husband’s new boss is overloading us with social invitations

A reader writes:

My husband’s boss and wife keep inviting us out to social events outside of work. My husband doesn’t want to refuse because he thinks it will affect his bonus, salary, etc. We moved to a new state for the job, so we cannot use “family” obligations as an excuse. The boss once said, “What else do they have to do?” in front of me when his wife asked if we could attend a charity event.

I don’t mind attending an event every once in a while, but they are becoming more frequent. How can I stop this trend?

It’s possible that your husband is right — there are some workplaces where this kind of thing is expected. But I’m curious to know why he thinks this is one of them. Is he simply assuming that turning down invitations from the boss will be bad for his career, or does he have some more concrete reason to believe that it will be? For all we know, the boss and his wife are issuing these frequent invitations because they figure you’re new in town and will appreciate having someone take you under their wing, or they simply like your company.

So first, I think your husband needs to try to get a better understanding of exactly what the ramifications are of not going to this stuff. How does he see colleagues handling it? Is there a trusted colleague with good judgment who he could ask about it?

In any case, if he does want to get out of more of these invitations, you or he can simply start saying no to most of the invitations. Accept a few of them, but turn down the others: “No, thank you, we have plans that night.” “No, thank you, we’re staying in that night.” “No, thank you, we set aside that time for projects around the house.” “No, thank you, we have dinner plans then.” “No, thank you.”  You can offer a specific excuse, offer a vague excuse, or offer no excuse.

Or hell, he can blame it on you: “Jane has signed us up for a bunch of social events with the neighbors / book club / church / alumni group.”

Again, it’s probably good to accept a few of these things — and be warm and charming and appear to have a good time when you do — but there’s no reason you need to go to all of them.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. JT*

    This is a reminder that although sometimes assumptions are right, sometimes they can box us in and make situations worse than they really are.

  2. Jamie*

    When I read moved to a new state for a job, I can see people I know issuing these invitations as a courtesy to you feeling some kind of social obligation because you don’t know anyone else yet.

    If it’s a career thing other people will be roped in also and your husband will get the feel for that. Otherwise Alison’s advice is perfect, accept some and start having things to do at other times. There are a lot of things besides family obligations that take up one’s time.

    You don’t mention looking for work – but for those out there who are charity events are often a great place to network. There are always spouses there who are kind of bored and work is a great go-to subject for a lot of us.

    This said by someone who doesn’t leave my house unless required by law or a chance to advance my career. :)

  3. Heather*

    Don’t say you are staying in – then you’ll get – that’s boring!! See you have no plans anyhow!

    Just say you have plans already. Nobody has to know it involves take out and a movie.

  4. Anne*

    Our office has office get togethers, but spouses are rarely invited and I avoid them like the plague when I can. They typically last until late and are boring and awkward (aloof bosses “treating” the staff to an endless formal dinner with lots of toasts and speeches as the bosses get more and more blotto). I have used every excuse I can think of to get out of them. However, my not going has never caused me to lose face at work.

  5. Joey*

    I think it also depends on the job level and the type of social event. The higher your husband is and the more business contacts at the social event the more you should go.

  6. Just a Reader*

    Blah, I hate this stuff. One of the reasons I left my last job was forced socializing.

    I don’t want to do a happy hour in the office, or an ice cream social, or wing day or Chinese food or after hours game night or work on a puzzle with a bunch of people or have random pizza lunches…I just want to do my work and go home.

    This may make me a curmudgeon, but it DEFINITELY made me a bad fit for the office culture.

    1. Josh S*

      I gotta say though, one of my freelance clients had the habit of bringing in a bunch of wine & beer at 4:00 on a Friday once every month or two. Everyone would stop what they were doing and enjoy a beer, look out the windows of the Chicago high rise over Grant Park toward Lake Michigan, and just have a moment of ‘not doing work’. On company time, company money, company property — not a bit of difference required between that and your normal work day.

      Most everyone took public transportation so it wasn’t a big drunk-driving risk; the company was British-owned so they had some different standards about such things; and nobody abused the privilege. I can imagine there were folks who weren’t comfortable drinking, but there was pop available and nobody thought anything of it if you were under a deliverable deadline and stayed at your desk.

      Really laid back, come-and-go as you please. It’s the way to do corporate mixers.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Really laid back, come-and-go as you please. It’s the way to do corporate mixers.


        I absolutely agree with this. My company was a 60+ hour a week sweatshop…so I didn’t want to spend time on top of that socializing with people I saw more than my own family.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I really think that this kind of thing can make employees more productive in a very concrete way, not just in the kind of nebulous “it’s good for morale!” way. I know that when I have a special event at work, like someone’s birthday, or going out to lunch, or a reception we’re attending, I make sure to put in a really good effort the rest of the day so I don’t feel like a slacker when I enjoy whatever fun activity is taking place later, and so that it provides a nice contrast. I would imagine that many others with a good work ethic take the same approach.

        1. Just a Reader*

          Perhaps it depends on frequency? The activities I referenced were a minimum 2-3 times a week, mandatory participation.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I was going to say you were being ridiculous to be so upset by forced socializing during work, but that’s way too much. Even once a week would be pushing it since I have more work to do than hours in the day most times.

        2. Mary*

          If I have to miss some of the workday for a doctor’s appointment or whatnot, I swear I’m more productive in the 6 hours I’m at work than the 7 or 8 I’m there most other days.

  7. Your Mileage May Vary*

    I would just like to say that I HATE it when people blame not attending something on the spouse. It makes it sound like the wife is maintaining the husband’s social calendar. I know a lot of married couples use this tactic but I just wish everyone would just decline for themselves. He’s a big boy; if he wants to demur with an excuse, he can make one up himself.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m not sure how putting one’s family above the social whims of one’s boss makes someone less of a “big boy”. Could you explain that further?

      1. K*

        I think what YMMV is referring to is not “I have family obligations.” It’s when you decline an invitation and your tone is more “Oh, I’d love to, but you know – the old ball and chain, always making me do things with her friends. Such a pain.” (I think there’s a way to say “Oh, I promised my wife I’d meet her book club tonight” without going there, though.)

        1. Jamie*

          I think that’s what she meant, too.

          I gave my kids carte blanche to use me whenever they were in an uncomfortable situation – “Sorry, my mom said I can’t go.” even if they hadn’t asked me was fine – kids need all the tools they can get to make good choices in the face of peer pressure.

          But an adult should be able to own his own commitments rather than make it sound like he’d love to go except his crotchety old introverted or bossy wife won’t let him.

          1. K*

            Especially since your spouse is going to see and probably have to socialize with your co-workers in the future (at least at this workplace, it sounds like). It’s terrible to walk into the room and realize everyone thinks you’re the killjoy who stops her husband from having fun.

      2. Josh S*

        Instead of saying, “Oh, I would, but Spouse signed us up for a book club,” you would say, “Oh, I can’t. I have a book club meeting to attend.”

        Instead of ‘blaming’ the spouse for signing you up (making it sound like it was against your will, and if it were up to you, you’d do the thing the boss wanted), you’re putting the responsibility on your own shoulders.

        Not sure I agree with the “big boy” language and all, but I get the sentiment. If you want to back out, back out because you want to. Deflecting the reason to a 3rd party (be it family or otherwise) is disingenuous.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can see that point, but I think that in reality people often find it easier to soften the no with an reason that doesn’t sound like, “I just don’t prioritize you above other things in my life.” And if you can make it about decisions you’ve made as a couple, rather than just you deciding no, sometimes it’s easier. I’m not denying that it would better if we all fully owned our decisions all the time, but sometimes — especially when it’s your boss — people find it easier to say no when it’s not just “I’m choosing something else over this.”

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s fine to do sometimes (especially since spouses often have deals about doing just that); I just would avoid using the spouse for every single demurral.

    3. KellyK*

      I have mixed feelings on this. It can be done in a way that makes the wife look like she’s maintaining the husband’s social calendar, but it can also be the simple fact that inviting a *couple* to a social event necessarily affects both their schedules. I mean, don’t throw her under the bus or imply that she doesn’t let you go anywhere, but I think, “I have a previous commitment,” “We have a previous commitment,” and “My spouse has a previous commitment” are pretty equivalent as excuses.

  8. Josh S*

    “No thank you. We have a prior commitment.”

    Works for all situations. No explanation necessary. Repeat as needed.

    1. Camellia*

      This! The more you explain, the more they try to counter your excuses, er, explanations, so you can attend after all!

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Plus, then they judge to see if your excuse is good enough, if you have a valid reason for not going. If you don’t give an excuse, they can’t judge the validity of it.

  9. Yuu*

    How about start with a compromise?

    If you think they are just inviting you because they are trying to be nice because they figure you are new and don’t know anyone, how about dropping hints that you are REALLY BUSY? Like next time, have your husbands say, “Our social schedule is really packed this month, let me check with my wife and see if we can fit it in.” And then he can come back the next day and say, “We moved around some plans so we can attend. Thanks.” This way, he gets to say yes, they get the point that you are going out of your way to go to these things, and hopefully after doing this a couple of times they will stop asking you to the extraneous ones. He could even add, “Well, I always try to prioritize going to business functions if it will help give a presence for the company.”

    Again, this way he is showing that he is doing them the favor of attending, and if they are trying you to do a favor, they will get the hint and back off.

  10. Your Mileage May Vary*

    I can’t tell if these social events could be perceived as representing the business or if boss and his wife are inviting OP and husband out for things that are truly social. I think my response (if I were OP’s husband) would be different if I were asked to go to a charity ball at an organization where the business donates to or if I was asked out to a double-date dinner and a movie.

    Would it be easier on husband to respond to invites by asking what he needs to do to prep so that he can represent the business best? That seems like a subtle way to say that he’s willing to help out the business’s public face. And then if he’s told that it’s purely a social thing, he could say his plate’s pretty full.

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