how do I avoid my evil boss’s going-away party?

A reader writes:

So my horrible boss is finally leaving (and the villagers rejoiced). She’s doing it in a remarkably unethical way (we’re going through some restructuring and she’s submitting all her plans as if she’s staying: once they are approved, committing the company to certain things that give her more flexibility, she’s going to quit before the ink is dry), but regardless, she’s out. And I couldn’t be happier, as she’s been a complete nightmare to work for on so many many levels (not to mention I’m the one going to be stuck holding the bag when she leaves).

Until of course, she asks me to help plan her going away party. I as a rule loathe these events and I’m wondering: If you work in an office environment where cake, heartfelt speeches and tears are the norm, how do you gracefully avoid them without looking like a pain? 

My office mates have the ability to be groaning about someone for literally weeks but the minute a sheet cake with “best wishes'” appears, out come the waterworks and “I’ve learned so much from you!” and “I’m going to miss you so much!” As soon as the forks are washed, the bitching recommences. I know my boss is going to expect fireworks, cake, presents and speeches. How do I, without looking like a heartless goon, NOT be forced to celebrate her wonderful achievements and contribution to my life in front of people, including clients because she is inviting basically everyone we work with in any capacity? I’ll have to work with these folks afterwords – is it better to suck it up and smile and force some tears as I give a sentimental speech and endure her hugs, stand in a corner and fake intestinal distress so I can run away 20 minutes after arriving the strains of “ding dong the witch is dead” in my head, or do I just not attend at all? Is there an option I am not even seeing?

This … is not a problem. This is an hour of your life that you’ll just tolerate because you don’t want to burn bridges and maybe you’ll want a reference from her one day.

You don’t need to fake-cry. You don’t need to give a speech. If asked, you say, “I’m not one for speeches.” You show up, you smile, you wish her good luck in whatever she’s doing next, you eat some cake, and you go back to work.

Seriously. This is just work, not family drama. This is work. You don’t like your boss, she’s leaving, that’s good, behave professionally, get paid to eat cake for an hour, the end.

That was an easy one.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Chris M.*

    Hmm… AAM, typically find your advice extremely useful, but not in this case. The question asked was about how to avoid having to deal with planning a fancy goodbye party, not how to avoid going to the party and simply enjoying some cake.

    I too would be extremely unhappy if a boss like the one described asked me to spend time planning a party with all bells and whistles for her. My advice to the person posing the question would be to say something flattering to excuse myself, such as "Oh, I am feeling already overwhelmed, trying to make sure things continue to run smoothly after you leave us. I don't think I'd be up to the task of preparing the party you deserve, with so much on my plate. I hope you can find someone with better party planning skills and enough time to devote to such an important event!"

  2. Sabrina*

    You can do this without the drudgery. You're happy she's leaving and that's reason enough for a party. No one needs to know that you're not happy for her going on to greener pastures. If they insist on a speech talk about your mixed feelings about her leaving (You know, joy, excitement) and how you're going to miss her (miss rolling your eyes at her). You don't have to tell the whole truth to appear sincere. It's the art of telling someone to go to hell in such away that they enjoy the trip and think it was their idea.

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Actually, reading it over again, I still think she's asking how to deal with attending the party, not planning it.

    But if the issue is about planning it — and if planning it involves anything more than sending out an email and ordering a cake — then I agree.

  4. Anonymous*

    I laughed at your "be paid to eat cake for an hour" and wish our "parties" were like that. We're on billable time and parites and such are on our own time, nonbillable so if you spend 30 min at a party, you then need to stay an extra 30 min late.

  5. Anonymous*

    I think you need to just "let it go" and go with the path of least resistance because in the end, you will be getting what you want, which is the bad old boss gone.

  6. Erin M.*

    I had a boss who I think was one of the absolute worst bosses (and possibly people) on earth. When she left, I felt much the way the OP does. But now, several years down the road, I appreciate that boss for teaching me what kind of boss/person I never want to be and for teaching me a lesson on reading warning signs during interviews.

    So, suck it up, go to the party, tell her that you learned a lot from her and for that you'll always be appreciative. She doesn't have to know that the lessons you learned were about what not to do. And you can secretly view the whole thing as a party celebrating her departure.

  7. Anonymous*

    I'll also defend the OP slightly. At our office, food and speeches and tears are also the norm for retirements and I never attend any of said parties (because I find them maudlin in the extreme). I prefer to take people out to lunch individually.

    I would be really uncomfortable planning such a party whether I liked my out-going boss or not! Practical advice like Chris M. and Sabrina gave is more helpful to the OP then just saying "suck it up / grow up".

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Valid point of view, of course. To me, I feel like there's so much unavoidable drama in life that if a situation is relatively low-stakes and you can choose whether to turn it into a drama or not … choose not to. This is something that just doesn't have to be such a Big Thing.

  9. Mneiae*

    "And I couldn't be happier, as she's been a complete nightmare to work for on so many many levels (not to mention I'm the one going to be stuck holding the bag when she leaves).

    Until of course, she asks me to help plan her going away party."

    I really think that it's about how to avoid planning her evil boss's party. I would also panic and I don't think that your answer covered it. I concur with Chris M.

  10. TheLabRat*

    I've always hated office parties and will come up with any and every excuse to ditch them (except for one company where my entire small department was actually a group of friends and acquaintances). I don't know you people, I work with you. I sincerely hope you have a nice birthday but I'm not going to sing to you. I'd really prefer it if you don't even think about pulling a mini-office surprise party for me for any reason. Thanks.

  11. Anonymous*

    I'm like that too. I cannot muster up any fake enthusiasm without it sounding so fake. I'd rather not do anything, even if that means not attending, than to offer fake enthusiasm for the event.

    However, you should have enthusiasm! "Ding, dong, the witch is [gone]!" Order a cake you'll enjoy. Saying "best wishes" never hurt anyone so offer some up. You might be celebrating her leaving so you can't help but smile when you think of that. Sure it's misleading, but she'll think it's all for her! Win win!

    As for those who are debating planning vs. attending – it's both! She mentions that she's stuck with the planning and she also asked if she should not attend.

  12. Cassie*

    I don't like these events (birthday parties or baby/wedding showers, in particular – if someone is leaving, then fine, maybe I'll attend). I just can't muster up fake enthusiasm for whatever event we are celebrating. Even if it is something that I am interested in, I still don't really show enthusiasm (I'm just low-key like that).

    I would probably attend the party, assuming it is during work hours. You don't have to make a big deal about your boss leaving – a simple "things won't be the same without you!" is sufficient. If it was after work hours, then I would have to think about it (because my free time is my free time).

    As for planning the party, you can try passing the buck – say you aren't good at planning parties (as long as you don't typically throw lavish parties!). Some people are good at that kind of stuff, some people aren't.

  13. Anonymous*

    I had this happen when an evil-coworker left my company, and believe you me, it's best to suck it up and smile, say something pleasant and move on.

    This person was frankly Satan's Spawn,(I'll call her SS for short) gossiping and trying to cause turmoil and strife for the entire time I knew her. I was glad to see her go, but not looking forward to giving this person a gowing away party.

    Unfortunatly when the day of the party came, it coincided with two funerals I had to attend. Because of the times and their proximity, I could still make the church service portion of both.

    I was to work half a day then leave but I brought a pot-luck dish as I was directed. An unexepected meeting ran me a little late and I wound up having to dash out the door, arriving a the first service just in time to slide in the back pew.

    It was only then that I realized that I did not get the chance to say goodbye to SS.

    Flash forward a year later, where I am at a charity event, with clients and coworkers when SS shows up (she's still in my industry). All my coworkers are excited to see her and hug and laugh and make a big deal out of seeing her. After about half an hour of trying to enjoy the event, cater to the clients and avoid talking to her, one of my coworkers says to her "Oh SS, you remember (me)." and there, in front of my clients,coworkers and several of the higher-ups, she reaches out her hand to take mine and says "Why yes, how could I forget the rude girl who didn't even have the courtesy to tell me goodbye on the day I left (your company)."

    Needless to say, I was floored and really embarassed. Though I was able to explain that I had left that day for a funeral, the damage was done. It put one little sliver of doubt about my professionalism in everyone's mind.

    You don't have to make a big deal or be fake. Just take a minute to say good-bye and good luck. It's best to part on good terms. You never know where this person may pop up in your future.

  14. raskal*

    There's an outside chance the boss thinks more of the staff than they think of her. Considers this a bonding experience and wants them to have some fun. Now, imagine the bosses reaction when they see this post. Nice huh?

    AAM is right, this is not a problem. Party at will.

  15. The Engineer*

    I agree with TheLabRat in the idea that these are coworkers not friends, however there are some social niceties that are simply endured (and done so pleasantly). Everyone has allies and this person was a supervisor, so at a minimum someone above you both thought they were somewhat capable.

    You are being paid to plan the party. (If you aren't then you have bigger problems beyond the boss.) We all get assignments we don't like, aren't matches to our skills, or waste of resources, but frankly it is a work assignment. You are making it to something more. Let it go. Plan something you are going to enjoy (you been asked to do so). Attend. Celebrate (you have reason to do so). But let it go.

  16. LisaLahey*

    You shouldn't avoid planning the party. That's the last interaction your boss will remember with you. In fact during your party preparations it's a great time to write up a reference by hand so all she has to do is sign it for you to use for future use. She's not likely going to say no.
    In fact why did she ask you to help her plan the party in the first place? She sees you as organized, reliable and she likes you (regardless of how she has come across until now).
    My work was a pain in the rear end for parties. It wasn't the pomp and circumstance. It was the incredible expense to buy a person a shower or wedding gift even though the social committee had already collected $50 from every staff member at the start of the year (what were they doing with it anyway??) They still wanted a bottle of wine and $10 for every celebration.
    Finally I refused. I showed up to show my respect to the person who was retiring or getting married or what have you then I left without eating or indulging when I hadn't chipped in any extra money.
    Problem solved.

  17. LisaLahey*

    Hey Anonymous….that woman was indeed Satan's Spawn. And I like the way you walked away with sensible advice.

    But I disgree that you looked unprofessional. SS did. Anyone who would remember such a trivialty as not saying goodbye at a party, even though that person made the effort to be there, and then to point it out in public is the rude one.

    She certainly gave herself some negative PR with that comment.

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