ask the readers: my company goes overboard on parties and gifts

Here’s our next “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I work for a company of 400 employees. Our company has employee appreciation day, company picnics, baseball night, and a large Christmas party complete with a sit down dinner, drinking, and dancing. The company also throws everyone a birthday luncheon party each month. It is highly recommended to attend the extracurricular, outside-business-hours, company-paid-for parties and festivities. Employee appreciation day is actually required and it’s complete with drinking (lots of fun to be with drunk coworkers for 8 hours). On top of these festivities, we celebrate every calendar holiday. It is expected to attend the holiday parties by bringing a potluck dish or donating to a selected charity. For instance, we are celebrating Fat Tuesday by making individual floats for prizes and those not making a float contribute to a potluck. Those that want to eat, but not bringing food, pay what they would normally pay for lunch as a contribution to the charity chosen. As I said, all employees are highly recommended to attend. If you don’t attend, it is always noticed.

We also celebrate every employee birthday, engagement, and new baby with a party complete with decorations, cards, cake, food, and gifts. While the holidays are usually company-wide, birthdays, engagements, and baby showers are broken down by department and then by team. Most are potluck and then a contribution towards a group gift, card, decorations, cake, etc. For instance, my department has one birthday party for everyone and then my team has individual birthday parties for each person. These are usually held during the weekly team meeting.

December was the worst. There was a company decorating contest (submission by team, department, or individual), company angel tree, company Christmas party, departmental secret Santa, team 12 days of Christmas, and then departmental birthday party, and 2 team birthday parties. All of these require gifts, food, money. Sometimes we vote if we want to participate or not, but when everyone but 2 people want to participate, the 2 that don’t look like non-team-players.

I can’t afford to participant in every celebration and feed my own family. I’m all for having a little fun at work but I feel this is excessive and over the top, not to mention a lot of unproductivity. At the risk of sounding cheap and non-supportive, how does one balance these activities and still look like a team player?

Ooohh, I’m having so much trouble staying quiet on this. Have at it, quick, before I break out of my self-imposed gag and write a response!

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 164 comments… read them below }

      1. Michael C.*

        This was an impulse comment. My work situation is the exact opposite of this right now so OP’s work environment sounds like a lot of fun. :(

        1. HB*

          I second that! I would LOVE working in an environment like this! It sounds like summer camp. :-D My current office is pretty bare-bones and dry about stuff like this. I would really look forward to going into work on days where something special was going on. I have worked in offices where you don’t get so much as a “happy birthday” in passing on your birthday. Of course, it sounds like this is impeding OP’s ability to get work done throughout the day, so it might be a bit too much.

    1. Piper*

      This isn’t really a fair response. I think the person below who said the culture fit might be off is right. Some people probably like all these crazy shenanigans, but to others, they are a total nightmare.

      All that aside, how does anyone ever get any work done in this company with all the partying going on?

      1. Vicki*

        I’m solidly on the “nightmare” side with OP. This sounds like a terrible place to work… do you ever get any Work done???

        Did they tell you about any of this before you were hired or was it all a hideous surprise?

  1. JT*

    Have you seen anyone lose their job or suffer in specific ways due to not attending?

    If not, don’t go to these events if you don’t want to. Just say you can’t make it and don’t go.

    Be a team player by working well with others in hitting work goals.

    1. Katie*

      Some offices heavily emphasize participation in these kinds of activities. You might not lose your job, but you may be skipped over for promotions and opportunities because of your lack of participation.

      I agree with you that this shouldn’t be how you evaluate whether someone is a team player. Nevertheless, that’s how many, many workplaces operate.

      1. JT*

        OK. So there’s a chance. Without any evidence in *this* workplace, I’d take it.

        If we presume the worst, then we’re giving even more power to things that we fear without really knowing if that fear is justified.

        Look for evidence.

        1. Anonymous*

          That “evidence” is often very subtle, yet pervasive. If that’s the culture, it can be communicated very clearly in many ways which are impossible to document.

  2. JT*

    One other thing. If you are confident in the security of your job, I’d go even further and say you have a responsibility to not participate in all of this, or at least skip some, to model acting independent for employees that might not have the confidence or security to do so. By going along with it all, if you’re secure enough not to, you’re complicit in it.

    1. Vicki*

      These days, given the job market and the very weird way a lot of companies treat their employees, most people are not confident in the security of their jobs.

      I was relatively confident in the security of my job up until Nov 30 of last year. I’d been at the Company for 5 years, got good reviews, excellent client feedback, and many people said what I did was of value to the company. Even my last manager said that… shortly before _his_ manager “eliminated my position”.

      And we didn’t even have any bug team building events that I could be seen to obviously be avoiding.

      There Is No Job Security. It’s a myth.

  3. Joey*

    I don’t think there’s anything you can do other than accept it or leave. Does any work get done around there? This is the problem with over the top celebrations. It absolutely cannot feel like a requirement or it goes from being a nice perk to a pain in the ass. And your company should really cut back if they’re asking employees to fund all if this stuff. Usually over the top celebrations are a double edged sword because employees wonder why they don’t get raises instead. I’m not saying no celebrations, but if you go too far it gets watered down and isn’t very meaningful. And if you’re going to have a big budget for this stuff you better have already taken care of the things that really matter to employees like pay, benefits, etc

    1. Jamie*

      There goes Joey being all rational and looking at the situation through the lens of reason again.

      You really are very good at casting aside all the periphery and cutting to the real heart of the issues. Apropos of nothing, just something I’ve noticed.

      Anyway…taking Joey’s logical advice is probably wise, but mine would be more entertaining: Stage a coop. Out of 400 people you have to have 300+ who hate this to varying degrees also. Find them. Join together and form a cabal. Like Dumbledore’s Army and the party planning committee is Voldemort. Underground meetings at first until trust builds and you’re ready to do battle with potlucks, crappy sheet cakes, and floats.

      Floats?? Seriously??

      And the awesomeness is that it’s a bloodless coop – and the only weapon you need in your arsenal is one simple phrase, “No thank you, I’m not able to participate.”

      Yes, it’s impossible to for one person to say alone…but the collective strength of the anti-party planning committee will give you all courage.

      And those who claim to be amongst you, but sell out and bring in so much as a Jello-O mold or $ toward a baby gift for someone they barely know should be shunned.

      People need to pick a side – and the social stigma of wearing the stink of betrayal by the first couple of early cavers will be a lesson to the rest.

      Band together – you can fight this!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “People need to pick a side – and the social stigma of wearing the stink of betrayal by the first couple of early cavers will be a lesson to the rest.”

        This is going to become my new rallying cry.

        1. Joyce*

          I was about to craft my own response, but this one blows anything I could say out of the water. Well done, Jamie. Well done. A slow clap ensues.

      2. Anonymous*

        “People need to pick a side – and the social stigma of wearing the stink of betrayal by the first couple of early opt-outs will be a lesson to the rest.”

        Think twice.

        1. Angela*

          LOL, I saw that too – though I can’t say anything since I make typos myself. It’s “coup.”

          Which reminds me of two things:

          1. When my former boss sent an email to my team that we needed to help another team with their morals. She meant morale.

          2. When Joey on “Friends” said, it’s a moo point – it’s like a cow’s opinion; it doesn’t matter.

        2. Jamie*

          It was a subtle nod to the fact that I think all of the people who cave are chickens and…

          Yeah, that’s it…totally intentional pun – I’m so multi-layered!

          Just kidding…although my typo elicited the awesome reference to the “moo point” below, which cracked me up.

          Good thing I don’t proof military manuals for a living…and good thing I stage so few coups in my real life. :)

      3. Scott Woode*

        I’m pretty sure that after reading this, I’ve fallen in love with Jamie, despite the fact that I totally snorted coffee up my nose. Thank God we don’t work together, or that might cause drama. :)

  4. Mark*

    I am underemployed. My company is tiny and does none of these things. I am barely getting by with what I make, haven’t had a semblance of a raise in almost 2 years, and do the work of about 3 people. The work I and the other employees here do is under appreciated, and we are all miserable. I have been trying so hard to get a new job over the past year and a half, which has not been successful. I would kill to work for a company like this right now. It sure beats the alternative which is where I work.

    1. A Bug!*

      Your employment situation is not “the alternative” to the OP’s situation. It is “an alternative”.

      While I am sympathetic to your circumstances, comments like yours does not do anyone any good. There will ALWAYS be someone worse off than you, but that doesn’t mean you have to get complacent where there are legitimate areas of improvement.

      OP’s question is completely valid. Let’s take your current employment, where you’re not making enough money to be comfortable. What if, on top of all of that, there were “voluntary” obligations for you to donate to charities, gift pools, etc? That would suck a lot, wouldn’t it? (In fact, there was someone on AAM quite recently with this issue and it was heartbreaking.)

      1. Anon*

        This. I can’t stand it when someone has a complaint about an (admittedly bad) situation such as the OP’s and someone else chimes in with a story about how their situation is so much worse, the other person should be grateful, blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t help anyone.

        It’s as if everyone is supposed to be blissfully happy just because they have a job that sounds better than yours. No.

        For what it worth, I am also sympathetic to your situation. It sounds awful and I do hope things improve for you. I have been there, and I understand how you feel.

        1. Just Me*

          The OP wrote for all to see the issues she has with the company. People are naturally going to compare it with their situation at their job. In defense to Marks post he is responding to the post comparing to his company. Why is that not OK?
          I don’t think the OP should be “blissfully” happy just because she is employed. It is obviously not working. Get another job then or figure out a way to work with it.

          But, like Mark I look at it as well like.. hhmm lets see… your problem is too many office parties and my problem is…. I get an attendance point and a 60 day probation for leaving work on a stretcher if I have a gall bladder attack, because I didn’t give the company enough notice. No lie. Our management team has been told NOT TO TALK to us underlings on any level aside from work. No lie again. Yes, I am going to compare it to my situation. So yes I look at her complaint and find it difficult to feel for her.

          BUT… The place the OP works sounds a little over the top to me as well. Just don’t feel bad for her.

          But I would also like to know what is GOOD about the place. Good health benefits? Vacation? Do you like the job you are doing? Just curious if the company is that bad overall, that the party hearty part out- weighs the good

        2. KellyK*

          I agree with this. There will always be someone worse off than you, and while “Count your blessings” is a fantastic way to get perspective, it doesn’t actually solve any problems. It’s also a really unhelpful response.

          Like, no one is AAM to quit griping about her broken foot because there are people who don’t have feet. (At least, I hope not…or if they are, I hope she gives them what-for.)

          1. Piper*

            Yep. The question here was posed as asking for advice about this particular situation. Saying “count your blessings” is just unhelpful and pretty insensitive.

            It really is tiresome that people can’t be upset about their situation because someone else is worse off. For example, I have a friend who went through a horrible health issue a few years ago. It was awful and scary, and thankfully, she is fully recovered now.

            However, she now uses that health scare as ammo against anyone who is unhappy with a any situation in their life, no matter what it is (jobs, relationship, house, location, whatever), she pulls the “I almost died” card and tells them that they should suck it up and be grateful. I just think this is the wrong way to approach something.

            It’s the same argument as the starving children in Africa one; I can still dislike carrots and not want to eat carrots, and I should not be forced to eat carrots just because there a people who would love to be eating carrots somewhere else in the world. It’s false logic.

      2. Mark*

        Ok I have some responses to what you said. Bear with me as I quote the things you said an have responses to each of your talking points.
        “Your employment situation is not “the alternative” to the OP’s situation. It is “an alternative”.”
        I don’t disagree. However i never said my situation is the only alternative. The saying doesn’t go “if you consider the only alternative”. Could I have used a better choice of words? Maybe, but when I see posts where someone is talking about how awful their job is because they are throwing too many parties or having too many out of work functions, I felt like I had to express my opinion and point out that things could be worse. I can’t even count how many friends and colleagues of mine don’t even have a job. But it doesn’t mean I can’t be unhappy where I work and speak about it. Just like OP asked a question about her situation.
        “While I am sympathetic to your circumstances, comments like yours does not do anyone any good. There will ALWAYS be someone worse off than you, but that doesn’t mean you have to get complacent where there are legitimate areas of improvement.”
        While you may feel comments like mine do no one any good, I feel that blatantly attacking a demeaning another for their opinion does a lot less good. Of course there are worse situations that I could be in. But I refuse to sit and be complacent working for a company that doesn’t acknowledge any of the hard work their employees do. This person flat out said their company has employee appreciation days. What I wouldn’t give to get some appreciation for the work I do. The company may go overboard on it, but recognition is always nice.
        “OP’s question is completely valid. Let’s take your current employment, where you’re not making enough money to be comfortable. What if, on top of all of that, there were “voluntary” obligations for you to donate to charities, gift pools, etc? That would suck a lot, wouldn’t it? (In fact, there was someone on AAM quite recently with this issue and it was heartbreaking.)”
        At what point in my comment did I ever say this person’s question wasn’t valid? I was just stating my situation in comparison to theirs. As I recall, Allison was asking for the opinions of her readers. I didn’t realize I shouldn’t have made a comment about my situation for fear I might upset you. Sorry to ruin your day. And yeah, I would feel really angry if my employer started up with said obligations. Heck my employer was only willing to pay for 2 days of jury duty that I had to do last week as part of my civic duty for living in this country, while the state wanted me to wait 4-6 weeks to receive $40 a day from them, totally disregarding how I would pay my bills or rent.
        Bottom line is that I stated my opinion on the matter. Thanks for crapping all over it. May you never have to work in this person’s circumstance or mine.

        1. Naomi*

          The problem isn’t your expressing your opinion of your work, Mark. The problem is that you’re hijacking the OPs thread to do it.

          If you want to send in a question to the blog, either for the manager or for the readers, that’s fine and if it’s for the readers, we’ll be happy to answer it. But that’s not what the OP asked for. That person wanted a solution — not a complaint that someone else’s case is worse and they should be grateful, but ideas for what *they* should do to make things better where *they* worked.

          You did not offer that. And this comments column was dedicated to people who are trying to offer that. It was not a space for anyone who wanted to talk about their own problems, it was a space for those who wanted to help the OP solve *their* problems.

          There’s a time and a place for everything, including for you to talk about your job woes. Other day’s posts on this blog might even be among those times and places. This day’s post, which was earmarked explicitly for this OP and their problem, was emphatically not among those times and places. You were duly reprimanded for not offering what this place and time was reserved for, and you didn’t take the warning; instead, you threw a tantrum about how you should be allowed to express your opinion. And you are allowed to express your opinion, but it is not fair to the OP to do so here and now. Please wait your turn like everyone else.

          1. moe*

            People talk about their own situations all the time in comments, often without any additional advice/opinions. Certainly a lot of people would look at a complaint like OP’s and wish they had such problems at work, which isn’t to say that OP shouldn’t seek advice for it, just that some of it may not be entirely sympathetic.

            In any case, I’m not sure how a 300-word chastisement is helping the OP with his situation any, or getting the comments back on track?

            1. Long Time Admin*

              Good reply, moe. I am not at all comfortable with the way so many people jumped down Mark’s throat for his remarks.

              People, y’all are reading WAAY too much into Mark’s comment (do you spend your whole day watching Dr. Phil? That man can chew on the most insignificant fact for the whole hour and ignore the real problem.). You expect courtesy from others on this board – you should extend it to others as well.

              Mark, I’ve also been trapped in horrible working conditions. When you hear someone complain about too many work parties, you can only see how different it is to you own situation, and wish you had some of it. It’s not unreasonable to comment on it in a public forum. I hope things get better for you very soon.

        2. Laura L*

          Hmm… Your first post implied that the OP should be happy for what she has because you have it worse, but in this post you say that just because you have unemployed friends doesn’t mean you can’t be unhappy with your job. I think you should grant the same leeway to the OP.

          1. Mark*

            I haven’t hijacked anything here. I have stated an opinion and that’s all. I simply said that there are worse situations that one could be in. There’s a silver lining in the OP’s situation, etc. I mean, Jesus, lighten up.

            I have sent a number of questions into this site, and a few have even been answered. I come here quite often and I think this is the first time I have commented on anything here, and after this, it will probably be the last. I’m sure you and a few others will be happy to hear that, considering it is so awful for someone to say something you may not like or agree with.

            The only person that would have any authority to reprimand me or offer me any warning on this site is Allison herself. Anyone else, such as yourself, is just irrelevant and has no bearing on what I say or do.

            1. BC*

              Please, please stop taking a victim mentality. As stated before, this is not about YOU. If you’re unhappy with your life, we’re sorry. But again: this is not. about. YOU.

              1. Laura M.*

                I usually refrain from commenting on this particularly blog for this very reason. Somehow people always end up attacking each other, and I often feel that the replies are overly harsh and critical. I really don’t see why Mark’s comment caused such a series of responses. I think his opinion is valid, and although, I wouldn’t want to attend a plethora of company functions, I agree that if the biggest problem your facing at work is how to avoid office parties than things could definitely be worse. So to the OP, remember the big picture here, your colleagues seem to enjoy celebrating together, is that really so bad?

                That being said, my advice would be to politely decline events and activities you don’t want to participate in. It’s simple and straightforward. You can’t decline all events, but you definitely don’t have to go to all of them. This is definitely part of office culture, and obviously the fit isn’t perfect, but I’m sure you can try to fit in. Be a team player in attitude. Stay positive and partake fully in the events you participate in. So if you don’t want to go to an after work party say ‘I really wish I could, but I promised my wife we’d spend tonight together’. And when you are participating try to enjoy it and not be a sour pus. Try things at the potluck and complement the cooks. Heck, if you hear another co-worker liked Sally’s pasta, you pass the complement along. Obviously this is a work place where social connections are highly valued and the way this is being done is through frequent and costly events. You might want to try and build social connections with your co-workers through more meaningful ways, so maybe getting a box of blank cards, so you can write people notes on special occasions, as opposed to gifts. That type of thing is often more sincere and might even be more appreciated than signing your name on the group gift card to the new mother/birthday person or other celebrator.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Hey! We’re not calling people names here. A couple of people have mentioned in this thread that they feel hesitant to comment because of being jumped on if they take the minority view, and that’s not good.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Mark, I think what you’re saying makes perfect sense, and I’m sorry you’re in such a miserable situation! I hope you end up somewhere else soon!

          I do think it came across originally (unintentionally) as a little like “quit your complaining because I can show you real problems!” And I think that’s what a few people reacted to, because that could be the response to pretty much any problem posted here. (Well, except maybe the bedbugs.) I don’t think you meant it this way, but it came across as a little dismissive of the OP’s situation. Your follow-up post cleared things up a bit, and made your first post more understandable.

          I hope you won’t give up on commenting. Dissenting views are good to have.

          1. Mark*

            Thank you for understanding what I was trying to say. I honestly was not in any way trying to be dismissive of this person’s situation, and I apologize if anyone felt that way. I wasn’t trying to turn any post I made into a pity party. It’s just been a difficult couple of years for me career wise. My entire department was laid off in August of 2010, and while I was fortunate to find something quickly to keep me afloat after the layoff, my company doesn’t do any kind of office function, party, recognition, etc, and I would love to work for another place like that again.

            1. Piper*

              Mark, I sympathize with you as well. I’ve had a horrible time of it for the past few years (laid off, underemployed, bad cultural fit, etc, etc, etc), but everyone’s situation is different.

              While you might love to have the kinds of problem the OP is having, I still maintain that it doesn’t do any good to point out a “silver lining.” When someone is unhappy and seeking advice, the last thing they want to hear is that it could always be worse. Most people realize this and don’t need to hear it. They just want someone to listen and offer genuine advice.

              But I do hope your situation improves soon. I understand what it’s like to hate your job and feel stuck.

            2. A Bug!*

              I should apologize. After reading the torrent of replies that came after my response to your comment, I feel a bit ashamed.

              I did interpret your post as “OP should suck it up, there are people who’d love to have problems like that,” and my reply was aimed at that sentiment. I realize now that this wasn’t the intent of your comment.

              When I said I sympathize with your situation I was quite sincere. I’ve been there and seen others there. It really sucks. I genuinely hope things start looking up for you soon, Mark, and I’m sorry for misinterpreting your message.

      3. RKT*

        People who work for non-profits (who are almost always underpaid) are expected to donate part of their salary back.

        I always thought that was ridiculous.

          1. Suz*

            The non-profit I work at expects us to donate to the company too. And the fundraising events are always very visible, such as buying casual dress days, so you know who donated and who didn’t.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s craziness. You’re donating by working there for presumably less money than you could make elsewhere. And if the org has to rely on donations from its staff to hit its fundraising goals, something’s wrong.

            2. Esra*

              When questioned early on, I answered that I thought it was inappropriate to donate to/volunteer with my employer. And I really do! I like to keep my charity and my job separate. I guess I’m lucky my place accepted it!

          2. Elizabeth*

            I teach at a private school, and we are encouraged to donate to the Annual Fund. It’s only participation percentages that they care about from faculty, though, not size of donation. (They love being able to say “The faculty care so much about the school that 96% of them donated to the fund.”) So it doesn’t seem that bad to me, especially since it’s just once a year. Also, while I think the list of donors is published somewhere, it’s not so visible as Suz’s casual dress days, so there’s not that kind of shaming of those who do not participate.

  5. Jamie*

    I’ve never read a more detailed description of Hell.

    It’s a real place, and this OP works there.

    I’m so overwhelmed with sympathy I just have no words.

  6. Nicole*

    I am sympathetic. I’m in a position that requires I attend a lot of black-tie charity functions and galas, but my actual position doesn’t pay all that well. Between tux rentals for my husband, appropriate dresses and jewelry for me, I dread every function.

    If I were the OP, I would talk to my manager about the financial burden these can be. They probably see them as a perk and may not realize the financial implications. Maybe they can dial them back, or the manager can agree that non-participation in all but the big events won’t impact his or her perception of the OP as a team player.

    If that doesn’t work, compile a list of cheap gifts and dishes, and resort to those, maybe?

  7. shawn*

    this sounds like a case of company culture not being a match with the OP. i have a friend that works in what sounds like a similar environment. her work is always hosting parties, contests, drives, etc. this is an integral part of who the company is and how they like to function. she really enjoys it. sure, you can skip out on some of these things, but it could be to your detriment when employment decisions are being down the line. if this is the case at your company, and i wouldn’t just assume this is the case, i suggest seeking other employment.

    this isn’t something you are going to be able to successfully fight or change. at best you can distance yourself from it without any negative consequences and just focus on your job. at worst, you are the odd man/woman out, and could be treated as such.

    1. Blue Dog*

      I think you hit it right on the head. A lot of people would kill to work at a company like yours while others would rather be killed themselves. I wouldn’t try to change a corporate culture that is probably embraced by a lot of people. I guarantee you that some, if not most, of your employees actually like it around there (or else they would have left). You should find a better fit.

      Also, while I am sure it is annoying, you should probably keep your complaints to yourself. There are a ton of people who have really bad working environments and are trying desperately to leave and just can’t find anything. Saying, “my company sucks because we do too many fun activities that prevent me from working more” is not a good way to make friends and influence people.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        The problem isn’t all the “fun” activities. The problem is the loss of personal time to participate in the activities. It takes time to go to the grocery store, prepare for potluck, buy gifts, etc. If the schedule is as intense as the OP stated (and I believe it to be true), then the OP could be spending several **hours** each month of personal time preparing for the activities.

        I’m also sympathetic to required attendence at appreciation days. I’m old enough to know that if my company really appreciates me, they will show it in my pay check.

        BTW, to the person that has to go to black tie affairs – Goodwill has dresses for under $20.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          “BTW, to the person that has to go to black tie affairs – Goodwill has dresses for under $20.”


          I would buy the nicest dress I could find at a thrift store and wear it to all formal functions. With flats.

          I go to few formal affairs nowadays and would enjoy one now, but if it’s part of the job, the company should pay for all the extras I need to do that part of my job.

      2. Random*

        Fun? Standing around the office talking small talk, decorating and drinking non-alcoholic drinks? Making floats? I”m a crafty person and enjoy things like that with friends…not co-workers… while at work. OP wants to get to work! :) Not pretend to have fun.

      3. Vicki*

        I have recently been reading a lot of books and articles on the differences between Introverts and Extroverts. One of the differences is that introverts go to work to do work. Extroverts like to socialize (at work, after work, before work) because interpersonal activity keeps their “batteries” charged.

        So there are extroverts among us who want to app;y to OP’s company Right Now! While the Introverts among us (me included) are still gasping and saying “what? They do what???”

        1. khilde*

          so right. I have been noticing that a lot of these questions (and then subsequent–and vehement!–responses) really boil down to a matter of personal style & preference. I think when people can start understanding that we all have very real differences in preferences (people vs. task, and direct vs. indirect), then it helps shed light on some of these issues. Doesn’t necessarily solve them, but at least helps the person broaden his or her perspective.

    2. moe*

      Agree totally. My last job had a culture like this, perhaps not to that extent, but certainly the same “not-mandatory-but-actually-semi-required” view of these events. It went overboard sometimes, sure, but for the most part it was a lot of fun, and most employees took the events as a sign that the company was interested in us as people and not just worker-cogs.

      The people who were successful in getting out of events sometimes without it negatively affecting them:
      1.) Picked their battles–attended as much as they could stand/afford.
      2.) Had a reasonable, practical excuse–spending time with family was a good one, as were work or school deadlines.
      3.) Talked it over with their manager and co-workers, who could explain the absence to others if it was asked about.
      4.) Didn’t complain about the events, whether they went or not.
      5.) Made up for it by being reasonably social and positive during work hours. I never heard anyone talked down because they missed some events, but the people who missed, complained, *and* were generally grouchy? Absolutely, people wondered and managers noticed. In this kind of work culture, “fit” is really important.

      My other thought would be to quietly approach the organizer of a specific event if you’re unable to bring food to it, or if it’s a hardship to contribute. I am really uncomfortable with the seeming requirement that you pay/contribute to this stuff–but it may be that it’s a “soft” requirement and communication with the organizers could help.

      You’re not going to change the culture, but you may be able to carve out a workable solution. If it’s that everyone else likes to socialize and you don’t… well, you may be in the wrong job.

  8. kristinyc*

    Wow, how can anyone afford all that?!? Yeah, parties are fun, but I’d have a serious problem with having to chip in financially for all that.

    I’m sure that if you have a problem with it, other people do too. Could you maybe try to figure out who else thinks it’s overkill and band together to suggest an alternative? Maybe just one event a month to celebrate EVERYTHING happening that month (birthdays, babies, weddings, whatever).

    My team does a monthly (but sometimes bi-monthly) themed potluck that’s pretty mandatory, but everyone just brings food, and it’s really casual. No decorations.

    Unless you work for some kind of event planning company, this is insane.

    1. shawn*

      we obviously don’t have all the details, but the only place she really specified the cost was where she was expected to contribute whatever she would have already paid for/spent on lunch elsewhere. this doesn’t sound too crazy. it sounds like a lot of this, although not all, is company sponsored as well.

      1. Nikki*

        Not everybody has the money to spend on lunch elsewhere. Some people religiously bring their own lunch from home because that is what their budget allows.
        So if I could realistically kick in $1.50 because that’s how much my homemade lunch portion costs. Then its all good!

        1. fposte*

          Yes, it wasn’t that long ago that we had the letter-writer in straitened circumstances who couldn’t have afforded to chip in on this stuff either. And I think most reasonably sized workplaces will have people with little cash to spare, and should remember that it’s neither good for morale nor fair to make them pay so that the bosses can arrange parties.

          1. kristinyc*

            Even if someone could afford it – the company has no right to tell them how to spend their paychecks. I eat lunch out every day, but I’d be annoyed if the company was dictating where/how I needed to spend my lunch budget.

  9. tasha*

    I used to work for a company like this – we had tons of staff events, celebrated everything, and had KILLER Christmas parties. Unfortunately, I had to leave that company and move to a new city. I miss that culture so much and I am desperately trying to find a new company that does something even remotely close to it.
    It sounds to me like you don’t fit in, and I don’t think you will be able to change the company culture. You can either sit it out, or quit and find a new job so that your company can hire someone who enjoys and appreciates that kind of environment.

  10. GeekChic*

    My workplace has a bazillion parties and functions as well. I don’t attend any of them. It’s slightly easier for me because several staff members don’t attend these functions or only attend a very few.

    That said, I did have a manager ask (sincerely) if there were things that would make me more likely to attend. My response:

    “1) Either don’t have food / drink at them or convince people not to pester me consistently about why I’m not eating / drinking. I have severe allergies and will not take a chance on pot-luck or a caterer I don’t know. Even when I explain that, people keep pestering (oh it can’t be that bad….).

    2) Don’t have things after work hours. Due to various illnesses I have to manage my energy and many days it takes all my energy to just work. I’m not going to sacrifice my time with my husband to further exhaust myself.”

    My manager was grateful to hear my feedback and I know from others that attend various functions that they defend my absences.

    1. Amber*

      GeekChic- have you thought about “camoflauging” your not eating/drinking at these parties, when you do have to attend one of them? Example: if you’re not eating AND not drinking (as in, don’t have any food or a cup of anything in your hand) then yeah, you’d be pretty noticeable in a room of people doing both things, and will be definitely asked a bunch about why you’re abstaining from everything. But if you have a cup in your hands (even if it’s just a cup of water) then you’re less noticeable and don’t stand out as much from the rest of the pack. If possible, maybe you can bring your own acceptable beverage with and if you just surreptitiously pour it into one of the cups floating around at the venue, it looks like you’re participating (cause you’ve got something in your hand) and it’s less noticeable than someone who has nothing in their hands.

      This is a little trick I used to pull when I wanted to be social with friends at college parties but didn’t want to drink that night- if you have a “red cup” in your hands, people usually don’t hassle you nearly as much because they assume yours is full of alcohol, just like theirs.

      1. Anonymous*

        I totally agree with you. You definitely become a social faux pas if it looks like you’re not participating. But that’s the problem of those who are noticing it and making a big deal because they probably need a reason to feel secure in what they are doing by having everyone participate. No one should be pestered in these situations.

      2. GeekChic*

        I’ve carried the cup of water in my hand numerous times. I would still get, “Why aren’t you eating????” I’ve also carried plates of food I know I can eat and still get, “Why haven’t you tried THIS or THAT???”

        When I explain allergies I get, “Oh it can’t be that bad…..” (my response to this usually involves whether my questioner knows CPR).

        Frankly, people are too personally attached to food / drink and I have no desire to deal with it any further. So I don’t.

        1. Jamie*

          I feel for you. I don’t have allergies – I’m just weird about food and so I just don’t eat at those things. I don’t mention it, certainly never complain…but I’m not going to rattle off a list of foods I won’t eat and why I’m not eating.

          I am being polite and not bringing it up, why are so many people interested in what others are or aren’t eating?

  11. Renee*

    Wow. That sounds really oppressive.

    I think the question you need to ask yourself is: What is the real consequence of not attending every party or event? Will it hinder any future advancement opportunities? Will you get written-up, assigned less desirable projects or loose out on getting a raise? If the answer to these questions is no, you might just have to be okay with the idea that some co-workers could see you as cheap and non-supportive. However, as long as you’re thoughtful about what you do and do not attend, I’m not sure people (or at least the people that matter) will really think less of you.

    Some things to consider when figuring out which events to attend: Is it your officemate or boss’ birthday celebration? Then, yes, attend. If your department is having a birthday party for Tom from another team and you barely know him, then don’t go. The Christmas party? Definitely go. The employee appreciation day? Yes, it’s required after all, but for the most part, everything else is your judgment call. If you do attend, participate fully and in the spirit of the event or holiday and then when you can’t go a simple, “Sounds like fun, but unfortunately I won’t be able to attend that,” should be just fine.

    Another thing: You mention that it’s ‘highly recommended’ you attend, but you never mention by whom. Are you sure it isn’t all the pressure the employees are putting on themselves and one another? The company does seem to care about its employees even if they’re misguided by how over-the-top everything is. You may be surprised that picking and choosing which extracurricular activities you’re involved in, isn’t as big of a deal as you think.

    1. erin*

      This. I was going to write much of the same things.

      You have my sympathies, OP. The introvert in me got tired just READING about all those parties.

      And floats?? Seriously?!

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Re: floats.

        Sounds like the home office of the world’s largest retailer. These people are referred to as W**martians to the rest of us.

  12. SA*

    Does the OP have a trusted manager she could talk to about this? She could say that she appreciates the culture of the company that is fun and familial, but sometimes feels pressure to participate in things, even when it’s financially or logistically challenging.

    She really only has two choices though – find a way to deal with it, either by sucking it up and participating, or finding a way to gracefully bow out when needed, or she’s going to have to move on to another job. At a company that big, the culture isn’t going to change quickly, if ever, and it’s clear that the owners and probably many other employees enjoy it.

    1. JT*

      At a certain point, I’m not even sure it’s important to gracefully bow out. Just RSVP “No.” Or don’t attend is RSVPs are not needed.

      “No I won’t be there.”

      And if someone asks “Why?” the answer is “I have to go home.”


  13. Katie*

    I don’t think there’s any way a single person–or even a small handful of people–can “fix” the company culture with a company as large as this, especially if most people seem to be on board. Even if you tried, you’d probably find the backlash isn’t worth dealing with. I’d just quietly stop attending the vast majority of the events. If people notice, they notice. But, if for your pocketbook and your sanity, you can’t attend every single one of them, then don’t. From there, I’d strongly recommend starting to look for a new job where you’re a better cultural fit.

    That being said, I think this sounds like a total nightmare and that companies that put this much emphasis on their social calendar have a serious case of misplaced priorities. I’m all for wanting to create a fun environment for employees and wanting an environment where you make it clear that you’re interested in your employees as people, not just drones, but making these sorts of demands on people’s spare time is not really doing that effectively.

  14. Anonymouse*

    This is a company culture where you don’t fit. You will not change it. For now, render unto Caesar what is Caeser’s. Quietly keep your eye out for other options.

    This is not the place for you in the long run.

  15. Rachel B*

    Ugh, I can sympathize OP. My Outlook calendar is full of office wide parties, last minute team bonding events, sports teams, contests, volunteer events, weekend retreats and informal “meet-ups.” I knew that the office was “social” before I joined, but I didn’t realize that even an “average” employee allotted at least 2 nights a week to work-related social engagements.

    My strategy is to attend events where I know my boss will be (ie small team meet-ups), no matter how last minute his invitation is. If it is an in-office party, I will go for the first hour.

    I cannot bring myself to attend booze cruises or capture the flag events, or play beer pong. Yes, there are beer pong tournaments in my office. No, my office is not in a frat house.

  16. Anonymous*

    A couple of questions to the OP:

    1. What do you mean by it is highly noticed if you do not attend? Is something said to those who don’t? Do they take attendance?

    2. How do they know if you donate money to the charity if you choose to eat but not bring food?

    3. How many of these parties are there?

    4. What industry is this and do you ever get work done?

    If a company throws a “mandatory” Christmas party, for example, in which the company throws the bash, then I can see not wiggling your way out of it. But I cannot fathom how a company can get away with making its employees pay for all of this crazy stuff. While I would not fit into this company like the other commenters suggest in the OP’s case, I would have more of a fit for all of the money I’d be shelling out. If I have to pay, then why can I not elect to not pay and not attend?

  17. Anonymous*

    I can’t help but think, despite this company’s overzealous attempt to acknowledge and show that their employees are appreciated, the employees truly feel so underappreciated that they have created such an environment to feel appreciated. What grown adult needs so many birthday parties? The company says “Happy Birthday” with a lunch every month.

    And “cost” is not always defined by dollars and cents. It “cost” to spend time making potluck dishes not to mention buying the groceries.

    1. Anonymous*

      I guess this is the company’s equivalent to kids getting trophys for “cleanest uniform” or “best bench warmer”.

  18. Michael C.*

    Is there anyone else at work who can relate? Maybe you can talk to management about this – should be easier if others feel the same way.

  19. Lisa*

    My company occasionally does things like this, but the operative term is *occasionally.* It’s not overboard and an inconvenience once or twice a year is a gripe for the day, not a mismatch to the job.

    Sounds like it’s time to start looking for a company that values a culture of hard work, not a culture of parties. Meantime, I think there are lots of polite ways to cut down on the cost of these functions.

    1) When asked to contribute “what you would have paid for lunch,” just hold up your brown bag and apologetically say, “Ha, ha, I forgot this party was today when I was packing lunch this morning! I’ve brought mine.” Spend a little time socializing then go back to your desk and eat your lunch packed from home. Or, go on a “diet” that mysteriously includes whatever you want to eat, but doesn’t include whatever is served at potlucks. Develop a food allergy that doesn’t allow you to eat potlucks because it might (something like MSG, maybe?) be lurking in everything.

    2) Can you bake at all? Make a TON of cookie dough and freeze it in small batch sized portions. Thaw a batch and pop it in the oven on birthday/engagement/whatever days. Put the cookies in a decorative tin ($1 or so at Walgreens most times of year) and affix a ribbon bow. You don’t have to compete for the best gift. Warm homemade cookies are almost always appreciated, and are cheap to provide. Even if the recipient doesn’t want them, she can put them on her desk to share.

    3) When there’s a function you ESPECIALLY don’t want to attend, find some urgent task to volunteer for, then look VERY SAD at not being able to go. “I’m so sorry to miss this! I’ll be at my desk finishing this report for Mr. Smith. Gosh, if I’d known it would take so long to gather the data, I wouldn’t have offered knowing the company tennis outing was today, but I really have to meet the deadline.”

    1. Megan*

      Yes! This totally reminds me of what someone (Gold Digger, maybe?) on another comment post called “The Southern No.” She said, when someone asks you to do something, look upset and say, “Oh my gosh! I wish I could, but I just can’t! But thank you so much for asking me! Bye now!” Granted, the thank you for asking me part obviously wouldn’t work here, since as a work function it’s for everyone you work with.
      But. The general feeling might be worth a try. Lisa’s idea about having volunteered for an urgent task to give yourself more refusal cred is awesome.

    2. Rana*

      The only thing is, I’d not recommend faking an allergy. It’s stuff like that which makes it harder for people with real allergies to be believed (like the commenter, above, whose coworkers refuse to believe that they are in physical danger if they eat certain foods.)

  20. K*

    My personal suggestion is to find ways to limit the imposition of these events if you are starting to find them oppressive. Find ways to make an appearance in order to show your support of the team or guest of honour, but don’t always feel like you need to go all out for everything. Make an appearance for gift openings, but skip lunch; have one beverage (it doesn’t need to be alcoholic) and then excuse yourself. Some people are just introverted and find all of this to be too much. Find a strategy for you that feels like you are making an effort to include yourself in the team while managing your commitment.

    On some level though, you probably can’t just withdraw from festivities altogether. It will likely lead to other fit issues down the road, including really awkward conversations with management about whether or not you are indeed fitting in as part of the team or are happy in your environment. If the whole situation is too oppressive, then maybe it is time to consider finding a new job with a lower-key culture.

  21. Anonymous*

    I work at a company JUST like this. Parties, huge incentive vacations, luncheons, group functions…the works. I do not make a lot of money, and I deal with this situation with complete frankness, and perhaps a little humor depending on who I’m talking to (my company is pretty large, but my department is small, so I’m comfortable with my immediate superiors). If someone asks me to chip in or go to one of these functions and I don’t have the cash or time to do it…I tell them exactly that. “Sorry, I’m strapped this month, let me know when the next function is” or some variant thereof. If it’s a birthday type situation, I might offer to chip in and buy a card or something cheap…sometimes I’ll even offer to bake something (I can usually spare 3 or 4 bucks…cmon).

    I can’t afford to be shy about my financial situation in these types of circumstances. Everyone respects my honesty, versus thinking I’m just a jerk if I wasn’t up front about my reasons.

  22. Ali Mc*

    I may be way off base here but this reminds me of Seinfeld where Elaine’s co-workers have cakes for everything “Get well, get well soon we wish you to get well” :)

    I think you should have a meeting with the highest person possible. Ask them why they feel the need to celebrate all these individual events and why, if they feel strongly, they can’t simply give each employee a bonus or gift card on their birthday/engagement/baby …..I would lose it!

    Sounds like a big party and an expensive one at that.

    1. JT*

      I don’t understand the point of that. Why ask them why? Just don’t go. Let them do what they want and you do what you want.

    2. Laura M.*

      lol the first thing I thought of was NBC’s ‘The Office’, where they literally have a party planning committee that sits around and plans parties for several times a month!

  23. me*

    I hate that I even have friends in my life I can’t see due to my work hours. When I have a free day on the weekend, I like to relax, NOT spend it with co-workers! (This goes for the after hours events) I feel for the OP. I also don’t have time for my own kids, which if OP has children, take this advice: you don’t want to go to a thing for someone out of the dept. Or team? “Sorry, Can’t make it, I need to spend time with my children” if it’s someone on your team always donate 3 bucks, hey maybe you love the dollar menu at McDonalds, that’s what you’d spend at lunch, so don’t donate so much, certainly don’t cook, unless it’s something cheap and on sale. Just do the bare minimum in close working situations, all others, just SAy. No with a smile. ;)

  24. Tim C.*

    Introverts unite against the extroverts. I love it! I find such revelry exhausting and unproductive. Social events should be held after work and 100% voluntary. Despite my attitude, I do attend some events. The challenge is to manage the perceptions others have of you. Maybe you could attend for 15 minutes, mingle a bit and then, with a mouthful of food, say “hate to eat and run but I have to finish three e-mails and a report before 5:00 and have to pick up my daughter from dance”.

  25. Anonymous*

    I think it depends on your workload. I have a crazy job that I can get done in about 50 hours a week if I stay on task. I used to work every weekend without exception but last year I decided to restructure my days so get everything done during the week. The last thing I want to do is attend a work BBQ in the middle of the day and then have to come in on Saturday. So I politely say thanks for including me but no thanks. Some people call me a grump but I don’t care. My boss is happy with my performance and I’m happy to have a life outside of work.

  26. nyxalinth*

    It sounds fun on the surface, but the cost in both time and money really sucks the fun out of it from the sound of it.

    I would enjoy the appreciation, but not having to fork out cash and my time constantly!

  27. Anon*

    I think the key phrase was that you sometimes vote, but that “when everyone but 2 want to participate, the 2 that don’t look like non-team players.” You and the organizational culture are obviously not a good fit…clearly you are in the minority. Find a new job.

  28. Anonymous*

    Can I trade half our gloom for half your parties? We’re at the opposite end of the spectrum where it’s all work and no breaks. But I agree with the OP, the excessive partying would be great for a week or so then it would wear thin. I hate spending my hard-earned money to avoid social guilt too.

  29. Schmoozing for poor loners 101*

    To me, these are two separate issues: One that is a financial consideration; one that is a time consideration. I hate both of them, also. And from an executive, I have to do many, and especially have to deal a lot with the financial one.

    I think the key might be to attend what would be deemed the most important (Big boss birthday; one big holiday bash; Upper execs visit) and then consistently and politely decline. And not to worry about the rest–while recognizing that you are going to have to do some. I also think that perhaps you can consider alternative behaviors at some functions (this is what I do): Go in, find the boss; find the key admins and ones who give you the hard time (They are the ones who take note anyway); find the top honchos, say hello and then leave discreetly after going to the bathroom. Schmoozing accomplished and early out. If someone stops you, just say “Heh, kids!” and shrug your shoulders as you continue on.

    For the financial issue, certainly you should be polite and direct without sharing any information (“Thanks for asking! I’m not able to participate this time). So what if that’s your response every time. You are doing two things, thanking them for considerately asking you and then also, simply responding. Many times that is what causes the issue–people don’t respond, so those coordinating get frustrated b/c they don’t know what to spend (understandable).

    PS: I think we might work together. Did you get together today to celebrate a co-worker who is running a marathon? No? Oh, then it probably could be worse. LOL

  30. ABCD*

    Oh gosh if I worked there I would die. I value my time & $. I would advise OP to really consider the consequences. Maybe it only seems like OP would be ostracized b/c everyone has gone along with it for so long. Be clear with the manager: thanks but I’ll have to cut back on the festivities except for team & Christmas parties. Do it before the next event, before the invite has been extended. Good luck.

  31. Student*

    The other posters have already established that this is a bad fit and you should head off for greener pastures. While you are looking for a new job, I offer some survival strategies for managing this nonsense.

    (1) Claim you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. It’s so common that it’s not a serious stigma in a workplace. It is an instant excuse to get away from any activity that centers around sugary foods. Be forewarned that you’ll need to do enough online research to talk competently about diabetes, and avoid questions you genuinely can’t answer by feigning sadness about your diagnosis or a desire to not talk about personal health issues at work. Also note that, for this to be successful, you can’t go around eating sweets at work any more.

    (2) Claim you are on a diet, and you can’t possibly attend some of the events because of the temptation. This works best if the OP is a woman, because women of any size can plausibly claim they are going on a diet and be believed and sympathized with. If the OP is a guy, it’s a bit tougher, but there is a viable lie to go with. Claim an older male relative is having medical problems, and you’ve realized you need to shape up your eating habits so that you don’t suffer the same problems as dear Grandpa / Pops / Uncle.

    (3) Embrace “minimal acceptable effort” when you have to participate in these events.

    When you need to bring food to a potluck, bring something small, simple, and even store-bought. Cut up some apples. Bring in your favorite grapes. Celery sticks. Bring a container of vegetable juice, like V8, that no one will like but also no one will complain about.

    When you need to donate to a shower or b-day gift, give a lot less. One or two dollars. You colleagues may already be doing this, and this may be why they don’t mind the constant collections all the time. If you can, ask a co-worker what they think is normal for this type of donation – you might be pleasantly surprised that the expectations are lower than you thought.

    When you need to make a float, be really bad at it on purpose. You don’t need to sabotage the thing, you just need to “participate” enough to not have to contribute to the potluck otherwise. You aren’t aiming to win the prize, just to survive. Leave the design work to others, and spend a few minutes following someone’s instructions to glue streamers on something or mix paper mache or whatever. Find the activity that minimizes your wasted time but still appeases your co-workers and boss.

    (4) For things like the secret Santa or the angel tree, try using a crap knicknack from a prior holiday. If you don’t have holiday-related crap that people have given you, then ask a friend or relative. Almost everyone has at least one annoying but well-meaning relative who gives them junk that they feel bad throwing away but really don’t want to keep.

    (5) Arrive late and/or leave early. You get all the “credit” for attending, but not nearly as much misery. Obviously this won’t work with all situations, but it might bring you relief in some cases. Try to avoid offering justifications, but always have an excuse at the ready if you think they’ll grill you about it. I’m sure you know what flies as an excuse at your place of employment better than I do, but a vague “doctor’s appointment” or “lunch with a client” or “date night” or “child is sick” or even “favorite TV show / sports game is on” will sometimes suffice if it’s genuinely a pure goof-off event or after normal work hours.

    Yes, I’m a big proponent of lying to get out of a miserable situation, especially when the lies don’t affect your co-workers in any way and your co-workers won’t accept a person with a different temperament for him or her self. If they were tolerant of different work styles, then I’d advocate for just being honest and ducking the events in a straightforward manner instead, but childish games call for childish tactics to regain a measure of your sanity. Out-child them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Bring a container of vegetable juice, like V8, that no one will like but also no one will complain about.”

      No one will drink it, so you can keep bringing the same can of V8 to every party all year!

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Throw a little vodka in it, and I’ll drink it.

        I generally bring my world famous crunchy cole slaw to potlucks, and bring home an empty bowl. It’s easy and relatively cheap, and people love it.

        And I am one who will go to the ladies’ room and slip quietly away.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            I’ll probably get kicked off this site forever, but here’s the recipe. There are many variations of it.
            Crunch Cole Slaw
            1 package of Cole Slaw Mix
            1 bunch of Green Onions
            1 cup of Sunflower Seeds
            1 cup of Slivered Almonds
            2 packages of Raman Noodles (The best is chicken, but beef is good, too. Vegetable flavored – not enough taste. Pull out the flavor packets and use in dressing.)

            1/2 cup salad oil
            3 tablespoons vinegar (I use plain old white, but you can use fancy if you like)
            1/3 cup of Sugar (I use less)
            Flavor packets from the raman noodles

            Cut up the green onions. Some use only the white part, but I use all of it. Mix into the cole slaw mix. If you are serving the salad immediately, add the sunflower seeds and almonds.

            Open the Raman Noodles and remove the flavor packets. Put the noodles into a big Ziploc bag and bang the heck out of them with a big spoon. Or you can crush them with your fingers. You don’t want really big chunks, though. Add to the salad mix.

            Dump the oil vinegar, sugar and the two flavor packets into a bowl and whisk, or into a glass jar with a good lid and shake. Keep refrigerated. Don’t put the dressing on the salad until you’re ready to serve.

            I like to get everything ready the night before. The dressing is better if it’s refrigerated overnight. Don’t add the crunch stuff to the cabbage until you’re ready to serve.

            You can get creative with this salad. Some people add cooked chicken breast and call it a meal. The last time I made this, I added celery and a chopped apple (with peel on). You can add toasted sesame seeds, too. Chopped carrots would be good in this, too.

    2. JT*

      This is silly. Why lie? Just don’t go. Why even waste the energy and attention lying?

      Just don’t go. And if someone asks why, just say “I have to go home.”

      There is no evidence that these people are not “tolerant of different work style.” It seems everyone is assuming that.

      And even if they are, it’s a bad habit to start lying.

      1. Samantha*

        This. It’s incredibly difficult to lie well and most people eventually get caught. Adding to the lie that you have diabetes will just make it worse. Eventually you will slip up and someone will notice. And then it will become a huge thing. Just don’t.

    3. Andrew*

      Do NOT lie and say that you have a serious disease when you in fact do not. These things have a way of following you around forever, particularly if the information somehow finds itself in any kind of online database.

      Not to mention that it’s incredibly disrespectful of people who actually fight against conditions that can and do kill.

  32. helen*

    Just to echo an earlier poster – how on earth does this company ever get anything DONE? Or do they assume that since you take a three-hour lunch , you will be working til 8 to finish stuff you could have finished by 5.30?

  33. Anonymous*

    I absolutely hate all of these shenanigans, and hate being forced to throw my money into these types of events!!! I dread holidays/birthdays/etc etc because of office gifting/singing/parties. Ugh!

    I work for a nonprofit now. My last job was insane, where everyone was thrown showers, taken to a fancy lunch on their birthday with their entire department, the company threw catered parties every Thursday during the summer… and it was all paid for by the company…. and I still hated it, lol. I guess I’m just not into socializing at work.

    1. Anonymous*

      The OP doesn’t know he/she is being forced, and wrote “highly recommended.” That’s not the same thing.

      A lot of people assume things are forced. Unless your boss tells you it is, or you try to not go and he/she tells you to, it’s not forced.

      I wish more people would resist stuff like this instead of going along with it.

  34. Tater B.*

    I skimmed the comments, but I was wondering if someone mentioned what I was thinking.

    I was in a similar situation at my last job–parties and charity events for everything under the sun–and it was company-paid. But we NEVER got raises. Our “Christmas bonus” was a $25 Wal-Mart gift card. Our health insurance skyrocketed to the point where if you had dependents, your take-home pay was barely enough to feed them. Yet, there was always enough money for the elaborate birthday/retirement/Valentine’s Day/Wear Your Cowboy Boots To Work Day.

    Darn right it pissed me off.

    I left the company (for a million additional reasons), but I feel the OP’s pain. It seems fun at first, until you truly realize the cost.

  35. Original Poster*

    I’m the OP and would like to address/answer a few comments/questions from above:
    – Yes, they do take attendance as well as send out RSVP’s. Management and supervisors are required to attend. Although, not always is a VP or Director in attendance.
    – We not only have a party planning committee, we have 6! And Fat Tuesday has 2 parties planned: one is the floats and potluck and the other is dress up and potluck.
    – The company didn’t use to be so heavily involved in so many activities, it’s only been over the past couple of years; coincidently when we stopped getting raises and bonuses and adding new people.
    – A great deal of these activities are during work hours and the party planners were actually hired and are being paid for real jobs in the company. They volunteered for these party committees. So, while they are planning and prepping others are left to take client calls and resolve client issues even if it’s Valentines Day. The client doesn’t care what the holiday is when they have issues to resolve. And then the multiple departments complain they are short staffed and behind on work. Try getting help from the IT or finance department when everyone is on a scavenger hunt.

    I immensely enjoy working for my client. In no way am I a fun hater, I would just rather get my work done, be properly recognized monetarily, and have time and energy for the reason I’m working – my family, my life. And maybe a different company with a different culture is the answer but for now I’m just looking for a way to pick and choose which party I go to and which ones I skip – God help me if I‘m unfair in my choosing. Not to mention, it’s frustrating when I’m the go to person picked because I’m dedicated to the client needs. Lastly, $1600 yearly is a lot of money to spend on co-worker “gifts”. That doesn’t include the groceries and time spent making potatoe surprise for the potluck.

    1. NDR*

      I think we may have found part of the problem. I would bet that the 6 (SIX!) committtees never consult each other on the timing, costs, time expectations, etc. of all the events. It’s like in college, when each professor treated his class like it was the only one you had and piled on 4 nights worth of homework in 2 days. Each committee thinks “oh, we’re only asking them to contribute and come to 1-2 events per month, that’s nothing.” That times six committees = overload.

      It sounds like your office needs to form an event super-committee and combine efforts to eliminate the triple-dipping on personal time that’s going on.

      I’m not exactly sure how you would bring this up (and to whom you would need to), but just mentioning that so many parties take away from your working hours not to mention seriously eat up personal funds and time would hopefully seem like good Earth-logic to someone?

      1. Original Poster*

        The committees are headed by a super committee – HR and those who volunteer have to give up their personal time (not unreasonable) to plan, but the company picks up lunch each time they meet and then once the party is over each get paid $55 for being on the committee.

    2. Heather*

      ok this makes no sense – the people on the planning committees are so busy they aren’t doing their work so other people have to? Is the management there on drugs? How is this acceptable? Who has a party for Shrove Tuesday?

      And again with my comment about not getting raises and bonuses and being short staffed but spending $ on parties is ok?

      And lastly no way would I spend $1600 of my OWN money on company events. That’s a lot of money! That’s just crazy!

      I’m not against company events but there has to be a line. Today we are having sushi lunch at work for someone’s birthday. Company pays. You show up and eat and socialize for an hour. If you can’t make it you can’t make it. Then you go back to work. Easy peasy.

    3. Nichole*

      OMG, just when I thought it couldn’t get worse. 6 committees?!? As a fellow introvert, I have little advice, but tons of sympathy. Non-mandatory events here are encouraged and good for networking, but I’ve never felt like I’d be in the do-not-promote pile if I don’t come…plus it’s usually a good chance for a free meal. :) Operative word being free. I’d go with some of the other posters who recommend shamelessly crying broke-though it won’t work if you have a brand new BMW and vacation in Aruba. Not a value judgement, you should be allowed to choose how to spend your money, but in that circumstance you’d get labeled not only cheap and anti social but also a liar. If you’re living like most people, though, crying broke is quite effective.

  36. Erica*

    This sounds like torture to me. The last think I ever want from my workplace is mandatory “fun.”

    If it’s encroaching on my free time or income, I’d consider that harassment. My coworkers are not my friends, they are coworkers.

  37. Anonymous*

    While this company sounds like a lot of fun, it’s so over the top. Completely unnecessary! Wouldn’t it be better for them to use this money on office supplies/equipment/renovations? Or to give the employees generous raises and/or fatty bonuses? It’s makes sense to have a few company-wide events a year, but this is too much. Plus, it’s absurd that people who don’t want to participate are regarded are not being team players.

    On a side note, I once worked at a company that threw 2 large company-wide events a year during office hours. If you didn’t attend, you either had to use PTO or be in the office working. They’d spend 6 months planning a $80k holiday party! Every year, they told employees that business is down, so no one would get a raise. Year after year, bonuses were just token bonuses. They’d give everyone a $50 gift card as a holiday gift. There were a lot of unhappy employees there!

    1. Original Poster*

      Most parties are $35K budget and the Christmas is $60K. We got $15 Target cards for our “bonus”.

      1. Jamie*

        Just shy of 100K for just those two parties and no bonuses?

        All kidding aside, that is unconscionable.

        I’m glad you put the word bonus in quotes, because a $15 isn’t a bonus. It’s a stocking stuffer.

  38. JT*

    “company-wide events a year during office hours. If you didn’t attend, you either had to use PTO or be in the office working. ”

    Party spending vs raises aside, this seems like a reasonable attendance policy.

  39. Anonymous*

    It definitely sounds like this is a strategy for keeping morale up in your company while they are cutting back on employee compensation. But it does sound like their strategy is backfiring if people are feeling over-obligated.

    I would start by casually polling your department about the birthday/engagement thing. Do people look forward to the events, or would they be happy with something more scaled back? If people seem to feel its more of a burden than a celebration, perhaps suggest to your manager that, for instance, you do the celebrating at the the monthly luncheon, and then put up birthdays up on a monthly calendar so that people can simply wish each other a happy birthday with words.

    For company events, I would definitely attend the events you want to attend or think a regular company might have. If you are short on time, make sure you get a little bit of face time with as many people as possible, and then cut out early (no one will miss you then.) To save money, bring something simple or offer to help set up or clean up in lieu of other contributions. And whenever you decline, make sure you let them know you appreciate what they are trying to do, but that you happen to be busy with project X, etc.

    But it does sound like a bad cultural fit. I’d say roll with the punches or look elsewhere.

  40. Scott Woode*

    I share Erica’s sentiments. Booze and coworkers almost never mix well.

    Here’s my equation to solve the situation:
    If mandated work hours is added to pretty-much-required party attendance the solution is they need to pay you to go. It’s just that simple.

    I wonder if there’s a law regarding this, or if this situation has ever been brought to the government’s attention? This kind of (bullying? hazing?) social pressure to attend combined with the fear that you’ll lose your job if you don’t almost makes this an abusive employer/employee situation. Might be worth looking into if the partying really bothers you or infringes upon your time away from work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Comes down the exempt vs. non-exempt thing, as so often things do. If you’re non-exempt, you need to be paid for any time spent on work activities, including required events. But that’s just the pay side — the social pressure stuff is all legal. Even having an abusive employer is legal, as long as the abuse isn’t connected to your membership in a legally protected class or retaliation for legally protected activity.

      1. Erica B*

        and I recently discovered at a sexual harassment seminar at my work that it’s not against the law to be an a**hole, as long as your an a**hole to everyone equally…

  41. Cruella*

    I’d have to draw the line at making floats and the 12 Days of Christmas.

    My office used to do fun things like this. We would have a few non-participants, but they never seemed bothered by the events and the events were never bothered by the non-participants.

    Now we have so many non-participants that we don’t do anything fun. Nothing-zilch-nada. When someone tries to plan something, even remotely fun, someone else files an HR complaint and quashes it.

    Now we are boring and serious most of the time. Makes me look forward to retirement all the more.

    Nothing wrong with wanting to have a little fun in your work day.

  42. Sarah*

    Just a note that I haven’t seen mentioned – I used to work with a woman who was a Jehovah’s Witness, and their religious beliefs preclude celebrating birthdays, Christmas and many other types of holidays. We were a pretty staid organization so it was not much of an issue, but she was nervous raising it and was very glad that her team was very accepting of it. So it’s worth noting that a lot of required celebrations can actually make a lot of people very uncomfortable.

  43. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Okay, I’ve held off as long as I could! Just reading the description of the OP’s office made my skin crawl — both because I would despise having so many social obligations and because I hate, hate, hate having my work interrupted. I want to focus on my work and then go home, not be obligated to participate in mandatory “fun.” Which by definition, as soon as you throw the mandatory part in there, isn’t.

    But aside from that, this just isn’t a great way to run a business, both from a productivity and a morale standpoint.

    Productivity: This is a LOT of time put into socializing and preparing to socialize (six party planning committees?!). It has to be distracting from the business’s overall results. What more could they be getting done if they had, say, just one event a month (and even that seems excessive, but it would be a huge improvement)?

    Morale: While clearly some people like this type of thing, quite a few don’t. Now, I suppose the company could say, “Well, this is our culture and we really want the type of people who will enjoy this.” But if that’s the case, they better be screening for this up front when they hire people (and it doesn’t sound like they are). What I think is more likely is that the company has lost sight of what really matters to people — good working conditions, good pay, effective management, and the resources they need to do their jobs. Throwing tons of parties at people? That’s rarely on the list of what someone wants out of their job. And now that the OP has weighed back in and explained they’re not getting raises or bonuses, all these resources spent on “celebrating” are even more infuriating. I have to think that even the commenters here who like the sounds of this workplace would rather have regular raises than all this cake.

    I seriously feel my skin itch when I think about this office.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I forgot to give any advice! OP, please talk to someone about this. Point out that it’s adding up to a significant expense over the course of the year, that you can’t comfortably afford it, and that you’re surely not the only one. Mention that people who are struggling financially aren’t always going to be uncomfortable speaking up. If you hear “oh, it’s not that much money,” respond that in fact it is, and it’s not for others to tell other people what they can afford. Suggest that things either be not mandatory or free. That’s at a minimum — if you can, go further and suggest that it’s getting in the way of work too.

      And do you have a sense of which coworkers aren’t as enthused about all these events too? It would be nice if you had some back-up on this.

    2. fposte*

      And when they screen, do they acknowledge the cost they’re expecting employees to accept? I don’t just mean the literal pay-to-participate cost, I mean the fact that this organization has chosen lower productivity and lower profits in order to further their party practice. “You’ll make less, but you’ll party more” is a satisfactory deal for some people, but even for those who’d enjoy this, it’s only fair to let them know the tradeoff up front.

        1. RKT*

          Partying with people you’re thrown together with in a work situation is much different than partying with your actual friends!

        2. Heather*

          I would be seriously pissed if a company I was working at was throwing away thousands and thousands of dollars (and I was expected to contribute financially as well) but weren’t giving out raises, bonuses and were short staffed. That’s just stupid.

  44. ThatHRGirl*

    Through the first couple of paragraphs I was starting to think this person worked for my company… but we DO NOT do floats!! FLOATS?? Insane.
    And this is coming from the person who just booked an adorable tiny kid’s marching band to march through our building next week for a celebration :)

      1. fposte*

        My stand on floats depends on whether we’re talking root beer/ice cream or Rose Bowl–still not clear which the OP’s talking about, because ordinarily I’d dismiss the second immediately, and I don’t dare here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My hostility toward this company will melt a tiny, tiny bit if we’re talking about ice cream floats. But I have a terrible feeling that we’re talking about the Rose Bowl variety.

          1. Original Poster*

            These are shoe box floats and majority are done at employees desks during business hours but so are the coloring contests and t-shirt decorating. I wish I was making this up.

            1. khilde*

              Nothing so far has made me snort out loud, but I did on this one. Shoe box floats?!?!?? I’m giggling hysterically. “I wish I was making this up.” AHAAH. I have to go now and lie down {wiping away tears}……

      2. ThatHRGirl*

        They are an inner-city drumline and we make a large donation to them to come and perform for us. It takes all of about 15 minutes and is a nice surprise/treat for the employees… not something they have to spend countless hours and a ton of money building/creating… big difference.

    1. Nichole*

      Just as a general statement (I obviously don’t know anything about your company), if you are in HR at a company and you see yourself in this letter, you may want to make sure that your department isn’t ignoring similar concerns. And a kids’ marching band parading through the office sounds hopelessly unproductive…and adorable.

      1. Lesley*

        I could actually see the kids marching band being reasonable. We do an annual fundraiser for the United Performing Arts Fund, and I could totally see us having a kids marching band come in around lunchtime to raise awareness.

      2. ThatHRGirl*

        Like I said above – it takes 15 minutes for them to perform and is part of a milestone celebration of the business being open X-number of years. And we hand them a nice big check for them to buy equipment and such. My point was… it’s more about making the events SPECIAL than making them happen so often that they are meaningless and annoying.

  45. Kelly O*

    I’m sorry, I couldn’t comment because I think I may have broken out in hives and had to go breathe in a paper bag just thinking about that much mandatory fun.

    In all seriousness, in response to the OP, I actually finally did my own thing during the “White Elephant” portion of our office Christmas party. I ate, I milled around during the lunch hour, and then I slipped back to my desk and got back to work. Apparently someone asked at one point where I was, and one of the hens (erm, I mean ladies in the office) took it upon herself to loudly say several times that “Kelly isn’t here, does she think she’s too good for us?” I figure that’s her problem, and she made herself look foolish, not me.

    You really do have my sympathies because I can certainly empathize with the idea that a few bucks here and there is not much at a time, but it really adds up over the course of a year. I hope you can find someone to talk to about the situation, because I’d be reasonably sure you’re not the only one with that concern.

  46. Anon*

    Oh, how I wish there were some kind of code for this on careers websites or in interviews. It would be so much easier .

  47. Another Emily*

    Apart from the company apparently spending money on this instead of doing sensible things like hiring staff and giving people raises (just the optics of this is horrible for morale), a workplace culture where people feel pressured into doing optional fun things really needs to change.

    For one, it makes at least one person there feel uncomfortable. I agree wtih AAM’s advice about talking to your boss then bowing out of the majority of events.

    For another I think any sort of extreme workplace culture is too polarizing. Instead of most people being mostly happy, you either love it or hate it. An extreme of anything is very polarizing. This is why I think workplace cultures should try to be moderate and not get too set.

    At work we had several pie baking contests in a row, then we just stopped. There’s only so much pie that the baking people wanted to bake. Sometimes we have beers together on Fridays. By “we” I mean “whoever happens to be around that feels like a beer”. I think this is a great way to do it because no one cares if you don’t participate in this stuff.

  48. Mz. Puppie*

    I’d really like to see AskAManager’s take on all the alcohol soaking this workplace. It sounds like it’s your standard office environment, so not a place where a person would realize they’d be expected to drink alcohol all the time. I can’t imagine the incredible discomfort that would be faced by an alcoholic, and there’s no way to really explain why you can’t be in the same room as an open bar without outing your protected health information…

    Not to mention, isn’t this just a ticking time bomb for one of these employees to drive home drunk and then file a lawsuit against the employer?

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