my boss leads a clique that gossips about other staff — and now wants to have a “drunk sleepover”

A reader writes:

I work for the government in a small office where there is one director, nine educational specialists (of which I am one), five support staff, and four specialists who share our office space but actually report to a different department. I originally applied for a specialist position, and while I did not get the job, they hired me as support staff because they wanted me at the organization and I had the necessary skills. After one month, the person they hired for the specialist position quit, and I was asked to apply again. This time, I was selected!

The director of our organization was promoted just before I was hired. Previously, she had been a specialist for many years, and the other specialists are some of her very best friends. I like her and the other specialists and I have enjoyed my job a lot so far. However, last week I was invited out for dinner and drinks, which is where my problems began. I really did not want to spend my Friday night “at work” (because for me, this dinner was going to cause me a lot of anxiety and make me work at socializing all night long), but I decided to go and try to build relationships.

At the dinner were my boss and six of the nine specialists. They have all worked together for over three years and have made their “girls nights” a tradition, so no spouses are allowed. I assumed the other three specialists were not there because of schedule conflicts, but I found out during the course of the night that two of them are not invited because they are male and these dinners are only for ladies, and the other female specialist is not invited because they don’t get along. They also do not seem to like the male specialists very much.

I was hoping to be able to learn a little bit about my colleagues and boss’s hobbies and families, but instead they spent the entire evening venting and gossiping about the employees that weren’t there. I assumed that there would be SOME “shop talk,” but I felt very uncomfortable because our boss was joining in (and unlike the rest of them, I haven’t been friends with her since before she was a supervisor) and because I didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation. I really don’t like gossip, I don’t like negativity, and I happen to like the support staff and specialists who weren’t there. By the end of the night, my previous boss and current colleague had shared details about my family that I had mistakenly thought were from private conversations between us, I knew the scores that the people who weren’t there had received on their annual performance reviews, and I had basically been warned “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!”

They want to have a “drunk sleepover” in a few months which everyone is excited about. These are academic professionals ranging in age from 35-60 (I am in my 20s, but I used to be a teacher so this is not my first professional job) and I had assumed they would behave more professionally. I have zero interest in going out with them again, but I know that will put me on the “outside” with the rest of the office and they will probably spend their next dinner gossiping about my performance reviews. I also feel that now I can’t go to my boss with any problems because it will be spread around to everyone in the office, and I am a rather private person.

Can you offer any advice? I do enjoy the actual work I do, and of course in our economy I am grateful to have a job, especially since my husband was just laid off!

What the hell?!

This is so wildly beyond the bounds of any acceptable behavior for managers that I don’t even know where to begin. A manager holding “women-only” dinners?! And not inviting someone because she doesn’t like her?!  And badmouthing other employees? And sharing their performance evaluation scores?!

And … and … I can barely even type the words. A drunk sleepover?

Is this some sort of job apprentice program for teenagers and your boss is a 16-year-old girl? Because otherwise, this is ludicrous.

You don’t want to continue to join them outside work — for exclusionary dinners, drunken sleepovers, or anything else — and so you shouldn’t. Yes, that may mean that you join the list of people discussed at those dinners, but you’re better off just resigning yourself to that than feeling obligated to join them. So they’ll talk about you. So be it. Avoid giving them fodder to discuss, and decide you don’t care about the rest of it. It sounds like you’ll have plenty of company on the list of outsiders, so it shouldn’t be too lonely of a place.

And meanwhile … is this where you want to stay long-term? It’s perfectly legitimate to decide that you’re just glad to have a job and you enjoy the actual work you do, and if that’s the case, then just keep your head down and focus on that. But you might also consider at some point — down the road, if not right now — whether you wouldn’t rather go somewhere where your boss acts like a grown-up.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Liz T*

    I used to have “drunk sleepovers,” but they were in my 20s, with cute musicians I met in bars.

    I really cannot imagine combining those words for any other purpose.

  2. Anonymous*

    This one screams “run” to me! Especially because once I stopped doing the ‘girly’ stuff I’m sure I’d be one of the people they’d be venting about…

    I can’t imagine this will stop at this level – only work its way further into the managers ‘style’ in the office as well!

  3. koppejackie*

    Drunk sleepovers? Are you sure you don’t work for “The Real Housewives of Orange County?”

    But yeah, be prepared that because of your refusal to participate will probably label you as a “too good for us” or a “b*tch” or something. And you know you’re not, so try not to let it bother you.

    Does her higher up know she does this crap?

  4. Liz T*

    In all seriousness, though, and in agreement with AAM: don’t hang out with them, and don’t worry about it. It seems the main consequence of not hanging out is that they won’t like you…and thus won’t invite you to hang out. No skin off your nose. Now you know not to confide, and while it’s REALLY annoying that they share performance reviews, I’d suggest you employ some helpful denial.

    1. Heather*

      Me too. Don’t go. Don’t engage and don’t worry.

      And honestly if they push you say that it’s not your thing. You aren’t into drinking and talking about people like that. You are there to work not to party.

      Honestly people are so weird. Who does this?

    2. Cassie*

      I agree 1000%. If the OP doesn’t want to go to these events (I wouldn’t!), then don’t go. You shouldn’t have to make up excuses or suffer just because you don’t want to be ostracized. Besides, being ostracized by a group like that? Should be a badge of honor!

    3. bob*

      The unintended consequence of getting on their respective bad sides is that it sounds to me like the boss is entirely unprofessional enough to knock the OP down on her reviews just because she doesn’t want to hang out with the viejas on Friday night.

      1. dk*

        Exactly, Bob. There’s also a chance of an exaggerated/twisted bad reference: poor interactions and rapport with others, stand-offish or snobbish, not a team player, unapproachable…

        I’ve seen similar behaviors in government-level ed programs. While people know that so-and-so is a total whack job, they seem to be the ones that stay around while the good ed specialists just disappear and are never heard from again.

    4. Rachel*

      Getting uninvited is far from the worst thing that can happen. I used to work in an office where politics were super important. I wasn’t a fan of it, kept my nose down, did my work and went home instead of the bar on Friday. I thought my work mattered.

      But immediately after I’d been offered a promotion, one of those gossipy bar hags decided to tell everyone that I’d shown up to a job site in a miniskirt and fishnets. Obviously it was untrue, but it stuck and, even worse, was repeated to our subcontractors. Not only was my promotion retracted, I was given a demotion with pay cut and unable to seek work at other companies where I had contacts because they all thought I was a slut.

      OP faces real consequences for getting on the bad side of her supervisor. She is the sole provider for her household, since her husband is out of work. I’d advise her to update her cv and look for a better place, and in the meantime keep going to the dinners but not participate in the coworker bashing.

  5. Janet*

    I worked for a start-up with this kind of an atmosphere. It was terrible and I ran screaming from the place. Lots of bar events that only some people were invited to, others would be gossiped about the whole evening with the boss leading the conversation. Uncomfortable, unprofessional and an overall terrible environment.

  6. Frances*

    I think it’s time to make sure you always have something else pressing to do when these social occasions happen. I had to start doing this when I worked for a manager who was notorious for overdoing it when the staff went out for Friday drinks. I had a hard enough time working for this manager anyway — I definitely didn’t want to be witness to anything that would make our relationship even more awkward.

  7. DA*

    I think on Friday’s, the week should end with something crazy like this. Perhaps call it the ‘Freaky Friday’ or ‘Fun Friday’ post or something like that.

    While I understand that it is serious for the OP, it would provide us all with a bit of levity as we wrap up the week – and be something we could all unite around the OP about.

  8. Sascha*

    I’m sorry, OP. No one should have to deal with high school after high school. I’d stick it out there as long as I could, until I got to a point where I could leave. Don’t give them anything to talk about. They will probably just make stuff up but at least it’s not your personal, private stuff.

    I had a semi-drunk sleepover the other night with my best friend. Wine and British comedy. But I didn’t announce it at my workplace! Yeesh.

    1. VintageLydia*

      “Drunk sleepovers” with my BFF is the number one thing I miss about not living near her. But that’s with my best friend in a 100% social context. Not work colleagues in a weird clique D:

  9. Chinook*

    I am not normally one to run to hr, but I agree with AAM about how “mean girls” this sounds that I would go to hr and “innocently” ask how to handle an invitation from your boss for a sleepover because it feels like crossing a line but I am not sure what line it is (especially since, as my boss, I truly wouldn’t feel comfortable saying no). This would not only give me advice in how to handle it but cya if I suddenly get poor reviews and let hr know about potential sexual discrimination since the boss is obviously favoring women and sharing confidential review information about the others that the men cannot have access to.

      1. LJL*

        Would you still say the same if a boss and employee were sharing a hotel room to save money?

        1. VintageLydia*

          That’s a totally different context. Presumably one where there is no drunkenness and petty gossip.

        2. UK HR Bod*

          Absolutely! If my work expects me to stay away from home, I would not expect to share with a colleague. I wouldn’t be looking for high level accommodation, but private sleeping arrangements are non-negotiable.

        3. Lora*


          I have made it one of my professional goals in life never, ever to see my colleagues’ undergarments in any context ever.

          Last job, I did not share a hotel room but my co-worker and I were staying in rooms across the hall from each other. We were sharing a rental car and I knocked on the door to see if he wanted to get take-out or if I could pick up tacos for him. Man came to the door in his very baggy, loose boxers, with everything flapping in the breeze. I was not able to contain my giggles, he slammed the door in my face, the end, FML.

          Good god, I go to bed covered in zit lotion, cold cream and IcyHot, surrounded by 5 prescription bottles that I have to get up at 2am to take, and my bosses over the past 10 years have been men. Plus I talk in my sleep and I need a nightlight (quit laughing). I hate hate hate the teevee or any ambient noise really, and I typically rise and shine at 4am to go running/swimming for an hour, then have a leisurely breakfast in my room while catching up with internet news. All of y’all, stay the heck out of my room.

      2. Elizabeth*

        My boss asked me if I could come to a sleepover once. But I’m a teacher, the sleepover was for second graders, and she was looking for a chaperone. :-)

  10. bearing*

    Is this illegal sex discrimination, since the men are not invited and work issues are discussed?

    1. Chinook*

      This to me is a huge issue. If the roles were reversed a day it was a bunch of guys going to the bar, it would be a clear no-no. Since this is in an education setting, which I experience as being predominately female, it sounds like this boss is discriminating against the guys. Maybe the woman on the outside with her brought it up and got her blacklisted? For this reason, I think HR needs to be notified.

      1. HR Pufnstuf*

        Only discrimination if decisions effecting employment were made from these actions, ie termination, promotion, etc.
        While not illegal, still unprofessional.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          This is exactly what the results are in situations like this.

          Whenever the boss has built a clique at work, there’s going to be trouble.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Yep, I would notify HR and/or the EEO office. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. All it takes is one personnel decision that someone doesn’t like and you’ve got a pile of evidence of an existing anti-male bias. It also could easily constitute a hostile work environment for the men there.

          1. KellyK*

            It’s probably an *indication* of one, but not necessarily one in and of itself. If the male employees are getting gossiped about, excluded from outings, and having their confidential info shared, I’d be *really* surprised if they’re not being treated negatively at work as well.

      3. Kou*

        I have to disagree. Discrimination regulations don’t cover how you socialize with coworkers independent from your work, regardless of what you’re talking about. If the employer had a work-sponsored retreat only for women, then maybe. But if some men who were friends in the office had a guy’s poker night and a woman they worked with went to HR over discrimination, I don’t think anyone would take her seriously. Though I do find the idea of guy/girl-only hangouts as a set rule to be pretty annoying in the first place.

        I do agree vehemently with your last point, though, that knowing others are getting on OP’s boss’s sh-t list in this way means she’s likely going to have to go to someone to mediate if she wants out.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          It may become an issue if the boss is discussing the men’s performance. That makes it work related. Although it appears she is equally discussing the women’s performance too. But since it is “girls” only it is getting into the iffy side.

  11. Anlyn*

    I would start looking elsewhere, because I cannot believe that a manager who badmouths her employees and gossips about performance scores would be able to give you an unbiased review for you, especially if you decline to participate in their clique.

  12. Rob Bird*

    The good thing about it is that it is a Government job. With that comes a very specific set of policies and procedures.

    I would talk to your boss and let her know, in no uncertain terms, this is not acceptable and you are not interested. Advise her you are going to follow-up with an email (if it isn’t written, it didn’t happen) and you hope this doesn’t affect your working relationship.

    But it will. You will have to decide how much of an issue it is when you receive the cold shoulder from now on. Good luck!

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Nooooo! Rob, you’re a guy, so you may not understand. But confronting a mean-girls bully like that will only guaruntee a target – right on your chest.

      By all means raise this to HR, or to ethics if there is a department for this. Make it fact based. But never-ever confront a psychopath like that.

      1. Joey*

        No!! Don’t raise it to HR. all they’re going to do is try to stay out of most of it. They will have a problem with the boss acting like an ass, but they won’t do a whole lot since its all happening away from work. The boss may get a wrist slap and a finger wagging, but more importantly the op is going to have to pray that HR doesn’t tell the boss who complained when they confront her.

        1. Chinook*

          But she is openly discriminating against the men. I would think that hr would like to know about something that could blow up huge.

          1. Joey*

            But it’s not at work. The get togethers are after work. HR would only get involved it its happening at work. I don’t see anything to indicate men are being treated differently at work. She’s gossiping about the women who don’t go just as bad.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              This is how this goes:

              It’s a girls club. It’s after work. But only the girls can come. Lo and behold, one of the girls gets promoted over a well-qualified man. And here comes the EEO complaint and the lawsuit, with all the evidence of bias coming from the girls-only nights.

              1. Joey*

                Yeah, I agree its not smart, but proving discrimination based on sex is a lot harder than that.

              2. Kou*

                I have to ask– is there really a precedent of that lawsuit being successful? Really? Because it’s certainly nepotism but, I mean, that’s not illegal. It’s based on the supervisor’s relationship with the subordinate, and no matter how that happened I can’t imagine it really counting as sex discrimination. People rub elbows and get favorable treatment in all kinds of settings, you could extrapolate plenty of those out and say it’s not fair, but would that stick?

                Whoo I do not like sounding like I’m defending these people, though.

                1. fposte*

                  I think you mean preferential, not nepotism–nepotism is limited to preferential treatment of relatives.

                  I think you’re right in that merely socializing with one gender isn’t going to rise to the standard of discrimination (and it’s noted that they happily exclude some women, too). Where it becomes a problem is if there’s a pattern of disparate advancement or hiring in the workplace itself these outings would doubtless come up as part of the pattern.

                2. Mark*

                  I’d chance to say – and this is particularly true of the private sector – it has nothing to do with whether a disgruntled employee could actually win the lawsuit. It has to do with whether this sort of behavior would encourage said employee to sue. Employers seldom lose in these sorts of situations – even in cases of discrimination against a protected class, there are a million legal reasons to not give a promotion, fire, or otherwise penalize an employee. You need a preponderance of evidence that it was due to an illegal

                  This is why you hear HR making statements that are patently untrue like saying there is such a thing as an “illegal question”. That’s not true, but there are certainly questions you could ask a candidate that would make them bristle and likely make them think to sue you if they weren’t given a job. Or whatever. No one likes a lawsuit, because even though an employer typically wins, there are other costs, like hiring a lawyer or lawyers, court costs, and then of course the PR nightmare that being involved in a lawsuit is.

                  Back to the matter at hand, however – it’s a shame that these incompetents work for the government, where they cannot really be dealt with easily.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            Chinook, you have an unrealistic perception of HR.

            The OP should avoid these after hour drinking/gossip parties, keep her head down, and look for a new job asap.

        2. HR Pufnstuf*

          Depends on the HR. I’d have a reminder meeting with the manager on how company info is to be kept limited to people that need to know.

          1. Joey*

            Exactly. I think most HR folks would give a good finger wagging about releasing info. But that’s just going to lead the manager to start gossiping with her closest about who may have complained.

      2. Rob Bird*

        I have been in a position like this a couple of times where Staff and/or Management were doing things that I thought were unethical. I did confront them and advised them I want no part of it and I did follow-up with an email so I had proof of the conversation.

        Yes, it did cause them to treat me different in the office, but my professional reputation was more important to be then being part of the club. However, I did start looking for other jobs after I did this.

    2. LJL*

      I can’t see anything good coming of that> i’d advise OP to just cover herself always and hope for the best. Looking for another job when enough time has gone by would not be a bad idea either.

  13. Aramis*

    I had a friend who dealt with a work situation like this (nowhere near as crazy though) by saying she was a recovering alcoholic. Since all their fun girly events they wanted to attend invovled drinks it was the easiest out from here point of view.

  14. EngineerGirl*

    I worked in a place like this. It was horrible and can only have a bad ending. People like this are “Mean Girls” bullies, which means that you are next on their target if you don’t flatter their whims. I suspect your performance rating will have nothing to do with meritocracy and everything to do with how much boss-o likes you.

    There are a few ways this will play out:
    * This new boss will be discovered by her higher ups and fired.
    * New boss will be liked by higher ups and place will become more dysfunctional

    I would suggest looking for a job now. It will take a while to get one. Here’s the thing – if you don’t play along you’ll become the target for layoff. So looking for a job is a good backup plan no matter what.

    And I would also suggest that you and hubby start having “date night” on Fridays. Even if it is going out for a walk, you’ll have a legitimate excuse.

  15. anon*

    Yep- like the people above, I have no problem believing this. My current employers always speak critically (and in an unprofessional way) of former employees. They’re friendly with me now, but they were with the others, so I can only anticipate that they’ll turn to complaining of me after I’ve moved on, too. It’s a tough situation but removing yourself from the discussions (and resigning if/when it gets to be too much) definitely seems like the best call.

  16. Just Laura*

    Wow times ten. Do your best to be your usual pleasant self at work, because you will give them less to work with! I strictly adhere to the rule, “Don’t say anything about someone that you wouldn’t want them to overhear”– which has paid off in spades, even with high-complaining colleagues. Good luck, OP!

  17. Maggie*

    I had a supervisor like this once. She and her pals would meet in the break room at lunch, look around the room giggling and whisper to each other. Guess management found out, all of a sudden they no longer had snark-fests at lunch. And she was eventually fired.

  18. Mike C.*

    As this is a government job, are you unionized? If so, I would become very familiar with your contract and your steward and ensure that as you remove yourself from these situations you are protected from retaliation and bullying. You need to do this regardless of whether or not you chose to leave, as new jobs take a bit of time and you’re going to want to ensure that your references are fair.

    Best of luck, this is really a terrible situation to be in.

  19. Rob*

    Holy dingo in a fire pit.

    Can we just launch people like this into the sun? OP, follow your spidey sense, Alison’s advice, and stay classy and professional. You’ll be much better off.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      We could bundle them together and shoot them at dangerous approacing asteroids too.

  20. some1*

    I also had a manager (also in govt) who gossiped about her employees to other ones. It’s a really horrible thing to do and I’m sorry it’s happening to you.

  21. Kara*

    I was reading this thinking “I would be looking so hard for another job.” I’m private in general and especially at work, so this is my nightmare. Don’t participate, keep to yourself, and think about whether this is where you want to stay, because it’ll almost certainly only get worse.

  22. ThatGirl*

    Here are a list of excuses that I’ve used to get out social after work stuff:
    1. Sorry, my kid/ niece/nephew/godchild has [insert kid event here] tonight.
    2. Sorry, this my monthly/weekly dinner with my parents/in-laws.
    3. Ooh, I would love too but I have to clean my fish tank/garage/basement, this is the only time that I have to do it during the week.
    4. The smoke in bars/clubs bother my allergies. Sorry
    5. I’m not fun, I don’t drink because I take [insert medication here] and it will cause a reaction.
    6. Sometimes I will go but I arrange to have my SO/friend to pick me up at a designated time (usually 30-45 minutes after) and say that we have tickets to an event.

    I’m very serious about keeping my private/ work life separate, I just don’t want to be friends with people at work after I leave at 5. I’ve seen too many instances of work buddies getting their lives all intertwined and then falling out with each other, next thing you know every intimate detail of your life has been shared with everyone at work.
    No thanks…I don’t want to that girl. :-)

  23. Jill*

    Thank goodness for OP that this is a government job – the one positive out of all of this is that it’s virtually impossible to fire a government employee in most cases so it’s not like they’ll be able to use her decision not to participate against OP as far as her job security.

    I’d say keep your private life private, OP. Don’t give them a single bit of fodder and just keep your nose on your work. You don’t need ’em.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      you know, it’s really not that hard to fire a government employee. But it takes a manager who is dilligent about documenting and following procedures. This one probably isn’t.

      1. Joey*

        It’s really hard relative to most other businesses. In government you typically have to have overwhelming evidence and documentation. Most companies will fire you with little, if any.

    2. Emma*

      All government positions are not permanent, nor are all people who work for the government civil servants – they can contractors, etc. Depending on her position, she, her manager, etc could very easily be fired!

  24. Financial Black Sheep*

    I wonder what other things are wrong with the company that acts like that. I would reconsider wanting to be there and look at other options just in case the keeping to yourself makes the situation worse.

    I used to work for a company that was similar to that one, but I ran from that place very quickly! I knew the company was in need of some fixing, but until I became a supervisor I didn’t know how bad. The supervisor meetings would turn into talk about people and the sleepover’s / selling party’s they had (think selling adult toys). It was so bad I still have nightmares from that place. For years afterwards I would secretly email my husband while at work to verify how to handle things, because things were so wrong at this place. Seriously, that bad.

  25. anon-2*

    I once worked in a place where a lot of women were busy-bodies.

    One (female) co-worker dated an (outside) friend of mine. We were all going to attend a party on Saturday at his house.

    One of the “clique” asked – “can you get an invite for ….”

    HUH? What, you people don’t have anything better to do than follow other people around? Is her life so interesting that someone has to go out of their way to see what’s happening in it?

    And is the clique member’s life so boring that she has to follow others around? Hey lady, try the ‘Y’ dances, ok? You’ll be better off.

  26. Jane*

    You know, this is one of those moments where I clearly separate working with “women” versus “girls”. The lack of professionalism here is really upsetting and uncomfortable. Yes, OP will be on the “outside” group and unfortunately there may be some work impact there. But I’ve found in my experience that this behavior will get them only so far till it impacts their ability to get things done.

  27. R*

    I admit, I’m going to a girls-only sleepover tonight, and I think we’ll have more bottles of wine than people there. Two of the other girls there could even be considered co-workers, since they work at the bar where I DJ sometimes.

    But there is NO WAY I would consider that an appropriate thing to do in a professional setting. It’s a group of friends getting together and drinking (and some of us are spending the night since we can’t drive home drunk).

  28. Been There*

    WOW! Does the OP work for a federally-funded job training program at a junior college? This sounds SO much like the organization in which I worked my butt off for 23 anxiety-ridden, depressing, bullying-filled years. I was 23 when I started working for them (I’m 52 now.), and all I can say to the OP is, GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE before you lose your self-esteem and before you receive enough pay raises to make it difficult to go to another organization without having to take a pay cut. Don’t wait until you feel “stuck” there. If you work at a college, you might want to get a feel for the “organizational culture” of other departments and consider transferring into a department with a better mix of people.

  29. Anon*

    It’s a government job? I GUARANTEE YOU she is going to get fired. And her little clique will either end up pushed out with her, or on someone’s “list” forever. I speak from experience and a couple of others here said the same thing.

    Get out. Get out NOW!

    But come back here for an update!!

  30. AMG*

    You never know. I was in a similar situation, went to HR, and it blew up in my face. I got laid off. It may paint an unfair picture, but I will never go to HR for anything ever again. Ever.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Sad to say, but I agree with you. I’ve seen it happen many times.

        HR at my current workplace is a joke. I don’t think I’ve ever worked where HR was professional (or even qualified, in come cases).

  31. khilde*

    Slightly off this particular topic, but lately I have been in the habit of reading the title of the post and then scrolling immediately down to your first sentence/reaction, Alison. Your initial responses have been hilarious lately and I always know that I’m in for a good one so I go back and slowly read the question and savor the insanity. So keep up the amusing inital responses to these whack situations.

    1. Michelle*

      I do the same thing. If the first line of the response is “Yes, it’s legal” or “Take it at face value,” I usually skip the post.

  32. Not So NewReader*

    OP, there is only one response to a workplace like this. RUN.

    Just my opinion, of course.

    “It is tough to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys.” Barest minimum this job will get harder as time goes by.

    I had a similar situation at work. I declined to go to the sleepover. As others suggested here, I used a medical reason for not imbibing and, therefore, not really being interested.

    If you already were seen drinking with them, tell them that you did not feel well later and that is when your doctor advised you to avoid alcohol for X reason. (Insert any credible reason here-mixes badly with meds, raises your blood sugar, etc.)

    Probably the three people who were not included were people who would not accept such poor behavior. Sounds like you might have three sane people in your workplace, at any rate.

    Based on my own experience- start looking for a new job now, before these people wear you down and you have no energy to job hunt. This is a totally toxic work environment.

  33. Sharon-OP*

    I can see it now:

    Interviewer: “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”
    OP: “I wasn’t willing to participate in offsite gossip and drunk sleepovers with my supervisor.”
    Interviewer: “WHAT?”
    OP: “… It was a bad fit.”

  34. ExceptionToTheRule*

    Someone asked earlier this week for concrete examples of why social get-togethers with co-workers could be a bad idea. I think think we have exhibit #1 right here.

  35. Yup*

    Wow. I don’t really have any helpful advice for dealing with your lunatic boss. That’s bonkers. I do have some general thoughts about dealing with a clique-y office.

    I once worked in a smallish office with a clique of 5-6 people who were just wretched. Socializing that very pointedly excluded others (ie, discussing plans at length in front of people not invited), referencing in-jokes during work meetings, sneering during presentations by those disliked, etc. As a newbie, I brought it up obliquely with my boss (head of HR), who pretty much blew it off as “well, they’re just immature.”

    It was clear to me that the bad behavior impacted work. People weren’t collaborating because of all the nonsense, and there was a tone of favoritism. So I made it a point to be kind and friendly to absolutely everyone in the office, even the clique. I didn’t try to enter or oppose the group, but I was pleasant to each one individually. (Which was tough, because some of them were total pills.) When they mocked someone in front of me, I just neutrally responded “Steve’s a nice guy. He’s always super helpful when I have an Excel question.” If they were discussing plans rudely in front of me, I’d just smile absently and say “Have a great time!”. I also made it a point to occasionally organize a happy hour or lunch where *everyone* was invited. And when others talked about the clique, I was matter of fact: “Yeah, she doesn’t seem to like me much. But she’s good at her job, so I just try to stay focused on that when we talk.”

    It took a while, but I basically wore them down by being unimpeachably pleasant, unflappable, and professional in the face of their crap. It’s not like we became friends. But when it became clear that I wouldn’t give in to gossip or try to curry favor or get emotional, they sort of got over it and we all got on with work. Plus, I got the bonus of having good relationships with all the non-clique people, many of whom followed my lead in dealing with them.

    I realize this doesn’t help with your boss’s inappropriateness, since she’s obviously a deranged adolescent. But you can still deal with her and her followers in a calm professional grown-up way. You don’t have to let it get to you, and you can set a good example for the cliquers (cliquees?) who might themselves be a bit uncomfortable with the situation. Good luck to you!

    1. glennis*

      I like the mature attitude of this response. I think this is actually the right approach to take, no matter what your long-term plan is – whether you go to HR or quit or quietly look for another job – do this ALSO while you’re doing those things.

    2. AR*

      This is great advice! I am in a similar situation at work and my manager is part of the clique. The people in the clique are treated differently than the people outside of the clique and they get promoted for doing the same work that everyone else does. Your advice is spot on about how to deal with it. You want to let them know that their attitude doesn’t affect your work. Just be pleasant and professional to everyone.

  36. Anonymous*

    There was a clique like this in my office, and if I didn’t spend most of my time with outside consultants, doing very interesting work, I would’ve left much sooner. My first week on, I went to a happy hour, and one of the “mean” girls hounded me to drink. Like a “chug it” demand. I decided to give it another try and went to lunch with them–where they made fun of the waitress because she didn’t understand their order. I alternated between feeling embarrassed by them and for them. I tried to avoid them. They routinely rolled their eyes and deeply sighed when I spoke in meetings, one yelled out “Jesus Christ!” and threw up her hands when a shy colleague preferred to sit on the outside perimeter of the conference room rather than at the table, and would often grunt at me when she passed me in the hallway. If I hadn’t dealt with bullies before, and high maintenance, power abusing people–often women–whose work product is just as bad as their attitudes, I would’ve despaired. However, there are two brightsides. One is the clique has slowly left–their power having been diminished by positive, and very competent new hires. They could not sustain themselves without this clique. The other is agencies pointedly reach out to my company with projects for me to lead–which may or may not have happened if I had left the company, and gone into a different corporate environment. So, like Allison said, I guess it depends on what your brightsides might be.

  37. fposte*

    I want to know what government so I can try to avoid my tax dollars going to them.

    Who’s above the director offsite? Is it one of those situations where it’s such a huge jump in the TO that the director’s supervisor would barely know her name? I

    1. The gold digger*

      I want to know how I can avoid my tax dollars going to programs I don’t like!

      Heck, I want to know how I can avoid tax dollars altogether! (Says the woman who spent this week wrestling with TuroTax).

  38. AG*

    I completely agree that the OP should *run* in this situation. How awful!

    Now since we all know you’re not supposed to badmouth former employers in interviews, what would be a good thing for her to say in an interview when asked why she wants to leave?

    1. Jazzy Red*

      The “not a good fit with my career plans” bit is always good. Then you can quickly transition to why the new job is SO interesting to you, blah, blah, blah.

  39. Pam*

    I once began gossiping to a coworker about another coworker. The coworker I was talking to said flat-out to me, “I don’t do that.”

    That stopped me dead in my tracks. It works! Since then, I really don’t gossip at work.

    1. Pam*

      I didn’t realize how immature and mean I was being. When she said that to me, oh, the shame! It really stuck with me.

      1. HR Pufnstuff*

        Good for your co-worker and hats off to you Pam for recognizing the value and lesson in her statement.

        1. Emma*

          I’ve been realizing that, as the newbie in an office (that used to be 5 people and is now only 3, myself included!), one of the few things I had to discuss with my very tiny office was the poor work ethic and management capabilities of another coworker. While these started out as legitimate grievances and brainstorming how to address them, they have a habit of disintegrating into gossip. This bald stop-it! command will be in my mind now as I continue working in this tiny office while altering my engagement in gossip.

  40. Cassie*

    We have a mean girl director/manager as well – the difference is that she really only has 1 close friend (instead of the OP’s situation where it looks like a good % of the office participate), although there are a couple of other staffers who join in from time to time. I wouldn’t say that everyone else cowers in fear of the mean girl manager, but it is definitely crushing morale.

    It would be great if there is someone higher up than the director that the OP can go to. For us, there’s really no one – the academic head of the dept is clueless (plus, no one will tell him), and the dean’s office is un-involved. It doesn’t bother me as much because I don’t care about what Mean-Girl-Manager and her lackey say about me – my bosses are happy with my work, other people are cordial enough to me, and I get my fill of drama by watching tv shows. But for those who are targeted by MGM, I feel very bad for them.

  41. Jeraldine*

    My previous boss was exactly like this.

    He would have his happy little circle, and staff under him that didn’t fit in were made fun of. and gossiped about so badly behind their backs. At first we went along with it, because it all seemed so harmless at first. Then it got worse and worse and our eyes started opening.

    Everything started unravelling when we got new upper management that started to clean house.

    This boss started to consolidate his power, at the expense of all the staff under him. He picked a favourite and you were either with him or against him, at your own detriment.

    That’s when we all realised that this was not right, and started trying to work around him professionally and banded together with no dumb cliquiness BS anymore.

    Luckily cool heads prevailed an he was sacked as soon as we all had enough ammo on him, and the rest of his “clique” are now under massive scrutiny.

    Stick with your instincts and do the right thing. And go on top if you have to.

    In the meantime, document document document! Log everything if you can.

    If upper management value you, they will do something about it. If not, time to run and fly.

    1. NP*

      I absolutely agree with these last two sentences:

      “In the meantime, document document document! Log everything if you can.

      If upper management value you, they will do something about it. If not, time to run and fly.”

      While the best option may be to start looking around, you want to make sure the job you have now is safe if you need to keep it, and the only way I see of doing that is to go to senior members of the organization with written detail on what is happening, including areas that they can only ignore at their peril (sharing performance evals, excluding based on gender). I would not count on keeping quiet where you are as a safety measure.

  42. Melissa*

    I would much rather stay home and not attend these functions, do my job well, not discuss anything private with my co-workers or my boss ever again, and be talked about during the girls’ nights out, than socialize with these women. Ever. These women are NOT your friends. And they NEVER will be. Do not try and make them your friends ever. (And don’t, no matter what, “friend” ANY of them on Facebook … and if one of them tries to and you reject her and she asks you about it, simply reply, “I’m so sorry but I have a personal policy of not being FB friends with co-workers.” If she rolls her eyes at you … and then later talks about you behind your back about it … so be it. Stand firm in your professional behavior.) I get that everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone wants to be accepted. Everyone hopes for good co-worker relations. But not like this. I agree with AAM.

  43. Jen*

    I admit I got lucky with my clique at work. They all ignore me.

    At first I was invited to join every little lunch outing, after work drink, afternoon cake party. If it was during work hours, I was just swamped with work. If it was after hours, I had plans. If pushed, I just kept saying plans, set in stone, can’t be changed. No information that I knew would be gossiped about or held against me later. And I did it to avoid the non stop gossip about whomever wasn’t there that day, or the minute by minute recap and endless speculation about the future of whatever ‘reality’ show was on the night before.

    After awhile they stopped asking. Life is good. They probably talk about how much of a b***h I am, I’ve overheard enough to suspect it. But more or less I am the nonentity in the office. Just the way I want it. I was hired to work, not make friends. It sounds cold/b***hy but at this office, it’s just survival.

  44. Anonymous*

    My last job situation sounds very similar to this one. My advice? Start looking for another job. You deserve respect and appreciation, and that place will just wear you down and make you bitter and depressed. Document everything. My 5 former coworkers, including my supervisor, were very clique-y, competitive, and immature. We had a party (“retreat” for reimbursement purposes) at my supervisor’s house that involved a lot of booze and boating on a lake. She encouraged us to bring our sleeping bags. At first, significant others specifically weren’t invited (I’m certain it’s because one of my coworkers didn’t have anyone to bring), but then after more discussion/gossip my supervisor changed her mind. Since he had already been told he wasn’t invited, my husband wasn’t very inclined to attend.

    I loved the mission of the workplace and the work I was doing, so I tried to remain professional and refused to join the clique in their unprofessional behavior (examples: not drinking with my coworkers in the back office during work hours, not laughing at and mocking clients and visitors behind their backs). However, I was long-term temporary (worked a total of 1 year and 5 months there), so they were able to hire someone for my position as a permanent hire and get rid of me without much justification. One reason included a one-time mistake I had made (IMO, because of lack of training and availability of my supervisor), but it wasn’t brought to my attention until months later because my supervisor had heard it through the grapevine, and major parts of the story were a lie and misrepresentation of my behavior. She was not interested in my defense and version of the story. So yeah, still bitter even though I’m very grateful I don’t have to work with coworkers like that any more.

  45. MP*

    Ugh. It’s like high school all over again….

    I don’t have a clique story, but I can add a few words along the theme of “inappropriate activities for coworkers to do together”. A few weeks ago, the company was feeling generous and gave us the choice of a massage, attending a mixology class or going shopping. I picked the massage….and then had to sit in a waiting room full of my coworkers, in a bathrobe, trying to keep from showing too much skin and avoiding all eye contact. Bonus: It was a co-ed experience. Double bonus: upper management was present.

    After my massage, I ran for the change room and locked the door so I could have a bit of privacy while I changed into my street clothes.

    Now I know better :)

  46. Cassie*

    Out of curiosity, what would be the best way for the OP to inform HR about these gossip sessions? The whole thing is very middle-school, Mean Girls-ish, but I guess I feel HR should be aware (even if they choose to do nothing).

  47. Revanche*

    I would establish a back up plan or two IMMEDIATELY and work toward that. I’ve worked with two managers very much like that and in the one pertaining to my career, it affected me financially as the manager would “punish” me for not giving him gossip and being his total BFF. He’d rope the whole office into badmouthing me behind my back, making up rumors and spreading them maliciously, though not subtly! and they were willing to participate so that he wouldn’t target them too.

    Basically, I worked in a nest of vipers for a few years while establishing my credibility in the field so I could get a better position when I left but it was pretty … rough. If I were already established, I would have left much sooner.

  48. ew0054*

    Sounds like a bad environment prone to harassment. If you are a non-union, at-will employee, you should probably start looking for another job.

    For now, i would brush it off like you thought it was a joke, and keep professional. Do not engage any coworkers or bosses during off-time. Be unavailable, don’t check work emails and screen calls.

    If you are on hourly this is easier to pull off than salary, where they expect you to be an indentured servant 24/7.

  49. ew0054*

    Reminds me of a months-ongoing situation at my job that has recently come to a head, where one coworker had a party at his house. He invited people from the “clique” over, and one of them has been with his wife! Glad to say I am not a part of this clique, and it’s just another reason I very rarely ever mix work and social lives.

  50. lillian*

    This is more common in the workplace than people think. I have a boss who spends her day gossiping to everyone and anyone. She tricks people into revealing things about their personal live, promising to keep it confidential, and then uses it to make “friends”. We used to work in the police department. One day, she went so far as to run a police report on someone, which is a federal offense. I know I should’ve said something but I was new and needed the job (I would in heartbeat if she did it now). I wish I could leave ASAP but I have less than 2 years to retirement and have decided to wait it out.

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