I’m upset that my coworker played favorites with party invitations

A reader writes:

I got to work at the beginning of this week to find a pre-printed invitation to our administrative assistant’s annual 4th of July party sitting on my desk. It was not in an envelope, which didn’t seem unusual since she ordinarily invites the entire office each year. I soon found out, however, that she did NOT invite the entire office. Many of my coworkers were blatantly left out and they feel very hurt.

I think she could have either emailed each individual, or ideally, snail-mailed an invitation to the homes of the individuals she wished to invite. Our administrator is aware of the situation and does not have a problem with it.

We work for a group of physicians. I wonder if this should be brought to their attention (perhaps anonymously?) because it has had a terrible effect on the morale of my fellow employees. I know that I will not be attending the party because I would feel that I was betraying my coworkers by doing so.

P.S. I might add that the AA is in charge of Human Resources, and the lack of trust in her some of the staff now feels due to this obvious favoritism makes me wonder how they will feel about her having access to their very sensitive personal information.

Until I got to your P.S., my answer was going to be that this is really 100% your coworker’s call. People are allowed to invite who they want to non-work social events; this isn’t like second grade, where you had to invite the whole class. These are adults, and they get to make their own social decisions. If I were your manager and you complained to me that someone was having a party at her house and didn’t invite the whole staff, I would be … nonplussed. And then I would explain that that’s her call.

The fact that she’s in charge of HR could change things. HR people have extra responsibility to be perceived as impartial — to the point that some HR roles really can’t have friendships with coworkers outside of HR the way other people can. But it really depends on what your coworker’s role is. Does she just coordinate things like benefits and new hire paperwork in addition to her other duties? If so, she doesn’t have the same need for strict impartiality, just like the person who runs payroll doesn’t. But if she does full-scope HR, like resolving employee complaints, investigating harassment reports, etc., then yes, this kind of thing is a conflict of interest.

Another exception would be if she were a manager and inviting some of her employees but not others. That wouldn’t be okay, because managers need to be perceived as impartial and not playing favorites.

But if none of those things are true, your coworker gets to decide who she wants to hang out with outside of work. You, in turn, can decide that it feels too cliquish to you and you’re not comfortable going. But I wouldn’t look at the invite or anyone’s attendance as betrayal (unless there’s way more to the story, like that it’s being done deliberately to hurt and exclude someone).

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. John*

    I personally wouldn’t go, and would tell her why: that I felt really uncomfortable because of how public it was and that you knew many of your co-workers weren’t invited.

  2. blu*

    I dunno, I agree the coworker can invite who she wants, but the deliberately leaving invites on only some peoples desks openly to something they were previously invited to seems a bit juvenile/poorly thought out to me. I agree that a better approach would be emails or at least sitting them in envelopes. It just strikes me as very much like kindergarten/elementary school type behavior.

    1. baseballfan*

      Agreed. It’s perfectly acceptable to invite who you wish (or don’t wish) to a party at your home outside of work houts. But it’s tacky to make it that public. Just send an evite, or if paper invitations are that important, mail them.

    2. Allison*

      Agreed, if you’re not inviting everyone you should do it at least somewhat discreetly.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I agree. Either it was thoughtless and very ill-mannered (which is what I am leaning towards) or it was a deliberate snub letting certain people know they don’t make the cut. If everyone was invited in the past then open invitations on everyone’s desks were fine which is why I think this was a thoughtless mistake this year when the guest list had to be shortened.

      The intent doesn’t change the fact to be so obviously snubbed and left out of something can be very hurtful for those left out.

    4. Doreen*

      It actually strikes me as behavior that wouldn’t have been permitted during elementary school for either me or my children. Employees are certainly free to invite ouly some coworkers to a party , children can invite only some classmates and a person on a softball team can invite only some teammates. But it’s actually kind of rude to invite only some and then distribute the invitations at work, school or the softball game.

      If I were going to bring anything to the manager’s attention, it wouldn’t be the fact that only some were invited. It would be that the method was rude abd potentially disruptive,

      1. lawsuited*

        +1 My mother taught me that when I was inviting the whole class to my birthday party, I could put the invitations on each person’s desk at the beginning of class, but when I was only inviting some people I had to quietly slip the invitations into the lockers of the people I was inviting so as not the draw the attention of those people not invited to the fact that I was having a party and they weren’t welcome there.

        More proof that everything I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten.

          1. lawsuited*

            This is even better, but as an 8 year old I couldn’t stay on task long enough to collect the addresses of all my classmates. Thankfully I’ve grown out of that (sort of) :P

          2. Allison*

            I don’t think my mom ever had me hand out invitations at school, I definitely mailed them, and I think I had an American Girl book about manners that reinforced that. But I think people stopped using physical invitations in middle school.

          3. Ife*

            My first instinct was also to mail the invites for my stepdaughter’s birthday party, but only a few parents had put their addresses (physical or email) in the school directory, so what are you supposed to do?? I felt weird sending the invitations to school (one for each girl in the class of course), but the alternative was no party :/

        1. oldfashionedlovesong*

          When I was 11 I moved to the US and did not receive the warmest welcome in my new 5th grade class. The cold shoulder was spearheaded by a classmate named Jeffrey. Halfway through the semester, he invited all the class to his birthday party except me. That’s bad enough, but then on the day of the party he announced to the classroom that everyone could gather outside the front door at the end of class and they would all walk to his house for the party together. Walking that 3 PM gauntlet on my way to my mom’s waiting car at the curb is a crystal clear memory 15 years later. Jeffrey missed a very important etiquette day in kindergarten!

          1. Lily in NYC*

            That is so mean. I feel like I want to have a huge bday party and invite you. And I don’t even celebrate my bday.

          2. Retail Lifer*

            I usually actively avoid social situations but that made me sad. I will snub every guy named Jeffery that I meet in hopes that one of them is the guy that did that to you!

          3. Ruffingit*

            Damn!! That is just so cold. Pretty sure karma got Jeffrey who probably became wildly unpopular later in life and is now not invited to anything.

      2. themmases*

        Same, as a kid I was not allowed to give out invitations at school if the party wasn’t for everyone. Maybe when I was older and the party would have been a sleepover for a few close friends, but then a) invitations wouldn’t usually have been printed, and b) you should be old enough to exercise some judgment about who might expect to be invited, and not convey invites right in front of them.

        To me the very existence of printed invitations says you’re throwing a bigger party with more planning, and some thought went into this guest list that not everyone made it onto.

      3. Nobody*

        Yeah, I thought that was the kind of etiquette most people learned in kindergarten. This person was rude, but I don’t see how it’s worth bringing it to the doctors’ attention. I mean, geez, don’t they have more important things to worry about? Since the OP is one of the chosen ones, maybe she should have a chat with the party-thrower just to mention that if she’s not inviting the whole office, maybe it would be better to distribute invitations more privately to avoid hurt feelings.

        I had a coworker at oldjob who had an annual 4th of July party at her house, and she always invited the whole department except me and one other person she didn’t like. I wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway, but it was still hurtful to be excluded like that, especially when she and everyone else openly talked about it in front of me. It especially sucked when people asked me, “Are you going to Jane’s party?” and I said no, and they would say, “Oh, you should go! It’s always so much fun!” Then I explained that I wasn’t invited and they would say, “That’s weird. I thought she invited everyone.” Then, for the next week or two, everyone would be telling funny stories from the party. She later became my manager and continued to exclude me. But out of all the awful things she did to me, excluding me from her party was the absolute least of my concerns.

      4. afiendishthingy*

        I agree the distribution method wasn’t the most tactful, but unless she has much HR authority it’s not management’s problem.

    5. LBK*

      I really don’t think it was meant as deliberately as people are taking it; it probably seemed like the simplest way to distribute them (after all, I’d find it pretty roundabout to mail something to someone I see every day). Poorly thought out? Maybe, but this seems like a good time for Hanlon’s Razor – “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

      I also think it’s pretty childish to get upset that you didn’t get invited to a party, especially if the invites are clearly distributed just to those she feels closest to. I certainly don’t feel hurt if I don’t get invited to post-work drinks by the group of people in my office that are all close friends – it’s pretty natural to want to spend your free time with the people you like the most. Given that this doesn’t seem to be an official work-sanctioned event and assuming she’s not in a position of power, I doubt I’d even think twice about not being invited. Who cares?

      1. blu*

        I think it becomes more of an issue because 1) everyone used to be invited and 2) leaving the invites open on the desks is weird to me. I have no issue with inviting whoever you want to none work stuff, but the way she did this is clearly drawing attention at this office, so at a minimum this was a poor choice. Your happy hour situation would be more like, there is a monthly happy hour where the whole office is always invited and then the next time suddenly only some people are invited and it’s done by handing out paper invites to the selected folks. Just because it’s not done maliciously doesn’t make not socially tone deaf.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t see how the monthly happy hour thing would be bad either unless this was meant as a semi-official team event – if the person organizing it decides they just want their closer friends to be invited this time, I think that’s their prerogative.

          1. Dana*

            What happens when you thought you were a close friend and don’t get an invite? If this was all done pretty publicly, it would not be a great way to find out they don’t like you as much as you thought they did, or as much as you like them.

            1. LBK*

              Eh, I suppose, but particularly in the office I don’t worry about my friendships too much anyway. But I think we’re veering too much into personal preferences, and I don’t want to imply that my lack of attachment/regard for my office friendships should be the same for everyone.

            2. Pill Helmet*

              That’s a friend issue, then, not a work issue.

              I don’t know, I’m mostly with LBK on this. While I agree it’s socially tone deaf or even perhaps juvenile to hand out invitations this way, I think it’s equally socially tone deaf and juvenile to be offended by it. I say that because socially speaking, as adults, we ALL include different people in our lives in different ways, depending upon our relationship with those people. And we all know that’s entirely acceptable. It’s different with children (and hence, in elementary school) because they don’t yet understand how relationships work.

              This is nothing more than a convention. It’s just another rule to follow that changes absolutely nothing but perception. Either way you’re still not invited. I know it’s not entirely the same, but it makes me think of when you tell your kids that it’s not OK to pick on someone. You don’t add that it’s OK as long as they don’t know you’re doing it, because it’s rude either way. If it’s rude not to invite someone to a party that doesn’t change because you didn’t tell them about it. It follows that there’s no reason to be offended about not getting an invitation, unless you genuinely believe you should have received one.

              (Of course exceptions apply, like deliberately excluding someone in a hurtful way.)

              But then, I’ve never been the type to understand conventions, so perhaps it’s just me. I never cared for pretense. I just want to hear it like it is.

              1. blu*

                For me, the rudeness is not about not giving everyone an invite, it’s about the way it was done. Maybe it’s how I’m envisioning most medical offices are set up, but I think it would be super visible to invite people this way and it’s particularly sticky because this was an annual event that previously everyone was invited to.

              2. Elsajeni*

                Hmm, I don’t agree. My thinking is, you’re right that it’s not rude not to invite someone to a party; what’s rude is to call their attention to the fact that a party is taking place and they aren’t invited. Like, you wouldn’t walk up to a group of people and say “Hey, I’m having a 4th of July party this weekend — you should all come! Oh, except you, Jane,” even if everyone in the group knew you were closer friends with the other people than with Jane; that would be too much like pointedly excluding her. And you wouldn’t walk up to that group of people and hand paper invitations to everyone except Jane, for the same reason. I think leaving invitations on everyone’s desk except Jane’s isn’t quite as rude, but it’s similar enough, especially since it sounds like, in this office, the excluded Janes did genuinely believe they were close enough to be invited (as they have been before) and were surprised not to be.

        2. AnotherFed*

          What about the office etiquette rules that you’re not supposed to snoop around other people’s desks or compare notes about who got invited to a private event? We don’t know this office’s set up, but since they work with medical info, I’d hope that each desk has some privacy so that people’s medical information isn’t just hanging out there for everyone to read!

          1. No Longer Passing By*

            Medical offices aren’t like that, though. The administrative staff generally are seated together and only the doctors and the chief administrative person have offices. So it’s very possible that each person’s “desk” is a chair at a square, circular, or semi-geometric counter. Or in a blood testing closet. So either way, it’s a very visible snub that would require minimal snooping

      2. KarenT*

        It’s possible it’s just the OPs interpretation, but I agree that feeling very hurt for not being invited to a co-worker’s party is a bit much. It would be different if everyone but you were included, or if you and the hosting co-worker were very close, but for the most part I just don’t think it would be a big deal. Miffed? Maybe. But not “very hurt.”

      3. Sunflower*

        The idea of mailing the invites is like beyond a hassle. You gotta buy envelopes, stamps, collect addresses, hand write the envelopes, go to the post office- all for people you see everyday? You know how much of a hassle I have mailing my rent check which is literally 1 check to 1 address? Yea no way I’d mail them either.

      4. Brandy*

        I wouldn’t be upset if I saw that I didn’t get invited. I know that Im not friends with everyone here. Some Im closer too and some are just co-workers.

      5. Aunt Betty*

        It might not have been deliberate but it was still very rude, and an etiquette lesson she should’ve learned long ago. If you can’t invite everyone to your party, you don’t pass out invitations in front of the people who aren’t being invited. (In fact, you’re not supposed to talk about the party in front of them at all but I don’t know how many people actually follow that.)

    6. Engineer Girl*

      There is a 3rd component to all of this too – a physician’s office is small. The effect on moral would be greater because the “she’s in you’re out” gaming is more pronounced. If this were a company of 500 people then lots of people would be left out. If this is only 30 people then leaving people out is much more noticeable.

      1. Another HRPro*

        So then your only options are to:
        1) invite no one from work to your party – even close friends,
        2) invite everyone from work to your party – even those you do not want to socialize with, or
        3) secretly invite your friends from work but make sure no one talks about it in the office?

        This does not seem reasonable. Let people socialize as they want to socialize. Some people will always feel “left out”. This happens outside of work as well. Who in the family got invited to the wedding and who didn’t? Who out of your circle of friends went to a movie and didn’t include someone else? etc.

        1. Kate M*

          Um, yeah, #3. Obviously. I mean how does this not seem reasonable? If you’re throwing a party and only inviting a select few out of a small office, then don’t do it publicly. And yeah, it would be rude to talk about plans you have with coworkers in front of others who aren’t invited. I mean, that just seems like common sense and basic etiquette 101. Sure, some people will always be closer and socialize more than others, but there’s no need to be blatant about it in a professional setting (and absolutely no reason why you would HAVE to talk about it in a workplace).

          If you were having a conversation with a coworker about a party you’re throwing this weekend in front of others, and someone else says “that sounds like fun,” and your response would not be “you should come too!”, then just don’t talk about it.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It occurred to me that Another HRPro may have meant “It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone will perfectly keep the secret”, but that’s not really the organizer’s concern. The organizer should only mention the event to those invited, but they can’t control all of the invitees. If one of them carelessly (or intentionally) mentions it to someone who is not invited, that is on the blabber, not the organizer.

            We can’t let perfectionism prevent us from making any attempt whatsoever.

            1. Kate M*

              Right. I mean obviously not everything can stay perfectly secret (and there’s no need to be all high school about it and make a big deal about “secret invites” and exclusivity), but it’s just basic decency. And sure, people should try not to be too hurt when inevitably things come up that they aren’t invited to. But it’s a lot easier to do that if you don’t know about it and your coworkers don’t spend a ton of time blabbing about their exclusive plans after work.

          1. A Bug!*

            And I think in this instance, the appropriate word is “discreetly” rather than “secretly,” since I don’t think the negative implication really fits.

          2. Three Thousand*

            Yeah, it’s a rule of etiquette that you don’t invite someone to a party or discuss the party in the presence of someone who isn’t invited.

            On the other hand, etiquette also says if you ask a girl to a school dance and she says no, you’re supposed to ask her friend standing next to her. So yeah.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  As I understand ye olde etiquette, she can say no, it’s just that she can’t then turn around and go with somebody else. That’s what the “washing my hair” excuse was about.

                  But I don’t think we have to throw out all etiquette just because some of it’s sexist. Who does it hurt, to be discreet about an invitation? Etiquette changes with social mores, but I think this one still exists.

            1. diet ginger ale*

              I thought you were supposed to ask them when they are alone so they and you can have some privacy about whether or not there will be a yes or a no.

      2. KarenT*

        I think this particular scenario is complicated by the fact that in years prior the AA invited the entire office.

        Generally, I just don’t think there is anything wrong with the AA inviting a few close friends from the office to a party without feeling the need to invite everyone, even in an office of 30 people.

    7. Anonsie*

      I think it was poorly thought out but I kind of doubt it was intentionally meant to make people feel excluded, unless the seating arrangement is such that this would be extremely obvious, but I guess it also depends on the office standards. Where I work people distribute personal stuff like this all the time, but in some places it’d probably be a bigger no-no.

      1. No Longer Passing By*

        I agree but made an assumption based on my familiarity with the seating standards in medical offices. I think the discrete 3rd option up thread probably would have been better.

  3. NickelandDime*

    Did she need to do this so blatantly though? One part of me understands being nonplussed about an outside work function, it is her call. But she did it in such a disruptive way. People aren’t working, they’re talking about this stupid party and who got the Golden Ticket and who didn’t, and why. It brought with it some unnecessary drama. I also have questions about these people who were “very hurt” about this. Why? Were they best friends with this woman and she cut them off and they don’t know why? Is she paying their bills? Are they dating?

    I’m staying tuned for more details on what her HR role entail, however. But overall, meh, I don’t like how she did this, I do think those not invited might be overreacting, but it’s her call…I guess.

    1. Jessa*

      This is what I thought. Not the invites, but the leaving them obviously on desks openly where those who are not invited are able to obviously see. It shows a certain lack of judgement or deliberate cruelty. Yes they’re adults. But the fact is not being chosen is still very hurtful it’s one of the earliest kinds of bullying that kids experience in school – not being invited to something where everyone else is publicly going. And unless this person is incredibly tone deaf, there is no way they don’t get that this is hurtful and they’re doing it whether or not subconsciously, deliberately.

      I think the issue of how the invites were given is a bigger deal. If the person had just privately invited people, nobody would care. And as Alison said, if this person is the kind of HR person that handles complaints, this tone deafness is very important. I’d hesitate to bring something to a person who may be doing the very thing I want to complain about (excluding people.)

      1. Another HRPro*

        As this is an administrative assistant who also does HR for a practice, I am guessing their job just includes handling paperwork and overseeing benefits administration.

        1. No Longer Passing By*

          But that’s not how it tends to work. She probably handles all HR tasks because the doctors just can’t be bothered

    2. AnonyGoose*

      Remember: We really only have the OP’s side of things as to how blatant this was, and the OP is by no means impartial on this.

      I’ve worked in several offices where it was common to bring invitations to things and leave them on people’s desk, even if everyone isn’t invited. For example, if Jane is having a pool party, she might leave invites on the desk for her work friends, out in the open, and nobody would think twice about it. Sure, someone who wasn’t invited could say that the invites were left out blatantly for everyone else to see. But that really wasn’t the thought, intention, or general take-away from the delivery method used.

      We really don’t have enough information–certainly not enough unbiased information–to make a call on the admin’s actions here.

      1. Coach Devie*

        OP did say, however, everyone has been invited in the past. Although something could have happened that made the party-thrower want to size things down, and that is her prerogative to do so, if in the past she’s always invited everyone and this year she did not, the really open way she did this may come across as intentionally letting people know who was and who was not invited. Her being in HR seems a bit concerning too, especially since the office is now unsure of how they fell about her impartiality. That’s something to consider when you are in that role, before doing things a certain way.

        1. AnonyGoose*

          It could have been meant as a way for the admin to let everyone know who was invited and who wasn’t. But it also could have been someone leaving a card on other people’s desks with the assumption that it wouldn’t attract much notice. Think about it–if a coworker had an invitation on their desk, would you really notice? And how would you even know what it was an invitation for, unless you got one yourself? It’s not like the admin waited for everyone to come back from lunch and ostentatiously hand delivered the invites in front of everyone.

          1. some1*

            True, but if everyone’s been invited in the past, the invitees might have assumed that was the same thing this year and innocently said, “Are you bringing your taco dip to Jane’s for the 4th again this year?” to someone who didn’t make the cut.

            1. AnonyGoose*

              But this would happen no matter how the invites were sent, and, frankly, is how I think word got out in the first place. It makes much more sense that word spread because people said “so, are you going to Jane’s thing” at the water cooler than that everyone was hovering over one another’s desk, randomly reading everything on it.

              1. No Longer Passing By*

                I made a comment upthread about my assumption on the seating plan and the desk. I didn’t not think that this was involving private offices or even cubicles. Hence how it may have been a visible snub

          2. Kelly L.*

            I’m guessing one of the invited people must have made an offhand comment about the party, assuming everybody else was invited too, and the secret got out. Another reason to be discreet if you’re shrinking a recurring party–so you can let the invitees know you are shrinking it so they don’t put their feet in their mouths.

        2. lawsuited*

          I also think that passing out the invitations at work sends a signal that it’s a work event which may had added to the perception that everyone was invited this year as in past years. If a co-worker sent me an invitation in the mail to my home address, I would think of it as a personal invitation, outside of my capacity as a co-worker, because of how it was sent (and would never say anything about the event at work). If I was passed an open invitation (sans envelope) at work, I would think I was being invited in my capacity as a co-worker and tend to assume that other co-workers were invited too. As Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message”.

      2. NickelandDime*

        But the OP was one of the “chosen” ones. She could have just accepted the invitation and not worried any further about it. No she isn’t impartial, but she wasn’t negatively affected by it.

      3. Sunflower*

        Also, this really depends on the office layout. The majority of my office is 1 or 2 people in an office so the only people who see anything on my desk is my boss I sit next to. Literally no one else in the office sees it. An open space office where everyone would see the invites? Very different.

        1. AnonyGoose*

          Unless you work in an open space office with the world’s cleanest desks, though, are you really going to notice whether or not someone has an invitation sitting on theirs? And if you do, are you going to walk over to scope out what it’s for?

          1. Sunflower*

            I totally agree with you but I’m thinking if it’s something like the reception desk at my doctors office where there are about 8 people sitting about 10 ft apart from each other it could be more ovious.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Yeah, the layout and even the invitation itself can make a difference. Because of the OP’s concern, I pictured in my mind’s eye a full-page flyer with brightly colored balloons or fireworks on it, the kind of thing that would immediately draw your eye if you looked anywhere in that direction, sitting on an open floor plan desk.

        2. wanderlust*

          If OP works for a physician group, it’s unlikely it’s an open office environment. Patient data, frequent calls to verify insurance, etc. would almost certainly require cubicles or walls.

          1. BananaPants*

            My mother is a nurse for a group of physicians and the nurses and medical assistants have a fairly open work environment; there are no cubicles or walls at their workstations/desks, which are clustered together in two locations near the exam rooms. Each of the doctors has an office with a door that can be closed and there’s a small conference room. They meet patient privacy requirements by having the staff work area and receptionist’s area separated from the waiting room – those in the waiting room or in exam rooms can’t overhear a nurse on the phone with a pharmacy or a patient. There’s a similar setup at our kids’ pediatrician’s office and my OB’s office.

          2. Anonsie*

            Heh. Definitely not the norm as far as I’ve ever seen, I think it’s more standard for everyone to share an open room behind a clinic. If it’s a small practice that may even be the only room, in larger ones that’s the main workspace but people have individual spaces elsewhere. It’s pretty standard to be making calls and discussing patients in a shared workroom during the day, privacy rules don’t extend quite as far as people think.

          3. No Longer Passing By*

            That’s not doctors’ offices are set up. Those workers in the reception area are the billers and coders, too. Anonsie, BananaPants, and Sunflower all make good points about the probable office layout and someone upthread made another comment about the likely small staff size. And this person has HR responsibilities, too.

            It’s likely that everyone’s getting worked up in the office because obvious lines are being drawn and something probably happened to precede this event.

            The more that I think about it, it appears to me that this is one of those situations where you assume that every workplace is like your own and, for this reason, OP didn’t give sufficient context. We don’t know why the wrongness of the situation is so obvious to OP such that she’s referring to it as betrayal. So all we can do is speculate on office layout and staff size and HR responsibilities. Because the reaction to the non-invites is just as important; there’s a bigger problem here

    3. snuck*

      Yeah… I am with this… How hard is it to fold the piece of paper in half and leave it on the keyboard, or hand it discreetly to someone, or pop it in an envelope, or email it, or any of a long list of other unobtrusive methods of communicating it. (And did she print these invites on the work printer huh?)

      A doctor’s office generally is a dozen employees at most, and that’s including part timers covering various roles… if you are going to pick and choose between them then do it discreetly!

      Do we assume these “HR Duties” are organising / signing off on payroll, scheduling staff and other administrative tasks (rather than dealing with HR policy and hiring and firing and performance reviews etc?)

  4. Fuzzyfuzz*

    The coworker can invite who she wants, but passing out invitations publicly to only some colleagues is plain rude. It’s not illegal and probably not against company policy to be rude, but she is rude nonetheless.

  5. DatSci*

    I agree with Alison, and this seems silly and over-dramatic. An admin throwing a party for her personal friends should not be the fall of office morale. Hopefully everyone can remain professional (and not be quite so sensitive). I would definitely not recommend bringing further attention to this by escalating it up the ladder…

    1. NickelandDime*

      Yes, but I think this person did this publicly to ruffle feathers and start drama. She knew the reaction it would cause.

      1. DatSci*

        There’s no way to know that was the intention from the information contained in the letter. It seems like a lot of commenters here are projecting that intention on to her and assuming that was the case. Honestly I don’t see what’s wrong with this on face value, it seems like the easiest way to invite people to the party (with real paper invitations rather than evites).

      2. LBK*

        Unless this is an extremely dramatic office to begin with, I don’t envision how not inviting some adults to a party for adults is cause for drama. The world is not Mad Men or Mean Girls – sometimes people just do things because they want to spend time with the people they like and hurt feelings over pettiness from other grown ups is not something they take into account (because they shouldn’t have to).

        1. fposte*

          I think in general that’s true, but the OP’s co-worker muddied the waters here by 1) changing the approach of a party that’s historically invited the whole office and 2) leaving invitations visible at work (that’s before you even get to 3), she’s in HR). That’s not a good combination, and if she’d just put the invitations in envelopes it would have improved things considerably for me.

    2. Coach Devie*

      It’s dramatic, except for the fact that she left invitations on all of her “favorites (perception of the non-invited) desks” instead of: mailing them out, sending private emails or at the very least putting the invitations in an envelope and handing them to people directly. Not leaving them on desks for the chosen where everyone could see who did and did not have one. It was bad for morale, and as someone in HR, especially, she should have at least been sensitive to how this would affect workplace culture.

      1. DatSci*

        I disagree, I think people are thinking way too far into this to come to the conclusion that leaving them on the desk was some 2nd grade ploy for attention and the intent was to make others feel bad. There’s a million other ways she could have invited people, maybe she did those as well, who knows. To me this just seems like an easy, efficient method of delivery. Nothing more and not personal to affect the morale of those uninvited to this event.

        1. Mike C.*

          No, this is actually a serious issue. HR shouldn’t be showing the appearance of favoritism.

          1. LBK*

            As Alison says, though it depends what “HR” actually entails. If she’s an admin assistant, I’m betting she does more of the paperwork side of HR and she’s not fielding reports/complaints. She doesn’t need to be impartial to process job applications and approve timecards.

        2. AnotherFed*

          Agree! There’s no way in heck that I’d mail invites to anything short of a wedding! There would be pitfalls no matter how people got invited because it used to be an everyone thing and now it isn’t. If the party hostess had even gone so far as to mail invitations, when someone casually mentioned it at the office AAM would still have gotten a letter, but it would have gone “And she sent secret mail to only some of us! They must be hiding something terrible if they are sending secret, private mail!”

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        Hanlon’s razor say “Do not ascribe to malice what can be put down to stupidity”

        I think that a good place to start from, the person throwing the party probably didn’t mean any harm.

      3. Another HRPro*

        We all have friends at work. Most reasonable people don’t think of them as our “favorites”. They are just friends. And it is reasonable to invite only your friends to your party. And if you sees these friends every single day at work, it is reasonable to give them the invitation at work.

  6. Kelly L.*

    I think even for adults, it’s really rude to blatantly invite some people in front of other people you’re not inviting. I think Miss Manners would say to be discreet and shut one’s trap around the people one is not inviting (especially if there’s any possibility they might have been invited).

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yes, exactly. The people who are all in a tizzy because they weren’t invited are adding unnecessary drama to the office, and they need to just get over it. I for one would be glad to not be invited to something if the hostess didn’t really want me there and was just inviting me because she thought she had to (unless *everyone* was invited but me, because that would be make things weird). BUT the open invitation is rude. It’s only slightly better than walking into a room where two coworkers are talking and inviting just one of them to your party. It’s just tacky. Rude, however, doesn’t make it a work concern unless, as Alison said, she’s in a role where she needs to appear impartial.

      1. Seal*

        +1 to this. I had “friends” like this years ago who would make plans for social events and make it clear that only certain people in the conversation were invited. I even had a “friend” in college who spent weeks excitedly telling me all about the details of and asking for advice about her planned birthday party, only to find out in the end that I was not invited. Needless to say, none of those rude people are or ever were friends. True friends – including work friends – are discrete.

        1. fposte*

          I had a friend who got engaged and asked me to be a bridesmaid. Then she called it off but then they reconciled and got married anyway. And somewhere in there I got de-bridesmaided without being informed. Which I didn’t deeply care about, but I genuinely arrived in town thinking I was going to be a bridesmaid (it wasn’t a wedding where everybody had bought dresses to match or anything) and then sort of found out when the bridesmaids got their dresses and there wasn’t one for me. Okay, then.

        2. ginger ale for all*

          I have a co-worker who planned her parties that some co-workers are invited to and others are not and placed the hours off on the office Outlook calendar.

          If this HR-co-worker wanted to be rude about it, there are other ways than what she did. I think I would just put it down as thoughtlessly rude instead of deliberately rude. If there starts to be a pattern, then it would be time to rethink it.

  7. Coach Devie*

    I too, wouldn’t care who she invited to an outside of work function, IF she hadn’t done it in such an open, and at the very least careless, “in your face” way. Also curious as to her HR role because this is concerning too.

  8. AnonyGoose*

    OP, you’re coming across as very immature in your letter. I say this not to bash you, but to make you think long and hard before you bring this to your managers’ attention, even anonymously. (Honestly, the “anonymously” part is what really pushes this over the edge for me. This is not an issue which requires anonymity, such as sexual harassment or potential retaliation.) If you feel strongly that it affects the office and want to speak for the group, go to the admin directly, or write her an email. If you don’t want to, then decide on your own whether to go to the party and move on.

    1. Sadsack*

      “If you feel strongly that it affects the office and want to speak for the group, go to the admin directly, or write her an email. If you don’t want to, then decide on your own whether to go to the party and move on.”

      I agree with this. If you want to have any impact on the situation, leaving an anonymous tip isn’t the way to handle it. You are already considering not going because of the rude behavior. Go directly to the offending person and tell her that whether she intended it or not, she made many people in the office feel hurt by openly excluding them. Maybe you won’t get an invite next time, but do you really care as long as it isn’t publicized? Make the point of saying that you understand that she can and should invite who she wants to her home, but handing out invitations to some and not others causes hurt feelings.

      1. Sadsack*

        After considering the comments of some others here, I really think that OP should just decline the invitation and not get involved at all.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, the anonymous suggestion stuck out to me too – that in combination that office morale was tanked by something as silly as who got invited to a party makes me think emotions run way too high and people are not accustomed to just directly saying something when they have an issue. In that light, I’m not surprised the OP is reading this as a passive aggressive jab at those who weren’t invited – if you set up an environment where people take everything personally, don’t be surprised when people do things that are personal.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        I get the feeling that there is some type of constant drama that has been going on in this office and the recent invite snub is an olive in the martini of shenanigans.

    3. some1*

      Yeah, do NOT complain about this anonymously. The admin is almost certainly going to assume that one of the uninvited people complained and it’s just going to make the relationships worse.

  9. Erin*

    Yeah, I think this depends on her HR position. It sounds like she might be primarily an admin who had some HR duties assigned to her. (But maybe not.)

    This was not cool for sure, though. Blatantly putting out invitations, sans envelope, out for everyone to see? It’s clear she meant to exclude people. While that’s rude and sucks, I’m not sure it necessarily warrants disciplinary action. It might be more of a, file this away as vital information about this person, sort of thing.

    1. Sadsack*

      Exactly – now you know who this person is. If it was deliberate, now you know. If she is just plain thoughtless, now you know.

  10. Apollo Warbucks*

    I completely agree with what Alison says, I’d expand a little further and say that as a matter of courtesy and respect to the co-workers that are not being invited, some discretion should be used, so people do not feel snubbed.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      +1 So many of the situations people write to Alison about would be avoided if people used discretion when it’s called for.

  11. Sunflower*

    This entire situation reads kindergarten to me. Kindergarten to leave the invites out in the open and kindergarten that everyone is acting as if they woman committed a crime. The fact that people feel they can not trust her now is beyond an overreaction. It’s a party that she’s throwing. Yes she showed bad judgement by leaving the invites out in the open but acting as if because she did that, she would commit acts that would be unethical and risk her job is really reaching. I’m sorry your coworkers feelings are hurt and if it was me, I would speak to the admin and let her know that. If she chose to leave the invites out in the open to upset others, she sucks and I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that. However, I don’t think that makes her a bad employee and telling your manger would reflect badly on your and make you look petty.

  12. Dana*

    I have been on the left out end among all my co-workers talking all day about their big party that night, running out to the store on lunch to get pop and snacks, etc. It sucks. I really hope it wasn’t intentional, but it still hurt and made me feel excluded, and made the list of reasons why I’m job hunting.

    This was in poor taste, and if it’s causing office drama, OP might say something to the admin, especially if they were among the invited: “Hey, that’s not cool the way you did that–it made some people upset. It’s fine if you don’t want to invite them, but let’s try to be a little more discreet next time.” I wouldn’t take it higher up the chain of command though.

    1. The bear went over the mountain*

      I’ve been in a similar situation too – in one instance I was actually sitting at my desk and one of the more well-liked people in the office loudly invited everyone in my department except me. On a logical level I know that people at the office will gravitate to some people more than others and it doesn’t make sense to feel hurt about it, yet I did feel sad to have been excluded. I didn’t say anything because I don’t think there’s a way for the non-invited to mention the faux paus without sounding petty. I think if the reverse happened and I was invited to something in a way that might make others feel sad about being excluded, I’d say something to the person extending the invitations. Nobody has to make a big deal about it, but if you’re among the people who were invited I’d agree that it’s worth casually mentioning.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    A lot of you are emphasizing the fact that this worker gave out invitations at work.  The medium doesn’t really matter.  If a bulk of people got email invites to their personal addresses, they’d still be talking about it because, well, a bulk of staff got invited.

    My ex-coworker invited 12 out of the 15 people in our office to her wedding.  She intentionally mailed invitations because she didn’t want the wedding invitees talked about at the office.  Guess what?  Because 80% of the office was invited, invitees naturally assumed that 100% were invited.  It was so awkward going to the work bridal shower and being asked what I was wearing to the wedding.  The worst part was at the end of the staff meeting on the Friday before the wedding.  My boss ended with, “See you all tomorrow at the wedding!”  

    You just can’t invite THAT many people and not expect it to get out.  So please don’t get distracted by the invitation at work detail.  It really is irrelevant.

    OP, I’d love to know what percentage got invited.  I’m guessing it was over 50%.

    1. some1*

      Good point. Word probably would have still gotten out before or after the party even if the admin had mailed invitations or sent private emails.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      I agree.

      I wonder: are people(including OP) looking more at the manners/judgment of the AA or would coworkers who were not invited actually have shown up if they were? In previous workplaces, I’ve been given invitations that I assumed were given out of politeness without a real expectation of me showing up to the event and I didn’t.

    3. cv*

      12 out of 15? Ugh. At that point, just invite the whole office. There’s a point where invitations look like you thought more about excluding people you don’t like than inviting the people you’re close to. Above 2/3rds or 3/4s of any group, it’s usually better to invite everyone unless there’s a clear reason for not inviting the remaining few (like a couple of people on the team work in a different office far away or something).

      I know, weddings are expensive and guest lists are limited. Inviting most but not all of a group is still a recipe for awkwardness and hurt feelings among people you have to see every day.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        After the boss said that at the staff meeting, another coworker came to me and whispered, “If Excoworker knew that Boss just said that, she’d be having a face to face with him right now behind closed doors.  I know she’d be pissed.”

        While I appreciate the effort, it’s pretty pointless after that.  Boss might have been rude, but he wasn’t making an unreasonable assumption.

        I wasn’t bothered about not being invited.  I was bothered by the perception that I was snubbing Excoworker as it was known we didn’t get along.  (We were always cordial though.)  I’ve often wondered what Boss and Other Boss thought when they didn’t see the three of us at the event, if they thought anything at all.

    4. The Strand*

      Wow, a work bridal shower… Where three people had to play nice after being snubbed?

      CV is correct, when almost everyone is invited, just invite everyone instead.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Yeah I was pretty ticked off about the work bridal shower.  Like…I’m not good enough for a wedding invite, but I am good enough to contribute to a gift.  AAM might suggest just forking over the cash to keep the peace, but it was the principle of the matter.

        The real kicker was that the MOH was a coworker too.  She knew the three of us weren’t invited yet she still hit us up for a wedding gift.

        Yes, I paid up, but I didn’t want to.  If I didn’t, it would have exacerbated an already-tense situation.

    5. bridget*

      Yes, but there’s a difference between “word getting out” and the generally-accepted rudeness of extending an invitation in the presence (or clear awareness) of someone who is not invited. Selective lists don’t have to be a state secret, and people may or may not figure out there’s a party going on to which they aren’t invited. But it seems a lot less rude/tactless if the inviter at least attempted to be discreet. It may still stink, though.

  14. Episkey*

    Perhaps not something to bring up to a manager, but it’s absolutely rude. I can see how people would feel hurt. Sure, we’re not in kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean adults don’t get hurt feelings as well.

  15. Ad Astra*

    It’s certainly rude to openly invite some people to an event if you’re not going to invite everyone present. But it’s also just a silly July 4 party and it sounds like the people who weren’t invited are overreacting. I would make a mental note that this person has no tact and then find something else to do that day. This doesn’t need to be a source of office drama. If this situation is affecting morale, it make me wonder if the office culture is one that breeds drama.

    The HR part of it could be concerning, but we don’t know enough about the host’s role with the company to assess that.

  16. Artemesia*

    I agree that people can socialize with whomever they want but invitations to private parties should simply not be distributed at work. This is fundamentally rude. And of course people who are ‘HR’ cannot do this as Alison noted. When moving from a party where everyone is invited to one where they are not, it is particularly important to not flaunt this at the office.

  17. Party thrower*

    I just went through this process myself, with my daughter’s high school graduation party a few weeks ago. I am friendly with all of my co-workers (there are only 30 of us), but only some of them know my daughter personally, so this was the criteria I used for deciding who to invite. I mailed individual invitations to each of their homes. I believe it’s best to avoid hurting others’ feelings if it can be helped. Now, I have no way of knowing whether those that weren’t invited (i.e. don’t know my daughter) would be even remotely offended by not being invited, in fact I thought they would probably find it strange if they had been invited since they don’t know the guest of honor at all. But I wasn’t willing to take the chance; it was all very drama-free. (Nothing wrong with an evite either, this is just how we chose to do it.) I realize this situation is different since everyone knows the party person in this case, I was just throwing my own two cents into it because it was split between invitees/non-invitees in my case as well…and to point out that there is a nicer way to handle it.

    1. NickelandDime*

      This! I think people are missing the point of why there’s a problem here. It could have been handled more discreetly!

      1. fposte*

        I think a lot of commenters are getting that but thinking it’s the occasion for an eyeroll and moving on, not having a “terrible effect” on morale.

  18. Ann O'Nemity*

    I can’t figure out why the LW wants to escalate this to the physicians. The administrator already knows. Why does the LW want to go over their head? Just to get the AA in trouble and risk pissing off the adminstrator? Even if the AA is in the wrong (and I’d say etiquette-wise that’s a “yes,” and ethics-wise that’s a “maybe” depending on the HR role), it doesn’t sound like it’s the LW’s place to get involved.

    Unless the drama caused by the invitations is really so bad that it’s interfering with the LW’s work, I’d just stay out of it and not add any more fuel to the fire.

  19. Katie the Fed*

    I’m confused how an administrative assistant is also running HR? Those seem like completely different jobs.

      1. Oryx*

        That’s what our AA does — we have a corporate HR but I’ve never dealt with them. Paperwork, benefits, etc., all goes through her.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’ve seen it in small companies. It’s like Alison said. The HR role is awfully bare bones – filing employee documents and updating employee records, benefits packages, etc. It does involve handling sensitive info, but usually doesn’t go into the more complex aspects like legal compliance and conflict resolutions.

    2. Sunflower*

      We are a company of about 30 people- Our ‘HR’ is also Accounts Receivable. She pretty much gives us the paper work, set us up with our health plan and direct deposit. We don’t have a real HR dept and if I had a complaint, I guess I’d have to take it through my manager?

    3. No Longer Passing By*

      It happens in small companies all the time. I also handle HR but I’m a lawyer. Ive had administrative assistants in the past who ice assigned HR duties and the problem is that once you’ve given HR responsibilities to a person, other staff members take their complaints there especially if I was in court. Plus my assistant helped to pre-screen candidates and processed hire and termination paperwork, ie they knew everyone’s business even if they weren’t conducting investigations. So even if the task is meant to process paperwork, the reality is that the admin is in a position of power and extreme confidence. So drama baiting or other non-verbal attempts to “send messages” would lead to discipline and/or termination.

      Was it rude? Yes. Is the staff taking it too personally? Yes. Will it create unnecessary drama and tension that then will lead to some epic meltdown several months later? Hell, yes. Will the doctors find out about it for the first time after epic meltdown? More than likely. Never underestimate the dramatic nature of small offices, where every perceived slight is given disproportionate import.

      Unfortunately, I’ve had to deal with this. So my antenna immediately went up.

  20. mel*

    I was in this situation once… In the fifth grade. My uninvited friend relentlessly hassled me the day of the “party”, which turned out to be not a party at all but rather a wandering in the streets looking for somewhere to have a party and thus was not worth the drama. And the next day, we got over it.

    We got over it in one day, and we were 10-year-olds.

    This sounds like a Not Your Circus situation, honestly. Your coworker seems to have made herself some enemies, and I suppose that will be her consequence (for hopefully no longer than a day)? She put you in an awkward ethical situation in which you have to choose between going to a party, or refusing in solidarity with the Rejected. Is it going to be a life-changing party? Will there be unicorns?

    If it’s bothering you this much, just skip it. I’d just let her simmer in her own drama and get on with it.

    1. Sadsack*

      I have to agree with you and retract my input above where i suggested that OP tell the coworker directly why she isn’t going to her party. I think OP should tell her directly if she feels the need to say something, rather than going to management, which would be a mistake. However, the best thing to do is just not go and let the party fallout happen without being involved.

  21. Sarah Nicole*

    I think it’s unprofessional behavior to do something rude and hurtful within an office. Leaving invitations on desks where others can clearly see them walking by is blatantly rude, and I would be concerned about her judgement in other situations if she really thought this was appropriate. To be honest, I’d probably say something to her along the lines of, “Jane, I understand you may not have had space or wanted to invite everyone this year, but I think it may have hurt others’ feelings to see invitations displayed openly on only some employees’ desks. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be hurtful, but would you consider mailing them next year?” Like someone mentioned above, adults can get hurt feelings, too. Not being invited isn’t the main issue – it’s how she did it.

      1. Sarah Nicole*

        But I just meant as a coworker, I wouldn’t involve the manager. If I were this girl’s coworker, and obviously someone she liked enough to invite to her party, I would just kindly mention that I think some people’s feelings were hurt and suggest mailing the invitations next time. I agree that it is not an issue for management to deal with.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          But as a coworker, it’s also not really her place to scold the AA for a breach of etiquette. If a person who was not invited wants to take it up with the AA, that’s for them to decide. But this person would be getting involved when she is not the AA’s boss, not her supervisor, not someone who was hurt by being excluded . . . she doesn’t have a place to say anything here unless the AA is someone who, by virtue of her job, needs to appear impartial.

          1. Sarah Nicole*

            I disagree. Like the LW said, it affects morale in the office and has also put him or her in an awkward situation with other coworkers. Given the fact that LW is liked enough to be chosen to attend this party, I don’t think it would be out of line to mention that it was hurtful to some and that perhaps trying a different approach next time would be more kind, and it doesn’t have to come across as condescending. I don’t think it’s out of line to kindly approach a coworker in a situation like this and offer a suggestion to avoid hurt feelings.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              We’re just going to have to disagree on this. Her coworkers bear as much of the blame of putting her in an awkward situation by making a big deal over it. You are suggesting that the OP get involved in managing other people’s feelings. Unless it comes up in conversation, she would better serve office morale by staying out of it, and not fueling the drama fire. Trying to keep people from getting their feelings hurt, especially when you have no authority to compel different behavior, often (if not usually) ends up stirring up even more drama.

              1. Sarah Nicole*

                Yes, I can see your point here. I do understand how it would add to drama, so maybe it would be better not to say anything. I just feel like it’s something I would do if I had a decent enough rapport with someone, but I totally understand the other side of this how you’ve explained it.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        As a manager, I think I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than have to police this kind of thing!

        1. Sarah Nicole*

          Oh yes, I wouldn’t want to police this, either. I’m putting this in the category of, “My coworker did something I didn’t like,” – “Okay, talk to them about it.” That’s all I’m suggesting. I would say something to this young woman about perhaps mailing or emailing invitations as a more courteous thing to do in an office.

          1. some1*

            I get where you are going, but when you are a manager suggestions are never Just Suggestions.

            If the LW or one of uninvited want to approach the admin about this, that’s one thing. But if a manager does, with the authority they hold, the admin is going to hear: “You CANNOT pass out invitations to your personal party outside of work anymore, and you screwed up by doing already”. It’s micro-managing and policing your employees personal time, and it won’t be well-received.

            1. Sarah Nicole*

              Yeah, but like I said, as a coworker. I haven’t condoned a manager making an issue out of this and I already agreed that would be inappropriate here.

    1. The Strand*

      I agree. There is a school of thought that you never point out bad etiquette. But this taken to an extreme just extends passive aggressiveness in an environment. So you don’t make it about etiquette, you point out that feelings were hurt and maybe another way would work better next time. The end.

      If someone is my good friend, I’d tell them, not to scold them, but because they might not know the impact (“Why is Teena so annoyed lately?”). YMMV and of course it depends on the person, and whether they can handle any perceived criticism.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I probably would saying something, too, *if* it came up naturally, and *if* I was a good friend. But nothing here suggests that OP is anything but someone the AA likes well enough to have at a party. I can think of a number of my coworkers who I’d be happy to invite to a social event but would be annoyed if they decided to take it upon themselves to tell me how rude I’ve been. This has a lot of potential to backfire unless the OP can be incredibly smooth and tactful, and I feel like that won’t happen here.

      2. Ad Astra*

        This would make more sense coming from one of the “rejected” staff members, explaining how the way she distributed the invites was hurtful. Much better than calling out a breach of etiquette, which I agree is rude. Unless the OP and the host are super close, explaining that her actions hurt someone else’s feelings is just getting needlessly involved.

  22. Kaz*

    I don’t see the problem here. She invited people she wanted to invite, those who didn’t get invited should remain professional and continue to do their jobs without holding any ill will. Work is not a place where you are entitled to friendship. Work is a place where you are entitled to be treated with respect under the law. Anything more (like friendship or chit chat that is unrelated to work) should be considered a bonus, not an entitlement. I have plenty of people who refuse to talk to me at work for anything that is not work related. That is alright by me, I maintain a professional attitude and avoid drama. I help those people when they ask for help because it is my job to do so and they return the favor. Friendship is not a requirement for work.

    1. LBK*

      Yeah, I don’t draw quite as hard a line here – I’d like to at least be friendly with my coworkers if not friends – but in general I agree. You’re by no means obligated to be part of someone’s social circle just because you work in the same office as them.

      This reminds me of a letter a while back from someone who felt like she was getting left out of the office clique even though she was new and the rest of the group had worked together for a long time. Well, obviously they’re all going to be closer if they’ve known each other for years and they’ve known you for a week. Relationships form how they form, whether in the office or out – it seems like a waste of energy to be hurt if you don’t form a natural connection with someone.

      1. Stardust*

        I agree with all of your comments in this thread. I have to say I don’t even really get where the “hurtful” is coming from at all–I’d assume grown-ups know that there are indeed people in the world who don’t like them/don’t like them enough to want to hang out with them socially, so, well? (And I say that as someone who’s been severely bullied as a child and is very sensitive to such matters.) I understand that it might feel kind of weird to be the absolute only person not invited to something when everyone else is but again, it’s not that far-off that I might find myself in a group of people where I’m the least liked; that’s just life.

        (I agree with what others have said about affiliations with HR and thelike, though. As well as the thought that it probably could have been handled better/more tactfully (for this kind of office) but I don’t see the huge drama.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          I can also see it being weird to have been invited, enjoyed it, and felt like “a friend” in previous years, and not be invited this year when it had to be downscaled.

          (But “feel weird” and calling for this level of reaction are two different things, IMO. I mean, this is the sort of thing I’d go home and whine to my husband about briefly.)

          1. LBK*

            Totally with you. Maybe I should soften my comments here to say that I don’t think it’s inappropriate or weird to feel a little miffed, especially if this is usually a pretty fun party (I am a huge FOMO victim, so I understand the impulse to want to be invited!). But to be upset to the point that it’s impacting office morale is too much.

            1. fposte*

              That’s where I land myself. The co-worker misstepped somewhat, but not enough to occasion the kind of reaction the OP is describing.

      2. Sarah Nicole*

        I agree with you. But if I were part of the clique or one of the people that they were more friendly to, I’d feel bad discussing after work plans, parties, getting invitations, all that stuff, where others who aren’t part of the group can hear or see. I’ll admit my bias here: I grew up extremely awkward and had trouble fitting in, and was bullied. That has made me more sensitive to the fact that while not everyone always gets to be included, I can be kind when I am part of the “in group” by being polite and keeping things like this out of work if possible. To me, that includes finding a different way to pass out invitations. And as someone who feels this way, if I could kindly say this to my coworker, I would.

  23. Molly*

    NOOOOOOOOOO. THAT IS NOT WHAT NONPLUSSED MEANS. This is a major pet peeve of mine. Nonplussed means surprised/confused.

      1. Molly*

        Oh – my apologies! I thought you were trying to say that you would be unfazed by such a complaint because it’s the coworker’s call.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I never noticed it before, but I bet “nonplussed” and “unfazed” are words people might frequently mix up.

          1. fposte*

            I think the problem is we don’t talk about people as being “plussed,” so we don’t have a sense of what it’s the absence of.

    1. Laurel Gray*


      This is hilarious to me only because a major pet peeve of mine is people correcting others when they are right.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        One of my happiest days at work was when I set up a lunch meeting and my jerky boss corrected my pronunciation of the French restaurant in front of his lunch guest. I knew I was correct but didn’t say anything even though I was seething – he said it in such a smug manner. I got an email a few hours later from the guest telling me that she was French Canadian and that she knew I was right and how gracious I was not to say anything. I had to sit on my hands for a while to stop myself from forwarding the email to jerky boss.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I was thinking about that too. I’m not sure in what way Alison is intending to use it. Does she mean “unperturbed” or “surprised and confused.” I could read it either way – she’s either unperturbed by the supposed snub by the AA, or surprised and confused that the OP is upset about something so minor.

      1. Molly*

        Fair enough! Guess the answer for the OP is the same either way :)

        For some reason I’ve been hearing and reading ‘nonplussed’ a lot in the last few months, and about 90% of the time it’s used incorrectly. Some dictionaries even include a “North American – informal” definition that is… the opposite of what the word means.

        Sorry AAM!

    3. Swarley*

      Exactly. I read it in the context of being surprised/puzzled that the employee would have thought this was something to bring to the attention of the manager. I don’t see how this was used incorrectly?

    4. Apollo Warbucks*

      According to the dictionary on my phone in recent years it has developed an informal use in American English to mean unperturbed although it is considered a non standard use.

  24. Laurel Gray*

    OP, I was thrown off by the coworker being an admin assistant who is also in charge of HR like Katie above. Is her role also management? Does she have direct reports? I ask because I’ve seen similar letters on AAM and it would be more of an issue if she was a manager playing social favorites. If she is at the same level as you and fellow colleagues, tell her to save the drama for her mama…or that you already RSVP’d to a previous engagement but thanks for the invite.

  25. HRManagerNW*

    OP, have you asked the admin directly why everyone wasn’t invited again? There could be any number of reasons (a group got sloppy drunk and mocked her decor, she moved to a smaller space, people weren’t RSVPing and just showing up). I think from an etiquette perspective the admin did handle it poorly regardless of the reason but it might be a blunder rather than a snub; if that’s the case, it could be helpful for her to know how it affected the office morale so she can change her approach next time. Unless she is handling the more sensitive HR issue, taking complaints, etc., it really doesn’t warrant escalating it up to the physicians.

    1. fposte*

      I would advise against that, though, because it feeds into the mistaken belief that it’s the staff’s business who goes to the party, and it would just be compounding one etiquette breach with another.

  26. L*

    The only way this becomes a management issue is if the “excluded” coworkers all fall into some category that could show hints at bias (gender, racial, ethnic, sexual, you get my drift). Was it in poor taste? Sure. Plenty of things happen in an office that are rude (or perceived rude); encourage your ‘very hurt’ coworkers to move on and don’t contribute to any “us versus them” mentality.

  27. some1*

    LW, I don’t think you are doing yourself any favors by taking up offense on your coworkers behalf for two reasons. 1) You have no idea why guest list had changed from everyone to only some people, which means it could be a perfectly legitimate reason (limited finances, limited space, etc) that the admin doesn’t have to justify to you. 2) The admin is the one who did something that your coworkers were hurt by, not you. You have nothing to feel guilty about, even if you did let it slip about the party by accident. Your coworkers are adults — if they want to tell the admin they are hurt or tell someone above her that they are concerned about her excluding them, that is on them, not you.

  28. Claire*

    She can invite whoever she wants. Quit being such a baby and tell your coworkers who weren’t invited to suck it up.

    1. Kaz*

      Absolutely, I have had situations where my office mate has gotten an invitation to a colleague’s after-work get-together right on his keyboard. I didn’t get the invitation, he talked about how excited he was to go to this event and I wished him all the best. Always try to maintain a positive and professional attitude :)

    2. The Strand*

      AAM is here because people take the time to share their letters, right or wrong.

      Calling a letter writer a baby or other names doesn’t encourage people to participate. Check out Alison’s “How to Comment” where she asks us to can the harsh comments and not pile on.

  29. BananaPants*

    What an insane overreaction by the coworkers who weren’t invited. So a colleague didn’t invite everyone to a social event and that’s apparently worth this level of hurt feelings and drama? Yes, the admin should have used more discretion in making the invitations but this is just not worth getting worked up over.

    1. Windchime*

      I’m just confused because I have no idea what kinds of papers/invitations/whatever are sitting on my coworker’s desks. I work in cube-ville and walk past other peoples’ desk all the time and I just don’t look to see what may or may not be on their desks.

      The whole thing seems a little overblown, honestly. If the OP doesn’t want to go in support of the Uninvited, then that’s what she should do. If she wants to go, then that’s what she should do. But it seems (to me) to be a little nervy to lecture the Party Thrower about the mode of invite or to tell the teacher (sorry, the boss) about the whole thing. This all sounds really junior high, honestly.

  30. Duncan - Vetter*

    I believe that it is important to find a balance between your personal life and work life. This means that you need to treat all the employees with respect. On the other hand, this does not mean that you must be best friends with all of them. What happens outside the company’s gates should concern only you and not the rest of your colleagues. However, this approach tends to be a bit rude, considering that you are working as a team. This situation should have been handled in a more discreet way. If you are a close friend of this person you can tell her how others saw her gesture so she won’t make the same mistake again.

  31. themmases*

    Although this is a real tempest in a teapot, I do also think work is one of the few places this situation could still happen among adults.

    I remember when being able to share all your photos and events on sites like Facebook was relatively new, lots of people felt awkward about sharing pictures of parties their friends didn’t all get to attend. And plenty of people probably got their feelings hurt when they became aware of every single outing their friends went on without them– even if you had a thick skin, all kinds of events people would have tactfully downplayed in person were now all over your newsfeed. We all seem to be used to it now though.

    But lots of people accept the wisdom of not friending coworkers on social media, or at least very tightly controlling whom they connect with. Within a normal office, it should be possible to tactfully keep a party to yourself in a way that it isn’t anymore among social contacts– so maybe the AA should have done so. I certainly don’t gloat on Facebook about every invitation I get just because people can see that I’m going. On the other hand, the rudeness sounds no more hurtful than what you could experience any day of the week by going on Facebook, if you’re still not used to that sort of thing.

  32. Anonsie*

    Oh man, do not go talk to the physicians about this. Unless the setup there is wildly different from anywhere I’ve ever seen, managing interpersonal conflicts over things like this is not something they are going to touch with a ten foot pole and they will not appreciate it having to come back to them instead of being managed among the staff like adults. Same would go for most managers, but even more so in the case of a group practice where the docs may own it but have hired people (all of you) to manage it because much of that is considered outside their regular scope. Sometimes it’s appropriate to go up to them on things where that level of authority is warranted, but who did or did not get invited to a party is highly unlikely to be one of those things.

  33. trilby*

    I disagree with the advice here. It seems rather glib to say “oh goodness, she’s an adult and she can hang out with whoever she wants.” In the real world, giving out invitations in this manner is absolutely an invitation to bad feelings exactly as the letter writer describes, and this could most definitely sew discord at the office. You can’t just say “everyone else needs to get over it.” Because they may not, and then you still have a problem on your hands.

    1. Anonsie*

      I agree it’s not as simple as “get over it, problem solved.” I can definitely see how this would breed bad feelings and it was a mistake on the admin’s part to do it this way.

      For me, though, the thing is that sometimes things like this happen. People are rude or difficult at work sometimes, and it’s important to be able to let the petty stuff roll off your back even if it stings. This shouldn’t become a capital-t Thing or start eroding morale office-wide or require intervention from management. The letter writer can let her know that this was received really poorly so she knows for next time, but that’s about as high level as something like this really warrants.

    2. fposte*

      Then the manager may have a problem on her hands, but it’s not the manager who wrote in. It’s the co-worker asking about escalating the situation, which isn’t a good plan.

      And if I were the manager and I had employees who were working poorly because they weren’t invited to a co-worker’s party, I’d be clear that not being invited to a party isn’t a reason to impair your work, there are always going to be parties they aren’t invited to, and I would, in fact, expect them to get over it.

      1. No Longer Passing By*

        This. And throw in a discussion in discretion with the admin who threw the party.

        In short, stop the drama and get to work! Lol

    3. Lily in NYC*

      I don’t know, it just seems so “grade school” to care about this stuff. If someone where I work tried to make a big deal out of this, he/she would not be happy with the results -our bosses would wonder why they were being bothered with something they would consider petty and would not be amused.
      And of course my office can tell me I have to “get over” something. I might not like it, but I do like getting a paycheck….

      1. Windchime*

        Yeah. I said “Junior high”, but grade-school works, too. Honestly, she can invite whomever she pleases. Just because I was invited last year doesn’t mean that I should automatically receive an invitation this year. And people should keep their eyes on their own desks. It’s been said up-thread; if you are invited to a party, don’t talk about it at work if you don’t know that everyone is invited. It’s pretty basic.

    4. LBK*

      But frequently the most effective way to deal with personal issues affecting work is to not give credence to them. Think about it – what other true solution is there here that’s not going to come off as extremely pedantic and overly involved in personal matters? Even suggesting to the admin that she should be more discrete just forms a pattern with the other employees where they can expect that their emotions will dictate management choices, and that’s wildly inappropriate and not an effective way to run any office.

      Empathy can be an important part of understanding your coworkers and employees, but it shouldn’t be what drives how you run your business. That’s how you end up with slackers working with you forever because you feel bad firing them or an office fu

      1. LBK*

        Whoops – got cut off there. To conclude, that’s how you end up with an office full of drama and politics.

        In short, you actually can say “get over it” as advice because that’s how you would address it – in less blunt terms, probably, but if this were happening in my office I’d absolutely be telling people “This is not a work problem so you need to keep it out of work.”

        1. trilby*

          I would probably tell the inviter that this was not a work issue so keep it out of work. That kind of cuts the issue off before it’s started, right?

  34. Nina*

    I can see why OP’s coworkers are upset, but I would let it go. HR lady handled this badly; she could have just sent out an email to whoever she wanted to invite, with a little note like “This is just a simple, low-key pool party and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t discuss it in the office” or something. Leaving the invitations in full view on people’s desks just feels mean and petty.

    That said, I don’t consider this to be a disciplinary situation at all, regardless of her being in HR. The whole thing says more about HR lady’s character than anything else, but bringing a manager into it or taking it any further seems unnecessary.

    1. fposte*

      I like your wording as a way to set the invitation up to the invitees. It’s nice to get a “how to do it right” example out of this.

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