declining boss’s invitation to dinner on a Saturday

A reader writes:

What is your take on a manager who schedules a get-together at her place on a Saturday?

My husband’s boss scheduled a dinner over at her place, and we hesitantly said yes for not wanting to give a bad impression. She only invited a few people (her direct reports). Well, that event was canceled by the manager due to bad weather, and now she has rescheduled it to a different weekend.

How do you suggest we handle this if we do not want to go — we get really busy during weekends with lots of personal commitments — without sending an obvious message that we don’t desire to be there?

In general, I’m a big fan of scheduling work-related social events during work hours if there’s an expectation that people should attend … because people have other commitments (including a need to just sit on their couch doing nothing, which I count as a commitment), or are introverts and don’t necessarily derive pleasure from events that more extroverted people might enjoy. So I’d rather see your husband’s boss take everyone out to lunch instead.

That said, it’s a really nice gesture for her to make … although that doesn’t change the fact that in any group there will be at least one person (often more) who will be seized with dread at the thought of having to go.

As for how to handle it: It’s entirely reasonable for your husband to thank his boss for the invitation but explain that he has a conflicting commitment that night. It’s the weekend; of course you might have other plans. And in this case, you guys even accepted the first invitation, which will help counter any impression that you’re just unenthused about dining with her.

However, be aware that in some workplaces, you’re really expected to attend things like this. Your husband hopefully has a sense of whether that’s the case here or not, based on how his boss operates in general and how she’s talked about this dinner specifically.

Moreover, there can be real benefit to going to things like this, even if you don’t particularly want to. It might be worth looking at it like any other work obligation. If everyone else in his group is going, your husband might not want to be the only one not there, because it’s likely that work will be discussed, bonds will be formed, etc. Being there for that can be valuable, so your husband should at least factor that into whatever decision he makes.

And last, as a side note for managers: Be aware that not everyone on staff enjoys work social functions, and it’s not because they have bad attitudes or don’t like their job or whatever; some people just don’t derive pleasure from that kind of thing, and there’s nothing to read into it past that. If you make these people feel obligated to attend events that you hope will build their morale, you may actually be having the opposite effect of what you intend, so proceed with care…

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I actually once got an interview out of an event like this. A co-worker who had been hired away from a competitor brought her SO and that person was looking for new hires….

    1. Anonymous*

      …meant to say, her SO who was still at the competitor. Should have proofread that puppy.

  2. Diane*

    Some managers do this as a test of loyalty, but I think most see it as a reward or acknowledgement that y’all are human and may enjoy something pleasant, social, relaxed, and less stiff than an office function. Just go, don’t drink too much, and make an excuse about another commitment if the evening is too awful.

    1. Mike C.*

      The fact that one show’s up at work on time everyday and does their work should be enough of a loyalty test. I get so sick and tired of these bosses who think they need to employees through secret tests to determine their worth.

      These folks need to grow up.

      1. Mike*

        Wrong. These are basic social occasions that grown up people are expected to attend. If you don’t attend, don’t expect to be on the team.

        1. Mike C.*

          Most grown up people have more important responsibilities like their children and spouses. Perhaps you need to sit down and think about what’s important in life.

          1. John*

            Mike is right – these are adult situations, and you need to decide, as an adult, whether it’s important for you to go (i.e. will it help your career?, build team comradare?, etc). As an adult, this needs to be balanced with family, spouse, hobbies, religious commitments, etc. It’s a simple fact that these types of events happen, will most likely continue to happen, and you will most likely continue to have make a decision about them.

            Sometimes it’s easier to change your reaction to the system than change the entire system.

            While I think loyalty tests are bad management, railing against such simple facts of the working world and telling people to “Grow up” and “think about what’s important in life” also shows the lack of maturity.

  3. EngineerGirl*

    Many managers are extroverts, so actually enjoy this sort of thing. Direct reports may be introverts so will gain nothing but agony from it. What is worse is that these social events go for several hours (Vs a 2 hour lunch celebration). I hate these things and always end up with a headache afterward. If any extrovrt bosses are reading this – Please reconsider these multi-hour “social” functions. Not everyone is like you.

  4. Kelly O*

    I seriously dislike my office Christmas party and dread it for weeks leading up to it. I’ve been part of two, and hope I am out of there before I have to endure three.

    I once bowed out of an after-hours “social” engagement because I lived nearly two hours from everyone else. We had similar commutes, mine was just way the other direction. Found out later they thought I “wasn’t a team player” because I didn’t want to drive that far.

    Right now, with my current set of coworkers, I would really rather do anything than hang out socially, work consequences be damned. We are just very, very different people and the time I spend at the office feels like more than enough. Thank the lord no one is asking us to do anything after hours.

  5. Amanda*

    If all else fails, buy your husband’s boss a decent bottle of wine and give your regrets for not going. I’ve done that before and it turned out well.

  6. Sabrina*

    If you do go, have a pre-planned excuse for leaving early. Ours is “We have to feed the cat/give him his medicine/etc.” People leave kids with babysitters but you can’t argue with an animal that needs attention! ;)

  7. Anon y. mouse*

    “Be aware that not everyone on staff enjoys work social functions, and it’s not because they have bad attitudes or don’t like their job or whatever; some people just don’t derive pleasure from that kind of thing, and there’s nothing to read into it past that.”

    Thank you! That is totally true! I love my job, and like my coworkers, but by the end of the day I’m drained from interacting with all you extroverts for eight hours, and really need to go home and recharge. I appreciate your kindness in trying to draw me in and I do enjoy talking to you, but it’s also hard work, and it gets exponentially harder as more people are added to the conversation. This doesn’t mean I’m “not a people person” or “not a team player”, it just means I form my friendships through different, quieter channels than you do. It’s okay, really.

  8. Riz*

    I HIGHLY suggest that you attend the event. It’s only a few hours of your time and little suck up events like this can/will do wonders for your husbands career.

    1. John*

      I completely agree. And put your best face forward. Act as a team. Be interesting.

      It’s a reality of the working world that relationships are important. Try to build good ones.

  9. Anonymous*

    Our office loves the get togethers! We have twice a year parties, and we all let our hair down. In fact, we carefully schedule these so everyone can go. I really can’t imagine working in an office where I couldn’t enjoy an occasional social event. In a high pressure office, the shared experiences really help keep us together – though we don’t all normally socialize. It may be one reason we are not an office of clock in/clock out folk. We all are passionate about our mission and our jobs.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the key is giving people real choices — you don’t need to take away the social events you like, but the people who *don’t* enjoy them in the way you do should be able to skip them without it reflecting badly on them… i.e., there should be an inherent understanding that people can be different in this regard, without it indicating they’re any less passionate about their jobs and mission.

      I’ve always been passionate about my job, and usually about the organization’s mission, but I’m still pretty introverted — not like I’m not talking to people at work, but in that I don’t get recharged by those big social to-do’s; I get more drained by them. I would bet money there’s at least one person on your staff who feels that way but feels obligated not to show it!

      1. KellyK*

        I think this is a really important point. I’m mostly an introvert, but I’d never want to take anything away from the extroverts. If the celebrations help with stress relief and a sense of cameraderie and all those other useful things, I’m all for them. Just please don’t expect me to go to every single one or assume that I’m less committed to my job if I decline or duck out early.

        As an aside, if you want more people to come to these things, making it easy for them to duck out early is a huge thing. I go to company holiday parties, except the year it was on a cruise ship, because I’d be “stuck” until the event was over.

      2. Anonymous*

        So far the whole office actually does enjoy these. A lot! We are open about our work culture, so maybe we are just attracting people who like to have an occasional good time with their coworkers. Not everyone who works here is an extrovert, but everyone looks forward to those parties!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d just ask yourself how you really know that for sure. You certainly might be right … but if you’re the boss, I’d assume that you really wouldn’t know if some people didn’t enjoy them, even if you asked directly in some cases. It’s just the reality of the power dynamic there.

      3. Anonymous*

        Agree 100% AAM! I wish more workplaces had managers like you who acknowledge introvert/extrovert differences

      4. anonymous*

        Wow, well put – I find these events very draining and usually need a day or so to recover from the stress, just not a socila butteerfly I guess

  10. Diane*

    When it’s time to cut budgets or rearrange offices, people in charge think of those they felt a connection with. Visibility matters.

    I’m not defending it. I feel really uncomfortable at large gatherings where I have to rehearse small-talk . I go because at my workplace, being perceived as a bit stiff or shy is better than being perceived as uninterested (or judgmental or snooty or whatever people think).

    I manage introverted, creative, super smart people. I buy them lunch sometimes. After a particularly hairy project, I hosted them for cocktails at my house, right after work, so they could stop in (if they wanted), toast, and hang out or go home. They ask when we can do it again. They do not come to the large thank-you dinners, bowling evenings, or other organization-wide events that I participate in. It affects the way we are perceived. I show up and act social because visibility matters.

    1. Jo*

      I agree with you, visibility does matter. Which means, I show up on time at work, or come in earlier or stay later if workload requires me to. I also show up to meetings and follow up on my action items. I respond to people’s emails, voicemails in a timely manner. I cover for my coworkers who are on vacation.
      Showing up at parties or my manager’s house for cocktails after hours should not be considered as visibility, in my opinion.

    2. Adam V*

      Two Thursdays ago, I worked until 9 PM in the office with my boss, then we both went home and worked online until 2:30 AM.

      About 6 weeks ago another coworker and I were working online until 2 AM both Friday and Saturday night, then I worked until about 4 PM on Sunday before I just said “that’s all I can do, I need some time to recharge before tomorrow”.

      If my boss, or anyone else here, told me “you don’t show up to out-of-work events, and visibility matters”, I’d tender my resignation on the spot. Want visible? Check out the timestamps on my emails and change sets.

  11. Cassie*

    I, for one, don’t like attending events after work hours. Actually, I’m not sure I have ever gone to an after-hours event, because they (luckily) rarely happen in our office.

    I put in my hours during the work day, sometimes work (from home) at night or over the weekend on big deadlines, and do my best. I am no less of a team player than the social butterfly who happily attends every lunch, dinner, and coffee break.

    If it’s a lunch event, I may or may not go (depending on if it’s a whole dept thing – which I am less inclined to go – or if it’s something hosted/planned by my boss and thus I have no good reason not to attend). But dinner? Unless it is part of my job (there are a couple of upcoming dinner receptions that I will probably have to go to), I’d rather sit at home and watch tv.

  12. Meredith*

    Since she only invited a few people and it sounds like this is an infrequent request, I strongly recommend that you and your husband attend the dinner. Unfortunately the people who don’t go under these circumstances are more often than not thought of as not a team player or anti-social.

    Is this fair? No– but it tends to happen especially when only one or two people pass at these type of events. Personally, I would rather give up a couple hours than have this effect my ability to advance in the office. (Think long term not short term on this one.)

    If a dinner invitation is frequently extended from your husband’s boss, then I would reevaluate my strategy for handling this. Good luck!

  13. Anonymous*

    Also, we are paid to work, not to be best friends. I always find the socializing to be problematic.

    I work with some really smart people that I respect professionally but the truth is we have nothing else in common, so it quickly becomes strained to talk about anything else than work. Lunch always seems appropriate to have an opportunity for more unstructured work talk, than having to meet after hours.

    1. Nethwen*

      “We are paid to work, not to be best friends”

      I with this concept was discussed and drilled and repeated at every college and leadership class and seminar and work orientation. Those who think that socializing equals doing excellent work remind me of those college girls who think “she doesn’t talk to me so, she must hate me.”

    2. Rana*

      Agreed. One place I worked at was really fond of social events that seemed designed to make people uncomfortable.

      The birthday celebrations were okay, but baby showers? Complete with games? At one point I was trapped in an office having to draw pictures on a paper plate on my head for one of those things, and forced to waste several hours watching the guest of honor open present after present; I didn’t know the mother-to-be, and all the men (but not the women) got to leave after cake and punch, so it was not just awkward, but actively irritating.

      And the Christmas dinner was terrible; they passed around a “poem” which made fun of people with my religious and personal beliefs (lots of jokes about hippies and liberals), and which we were all supposed to take turns reading aloud from; luckily it was finished before it got to my table. I put a good face on it while there, but afterward I was furious.

      I liked them well enough as co-workers, but as friends to socialize with in non-work ways? Oh no, very much no.

  14. Joey*

    If you don’t go just understand that your husband is missing out on some team bonding. He’s likely going to feel a little separated from the team as a result. Sorry, but there’s no way to make up for that unless he actually attends.

    1. Adam V*

      That’s why I agree with AAM that these events should be held *during work*, so everyone has the benefit of attending without them or their SO having to cancel or rearrange other plans.

      1. Jamie*

        Agreed – and it doesn’t even have to be “an event.”

        Right now I’m eating lunch at my desk. Lunch that my boss ordered, picked up, and paid for the entire office. Some of my co-workers are eating together in the kitchen as we speak chatting – and having a nice time. They do this once a week – sometimes more – because it’s a perk they enjoy providing and it’s appreciated.

        So we can eat together, eat in our offices…not eat at all – eat later…whatever. What makes this a genuinely gracious gesture is that there are no strings attached and we don’t have to pretend a pseudo friendship to get a piece of chicken – or a promotion.

        Our office will, on a semi-regular basis, give away awesome seats to professional baseball and basketball games to the employees – four tickets to bring your family/friends to have a nice outing on the company. That wouldn’t be such a great reward if you had to go to the games with your co-workers.

        Some people love that – personally I would rather spend the night in a foreign jail than go to a sporting event. Luckily for me I don’t think I have damaged my career by uttering “no thank you” whenever they are offered to me. As a matter of fact my co-workers love that I take myself out of the rotation.

        If there were ramifications for declining goodness knows I’d be doing the corporate equivalent of digging the latrine.

        Incidentally I do like my boss a lot, as both a boss and a person. And she knows this because I don’t have to pretend otherwise.

  15. John*

    I’m really shocked by the number of people on here who don’t see the benefit of this. I’m an extroverted manager who understands that not everyone may feel the same as I do, yet I still offer the invite of a personal dinner with direct reports and their SOs quite frequently. Some accept this offer, and if they don’t, they don’t. I don’t take it personally at all. I’m not looking to become “best friends” with them, but it’s been a good tool to: 1) get to know my staff better and what makes them tick and 2) get to know their SO better.

    In my (about 10 year) career, I have cheerfully accepted invitations as such from my supervisors, as we have with my SO. From a career advancement perspective, it has certainly helped both myself and my SO advance. We have shown that we are interesting and worldly people OUTSIDE of work, that we’re in a strong relationship (it’s telling who someone picks as their mate), and that we are genuinely interested in learning about each others professions and recieving mentorship from industry leaders.

    Now, I’m not saying this route is for everyone, but my SO and I have siezed these opportunities and they have been, in my opinion, the thing that launched us into management (me)/executive (him) positions in our early 30s.

    As a manager, I now look at such opportunities as ways to mentor the next generation of leadership for my organization (not that I’d exclude people who decline interviews, but it’s human nature to go with someone who looks to you as a mentor and someone who you genuinely find worth investing your time in over someone you know nothing about when both produce equally good work.)

    Two caveats:
    1) I know that not everyone wants to be a manager/executive, and that’s fine. If that’s your deal, and you’re content to be a worker bee, it’s fine to decline the invitation – I’m just noting that you’re missing out on a great opportunity if you’re a driven person and seek to advance to management/executive positions.
    2) I know not everyone works in a business environment (I actually work in non-profit, but came from the business world). These invitations may be more awkward in the government/academic sector than the business world.

    I actually just had dinner with my Director and my SO last night (burgers and beers), and found it a great way to find out what makes HIM tick.

    Would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    1. John*

      PS – I also be sure to cook the dinner for them myself, 1) because I like to cook and entertain, and 2) because it shows that I’m not “above” the employees.

      We’ve also cooked dinner for my SO’s COO and it went over so well (including a beautiful handwritten note of appreciation). I happen to be a fantastic cook, so your mileage may vary (I wouldn’t microwave a pizza and serve that, nor would I hire a caterer which would seem awkward). I think this works because I am genuinely expressing myself in the meal.

      1. Jo*

        “As a manager, I now look at such opportunities as ways to mentor the next generation of leadership for my organization (not that I’d exclude people who decline interviews, but it’s human nature to go with someone who looks to you as a mentor and someone who you genuinely find worth investing your time in over someone you know nothing about when both produce equally good work.)”
        This is what worries me, when a manager thinks like this. So when a subordinate chose not to attend something that the so-called manager organized, this would definitely affect the employee’s performance review. This sounds very unprofessional to me. One thing you’d like to consider is, although your coworkers (manager or subordinates) said they enjoy the event and the fantastic dishes you made, it doesn’t mean that they were sincere in telling you this. It could be out of politeness. I think it makes more sense for you to bring the food to work and invite people to enjoy it for lunch. Just my humble opinion.

        1. Anonymous*

          This. Extroverted Manager even said:

          “1) I know that not everyone wants to be a manager/executive, and that’s fine. If that’s your deal, and you’re content to be a worker bee, it’s fine to decline the invitation…”

          No invite acceptance, no promotion. Spelled out. My worst fear about these things, confirmed. “No pressure to attend, except there really is pressure.”

          Evil HR Lady wrote an excellent post recently about how what a manager thinks are good rewards may not be what the employee thinks are good rewards, and this is an excellent corollary to her thesis.

          1. Jamie*

            I felt the exact same way when I read the sentence quoted above. No socializing – no promotions. Fine – as long as you make that very clear in the interview so I can withdraw my interest in the position.

            Although many may be well intended – as Alison stated a lot of extroverts don’t get that this isn’t fun for everyone – it’s still arrogant to me. As an employee why on earth should my manager assume I want to spend my precious little free time people from work? Eating at their homes would just compound the hell for me.

            I do a hell of a job between 55-60 hours per week. If you want to know what “makes me tick” as it relates to work then by all means ask me what you want to know. At the office.

            What you can possibly hope to gain by making me sit through dinner at your house while you “get to know” my husband and make judgments on my future based on what you think about my mate? Or whether or not I’m able to make delightful small talk while simultaneously complimenting your cooking – which guaranteed I would hate – then disclose that immediately so I can find another job where I will be judged on my merit and can form work relationships at work, where they belong.

            And I am sure I would be backed 100% by my husband – as a cop who does more than his share around the house because of my hours the last thing he would want to do is put on a dog and pony show for my boss.

            The concept of that is viscerally upsetting to me – not for myself as I don’t and wouldn’t work for anyone who made socializing outside of work part of the game…but for the people stuck in those jobs who can’t just walk right now, but are being punished by not wanting to have dinner with their bosses.

          2. John*

            I didn’t think I would spark such a controversy about this!

            I think the clear source of distress from the comments I see here is the tension between “the way things should be” and “the way things are.”

            As much as “management science” (an academic field that tries to use engineering principles to increase efficiency) would like to remove the human relationships from the mix, the fact is that management includes a human component. Relationships are important. People don’t always make rational/fair decisions. Is it “right”? No, but it happens.

            In defense of my own original post, I think it’s been interpreted through a particular lens. All I was saying is that, in most careers, you can’t just “do good work and punch the clock” and expect to be rewarded. Being promoted to management/leadership involves relationship building. Why do you think people go to top MBA schools over getting an MBA online or at a community college? The quality of education? (maybe, but I’d argue that anyone can learn prinicples of management from a variety of sources, including this blog) The networking (heck yeah! It’s the dinners, happy hours, “social events” that warrant the $200K investment!)

            Is it fair? No. I’ll be the first to admit that.

          3. John*

            I take issue to your reading of my post, Jamie.

            First of all, I never require anyone to accept my invitations, and I’m mature enough to seperate work from social life. I’ve had subordinates invite me for equally pleasant dinners at their place. I don’t think it’s that odd for people to have dinner with colleagues.

            Two, I’ve noted that I NEVER base a decision solely on this. As a manager , you fill the best person for the job – ALWAYS. My exact words were:

            “it’s human nature to go with someone who looks to you as a mentor and someone who you genuinely find worth investing your time in over someone you know nothing about when both produce equally good work.”

            Key: “when both produce equally good work”.

            I strive to be a fair, open, and transparent manager, but I refuse to remove the human aspect from the workplace. If I have to spend 50-60 hours in an office, it should be with people I respect, who do good work, and even ::gasp!:: people I like!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think most people recognize that there are benefits to attending these events, but that doesn’t mean that they’re happy about going. And so I think managers could make more of an effort to create opportunities for those same benefits without having to tie it to a social event.

      Part of the issue, I think, is that people who enjoy these types of events assume that others do too … but the reality is that for introverts, they can be exhausting and NOT enjoyable. I’ve noticed a few commenters here saying they arrange these events and everyone loves them, but it’s important to remember that you might not know if some people didn’t, because most people want to be polite, and they also don’t want to jeopardize their standing in the company. So they might be silently sucking it up while really wishing they were at home on their couch — and that’s really hard to know, especially when you’re the boss because most people won’t reveal that to you. So I’d just say not to assume everyone on your team loves these things, because the people who don’t often won’t reveal that.

      And that doesn’t make them any less able to do a fantastic job, including in management and leadership positions. It just means that they recharge differently / have different preferences.

      1. lm*

        Absolutely agree. Additionally, many people have important obligations outside of work that they can’t push aside anytime a “team building” event crops up. No one should have to divulge the reason they are reluctant or unable to attend, but there are a wide range of reasons that are all valid (from needing some time to recharge to being the primary caretaker of a relative, just to name two).

        And, if these events are frequent and mandatory (even if it’s not officially mandatory), I think it should be disclosed up front so people can choose if this work environment is a good fit for them.

    3. scott m*

      Here’s my difficulty. What can you tell about a coworker in a social situation that you can’t figure out at work? You say you can find out what makes someone ‘ tick’. I’ve never understood this. Is there some secret code that managers understand that I don’t pick up on? Could you give a specific example of an ‘aha’ moment at one of these social events, where you suddenly understood something new (and relevant to work) about a coworker?

    4. Anonymous*

      Not everyone is like you. But you seem to insist that work is simply not enough. Someone doing a great job during office hours is insufficient. I can be an amazing leader while I’m working, and still not want to spend 10 hours a week going out to dinners and cocktail hours and having burgers and beers. You seem to find this impossible.

      What some of us are trying to say is that career advancement should not be based on all these extracurricular activities. We shouldn’t be required to go if we want to advance. We should be able to be incredible at our jobs and advance because we are incredible at our jobs. Not because our husbands share a love of fishing and IPAs.

    5. Adam V*

      I have a number of issues with your post.

      > I still offer the invite of a personal dinner with direct reports and their SOs quite frequently

      To me, that screams “for those people who want to say ‘no’, I’m going to make it more and more uncomfortable the more often they turn me down”. After the fifth or sixth team-only event in a row that I don’t attend, I’d bet all the money in my wallet that *someone* at that party will say “so what was Adam’s reason this time?” or something similar. In my mind, you’re inviting unfair criticism of people who may have good reasons not to attend, not to mention promoting office gossip among the attendees.

      I would say one invite a year is plenty. Even two is pushing it. More than that, and people are going to feel they *have* to attend now and then, just to avoid their coworkers and boss forming this type of opinion of them. (And in that situation, this type of “team-building-camaraderie-happy-fun-times” party is actually going to *lower* their morale.)

      > it’s human nature to go with someone who looks to you as a mentor and someone who you genuinely find worth investing your time in over someone you know nothing about when both produce equally good work

      > If … you’re content to be a worker bee, it’s fine to decline the invitation – I’m just noting that you’re missing out on a great opportunity if you’re a driven person and seek to advance to management/executive positions.

      You call that “human nature”, but it strikes me as a discriminatory hiring decision – if someone has a valid reason, especially one that’s family- or medical-related, for not attending your out-of-work events, they could claim that you’re showing preferential treatment to people who attend your events. Not that most people will have any recourse for such a decision, other than to leave and go somewhere that their body of work can speak for itself. (And even if their reason isn’t one you’d consider “valid”, it’s still their reason, and they’ll still take their work elsewhere.)

      1. Cassie*

        “After the fifth or sixth team-only event in a row that I don’t attend, I’d bet all the money in my wallet that *someone* at that party will say “so what was Adam’s reason this time?” or something similar. ”

        This. And the one time I, the wallflower, decide to attend, I’ll be bombarded with the chorus of “oh, you decided to join us THIS TIME! What a special occasion! Oh, look who’s not being anti-social today!”

    6. Anonymous*

      I am a little concerned by “that we’re in a strong relationship (it’s telling who someone picks as their mate), ” what do you think of the single folks? Do you not invite them? Do people who are single get singled out? Not invited? Invited but ridiculed because they haven’t picked someone as “their mate”?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree; the statement “it’s telling who someone picks for their mate” may be true but it’s irrelevant. You know what’s telling? What results someone gets on the job.

        I’m confused by the desire to poke into all these side issues. It’s not that tricky to find your rising stars who are worthy of mentoring and promotion: you just look at what they get done on the job.

        And conveniently, that takes place during work hours!

      2. Jo*

        Exactly my concern too. What if my spouse is unemployed? Or a stay at home husband, kind, generous, great husband and dad and a quiet guy who is not so social? Would that now affect my performance at work?

        And what if I married a CEO from a fortune 100 companies who makes millions of dollars a year (while I’m just an admin). Would that now upgrade my social status at work?

        And like Anonymous 1.02pm mentioned: what if I am a single person, not to mention a bit overweight? Would I now be judged for not working out and living an unhealthy life?

        Also, the poster mentioned about being a fantastic cook. If she was my husband’s boss who finds out that the best I could do is boiling water, will that affect my husband’s career for not picking a ‘good mate’?

        Anyway, what does my choice of spouse have anything to do with my work performance? I’m not a politician nor am I planning on running for office, so my work should be appraised at work, not outside of it.

        I agree with one of the feedback who said we need professional coach for these so called ‘managers’ and ‘executives’ in the way they view their subordinates or even bosses.

        1. Jo*

          Oh, and what if that wonderful hubby of yours (the executive who you are in a strong relationship with) leaves you for the housekeeper. Would that now change your boss’s view of your work performance, because obviously you can’t keep your man?

          1. Mike C.*

            Well I’m sure that’s going to be reflected on the yearly review…

            After all, if she cannot keep her man, who’s to say she can’t keep her clients either?

            Seriously, I’m with you guys 110%. This is simply disgusting behavior.

        2. Naama*

          And what about people who have same-sex SOs but aren’t comfortable being out to their work colleagues? It’s great that you can be, and that it helps build your career, but not everyone is so lucky!

      3. John*

        I agree, I agree…A bit overboard.

        I was just pointing out that sometimes other HUMAN aspects come into play…So you may as well just try to make the best and enjoy the invite. Again, it comes down the to fact that it may not be right, but it’s the way it is, for better or worse.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But John, it sounds like you’re motivated partly by wanting to do something nice for your team. Since so many people are pointing out they don’t enjoy these types of invites (even if they go and act like they do), has it made you reconsider whether you can find other ways of doing achieving your goals?

          1. John*

            Yes, it has caused me to think a bit differently, but I think I’ve been misunderstood on this whole thing, AAM!

            I am generally regarded as a great manager (per my 360 reviews and how I’m perceived internally and with external clients.)

            As a rule, I try to find out some personal things about my employees (WITHOUT PRYING – SO DON’T JUMP ON ME!), and reward them in small ways – for example, when I travel I’ll bring back candy or a small trinket from the location for staff (or if I know they have kids, bring back a small toy or something for the kids). This type of behavior is something I learned from my first manager and director, and it was something our team all did for each other (we did a lot of international travel). I really, truly, appreciated the small gesture.

            My own director does a lot of travel and does not do this. I am not offended. To each his own. I am not trying to bribe, just thanking them for a job well done while I was out of the office.

            In terms of the whole dinner thing, I only speak from experience. I have worked at several large companies and even small companies, and I’ve always had very good relationships with supervisors and supervisees. So has my SO. In my experience, being professional and entertaining/being entertained off work hours has done wonders for my career. I don’t see anything wrong with it when done properly and when everyone is up front and honest. Using this as a tool (ONE OF MANY – MOST IMPORTANT BEING YOUR WORK PRODUCT) to advance your career is not for everyone (then again, not everyone wants to even BE a manager or executive!)

            I think I was beaten up really badly for something I didn’t even intend, but I hope this clarifies a bit!

    7. Mike C.*

      Why don’t you save everyone the time and money, and just have them kneel on the ground and kiss your ring. Right in front of everyone else, maybe provide a pillow to avoid ADA issues. It has that old world charm and you can directly see who’s “management material” and who still hasn’t had their sense of dignity killed.

      Here’s a clue for you: your company doesn’t matter. No one lies in their deathbed wishing they had worked more hours or kissed a little more ass. Things like family and hobbies are so much more important than 99% of jobs out there. And even if you do lead a team of neurosurgeons or UN diplomats, they get time away from work too.

      How much time and money are you wasting trying to “figure people out”? Are you somehow deficient in your job that you need to kiss ass (and require others to do the same) to make up for it?

      By the way, working in the “business environment” is a terrible excuse to make people choose between your personal vanity and their own families.

      1. John*

        Strong words, I didn’t know I would elicit such venom.

        For your information, I’m quite competent at my job. It’s a place where we have a common mission, and we all view it as a “family” (this is made explicitly clear in interviews, marketing materials, etc.)

        I don’t derive all the value from my job, much as you may think. In fact, I have a variety of hobbies, all of which I cultivate.

        Finally, I don’t EVER pressure my colleagues to choose between family and work. Here’s a shocker – some people ENJOY dinner invitations.

        And I don’t try to “figure people out”, it’s just that you learn alot by talking to someone about more than spreadsheets and budgets. And sometimes that’s nice. And even, dare I say, humanizing?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oooh, no, not a family! This is my pet peeve! You don’t fire or lay off members of your family. A workplace is not a family. It might be a team, but I hate, hate, hate office cultures that use the family line. It’s not a family. Nor should it be one!

          Anyway, back to the subject at hand: John, I just wonder how you can really be sure that people enjoy these invites. As the boss, you have to assume that you wouldn’t really know for sure if they didn’t — there’s no way around that, and good managers need to be cognizant of that — and I think it’s good to be sensitive to that. Why not take people out to lunch during the workday instead?

        2. Jo*

          I am with AAM on this! I never understand when people refer their company culture as ‘Family’. To me, that spells out: Dysfunctional Family. Lots of time it means everyone can tell you what to do, what to think because they ‘care’.
          My office is a place I go to everyday to work and contribute, and socialize with coworkers I choose to socialize with. And often times they become friends outside of work, whom I’d invite over to my house to socialize, after they become ‘friends’ at work. But family? No, I have one already.

        3. Anonymous*

          Oh, please, it’s not ‘family.’

          My mother would never lay me off. When my kids were little she’d babysit sometimes; are you doing that? Lending money when my husband gets laid off? Staying up with my sister after her brain surgery and holding her hand when it hurts too much?

          I think not.

    8. Anonymous*

      This is the most arrogrant comment I have ever read. I’m not sure what your direct reports think of you. You might not even notice since you are to busy being an extrovert.

      I think its great you are comfortable going to social events, but as a manager, I would keep in mind of introverts who might not be as “into” it as you are.

      1. John*

        Thanks for asking (and I’m quite honored to get the “most arrogant comment ever)! I usually get high marks for my fairness, transparency, and willingness to let people really express their talents and develop those they may be lacking in in my anonymous 360 reviews. In general, they think I’m a good, fair manager.

        Why? When I hire new people, I like to find out what their strong suits are, where they feel deficiency, and how that fits in to the job that needs to get done. There’s no game playing. We feel comfortable with each other. We love what we do, and feel a shared mission. It’s a team.

        Inviting them to dinner has nothing to do with how I treat them at work, thanks. Sorry you may not have the same work environment.

        1. Diane*

          I think John is getting beaten up for expressing something that I said as well.

          I think my direct reports enjoy a small amount of after-work socializing because we have a good relationship and they ask for more. If we argue that John or I just *can’t know* what people really want, we dive into philosophy about the nature of the mind.

          Workplace culture varies, and in an ideal world, we’d get to work in a culture that suits us, whether we prefer to put our heads down, work hard, and go home, or whether we want to work for a place that acts like a family (yes, the f-word; deal with it people–I dislike it too, but it’s just a word to describe a culture mutual interest and care beyond the work product). But in this real world, most managers try their best (and make mistakes sometimes), some judge others by what they participate in, and depending on the industry and workplace, your decision to participate in after-hours events affects your career. It does not mean the John is the devil incarnate for inviting people to dinner because he did not first drug them with truth serum to find out if that’s what they really want.

          People are not carbon copies. Make your decision based on your workplace culture and your own comfort level. This is such a simple principle, and yet it’s elicited 107+ comments.

          1. John*

            Thanks for the support, Diane. Every person and every work place culture is different. I didn’t intent to elicit such strong comments, but this is apparently a very polarizing topic.

            I learned a whole bunch though – even about how I’d feel about getting called an “arrogant boor” anonymously on the internet!

  16. J_Mo*

    I’m an introvert, but on the rare occasions these things come up, I make an effort to go and at least make an appearance. If there is a dinner involved, I may go for the dinner and then leave as soon as it feels appropriate.

    My group’s task leaders took me out for lunch in honor of Admin Professionals’ Day, but it was a disaster, IMO. None of them really spoke to me, and they all talked shop. It left me very depressed, but I made sure to be gracious and thank my boss for putting it together.

    It was actually kind of bizarre, because in the few years I’ve been with this group, they have never done anything for me for Admin’s Day.

    Hopefully, next year they will just get me a gift card or something.

    To not have made the effort to go, IMO, would have been wrong on my part. In the future, however, I will decline.

  17. NicoleW*

    Thank you for this post. I’ve always felt ungrateful when I wasn’t thrilled at the social functions my boss hosts. I absolutely understand the benefit to some non-work time, socializing, it’s good for my career, etc. It’s just that these events are always outside work time. My boss thinks of these events as rewards for his staff after periods of the year when we’ve been putting in lots of extra hours. This seems counter-intuitive to me. While I do enjoy socializing my co-workers and other teams, we’ve been spending extra hours at the office, and now our reward is an after hours event?
    Also, at these events, I’m the only one who doesn’t bring a spouse, which is a little awkward for me (more so because boss asks three times if spouse is coming!). I don’t want to pay for a babysitter to attend a work function, so my husband stays home with our child. Like AAM, I would much prefer these events to be during work hours when possible.

  18. OP*

    I am the OP. Thanks for your feedback, AAM and everyone.
    I forgot to mention that she does this a few times a year: Holiday drinks, picnics, etc., and these were mostly potlucks. So it involves more than just attending – we had to buy/make/bring something as well. In the last gettogether (again, a Saturday), she suggested that we go to dinner sometime. We of course said: sure, it’s a great idea.
    I mean, what do you expect us to respond – she’s the boss!
    Both my husband and I are very social. We throw parties often, but we invite only people we socialize with, not people who work for us. In fact we like to keep these social events separate from work.

    I read a good response saying giving a bottle of wine in advance and tell her we regret that we won’t be able to make it.
    On the other hand, I still don’t want it to affect my husband’s career if we choose not to attend.
    I just feel it’s not fair to take our weekend away from us when we already have to go to work everyday (plus conference calls after hours and weekends as well),
    I suspect she actually doesn’t have a personal life so everything revolves around work/work folks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I mean, what do you expect us to respond – she’s the boss!”

      I think this is exactly the point bosses need to remember when you think that your team loves these events. Probably some of them do … but some of them are just telling you what you want to hear. So at a minimum be aware that your impressions of how much they enjoy this stuff can’t be considered fully reliable!

      1. Joey*

        I think the real issue is that bosses shouldnt assume what employees want when it’s so much easier to let them know what your limits are and then ask them what they want.

  19. Scott Messinger*

    I posted a reply previously,but don’t think anyone has seen it, because it’s up in the middle of the replies.

    Here’s my issue – can someone explain to me why team ‘bonding’ that takes place at social events is somehow better teams bonding at work?

    The point of a team is to work together towards a common goal. You don’t have to like each other, but you should be professional. This is the kind of “team bonding” that makes sense to me. It happens at work and it’s work related.

    Seiously, can anyone give me an specific example of some social event that changed how they related to people at work?

    I bet I won’t get many answers. Thats because correlation does not equal causation. Just because you have a great team AND you all love to socialize together does not mean that the socialization is the CAUSE of your great teamwork.

    Seriously. Please! Give me some examples of where your team just didn’t work well, and then you started socializing, and suddenly the team was working better.

    1. Jamie*

      This is a great question and I’m interested to see if you get any answers.

      There are some brilliant people I am very glad to work with, whom I wouldn’t want to spend time with on the weekend. I have good friends who I love to hang out with, but I wouldn’t want to work with them on a bet. I do work with some people who I do socialize with on occasion – but that’s

      Is reasonable to expect employees to be all things to all people?

    2. Rachel*

      A couple of years ago, a boss told me that I had to start having lunch with another manager on a regular basis. I hate social events (even a work lunch) and thought of this as networking (yuck). After sending out every lunch invite, I dreaded it. We had nothing in common.

      This other manager is now vital to my daily success. They are an excellent sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and a confidential source for work and employee questions. While I no longer work for that boss, I am grateful for the advice.

      I have some managers that work for me that I’ve tried to encourage they do the same with each other and they have not. Our next “team bonding” is geared towards drawing out commonalities between some of them (though this is work-related and not after-hours, it is social).

    3. DuebyMonday*

      Organizational effectiveness and team effectiveness can sometimes be different things. An organization with great leadership, management, training, policies, procedures, and professional employees can function very well. Also, great teamwork by people who all like and care for each other can overcome the lack of good structure.

      I agree that it’s difficult to attribute causality to something that may be correlation. Regardless, I would contend that the best places have both of these. It’s like having a back-up parachute in case your primary fails. I wouldn’t jump out of a plane with just one no matter how good the primary supposedly is.

      As a general example, I’m sure you can make the argument that firefighters do their jobs well because they have good organizational effectiveness. But when one risks or sacrifices his life to save that of a coworker, I’d put my money on the fact that he’s trying to save a friend as much as he’s just doing his job.

      1. Jamie*

        I’m not going to argue that there is a strong bond among police, firefighters, the military…it’s a very real survival mechanism for those who depend on their co-workers for their very lives.

        However, your final sentence is not true for the vast majority. My husband is a 20+ year veteran of a very large police force and I am 100% certain he would be just as just as quick to risk/sacrifice his own life for any officer, friend or stranger, as well as any member of the public he protects. That goes for every cop/firefighter I know.

        No matter how crappy my job can be on any given day at least I don’t have to rely on my co-workers to protect my life – nor would I feel compelled to take a bullet for them.

        Police and firefighters are co-workers, yes, but not in the same sense that most of us have co-workers. It’s such a completely different scenario you really can’t draw a valid comparison.

        1. DuebyMonday*

          When someone risks one’s life in such a field, of course they would do the same for a stranger, like all firefighters and peace officers. But, in those fields, I believe even if they’d do it for anyone, you can’t tell me that they’re not feeling worry for a coworker. This is a feeling that most regular office workers won’t feel. Part of that is because they push beyond the boundaries of looking at someone as merely a coworker, but instead as a brother-in-arms. I don’t believe we’re in any disagreement at all.

          I was answering a previous question asking for examples where teamwork and esprit de corps made people function better than an organization where people just performed their jobs professionally. My point is that certain organizations that have both function well and can handle situations that would crush a regular office-based group.

    4. Anonymous*

      Personally As a manager I take note of employees who think a social event is more about getting wasted,who are rude to the waitstaff. I guess it’s more of a test for me to see if I’d ever want to send them to a social event as a company representative. Doing it during work hours just isn’t the same because people are more likely to let their guard down a bit more after hours.

  20. Rachel*

    Enjoyed the article and particularly the comments.

    I hosted an event at my home for my team shortly after they started reporting to me. I learned more about them and what makes them tick in that 2 hour event than in the first 3 months of working together.

    I missed an event at our CEO’s home and regret it. There is no upside in missing it. I am an introvert and hate these events, but personal connections help move along difficult projects, build trust, and fuel teamwork. It’s not even about being promoted as much as building comraderie.

    And on a final note, if you go, be on your best behavior. Horrifically, at a recent special after hours dinner, one of my team members behaved rudely and my boss was greatly offended. My boss rarely has that level of visibility with my team and so this bad mark will be well remembered. Luckily for me I heard “wow, you really do a great job. Managing around that and keeping it low key must be very challenging”.

    1. Jo*

      “Horrifically, at a recent special after hours dinner, one of my team members behaved rudely and my boss was greatly offended. ” Exactly my point. When they already spend so many hours at work, why make them go to another one, and who knows what ‘rude behavior’ that your boss was refering to. Now your team member was judged based on that, instead of his quality of work, at work.
      I’d like to have my after hours to do what I enjoy doing, not going to some work event hosted by my boss. And I’m not even an introvert. I’m very social and enjoy social outings – note the word ‘social’, not work.

  21. Scott Messinger*

    Again, there’s that statment of “I learned more about them and what makes them tick in that 2 hour event than in the first 3 months of working together.” I asked about this up in the comments above, but I think it got lost (under Scott M.)

    What *specifically* are you learning about what makes your employees ‘tick’ at these social event that you can’t learn at the office? What do you mean about “what makes them tick”? Is that different from their job related ambitions, skills, abilities? How is it relevant to the job (or does it just satisfy your personal curiosity)? Could you learn the same things with just a personal one-on-one conversation at the office?

    I’m not being facetious; I really want to know!

    1. Joey*

      I’m learning if they can act appropriately around alcohol and in social situations in case I ever want them to attend a social event on the companys behalf. And no this can’t be done during work hours because people don’t let their guard down as much.

  22. DuebyMonday*

    I can clearly see the nuances of both perspectives, but one point I’d like to raise is to think of how it would feel if the employee were excluded from the invitation. There are people who are never offered mentoring or invitations to get to know the boss and staff better. That’s an opportunity many people want but never fairly receive. If given the choice of never receiving such invitations versus having to give up some personal time reluctantly, I’d choose the latter.

    A manager, with good intentions that just wants to host something nice for his team, should speak about the event in advance to get feedback, find out available dates so that no one is overly burdened with a plan change, and work out a compromise situation that works for everyone. It’s very nice that someone might offer the invitation, but as the manager, a person in a position of power, he or she should be considerate about the unknown internal struggles to an invitation if no options are given except to say no or come reluctantly.

    Discussing the event long before an actual invitation is presented offers people who are really negatively affected by such invitations a chance to weasel out before having to formally say no. The manager can also measure the level of excitement about it, and then set the details to fit the mood of the invitees.

  23. Scott Messinger*

    “But when one risks or sacrifices his life to save that of a coworker, I’d put my money on the fact that he’s trying to save a friend as much as he’s just doing his job”

    I disagree. I think it is more about risking your life for a colleague. You do it because you respect each other, and because you’ve had it drilled into you that your team members lives depend on you. You have a sense of responsibility and you don’t want to let down your team. There is a emotional bond there, but it doesn’t have to be friendship.

    Now, the disclaimer is that I’m not a firefighter, so I can’t speak with reliable authourity about what it is like to be one. But I can’t believe that every firefighter is friends with all their coworkers. But still they rick their lives every day for each other!

    The point is that managers should focus on bonding teams together based upon the work-related goals, not upon outside-of-work socialization.

    1. Jamie*

      Great point – my husband has co-workers he sure as heck doesn’t like enough to have lunch with, let alone socialize after hours. But his actions toward them on the job would be no different than if his cousin (on the same force – different precinct) needed back-up.

      They fall back on their training and their duty to each other – it’s a completely different mindset. It’s odd how impersonal it is, really, but when the chips are down they aren’t individuals as much as a unit.

  24. SME*

    My hypothesis is that when managers talk about learning what makes their subordinates tick at these events, what they really mean is that it gives them the chance to see who people are when they aren’t on their best, formal, business behavior. The difference between someone’s work persona and their real selves can often be dramatic. There is absolutely a difference between how people behave in the office, and how they behave out of it – even if they’re with the same group of people.

    Personally, I’m an extrovert who hates these events. As support staff, they do nothing for my career, and too often once out of the office people express political or social opinions that I find abhorrent. I invariably end up wishing I didn’t know something I learned during one of these events.

    Maybe it’s different if you’re aimed at CEO someday. But for those of us who are “just” worker bees, this can be torture, and I love that my current boss keeps all events like this during work hours, and in the office, rather than encroaching on what I consider to be precious free time.

    I already spend 50 hours a week with you people. Enough already.

    1. scott m*

      “it gives them the chance to see who people are when they aren’t on their best, formal, business behavior.”

      Why would they care? What they do at work is all that matters.

      1. SME*

        I completely agree with you – I was just trying to translate manager-speak for some of the folks who were asking. :)

      2. John*

        Perhaps because it’s important to see how people handle social situations IF THIS IS PART OF THE JOB. If someone misbehaves out of the office (i.e., drinks too much, acts rude, etc.), as a manager, do you really want to send them solo on a business trip, to take a new client, etc. etc. etc.? Especially if that job involves wining and dining prospective business?

        I’m not saying this is a “gotcha” tactic, nor am I saying I have ever done this – I’m just giving one explanation.

    2. Anonymous*

      Anyone who goes to a company function, during work hours or not, and is NOT on their best, formal, business behavior is an idiot, work-wise.

      NOT being on your best, formal, business behavior is what gets you bosses’ bosses being ticked at ‘rude behavior.’ Anything where customers or coworkers are attending is work, and requires the same demeanor as if you were sitting at your desk or in a meeting with these people.

      Which is precisely why I loathe these affairs. Looks like it’s supposed to be fun, except it’s just work wearing a sequined ID badge. People get lured into a false sense of party and wind up toasting themselves professionally. And then your SO gets to be judged, too!

      Yay! (Not.)

    3. saro*

      I don’t agree. The folks that are crazy during off hours are crazy at work too. In my 15 years of work experience, the professional persona could never mask the employee’s off-hours persona.

      1. keyparty*

        @saro: I’ve been working as a mid-level management “bee” for over 17 years with my current employer. I’ve advanced a few times, generally in pay scale. It’s a typical office setting, with 30 some odd employees. I DO NOT attend after hours function, period.

        With that in mind here is why I disagree with your statement: “In my 15 years of work experience, the professional persona could never mask the employee’s off-hours persona” – #1: I’ve been living the “key party” life style with my SO for 20 years. NO ONE at work knows this. And I assure you if they did I’d get to kiss my job goodbye. #2: I have a totally different voice at work. It’s literally deeper and more, shall we say, authoritative. My SO says I sound like a totally different person when they hear my “work voice.” At home my voice is low and youthful. However, I’m not naive to the notion that this voice duality is probably do to the fact that I did voice acting for 6 years. So I’ll admit, I’m working under one vocal persona at work and another at home. Still after 17 years no one from work has ever heard the youthful me. And it will stay that way because I don’t never crap where I collect my food. #3: At work I’m known as manger who’s a bit hard on people when it comes to deadlines; since time management is an important fascist of my charge. Perhaps to a degree, for better or for worse, I’m over compensating because in my personal life, I procrastinate like the dickens. Mainly because I have better things to do with my time and with my SO than worry about repainting that shed, I said I should really give another coat 2 years ago.

        Anyway. #2 and #3 are pretty small compared to the “key party” thing. So ya, @saro, I’m gonna have to call “shenanigans.”

  25. A. Non. E. Mouse*

    Most of the issues have been thoroughly discussed and as an introvert, I can honestly say I don’t like these events but I go.

    I think someone said it above and it’s worth repeating: these situations have value as testing grounds for future new roles in the company. It’s a time to display your normalcy/interaction with others/manners because over time the manager might have you in mind for a high profile project with clients or other managers. While some people may say that it is unfair to have non-working hour situations play a part in promotions, the truth of the matter is that if you are in an industry where business development/client interaction matters (and I can’t think of many where it doesn’t), you need to display some level of sociability. In my work experience, I’ve seen some very technically capable people who could not read social cues and made disastrous presentations in front of clients. (As in not being able to infer what the client was concerned about and then not even answer the question when asked directly twice). I’ve also seen engineers who could make fantastic presentations and small talk over lunch with the client. Guess who got the plum assignments? If I were a manager, I wouldn’t put anybody in front of a client unless I knew they could handle it.

    1. Scott Messinger*

      You can observe presentations at work. You can observe small talk at work.

      Of course this is only important in those few job roles where business development/client interaction is a main function. But many more managers (other than those in business development/client interaction roles) still want to invite employees out to dinner to “see what makes them tick”

      I still haven’t seen a good answer as to what this means or how it is different than the normal workplace interactions.

      1. Jo*

        I’m not anti work events at all, as long as it’s done during work hours, on the company dime. And to answer your question Scott, yes, I do think there are great benefits and advantages, one that I can think of is that you get to know team members that you don’t interact with much at work.

        It is one of my areas of responsbilities to organize these work events and if my boss suggests anything after hous, I’d certainly give her my 2 cents.

        There is nothing wrong having team buildings, again during work hours. In my current and previous jobs, we normally do it in the morning for a few hours, and we get to leave early which is even better and truly rewarding.

        My problem is when this takes place after hours or worse, on weekends!

        1. Scott Messinger*

          Why do you need to get to know team members, socially, when you don’t interact with them at work? If they were critical to your job, you would already interact with them. If they are, you don’t.

          If they are critical and you DONT interact with them, then your manager hasn’t done a very good job managing your team. He needs more clearly define job roles and responsibilities, and set up explicit lines of communication (meetings, conference calls, trackable emails, etc) so that you DO interact with them (and they interact with you).

          Sometimes I think managers come up with these ideas about getting employees to socialize, because they don’t want to put in the effort to actually manage their employees. They think “Ooo! I’ll just throw them all together in social situations, they’ll all bond, and the team will congeal into a well-honed unit with out any effort on my part!” (Yes I’m exaggerating)

      1. Anon*

        Exactly. You hire me, you get roughly 4o hours or so of my time and skills (a bit more if needed, of course).

        But the rest of the week is mine, not yours. It’s my time to do my necessary life stuff, to socialize with my friends (who are not my coworkers, and not you), and relax a bit. Mostly I like my coworkers, but 40 hours a week is enough. I don’t want to spend leisure time at work, too. And if it’s a work-related event, then it’s work, no matter how much manglement may fool itself that it’s “social,” and “fun.” It’s neither.

  26. Anonymous*

    Even an office party, I dread going to. My office had a July 4th party one year and everyone was invited to bring food, which was left in the conference room. I still brought my own lunch that day. Never was comfortable going in and doing chit chat while getting food.

  27. Bob G.*

    If a manager truly wants to get to know a direct report in a setting outside of work then invite them and few others to a lunch or some other “non-work” location..during working hours…while they are getting paid. Ideally an off-site conference or seminar where there is some training and hopefully a chance to discuss the topics and have a casual lunch…outside of the normal work place stress.

    Managers who think “everyone” loves something are can hardly ever get a 100% consensus if you say the “sky is blue”….you think everyone loved it because you haven’t created an atmosphere that allows these people to be honest and open with you. Seriously sometimes common sense just gets lost when people are “in charge”.

  28. Sydney*

    I can understand if a manager just wants to get together with their team and have some fun, or throw a party to show appreciation.

    I can also understand that a co-worker or report’s behaviour during non-work hours, if you happen to observe it, may inevitably change your perception of them (e.g., if you invite a report to your house, and he gets abusive after a few drinks or starts uttering racist remarks, etc., I would understand if you start to lose trust in him).

    But I can’t understand why a manager (as some of the comments above suggest) would intentionally use these social events as some sort of test for their reports, unless I guess, if you work in some culture or industry where most of the business is conducted on a dining table over wine glasses. To me, how you behave at work (where you are likely under pressure, required to do things you always don’t like, have to deal with difficult personalities, and remain calm doing all of this) speaks far more about your character and ability than how you behave at a dinner party. I mean, if you’re backstabbing, fingerpointing, irresponsible, and dishonest in the work place, to me that’s who you are – I don’t care if you’re a good chat at the Sunday BBQ!

  29. Cassie*

    One thing that you can get out of after-hours, off-location gatherings is lack of inhibition. People may be more forthcoming if they are not at work.

    Now, that “forthcoming-ness” is not necessarily a good thing. I went on a business trip with my two bosses a couple of weeks ago and I estimate we spent 15 hours together (over the 2 days, waiting at the airport, eating meals together, driving to meetings). And we ended up talking about my coworkers’ job performances. The stuff that I said about them wasn’t scandalous (it’s common knowledge, what I shared), but I definitely wouldn’t have “shared” that info in the office. And I def wish I had kept my mouth shut!

  30. CJ*

    I’m thanking all kinds of gods right now that I don’t work in the type of culture where this is required. (Is it specific to private/corporate culture?)

    I work at a large university, but in a small group, and we do our lunches out a couple times a year, pizza/potluck parties when someone leaves or has a milestone (like our student assistant graduating or a baby shower or something), but that is ALL.

    I already spend 40 hours a week with co-workers (whom I actually like!), but work socializing takes place at work, during work hours, and thank god I’ve never had to have any of them over to my house for dinner.

    1. Jamie*

      It’s certainly not pervasive in private/corporate culture. The yearly holiday party – sure…but this level of socializing is nothing I’ve ever seen in the corporate world.

      Not to say it doesn’t happen – but I think the example being discussed in the comments is extreme.

      Actually, outside of a career in international diplomacy I can’t imagine an organization putting so much stock in entertaining and the alleged career benefits.

      Who knows – maybe this happens all the time and I’ve just been lucky to have been employed at places where it’s the work that matters. If that’s the case I’m glad I found out now – so I know to never leave my job.

  31. lm*

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in this discussion is the fact that these events are all food-based social events. For people with any food restrictions (allergies/intolerances, religious/moral beliefs, etc.), a dinner party can be an event filled with landmines. People are often offended or annoyed if someone doesn’t eat the food they’ve prepared. Having to explain that you can’t eat that particular item (or multiple items), generally results in an onslaught of questions and comments about your eating habits. The best anyone with food restrictions can hope for is that no one notices you haven’t eaten much (taking a tiny amount and pushing it around the plate is sometimes effective, but only if you’re able to be that close to the food in question without any ill effects).

    Some people would probably say that the person with the restriction should speak up ahead of time, but that rarely works. If extended family members can’t be bothered to remember, your co-workers are unlikely to. Even if they do remember, they won’t have the same standards and rarely understand how dangerous cross-contamination can be.

    So rather than being the “difficult” or “picky” or “attention-seeking” co-worker (these are all assumptions made about people with food restrictions), maybe they’d prefer to just be the “anti-social” co-worker. There’s no win in that situation.

    1. Nancy*

      Just as food can be problematic, so can alcohol. In my experience, a lot of these events involve alcohol, even if it’s just a glass of wine served with dinner. For those of us who can’t drink, there’s a whole additional difficulty. There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as a simple “no, thanks.” People feel empowered to ask why, and speculate (pregnancy, alcoholism, medications, religion) if you don’t want to talk about it. It turns events that are purported to be about team-building into awkward and potentially divisive situations.

      1. lm*

        Absolutely, it’s often the exact same scenario. Some people just won’t accept a polite “no, thank you” and leave it be. And then there are the “just try a little” demands, as if a smaller amount somehow makes a difference. At that point you can hold firm with a repeated polite decline or be forced to divulge the real reason (and then deal with the questions and comments about that).

  32. Anonymous*

    Everyone here is an adult, and understands that sometimes you just gotta suck it up and attend the after-hours company event whether you enjoy it or not.


    a) if you’re really deciding whether someone is going to get a promotion or not based on participation at your fantastic dinner party, be upfront about that. Don’t say that would never happen and then in the next breath say that it’s okay to skip if you just want to be a worker bee forever;

    b) don’t assume that dinner with you and your wife is a ‘reward’ for me. Frequently it is not. A good manager would know that one man’s reward is another man’s hell, and not penalize anyone for thinking so.

    1. John*

      As the author of the comment that got so divisive, I reply:

      a) I completely agree with you. I didn’t mean to imply that attending social events is critical to promotion, just was trying to point out that it’s one of many, many factors (the most important being the quality of work)

      b) I completely agree with you. But on the flip side, just because it’s one man’s hell doesn’t mean it’s not another’s idea of quailty time spent.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        John, I think the problem is that you’re the boss and you’re extending what sounds like a lot of social invitations. Because you’re the boss, you’ll never really know for sure if people are accepting because they love these events or because they feel obligated. Since you acknowledge that these events can indeed be hell for some people, why not find other ways of getting your team together during work hours?

        1. John*

          Yes, I’ll definitely be looking at this in another light.

          However, I will admit that I won’t decline offers from my Director, nor rule out inviting people over for a cocktail or dinner party. It’s just my style, and our organizational culture!

  33. Anonymous*

    OK, I think we can give John a break now. But I hope the number of comments on this post illustrate a few things.

    1. Most employees do not enjoy supervisor-sponsored after-hours socializing. They don’t feel comfortable doing it, they feel forced to attend, they don’t like their coworkers or supervisor enough to enjoy attending, and they don’t see the benefit in their job.
    2. For those who DO feel that it is relevant and normal, you are in the minority. Perhaps you have the type of career where socializing is part of the job. Perhaps you are at an executive level where socializing is more helpful to your job. But remember, the people you supervise may not see it the same way. Respect that.

    1. Scott Messinger*

      The comment with the 2 points above was mine. I forgot to leave my name.

  34. terry*

    Fascinating conversation going on here. I like the suggestion of sending over a bottle of wine and graciously declining due to another commitment, if a person does not really wish to attend.

    Imposing expectations on peoples’ personal time is inconsiderate and unprofessional. If people choose to go, great. If they don’t, that should be fine also. A manager really needs to examine his/her motivations if they take offense to someone not attending. I agree with the woman who said it’s about the power dynamic.

    It has absolutely NOTHING to do with being a team player. These days, people have a difficult time in general because the work week tends to be long and draining. I thought we were trying to create environments supported work life balance? If so, people can make their own decisions without fear of being seen as “not a team player”…that seems ridiculous.

  35. Aaron*

    A very lively discussion here… AAM, correct me if I’m wrong, but your position as I understand it is that these events can be a nice treat for team members, but managers should be aware not everyone will agree.

    One wrinkle I’d add is that employees who don’t enjoy these events (there seem to be a lot of those here) should realize that there other employees who do enjoy this chance to socialize with work colleagues outside of work, meet SOs we’ve been hearing about, etc. I am against mandatory or unofficially-mandatory work events, but I love it when employers offer me these opportunities.

    I’d also add that building bonds with co-workers is something that sometimes can only happen outside of work. I particularly recall one boss I thought was a terrible manager who I liked a lot more after he had us over for drinks–I still thought he was a bad manager, but our working relationship improved a lot.

    1. scott messinger*

      I’m still having trouble understanding how interactions outside of work have a different effect on working relationships than interactions at work. Could you give some more details about your situation?

      1. Aaron*

        Sometimes I can get a little snippy with co-workers or bosses, especially if they’re not very good at their job. Seeing them in another setting helps me to identify more with them, and like them more, and that makes it easier for me to be nice (or at least professional) when they ask me to cover for them, or do something for them that’s not strictly part of my job, etc.

        I’m sure there are others out there who can go empathize with bad managers even though they know nothing else about them. But this has been hard for me to do–I can be more forgiving of a bad boss who’s I know is also a new mom, because I see her more as a person and less as an office archetype.

        1. Scott*

          I just realized I didn’t reply to this. So here we go.

          The solution to identifying with coworkers is something (actually, the ONLY thing) I learned at a company ‘culture shaping’ class. The key is to “assume good intentions”. While I disliked the class (that’s a whole other rant), this bit of advice was actually pretty good.

          I would word this in a slightly different way : “When someone does something that pisses me off, they probably didn’t do it on purpose.”

          I believe it’s possible to identify with coworkers enough through day-to-day office interactions (including small talk around the coffee machine). At least enough to be professional with everyone.

          I guess that’s enough for me. I imagine others need more.

    2. Jamie*

      I personally have zero problem with these events – as long as they aren’t mandatory and there’s no career fall out for those who opt out.

      A lot of people do enjoy these things, and I would never be in favor of eliminating them just because I don’t – I am just among those who bridle at the thought of career advancement being based on this.

      And of course some will always have a bias towards those whom they like and know a little better outside of work – those dice I’m willing to roll. It’s when it’s presented so blatantly – as if it were more rushing a frat/sorority – that participation is how you get into the inner circle or upper ranks at work – that’s what makes me uncomfortable.

      This actually makes me really happy to be in IT – because those of us with tech positions can back up our work performance with empirical evidence a little easier than those with positions requiring softer (yet equally crucial) skills.

      No one cares whether or not you enjoy small talk over dinner if the servers are up and the data compiles properly.

  36. Rachel*

    I find these events to be a really good test of whether a workplace is the right place to benefit from my skills or not. If, for whever reason, I choose not to attend a given event (sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, for a whole range of reasons), and if my choice not to go somehow wrinkles the boss’s ego, then that’s a boss that wont have me on their team very much longer. I work in IT, which just about every company in the world uses, so in my line the onus is really on employers to find ways to retain experienced staff, not on employees to bend over backwards trying to be someone they’re not just to stroke their boss or co-workers egos when it comes to socialising. If I ever truly thought my ability to succeed in my job were dependent on my ability to schmooze when I didn’t feel like it, I’d just go and work for one of the thousands upon thousands of other employers that need skilled IT staff more than they need bar flies.

  37. Anonymous*

    All managers should be required to watch BBC’s ‘The Office’. If you’re in a position of power overstepping boundaries is cringey.

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