process because the things I was refusing to do weren’t mandatory. I left that job after being put on a PIP for “not being a team player.”

              2. LCL

                In a lot of workplaces, evaluations can affect your raise. Not mine, I am big gov (TM) and evaluations are just another paperwork task. But yeah, if OP is getting bad paper that will affect her real world wages, there is a problem.

                Reply
              3. Leenie

                I kind of love the idea of the OP walking into HR and innocently asking about an ADA accommodation that would exempt her from the not-mandatory-but-still-considered-in-her-performance-review paragliding. I can’t even imagine the reaction…

                Reply
                1. JessaB

                  I cannot understand in this case or in the case above about eating cake at meetings, how any item that is considered relevant to a PIP or a performance review is not “mandatory” to the job vis a vis an ADA accommodation. If it’s not mandatory you can’t put someone on a PIP for it, at least from a logic standpoint (they can DO anything they want, you only have the rights you can afford to litigate if they’re a pain about it,) but the dichotomy of “it’s not mandatory,” BUT “we can fire you for it, or decline your rise in pay,” is sort of loud and flashy lights you know?

            2. aebhel

              Would something like this only apply to disability? I’m not disabled, but I’m certainly not capable of running a marathon, at least not without a lot of pain and misery, and I suspect that I’m probably in the majority there, at least as far as office workers go.

              Reply
          1. hbc

            I think the key is that your employer isn’t required to limit it’s demands of you to “reasonable” things. Like, you can absolutely be hired as a surgeon and be told to clean the toilets and dress as Cookie Monster every day. They can fire you for failing to do so, and you would need to invoke your ADA-covered allergy to fake blue fur and Scrubbing Bubbles to protect yourself from being fired. And then, the accommodation could still be that you wear an Oscar the Grouch costume and use organic toilet cleaner.

            Reply
            1. Student

              The important counter to this kind of thing is that you can go get a different job if you’re unhappy being a surgeon-slash-Oscar-the-Grouch-mascot. Or you can ask for more money to make you tolerate the organic toilet cleaning duties. Or you can raise some venture capital, start your own surgery where no one is required to wear costumes, hire janitors to cover the toilet cleaning for lower costs, attract better surgeon talent, and force your competitor-slash-former-employer out of business.

              The company has to contend with the cost of replacing you – in money, time, and lost opportunities – if you refuse to do what they want and insist on being fired instead of leaving voluntarily. They’ll also likely (but no 100% guarantee) have to pay for unemployment if you get fired, as a surgeon, for not donning the Oscar outfit. They’ll also have to deal with potential ridicule and bad reputation if you decide it’s something worth publicizing, either in local trade groups or in a more public setting.

              You don’t have legal protection from this kind of shenanigan. But that doesn’t mean you are powerless!

              Reply
              1. Statler von Waldorf

                I feel the need to point out that all three of your suggestions in your first paragraph require somebody else to agree with them, otherwise none of them are happening. Either your new boss, your current boss, or a banker / venture capitalist says yes to you asking for a job or money, or you get nothing. You may not be powerless, but it is foolish to pretend that you are on an equal playing ground with your employer, especially with at-will employment.

                To be clear, I’m not directing this at Student specifically. This is a very American attitude that I have seen multiple times from many different people over the years that this Canadian Just Doesn’t Get.

                Personally, I’d have been in HR’s office faster than you can say medical accommodation as soon as they started taking marks off my official review.

                Reply
                1. Jadelyn

                  Thank you. It’s a purist-capitalist “The Invisible Hand of the Market Will Fix Everything Don’t You Worry About It” mindset that is distressingly common here and is actively promoted by mainly conservative, anti-labor business and political groups. The answer to every and any abuse of power by businesses is to place the responsibility for addressing the situation solely on the disadvantaged party. Company sold you a crappy product that doesn’t do what they said it would do? Don’t try to get the company to give refunds or fix the product, just shop somewhere else! Company placing unreasonable demands on you at work? Don’t stand up with your fellow workers and demand fair and reasonable treatment, just get a new job/start your own company and do it better yourself!

                  It’s very frustrating, especially in its tenacity, and I’m glad you addressed it directly.

                2. Student

                  The boss’s demand that his surgeon dress up like Oscar the Grouch and clean toilets also requires that somebody else agrees with him, though. For starters, the surgeon; but if you want to go on like this, also the other surgeons on the market have to decide this is an acceptable condition for having a sugeon’s job, the boss’s boss, other competing managers at the company, the company’s owner(s), shareholders and board members if relevant, etc. have to agree this is an acceptable use of company resources.

                  There’s a reason that surgeons don’t often get asked to clean toilets, and you’d find that they could put up a very good fight if the medical industry suddenly thought it was a great idea.

                  When you’re in a lower-paying job, you have a lot less leverage to fight back against stupid requests – this is very true, and a downside of capitalism. The most accessible fix for it is to form a union with other low-paying employees so your combined leverage is expensive enough to make the company take you seriously. Such unions are still legally enshrined in the US, with many protections and the ability to forge legally binding employment contracts, even though they have been weakened and become less popular. It sucks to admit you alone aren’t valuable enough to be taken seriously, but sometimes it is true, and there’s a remedy available to you.

                  However, people in highly paid jobs actually do have a tremendous amount of power to fight back against efforts to change their jobs in ways they don’t like. I’m fortunate to have a job like this, and I can basically turn down any job duties that don’t take my personal fancy, to a wide (but not unlimited) degree. It’s a privilege, partly from lots of hard work to get to this point, and partly from good luck. I had jobs where I had to make hard calls about putting up with lousy job duties or getting a different job, and even when you’re very poor, that is very much an option here. There are always more jobs to be chased.

                  The capitalist cycle can work, though. It’s worked here to great effect for years. It’s not perfect, and I’d love to see a healthier union participation rate and a number of other changes, but don’t declare it dead and hopeless yet.

              2. aebhel

                This is the kind of thing that only works when your skills are in high enough demand that you can afford to lose a job over poor treatment. That’s not the case for a lot (I would say most) of the people in the workforce. There are industries where (legal!) exploitation and abuse are endemic; there’s no way to just move on to another job, because any job is going to be just as bad.

                So, no, this kind of thing doesn’t typically happen to surgeons. But low-wage workers are frequently subjected to all kinds of indignities, and it’s not necessarily as simple as ‘just get another job’.

                Reply
          2. Working Hypothesis

            The ADA covers anything your employer *does* ask you to do. If they ask you to do it, and you need reasonable accommodations for a covered disability, then it counts. It may still have other reasons why you can’t get ADA protection, such as the accommodations necessary presenting a significant hardship to the business… but it won’t be outside the ADA’s protection just because what the employer is asking is unreasonable — why should they have *more* rights to demand something unreasonable that you can’t do, than to demand something reasonable that you can’t do?

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            1. (Different) Rebecca

              Okay, but, doesn’t asking for ADA protection legitimize the company’s request? IMO, it shifts the conversation from “this is an inappropriate activity to expect of office staff” to “this is something *I* shouldn’t have to do because of medical reasons.” It’s that first conversation that needs to happen with HR–making extreme sports de facto mandatory for office workers is absurd.

              Reply
              1. (Different) Rebecca

                However, if HR gets shirty and is all ‘nope, your manager can require you to do that,” *then* a medical note/ADA would be a fantastic back up…

                Reply
              2. Jessie the First (or second)

                It’s already a legitimate company request – in the sense that they have the legal right to require that you do it. It can be a stupid requirement (as in the OP’s case) but it is a legitimate, as in a legally allowable, requirement. Refusing to do it can therefore cost you your job.

                So, when faced with a job duty that the employer is allowed to require, then yes, go the ADA route if you can.

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                1. JessaB

                  I have been able to in the past. I had to get my doctor involved with writing a letter to appeal the denial, and it did work, and this was back BEFORE ADA. Seriously this was back in the early 70s in New York with a pretty darned tough unemployment department. And it was back before harassment was a “thing,” in people’s consciousness. I was being sexually harassed and it caused issues that I went to a shrink about, and they fought the unemployment and I got it.

                  Nowadays with ADA? It’s probably far easier because there’s statute behind it. “They wouldn’t/couldn’t accommodate x. I had to leave the job. That’s not my fault. It’s not a performance issue, it’s a disability thing.” It’s probably much easier.

        4. Magenta Sky

          All true, but I suspect these “team building exercises ” are being done outside of normal work hours, which raises questions about whether or not everyone being forced to do them is salaried exempt, or being paid overtime.

          There are so many ways this is incompetent management.

          Reply
          1. Working Hypothesis

            I thought about that, too!! If they’re functioning as required activities, which it sure looks like if she’s being formally penalized for not doing them, then they should be paid, either by being lumped into the salaries of exempt workers or by hourly pay for the workers who are not exempt. If they’re supposedly optional, then they need to function as optional… meaning nobody should be getting penalized for not doing them.

            This is a serious legal land mine, totally separate from the health issue. I suspect HR is going to be pissed at that manager for getting them into all this just because of her personal taste for “exciting” team-building events.

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            1. Arjay

              Not only that – who is paying for the activities themselves? A hike might be free, but most of those other things could have admission costs, equipment costs, etc.

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              1. Red 5

                I’ve done a few 5ks, and let me tell you they ain’t cheap. You can find some that are more “fun run” types where there’s no official timing and you get maybe a t-shirt for participating so the prices are lower, but I can’t recall ever seeing an in-person 5k that was less than $20.

                There are virtual 5Ks, which can go as cheap as $12-$15 where you get a medal and just report your time when you’re done, but the only way I can see 5Ks as a team building activity that doesn’t cost somebody a lot of money is if the manager has marked out a course and is just having everybody run on that day without any kind of formal event attached.

                All that said, I’m out of training right now but even as somebody who does them regularly, I don’t think I’d participate in a team building 5k. I definitely wouldn’t do a long hike with them. My fitness comes with baggage due to my health and there’s a high chance of people not being understanding of it. Fitness events are just not really suitable for teambuilding in my opinion.

                Reply
            2. Doing Stretching Exercises While Sitting

              Not only that, but is the company liable for the insurance if something happens to someone during this exercise? It should be covered under workman’s comp. If the company isn’t aware that this is happening, that’s another can of worms that’s being opened.

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        5. Safetykats

          Although you can absolutely have health or fitness issues that would technically prohibit you from participating that aren’t covered under ADA. It’s entirely possible for me to be incapable of reasonably running 5k without having any protected disability.

          If I was the company, I’d be more worried about the liability associated with essentially mandatory sporting events (because if you’re marked down on your performance review for not participating, the events are essentially mandatory) which are undoubtedly not properly insured, and for which people are undoubtedly not signing waivers. OP is probably doing everyone a favor by taking this to HR before somebody is injured in one of these activities and files an L&I claim because it was a work-sponsored event.

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          1. sstabeler

            strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a “protected” disability- provided you can perform the essential tasks of your job, ANY disability that actually does prevent you performing a task can be the basis for an ADA accommodation request.

            Reply
        6. No Mas Pantalones

          But during working hours only, I thought? I was under the impression from the letter that these “teambuilding” (*cough*bullshit*cough*) activities were not during working hours. Perhaps I read it incorrectly. So if they ARE NOT during normal working hours and the OP is getting penalized…. isn’t that crossing a line?

          I don’t do much “extra curriciular” work stuff. I come to work to work and I do that during working hours. I’m not really interested in seeing everyone I see on a daily basis during the little time I have to relax and be AWAY from them. You want to see me on the weekend? You pay up.

          Reply
            1. No Mas Pantalones

              Hooray for my non-exempt pantalones!

              And also for finding a job in a company that is pretty dang awesome in general. :-)

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        7. klew

          Does this apply to off the clock time too? Would they receiving pay for attending this “team building” events? Marathons and such seem like a weekend type of thing. I don’t understand how a company could penalize someone for not participating in an outside of work event, if that’s what these are.

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      2. Observer

        Not really. Unless there is a legal issue, your boss could theoretically require you to do pretty much anything. Well managed companies won’t do that, but the manager is NOT managing well.

        Reply
  2. Katniss

    I would definitely go to HR. It’s egregious that she’s expecting everyone to participate in activities that involve physical exertion and is punishing you for not being able to do so.

    Reply
    1. Sofia

      This makes me mad. At my last job we had stuff like that, Race across Australia and such, teams, cycling, swimming, running, etc. It is definitely not my thing, AND it was outside of the work hours, so I never signed up. It was never “mandatory” either. I felt the disapproval from my boss’s boss very acutely.

      Reply
    2. Red 5

      Agreed.

      I understand the desire to not rock the boat and not wanting to get people in trouble, but this is just not okay on multiple levels. On top of asking employees to do something they may have trouble doing because of physical and medical limitations, knocking down somebody’s performance review score for something that is clearly labeled as not being mandatory is a misuse of the performance review. This is why companies harp on have measurable goals in reviews, because “team player” is too nebulous. If she wants to knock your score down, the review should say “participates in at least two teambuilding activities each year.” Which it can’t do unless the company wants to make them mandatory.

      Reply
  3. sunny-dee

    Nooooo. I could stand (and probably enjoy) some of those activities physically, but I am terrified of heights. Rock climinb, parasailing, ziplining, anything higher than, like 2 feet off the ground would cause me to panic. That’s a hard stop.

    I can get doing something “extreme” once a year, just to do something special — I could picnic at the waiting area as people did an activity I didn’t participate in — but every month? That’s insane. I also have a stepson, I’m going through IVF, and I volunteer at church — I don’t have spare hours for this kind of thing at this frequency.

    It sounds like the manager has serious boundary issues. Work is not and should not be your social life. Especially a dictatorial social life.

    Reply
    1. SpiderLadyCEO

      Yes! I love hiking, but 10 miles with coworkers? I’m sorry, no. And while it’s great to have an option for people who don’t have much going on at work, penalizing non-participants is insane!

      As for Alison’s advice, I’m not a fan of OP saying “health is why” because what if OP feels capable of doing something similar later? Like, maybe OP trains and goes hiking with partner, and Boss gets wind? Then it would look like OP lied.

      Events with coworkers can be more strenuous then the same event with friends/family. If you’re doing some extreme activity with them and it gets to be too much it’s easier to back out. But with a bunch of heavily active coworkers, it’s going to be more stressful. Say, walking in a 5k at ones own pace as opposed to running it with a pack.

      OP, can you and your coworker approach manager together and start by framing the situation as “I would love to participate but this is a bit extreme. These are what we can do.”

      Reply
      1. Michelle

        OP said she can’t do these activities due to her health :
        I have some health problems and cannot do activities like these. I suggested low impact activities like a board game day or a BBQ in the park, and she shot me down without even putting it to a vote with the rest of the team
        She’s not using that as a “little white lie” to get out of the activities, is seems her health is a valid reason and even if it wasn’t, employers should not try to force activities on employees. Just because the manager loves these activities doesn’t mean everyone on her team is going to love them and trying to force them on those who don’t just makes her a bad manager.

        Reply
        1. SpiderLadyCEO

          Oh, no, I read that, it’s not what I meant at all. Health changes! I was just saying that even if health is a valid reason, if hers improved, or she decided to do a similar activity at a lower level later, I didn’t want OP to be perceived as having lied.

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          1. Red 5

            This is very true, plus health issues can look almost like nonsense to people on the outside of them. For example, my coworkers know that when I’m in training (I’ve been having a flare up so I haven’t been lately) I jog regularly and do 5ks. But I also don’t walk up the stairs, not even one flight, because while I can manage to do it I usually end up with more pain afterwards that can actually keep me from jogging, which is an activity I somewhat enjoy.

            That wouldn’t make any sense to anybody that doesn’t know most of my medical history. So it’s very easy for this kind of thing to look confusing on the outside.

            Reply
      2. JessaB

        Not to mention this requires training. You don’t just grab someone and do a 10k. This doesn’t happen without proper training, if they get injured is it going to be covered by worker’s comp? This can get someone hurt, whether or not they like the activity.

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      1. Rachael

        I know, right? I can go hiking and probably parasailing….but I don’t want to do it with my coworkers once a month. The point is that you should not feel bad saying that you can’t do it when there are probably plenty of coworkers that can but don’t want to do it. Ask around.

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    2. CheeryO

      I would fit right in at this company on paper, but I have limited time and energy, so I want to run and hike where and when I want, wearing what I want, at my own pace, with my outside-of-work friends who I can be completely myself around. I definitely don’t want to have to plan my training and racing around team building adventures.

      OP’s boss needs to start a lunchtime or after-hours running group with the larger office and keep the team building activities friendly for everyone, whether or not that’s “exciting.” It’s ridiculous to expect your entire team to go on outdoors adventures with you every month. I would definitely keep pushing back.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        That’s why this is one of the great updates: It turned out that the people who showed up for the events resented the time away from their family, resented having to buy new running shoes, resented limping from a pulled leg muscle because ‘team-building.’ They were participating, but they weren’t feeling warm and fuzzy about it.

        Reply
        1. CheeryO

          Derp, I missed that it was an old letter! That is a good update. That’s how I would see it playing out in my office, too.

          Reply
      2. Cranky Dude

        I love hiking. Love love love it. Miles and miles of it. But other than my spouse, who is my hiking partner (and may like it even more than I do; she’s certainly faster and stronger than I am), I hate hate hate hiking with other people. Trying to imagine a 10 mile hike with, say, a dozen of my coworkers. I just want to shoot myself in the head thinking about it. The constant stops and starts, the little breaks that turn into an hour sitting there waiting for everyone to be ready, the constant whining, argh.

        Even if everyone else loves group hikes, this manager is way out of line for penalizing an employee for “not being a team player” when the activity is not mandatory and not remotely work related. Grrrrr.

        Reply
    3. JulieBulie

      I am super-clumsy and have a tremor, so no extreme anything for me, thanks. I’ll ride any roller coaster with a good restraint system; but if it’s an activity that requires balance, agility, dexterity, hand/eye coordination, steadiness, etc. then I am OUT.

      (I am not sure if any skill is needed for ziplining, but I don’t like the looks of it.)

      I don’t have a doctor’s note for this. I’m not sure if I could get one or if I would even want one. But the kind of boss who would make these kinds of activities semi-mandatory is my absolute nightmare.

      Reply
  4. kittymommy

    Oh hell no. Until you said it was in a performance evaluation o waa going to say just ignore it but if it’s on record, nope nope nope. I’d say something to HR and as much as I hate that you need to bring up the medical issues, od nention ro her that aspect as well. I would hate this if my office started “mandating” (as much as she saus she’s noe, she is) physical activity team building. Not necessarily for any medical reasons, I just dont like it. Good luck!!

    Reply
  5. Tuxedo Cat

    The physical issues are enough of a reason but I also wonder if this taking places off of company time. If so, it’s unfair to be penalized for not doing what should be an option activity. People have lives outside of work. There’s also a cost factor- I don’t own running clothes or running shoes so I’d have to go out to buy them. I don’t think that’s a trivial cost, either, from what I gather from friends who do run.

    Reply
    1. madge

      This, and as someone who loves running, that is equipment you simply can’t purchase cheaply. Unless you enjoy serious foot pain. Also, I would hate this, even if it was on company time. I’m imagining OP’s workplace as the same one with daily nerf gun wars.

      Reply
      1. Star

        Seriously! I love running, but it’s an investment. Which is fine when it’s a hobby you enjoy, but are all of these people investing in properly fitted shoes? A 5k is a decent distance if you’re not an experienced runner, and people are probably feeling pushed to unnecessary expense and/or they’re being exposed to unnecessary injuries. Big nope!

        Reply
        1. Tuxedo Cat

          That’s a good point. People who don’t run would have to make some time investment to be able to participate. In addition to the cost of equipment.

          Reply
        2. RVA Cat

          Also, imagine the liability nightmare if someone is injured during one of these activities – or heaven forbid *killed*, which is a possibility with something like rock climbing.

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        I would be so tempted to purchase running shoes and then submit them as an expense, along with a letter that said, “since I was penalized on my review, it is clear that this activity is mandatory, and this is mandatory equipment.”

        Reply
        1. Iris Eyes

          That might not be the worst strategy, when accounting gets involved things tend to get straightened out pretty quickly.

          Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      Yes. I don’t care if people are into this stuff or even if it’s offered as a team activity, but when not being athletic and into intense/extreme sports starts showing up on my performance review AND my suggestions for something more inclusive are turned down cold? I’m complaining higher up the chain. I have an injury that, while not serious, would prevent me from participating safely in most of the activities listed, and there is no way in hell I’m getting dinged for not being a “team player” when something endangers my long-term physical health.

      Reply
      1. Samata

        I CAN safely participate in these things – and I often do. ON MY OWN TIME. I don’t even have a running buddy anymore, because it’s mine. I think it’s ridiculous all around; whether or not I choose to get smelly, snotty and sweaty with my coworkers in shorty skin tight running shorts should be my choice and most definitely shouldn’t be on a performance review.

        Reply
    3. nnn

      I’ve noticed a pervasive assumption among sporty people that owning sports gear is a baseline part of life, rather than an extra thing that you buy for a hobby. For example, my winter coat is something that looks professional when visiting clients for my office job. I don’t own a ski jacket because I don’t ski. But my sporty family members always ask me why I “got all dressed up” in my regular everyday wool coat instead of wearing an expensive ski jacket that I have no use for.

      Reply
    4. Infinity Anon

      That is what I was wondering as well. If it is truly an optional activity, can the manager use not doing it in an official performance review as an example of not being a team player? Doesn’t that make it a mandatory activity that they are not being compensated for (if hourly)?

      Reply
    5. JM60

      ‘Optional’ activities that employees are punished for not attending aren’t optional. And employees who are not exempt should probably be paid for attending. I would be very angry if I was punished for not attending an ‘optional’, non-work related activity, then not paid for it after I start attending.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        Been there. :(

        “Time you spend at the Xmas party isn’t paid because it isn’t mandatory.” Seems reasonable, right? Cut to 2 months later: “We can’t give you an ‘above average’ rating because you didn’t attend any of the optional activities that were coordinated for employee retention. Yes, they were optional, but the people who are really committed to this company will show up for important events, even if they’re not being paid.”

        Reply
  6. CatCat

    This will come to a grinding halt when there’s a worker’s comp claim from the mandatory non-mandatory sports team building events.

    Reply
      1. IMakeSigns

        This happened at a company sporting event I was forced to participate in! It was a volleyball “tournament” at a field-day style event that everyone took WAY too seriously. I begged my boss not to play, but was made to and ended up getting spiked in the face (hard) in front of 100 coworkers (I was fine other than a bloody lip/bruised face). They then continued the (very intense) game and immediately after, a guy blew out his ACL, which required surgery that the company had to pay for.

        Reply
    1. Bow Ties Are Cool

      Right? I’d be tempted to take myself and my gimpy knee to the next run, stagger through a mile or two until it gives out, and take a few weeks off on the company dime. Opportunity to catch up on my reading!

      To be clear, I wouldn’t DO that, but I’d be tempted. Kind of like I’d be tempted to slap that manager.

      Reply
      1. ST

        Beat me to it.

        Especially if I had an injury that needed fixed on the company’s dime – like this knee, which is just gimpy enough to annoy me, but not enough to make me consider elective surgery.

        Start race>fall down> grimace and clasp knee>get knee repaired>take a couple weeks off>come back to new manager

        Reply
    2. Brett

      These types of events are a huge gray area, though, for worker’s comp. Since the OP presumable still was paid for work that day and the events occur outside work hours and off property, there is a strong case that the activities are voluntary even if they are reflected in performance reviews. (But the reviews could make the case that the events are not voluntary as well.) It would depend a great deal on which state and even on which person heard the worker’s comp case that day.

      Reply
        1. Antilles

          Correct. It might be legally murky, but it’s a morass that you don’t want to get in.
          1.) Fighting about compensation with your own injured employee is going to be awful for morale. Kinda defeats the purpose of team-building.
          2.) If it got any publicity, this would be a PR nightmare: “Company forces employee to go rock climbing, she broke her leg and now the company is refusing to pay her medical bills”
          3.) If this went to court, you can bet the jury’s sympathies are going to be towards a seriously injured employee forced to participate against her will.

          Reply
      1. SoCalHR

        The “grayness” of this really depends on the state, but in California, the fact that OP is getting dinged on the performance reviews for this definitely tilts it more to the dark side. Even as a former Work Comp adjuster if I had a supervisor saying “yes, I downgraded the employee in a performance review because they didn’t come” and then they came the next time and was injured, I don’t think I could/would deny that claim. If the activities were *truly* voluntary, then that would be different (although in CA, sometimes even those get covered).

        Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, I can see this boss having lots of problems.
      People getting sick or injured while at the activity and no plan for rescue or safety could work into a huge deal.
      TPTB may have agreed to optional teambuilding exercises but were they aware that people got dinged on their evals for it? That means it’s not optional, and saying it is optional does not make it magically turn into something optional.
      I can see someone asking this boss if she collected doctor’s notes giving each employee permission to participate. How was she able to judge that each individual had the capacity to safely participate?

      I remember in grammar school we burned through gym teachers like crazy. One year we were on our fifth set of gym teachers for that school year. The 2 men made everyone run laps around the perimeter of a large field. I had “forgotten” my shorts so I could not go to gym class that day. I watched and one by one as half of the class returned well before gym period was over. There was no color in their faces and they were sent back to the class because they could not stop vomiting. The people who were able to complete the class were the ones who ignored the teachers when they said, “Faster, faster”, they walked instead.

      The only thing this boss has done is built a sense of cohesion for her employees around the idea that she probably has no clue how to manage people. They bonded alright, but they bonded against her.

      Reply
  7. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    UGH! I don’t have any health restrictions, but I wouldn’t want to do those activities with my colleagues.

    Finishing a 5K ten minutes after everyone else isn’t my idea of bonding with my coworkers. I have no upper body strength, so rock climbing is a non-starter (I need Fred from Accounting “cheering me on” like I need a hole in the head). Parasailing? I’m not even sure what that is, but I’ll bet it requires a swimsuit, and just no effing way. I’d sooner die.

    Reply
    1. k.k

      I’m with you. I don’t want to do these activities with my colleagues, or anyone else. These are so not normal team building activities.

      Reply
    2. Amber Rose

      I’ve been parasailing! They strap you into a parachute and then launch you into the sky and haul you around with a motorboat. You don’t actually need to be in a swimsuit, since you take off from and land on dry land, although there is a chance you might end up in the water so shorts at least are advisable. It’s not the slightest bit athletic. A little chilly, very relaxing, maybe impossible if you’re afraid of heights. Kinda like going on a Ferris wheel.

      The rest of what you said is truth though. I like rock climbing, but by myself so nobody else can make fun of how sad and weak I am.

      Reply
          1. paul

            Oh man. That make sit sound even scarier :/ I freak out easy when I’m tipsy. Glad you had fun though…just never ever ever make me do that!

            Reply
        1. Jaydee

          The top two on my list of fears:
          1. Falling into water
          2. Falling, general (yes, I realize that falling onto land is more likely to hurt/kill me than falling into water depending on the height – I didn’t say this was a rational order of fears)

          I would totally go parasailing with this group because it would probably be the thing that finally ends the “extreme team building activities.” No matter how much you enjoy these activities, you will not enjoy them when you have to physically force me into the parachute and then listen to me scream at the top of my lungs while you drag me toward the motor boat. It would be the heavyset adult version of a small child throwing a tantrum and having to be carried out of a store while kicking and screaming.

          Reply
      1. Antilles

        A little chilly, very relaxing, maybe impossible if you’re afraid of heights. Kinda like going on a Ferris wheel.
        If you have any fear of heights, Ferris Wheels are straight up horrifying.
        1.) Every single one looks like it was built 50 years ago and not maintained at all since then.
        2.) They always have a weird creaking noise, like something is about to break. Is that sound normal? Was that the sound of the beams straining?
        3.) The cars sway back and forth a lot, as though they’re one good gust from flipping too much and dropping you right out into thin air.
        4.) The stopping and starting motion is jarring and unexpected. C’mon man, give me some warning before you slam on the brakes!
        5.) The seat belts (if there are any) are little crummy things, barely even worthy of the name. If things go wrong, I’m relying on this tiny thing and one loose latch to save my life?

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates ferris wheels! I’m not particularly scared of heights, but I am scared of poorly maintained machinery lifting me hundreds of meters into the air.

          Reply
    3. SpiderLadyCEO

      Yep. I would do a bunch of this with my besties, but not a chance my out of shape butt is going out there for all of them to judge!!! I can just imagine coworkers being all, Oh, SpiderLady! You were so slow during the race! How are you so skinny! Nope. Not worth the risk.

      Reply
      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

        Right? Athletic endeavors (in athletic clothing!) with my coworkers is super low on my list of things I’d like to do — somewhere below root canal. And I *do* enjoy doing athletic things. Just not with Fred from Accounting, who is twenty years younger than I am and in way better shape, and kind of a douche anyway. NO THANK YOU.

        Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      I have done a lot of odd things in various jobs. This would be a deal breaker for me, I would be looking for a new job.
      When asked why I was leaving I would very simply say that I do not do 10 mile hikes and I do not climb rocks. I was not told I would have to when I was hired, this is not what I signed on for.

      Reply
  8. Samiratou

    I’d lay odds that there are more than just the two of you that aren’t so thrilled with the status quo, either, and would appreciate switching things up with a board game or pub trivia or painting class or something.

    And they do these monthly? That’s a lot. My company used to have quarterly team outings, company funded and they could include sporty type things but they tended to change based on who volunteered to plan them and were certainly not required. Even if you didn’t want to do the main activity, anyone is welcome to join for food/drinks afterwards (which is a common part of such things).

    Another option may be to chat with some others and see if you might be able to band together to suggest non-sport activities once in awhile, or on a rotation or whatever. Offer to plan something yourself, too, as that might help (eg. “Hey, there’s a restaurant in town that has board games and old-school video consoles–I’d be happy to call and ask about reservations for the next outing, if people are interested…”).

    Reply
    1. justsomeone

      It sounds like OP has tried offering alternatives and been shot down: “I suggested low impact activities like a board game day or a BBQ in the park, and she shot me down without even putting it to a vote with the rest of the team. Those ideas are not exciting enough.”

      Reply
      1. Samiratou

        She may get more traction if others in the group get together to say the same thing. If supervisor is under the impression that it’s just OP and the other coworker who don’t LOVE LOVE LOVE these activities when in reality most of the team isn’t thrilled about it, they might get further if they go as a group rather than just OP making the suggestions.

        Reply
      2. Samiratou

        Also, there’s a difference between suggesting and alternative and taking responsibility for planning, at least in my experience. That may not be the case here, as boss may continue to blow her off, but it’s worth a try.

        Reply
  9. Trout 'Waver

    OP, a manager who selects only people who share her hobbies for promotion and recognition is not a team player. Team players welcome everyone from every background. Also, she’s not a good manager if she’s doing this.

    Reply
    1. Samata

      This reminds me of the recent letter from the manager who was building a team of people she liked. The one with the craft brew runs.

      Reply
    2. Brandy

      So she wants the “office culture” to be employees just like her, no old people, no people not into being physically active. Kinda reminds me of the drinking boss who did an update in October. And another boss on here too. Whats with all these bosses all the sudden wanting employees to be their “friends”? My boss and I have very little in common. But we get along because we both come in and do our work. That’s all that’s required.

      Reply
        1. Magenta Sky

          Monoculture is a bad idea in agriculture, and it’s a bad idea in business, for much the same reason. When everyone is the same, and there’s a problem, everybody will have the same idea to solve it. And that idea is probably what caused it.

          Reply
      1. Machiamellie

        For real. As a physically disabled person, I’d feel that this manager didn’t like me at all if I worked under her.

        My company employs a lot of younger Millenials and there’s a lot of physical activities that employees are encouraged to participate in. You can even earn hours of PTO by running races, etc. I can’t do any of that so I can’t earn those hours, but whatever. I made sure they were aware when I started that I was disabled and wouldn’t be participating in those things. They said “cool” and it was.

        Reply
    3. a1

      I was going to say something similar. The manager is not being a good team player, and is not being effective in building the team if she continues to do things she knows will exclude 2 member of the team.

      Reply
    4. JM in England

      I’ve mentioned this before on AAM as a comment on a similar question, but Trout ‘Waver is spot on.
      At OldJob a few years back, two people in my department with the same job title as myself were under consideration for a promotion. One of them played with the boss in the company’s football team.

      You’ve got three guesses to figure out who got the job! :-)

      Reply
  10. Sara without an H

    Is this Managers-without-Boundaries day? While I agree that you need to be more upfront with your manager, you should also loop in HR, because what she is doing is definitely out of line.

    Reply
  11. Cringing 24/7

    Ugh. Shivers go up my spine every time I hear about a manager making (or trying to make) a team “feel like a family.” Maybe it’s just me, but that is not ideal.

    Reply
    1. Chaordic One

      Exactly! And whose family? The Borghias? The Mansons?

      A lot of people don’t really have happy or healthy families to compare things to and when I hear “like family” I cringe.

      Reply
    2. Denise (in las vegas)

      Not. just. you.

      I would NOT tell this manager I had any health problems. She would (OK, might) then view you as “lesser” or “damaged” and start managing you out.

      Add in the fact that she is probably telling other managers/higher-ups in the company that you aren’t a team-player (would any of them be asking “WHY?”) and you should be going straight to HR.

      Reply
    3. Emily Spinach

      Completely agree. I am at work to do my job. For love and socializing, I have actual family and beloved friends. Not that I dislike my colleagues–I don’t! I even socialize with many of them. But that’s by choice, off the clock.

      To me “like family” suggests people who don’t want to maintain reasonable boundaries and professionalism at work, and much as I love being casual, I have found over the years that boundaries, high expectations, and enforcement of both really do make a workplace function better.

      Reply
  12. Seal

    The OP mentions that “at least half of the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited if HR knew”. That statement alone should be reason enough to take this to HR. Imagine if someone got hurt during these “non-mandatory” team-building activities? The fact that those who don’t participate are getting dinged on their monthly performance evaluations belies the manager’s claim that participation is not mandatory. HR needs to know all of this ASAP so they can put a stop to it.

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      Yes. This is creating a liability from an injury perspective as well as the possibility of discriminating against someone based on health. I agree with Alison that I’d talk to the boss, but I would also raise it with HR as a risk issue.

      Reply
    2. Matilda Jefferies

      All of this. There’s a reason these activities would likely be prohibited, and it’s not because HR is the Fun Police. They would be prohibited because of the massive health & safety issues that are involved! I get the feeling that OP was thinking about it like “tattling,” and not wanting to get her manager in trouble. But the manager was getting *herself* in trouble; all OP would have been doing would be alerting people who could put a stop to it.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        There may even be a clause in the insurance policy for employees that states a limitation or point blank does not allow these things to be covered.
        I wondered if injured employees could sue the boss personally….

        Reply
    3. Jadelyn

      Seriously – she obviously knows what she’s doing is not okay with anyone but herself, but she doesn’t seem to care. It’s past time to get HR involved. Someone has to rein her in from trying to make her own personal Xtreme Hobbies group out of her employees.

      Reply
  13. AnonToday

    I am very fit (I run marathons for fun) but anything involving heights gets a hard pass from me due to issues with depth perception and overall NOPE.

    Never thought our “team building” events of potlucks containing undercooked/suspicious foods would look good in context.

    Reply
    1. Cringing 24/7

      Yuuup. I LOVE running, but just because I love it doesn’t mean I want to do it with my manager and coworkers. Ew.

      Reply
      1. Samata

        I just commented above I don’t even run with a running buddy. I get that people use running as a time to socialize. Not me. And Especially not at work.

        Reply
        1. Brandy

          Yep, my coworkers are the best ive ever had, but I don’t want to hang with, go out with, or see after hours. We see each other 40 hours a week. Im good. Don’t need to see them more.

          Reply
        2. Anon to me

          Amen. I hate running with others. My favorite part of my running routine is that I can listen to some podcasts, zone out, and destress. Having to socialize would defeat that.

          Plus I suspect that this manager’s team-building events are helping the team members to bond. Probably bonding over how much their manager stinks.

          Reply
      2. paul

        yeah.

        I’m not a runner-trying to increase cardio though–but I do lift.

        Do I want my boss and coworkers to see me during and after widowmaker squats? Uh, hell no. I don’t want my *family* seeing me like that.

        Reply
    2. Southern Ladybug

      I run for fun, too. Running with coworkers isn’t fun. And when I’m competing…they don’t want to go to a race with me, either.

      Reply
      1. CheeryO

        Same. I did a 5K with coworkers once and did not enjoy the experience one bit. I prefer doing races alone, or at least with the select few running buddies who are aware that I turn into a competitive, weird-face-making, excessive-snot-producing jerk once the gun goes off. They also understand that I work really hard and am not just randomly good at running, which seems to be what my coworkers think.

        Reply
    3. Demon Llama

      To be honest, I love the sound of all of the activities the OP mentions – that is literally the definition of my bag. I’d love it if my workplace offered access to these sorts of things…

      … BUT – and this is a major but – none of it should be even vaguely compulsory, and DEFINITELY not part of some team-building drive (because even if it’s voluntary, you’re risking folks being excluded from opportunities building relationships with superiors and peers).

      It’s like the OP is being penalised for being lactose-intolerant when the team are on “compulsory” team-building cheese-tasting trips. Just terrible management by the OP’s boss.

      Reply
    4. Lora

      I used to run distance. And I did it at 4am, because that was the quiet peaceful time that I got to myself without anyone being all up my tree about work stuff. I could wear my pajamas, go for a run with the dog and listen to crickets chirp.

      Hard pass on parasailing or anything remotely like it with heights. I have nightmares about falling. Would throw up, then pass out, or at least pray for death the whole time. Plus, I don’t do competitive sports. I don’t think it does a darn thing for teams, really – plenty of other, better ways to build teamwork. Some of those methods even involve working on work projects….shocking, I know!

      Now I do a couple of particularly demanding kinds of dance for cardio and fun, but knowing how hard it is to learn to do properly (and how disappointing it is to realize that it’s going to be WAY more work than you initially thought), I would never drag someone along to make them do it if they didn’t want to.

      Reply
  14. Cyrus

    I agree that frequent athletic events is a bad practice and bad management. But also, is anyone else bothered by monthly performance reviews with a point system? I guess that might make sense in some jobs but I don’t think it is a general practice, and shouldn’t be. I’d spend all my time walking on eggshells, and monthly meetings with my boss just to go over this kind of thing would be a distraction from actual work.

    Reply
    1. DaddySocialWorker

      +1 I thought monthly performance reviews with point system were way over the top as well. I keep notes on my 1:1s with staff but it’s not a performance review and there’s certainly no point system.

      Reply
  15. Wannabe Disney Princess

    Even though I probably COULD participate in the non-mandatory mandatory activities….I would rather not. None of those are my idea of fun (the hike MAYBE, as long as it could be leisurely). And if they take place out of work hours? Yeah, no. I have enough going on that I don’t want to use my precious spare time to voluntarily do an activity I barely tolerate.

    Try talking to your manager again. Maybe even send a follow-up email so you have documentation. Then if she penalizes you on your review…go to HR.

    Reply
  16. animaniactoo

    I’d also approach this from a different stance:

    “If not participating in these non-mandatory events is negatively affecting my work-related performance review, it doesn’t sound like they’re not mandatory. That sounds like they ARE mandatory and I’m being penalized for not participating. I’d like to either have that left off my review or check with HR about whether that standard can be applied under these circumstances.”

    Manager can’t have it both ways – and apparently has already been explicitly told that she can’t make these events mandatory.

    So, yes to being willing to do some other team building exercise and making it clear that you’re just not up for these particular types of events (health issues or not, kind of irrelevant here, the point is that you should be able to opt out of things you don’t find “fun” when it’s meant to be fun). But also to drawing a strong line under the logical disconnect around what constitutes “mandatory”.

    Reply
  17. Rainy

    This is quite frankly appalling to me, and I have immense sympathy for the OP.

    I have a lot of experience with quelling sporty types who chide me for using the elevators and electric door openers in our building, and my office is mainly very kind (there’s an exception who is in general kind of an awful person, and after gently deflecting her criticism and shaming several times I finally told an office gossip about my joint issues, and she now keeps her mouth off me, but I resent that it came to that), but I cannot imagine being faced with stealth-mandatory off-time sporting activities like this and then having it brought up in my performance reviews. I think the advice given is very good.

    Reply
  18. SWGl

    I wish I could send this to my old manager from several years ago. Not participating in “Fitness Team” activities showed up on one of my performance reviews. Ugh.

    Reply
  19. Dust Bunny

    Dude, I love a good hike and this has me seeing red. Your manager stinks at managing. Yes, my job does team-building stuff at (our infrequent) all-staff get-togethers, but they’re totally voluntary and don’t require athletic prowess. (Turns out I am naturally deadly at Wii basketball. I had no idea. I literally have not played video games since Atari.) I don’t know if what you’re describing goes as far as an ADA violation but it definitely goes as far as bad practice.

    Reply
        1. Murphy

          To be honest, I didn’t notice it either! But I checked after I read your comment because I figured it would be :)

          Reply
        2. Jennifer Thneed

          It’s always worth checking, even if there aren’t updates to that day’s Inc.com letter. Some of those older letters can be quite amusing (or educational).

          Reply
          1. a1

            Agree! I love the “You may also like” section. I have found some gems there that I had either missed or were from before I was a regular reader.

            Reply
      1. fposte

        You mean an update to the update? I think the update itself was pretty conclusive–were you looking for something else?

        Reply
  20. the gold digger

    I won’t even hike ten miles with my husband. And I love him. And I promised him for better or for worse. (A ten-mile hike would definitely be in the “for worse” category.)

    If I were the boss, I would have Great British Baking Show-watching sessions, along with our own baking sessions later where we would incorporate the techniques we learned in the show. And if people don’t want to bake, then they can be eaters. There is room for everyone at my management table.

    Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      I would work for you! I can get behind a good baking competition, especially if I’m in charge of quality control.

      Reply
    2. jmm

      If you become boss…please let me know if you are accepting applications for marketing staff! :) I am completely on board with TV, baking and eating!

      Reply
    3. Jennifer's GF-Thneed

      You’ll certainly want someone to write up all the rules and stuff, right? I’m your gal! (And can provide good flour substitution suggestions for people who want to avoid wheat.)

      Reply
      1. Decima Dewey

        Or get a bunch of Sunday New York Times Crossword books and compete to see who can get the most puzzles perfectly filled out.

        Reply
  21. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I caught the running and exercise bug, so these actually sound fun. But, I understand that people should not be dinged for not participating or can’t do the things.

    Would there be a way to do activities that still allow the option of fitness, sports or exercise for some but that everyone can come to? Like picnics outside, and active people can bring a ball or Frisbee? Happy hour somewhere with healthy options and/or at a place where people who want to can walk to it and others can drive?

    Many people who exercise daily may have trouble fitting it in, so it’s good to have some chances to move at work events. It just shouldn’t be required.

    Reply
    1. Wannabe Disney Princess

      We do the second option every summer. It’s really nice! Most of us just enjoy the afternoon eating and chatting. But there’s always a few who want to do a sporty activity. Or games. There’s plenty of space to do so! And nobody is forced to participate in any way, shape, or form.

      Reply
    2. AdAgencyChick

      I’m an exercise freak by the standards of my officemates. Card-carrying member of the CrossFit cult and all that.

      I would still not want to do anything that this manager was suggesting. I have a training plan for my individual needs. I don’t want to make myself too tired to do a planned lifting day, or injure myself on a snowboard and have to knock back my training for months while I heal. Eff that noise.

      And I REALLY would not want anyone who worked for me to feel like they have to do physically strenuous activities to be part of my team.

      Reply
      1. paul

        That too.

        I’m hoping to compete in a meet next year after our move; if I can get back to the 93 or 105 kilo weight classes and hit a 500+ kilo total I might even be reasonably competitive in a local meet (not regional or national–I think you need like 650+ to qualify for that). Would I want to risk that for some damn-fool manager who doesn’t understand why what they’re doing is bad?

        Reply
  22. Murphy

    Ugh, this is awful. I have no physical restrictions and I would absolutely hate most of these activities. This is a ridiculous thing to get penalized for.

    Reply
    1. a Gen X manager

      Completely agree! I wonder if the manager is trying to encourage non-participating employees to quit so that they can hire people who would be a better match (for this BS, not the actual work!)?

      Reply
    2. Matilda Jefferies

      Yes, this is it for me as well. The boss is assuming a certain level of physical ability which not everybody has. I don’t have any particular health restrictions, but I’m just really, really not athletic. Apart from running a 5K *mumblemumble* years ago, I have never tried any of the above activities. You can’t just jump up and run a 5K, or hike 10K, or whatever, without having had any training beforehand.

      And there are always those people who go “Don’t worry, I can teach you! It’ll be fun!” What these people are envisioning is a quick Rock Climbing 101 lesson, and then we get going – maybe at a less advanced level than they’re used to, but still going. What they’re never envisioning is what actually happens – they will spend literally the entire time trying to show me how to do the Thing, and I will never figure out the Thing. They will get frustrated because they can’t teach me, and because they’re missing out on their own time to do the Thing. I will get frustrated and embarrassed because I can’t learn, and nobody will have any fun at all.

      (Alternate activity – we both agree early on this this isn’t going to work for me, so they go off to do the Thing and we plan to meet up later. In which case, we could have just skipped all the frustration and embarrassment and gone straight to the “meeting up later” part.)

      Reply
  23. Argh!

    You have to wonder what else this supervisor doesn’t know if failure to participate in a “voluntary” activity results in a ding on your evaluation!

    Going to grandboss or HR seems to be in order because there’s a training issue there. We usually think of the lowest rungs needing “training,” but the upper levels do, too. Nobody is born knowing ADA law, respecting individual differences, or having sound psychological boundaries.

    The people who do participate in these things may not be happy, either. This is time taken away from recreational activities with their actual families and friends.

    Reply
  24. Liz2

    Sheesh, she isn’t even doing physical things you could participate otherwise in like being a sideline cheerleader or selling drinks during a race or organizing tshirts to wear together. Full on with the advice given!

    Reply
  25. a Gen X manager

    Are these events scheduled for outside of the regular working schedule? Are they paid hours (for non-exempt)? Can you be fired for not participating in “team building activities” that are scheduled outside of the position’s regular schedule? If there were non-exempt employees and it was scheduled outside of regular work hours and they aren’t paid an hourly wage for this time, can they still be fired (I hope not!)? Being exempt is terrible because it makes it so easy for employers to require BS any time, any day.

    Reply
      1. Emac

        If the manager is saying that it’s not “mandatory” but is still taking points off of a review for not going, does that make it required time that would have to be paid?

        Reply
  26. whomever

    Kind of unrelated, but….monthly review? Most I’ve ever got is bi-yearly. Doesn’t that add a lot of extra management time and the like to process all these? Is this common? I mean we all have bad months and good months but it kind of averages out…

    Reply
    1. Chocolate Teapot

      Or is it coming up during monthly 1 to 1 catch up meetings, which might very well include a review of current work in progress?

      Reply
      1. Tuesday Next

        “…which might very well include a review of current work in progress” as well as the chance to be lambasted for not being sporty :-/

        Reply
  27. AdAgencyChick

    I remember this post when it originally came up! Glad the OP was able to rally some group support and make some changes.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer's Bullet-Bra'd Thneed

      The hair. OMG the hair! (Especially on the middle runner.) (But what really gets me is thinking about the very unforgiving undergarments they are wearing while they do sports.)

      Reply
  28. anon24

    I would love these activities. And I would hate board games or anything else socializing. It doesn’t matter. Events should not be crafted around the desires of one person. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 10k hike, a monopoly tournament, baking a cake, watching a football game, or having a book club, anyone should have the option to go “nope, not for me. See you next month” with no judgement and no questions asked (except maybe, hey, what can we do next time that you would enjoy?)

    Reply
    1. Magenta Sky

      “Team building events” are generally viewed as something that’s not worthwhile unless *everyone* participates. (Not true, but often viewed that way by people who aren’t very good at management anyway.)

      The only “team building event” that *everyone* will ever agree on is hating team building events.

      Reply
      1. Rusty Shackelford

        The only “team building event” that *everyone* will ever agree on is hating team building events.

        Nope. Some people love them. Which proves that there’s NO activity everyone likes.

        Reply
  29. Foreign Octopus

    This is literally my worst nightmare.

    I hate having to socialise with colleagues but if I was forced to go on a 5km run or a 10km hike, I would lose my mind and look for any other job, no matter the industry, straight away.

    Work is work. Please don’t try and make it fun and family-like. I have an actual family. I don’t need another one.

    Reply
    1. Brandy

      Thank you. This is my feelings on work. Ill be happy to help anyone with their work and feel this is being a team player. Helping others out with their work as needed and yet staying current. I was hired to work this keyboard, not run a marathon. I wouldn’t have been hired then.

      Reply
    2. Magenta Sky

      Yeah, that’s me. I have *nothing* in common with the people I work with, except work. There’s no recreational activity, or TV show, or other topic of conversation, that I have any interest in talking to them about. Or they to me, for that matter. There’s just nothing there. I do my job, and I do it well, and I don’t mind the occasional birthday lunch or holiday dinner – it’s free food, after all – but work is work and home is home, and never the twain shall intersect.

      Reply
  30. Amber Rose

    The idea of something like this makes me tremble. That’s not even the opposite of fun. It’s the anti-fun. The Negafun. A black hole that sucks joy out of the universe. D:

    Put your foot down LW. This is crap. If 15 year old me could tell my gym teacher that I’d rather be a high school drop out than break my knee doing hurdles again (happened yearly, it’s amazing I can even walk really), you can take a stand here. I believe in you!

    (The evil, passive aggressive part of me would want to go, horribly hurt myself and throw manager under the bus, but I don’t actually advocate for purposefully putting oneself at risk.)

    Reply
    1. Mallory

      it’s insane to me that we were encouraged to do hurdles without training as kids. i do a ton of impact exercise and know how to brace impact with muscle rather than joint, but it doesn’t come without training!!

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        It’s always been insane to me, even as a kid. I couldn’t figure out why I was the only one that felt that way, or why everyone was so mad at me for not wanting to spend weeks on crutches because I kept hyper extending my knee. When I think of all the horrible ways my classmates and I were hurt over the years, I can’t even comprehend why it’s considered so important.

        Anyways, I got 50% in gym (I don’t think they were allowed to actually fail me just for skipping one activity) until I was allowed to stop taking gym, and it has impacted my life in exactly zero ways.

        Reply
    2. MCM

      You mention passive aggressive. Do you think this is the manager’s way of making certain employees “shape up” into the body image she thinks everyone should have? She cannot tell them to lose weight or find them pudgy, so she makes the exercise regularly.

      I would prefer trying out a new restaurant, etc after work every few months. A free museum tour, etc. The idea of being sweaty and smelly around the people I work with … gag and more gag.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        I think it’s probably not that aggressive. My guess is the manager is, either consciously or unconsciously, using the budget for team building things to just do things she specifically enjoys. And is upset at people like the LW for raining on her “work pays me to have fun” parade.

        Reply
  31. Also Petite

    Thank goodness I’ve never been subjected to these activities in a work environment. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do them, either.

    I am not outdoorsy; pretty darn uncoordinated; and under 5′ tall. This is how I explain in general why I don’t like activities like hiking: What might be a “big step” for someone taller feels like jumping off a cliff to someone with short legs! (Not to mention trouble just keeping up with the group).

    So I couldn’t protest on the basis of health reasons, exactly, and it’s definitely not ADA-worthy. But would you just be honest and explain *why* you don’t enjoy these outdoorsy activities?

    Reply
  32. OlympiasEpiriot

    I remember reading this long ago and thinking “I love doing some pretty extreme things, but I often do them alone or with one other trusted person. I can’t imagine being forced to do this with a gang from my firm.”

    I also have a very much ‘all-in’ persona if I play a physical game (hockey goon here!) and might not want to have that be part of my workplace rep, ya know?

    Reply
  33. Clever Name

    Reading this again makes me mad all over again. Assuming everyone wants to and can do these types of activities is so thoughtlessly ableist. I’m sure it never even crossed the manager’s mind that some people may not have the physical ability to do these things (let alone the fact that not everyone wants to, regardless of physical ability).

    Reply
  34. Observer

    There is one thing I’m surprised wasn’t addressed. Regardless of what the activity is, there is also the issue of being marked down creating an obligation for the employees. Now, if all of the employees involved are exempt that’s not an issue. But if there is even ONE non-exempt person on that team, the manager has just created a MAJOR liability for the company. Saying it’s not mandatory is NOT enough to make it non-mandatory. If people are being evaluated on participation, it IS mandatory.

    Reply
    1. MCM

      Observer — really good point.

      Could always stir things up by asking the question about OT pay, with payroll regarding these events.

      Reply
  35. Mallory

    i’m a very athletic human wliving in colorado whose hobbies are essentially only movement-based…and i would still f-ing hate this. OP, i’m so sorry that someone is making you feel less than due to your health issues…and even if health issues WEREN’T at play, we all have to understand that people have different interests.

    Reply
  36. Queen of Alpha

    Just so I can fully understand the situation. New team manager comes in and decides extreme sports are the only team-building activities offered for the team without any input or discussion. Employee is unable to participate due to physical health issues and has offered additional team building activities to try out for the entire team to participate. Employee gets points off their performance review that is completely unrelated to their quality of work and is told they aren’t a team player by the manager that dictates all of the team activities?

    I’m not litigious in any way but I would send a letter from a lawyer to their HR so fast this girl wouldn’t know what hit her. No way I would allow someone to mess with my performance review because they too self absorbed and ignorant to understand what a real team player is.

    Reply
      1. fposte

        I wonder if they’d be opening themselves up to a disparate impact claim even if the OP herself isn’t covered by the ADA. It would mean the OP isn’t the one filing suit, of course, but if I were HR that would be another thing that would make me want to police this program.

        Reply
  37. Tuesday Next

    None of these are even team sports. They are all solo pursuits. If she wanted to organise basketball games or something like that, at least you could cheer from the sidelines.

    This reminds me of the manager who wrote in recently about the frequent “happy hour” events she invited her team to, even though most of her staff declined them. It’s all about what’s fun for her and the rest of the team be damned.

    What a horrible manager. This is really discriminatory.

    Reply
    1. neverjaun

      This manager probably figured it was a way to get her company to pay for her hobbies. Make it a “team-building event” and voila, expense everything!

      Reply
  38. Barney Stinson

    This may have been added already, but I couldn’t read everything:

    Don’t let the manager argue with you about whether your health concerns are valid. She may say, “What are the health concerns?” and then try to minimize their impact on you, or tell you how you can still run a 10k with a cane. Be prepared for that, and just keep repeating, “I am not able to participate because of my health. How should we proceed from here?”

    Reply
    1. JD

      Yes, I wouldn’t say anything. I couldn’t do many of these things simply due to a bad knee. It isn’t a major health issue but my knee would feel like it was falling off and I would be limping the next day after a 5 mile hike. I can see how someone would think “oh you hurt yourself 15 years ago, I see you walk around fine every day, you are just using that as an excuse” when really I walk around in pain every day but am used to it and really do not need to make it worse to make Miss Jazzersize happy.

      Reply
      1. Rainy

        I ride my bike 2 miles uphill to work most days. I can’t really climb or descend stairs without suffering serious joint pain, and my wrist arthritis has gotten to the point where my grip is sometimes no longer sufficient for things to, er, stay gripped. Biking and swimming are fine for my joints and enjoyable for my psyche, but I still can’t take the stairs. You probably wouldn’t be surprised how often people assume I’m just “lazy”.

        Reply
    2. Brandy

      Even the sporty people on here said they wouldn’t risk their training regime if they were to get injured on these excursions.

      Reply
  39. Nancy

    I completely agree with AAM. Maybe a middle ground I would try is showing up to the activity, to support those who are and can participate. I guess, be a cheerleader…. obviously you shouldn’t have to but it might be a middle ground to try before HR? If she is still giving penalties over you not actually participating then I would say unreasonable.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      Except the OP made it clear this stuff already violates HR policies. She should not have to tag along to this idiot manager’s activities.

      Reply
  40. stitchinthyme

    I don’t think I’d stay at a job where I was required to participate in regular off-hours “team-building” activities. I like my coworkers, but I don’t really want to see them much outside of work, and I value my non-work time too much to want to spend it doing something I’m not interested in with people I don’t really want to hang out with. After the first couple, I even stopped going to my company’s annual holiday party and summer picnic — I never have a good time at them, and I have better things to do. (They are not mandatory, and I don’t think management cares if you don’t show up.)

    Reply
  41. JD

    Ugh just the phrase “team building” makes me cringe. I hope these are at least during work hours because I cannot stand being pushed to do such things outside of work hours.

    Reply
  42. MCM

    OP: Are these events taking place during working hours?

    Am wondering if the OP’s manager is using her employees as her “work out buddy” because she doesn’t have her own. Another thought is that she’s a bully, and may be a snob. That she looks down at people that are not athletic, and this is her way of making them shape up, on her terms. Is she getting a discount on these events if she brings in a certain number of individuals?

    I think the OP should get the ADA paperwork done & have a statement that OP is unable to participate in the company’s athletic events. Include something along that line, that way HR will come back and question it. I’m leaning towards asking her to remove it from your evaluation, and do the ADA paperwork. Cover your bases.

    OP, please let us know how you decide to handle it.

    Reply
    1. Brandy

      Parasailing cost money. Is the company paying for this or is it out of pocket for the employee? Wouldn’t matter to me, still not doing, but just nosey.

      Reply
      1. MCM

        Am curious. If they do a discount with a group of 10, further discount with a group of 15. That might be why she’s resentful of the two people not attending, she’s missing out of the 15 person discount?

        Reply
    2. stitchinthyme

      This is an old letter and there’s an update linked at the top. Several of the OP’s coworkers spoke up in a group meeting about how, although they participated, they didn’t enjoy the injuries or time taken away from their families, so the activities were cut back to a couple a year. The issue of being penalized for non-participation was not addressed, though.

      As for costs, I’m betting employees had to pay those out-of-pocket. Since this was one manager’s thing, I doubt she got the company to foot the bill.

      This all proves that Alison’s frequent advice that speaking up as a group is often safer than just one person saying something is generally a good idea.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the manager got the company to pay for at least her portion. “Team-building” and making it voluntellinf suggests she needed the appearance of everyone wanting to go in order to charge it to the employer.

        Reply
  43. DCGirl

    My manager at my last job decided we needed to have team-building activities and asked for suggestions. A coworker who is an active volunteer in the community suggested that we all volunteer for a lunch service at our city’s largest homeless shelter/soup kitchen, wearing tee shirts with our company logo on them.

    What, you might ask, could be wrong with that? My brother is a mentally ill homeless person who, when he’s off his meds, calls my home and threatens me and my husband if we don’t give him money and shows up where I work and creates a disturbance if I don’t give him money. For that reason, I really didn’t want to run the risk of him being there and finding out where I worked at the time. Because of his erratic behavior, I actually felt this was a safety issue.

    I had to go to the mat to be excused from that activity. First I had to out myself as someone with profound mental illness in the family, then I had to justify to her why I didn’t get him off the streets by letting him move in with me and my husband (short answer: we invited him for a weekend end once, before the extent of his illness was completely manifest, and it ended with him being arrested), and why I couldn’t put my personal situation aside to be a team player.

    You never know what an individual employee’s circumstances might be when it comes to random team building activities. Employers should be more thoughtful.

    Reply
    1. Brandy

      They shouldn’t have put you in this position. That they made you justify this makes me angry for you. You cant just solve a homeless persons problems by letting them move in with you. Furthermore you shouldn’t have had to explain yourself period.

      Reply
      1. DCGirl

        There were so many things wrong with that boss and that employer. That was just one of them, but it hurt the most because it was so very personal.

        Reply
    2. Julia the Survivor

      Having lived in the big city for decades, it’s clear homelessness is a lot more than not having a place to live. There are dozens of charities and programs to help them get on their feet, but some won’t use these services for whatever reason. Mental or emotional illness, drug addiction, etc… Unfortunately in our culture management is the least likely group of people to understand this. :(

      Reply
  44. RB

    Wow. Way to ostracize your workers who are not in shape. Health restrictions or not, I’d be a firm “nope” on anything that pits me against the more in-shape members of my department in a physical manner. I hope I would have the guts to push back on this sort of thing — it is just so uncool. And there are so many other ways of team building. And to have it affect your reviews?? That’s unacceptable. I’d have a family emergency for the next one, until a more long-term solution is reached.

    Reply
  45. oranges & lemons

    Ugh, I bet a lot of this letter writer’s coworkers hated these activities but felt pressured to join in. These all sound way too intense for “professional development” activities–people could easily get injured, particularly if they don’t have the right equipment. Unless she knew that the 13 people who participated were really enthusiastic, I’d try seeing if anyone else disliked them and try to band together. Thirteen out of fifteen seems like a really high proportion of people who are fit enough for all of these activities, and also don’t mind doing them with coworkers.

    Reply
  46. Employment Lawyer

    This sort of stuff is often illegal.

    When you discuss stuff like this, I prefer to use email and keep a record of it. Nobody likes pushback (trust me) and if you’re unlucky enough to write a followup “I pushed back and got fired and now my reviews look bad” article, you’ll be glad to have things in writing.

    Reply
      1. Julia the Survivor

        Keep copies of the emails away from the work server where you can still get them if you’ve been fired.

        Reply
  47. MCM

    OP: Are these events taking place during working hours?

    Am wondering if the OP’s manager is using her employees as her “work out buddy” because she doesn’t have her own. Another thought is that she’s a bully, and may be a snob. That she looks down at people that are not athletic, and this is her way of making them shape up, on her terms. Is she getting a discount on these events if she brings in a certain number of individuals?

    I think the OP should get the ADA paperwork done & have a statement that OP is unable to participate in the company’s athletic events. Include something along that line, that way HR will come back and question it. I’m leaning towards asking her to remove it from your evaluation, and do the ADA paperwork. Cover your bases.

    OP, please let us know how you decide to handle it.

    Reply
  48. imaskingamanager

    This ain’t right. Keep using the words–I have a medical condition–and don’t elaborate. You don’t have to. That should be enough to put any manager on notice.
    and you should take it to HR if it is showing up on your performance reviews. They might not shut down the activity, but they should make it clear that you can’t be penalized for not participating.
    Do you know how your coworkers feel about it? They might be participating, but they might not like it either. You might find that you aren’t the only one who is uncomfortable with this set up.

    Reply
    1. stitchinthyme

      Seriously! I once almost got into trouble once for loudly criticizing a (during work) team-building activity — someone heard me and told our VP about it. I went to the VP and said, “I’m sorry for voicing my feelings in an inappropriate and unprofessional way, but I don’t apologize for feeling that way — I think team-building activities are a useless waste of time.” And they are: every one I’ve ever had to do forced me to interact with people I didn’t know and never saw again afterward; my argument is that the extroverts don’t need to be forced into networking with others since they’ll do it naturally, and the introverts will just resent the whole thing and do the bare minimum to comply with the instructions. (If it’s not obvious, I fall into the latter group.)

      Reply
      1. Julia the Survivor

        I used to feel like this until I had a long-term temp job in a back office where morale was low for good reasons… I participated in a 15-minute exercise where we rolled balls down the hallway, if I remember correctly. I won a prize – a tiny sample of sunscreen. I was surprised to find I did feel better after the exercise.
        Note that it was during work hours, was not strenuous, and didn’t take long.
        However, I don’t think such things made a difference in the long run. Management was doing stupid things that annoyed customers and made them leave, and of course that affected morale. If only corporate managers would think and use common sense…
        A few years after I left I heard the division had been sold. No wonder.

        Reply
  49. stitchinthyme

    Total tangent, but I had a boss once who was an avid skydiver, and organized two skydiving events for her group and anyone else who wanted to participate — she called it “Toss Your Boss”. However, it was not in any way mandatory, and people were invited to just come and watch those who were crazy enough to jump out of an airplane if they didn’t want to participate (but even watching was optional).

    That’s the main difference here: it’s great if you want to share your passions with your coworkers or even your subordinates, as my old boss did…as long as these outings are not mandatory and there are no repercussions at work for not doing them.

    (And yes, I did go on both the skydiving trips. I went the first time because it was something I’d always wanted to try, and the second because I was so scared sh*tless the first time that I didn’t really remember much of it. I enjoyed it, but it’s not something I need to do again. One bucket-list item crossed off.)

    Reply
  50. Beth Jacobs

    This boss reminds me of every P.E. teacher I had and how I used to hate it – precisely because it was mandatory and made me feel powerless.

    Five years out of high school and I love sports: I run four times a week, swim twice a week and regularly organise hikes for my friends. But I still wouldn’t want to do these with my coworkers. This boss needs to stop treating her team like a bunch of school kids and respect that what’s fun for her isn’t fun for everyone.

    Reply
    1. stitchinthyme

      PE classes put me off exercise for *years* after I graduated high school. My gym teachers were sadistic — they’d do things like make the losing team run extra laps, which meant that if you were uncoordinated and not good at whatever game happened to be going on, your teammates got seriously angry at you when you messed up. It soured me on all team sports (a feeling that persists to this day) as well as exercise (which I do now, but aside from bicycling, I mostly hate — I just do it because I know I need to, kind of like going to the dentist).

      So yeah, they’d have to drag me kicking and screaming into sports-based activities now. I’ve worked at places that have those sorts of activities as an option, but never one that made it mandatory (and OP’s boss *was* doing that, even if she said she wasn’t; mentioning it on performance reviews puts it squarely in the “mandatory” category). It really sounds like OP’s boss was really seriously into those sports, and trying to impose her passions on the people who worked for her, and they went along because they had to. I think it’s great to share your passions, but not to inflict them on the uninterested, especially when you’re in a position of power over them.

      Reply
    2. Sara without an H

      I, too, hated P.E. — hated it with the force of a thousand burning suns…

      And I still don’t like “sports.” I walk and so some yoga, but you’ll notice that both of these things can be done ALONE, and not in a uniform designed to be ugly.

      Reply
  51. These Shouldn't be Mandatory

    ohh.. this makes me so mad. I got hurt at one of these “team building athletic events” a few weeks ago, had to go to a clinic to get my wrist put in a splint, then went from there to the team dinner. A few days later I was floored, because I got chastised pretty badly by management for looking “unkempt and disheveled” at the dinner. Well gee, yeah, i was still in my sweaty clothes from earlier, and didn’t have time to go change/shower before the mandatory dinner.
    (And yes, I’ve started to look for a new job now)

    Reply
  52. KS

    Don’t even bring up health restrictions. I disagree HARD on that count. because IT. IS. IRRELEVANT. And no one’s business. This would not be acceptable either way.

    Reply
  53. Safely Retired

    There was the 10-mile hike, the 5k run, the rock climbing, the parasailing …

    Shouldn’t a team building exercise involve teamwork? How much teamwork is there in a hike, or a run? It sounds more like an ego-building exercise for the boss.

    Reply
  54. Hlyssande

    I remember reading this the first time, and it’s just as angrifying as it was then.

    From a personal perspective, even if I were in good enough shape cardio-wise to do the hiking and running, my ankles are terrible. So bad that I have rolled an ankle standing still and sprained one walking briskly across a flat street. No way am I going on a 10k hike – they’d have to airlift me out when I break a leg stepping on an uneven surface. I shudder to think of it.

    Reply
  55. Many Emails

    Let’s not forget there’s lots of other ways to participate in these sporty events without actually doing the running or the climbing or whatever that show you are a team player: for races, make some encouraging signs, stand or sit and clap and cheer, volunteer to hand out water at the aid stations, help raise money for the charity that the race is supporting, volunteer to drive people to and from the race or be the person who watches their race bags, volunteer to watch their kid while they participate in the race, etc. I can imagine if you show up at the end of a hot sweaty 10 mile hike with some cold lemonade you’d win the day!

    Reply
    1. Soon to be former fed

      I have my own charities I support, thank you. And having to do these things on my own time, no thanks. It’s not that the activities aren’t worthwhile, but insisting adults do things you think are worthwhile is patronizing and disrespectful. Ugh.

      Reply
    2. Rainy

      I do not want to babysit. Like, ever. Especially not for coworkers.

      If I wanted to watch kids I’d’ve had my own.

      Reply
      1. Julia the Survivor

        I’ve never liked when employers expect me to take part in their extracurriculars on my own time.
        If it’s during work hours and it’s something I can handle, I might be ok with it.
        I decide how to spend my time outside of work, and it’s not with pushy jerks who are trying to make me be something I’m not! I already have a social life doing things *I* like, and this manager would NOT be invited!
        It’s still a free country, we’re not slaves yet…

        Reply
  56. MissDissplaced

    Ugh! OP, I have so much sympathy.
    At 50, my body just isn’t the same and I simply can’t imagine being pressured into participating in events like this.

    I’ll bet manager gets very competitive too, and even if you did participate, but weren’t very good at it, manager would still ding you for “not trying” or some other stupid put down. Reminds me of 1st period P.E. all over again! The horror!

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      My father had a manager who insisted on mandatory competitive activities, and then whined when his staff didn’t let him win!

      Reply
  57. Soon to be former fed

    Mandatory physical activity unrelated to one’s job description is an age/disability discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen. This manager probably dislikes older people, fat people, and anyone else who does not fit her narrative of who should be in the workplace. Any company that would cosign this bullshyte needs to go out of business, the quicker the better. What a crock.

    Reply
  58. Quickbeam

    I do workers compensation claim management as an RN ( US). I can’t count high enough to total the work related claims I’ve handled for bone headed team building activities. Mandatory roller skating. Zip line traverse. Tug of war. Folk dancing. I had a lady cry to me that she didn’t want to do the activity but “ we would be fired if we didn’t”. And the boss confirmed it!

    With people of varying fitness capacities in the work place, these type of forced activities are just cruel.

    Reply
      1. Julia the Survivor

        Yes, cruel and cold. I know the type. Stupid yuppies who are so arrogant or clueless they think anyone who doesn’t conform to their way of life doesn’t deserve to live.
        Even now with the progress I’ve made I couldn’t do these activities. If I try to do cardio the way most people do I’m on the floor gasping in 10 minutes.

        Reply
  59. Julia the Survivor

    This is SO not okay, and this manager deserves whatever she gets!
    I’ve had a chronic health condition all my life, and I didn’t even start to get a handle on managing it until I was 29. It was a 20+ year process. Doctors weren’t much help because it’s not very well understood. I diagnosed my own details and did my own research to get as far as I have, which now enables me to hold a mid-level staff job.
    If I was working for this woman, especially if before I got good at managing my condition, I would not have been able to do any of these activities, and if she tried to punish me I would have escalated. She does not deserve to be a manager! I may have gotten fired, but I would have opened a few people’s eyes in the process. :D
    Her disrespect of people different from her and clueless attitude is mind-boggling. Wait till someone makes her climb a mountain while she has the flu. Can I be there to watch? :D

    Reply
  60. ChazzyB

    If the team building activities aren’t mandatory, they shouldn’t be mentioned in your performance review, as they’re not part of your job. This is something your manager has implemented, not company policy. The fact that she won’t listen to her team makes her a poor manager. You’ve told her you’re unable to participate in these activities due to poor health and she’s penalised you for it. It’s time to go over her head and put a stop to this discrimination now. Employment law is on your side. You don’t need to put up with this.

    Reply

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