I’m supposed to share a house with five coworkers for a team retreat

A reader writes:

Long story short, my boss is planning a corporate retreat near the coast for five executives, four of whom are men and myself, the lone woman. The challenge is that we are supposed to stay in this 5-bedroom house and I will get my own in-suite bathroom. I find this somewhat unprofessional, a little too frat-boyish going on spring break. A friend of mine who works in human resources tells me I am being unreasonable and this is very common. What are your thoughts on coed corporate retreats with close-proximity accommodations?

I wouldn’t say it’s outrageous, but I wouldn’t be thrilled about this either. Not because of the gender breakdown and not because it’s unprofessional (it doesn’t strike me as particularly unprofessional), but because the shared living space will make things a little more … close-quartered than they’d otherwise be. The problem is that that set-up is going to infringe on your privacy and personal space unless you withdraw to your room every evening, and doing that could make you look anti-social or stand-off-ish if everyone else is hanging out in the living room.

Why not say something to your boss before the plans are unchangeable?  If I were your boss, I’d want to know that the retreat I was planning made you less than comfortable.

{ 393 comments… read them below }

    1. puddin*

      I learned the difference not too long ago. I come from a long line of asocial people, as does Mr. puddin. Suits us well :)

  1. Katie the Fed*

    I have a different perspective on this. One of the thing women in senior leadership positions struggle with is being left out of the informal bonding that goes on at the golf course or after-work drinks, etc. They don’t get invited along, and then miss out on the camaraderie that pays big dividends at work. For that reason I think it might be better to go along with this and use it as an opportunity to bond and develop the same kind of camaraderie that men benefit from.

    1. AFT123*

      I agree with Katie. As long as you have your own room and bathroom, it seems like it would be a good opportunity build relationships. Honestly, it sounds kind of fun to me (I’m a woman). Of course there are other ways I’d prefer to spend my free time, but this sounds like the best-case scenario for a work retreat.

    2. Spooky*

      This was my first thought, too. It sounds like the management is making every effort to be as inclusive and respectful as possible, and I’d be very hesitant to complain about that–it seems like there’s a good chance it could be received with “we’re treating them to a trip to the coast, and we even went to the trouble of finding a place with an en-suite for her (a perk which none of the men get,) and it’s STILL not enough? Jeez, what is it going to take?”

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I don’t know – I personally think I’d be pretty excited that the company made an effort to include me, but I work in such a boy’s club world that I’m excited about things might be normal to everyone else.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I do think that’s indicative of working in an extreme boys’ club — as someone notes above, you shouldn’t have to be grateful for being included.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              But, sometimes the price of inclusion is expanding your comfort zone too. If the connections are being made on the golf course or in the box seats at the sportsball game, then buy some clubs and learn how to play, or learn to tolerate sportsball.

              And this particular scenario doesn’t seem THAT outrageous. If this is how retreats are done at this place, then by all means speak up but I think it’s worth being prepared that the outcome may mean you’re off by yourself while everyone else gets to bond.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But I wouldn’t assume that this is just how they’re done at this company; this could be a one-off idea about which the manager would want to hear feedback if people don’t love it.

              2. LBK*

                I’d hope at least that unwillingly including yourself in those events is used as a chance to build influence so you can get them moved to more neutral locations. I get what you’re saying but I think succumbing to “the way things have been done” without also slowly pushing towards doing things different sets male-dominated/male-preferred events as the default and forces women to play by male rules (not that there aren’t women who like sports, but speaking generally).

                On a non-gendered note, I just don’t think interest-based activities like that should be a venue for business dealings anyway. I’m a guy and have zero interest in baseball, so that would be a missed networking opportunity for me too.

        2. Jerry Vandesic*

          I was thinking along the same lines as Spooky. It wouldn’t be hard for others to see the LW as unreasonable. It’s a team building exercise, so you should expect to spend more intense time with the team.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        Plus it’s better to hang out in the living room of a house than in one of the guys hotel rooms. When these things are at hotels it usually winds up with a group drinking in one person’s room and that is even more awkward.

    3. INTP*

      I agree with this. If they are giving her the room with an ensuite, it sounds like they are being as accommodation as they can without just leaving her out. No one wants to spend days in a house with 5 coworkers of any gender but if that is how networking happens in this company, then OP would be holding herself back by not participating.

      I’d make sure my door locks though because I am careful like that.

      1. INTP*

        And reiterating that I don’t think that the house is a great – I think tensions about Fenix using all the hot water and Jane hogging the fridge will counteract any extra bonding – but if that’s how things happen in her company, the OP is not helping herself by declining to participate.

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

          I would think a house would be better than a hotel. A hotel would have limited shared space unless you are renting a conference room; the house should have more comfortable shared space (I would much rather brainstorm while sitting on a couch compared with most conference room chairs).

    4. BRR*

      I find it a little odd but I agree with you. Overall I don’t think this is the hill to die on. I wonder if I’m a little jaded from the horror stories that have been submitted.

    5. Mike C.*

      To use an extreme example, being invited to the strip club for informational bonding is certainly better than not, but there are much better ways to go about this sort of thing.

      1. Stephanie*

        Not that extreme…my (male) friend did have lunch with his grandboss at a strip club. Friend works in a serious old boys’ club.

        1. the_scientist*

          Did they actually *eat* at the stripclub? Do they even serve food? Is it terrible food? I have so many questions…..

          1. Stephanie*

            Yes, they went there because grandboss said they had good steaks. Friend said it was incredibly awkward (but that the steak was indeed good), especially since this guy was high up in his org. In Friend’s words, “Yeah, it’s not headliners working the Tuesday afternoon shift at a strip club.”

              1. Stephanie*

                <3 King of the Hill. I grew up in suburban Dallas, so that's basically my childhood. (We even had a Tom Landry Elementary.)

            1. Anna*

              Was it the Acropolys in Portland? That’s the going story about that particular club. And the local vegan club (yes, there is such a thing) is setting up another place next door. I cannot make this stuff up.

              1. Stephanie*

                Haha, no. The Crystal City Restaurant in Arlington, VA. That sounds so Portland from what my friends there tell me.

            2. NOLA*

              Early in my career (finance), I used to have to cover the whole department at least a couple of times a month while all the other employees went to the “Legs and Eggs” brunch at the local strip club

          2. Liz in a Library*

            Around here, they serve food and booze 24 hours.

            I have no general beef with strip clubs, but man, I would be enraged if I had to attend a work meeting at one. That is a special breed of jaw-dropping.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              We got a new manager at one of my old jobs (new to us; we were absorbed into his department when our manager quit). I was the top sales person for our region, had just come back from President’s Club in Kauai where I was given the Rookie of the Year Award, and was eager to meet the new manager so we could discuss the upcoming year’s goals. His plane was getting in at 4:00pm, so I suggested he drop his stuff off at the hotel and then we could meet up for dinner. He declined, saying he was just going to relax and, besides, he didn’t want his employees to feel that they needed to spend their off-hours with management and so he’d see me in the office first thing in the morning.

              Great, right? How refreshing to have a boss who cares about work/life balance.

              Not so fast.

              He didn’t go to dinner with me because he took all the *male* reps and the *male* consultants to a strip club instead. Classy, asswipe, real classy. Not surprising, he put me [the only female employee left on any of his teams] on PIP* within two weeks, and I was working for my old manager at his new company within the month.

              *(In software sales, being put on PIP means, “You’re fired, but I want you to cover the territory for the next 30 days while I find and hire your replacement.”)

      2. Joie de Vivre*

        The first time I refused to take a visiting customer to ‘dinner’ at a strip club my boss was shocked. Couldn’t believe that would make someone uncomfortable.

    6. Koko*

      Yeah, I’m not getting the close-quarters dilemma here. How is “the living room” here really any different from “the 6pm cocktail mixer” and “your bedroom” any different from “your hotel room?” Yes, you’ll look asocial if you go to your room when everyone else is socializing in the common areas, but wouldn’t the same be true if you went up to your hotel room when everyone else is socializing in the lobby bar or a nearby restaurant? I’m not seeing how it all happening in one big house really changes anything.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Very well put. And I’ll add as in those scenarios it’s also ok to put in your hour or so face time and then excuse yourself to your room.

    7. Artemesia*

      That was my first thought as well. If the guys are in Condo A and the lone female is in Condo B then she is shut out of the informal interaction so critical on this kind of retreat.

      If she were expected to share a room with a guy or frankly even with a woman, it would be different. But having her own room and ensuite bathroom provides privacy while also still having her be part of the informal cameraderie of the house.

      I would not give this a thought and in fact if asked would think it a great idea. And I am pretty high in downtime and privacy needs.

      1. Marilyn*

        I agree with this too. I am having a lot of trouble figuring out what the issue here is…she has her own bedroom and ever her own bathroom. Is the problem that she would rather have a hotel? This situation doesn’t sound like anything I would get upset about at all, and I think it sounds fun.

    8. Stephanie*

      Yeah, this reminds of a workshop at a National Society of Black Engineers conference called something like “Socializing at work: yes, you should do it.”

  2. fposte*

    Where is the actual work taking place and what’s going on with the meals? Is this a hotel alternative where you’re only there to sleep or is everything happening on-site and you all have to rustle up meals together as well? (Our retreats happen for a day in a conference room, and I don’t know the variants.)

    1. Cheesecake*

      Yes, hotel is a way better idea. But then OP should present it as “hotel is a better/cheaper solution for us all” vs “i’d prefer a hotel room”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But it may not be cheaper, and she might not be a in a position to decide if it’s a better solution. The point is that this makes her uncomfortable, and it’s okay to say that.

        1. Cheesecake*

          I am torn on this because i find the idea of corp. retreat in a beach house dreadful (no matter if i have to share it with men or women) and really silly. But it depends on how long this is. If it is 2 nights i’d tackle it with “hotel better/cheaper” because i will survive 2 nights and they do try to accommodate me; i don’t want to make it a huge deal. But if it is more than 2 days – i would definitely speak up.

        2. MK*

          But does it really make her uncomfortable? Alison, the emphasis on lack of privacy is your interpretation, as far as I can tell. The OP says she finds the set-up unprofessional, because it reminds her os frat-boys on spring break; that sounds more like the OP finding the whole idea silly, than actually having any discomfort about it.

          1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

            +1. Agree…there is almost this tone of…”how dare they…”

          2. Anna*

            Have to agree with this. It doesn’t sound like she’s uncomfortable, it sounds like she thinks the whole this is dumb.

  3. UKAnon*

    How long is this for OP? On the one hand, I would personally hate this (tho’ the personal bathroom would go a long way to mollifying me) but on the other it doesn’t sound outrageously outlandish either. I think this is one of those things I would probably tolerate. That said, if it’s for more than a couple of days, or if the challenge is simply to live with other co-workers… just why?

    1. Nina*

      The time frame is a big deal, IMO. A weekend isn’t bad, and that might answer the question about cleanup (e.g. the house is professionally cleaned after OP and the coworkers leave on Sunday) but if this a week or two weeks…that’s a stretch. I would get sick of my coworkers even if I was in a hotel.

  4. B*

    Not the utmost thrilling idea but perhaps that is the point of this retreat, for all to be together. Especially in this case where it is 4 men and 1 woman perhaps this is the boss’ way of making sure the woman is included in all of the bonding. They did make sure she had her own room and bathroom, unlike others, which makes me feel there is a purpose behind the house. Is that where all of the working is taking place as well?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s part of what I object to about the idea. There’s no business reason that they all need to be together 24/7. Retreats just don’t require that. It’s over-stepping on the part of the company to believe they do.

      1. KT*

        Hmm, this is interesting. Most retreats I’ve been part of that were focused on team-building did have us all together–in those cases, we also had a roommate (but own beds, thank goodness :p). I have always thought of that as the norm–and in this case, it sounds like the company has really tried to make the OP as comfortable as possible.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I would flip out about sharing a room. Me in pajamas = not the time to be with co-workers.

          1. Windchime*

            Me, too. I want to be able to take off my bra and relax in my sweats but I wouldn’t feel I could do that if I were sharing a room.

      2. B*

        Have to agree with other posters. If it’s team-building then most places I’ve been with want everyone together. But even if it is what you suggest about the retreat itself being wrong it is still not an objection to the rooming arrangements but rather the retreat itself which is a much bigger. I think that is more the underlying issue.

        1. Arbynka*

          It would not make me uncomfortable – provided I have my own room and bathroom – but I would like to know if it made anybody else uncomfortable. I much rather be somewhere where everyone is feeling OK with the situation.

        2. Joey*

          What’s the difference from all staying at an empty B&b? what if it’s the difference between staying in a huge really nice house or driving 20mins back and forth to the holiday inn?

      3. Joey*

        There is a very good business reason for a house. I’m sure renting one house is way cheaper than however many hotel rooms. Hell I rented a nice 3500sqft 4 bed house for less than half of what Id pay for 1 room at a nice hotel on an out of town stay.

        I’m kind of thinking though that many would complain about the exact solution the op is seeking, no?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I agree. I knew someone that had to fly to New Zealand every so often for work and they had a corporate 3 bedroom apartment down the road for employees visiting from they US office and while my friend is male, he mentioned a woman was staying in one of the rooms during one of his trips.

        2. Jessa*

          And if the company is big enough heck they could buy the house, and each division would use it at a different time. Or they could hand out some times as perks to high performers or use it to put up out of town clients in the off times. I know a number of companies that own a place like that for just that reason.

      4. Pennalynn Lott*

        I’ve been to retreats and corporate training programs where we needed to be together for all hours except sleeping. We were in hotels, which made it awkward because we always ended up working late into the night in one person’s room, with most of us sitting on the beds. It would have been so much easier if we were all in a large house with a big living room, or a big dining room table.

      5. Jerry Vandesic*

        “Retreats just don’t require that …”

        My guess is that some don’t, while some do. There is no bright line definition about what a retreat is. It depends on the comp;any/organizer.

      6. snuck*

        I think we are jumping at things without all the information…

        How many nights is this? Is it somewhere that’s fully booked hotel wise for the period of time (or not got much in the way of hotels)? Is the bonding between people who are on different coasts and at a time of merger or other business sensitive information where informal talks in public spaces could be a Really Bad Idea etc. And we don’t know anything about the house – is it a five bedroom snow retreat equivalent well set up for large groups … and the blokes… are they likely to rumble for morning coffee in their jocks? One assumes at executive level they’ll at least throw on a robe and the complimentary slippers?

        I don’t find the idea too out there… especially if it’s for a few nights. There’s nothing like spending *real* time with your colleagues to get to know them better, and if you are working such long hours together, in different locations etc this might be magic for the team unity. I do wonder why the OP is so against it… what else might be going on to cause this to be a particular thorn in her shoe.

        And I really don’t find it out there when I read it’s executive level employees – needing to discuss high level company stuff (on hours or during off hours drinks/coffees) in privacy is probably paramount.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      This was my reaction as well. The length of time does make a difference, but if it’s just a few days, well…I wouldn’t be overjoyed at the idea, but it doesn’t really seem worth getting upset about, either. The OP will have her own bedroom and bathroom, so I’m not really seeing what the issue is.

  5. Ann O'Nemity*

    I think I’ve read too many of the horror stories on this blog, because my first thought was “at least they’re not sharing bedrooms and bathrooms, let alone beds!”

    Seriously though, I would hate this. I always have my own hotel room on work trips, and I still often end up feeling drained from the 12+ hours of interacting with co-workers and always being “on.”

  6. Sandy*

    I really can’t get on board with this answer. You’re not being asked to share a room or a bathroom. They have ensured that those bases are covered.

    Sometimes you have to spend more time with your colleagues than you would ever otherwise choose to. For example, when I worked in Afghanistan (although the same could apply to my colleagues in Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, etc.) we lived in shipping containers. No, we weren’t/aren’t military. Bathrooms 100m down the way.

    Is it ideal? No. Do you get really sick of seeing your coworkers at breakfast, lunch, dinner and everywhere in between? Oh heck yes. Do workplace conflicts get amplified because of the close quarters? You betcha. But you do it because it’s part of the job.

    The alternative as Katie the Fed has pointed out, is that we get excluded from key parts of the work world. If you’re really uncomfortable with separate bathroom/separate room/still together, respectfully decline, but realize that there are going to be natural downsides to that choice.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, sometimes there are reasons that the work might require this level of togetherness, but this is not one of them. There’s no reason that it needs to be part of the job for a retreat.

      The idea that we need to put up with anything employers ask of us because it’s part of the job, when most reasonable managers would prefer that people speak up — especially at senior levels — just really isn’t true.

      1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

        Also, the idea that women should just go along with uncomfortable situations simply because they should be greatful to be included is rather ludicrous.

        1. Cheesecake*

          I agree. I would go along if this is a short trip, then this is not the hill i want to die on. But being grateful to be included in boys club?

        2. Sandy*

          I explicitly do not think that. I think that companies and organizations should make a considerable effort to include women in a way that is not overly uncomfortable.

          The organization in this case has done that by
          -ensuring that the OP isn’t sharing a bed (although ypu’d think that would be common sense) or a bedroom
          -has separate bathroom facilities
          -the event is time-limited
          -the OP is notified beforehand so there are no unpleasant surprises

          AND I never said “she should go along with it just because she is grateful to be included”. In my view, she should feel free to respectfully decline but take into account that there will be natural downsides to that choice (which there are with every choice!)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But it’s not about declining. It’s about just freaking talking to her manager, who may have no idea that everyone isn’t excited about the plan and who would want to know that.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Yes. While I’m on team “no big deal,” since this makes the OP uncomfortable I think the right solution is for her to have a simple conversation: “Hey, manager. I’d prefer to stay in a hotel than a beach house – I need my downtown away from the team, and I suspect others would as well. Any chance we could book a hotel instead so we all have a little more space?”

              1. Anonicorn*

                I need my downtown away from the team, and I suspect others would as well.

                That’s a good point. It might be worthwhile for OP to ask how the other execs feel about the arrangements.

                1. Robles*

                  I’m really still unclear on how a hotel gives you more downtime from your team? Either way you can retreat to your private room and not be around the team. If the rest of the team is chilling in the lounge or chilling in the living room, they’re still chilling somewhere you’re choosing not to (if indeed you choose not to). Like, what is really the difference?

                  (And a hotel for team-building is almost certainly going to be more expensive than this beach house, since you have to rent rooms plus conference space.)

                2. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                  Robles, I think the difference is that in the house environment you have to be on your best behavior the whole time. In a hotel you can leave your room without being noticed. You won’t risk coworkers overhearing private conversations, which is likely to happen in a house. If coworkers are together in a hotel lounge you wouldn’t necessarily know unless you were expressly invited. In a house you’d almost certainly know what everyone else is doing. In the house you may be subject to noise levels of the people your “living” with and for the men, they don’t have the privacy they get in a hotel because they are sharing a bathroom. I also like to get up early when I travel and go for a walk. While I do risk being seen in a hotel, it’s unlikely. I really wouldn’t want my coworkers seeing me prance around in my work out clothes.

                  These things are not the end of the world but they are things that make the two locations differ in terms of comfort level.

              2. Joey*

                What if the answer is “sure, but everyone else prefers the house. Are you okay with being the only one away from the group?”

                1. Harryv*

                  I’d actually be ok with that. Only because I am an awesome boss. Not all bosses are awesome.

                2. Joey*

                  I mean from the ops perspective. Id be okay with that too as a boss, but it would mean being excluded from the team in a big way.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I just can’t imagine that being my answer if I were the manager. Someone being uncomfortable with this would trump other people preferring it, because it’s not like the people preferring it would be uncomfortable with a hotel (presumably). It’s the same way that everyone might prefer to do team-building at a ropes course, but if one person hates the idea, I’m going to find something that works for all of them.

                4. Joey*

                  Ah, but it’s very possible it’s the difference between $400 per night for a house and say $1000/ night for 5 hotel rooms.. And if they’re staying for a few nights that ends up being a huge difference. And that’s excluding the difference in food costs.

                  We’d all prefer luxury suites at the ritz bit thats not reasonable. Its as much about cost as anything else.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  And if that’s the case, the manager can explain that so the the OP knows they’ve heard her out and considered her input and here’s the reason for doing it this way. But it’s a reasonable conversation to have.

              3. Anna*

                Does it make her uncomfortable? She says “somewhat unprofessional” and “Spring break frat-boy” so I’m not entirely sure what her concerns are. In fact, nothing in her letter indicates anything at all that we’ve seen before as being problematic. How will she phrase it? If she tells her manager she thinks it’s “somewhat unprofessional” that has an almost guarantee to come off as judgy. If she says she’s uncomfortable and they counter with “Your own room, with a locking door, and en suite bathroom” what then? I feel like her manager is actually being really accommodating.

            2. Koko*

              I think this can depend a lot on whether this is a first-time or traditional recurring event. This is a bit different, but my employer has a 3-day staff retreat every year, all 500+ employees from around the world attend, we are two to a room (you can choose or be assigned one of the same sex at random), and it would read as incredibly tone-deaf here to question the very idea of a staff retreat with shared accommodations. It’s been done this way for decades and is very much accepted by the majority of the staff as normal and routine. If LW’s company has one of these executive retreats every year and places a high value on the shared bonding experience and It’s Always Been Done This Way, but it’s LW’s first year on the executive team and being included, it could make her look fussier or higher maintenance than she might want to, vs if this is something new they’re trying out this year where they might be more open to suggestions/changes.

            3. Erin*

              I agree – it can’t hurt to ask. I do also think that she should to be ready with a reply if the request is denied. Will she say, okay, and go along with it, or is she ready to pay for her own accommodations? Again it can’t hurt to ask, but having a graceful response prepared in the event it doesn’t go your way couldn’t hurt.

              Also, as others have said, the timeline here is crucial. One or two overnights in my mind is a large leap away from something close to a week.

          2. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            The problem is that what is not overtly uncomfortable to you may be overtly uncomfortable to someone else. Personally, I wouldn’t have an issue with this, but it’s not exactly outlandish for a woman to be uncomfortable spending 5 nights alone in a house with 4 men. That may or may not be the issue for op, regardless, she’s uncomfortable, and I think it’s a bit tone deaf for her management to think this would be an acceptable situation for all women.

            1. the_scientist*

              Right?! This sort of seems like a big deal that is getting glossed over here. It seems like these are senior people going on this retreat and I’m sure they are all good, reasonable non-shady, not violent people. But there are a LOT of women who would be very much Not Okay with having to stay in a *private* home with 4 men. In a hotel, you have security, you have a phone in your room, and you have a door that locks from the outside. What do you have in this beach house? I’m assuming the doors to the bedrooms and bathrooms lock, but you’re substantially more isolated than in a hotel.

              Also, what if the female employee in this situation can’t be alone with male colleagues for religious reasons? What if they are a survivor of sexual assault and this whole set-up has their danger flags waving? Do they have to disclose that to their manager in order to make the point that a rented beach house is actually not that great of an idea?

              To be clear, I’m mostly saying that this is a terrible idea from a management perspective but I absolutely don’t think it’s unreasonable for the OP to point out to their boss that they aren’t crazy about the idea.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                You raise a good point about a female employee that may be a survivor of sexual assault. She shouldn’t be put in a situation where she ever has to discuss that at work. And also, there are plenty of executives out there who assault and harass women so I don’t think their status really has anything to do with it. It could really happen in any situation.

                Although I realize its a given that the odds go up if your sharing a house with violent offenders. But of all the people who aren’t violent offenders there is probably similar percentages of men* across all walks of life that assault people.

                *Just saying men here because that is what this discussion is revolving around. But I realize women also commit violent and sexual crimes. Not intending to bash men here.

            2. UKAnon*

              Well, I would be horribly uncomfortable too (I go straight from ‘alone with men’ to ‘sexual harrassment’ regardless of who they are) but it’s not an unreasonable request from the boss and it isn’t *at all likely* that anything will happen to the OP if she goes. It isn’t wrong for the OP to be uncomfortable for those reasons, but if she is then she needs to find a way of coping with the world at the same time.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                I don’t think its fair to say that if a woman is uncomfortable staying alone in a house with a bunch of men and fears sexual assault that she needs to find a way to cope with the world. Most women are not ever going to be expected to do this and it’s really not an extreme reaction that warrants therapy. Sexual assault and harassment are a real thing that happen very often. There is nothing wrong with not taking chances.

                Furthermore, it seems perfectly acceptable to many to ask for a change in venue simply because they are worried about downtime. That’s rather petty compared to worry about sexual assault. Both are acceptable concerns, but if one can make a request for downtime, they can certainly make it for sexual assault.

        3. Anonicorn*

          Yes! I was trying to put my finger on what was bothering me about this, but you’ve done it perfectly.

        4. INTP*

          I don’t think there’s any sort of social obligation here and I don’t think anyone should be required to share a house with coworkers unless it’s some absolute necessity trip. But I do acknowledge that women are often left out of the informal bonding scenarios due to explicit or voluntary gender segregation, and I think that this company has made a good effort to accommodate her as best they can without excluding her (the ensuite bathroom), short of rearranging the accommodations for EVERYONE to prevent the men from bonding without her, so that’s something to be appreciative of. She should still be free to turn down the trip if she doesn’t want to go and would rather miss out on any potential career boosts than endure it, just like the male employees should, but I think she should think carefully about missed informal networking opportunities before doing so and definitely shouldn’t act like the company is being the bad guy.

      2. UKAnon*

        But we see all the time where people are being forced to do truly awful things and the advice is “suck it up or move on”. Sometimes things just are part of the job, and retreats seem to be a part of this one. Providing feedback after the event might be a more constructive option because then it sounds less like the OP is just trying to duck something about her job which isn’t optimal.

        tl;dr Much worse things go on that people are told not to speak up about, so this really doesn’t seem like it’s worth risking your reputation (in however small a way) on.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But the advice is often “talk to your boss and see what the options are before you consider sucking it up or moving on.”

          If I were the manager in this situation and thinking that I was planning something people would all love, I’d want to know if that wasn’t actually the case.

        2. Jennifer*

          Well, it depends on the manager and how much power they have and how nice they are. YMMV. And in this case, the OP’s work culture may or may not be friendly towards this. One person objecting may scratch it all, or one person objecting may make the OP the “problem child” and “everyone else is fine with it” and make things worse. It depends on the OP’s work culture, period.

          1. Jennifer*

            Oh, and I forgot to say that if the OP is the only female and the only objector, her odds of being “problem child” go higher.

    2. Spooky*

      I agree with Sandy. It’s not ideal, but it’s not unreasonable. I’ve been on business trips where I shared a house with colleagues, and no one batted an eye – I think that, with the lower prices offered by places like Air B’n’B, this is a money-saving strategy that more and more companies are taking. You can choose to sit out, but there will be natural consequences, which may include not being invited to other team meetings. The company is clearly trying to include OP and make her comfortable – at some point, you’ve got to meet them halfway.

  7. KT*

    This wouldn’t be my favorite way to spend a few days, but that’s why it’s work–we get paid for our time we would rather be sleeping or binging on Netflix.

    This sounds like they’ve gone out of their way to be accommodating and make things comfortable–I’d think complaining about this setup would make you appear like you aren’t a team player or are high-maintenance.

    To me, this sounds like something you grumble about (privately) but suck it up and go with a smile on your face and make the most of it.

  8. TotesMaGoats*

    I have to assume that the point of this trip is some sort of team building. That requires you to be together. Now, could you accomplish this in a hotel, probably. But you’ve got your own bed and bath. Knowing what most beach houses I’ve been to look like, it’s probably the master bedroom, so you’ve won big time there.

    We all know I don’t mind the team building stuff. If it was the right team, I wouldn’t mind a long weekend away with them. Having my coworkers seeing me all bedraggled in the morning might not be the best but it’s not the worst.

    Take this as an opportunity. Go in with an open mind. Then if it sucks give honest feedback after. Who knows, you might enjoy yourself and learn a lot about your coworkers.

    1. Cheesecake*

      You also have your own bed and a bath in a hotel. And no matter how small the room is, there is a huge advantage – i don’t need to see or spend time with my colleagues when i don’t want to.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Even if they’re doing this at a hotel, I assume the company expects the coworkers to engage in team-building or work-related activities when they’re not sleeping. They might still be spending hours together.

        When I worked for the non-profit and we hosted a conference, we were all together for ten-hour days, even meals, and then in rooms as well (we did not have to share beds). It was very tiring, but they did give us extra time off at the end of it, which was nice.

        1. Cheesecake*

          I also spend over 10 hours with colleagues on corp. retreats and i once had to share a room. Still this gives you more privacy than the beach house (if it is not a huge mansion)

      2. INTP*

        I don’t think there’s a huge difference in privacy – a generous sized bedroom with an ensuite gives about as much private space as a hotel room, so the only private space a hotel might have over a house is the kitchen. The primary difference is that there are no options for shared common spaces in hotels, so my coworkers cannot hang out together in the living room and put me at a disadvantage or consider me not a team player for retreating to my room. For that reason, with me being a huge introvert, I’d prefer a private hotel room over a bedroom in a house, but with the private bathroom I don’t think there’s an excessive lack of privacy. It is a million times better than sharing a hotel room with one person. No one has to see your bedtime routine, no one has to see you in PJs, you don’t have to get dressed in a steamy bathroom to avoid parading in front of your roommate in a towel, etc.

        1. Lindsay J*

          But in a hotel they could just as well hang out at the hotel bar, or the coffee shop down the street, or in the lobby or any number of other places. And notice if you turn down the invite. So if they’re going to penalize you for not being social they can do it regardless of whether it’s in the living room or in another location.

  9. Sam P*

    I guess I’m not clear on how it’s that much different than a retreat at a hotel/conference center. It’s 5 executives in a 5 bedroom house, so everyone has their own room, so everyone has privacy at night (like a hotel) and during the day, I would imagine they spend the day and eat together (like they would at a conference center). It’s more close-knit if they’re preparing meals together or something, but that’s not necessarily unprofessional. The “frat boys at spring break” is an attitude, not a location, and that happens at hotels/conference centers, and professional, adult executives can continue to act like adult professionals even at a retreat in a beach house.

    1. Traveller*

      This was my thought too…..separate room/bathroom….no different than going to a hotel.
      Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know your team better & build relationships with them.

      If its too much togetherness, retreat to your room and read a book – just like you would do in a hotel.

    2. The IT Manager*


      I simply don’t see what’s so uncomfortable about this situation. After dinner if you want some alone time (assuming there’s nothing scheduled) you can retreat to your bedroom just like a hotel. You’re not sharing a bathroom. The LW has an in-suite bathroom so no one needs to see her in her PJs.

      If the co-workers act like spring breakers it is one thing, but that’s how they act and they could act like that like that at a beachfront hotel. I would actually commend the LW’s boss. Everyone has their own room. Presumably not everyone has their own bathroom, but the bathrooms will be restricted to a single sex. It is slightly more close quarters than a hotel, but that this is called a retreat versus a business conference so the purpose is close interactions.

      Would I be excited about this? Probably not because I am an introvert, but I don’t think there’s anything unprofessional about this. I don’t think there’s anything for the LW to actually complain about. (Unless the spring break vibe is coming co-workers talking about how drunk they are going to be/how much sex they’re going to have.)

      1. Cheesecake*

        But this is a business retreat. I am in extrovert and i love my colleagues, yet i don’t want to share a beach house with them.

        1. LBK*

          Maybe we’re not using “retreat” the same way? I’m envisioning 10 hours of conferences and meetings every day. This isn’t a beach vacation, the house will probably be little more than a place to sleep and keep your suitcase (like it is when you stay at a hotel).

          1. Cheesecake*

            Nop, it is not the name; i am envisioning the same as you – no beach vacation. The_scientist said it all; house is a way more intimate setup, no matter how many hours you would actually spend there.

    3. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I don’t see it as being that much different than going to a hotel – OP is being given her own bedroom and bathroom, same as at a hotel, and instead of going to the hotel bar they can go to the beach house living room.

      Personally, unless it’s a 5 bathroom/5 bedroom place, I think the men being asked to share a bathroom probably have more to complain about than the OP (I wouldn’t want to have to coordinate sharing a shower with my co-workers, and I hope OP doesn’t see any of her fellow directors walking down the hall in only a towel!). If the other co-workers have college spring break attitudes, then yes, this could be a bad experience – but in that case, any type of retreat with them, including one to a hotel or conference center, would probably be a trying experience.

    4. Persephone Mulberry*

      The “frat boys at spring break” is an attitude, not a location

      +1000 to this. I’m wondering if the OP’s concern is based on something in the everyday culture of her workspace.

      1. TXHR*

        My thoughts exactly. Our executive team has a retreat just like this each year. We spend the bulk of time strengthening relationships and planning for the year — and then cook a meal and have a glass of wine on the patio. That’s the culture of our team…close knit and respectful of one another. Now, there is another conference for one of our larger teams where people do seem to, um, let their hair down a bit, and just because it’s at a hotel does not mean they are more professional or have better boundaries.

    5. INTP*

      I agree. You have to eat breakfast with your coworkers and people will see you if you leave for a jog or come home with a guest for the night, but beyond that there’s not a big difference. As an introvert I’d selfishly prefer my coworkers not have the option to hang out together in a living room so no one can hold it against me when I retreat to my room alone, but that’s hardly a reasonable reason to say a house is unprofessional. I am as private and territorial as they come and while I’d prefer a private hotel room over this, I’m not seeing a huge difference.

  10. Future Analyst*

    I’m also having a tough time understanding the OP’s concern. A private room and bathroom speaks to your work making concessions to make you feel comfortable, and other than the fact that none of us want to spend significant time outside of work hours with our co-workers, I think this was set up well. Perhaps your discomfort lies more with the imposition on your time, not the accomodations?

  11. Apollo Warbucks*

    I don’t see how it could be consider frat-boyish unless there’s some wild party or nightly beer pong tournament that’s one thing but I don’t see much wrong with the set up that the OP describes.

    1. Spooky*

      That part threw me, too. I’m wondering if there’s something about the male coworkers’ personalities that makes OP think this will become a frat-fest, and the house isn’t really the main cause of concern here.

  12. NJ Anon*

    I may be in the minority but I wouldn’t be comfortable with this arrangement either. If I am staying at a 5-bedroom house on the coast, it is because I am on vacation with my family, not for my job. Would be much happier if it were a hotel. Sharing a house with 4 other people is not the same, bathroom or no bathroom.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I suspect it’s the assumptions behind the choice of the house that are causing problems for people rather than the house itself. Because there really is no difference, as long as you have your own room and bathroom; you can leave the living room to hide out in your bedroom (just as you could leave the post-dinner drinks to hang out in your hotel room). I think the difference is that because it’s held at a house, it feels like the assumption is that you won’t do that – so it might be easier to leave the bar to go to your room than to leave the porch where everyone is sitting and chatting to go to your room.

      1. Cheesecake*

        To me it is sort of “why don’t all employees live together in a big house with 100 apartments, it will be so much easier to commute to work, share a car, watch kids…”

        1. LBK*

          That doesn’t really make sense, on any kind of retreat employees are generally expected to stay in one location, whether it be a hotel, house or other.

      2. Anonicorn*

        There’s a difference in terms of intimacy. A house-like environment has the potential for different sorts of behavior than a hotel room. For example, one coworker might feel comfortable walking around in his night clothes in the house whereas he’s unlikely to do that in the shared public space of a hotel, such as the lobby.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Ok, that’s true – I hadn’t thought about that. I wouldn’t walk around in my PJs in front of my coworkers in either location, but I suppose others might.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Eh, I think the shared house forces more togetherness than most hotels would. The walls will be way thinner, you’re guaranteed to be rooming next to co-workers (versus down the hall or on separate floors), there’s more expectation of sharing all meals, and there isn’t the same opportunity to enjoy anonymous public spaces. You’re either with your co-workers, or you’re right next door where y’all can probably still hear each other.

        1. LBK*

          Well, as evidenced by the loud sex noises letter, not all hotels have thick walls! I’d actually say most probably don’t (and you’re definitely more likely to be subjected to untimely noises with 100s of hotel patrons that you don’t know around vs. a few coworkers you can tell to pipe down if needed).

          1. Zillah*

            But while a hotel may have hundreds of patrons, it’s really only your immediate neighbors who are likely to be problems re: noise… And you can ask the hotel staff to interface with them rather than do it yourself.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      This is exactly what you do when you stay at a bed and breakfast. Besides probably eating breakfast with the other guests, it doesn’t differ that much from a hotel.

  13. A Spanish Teapot*

    I’m with team “whats the big deal?” Yeah I wouldnt be thrilled but I wouldnt be thrilled about the whole corporate retreat thing cause frankly I think they are silly. It sounds like the accommodations are the best possible under the circumstances and that you should certainly take advantage of the opportunity to network/bond with your male cohorts. I also would NOT say anything to my boss because I cant imagine how anything you said would not come off sounding petty.

  14. Cautionary tail*

    I was in a situation like this and it was fine. The beach house (in this case mountain house) was built specifically for these retreats. In each of the two side-by-side houses we used were four bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms on each of two floors and two public bathrooms on each floor in the common spaces. So each house had 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. We were a mixed gender group with everyone getting their own suite and everything was fine.

    The goal was team building so we did almost everything together over 3 days and had enough free time to either retreat to our private spaces to recharge or to commune.

  15. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I do want to push back on everyone’s use of “accommodations,” as though being female is something that requires an adjustment to the default norm of doing business. What the company is doing here is providing space/time/etc. for its employees to do work together. What is being provided to the OP is (or should be) the default; we should have a letter from the men saying “Ugh, I have to share a bathroom with three of my coworkers during a work retreat.”

    1. LBK*

      Are the men actually being made to share a bathroom? The letter just says that the OP has her own bathroom, but it doesn’t specify the arrangement for the others. I suppose we can reasonably assume that most houses only have en suite bathrooms for the master, but if it’s a large house meant for hosting vacation groups there might be more.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yeah, we don’t know anything about that. But that’s not really my point. My point is that we (the commenters here) keep using language like “concessions” and “accommodations,” which imply that there’s something about the OP that requires special adjustments. That’s just not true. Being female is a default state.

        1. Anna*

          It seems the OP actually is making that distinction. She specifically brought up that she had a private room with en suite bathroom, which implies to me that others will have to share a bathroom.

  16. Soharaz*

    I can definitely see where this might make people uncomfortable, especially depending on who the team mates are that you’d be sharing with. I worked in an office with a predominately male staff where the men were all friends. They were all high performers at work, but after hours they did a lot of HEAVY (and I’m no teetotaller) drinking as well as some illegal activities that I wouldn’t be comfortable around (especially ‘at work’ even if it is at a beach house). While I liked my coworkers, leaving the bar or going outside at the party is different (and less judgey somehow?) than closing myself up in my room.
    There really just isn’t as much relaxing when you’re in a house with work colleagues, it would feel like you constantly had to be ‘on’.

  17. steve g*

    When I taught english as a second language I did a few live-with-the-students-and-other-teacher weeks in a tiny mountain resort in the middle of nowhere (no store to go to, all food/good came from the owner), own room/bathroom but everyone was out and together. I always was nervous and had what you can call social anxiety before them, but once they started I loved them. Yes, you give up a bit of privacy for a bit, but you do get chances to sneak away now and then, and you also get the chance to make new friends or deepen friendships, and experience new things, in this case it was just exploring gorgeous mountains and forests in the evening…..

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That’s what I liked about staying at a B&B when I went to Wales. The other guests–delightful people–and I all ate breakfast together. Since most of them were older, we had some interesting conversations about the good old days, and I picked up a bunch of tidbits about post-war English life to include in my book. :)

  18. Editrix*

    On the one hand, I agree with Alison that you could just talk to your boss about it, if you approach it in the right way. On the other hand, I would work out what is really bothering you about it. As others have mentioned, it isn’t inherently unprofessional, and anyway, if your company thinks it fits in with the degree of professionalism they want to have, need you worry about that? What is your real worry here — that others in your company will think it’s not really work? That your colleagues will cross some kind of line? That unlike in a hotel, you won’t have a lick on your door? What is the real problem for you here, and who are you worried will find you/the trip unprofessional?

    1. Anna*

      Excellent point. Alison got out of that the OP is uncomfortable, but she doesn’t actually say she’s uncomfortable. So I don’t feel her given reasons are enough to carry a conversation with the boss. Spend some time getting to the root of your misgivings, OP, and approach your boss with them. I don’t think you’ll get far with telling your boss you think it’s unprofessional and reeks of frat-boys on Spring Break.

  19. Spooky*

    We seem to have lots of people who think that, while not ideal, this isn’t out of the ordinary, and others who seem taken aback by the idea. I think my own view might be tainted by my industry, which doesn’t always conform to what is traditionally considered “professional.” I’m curious to see if renting houses instead of hotel rooms is an emerging trend, or industry-specific, etc. Would anyone mind a quick poll?

    In the last three years (again, to see if this is recent,) how many retreats/business trips have you gone on and stayed in A, a hotel, and B, a house? Finally, what is your industry?

    For me: 0 trips in a hotel, 2 in a house (media industry)

    1. Cheesecake*

      i worked in 2 big corporations: honestly, i can’t count how many business trips exactly and i had maybe 5 retreats and i have never lived in anything that does not look like a hotel.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I work for the government. Our business trips are hotel only. (If we go on any because money is very tight.)

      ** I used to be in the military, so I’ve shared tents with 6-10 other people of the same sex, half a trailer with someone of the same sex, and a bathroom with someone of the opposite sex. (The bathroom had a lock on both the inside and outside of the door. The biggest problem was when your neighbor forgot to unlock the door and you found yourself locked out of your bathroom.)

    3. Beebs*

      Non profit industry (2 different organizations) – 1 hotel (shared rooms), 2 college dorms (private and shared), 1 private residence (stayed at former board member’s house)

      When I worked in academic research, conferences were often as many people as you could fit in a hotel room (7 in a 2 bed + cot + pullout), and a work on location trip was shared rooms (no bed sharing though!)

      A beach house with private quarters would be amazing! I am also the type that would enjoy cooking and sharing meals together in that context, and when my introverted self needs to recharge, head up to the private rooms and close the door.

    4. HRWitch*

      Multiple business trips of 2 – 5 days for several years, with a private hotel room & bath. Several weekend and week-long academic program retreats, with private bedroom, shared bathrooms (all genders). Twice-yearly 2-3 day business retreats always in a hotel or conference center, private room/bath.

      I’m an introvert, would be very uncomfortable with the lack of privacy implied in a shared home versus a hotel. And I’d talk to my manager about this, from the perspective of downtime rather than gender.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Work conference, about two-and-a-half days, hotel suite shared. Lucky for me the coworker I shared with was one of my best friends from high school–we had had zillions of sleepovers, so the bathroom sharing and walking about in PJs wasn’t a big deal. Because she outranked me, she got the king-sized bed and I had to sleep on the foldaway bed in the suite’s sitting room. Oof. A house with my own room/bath would have been HEAVEN.

  20. LBK*

    I think it would depend on how big the house is and how it’s laid out. Unless it’s a cramped space with the bedrooms all right next to each other, I guess I don’t see how this is any more intimate than a hotel – you can still retreat to your own room for privacy and solitude, and if there’s a separate living room/kitchen/dining area/outdoor area or something, there could still be plenty of space to spread out without being on top of each other. Even if you were staying in a hotel, your rooms would probably be in a block together and you’d bump into each other in the lobby/dining area/conference rooms/etc. A hotel probably seems psychologically less close-quarters because it’s a bigger building, but in pragmatic terms I don’t think it will end up being that different, especially if this is only for a long weekend.

    1. Jessa*

      In a solo hotel room, I can walk around undressed. I can lock the entire space away from anyone and not have to interact at any hour. I don’t have to get completely dressed, to walk to the coffee maker/mini fridge and get food. I don’t have to share that coffee/food with anyone. I can call room service (and pay for it myself if the company does not.) I can leave the room and nobody would know it and have someplace to go (hotel lobby, whatever.) I’m not saying I’d have a problem with staying in the house, but the fact is it is in no way the same as the freedom you’d have in a hotel. Also most hotels are in areas that have other things (stores, restaurants, etc.,) that are open at more hours. At a house you’re stuck with what’s there or you need transportation to get somewhere. Depending on how remote it is, you have no activities that are not decided in advance. It’s not on, for instance, to commandeer the only transportation if you want to go somewhere the others don’t. At a hotel you can get a cab. So there are serious differences in the accommodation levels.

      On the other hand, I just don’t see why there’s a lot of push back on “talk to the boss.” Unless you know for certain in advance that you have a wiggy unreasonable boss, Alison is right. Talk about this. But please don’t parse it as “woman vs men,” just “I don’t love this concept.” Not cause you’re a woman but because you don’t love it. Parsing it as women vs men just makes for issues you do not need.

      1. Lindsay J*

        But on a retreat vs a business trip, the point is that you’re not going and doing other things in the evening, etc.

        On a business trip, you’re there to work on a specific project or go to a specific conference or work at a specific location, and when you’re done with work your free time is your to do what you want.

        On a retreat, generally, the point is that you are spending all your time working and bonding with your team or whatever other people are there. Generally, you’re not also doing your regular work or attending a conference or anything like that during that time (but you could be, I guess). So there shouldn’t be an expectation of being able to take a cab somewhere or going other places that the rest of the team isn’t going. You’re working together/bonding, or sleeping.

        And in this realm, a beach house with a private room and ensuite bath seems much nicer to me than say a cabin in the middle of the woods where you’re forced to do horrible team building exercises, etc.

        And somewhat off topic, but I’ve never been in a beach house where you couldn’t catch a cab if needed. You might have to call for a pickup rather than flagging one off the street, but beach towns cater to tourists and generally have taxis and general access to necessities and the outside world.

  21. JMegan*

    I’m with those who say that it’s not ideal, but not unreasonable assuming the retreat itself is a given. If you’re really not comfortable you should speak up, but also consider if this is an occasion that’s worth expanding your comfort zone as Katie the Fed says above.

    Personally, this is not a situation I would use “political capital” (to use Alison’s expression) to avoid, but of course that’s your call to make. Decide how much energy you’re willing to put in to investigating/ changing the situation, and go from there.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Right, but there’s very little (if any) capital expended in having a quick chat with your boss (as I described above).

      1. JMegan*

        Absolutely. I think it’s definitely worth the quick chat, and hopefully that will resolve it. But if it doesn’t, anything after that becomes a question of “is this the hill I want to die on?” It might or might not be – either is fine, but it’s worth putting a bit of thought into it to make sure you’re picking the right “hills”.

        Good luck, OP – whatever you decide!

  22. spek*

    I am sure this trip isn’t thrilling for all the men either. I wouldn’t want to spend days on end in close quarters with coworkers. Better to feel out your colleagues and present concerns as a group to your boss. Being the only complainer while the others all suck it up and roll with it will paint you as a prima-donna, regardless of gender.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I really want to push back on this idea that having a simple conversation with your boss will paint you a prima donna. It’s actually a pretty important work skill (and quality of life skill) and it’s often a perfectly reasonable thing to do that won’t cause your boss to gasp in disgust or anything like that.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Exactly…my company used to have us share rooms in hotels, then one new employee spoke up and said he didn’t want to share, just didn’t feel comfortable. The CEO was perfectly fine with it and now everyone gets their own room…It just hadn’t occurred to anyone before to question it..

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I agree with spek in this particular case– while in general I think it’s a good thing to have those conversations, in this case it requires some careful planning and thought. This is colored for me by the fact that my company does (or did, this year’s hasn’t been planned yet) a days-long company-wide retreat in which everyone stays in the same house or in very close quarters, much like this OP’s. The idea of it fills me with dread, but it existed before I started. If I said to anyone that I was uncomfortable with it, I would probably be told that this is the breaks, it’s only a few days, etc. And yeah– it’s only a few days and I have time to prepare myself. I’d have to think carefully about how much I wanted to go against the company grain.

      3. spek*

        She said she was going with four other executives. By “executives” I can assume mostly competent, seasoned professionals. If none of them are complaining…
        Again, nothing to be lost by feeling out colleages first. It may be possible to avoid a solo issue all together by having the whole group express concerns to the boss.

      4. Joey*

        Well if you’re the only one asking for different accommodations, especially if there are going to be similar trips in the future many bosses won’t look favorably on that.

      5. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Yes. This is how your boss learns how to manage, what decisions will work and what won’t, and how their team is likely to respond. If you don’t tell them, you can be pretty damn sure that either (a) nothing will ever change or (b) all lessons will be learned the hard way.

      6. Jessa*

        Alison – I get that statistically it’s probably true that in a column about issues at work, we who post here are more likely than average, to have troublesome bosses, but is it really as common as these columns make it out to be that bosses are truly that crazy? I mean unless you’re being nasty about it, how is a conversation about “I don’t love this concept,” such a dangerous, fraught, scary thing?

        I mean yes, sit down and go over it in your head, be calm, not strident or rude, but why is the concept of this conversation so difficult especially in the US if the person in question is a woman? Is it a function of the traditional “old boys networks?” Is it fear because of what’s happened in the past or is it really happening on such an overarching basis that women should be scared to have this conversation?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are plenty of crazy bosses out there, but this is absolutely something that would be fine to raise with the majority of bosses, assuming you’re a reasonably good employee and you couch it the way we’ve discussed framing it here.

          What I’m seeing on this thread is a weird amount of “never speak up about something like this or you’ll look like a problem child,” and I’m not sure where it’s coming from.

          1. Kadee*

            For me, it’s just that the arrangement doesn’t strike me at all as unreasonable so, by nature, pushing back on it would make the OP seem a bit difficult. Also, OP has labeled it as “unprofessional” (which is implying that her boss lacks discernment when it comes to identifying what is professional) and the OP anticipates the other men will act like frat boys on spring break rather than assuming that they will conduct themselves professionally.

            It may be that the OP has very valid reasons for making those kinds of statements but then the issue is more about that than about the actual accommodations.

      7. Anon369*

        I don’t think one discussion/”accommodation” makes you a prima donna, but it seems they’ve already taken at least one set of actions to make her comfortable. That’s why it may rise to prima donna for me.

        1. Zillah*

          But… by that logic, you could call someone who asks to work from home once a week a prima donna because hey, you’re providing them with a clean bathroom and a microwave at work!

          The actions they’ve taken to make her comfortable are nice, but they’re also something I think the vast, vast majority of people would expect as a matter of course. For them not to give her her own room (!) would be outrageous by almost anyone’s standards, and if someone was going to have their own bathroom, I think many people would be critical of a decision not to give it to the sole woman on the trip (or man, if the situation was reversed).

    1. LBK*

      I’d assume that like most work retreats, the food is provided (either catered to the house or there’s set meals at other locations). If they’re expecting the employees to cook for themselves, that’s a whole separate issue.

    2. Stardust*

      Yes, that was my immediate first thought as well! I usually hat everything I read about retreats like this but I find myself (hypothetically!) being okay with this particular arrangement. However, since the OP specifically fears fratboy-like behaviour, I am just as other commenters thinking her concerncs might actually be rooted in the coworkers’ personalities. And if that’s the case, I’d also be very wary about the cooking and cleaning situation (I’d be either way but with these kinds of people especially.), something that wouldn’t happen in a hotel setting.

      1. Jessa*

        But in that case I’d address that. Instead of addressing the rooming situation, I’d want an advance conversation about how the food thing was going to be handled (catered, eat out for big meals and sandwichy stuff in the fridge for snacks, turn by turn cooking with a rota, etc.)

        If you’re worried about fraternity behaviour, the way around that is discussing the house rules before you go. Is there a cleaning person, is everyone responsible for picking up after themselves, minimum standard of dress for common areas, etc. Rules about booze consumption…

        Personally from a corporate standpoint I’d want all the rules out in advance so you don’t have an issue about someone acting out where it would look bad on the company. Most companies want to be careful about this. It’d be the same as being in a hotel and having rules about “whilst on the company dime we don’t get drunk, make a fool out of ourselves, etc.” And if one does, there are job consequences involved.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This would be a big deal to me. I would not be there to clean up and cook that is for sure. Additionally, I am not into the drinking scene. I don’t care if others do, but I don’t want to be dragged along. I’d rather do something else and I would be fine if I had to go by myself to do this other thing.
          I think OP might benefit from finding out more about how the day-to-day routine stuff is handled.

        2. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, see, this is the only point where I would have a problem.

          I’m not a chef and I’m not cooking for my coworkers. Five different people trying to make five different meals could be a pain scheduling-wise. And also, from my experience living with roomates and working in offices with kitchenettes kitchens are the most fraught area of the house. I’m not cleaning up coworker’s dirty dishes in order to have one for me to use or wiping up the spaghetti sauce they spilled on the counter, etc.

          I would hope that meals would be catered/company paid for takeout/at restaurants or similar.

          And yes, hopefully booze consumption is responsible. I wouldn’t mind if others grabbed a beer with/after dinner, even though I don’t drink beer myself, generally. But I would mind if it got to frat-party levels. Hopefully people aren’t breaking out fourty-packs on work events, but who knows.

          1. Mary Ellen*

            Here’s how this works on our retreat, for anyone who is curious:

            People generally make their own quick breakfast. We buy oatmeal, pastries, whatever people request, etc. You pick up after yourself. There’s usually a quick cleanup period where a couple of folks wipe down the counters and push the button to run the dishwasher.

            Lunch is usually self-made sandwiches. Again, people make their requests for types of bread, meat, cheese, etc. Same cleanup routine as breakfast.

            We keep fruit, cheese, crackers, dip, etc., on hand as snacks. People put in requests and often bring stuff from their hometown to share with the group.

            Dinner is something relatively easy to make for a small group — think spaghetti, salad and french bread. We usually grill at least one night. The prep and cleanup is shared pretty evenly. People just pitch in and volunteer for jobs, and it all gets done pretty seamlessly. We all cleanup together, as well.

            Yes, people have beer and wine with/after dinner.

            Yes, we take breaks and go call their families to check in.

            Yes, we get up and go for a runs and walks before work — some people do it together, some solo. No one seems to be taken aback by the realization that the other people we work with sweat.

            All in all, it’s all far less dramatic than what many people who are commenting on this thread seem to fear. I really encourage anyone who is invited on such a retreat to focus on getting the facts about the situation, rather than making assumptions.

  23. fluffy*

    I’d like to know who’s planning the catering–shoppping, cooking, cleaning. Who’s making the rota so that one person isn’t stuck with it all?

    1. Blue_eyes*

      Right? I mean, I love cooking, and if I were staying at a beach house with friends I would probably be happy to do a lot of the meal planning and cooking. But as the only woman on a retreat, I would actively try to not be involved in the cooking in order to avoid being seeing as a nurturing/mothering person, rather than a professional.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly, a spot on a rota sure, but not all the work. But then I wouldn’t want any one person responsible unless it was “Joe cooks, Sam cleans the bathrooms, Sally does the beds, etc. ” and everyone has a job that they want to do, but it’s okay if one person is doing each job. But not “person who presents as female” is going to do all the soft skills jobs and “person who presents as male,” is going to do all the “heavy lifting” jobs. No no no no nope.

        1. Lindsay J*

          I’m not cooking for anyone other than me. I’m very insecure about my cooking (I think in part due to an ex who used to put down everything I cooked for him) and it’s just not something I’m comfortable with – what if I burn all the food? What if it’s terrible and everyone hates it? Etc.

          I would hope that either the food was catered or take out or at restuarants. Or, everyone cooks their own meals for themselves, but even that could get problematic with scheduling, dirty dishes, etc.

          Similarly, I would hope that as adults everyone could take care of their own beds and keeping the bathrooms relatively neat.

          Unless they’re planning on staying longer than a few days to a week I can’t imagine that any cleaning rotation or anything like that would be necessary. Any time my family has rented beach houses or ski houses either the owner or a contractor has thoroughly cleaned and stocked the supplies for the house between each rental so we were only responsible for keeping it relatively tidy, not full on washing floors and toilets/changing bedding/scrubbing the refrigerator, etc.

    2. Hlyssande*

      Yes, this!

      That’s definitely something I’d need to know in advance. Is there a cleaning person? Will food be catered? Who is cooking? Who is going to enforce?

      1. Zillah*

        Who is going to enforce is a big deal IMO, because it’s one thing to say, “no, you’ll all share the burden!” and and another to actually have a plan for that. As a woman, I’d be really concerned about that.

  24. YandO*

    I am so confused.

    “The challenge is that we are supposed to stay in this 5-bedroom house and I will get my own in-suite bathroom.”

    How is that a challenge? As long as you are not expected to cook/clean the kitchen or what not, I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. Would you be fine with it if there were 2 women and 3 men? Four women and 1 man?

    1. Violetta*

      The challenge is being holed up in the house with four coworkers and not being able to take a break from the group dynamic. I don’t think it’s a gender thing for the OP, it’s a house vs. hotel thing. In the house they’re going to be up in each other’s business the whole time, whereas in a hotel it would be less weird to retreat to your room/enjoy the company of other people at the bar or restaurant,etc.

      1. YandO*

        then why go away on the retreat? you can enjoy each other company at a bar without leaving your city.

        1. Violetta*

          I’m not saying the OP specifically wants to do that. I’m saying that in a shared lake house, it’s going to be those 5 people together the whole time, and there’s not really an opportunity to take a break from eachother. In a hotel, they’d be less dependent on eachother. I could see the benefits in both situations – it depends on your personality which one you’d enjoy more, and I think that if anyone would not be comfortable being in the shared house that it would not be a big deal for them to see if other options are available.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            If people needed a break, they could go outside and walk away for a few minutes. They won’t be confined to the living room unless the weather is crap.

            And I keep thinking hey, it’s a work thing, so most of the time is going to be accounted for anyway. It’s not a vacation where people have the luxury to do what they please at any time of the day.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              Yeah, I’ve worked 3-day conferences/conventions before where I had to be around my co-workers 12+ hours a day with no way to escape them, except for a quick bathroom break. Sometimes you just don’t get as much alone time as you’d like in the course of doing a job. Like Elizabeth said, it’s work, not a vacation.

    2. Aim Away From Face*

      I know, right? What’s with all this hand-wringing and knicker-twisting??

  25. NinaK*

    I would probably suck up it up and go and make the best of it. However, if it is a total disaster I wouldn’t hesitate to talk to the boss if he/she is planning a similar event in the future.

    Here are two reasons this–to me–is nothing like a hotel:

    1. In a hotel I can make coffee in my hotel room, order room service, or scurry to the lobby for a cup (I need it early, like 6am) without seeing my co-workers. In set up described by the OP, i would have to go to the kitchen and make the coffee (in my jammies and with bedhead) or shower before coming out of my room on the chance the guys are already down there. I am truly frightful in the AM before my shower.

    2. In a hotel a maid is paid to pick up towels and clean the coffee pot. In a shared house, who is putting coffee cups in the dishwasher from the sink, setting up the meals and making coffee? Nothing in the letter leads me to believe this is the case, but I am really curious to know whether the OP is going to be lumped with these duties by default.

    OP, please send us an update. Commenters seem well divided on this one!

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      The cleanup – that’s a good point, too! I love staying hotels because someone cleans every day. Ahhh.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      Many vacation homes have coffee makers in each of the bedrooms (or the bathrooms). You could also pack a small one. Back when I was addicted to caffeine, I always packed a little travel coffee maker so that I’d never have to be without it.

    3. Lindsay J*

      But people handle making coffee and cleaning coffee cups in offices every day without too much issue. I don’t see why this needs to be a huge issue.

      Responsible adults figure it out. You want coffee, make coffee. You drink the last of the coffee, find out if others want more and make more. If they don’t want more, take the grinds and dump them in the garbage.

      When you’re done with your coffee cup, clean it and put it away. If there’s a dishwasher, rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. If you put your cup in the dishwasher and see it’s looking kind of full, run it.

  26. the_scientist*

    I’m seeing a lot of “it’s the same as a hotel!” here, which I need to push back on. I’m curious if anyone claiming that it’s more or less the same as the hotel has ever lived in a shared living space with strangers? It’s really quite a bit more intimate than a hotel stay, I think. Yes, everyone will have their own private room to retreat to, and the OP is lucky enough to have an ensuite bathroom, which is good. But there could be some significant tension or awkwardness around use of the shared spaces in the house- the kitchen, living area, the deck- that sort of thing. Who gets to decide what TV channel to watch, if more than one person feels like unwinding in front of the TV? What if one person wants to read or call their SO and maybe have a beer on the deck, but the other co-workers feel like BBQ’ing and whooping it up? What if one guy wants to loaf on the coach in his PJ’s at night- are you comfortable watching your coworker wander around in his PJs? How is the food situation working- is everyone providing their own food and cooking their own meals, or is shared grocery shopping and meal prep part of the team building experience? What if someone has some fairly strict dietary requirements (allergies, Kosher, Celiac)? These concerns don’t usually arise with a hotel because is there isn’t a shared space (other than public spaces, like the hotel bar or lobby) and meals are usually done at restaurants.

    As Kathie above mentioned, I am wondering if, given that OP is the only female in attendance, the male coworkers are expecting that OP will be responsible for the bulk of the meal planning, organizing, preparation and clean-up duties (if they are doing group meals). This is obviously a big assumption, but if OP is worried about a frat bro atmosphere at the beach house, I think it’s a legitimate concern (frat bros and their houses aren’t exactly known for high standards of cleanliness).

    Also, this is a beach house, right? Is time on the beach part of the equation? I wouldn’t be all that crazy about frolicking on the beach with four male coworkers, personally. None of my coworkers (male or female) need to see me in beach attire.

    1. sittingduck*

      I am mostly in the camp of ‘this isn’t that different than a hotel.’

      I have worked multiple jobs that required a period of time (usually about a week) living with other co-workers, typically about 4-5 to a room (not a hotel room, think hostel style, with bunkbeds and one communal bathroom that people from different rooms share). While some of this is due to the jobs I chose, and I went in knowing this would be the case, others did not.

      I think the beach house sounds wonderful, and would have no problem sharing with 4 co-workers for a week for a retreat.

      I think it sounds like the company is trying to please everyone – while people here are focusing just on the OP (understandable, she is the one who wrote in). Can she talk to her boss, sure, but I think she should expect to not have anything change as a result of it.

      Changing the plans to a hotel, rather than this house, would most likely have huge cost implications. I feel the house was a compromise, to give the one woman her privacy (own bath) but also to give the 4 men some privacy as well, in having their own rooms. I would guess that if they were to move to a hotel, that the men would have to share a room – so then you have the OP comfortable in her hotel, but the 4 men sharing rooms with each other – who is at a disadvantage now?

      The beach house seems to be a compromise for everyone, while not breaking the bank for the company in booking 5 separate hotel rooms. I would much rather prefer the ‘hominess’ of a house than the ‘cookie-cutter’ feel of a hotel room – although I know that is personal preference.

      I don’t see anything wrong with OP talking to her boss about how she feels, but I would caution her to go in not expecting anything to change.

      1. the_scientist*

        Right, but I think the difference is that for your jobs, you were informed up front of the somewhat unorthodox arrangements (I’ve done fieldwork and been on several leadership retreats and I generally don’t have issues with this type of setup, FWIW- but I knew the score ahead of time). It sounds like this is a new thing, although whether it’s new to the OP or new to the company is not clear. I generally think that if this is a requirement of the job, it should be made clear from the outset- like, during the hiring process, so that people who find it appalling can self-select out. I know that IRL, post-hiring bait and switches happen ALL the time but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to be pissed when they do.

        If this is a new thing for the company, they should be doing an evaluation of the impact of the retreat anyway, to determine if it’s worth the cost and organizational effort. Feedback from the OP like “staying in a private home with 4 male coworkers may make some female employees uncomfortable” is important feedback for decision-making purposes. So is retrospectively evaluating whether any substantial benefit arose from this activity. Even if this is part of an established culture, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually producing tangible benefit and as a scientist who specializes in the evaluation of programs and services, it makes me twitchy as hell when people try to use “we’ve always done it this way” as an explanation for a garbage process.

        And I get keeping costs down, but maybe if you’re concerned about costs, private accommodation for 5 days or whatever isn’t an efficient use of resources. If the team needs the dedicated teambuilding/ brainstorming time, book a conference room at local hotel and arrange for catering for 5 days. The team gets all day together to work and gets to go home to their own homes for the night, so everybody wins.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. If you can’t afford to do an overnight retreat in a way that doesn’t make good employees uncomfortable, then you can’t afford to do one at all and you stay local.

  27. Mary Ellen*

    We do this for our mid-year company retreat each year, and it’s a core part of our culture. No one is surprised by it because we discuss it upfront in hiring.

    Speaking as the owner and CEO, here’s why I do it this way, instead of putting people up in a hotel somewhere:

    *The accommodations and location are spectacular, compared to what we would get with a hotel — at any price.
    *It saves us a ton of money, which isn’t a small thing, since we’re still a startup and in high-growth mode.
    *I do expect people to spend nearly all our non-sleeping time together. We are a completely decentralized team. The 3.5 days we are together are packed with work, including strategic planning discussions and small group training and brainstorming work. We go from 8 am to 10 pm.
    *We plan and prepare our meals together, which is a valuable team building/bonding experience.
    *One of the nights, we host an open-house for our local clients, contractors and friends of the company.

    I don’t expect people to share beds. Or bathrooms with people of the opposite sex. Some people volunteer to be roommates with other people, which is fine with me, too.

    I realize this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, much as you might not like our unlimited vacation policy or results-driven work environment. I’m OK with that. It just means you’re not a good fit for our particular culture.

    1. YandO*

      Yes. This.

      It really depends on office culture and the goals for the retreat. If the goal is for people to bond, then the whole point is to actually do that through collaboration on the meals/clean and seeing each other outside of super professional setting.

    2. NinaK*

      “No one is surprised by it because we discuss it upfront in hiring. ” Exactly. Doesn’t sound like this happened in OP’s case.

    3. Mary Ellen*

      And because who does the cleaning seems to be a common question for people who are unfamiliar with this sort of retreat — we all do. Our head of operations does most of the planning work for the logistics of the retreat. I do the grocery shopping from a group-generated list, since I generally get there a day before everyone else.

      And the (paid) intern always gets up first and makes the coffee. Always. It’s a company rule.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Thanks for sharing Mary Ellen..curious how you would handle a seemingly great candidate who wasn’t enthusiastic about this, or say an observant Jewish person (for example) who couldn’t participate..

        1. Mary Ellen*

          If someone were just unenthusiastic, they’d cease to be a “great candidate” in our eyes.

          Religious issues, we’d work around. Up to this point, we haven’t had any trouble accommodating dietary requests. If anything, having a real kitchen has made it easier to tailor meals for people than a hotel/restaurant setup would have been.

          If the religious issue were a matter of a scheduling conflict, we’d work around it. We pick the days for this based on consensus, so if someone couldn’t travel on a Sabbath day or holiday, we’d work to accommodate.

          Last resort, we would look into finding someone a hotel room nearby and arrange for transportation. We’d still expect them to be there for the full range of work activities.

          We’re really flexible about a lot of aspects of our work culture, so the goal would be to find a way for people to participate to the fullest extent.

        1. Mary Ellen*

          Gender dynamics have varied year to year. Last year, it was split down the middle. This year, there are more women than men.

          1. Joey*

            I wonder if that’s the ops hang up. That she doesn’t feel comfortable at the thought of being the only woman?although I think it’s a bit irrational to be less comfortable simply because you’re different from everyone else.

              1. Stardust*

                Also, isn’t “being different from everyone else” one of the prime reasons for feeling uncomfortable?

              2. Joey*

                Oh I’m not deciding for her, far from it. I’m just opining how It might look and how others may see it when they don’t think the set up is unreasonable.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Right, and that’s my point. I don’t think anyone is well served by men telling women how they should feel about gender stuff.

                2. Joey*

                  I’m just saying I don’t understand the rationale behind that.maybe I worded that wrong.

                3. Zillah*

                  @ Joey – there’s a huge difference between “I don’t understand…” and “It’s irrational to…” The former comes off as much more open to hearing about why the person feels that way, while the latter comes across as an attack. Just something to keep in mind.

                4. Joey*

                  Zillah ,

                  I said “I” find it irrational. I wasn’t claiming it as fact or that you should too.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think the point is that it’s not wise or reasonable to feel that you’re equipped to make that judgment when you’re in the privileged group in this context.

                6. Joey*

                  The point I was making is that many others will also find it irrational regardless of gender

    4. Anonicorn*

      As someone is clearly not a good fit for that type of culture, I sincerely question the need for being with coworkers for all non-waking hours, as well as performing such tasks as meal planning to “bond” as coworkers. From what you describe, it sounds like 3.5 day of more work than one might spend in a typical office day. Not only does all of that sounds downright terrible and not a retreat at all, it wouldn’t generate the most productivity for lot of people.

      1. Mary Ellen*

        Depends on how you define “productivity.” The desired outcome here is developing and cementing a shared strategic vision. This is thinking/brainstorming/bonding time. We’re not doing day-to-day tactical work during the retreat.

      2. Joey*

        You’re looking at it as an unnecessary need but its actually more of a preference to have this sort of bonding. Some people prefer retreats in the office or only during office hours.

      3. Jen RO*

        I’m trying not to be rude – but why would Mary Ellen care whether you like it or not? She’s free to run her company in whatever way she wants, and people who wouldn’t enjoy a retreat like this are free to decline the job. I know that AAM readers skew towards introverted, but sometimes the comments section feels like a big “OMG you can’t make me interact with my coworkers!” fest. I am introverted as well, I love my downtime, and I would also love Mary Ellen’s retreat. I’ve been lucky to have worked with people I genuinely like on a personal level, and it sounds downright *fun* to me. Getting to spend 3 days with my coworkers, on the company’s money, sounds like a vacation. Why would a manager put someone’s “con” over someone else’s “pro”?

        I’ve had a long day and I’m tired and cranky, but the comments section here gets me down sometimes. Can we just agree that there is absolutely no work activity that would be enjoyable for everyone, but those activities still do have to happen, and it won’t be the end of the world to be slightly inconvenienced?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The point is that (a) good managers will want to know if an activity that assumed everyone would enjoy will actually have the opposite effect, (b) they’ll be especially sensitive when gender dynamics might be at play, and (c) it’s reasonable to have a conversation with your boss about stuff like this.

          No one is flinging themselves from the rooftops over this. But it’s reasonable to say “hmmm, this isn’t great for me and, assuming it’s not essential to the business, I wonder what options there might be.”

          1. Jen RO*

            Some of the comments (not necessarily Anonicorn’s, I just happened to reply here) do seem like they take it more dramatically. I would not have a problem with an employee coming to me with your text or what Mary Ellen suggested below – I would have a problem if they told me what the OP wrote.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Right, but most people who write in aren’t using the same wording in their letter here that they’d use with their manager; they’re more candid here, understandably.

              1. Jen RO*

                I lost faith after the last few days with my team… Sorry, OP, not your fault – I do hope that you use the phrasings suggested here if you do raise this with your manager.

        2. Hiring Mgr*

          Jen RO, personally I don’t think this would be such a bad setup for a few days, and in general I like socializing with co-workers. But as a VP and manager, I never care if others don’t want to participate in these sorts of activities. The world won’t stop spinning if they don’t attend and they won’t be thought less of (by me at least)…I’m sure i’m not the only exec who feels this way..

      4. Lindsay J*

        It sounds exactly like what I would expect from a work retreat, which I see as something completely different than a vacation or personal retreat.

    5. moss*

      This sounds like a huge waste of time to me. Maybe because I don’t work in a startup. But how are you spending days and days talking about a strategic vision? I would think a company already knows what its business is. To me, these activities sound like a bunch of blather.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am chuckling. I was thinking I would do a bit better with all this is I understood what they were actually doing. Are there goals/activities? Are the goals and activities practical or are they frivolous? What will they have done here that could not be accomplished in the course of a workday?
        People are going to bond over making salad together ? Maybe or maybe not.
        Maybe it is just me, but I have seen people bond just in the process of doing their jobs. People can bond very well on their own if they wish to bond. You can’t force them to bond with each other. The best bonding I have seen is in mutual admiration, when two or more coworkers decide that they work with someone who is an awesome worker. That is something that just happens, you can’t make it happen.

      2. Mary Ellen*

        I wouldn’t say there is a lot of fluff in the agenda. We use this time to check our progress towards our goals, readjust our course if necessary, and think through specific business challenges we’re encountering.

        I can point to direct revenue/profitability outcomes as a result of these retreats.

        We find that being in a neutral city, with minimal distractions, for a brief but intense period facilitates this thinking in a way that’s hard to pull off in a more traditional 9-5 setting.

        The main feedback we get each year is that people wish we could schedule another day. Not that they want to go home sooner.

  28. YandO*

    I worked in an office that was basically mad men frat house. It was hard to fit in, but eventually I realized that my challenge wasn’t them, it was me. If I had made an effort to share their hobbies and join the happy hours, they would have welcomed me with open arms.

    Personally, I think it is not reasonable to expect the established culture of an office/group to change just because you don’t share the hobbies/interests. If you want to be successful you have to find a middle ground.

    Giving you special accommodations is them moving towards half way. You complaining about it, is you refusing to make that step.

    At the end of the day, maybe this is not the right culture for you and that’s something you should consider seriously.

      1. YandO*

        my assumption is that guys are not getting their own private bathroom.

        I guess, it does not actually say that. Would love a clarification.

        1. Marcela*

          Yes, but that’s not “special”. Somebody would get that room and the bathroom in any case, it’s not like it was made for her or that the company had to search for a long time before finding a house like this one.

          1. Joey*

            Maybe you haven’t stayed in a house with others. But having your own bathroom (that’s probably better than all the others) when others have to take turns using the community bathrooms is a big deal.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Eh, I think it’s reasonable to consider single-sex bathrooms to be an expectation in a work context, not a special privilege. I personally don’t really care (hell, I went to a college with coed showers), but many, many people do.

              1. Joey*

                it could very well be a hall bathroom though and not the master bath.

                I would think it’s typically the manager that gets dibs on the best room.

              2. Zillah*

                Yes – for me, same sex shared bathrooms are the absolute minimum in a work situation, and I would be extremely uncomfortable without them. That’s not crazy special treatment – it’s a very basic accommodation.

  29. Macedon*

    + 1 to the ‘against’ crowd. A house room doesn’t provide the amenities or the formality of a hotel, and it’s absolutely okay for an employee (regardless of gender) to be uncomfortable with that. I’m a very extroverted individual, and I wouldn’t think much of seeing a co-worker cozy up in the living room with a couple of beers, her shoes off and a rugby match on at full volume. Some might find it jarring to be accidentally exposed to this kind of familiar/intimate behaviour.

    If anything, I’m a little at a loss as to why a few commenters seem to think that signalling different levels of comfort to a manager is a social faux – especially since the OP would be communicating a preference, rather than outright demanding that she be accommodated at all costs.

    1. Joey*

      asking for separate accommodations is a sign that you’re out of sync with the culture of the company, no?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, not if what’s being proposed is widely understood to be uncomfortable for some people, and I think this falls in that category. And certainly not if you’re asking because of medical or religious reasons.

        And frankly, not if you otherwise are a good performer who fits in well with the company culture. It’s totally possible to be that and still speak up and say you don’t love this set-up.

        1. Joey*

          I guess it depends on whether you’re willing to chance it reflecting negatively on you.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I can’t imagine any situation where I would think less of a high performer for asking about this. People are allowed to feel differently about things! If they do great work, I’d be way more upset if they didn’t speak up and let me know.

            1. Joey*

              Maybe not you, but like Mary Ellen above, i know many managers who’d think less of someone who wasn’t enthusiastic about this set up.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Mary Ellen is describing it as a major tenet of her company’s culture. That’s pretty unusual and not going to be the case for most people.

              2. Jessa*

                Mary Ellen has said that she is up front about this culture during the hiring process, this is not something she springs on people after being there 6 months with no warning. A lot of companies have unusual cultures (Google, Zappos, etc.) and they make them very clear during the hiring process. If they didn’t more complaints would be valid. But it’s valid for them to have their culture even if people think it’s weird as long as they don’t spring it on people after they’ve quit their prior jobs and have no recourse.

                And as long of course as it’s not illegal (as in discriminates religiously or on other protected axes) for instance absolutely requiring something – I dunno, eating BBQ on Fridays is required and they won’t provide beef barbecue for people who do not eat pork and do not allow outside (Kosher/Halal, etc.) food to be brought in. Or tofurkey BBQ for Veg*ns (Just the strangest example I could come up with.)

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        But it seems like in most of these cases it’s more about cost than culture…

      3. Macedon*

        I don’t see any reason to make that assumption. For all we know, the measure was taken to cut down accommodation costs.

      4. Hiring Mgr*

        But it seems like in most of these cases it’s more about cost than culture…Sure they’ll try to spin it as culture, bonding,etc..but in reality it’s usually because a five bedroom house is far less expensive than hotel rooms..

        Nothing wrong with that btw, cost is of course a big factor.

            1. Macedon*

              Sure. There’s always an “It could be worse” scenario.

              But the idea isn’t to count your blessings each time that your uncomfortable situation isn’t the absolute industry or professional low. We wouldn’t go anywhere in that case.

              Likewise, I don’t think (general) you should assume that bringing up a reasonable concern with your manager is something that will automatically make you look like a problematic employee, or that’ll lower how management or your peers regard you. It’s usually a warning sign when, upon considering what isn’t an outrageous objection, your first thought is, ” No, I’d get in some kind of trouble for mentioning it.”

                1. CaliCali*

                  I’m a frequent reader, and I often get the sense that it comes down to one of those “ask vs. guess” culture scenarios, and many people are believing that the asking in itself will be considered out of line, even though US business culture tends to be heavily ask-based (and tends to reward that behavior). SO many people, however, come from a guess-based approach, where their lives are made 1000 times harder by the assumption that their employers are callous, uncaring, or unethical because they have failed to act on unspoken concerns.

              1. Joey*

                if you’re at a company and work with employees that find this reasonable (assuming no one else has spoken up) you risk looking unreasonable for objecting.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You really don’t, certainly not across the board. Of course there are managers and cultures where it might come across that way, but it’s certainly not the default universal thing. I’m kind of shocked at the suggestion that it would be.

                2. Joey*

                  If the boss thinks it’s reasonable, everyone else has seemingly been fine with it, and you come in and ask to be treated differently because you’re uncomfortable lots of bosses will wonder why you’re the only one who’s been uncomfortable.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, but I don’t know of any good manager who would have a problem with a high performer asking about this, regardless of whether anyone else objecting to it.

                4. Cheesecake*

                  If you are complaining 9to5, demanding and setting ultimatums then yes. Otherwise, i agree with Alison and share her shock that simple objection can be taken like this

                5. Elsajeni*

                  Joey, you don’t think it’s possible that the boss might think “Huh, I wonder if other people have been uncomfortable and not mentioned it”? Or “Huh, no one’s ever complained about this before, but I guess no activity pleases everyone; too bad”? I honestly think it would take a very unreasonable boss for their reaction to a non-demanding “Hey, I’m not totally comfortable with these arrangements; can we talk about why it’s set up this way and whether it might be possible to do something different?” to be “Wow, Jane sure is an unreasonable lunatic, having preferences that differ from other people’s!”

                6. Meg Murry*

                  In response to ” everyone else has seemingly been fine with it” – it sounds like this is the first year the group is doing this trip (from what I interpreted) so I think it is at least worth mentioning the OP’s concerns to the boss if this is still in the planning stages. If this is a tradition that has been going on for years (like Mary Ellen mentioned above for her company) that is a little different.

                  Just because no one is vocally complaining doesn’t mean OP isn’t the only one not thrilled about this idea. It also wasn’t clear to me whether the boss was attending this trip, or just planning it and sending the group on it. If this is new, I think it is also worth asking what has been done in the past (local conference center, hotel, nothing?) and why the change this year and what are they hoping to accomplish with the change.

                  Besides, “no one else is complaining about it” is how a lot of bad practices get entrenched – I’ve left more than one company that seemed to think that it was ok for the higher ups to make sexist, demeaning jokes about women and that it was ok because “no one was complaining about it”, among other things that fell into the “must be ok because no one is complaining about it” category.

                7. Colette*

                  Assuming the OP is the only woman in the group (which I realize may not be the case if there are multiple houses), there could be an issue with her speaking up. When you’re the only woman – particularly if there have been no women in the group previously – you can end up representing more than your own views. This could work against her (e.g. “Oh, she’s the reason we can’t do event X anymore” or against future women who might join (e.g. “We’re not going to do event X because women don’t like it”).

                  That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t speak up, but she should definitely consider her relationship with her boss before she does.

                8. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I would also add — while this probably isn’t the hill to die on, why on earth wouldn’t you talk to your manager about something you really didn’t want to do when there might be flexible options?

                  If my employer asked me to do this and speaking up it didn’t help, I would do it but I would really dislike it and feel infringed up (they haven’t purchased access to me 24/7, plus the privacy and down-time concerns others have mentioned). So when I did it, it would come out of the general bank of good will and willingness to go the extra mile that I have for that employer, which means that I might be less inclined to do things I was really enthused about for them in the future. A good manager might try to make different arrangements if they realized that was the impact of that choice. But if I didn’t speak up, I’d be doing my manager a disservice by preventing her from knowing that and from being able to be a good and reasonable manager for me.

            2. Mary Ellen*

              I also don’t think it’s so simple to untangle money from culture. Budget is where the rubber hits the road on culture. You spend money on what you value.

              We don’t spend money on a fancy central office or stay in a hotel for our retreat. We do offer above-market, performance-driven wages and benefits for a company our size. If you knew that the money saved on using the group house vs individual hotel rooms for the retreat was going to help fund your mid-year bonus, would you feel differently?

  30. Student*

    I think one extremely important aspect of this is OP’s current relationship with the other 4 retreat-goers. In my personal case, in abstract, I wouldn’t mind doing such a retreat. However, when I start substituting real people that I work with in for the four abstract faceless guys, the story changes. I can think of co-workers where I’d be totally comfortable doing this. I can also think of co-workers that would send me fleeing from this plan much more strongly than the OP’s reaction. I don’t need team-building with the former type of co-worker. This would be very much the wrong way to initiate team-building with the latter type of co-workers.

    So, the only way this would be meaningful from a business perspective of team-building is if the four co-workers were basically strangers. And you know what? Sharing living quarters with strangers (regardless of gender – women can also be terrible house-mates) is also outside my personal comfort zone. Strangers have no vested interest in staying on my good side compared to co-workers than I interact with regularly.

    1. Windchime*

      This is such a good point. There are some co-workers I’d be OK doing this with, and others would be a big old pile of Hell NO.

  31. Anonymous Educator*

    I used to work at a place that had an annual retreat where we spent 24/7 with our co-workers in something like a house (more than 5 people, though). When we weren’t in meetings, we had to spend informal time together, and we prepared meals together, ate together, and cleaned up together. There were fun moments, but it was also extremely exhausting (especially if you’re an I on the Myers-Briggs). Our company was fairly balanced gender-wise, but the top management was almost all WASP men, so it did have a bit of a frat feel that made me uncomfortable. I can see where the OP is coming from. At the same time, I went every year, and it wasn’t the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was a once-a-year occurrence I had to put up with (and I did not get my own bathroom).

  32. Robles*

    I think I pinned down part of why I balk against these objections (it’s not that I think they’re totally ridiculous or would refuse to listen to OP if I were her manager or anything, but I do have a gut reaction against it, for many reasons others have cited above). I think part of it is that I’m incredulous that this is truly that unique of a circumstance? I mean, most of my co-workers and myself all went to college. We lived with people we didn’t know. We shared kitchens. We went on team trips where we not only had to be away from home a few days, but we had to share hotel rooms. Heck, many people live as adults with roommates, or rent a room in a group house. Most people who haven’t gone to college have probably had roommates. I can easily see accommodating some kind of medical or religious need, but it’s admittedly really hard for me to imagine an adult who is deeply uncomfortable at the very idea of maybe having to see a co-worker in their PJs? Or having to share a kitchen with them? Or being seen in their workout clothes (which they are wearing in public)?

    Absolutely OP should raise concerns if she feels that she’s really not comfortable with this arrangement, but I cannot be the only one whose gut thinks that the objections are a little bit minor to expect the company to upend everything they’ve planned. And OP should be prepared for the possibility that her manager, and/or the other four men participating in that trip, might be one of those people.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Comfort levels change. I may have been comfortable with close living in the dorms in college – or with sharing a bath with my sister when I was 4 – but that doesn’t mean I’d want to do either of those things now.

  33. Mary Ellen*

    Another thought, from the perspective of a boss who favors this type of retreat at my org:

    I wouldn’t assume someone who came to me with concerns about this was a diva, but I think it could make a big difference in how I was approached about it.

    My suggestion would be to admit you’ve never gone on a retreat like this before and say that you have some questions. Ask your boss about the overall goals, the logistics, etc. Own your discomfort and approach it from a place of seeking to understand, rather than a defensive position.

    There’s a lot of assumptions going into this (frat environment, lack of downtime, etc) that would be best addressed with actual facts rather than speculation.

    If it’s any comfort, it has not been my experience that these types of executive retreats are particularly “wild.” It’s more work than vacation, for sure. People generally aren’t getting trashed, harassing their co-workers, etc. Much like as a hotel-based retreat, the fancy pool is more admired from afar than actually used for swimming.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I’ve been trying to figure out why there’s so much disagreement on this letter, and I think this might get to the heart of it – it seems like there were a lot of assumptions made – both by the OP and by us. Like, the OP seemed so certain about this that I assumed it was something that had been done repeatedly in the past, which is why I’d proceed with a bit more caution in how you approach it. There’s also the distinction between saying something is unprofessional vs. saying you prefer to do things a different way.

      Either way – nothing wrong with asking about alternatives. But I don’t think the plan in and of itself is necessarily a bad one.

      1. Nina*

        And the letter is pretty short, so it’s easy to make assumptions. One of the few concrete things I took from it is that she’s concerned about the possibility of frat-boy antics at the beach house. But we don’t know if she’s just assuming that will happen, or because she’s actually witnessed that type of behavior from her coworkers.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Take this with however many grains of salt, and it’s an admittedly small sample size, but all of the misbehavior I’ve been aware of at company events over the years has been from executives….

    2. Saurs*

      Unnecessarily gendered language like “diva” is part of the problem, here. It marks anyone who might have an objection, request, or question as an outsider. In industries that are traditionally and irrationally disproportionately male, it’s sort of important, when “diversifying” one’s employees, not to assume that making changes to encourage female participation in otherwise homosocial events are viewed as a “favor” or a potentially unreasonable “accommodation.” Companies that behave as Old Boys’ Networks are dysfunctional; women attempting to navigate them, and occasionally pushing back against the male default, are not.

  34. hbc*

    I’d suss out what actually bothers you about this. I don’t think raising it to your boss as “unprofessional” will fly (because it’s basically an insult) and I’m not sure where the frat boy concern comes from.

    If it’s just your sense of “this is not How Things Are Done” without any real objections behind it, I see no way to bring it up without looking like a whiner. If you have particular issues with the arrangement (“I’m uncomfortable being the lone woman in a house full of men” or “I can’t go X days where my only non-coworker space is a bedroom” or whatever), then voice that concern with the boss. It may be that there’s a some happy medium or perfect solution, or you may find that whatever makes you uncomfortable is exactly what they’re going for (“Seeing coworkers in their jammies increases productivity!”) But at least you’ll know, and any version of this will come off better than a general “I don’t wanna.”

    1. Jen RO*

      Honestly, if I were a man and a woman approached me with that concern, I would be offended. It would be basically telling me that she doesn’t trust me to not assault her…

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        Honestly, how is a woman supposed to KNOW that a man isn’t going to assault her? Lots of “Nice Guys” turn out to be not so nice after some booze. And lots of women wind up getting assaulted in part because they have been socially conditioned to be accommodating instead of voicing their discomfort with a situation.

        1. YandO*

          How is having another woman there going to help the issue? Even if one of the 4 guys is willing to do something like that, do you expect the other three guys to sit back and let it happen?

          This is even more offensive to me. Treating men as potential violators for no other reason but their gender is gross and inappropriate.

          1. Zillah*

            Our society teaches women to be afraid of men by making it our responsibility not to get assaulted (what were you wearing? were you drinking? were you alone? what time was it? did you say no? are you promiscuous?) rather than placing the blame for the assault on the men who commit it (did you tease him? maybe he just made a mistake. did he know you didn’t want it? did you deserve it? you probably deserved it).

            That’s what rape culture is. That’s what misogyny is. To then turn around and accuse women who have internalized those messages of being offensive to men makes you come across as privileged and tone deaf.

            (I know not all victims are women and not all assaulters are men, but there’s a gendered dynamic here nonetheless.)

      2. hbc*

        I don’t really empathize, but I can understand that the concept of it might be an issue rather than suspecting any particular guy.

        I’d rather not get into policing the legitimacy of someone’s fears or gut feelings or whatnot. I mean, if they say, “I need a place with a soundproof room because I can’t go three days without playing my tuba,” I’m going to give them some side eye. But if I can accommodate without them showing me the bruises from their jealous spouse or bringing a note from their spiritual leader or providing a police report on their gang rape, why should I make them prove that they really, really *need* accommodation? I’m providing special pens just because the new guy likes that brand better, so if I can find a B&B that has a live-in host family and it doesn’t disrupt the purpose of the event, why not make everyone happy?

        1. Zillah*

          I can understand that the concept of it might be an issue rather than suspecting any particular guy.

          Right – it’s not “I mistrust you, specific man,” it’s (for me, anyway) more that “I do not know you well enough to trust you with my personal safety yet.” When it comes to my safety, that bar is a little different for men than it is for women, because men are 1) a lot more likely to assault me and 2) going to be harder for me to fight off.

  35. Anonymous Educator*

    In re-reading the OP’s letter, I think I’m starting to side a bit more with the “What’s the big deal?” folks.

    The challenge is that we are supposed to stay in this 5-bedroom house and I will get my own in-suite bathroom. I find this somewhat unprofessional, a little too frat-boyish going on spring break.

    The OP doesn’t say “My company has a frat-boy atmosphere in it already, and this setup will exacerbate that workplace climate.” It sounds, based on these two sentences, as if the setup alone (5-bedroom house) is itself “too frat-boyish.”

    A friend of mine who works in human resources tells me I am being unreasonable and this is very common.

    As you can tell from the comments, it isn’t universal, but it certainly isn’t unique. A lot of us have had to endure / enjoy these types of retreats.

    What are your thoughts on coed corporate retreats with close-proximity accommodations?

    Again, this seems very general to the idea of a small house with co-workers than to anything specific about her company’s work climate or the attitudes of her specific four other co-workers.

  36. Anonymusketeer*

    I can see how this would sound fun, or at least tolerable, for a lot of people. But the more I think about it, the less comfortable I think I would be sharing a home with four men.

    I’m sure these male executives are perfectly nice, respectful, not-at-all gross or evil guys. But I’m also sure that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances who also seemed nice, respectful, and not-at-all gross or evil. So for me, it feels unsafe.

    Hotels have security guards, phones in the room, people at the front desk, and a supply of other people coming and going. That makes a scary incident less likely to happen in the first place, and quite a bit easier to escape and/or document if the worst case scenario does happen.

    I’m not saying a woman would be unwise to go on this retreat, but the male/feme dynamic is about more than just bathrooms.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s pretty outragous, to make a link between sexual assault and sharing a house with men.

      The majority of men are not likely to committ a sexual assault and if one of the guys does are you suggesting that the other three men wouldn’t intervene?

      1. Anonymusketeer*

        Given the number of times I or someone I know have been in a similar situation, I don’t think it’s at all outrageous to feel unsafe in a house full of men you don’t know very well. And in many of those situations, the other men either don’t know it’s happening or they’re in on it to.

        As someone mentioned upthread, 1 in 4 women reports being sexually harassed at work.

        Many women would feel absolutely fine staying with male coworkers, and that’s reasonable. But it’s not UNreasonable to have these reservations.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          The outrage comes from grouping all men together as potential sexual assault perpetrators. You can not make sweeping generalisations about the entire male gender.

          I would be utterly insulted by a coworker thinking I might sexaully assault or they were some how safer in a hotle because there was a security guard.

          Situations and environments don’t lead to sexual assaults, sick disgusting individuals do and if someone wants to committ an assukt they will I a. Hotle just as easily as in a beach house.

          1. Anonymusketeer*

            Men’s feelings are not more important than women’s safety. It’s not that all men are predators, it’s that it’s often impossible to tell the difference between a predator and a regular guy until it’s too late. There’s no reason to take it personally when a woman wants to limit time alone with men she doesn’t know well.

            There are a whole lot of reasons a woman might feel uncomfortable in a house full of men who are neither friends nor family. This is one.

            I am not surprised that some people see this as unfairly stereotyping men while, imo, completely missing the point. I am a little surprised that no one has explicitly agreed with me on this one. Live and learn.

            1. Hlyssande*

              I completely agree with you.

              It’s not that all women believe all men are going to assault them. It’s more that there’s absolutely now way to know if you’re going to be assaulted until you’re being assaulted. Risk mitigation, and the perceived risk is different from every woman’s perspective.

              Given the accepted rates of rape and assault, it’s not at all unfeasible for a person to think that something may happen and want to mitigate that risk accordingly.

              Schrodinger’s Rapist is a great post on this and goes really in depth about the topic.

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              Did I say men’s feelings were more important than woman’s safety? If there’s such a level of suspicion between professional adults that work together how is that conducive to a sensible working relationship?

              What you are doing is unfairly stereotyping men, it’s narrow
              Minded an ignorant to make assumptions about the behavour of the men that will also be on the retreat with out any basis.

              What point are you making that I am missing?

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  That’s an interesting article and I’ve absoultly been in situations where I’ve been worried about my personal safety like when I went to Oktoberfest and guy was rapped while going to the toilet in the bushes you better believe I was more vigilant after that news got round the camp site. The down town bar area I drink in over the weekend can be dicey at times and I try and keep my wits about me. When I’m on a crowed tube train in London im looking out for pickpockets more than at my lock market.

                  Yes people have to take care of their personal safety, I just think it needs to be proportionate and reasonable not blanket statements about an entire group of people. I find it offensive to suggest that make coworkers are a risk just because they are male. Just as I’d find it offensive if soemone said I would not employe a newly married women of childbearing age as she’s just going to get pregnat and go on maternity leave. Crass generalisations are never helpful.

                  That’s the last I’ll say on the matter as imdo t wan to distract Amy further from the ops letter.

                2. Anonymusketeer*

                  Thank you so much for sharing this, Allison. It’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say to do many men on the Internet.

                3. Cath in Canada*

                  Shcrodinger’s Rapist is SUCH a great article.

                  There have been a couple of times in my life, on two different continents, when there was a serial rapist in operation nearby who was targeting men. Both times, my male friends were visibly more vigilant – looking all around while walking home, jumping at rustling noises from behind hedges etc. – and said how stressful they found it being on guard at all times. I said, “well, that’s what it’s like for women, ALL the time!”

                  I would like to trust my male colleagues. I do trust nearly all of them. But throw a shared house and alcohol into the mix, and I’d absolutely want a lock on my bedroom door before I could sleep soundly.

                4. Joey*

                  Are co workers, executives who’ve been professionally vetted, probably had a background check, whose executive career you could potentially kill in an instant with a sexual assault allegation really the same as some random stranger who approaches you on the street?

                5. Zillah*

                  @ Joey – I’m not sure why you think it’s super likely that professional vetting would suss out rapists, many of whom use drugs (particularly alcohol) to incapacitate their victims. And, frankly, I’m surprised that you think that someone who’s an executive is definitely going to have their career “killed” by an accusation of sexual assault. Even in this day and age, those accusations are just as if not more likely to come back and hurt the victim at least as much.

                  Look. Men who rape overwhelmingly use alcohol and drugs to do so, and women are overwhelmingly more likely to be raped by men they know than by men they do not know. It’s not ridiculous or an insult to any of you that many women are more reticent to trust men, and rather than be offended by the women reacting to widespread sexual violence, why don’t you direct your energy toward the men who make that reticence so common?

                6. Zillah*

                  Also: +this graph does a really good job of showing some of the gender dynamics in our society when it comes to sex. The stats are just compiled from responses to a reddit post on the subject, so it’s not a random sampling and I’m sure it skews younger than a random sampling would… but I have no trouble believing the major takeaway, which is that many (maybe even most) girls first experience sexual attention from an adult man before they turn 16.

                  That’s incredibly screwed up, and while I understand that most adult men don’t do that, I think it’s ridiculous to get offended about being profiled when many women are a little more cautious around men because they’ve received unwanted and extremely inappropriate male attention, often when they were still young, and often when they thought they were safe.

                7. Kelly L.*

                  Oh wow, Joey, that’s one of the most staggeringly classist things I’ve ever heard. An executive is less likely to rape than someone else, just because they’re an executive? I can’t even. Because people in power have never, ever done anything to abuse power…

              1. Anonymusketeer*

                Women limit their interactions with men in an effort to protect their physical safety. When you (and others) express outrage over this because you simply don’t like being lumped into one big group, you’re showing more concern for men’s feelings than you are for women’s safety.

                Assuming that a man I work with *could* be a bad guy, even if he likely isn’t, does him no real harm. On the other hand, assuming that all guys are good guys until proven otherwise could have very real consequences for my safety.

                Trusting the wrong person or going along with something to avoid offending someone gets women battered, raped, and killed with alarming frequency.

                Do you see how women have more at stake in this situation? Again, you shouldn’t take this personally because it’s not about you.

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  I know this is a week after the post was made and that I said I was done talking about this but….

                  I’m not showing more concern for men’s feelings over woman’s safety, that is entirely your interpretation of my comments, not a view I have directly expressed.

                  This comment is so patronising, yes I object to being lumped into one big group but that is no simple objection as a point of principle I disagree with being grouped and classified based on my gender and I think most people would object to such broad categorisation being applied to them. Make the same comparison between Muslims and terrorists that you’ve made about men and rapiests and tell me that’s not messed up.

                  Secondly you talk to me like I’ve no knowledge, awareness or experience of violence against women, men don’t exist in a vacuum as part of society we feel the consequences of violence against women too or indeed can also be victims of domestic violence.

                  My step dad use to kick the crap out of me my mum and my sister with alarming frequency, that’s had quite a profound impact on all of us, I didn’t suffer any less because I’m male. I’m not blind to the very really dangers that woman face, but when you make a blanket statement that the OP should be worried about sexual assault or rape when sharing a house with male colleges for no other reason than they are men, and then suggest that the whole group might collectively be involved in an assault or attack on a loan female it doesn’t seem credible to me.

                  If you want to lump me in with guys that commit this sort of abuse then yes I will take it personally and I will find if offensive, as it cuts to the core of my beliefs and values. People get told to check their privilege all the time, but people also need to check their bias.

                  It’s probably pointless writing this so long after the original post, as I doubt anyone will see it but it’s been playing on my mind this last week and making me think of the past.

          2. Malissa*

            I find offence on both sides. It’s wrong to assume that all men could predators, it’s also wrong to assume that all women could be victims.

            But the reality is that we live in a society where women are told, from the time they are little girls, that their bodies are a source of temptation for men and the onus is on the female gender to cover up and not be distracting. Girls are told to wear t-shirts over their swim suits at class parties. Leggings are considered “too racy” for some schools. Girls are pulled from class because their clothes are distracting. But the boys aren’t instructed to respect the girls and concentrate on their own work.

            When women are given this message over and over growing up is it no wonder that some just never feel safe around men. Add into that the fact that 1 in 5 women, 20% of the female population, has been the victim of attempted rape or been raped. Yeah, as a gender we have a right to be a bit skittish when placed in unusual situations. Add in the fact that of the women that have been attacked 47% of them knew their attacker. It’s a scary world out there for women.

            1. Joey*

              You could say a similar line with minority or more specifically black men. Weve all been conditioned to see them as more dangerous, they’re incarcerated more, are convicted of more crimes. Hell I’m not even black (I’m brown) but even I’ve been pulled over in a white neighborhood because people were conditioned to be more cautious of me. And plenty of white parents had issues with me dating their daughters. Does that make it okay for me to assume you might be a racist? How’s this different?

              1. Zillah*

                I’m not sure that analogy really works, because white people aren’t actually disproportionately harmed by black men. To me, a better analogy re: black men would actually be black men being wary around police officers – which would make perfect sense, IMO.

                1. Zillah*

                  Hmm. I did some googling, and while I’m finding estimates that vary pretty significantly, the only mention of 47% I’ve found is from the US Dept. of Justice via RAINN, which says that 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. However, they also say that 25% are “an intimate” and 5% are a relative, totaling 82% (which is more in line with a lot of the other stats I’ve seen).

                2. Zillah*

                  It’s all kind of besides the point, of course, and may well differ depending on the country/community.

    2. Jen RO*

      What if you were sharing a house with a gay person of the same gender? What if the gay coworker were a bodybuilder and you were smaller? Would you feel safer than with a straight person of your own gender? Than with a straight person of the opposite gender? This train of thought is ridiculous and I can’t understand how anyone would think it’s OK to stereotype all men like this. And we’re talking about men you spend 8 hours/day with, not some guy on the street!

      1. GeekChic*

        Why don’t you read the article that AAM posted from Kate Harding and actually try to understand it. It’s really not that difficult. However, I don’t hold out much hope given your past comments about sexism. You really are quite obtuse on this topic…

        1. Jen RO*

          I am much less PC than the majority of the commenters, for sure. I will read the article, but I doubt it will change my opinion significantly – unless those particular coworkers did anything to make you uncomfortable, being afraid of them simply because they are men is insulting.

          1. Jen RO*

            Ok, I read the article and I actually agree with it… but this letter is not about a random guy on the street, it’s about fellow executives.

            1. Zillah*

              But I’m not sure how that’s different. Do you think that executives are less likely to be sexual predators? What do you base that on?

              1. Kat M*

                It’s not about executives-she used the word fellow. I am assuming she means that these are folks the OP knows, and likely knows well.

        2. Kat M*

          I think that’s a bit harsh. Not all women have to be lock step with each other on certain issues. We all have different experiences and just because we may not come to the same conclusions is no reason to knock someone’s intelligence.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Hotels have security guards, phones in the room, people at the front desk, and a supply of other people coming and going. That makes a scary incident less likely to happen in the first place, and quite a bit easier to escape and/or document if the worst case scenario does happen.

      I don’t think so. Predators are adept at getting you into a situation where no one’s around to see and/or document, or that’s difficult to escape. And hotels have lots of spaces for that. LOTS.

      You do have the nice respectful acquaintance part correct, but that doesn’t necessarily make the situation unsafe for the OP.

      1. Anonymusketeer*

        To be clear, my point is more that the situation might make a woman, particularly a survivor of sexual or domestic violence, uncomfortable — not that is inherently unsafe. Does that make any sense?

        As for the OP, I think she should pinpoint what, exactly, makes her uncomfortable about the situation. My anxiety isn’t necessarily her anxiety.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This conversation is making me think of a close friend who has pretty horrible sexual trauma in her past. If she had to go to this, she’d spend the whole night in her room trying not to have a panic attack. That’s not exactly conducive to the business objectives of the retreat, and it’s so easily avoidable by adhering to more typical business norms and getting a hotel.

        2. Joey*

          most managers though try to eliminate gender based assumptions from their decisions and applying a “we need to consider that 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted and might feel unsafe around the men” kind of attitude everytime the sexes have to interact socially is even worse, no?

          1. Windchime*

            Are you even trying to understand this at all, or are you playing devil’s advocate?

          2. Zillah*

            You can be sensitive to and cognizant of gender dynamics without turning it into A Huge Thing. I’m not sure why it’s being presented as so difficult here, when managers do so surrounding religion (for example) all the time without the world collapsing.

  37. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    There are just so many things I can think of that might cause the OP discomfort.

    How about room security? Presumably there’s nothing stopping a colleague from looking through her room/belongings when the OP is out of the house, as I’m guessing the doors don’t lock. Does the OP have meds or a journal she might want not others to know about? Does she feel like hiding her tampons out of view so that it’s not obvious she’s on her period? Is she concerned about leaving jewelry or other valuables unattended? You never know whether somebody is light fingered until it’s too late and your stuff is gone.

    And what about when she’s in the room? What’s stopping a colleague from bothering her in her personal space? That could range from annoying to actually dangerous territory. Especially if alcohol is involved — if you have a hotel room and your colleague is getting a little handsy, you can just go to your room and lock the door. Not so much in a house.

    Shared space — could be anything from the aforementioned battle over the TV to living with a sink piled with dishes. If it’s noisy at night there’s no front desk to call and complain to — there’s only direct confrontation.

    Privacy — presumably there’s virtually none. When I stay in a hotel I like to get up early and go for a run (it’s a great way to see a new city), but you can do that anonymously in a hotel. The very last thing I want to worry about is a bunch of bros snarking on me in my running clothes when I’m all red faced and sweaty. Maybe the OP would never consider going to the office without her hair neatly coiffed and a full face of makeup. Living with colleagues in a house 24/7 almost guarantees seeing your colleagues before they take a shower, which could feel very awkward.

    I don’t know, maybe a lot of the people that don’t see the big deal don’t spend a lot of time on the road with their colleagues. When you spend 8, 10, 12, 16 hour days with people and it’s not by choice, there’s nothing better than that moment when your hotel door closes behind you and you don’t have to deal with them anymore until the next day — you can watch whatever stupid mind numbing TV you want to watch, you can kick off your work shoes and sit around in your underpants, or you can even leave the hotel and go eat or drink or whatever. The hotel gives you the anonymity to not be ON anymore. And you absolutely NEED that when you’re on the road with colleagues — even ones you adore.

    1. Mary Ellen*

      What stops these people from robbing or assaulting you back at the office? Or after a happy hour?

      If your fellow executives are suspected robbers and rapists, you’ve got bigger problems than the location of your corporate retreat.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Harassment and theft happen in the workplace, too (unfortunately); and harassment, theft, and rape also happen (unfortunately) at conferences that take place in hotels. It’s not the venue that’s the issue. If you are worried about your safety with these co-workers, it’s the co-workers that are the issue.

        1. Lindsay J*


          This kind of reminds me of parents who are okay with a closed bedroom doors during the day but not at night. It’s not like sex can only happen at night.

          And it’s not like theft, harassment, or rape can only happen in specific venues.

          Honestly, I would believe that it would be more likely that one of the other three guys in the group would step in if things started to get bad, than a security guard making minimum wage at a hotel or a bartender or a random person on the street.

        2. Zillah*

          I agree – but I can also understand why someone might feel more uncomfortable in an isolated location with less privacy than a hotel.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I’m not saying I enjoy this type of retreat (I won’t my alone time and my privacy and safety, too), but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily unprofessional or a safety hazard (note: the OP mentioned nothing about feeling unsafe—the mention of “frat-boy” had more to do with it being the setup of a vacation house than “My co-workers are scary, and I worry I might be harassed or roofied during this trip”).

      There are also plenty of rapes, groping, and harassment that happen in conferences at hotels. Being in a hotel does not make you safe (unfortunately).

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t think there’s any need for the OP to get into the reasons WHY it makes her uncomfortable. It does. And it’s not unreasonable to ask if there are other options.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        It’s certainly not unreasonable for her to ask, but her HR friend is correct that is quite common (though not universal) to have a retreat of some sort. Expressing her concerns to her boss is fine. Having those concerns is fine. But making it sound as if the retreat itself is by its very nature unprofessional will make her look unreasonable to her boss.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Yeah – I said something similar above. There’s a difference between “this is unprofessional” vs “I’d prefer something else.” The former is a condemnation of the choice, the latter is a reasonable assertion that you have different preferences.

  38. squids*

    For me this would really depend on the people I was staying with. I can think of some colleagues I would be happy to share a house with; others would make me uncomfortable. If there was anyone I didn’t know well ahead of time, I’d be pretty anxious ahead of the trip.

  39. Allison*

    Doesn’t matter if OP has her own bedroom and bathroom, I can definitely see the discomfort. Staying in a house with a group of people is a much more intimate arrangement than staying in a hotel where each person gets their own room. I can’t explain why, maybe because the hotel has other people staying on the premises, and staff, so it doesn’t feel as though you’re isolated with the team.

    I can’t speak to whether I personally would feel uncomfortable, but OP, your feelings are totally valid and I think it’s a concern worth raising with your manager. Good managers – hell, good *people* – want to know when people feel uncomfortable with a arrangement.

    1. Mary Ellen*

      Greater intimacy and isolating the team from outside distraction might very well be the whole point, not a side effect.

  40. Malissa*

    This is an interesting subject. At first I thought no biggie on the whole situation. But then I thought about my coworkers. If I were to share a house with four of my current coworkers, we’d all hate each other by the end of two days. And I’d totally petition to drive back and forth from a hotel or I’d drive my motor home and stay in it. Why? Because I work with a bunch of people that like to drink. And a good majority of them don’t know where there limits are, or they just disregard them and push right past. They would be the kind to be up late drinking and making all kinds of noise. I like to sleep. I also get up early. So after they kept me up half the night I’m not sure I would be able to stop myself from loudly making breakfast in the morning. Including filling the house with the smell of frying bacon or chorizo.
    So if the OP has coworkers like mine, I totally get it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This would be a good reason to talk to the boss about it–what type of activities are scheduled? Meals, etc.? I like Mary Ellen’s suggestion about approaching it as “I’ve never done this and I have some questions about the arrangements.”

      Of course, we’re making a TON of assumptions about the OP’s colleagues. The letter didn’t really specify anything beyond her own view of it as frat-boy weekend. We don’t know why she’s thinking of it that way. They may not be like yours–this could just be an assumption on her part. Without more information, we can’t really know.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      I”m having trouble picturing five executive-level people whooping it up at a business retreat. When I’ve attended these types of things, we were all way too busy working to over-indulge on alcohol. Everyone still behaved the same way they would if we were all back in the office.

  41. Sarah*

    I recently did this for a corporate retreat as well. Offshore fishing trip with ten men and me (woman). I had my own bedroom and ensuite bath; many of the guys shared rooms. It made me a little nervous going in, but everyone was courteous and it wound up being a non-issue. I’m an introvert so two days/nights of constant socializing were exhausting, but it was still enjoyable and we definitely grew as a team because of it (and just got to know each other better in general).

    If this is really raising red flags for you, of course trust your gut. But to me this was just the most expedient way to accomplish this type of event (in our case the house was owned by the VP of our team), and the sleeping quarters really weren’t a problem. (Plus almost everyone, no matter how extroverted, wants a little time to themselves before bed and right when they get up; things were quieter around those times as part of the natural course of things.)

  42. Hlyssande*

    I also like the way Mary Ellen suggested the OP start off with her questions, but in addition to the logistics of food, cleaning, expectations, etc, I’d really want to know about potential emergency procedures. How close is the nearest hospital if something happens? Will there be a list of local emergency numbers somewhere easily accessible? How long could it take before help gets there? Will transportation be available? If it’s the season for it, what about severe weather?

    1. Mary Ellen*

      I would find this line of questioning odd. Couldn’t you just Google that?

      I just assume any place that we would go would have the usual access to emergency medical care.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. I would assume that 911 works just as well at the beach house as it does anywhere else in the USA.

        If someone had a specific health concern where hospitalization is likely that would be one thing – and again they would probably get better information from googling or asking their doctor for information about specialists in the area than they would by interrogating the boss.

        People are acting like this is someplace up in a mountain 20 miles hike from civilization rather than a beach house. In my experience, beach houses are in beach towns, which cater to tourists. Which means that there are taxis (if not other public transport), tons of restaurants, shops to buy whatever you might have left behind in packing, and adequate emergency facilities.

        And generally in beach towns you’re worried about hurricanes for severe weather. In which case you have ample warning. And presumably for a hurricane (or whatever other emergency weather situation that happens where you can’t just hole up in the house and wait for it to pass) you could leave in whatever vehicle you came in on.

  43. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    For a lot of people, the term “frat boy culture” is practically *synonymous* with rape culture.

    1. Spring Sunshine*

      I didn’t really know the term ‘frat boy culture’ but from these posts it sounds a bit like the British term ‘lad culture’ or ‘laddish’. In that case I would feel a bit uncomfortable at the idea of being cooped up in a house in these circumstances. It would depend on the coworkers involved though.

  44. Springy*

    WOW…Perhaps I watch too much news and Nancy Grace but one woman with all those men away together…where alcohol will be present is not a safe thing. I would be VERY uncomfortable. I would simply not attend…unless it was a hotel in which i had my own room, own key, etc. I mean, are the doors lockable? Safety is an issue women need to think about even while trying to move up in the world and join the “frat boys”…..being included isn’t always a good thing. Safety first people.

      1. Springy*

        @Lindsay J: Alcohol usually accompanies a “frat boy” type atmosphere. I think most would agree alcohol and fraternities go together.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Yes, but she only said that the setup (being in a 5 bedroom beach house) was frat-party/spring break like. She never mentioned any alcohol being there, or the personalities of the guys being particularly frat-ty. I would think that if that was part of her concern she would have mentioned it specifically, since “dangerous alcohol-fueled misbehavior” is a lot different than “unprofessional”.

    1. Zillah*

      This is a bit strong for me. I mean, I think that in the vast majority of situations, you’re going to be fine. Not all men are rapists, not all rapists would target you, and not all rapists who would target you are going to see an opportunity they like. And, while alcohol doesn’t help the equation, no amount of alcohol is going to turn a man who doesn’t want to rape you into a man who does want to rape you.

      But I can still understand feeling uncomfortable.

  45. anomaly52*

    Seeing as I can’t see any OP responses, and some of us are guessing what the OP might be thinking/feeling, I thought I’d weigh in:

    I don’t know if everyone’s interpretations of “..a little too frat-boyish going on spring break”, are of something ‘silly’, ‘unprofessional’ or ‘childish’

    For me it (any the use of the term ‘close proximity’) brings up thoughts of noise, excessive drinking, harassment, exclusion, boundary violation, exposure and sexual assault.

    Yes, this is an ‘extreme’ association.
    Yes, they didn’t say this, it’s just another possible interpretation.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Maybe that’s what she meant, but she didn’t say as much, so that is only one possible interpretation. If I were in her shoes and scared o harassment, excessive drinking, etc., I would have said “I don’t trust these guys in this setting, and I would not feel safe” instead of saying “The challenge is that we are supposed to stay in this 5-bedroom house and I will get my own in-suite bathroom. I find this somewhat unprofessional, a little too frat-boyish going on spring break.”

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        Well, I don’t think there are many contexts in which a phrase that included the words “frat boyish” and “spring break” could be construed as describing anything but alcohol-fueled activity. And the terms aren’t generally used to describe gentlemanly behavior, either. But, I’m open to hearing examples that prove me wrong.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          There are, indeed, not many contexts in which it could be construed that way, but this is one of those few contexts. I would have phrased it more unambiguously this way: “The challenge is that we are supposed to stay in this 5-bedroom house and I will get my own in-suite bathroom. I find the venue fine, but I’m concerned my colleagues will be somewhat unprofessional, and might turn this into a frat-boyish spring break.” If it were phrased that way, I’d definitely consider it more like unsafe/harassment-filled/more obvious rape/groping danger.

    2. Lindsay J*

      But I read the frat-boyish describing the venue or idea, not the attendees. She said nothing about the personalities of the people attending. She called the idea of living in a beach house with five other people “a little too frat-boyish going on spring break.”

      To me that’s completely different.

      If she had said, “The men I am expected to go with act like frat boys on spring break whenever we go on a business trip,” or even “They have stereotypical frat boy/bro personalities,” that would be another thing.

      And she seems so against this whole idea in general that I can’t imagine that if she was concerned about harassment or inappropriateness that she wouldn’t have actually said that to strengthen her case.

  46. anomaly52*

    Ps I’m from New Zealand where hundreds of us share a room to sleep in several times a year on staff meetings. That being said there are cultural protocols which mean I would never be worried about anything ‘frat’.

  47. Anna*

    I support the idea of more companies doing one-day retreats where you get to go home at the end of the day. Problem. Solved.

  48. Purr purr purr*

    I’d say it depends on how long the retreat is. If it’s two weeks then it’s asking too much to expect you to go. If it’s a few days then I’d consider it a business trip and to suck it up, especially since they’re trying to accommodate you by giving you your own en-suite.

  49. Lily in NYC*

    I think this is going to become more and more common now that Air bnb is so popular. My office is pretty conservative but for the last three trips I organized, I was told to use Air bnb instead of finding a hotel. My boss was annoyed because he had to share a condo with two of his direct reports and he said just never felt fully comfortable (but he didn’t complain). I guess I would be ok as long as I had my own bathroom but I would much, much prefer my own room at a traditional hotel.

  50. voyager1*

    I am going with you are being unreasonable. If your friend said you are, that should tell you. I am guessing you told her more then in this letter about the retreat.

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