how can I get out of our awful Staff Appreciation Day?

A reader writes:

How do I get out of our Staff Appreciation Day? Sounds more like Staff Punishment Day to me, with activities including traveling together to an inconvenient location outside our city, a “one-hour bike ride,” mandatory potluck, and ball games.

I hate bike riding (I’m in great shape, so it’s not because I feel intimidated… I just hate it). Also, I would rather harpoon myself through the eye than participate in a potluck–I eat very healthy and would rather starve myself than eat whatever horrible foods other people choose to cook and bring. Finally, I don’t play soccer or other team sports.

I am one of the department heads at my organization (I guess you would never have guessed, judging from my childish attitude). All my staff will be on vacation this day (lucky!); however, I know my boss expects me to show up with a smile on my face and act like a role model. To add insult to the injury, I know I will have several proposal deadlines on this very day, so I see at least one or two late nights in the office coming up for me just to compensate for this frivolous event that I certainly could have lived without. How could I get out of this graciously?

I’m no fan of this kind of thing — no fan at all — but I think you’ve probably gone a bit overboard in the intensity of your opposition to this.

To be clear, lots of people wouldn’t enjoy the event you’ve described. I wouldn’t, and I’d be looking for a way out too.

The reality, though, is that because you’re a department head, you probably do have to go. It’s an obligation that comes with being in a senior-level management role. As part of the management team, you’re expected to show up and rally for this kind of thing, particularly if it’s only once a year.

But that doesn’t mean you have to stay the whole time. Show up, have a beverage and a snack (bring your own if you want, but hide your feelings about other people’s potluck contributions), be visibly friendly to people and don’t look like you’re there under duress, and then excuse yourself early with regret because you have proposal deadlines that you can’t let sit. And if anyone asks why you’re not participating in the bike ride or the ball games, explain that you’re nursing a pulled muscle, a back injury, or any other tried-and-tried excuse we all used to get out of gym class in high school.

If you really can’t bear the thought of that, you do have the option of saying that you’ve got too many upcoming proposal deadlines to be able to spare the time away, and that since all of your staff will be away anyway, you’re going to stay behind at the office in order to meet those deadlines. However, be aware that if you do this, you’re going to use up some political capital … so you need to know (a) how much standing you have with your boss, (b) how much she cares about this sort of thing, and (c) how much capital you have to spare.

But hey, the bright side is that you’re in a management role, which means that you’re in a pretty good position to be able to speak up and steer your office in a different direction the next time planning for something like this is in the early stages. At a minimum, you can point out that if it’s intended as “staff appreciation,” nothing about it should be mandatory.

{ 418 comments… read them below }

  1. anon again*

    You can also point out that expecting people to cook and bring food to be “appreciated” is making them work and not actually showing any kind of appreciation. I don’t mind work potlucks in certain contexts, but this sounds horrible.

    1. SouthernLadybug*

      I would not appreciate the stress of trying to cook for a potluck at work. I would hate it and curse the person who planned it.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Potlucks at work cause me to buy my contribution almost every time, even in a small office with people I know and like. It’s just easier.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yes, my team has meetings where bringing food is encouraged (though not mandatory) and pretty much 100% of people bring something pre-packaged (veggie trays, hummus and crackers, packaged cookies, stuff like that). It’s easier, and there’s less stress about cross-contamination or unhygenic kitchens.

        2. Cath in Canada*

          Me too – I cycle or take very crowded transit to work, so bringing stuff from home is way too much of a hassle. I’ve done it a couple of times, but after the hell of trying to hold a casserole dish upright while standing in a crowded aisle on a jerky bus ride I now just go to the local Whole Foods and buy some cheeses or some stuff from the salad bar or something like that. Thank goodness we have good options close to the office!

        3. Jadelyn*

          Exactly, and to be blunt, my employer doesn’t pay me enough for me to be happy about dropping anywhere from $10-25 on either a premade contribution or ingredients to make something I wouldn’t ordinarily be making.

        4. Artemesia*

          Once I was fussing about a work potluck and my husband just looked at me quizzically and said ‘cook?’ — Of course you should just go to the deli. I took my own dish, bought a dish load of German potato salad, heated it in the microwave just before the event and had to fend off people all evening wanting the recipe. (seriously) At work I’d generally rather eat store bought stuff than the odd offerings of the hygiene challenged.

      2. SarcasticFringehead*

        Especially if my coworkers would rather starve themselves than choke down the garbage I’m apparently making.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Yeah, I would never want to do a nice thing for this person if that was how they felt. Even work-related nice stuff.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Under the self-righteous guise of “healthy eating”, no less. One, you don’t know that I won’t bring something healthy, and, two, an occasional serving of something that you think is less than ideal isn’t going to undo all your work. Don’t be that guy.

      3. SouthernLadybug*

        I stress about buying something, too. Though Publix fruit salad usually works – I have done that in the past when necessary.

        1. KarenD*

          Publix rules! Another one of my favorite combos is to get one of their unsliced White Mountain boules, cut a hole in the top and put their spinach dip in. The bread chunks I hollow out of the boule, plus one of their baguettes torn up (I usually get the wheat baguette for a little variety), is plenty of bread – the whole affair fits neatly into a big plastic bowl from Dollar Tree.

          It’s a respectable combination that can be accomplished for less than $10, and all the prep can be done at work in about 45 seconds.

          If I’m making for a work crowd that’s generally too healthy for spinach dip, I am the queen of the apples-grapes-and-very-low-calorie fruit dip (low-fat no-sugar yogurt, either by itself or mixed with low-calorie whipped topping) platter. When you’re slicing the apples, throw the slices into a bowl of Sprite for about two minutes and they won’t turn brown. :D

      4. TootsNYC*

        You are making this harder than it needs to be.

        Almost always there is a non-cooking option. Bring potato chips; volunteer to bring the paper goods; buy a quart of potato salad from the deli.

        I’ll be honest; I’m sorry. This kind of reaction makes me really exasperated. C’mon, stop focusing on all these imaginary negatives, and use your ingenuity to come up with something that will work and still be within your comfort zone.

        1. ToxicNudibranch*

          Well obviously there’s a no-cook option. I don’t think many of us are sitting here literally thinking that the mandate is to slave over a hot microwave.

          The fact that the potluck requirement can be satisfied by plunking down money for pre-made food or paper goods does not change the fact that dealing with this “appreciation” event involves expending excess time and money. Those negatives aren’t imaginary and calling them out is not a lack of ingenuity.

        2. Vicki*

          Dear TootsNYC – for you, this reaction is exasperating and imaginary.

          For some of us (the LW, and me) it’s very real. I would call in sick that day. I would simply not show up at the event. I wouldn’t even bother to write a letter to AAM.

          No, _we_ are not making this “harder than it needs to be”. That’s on the … people… who decided to set up this event.

        3. East Coast Guy*

          I agree with Vicki – I would just call off that day. After the initial “oh where were you, what happened?”, everyone forgets.

          It always bristles me when someone says “just plunk down the money”, as no one knows what someone’s finances are, and a “few bucks” can really make a difference in some people’s budgets. Though I am grateful for the wage I make, many times, I literally have about $80 discretionary money every 2 weeks after I pay my rent, utilities, prescription drugs, and student loans. Plunking down $20 for a corporate picnic would mean I would have to stress even more about how I can now stretch $60 into cleaning my clothes, buying meat for dinner and eating $2 frozen meals from Trader Joes for lunch, etc. If management asked, I would be truthful about the hardship, but no one has ever asked.

    2. Xarcady*

      The management at my retail job know morale is low, so they keep trying to plan “fun” activities for us–letting us wear jeans, or sneakers, that sort of thing.

      But we finally had to tell them that the endless potlucks, or “bring in your favorite junk food on Junk Food Day,” activities were costing us all money–money that on our wages, we couldn’t spare. Besides which, we were doing all the work. Management just set a day, and most of the managers either didn’t bring anything or brought store-bought stuff, while expecting home-made contributions from the rest of us.

      It’s not fun when for the staff when they are doing the work.

      1. AMT*

        This reminds me of the Iowa song from The Music Man: “Join us at the picnic! You can have your fill of all the food you bring yourself!”

        1. Girasol*

          Now you’ve gone and got that song stuck in my head! But it’s got a real team building hint in it too: “But we’ll give you our shirt and our back to go with it if your crops should happen to die…” A sincere everyday culture of “we’re in this together” beats any event-based team building, however well chosen.

      2. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Ha – this used to happen all the time at old job. The managers would just run in at the last minute saying that they had been SO BUSY they didn’t have time to get anything. After this happened no less than five times I just refused to participate … sorry, but if people with assistants (who offered to get something on their behalf) and make at least twice as much as I do can’t be bothered it was just an exercise in frustration for me.

    3. MommaTRex*

      I came to say what anon again already said.

      “We appreciate you so much, we think you should cook for everyone!”

      Not appreciation. Get the darn thing catered. Picnics can be catered.

    4. A Girl is No One*

      At our staff appreciation events, we not only have to provide the food and our clerical staff do all the decorating (which means senior staff are on phones), but they also collect donations for charities. At our last one, we were issued a list of about 15 charities with acceptable donations for each. I don’t feel that appreciated, actually.

      1. Miss Betty*

        So which is worse, that the senior staff have to be on the phones or that the clerical staff have to do all the decorating? I know which I think is worse and it’s not the phones…. (And I really hate doing phones!)

        1. A Girl is No One*

          Neither, but it is not egalitarian to have the ladies in the office (all our clerical staff are female) always be the ones bringing a tablecloth and plates and flowers and arranging it all. I’ve asked, but they all say it’s a nice break from phones. But it’s not a good look if you are aiming to go higher. (as I was)

          I like being on phones, I love our clients, even when they are not nice or just having a bad day and need to take it out on someone. I’ve learned so much from them about managing my own reactions in order to better manage their reactions. Then we can talk and get the job done.

    5. Turanga Leela*

      I am not a big potluck person, but I have worked places where potlucks were a big deal. People were very proud of always make the enchiladas, or the pie, or whatever. The food was very good—I think many of the employees were used to cooking for crowds on holidays, for church, etc. If management had cancelled the potluck, people would have been angry.

      I used to get out of it by buying the paper plates or making a big, simple salad.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I actually really like potlucks (despite my comment above) but it only works if everyone participates! And also, not under the guise of staff appreciation … that’s the kind of thing that should celebrate St. Patty’s day or something and be totally optional.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Yeah, it’s kind of fun when it’s like “The Finer Things Club” or whatever they had on The Office, when a handful of people were bringing in gourmet stuff they were practicing cooking.

          But mandatory fun is not fun. It’s just mandatory.

        2. the gold digger*

          I do, too. We have a few a year at work and they are always “bring a side dish or dessert and we’ll supply the main dish” kind, except for Pi Day, which was nothing but pies. (And my square cobbler, which nobody got.) Work did provide the ice cream, though.

      2. Beezus*

        I’ve worked in places like this too. It’s fun when a lot of people participate but there isn’t a lot of pressure. I made things when I had the time and inspiration to do something special. If I wasn’t up for it, I’d volunteer to bring the plates, or stuff to make simple sandwiches (which were a welcome contrast to the sugar and cholesterol-laden goodness people cooked).

    6. Katie F*

      Hahaha, I love this. “So, Staff Appreciation Day involves making the staff appreciate themselves instead of us providing food to show we appreciate them?”

    7. BBBizAnalyst*

      I’m a huge germaphobe. I don’t participate in work potlucks because quite frankly, if I see someone who doesn’t wash their hands in the bathroom or has horrible hygiene, I would not want to taste their food or whatever miscellaneous pet hairs they’re inadvertently including.

      1. corporate anon*

        This is why I never cook for potlucks anymore. I find dog hairs everywhere in my apartment, so I don’t want to accidentally include some in a dish I’m serving to other people!

        1. Batshua*

          I have a friend who’s a great cook … and has two cats. He is always surprised that I don’t want to eat his food. I have TOLD him that finding cat hair in my food is a turnoff, and he’s like “What, really!? Cat hair in MY food?” Yes, dude. You have two cats and they have access to the kitchen. Of COURSE I’m not interested in eating your food.

    8. Olive Hornby*

      I work with a lot of people who are amazing cooks and enjoy this kind of thing, so my office splits the difference by having the meal catered and inviting (inviting! not demanding!) people to bring a dessert to share. That way, even if nobody steps up, people are still getting fed a balanced meal, and the people who want to show off their skills still have an opportunity to do so. Maybe this is something to suggest?

        1. Parenthetically*

          I love cooking, especially for groups of people, so I’m a fan of potlucks as well. For our beginning and end of school year picnics, and our Thanksgiving feast, potlucks are awesome. There’s always a lot of great food from parents and teachers alike, and we have a grand old time.

          But requiring me to cook for my coworkers, and then calling it a STAFF appreciation just takes a whole ‘nother level of nerve!

      1. KTB*

        That’s exactly what we did for our company’s holiday party. The main meal was catered, but there was a bake off for dessert. It was really fun, and people got super into it. Probably because it was totally optional!

    9. Noah*

      Also, what, they’re going to make the potluck food, then get on a company bus for an hour, then do whatever activities they are doing for the day, then eat the now day-old food? Gross.

    10. Parenthetically*

      Yep, rolling my eyes at this as well. I’m a teacher at a tiny private school (read: we have no money) and our staff appreciation lunches are always catered. I cannot imagine having to bring my own food to a freaking staff appreciation lunch! “We appreciate you! If your name begins with A-J, you are required to bring a salad of a size sufficient to serve at least 8!”

  2. Pokebunny*

    Ugh, just hearing OP describe the day’s activities makes my anxiety go through the roof. *lol*

      1. RVA Cat*

        All they’re missing is trust falls. And swimsuits – or maybe trust falls *in* swimsuits?

        1. Chaordic One*

          Oh, all the body issues that come with a mandatory swim day at some resort and trying to find a swimsuit that fits and flatters. It’s not just an issue for women, either, a lot of men feel uncomfortable about being shirtless in public.

        2. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          I can’t believe trust falls are still a thing. Really, company, forcing employees to put their hands all over each other is something you want to do?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, my brain is breaking even at just the amount and unwieldiness of the things everybody will have to bring. OK, so you’re bringing a potluck dish and a bike, and going somewhere way out of your way. Maybe if you have a big car? IDK. I take the bus to work and I’m trying to envision hauling around a big Tupperware thing and a bike on the bus. (Not to mention I’d have to buy a bike! I haven’t had one in about 20 years.) Or I guess there’s just biking the way there…with a casserole dish.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Ha, my BF would say “ask the Dutch how they do it. They have bikes that carry the whole family”
        ( I swear this came up just recently)

  3. Bowserkitty*

    or any other tried-and-tried excuse we all used to get out of gym class in high school.

    I’m trying to figure out if “I’m on my period” would work.

    I KID.


    1. C Average*

      Being female and saying, “I’m, uh, on the disabled list” always, always has done the trick for me.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      I used to get stress nosebleeds that would last for 30 minutes and included horrifying clots. Gym class was seriously optional.

    3. Brogrammer*

      I would quite happily tell my boss I was on my period if that was what it took to get out of an event like the one OP describes.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Exercise does help SOME WOMEN, because endorphins. It certainly does help me a lot. But telling girls just to suck it up is not cool.

  4. Cake Name*

    Definitely use the proposal deadlines to try and get out of it as much as possible. The only problem is if your whole staff is on vacation and you duck out…nobody from your department will be there. And if one of the senior people has a hard-on for that type of staff event, having no one from your department show up may cause some issues down the line.

    1. What's In A Name*

      I agree with the sentiment that if the entire department is not there – regardless of reason – it will not look good.

    2. lawsuited*

      I’m not sure that the optics of a Senior Director being “too busy” for Staff Appreciation will go over well.

    3. Purest Green*

      I was thinking if it’s staff appreciation and OPs staff isn’t there, then what’s the point, ya know?

      1. eplawyer*

        This is what I was thinking too. If there’s no staff who is being appreciated? Why should a department head whose department is not there have to show up for mandatory fun?

        1. What's In A Name*

          Because it gives the impression that this particular department is alienating themselves from the rest of the company and could be perceived as coming from the top down if the dept. head also chooses not to attend.

    4. ZuKeeper*

      At my old job we had an event like this when I was scheduled to be on vacation. They tried to tell me it was mandatory that I attend. Umm, nope. My vacation was scheduled long before your crappy force-fed “fun” activity. That’s one of the many reasons it’s my old job.

  5. Anon Accountant*

    Suggest something different such as staff far more appreciates bonuses, lunches, or even the occasional raffle. When done right it can be a lot of fun. Great thing is being in management you can be the voice for your staff and advocate more strongly for them.

    1. eplawyer*

      Which sounds great. It is worth a shot. The problem is the person who came up with this idea probably loves these things him/herself. It will be that much more fun if everyone does it right? After all, it’s fun, fun, fun. How could anyone not like it?

    2. willow*

      Only if managers don’t get to put their names into the raffle. I swear, every year at our holiday party, about 80% of the gifts go to the managers. Statistically suspicious, that’s all I’m sayin’.

  6. Kyrielle*

    OP, you totally have my sympathy. (Also, is the company supplying bikes? Because I do not have a functioning bike. I mean, my kids do, but I don’t.) Company picnics aren’t inherently horrible, but either they should be catered / supplied or it shouldn’t be billed as “appreciation”.

    Would your company enjoy memories of this day, and do they have anyone to delegate to that? You could also offer to hold the camera and take the photos, possibly, since you (regrettably :) can’t participate in the ball/biking events due to (insert whatever excuse you picked here). This assumes you have or can access a camera, and obviously won’t work if your company already has someone selected to photograph it, but it can make it look like you’re far more involved and caring than you are, and make up for the “not able to take part” in terms of being seen as a team player.

    You might also bring something to contribute to the potluck (fruit trays or vegetable trays are often well received, precisely because they are so rare!), and also bring your own food. No comment needed on the other food; if anyone asks, something like this may deflect it: “I’ve got a specific set of dietary needs right now, and I didn’t want to put that burden on anyone else.” With a smile! You are being nice and kind and thoughtful. (To yourself, but you can also let them think it is to them.)

    1. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

      Communal veggie trays are gross. Seems like i always see people double-dipping from the main dip bowl in the very least. I’m not trying to see them either… i swear i attract them!

      1. Kyrielle*

        For a potluck, do a veggie tray with no dip, or firmly and aggressively put a big serving spoon in the dip. The veggies are usually okay, though.

      2. Theguvnah*

        Individual disposable mini cups with dips already in – so cute and eliminated double dipping fears!

      3. TootsNYC*

        I solve that by never putting dip with them. I don’t understand dip w/ veggies very well anyway; I forget that people do that!

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Actually, riding around on a kiddy bike or tricycle sounds like a lot more fun.

      1. KTB*

        I went to a mountain bike weekend that included tricycle races as one of the evening’s entertaiment activities. Picture a bunch of burly MTB men and women furiously pedaling little kiddie trikes around a short track, while their friends drink beer and heckle them. It was fantastic.

  7. HR Pro*

    I’m no fan of mandatory fun myself, being a tried and true introvert (and not in good enough shape to bike for an hour without looking like a pathetic mess at the end of it). But I’ll add a couple of thoughts.

    It sounds like you are either new to the company (having arrived after last year’s staff day) or this is the first time they have done a staff appreciation day. If you are new, I’d say that’s another reason for you to make an appearance – fitting into the culture, showing leadership as the dept head. Check it out, maybe it won’t be so bad. Or maybe it will , and then you’ll have ammunition to argue against the same design next year.

    Also, I wouldn’t automatically assume everyone will bring horribly unhealthy things to the potluck. Some definitely will, but you might be surprised about others. Especially if it’s during the summer, some people might bring really light food, like plain fruit (grapes/pineapple/etc.), veggies, etc.

    Finally, my company likes to do potlucks but the company also buys a bunch of “main dish” food, so that people won’t starve if suddenly everyone else forgets to bring their potluck dish. You might find out that’s what they do, too.

    1. Infinity*

      This, “I wouldn’t automatically assume everyone will bring horribly unhealthy things to the potluck.”
      I bring a kale salad to every pot luck I go to. It’s really good and well received and I know there’s something there I can eat if I stick to my healthy eating plans.

      1. Barefoot Librarian*

        I always bring vegetarian and gluten free dishes. Not because I’m either actually lol, but because I worked with a couple of people who had dietary restrictions and I got in the habit (one lady I worked with always had to bring her own snack because she couldn’t eat any of the dishes). It’s always appreciated AND healthy. :)

        1. TL -*

          Neither vegetarian or gluten automatically equal healthy or healthier than a non restricted alternative; most of the time it’s a wash. But! You’re fantastic for bringing and making them :)

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, I have a roasted sweet potato and black bean salad that I bring to potlucks a lot, and I make a mean hummus. I always try to bring something that’s from scratch and nutrient dense to counterbalance the hot dog I will inevitably eat.

    2. Noah*

      You mean you are shy and/or anti-social and/or an misanthrope, not an introvert. (You may ALSO be an introvert, but that’s not what you describe.)

      An introvert is somebody who recharges by spending time alone, in contrast to an extrovert who recharges by socializing. It is very much possible to enjoy going to social events (even work social events), then needing alone time to recharge.

      I, for example, am an introvert and I also enjoy socializing. This event, however, sounds awful.

      1. Myrin*

        “Introversion” has many different meanings depending on the time and place it’s used. I see it most commonly used in the way you’re describing nowadays, but I distinctly remember it meaning “enjoys being alone” just a few years ago (I remember that so well because it was the first time I could use an actual expression that described a big part of my personality – I immediately identified with that; I don’t at all identify with this “current” definition and don’t quite understand what it means at all, honestly, but many people do and that’s cool). Then you have my mothertongue where it’s simply a synonym for “quiet” or “withdrawn”. Sorry to hijack your post with something not relevant to the topic but this is a huge pet peeve of mine.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Haha, see, and it’s a huge pet peeve of mine when people think “introverted” HAS to mean “quiet” or “withdrawn!” I am absolutely an introvert and absolutely not quiet or withdrawn, or shy — I can talk your ear off about anything that interests me, my grandfather used to tell me I could sell ice to an Eskimo, and though I’m slightly socially anxious around new people, I’m happy to be the center of attention once in awhile. I just need time alone to recharge after I’ve been with people.

          1. Artemesia*

            Me too. I blather on frequently and am not shy or retiring BUT I can only deal with a few hours of socializing without being desperate to be alone to recoup. Any schedule that doesn’t have me sitting alone and playing with the computer or reading a book is not going to be sustainable for long.

  8. Hillary*

    One of the major employers in my city has discontinued all athletic activity at picnics etc after a workers comp claim involving a potato sack race and a torn ACL. No one I know who works there minds one bit.

    1. chocolate lover*

      I could see a similar situation arising from the (one hour?!!!) bike ride. I can’t even fathom. I haven’t ridden a bike in years and wasn’t very good at it to begin with, I lost balance easily.

      1. Not Karen*

        Ditto. I like the idea of bike riding, but last time I tried, I wiped out and had a bruised bone in my leg for a year…

        1. RVA Cat*

          If a world-class cyclist like Anna van Vleuten can wipe out as hard as she did in Rio, imagine the potential worker’s comp claims for this craziness…

          1. lawsuited*

            I mean, she was riding a racing bike at high speeds on a wet course. My guess is that the employees at a work function would be riding run-of-the-mill bicycles with treads and travelling at lower speeds.

          2. the gold digger*

            If only I could have claimed workers comp for my $4,500 ER bill (of which I paid $2,700) for falling off my bike on my way to work. :( My only ER visit in 30 years and it was when I had the worst insurance.

    2. I@W*

      Late to the party, but trying to bring a bike and a potluck dish to an out of the way location is bad thinking all around. If I had to lug a bike and potluck dish to my car then have to go out in the burbs from my city location, I’d not be thrilled. I actually love to ride, but at my own pace. A group of various skilled riders would be frustration all around.

  9. corporate anon*

    I hate events like this too, but this was unnecessarily judgmental and condescending: I eat very healthy and would rather starve myself than eat whatever horrible foods other people choose to cook and bring

    To be honest, the whole attitude of the letter annoyed me just as much as having to attend a staff appreciation day would.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Eh. The tone’s not so great, but this mandatory fun excursion sounds miserable so let’s give her the benefit of the doubt.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          And the mandatory fun event is not being planned or made mandatory by all these people who OP is prescient enough to know will surely bringing awful and unhealthy food.

          Shes management and needs to make an appearance, unpleasant though that may be. She does not need to insult the staff, and that comment is rude. The tone is pretty off-putting, and I’m in no way, shape, or form a proponent of mandatory fun.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Yeah, the combination of things involved in this ‘appreciation’ event would make me, and apparently a lot of other commenters here, literally miserable.

            1. Violet Fox*

              I would find it miserable. I’m honestly also concerned about some of the tone policing in a lot of the letters recently. It’s as if people don’t get useful help in the comments if they don’t express things in an approved way, whatever that approved way is.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, it’s perfectly fine to bring a snack and not eat from the potluck, or to provide a potluck dish that you then not-coincidentally exclusively eat from–chances are good nobody will even notice, but if they do you can make a vague reference to ‘dietary needs’ and change the subject–but you’ve got to be very careful that your judgment of their food isn’t obvious (and it can be really easy to convince yourself ‘oh, of course I’m being subtle about my dislike!’ when you really aren’t, sadly; most people overestimate how good they are at hiding disgust or disdain). Not wanting to participate in the potluck is something that you can probably get away with; making it obvious that you think that other people eat unhealthy garbage, less so.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or skip “dietary needs” and just say, “Oh, I love this dish so much, and I never make it for me. So when I make it for a potluck, I eat as much of it as I can get away with!”

        Or just, “I’m not that hungry,” or “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.”

        I really don’t have people bugging me about what I’m eating anymore (a relative used to do it until I somewhat politely let her have it after 6 deflections in the same encounter at the buffet table didn’t work).

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Hang on, very telling in what way? I don’t play team sports, but it’s not about my coworkers or having to spend time with them. I’ve just never been interested in playing them. Then after a few supposedly “just for fun” games of different sports with neighborhood kids as a child and then with coworkers as an adult, I realized that it’s not uncommon for some reasonably talented or athletic people to not enjoy it when the uncoordinated person not familiar with the rules (that’s me) causes them to lose. It’s just too much pressure in something I never cared for in the first place, so I don’t enjoy it. But I’m happy to cheer on those who do.

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            It has to do with the entire tone of the letter to me. It was the line coupled with his entire attitude about everything .

        2. Temperance*

          Okay, as a person who also doesn’t play team sports, I’m so over sports people and their insistence that you must be deficient if you aren’t a sports bro.

          I was forced to play team sports as a kid, and I suck. I was never good. Ever. Other kids made sure I knew it. As an adult, I’ve been forced to play a little, and it’s always “oh you can’t be that bad!” from sports bros, and then when I really can’t play well, they’re frustrated that I’m not trying enough.

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            I am hardly a sports bro nor did I say he’s deficient for not liking sports. His entire tone was judgemental and off-putting, rude about his co-workers’ eating habits, “better-than”, etc. All that coupled with refusing to play team sports, even for a dumb, hardly competitive company outing, it seems like he’s not really a team player in any sense – which is kind of important as a department head. If someone just says “man I’m terrible at team sports, it’s just not my thing” – I wouldn’t judge them. And I’m not judging him. I just think it’s revealing when coupled with the rest of the letter.

            As I said below, tone doesn’t always translate well in text, so it could be that isn’t how he feels at all. But based on how the letter reads, that’s how it came off to me.

      1. corporate anon*

        It wasn’t even just the assumptions about food, but the throwaway comment about being in great shape or the “lucky!” comment about her staff being on vacation. The whole tone was so off-putting, which makes me think the LW would be miserable to be around for more reasons than one.

        A lot of people don’t like these events, but I’ve been to some where there’s always that one person who makes it known that they’re miserable and they just bring everyone else down to their level. If I already don’t want to be somewhere, someone else making a big stink about how they really don’t want to be there and think they should be excused doesn’t make things any better. It just makes them worse.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Between that and the “great shape” comment, I wondered if it was some kind of preemptive attempt to ward off the health trolls! Like “If I complain about this bike ride, some jerk in comments will fat-shame me, so I better make sure I mention I’m buff!”

      3. Tuckerman*

        Especially since in this day and age, there’s bound to be at least a couple paleo gluten free hypoallergenic raw food vegan dishes.

    2. neverjaunty*

      When the LW then went on to refer to having a “childish attitude” I wondered if maybe this was actually written by a regular employee from what they thought was their manager’s POV. Most people who are loudly annoyed by others don’t then turn around and say “also I am immature for having this attitude”/.

        1. Tyrion*

          Exactly. A critical person who is also self-aware saves the harshest judgments/names for him or herself.

      1. motherofdragons*

        I read it as sarcastic and pre-emptive – “You’ll probably think I’m childish for having these opinions, but rather than wait for you to point that out, I’m just going to ‘claim’ it.”

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          I read it as someone recognizing that they didn’t have the best attitude about it but wanted a way out of it that didn’t sound petulant or ungracious.

          1. Parenthetically*

            That’s how I read it too — like LW knew she was having a bit of an overblown tanty about the whole thing. I get like that! And it’s not useless! Sometimes five minutes of hyperbolic ranting about something can clear the cobwebs for thinking through an actual solution.

        2. Lissa*

          I read it that way too. And I’m not saying I never do stuff like say “I know I’m being a jerk about this..” when I’m being a jerk about something but feel defensive/in the right away. Cause I definitely do.

      2. Tomato Frog*

        I took it as very normal self-deprecation and awareness on the OP’s part that they were being over-the-top.

        1. Izzy*

          Yeah sometimes after venting for a little, you feel better, and/or hear what you sound like, and backtrack a little. I could totally see myself writing this letter, then going and having an okay time, if not a great one.

    3. Anon for this*

      Yeah, there’s “I’d rather bring my own” and then there’s…

      Actually, another strike against staff appreciation days, just maybe not the one intended.

    4. Not Karen*

      That particular statement confused me, because okay??? Then why don’t you go and just not eat anything???

    5. MommaTRex*

      There’s a lot of piling on the OP going on here. It’s not very encouraging for people who might want to write in.

      1. Lissa*

        I’m normally one of the first to cringe at a pile-on, but there’s also a fair amount of sympathy for the OP compared to other such threads. I think a lot of people reacted badly to the tone, but most people seem to be pretty on board with “this staff appreciation day sounds like the worst.”

      2. Mental Health Day*

        No kidding. The OP is dealing with a frustrating situation and is…frustrated. People write in here to share their internal thoughts about work situations. It doesn’t follow that the OP is outwardly expressing “judginess” towards their coworkers.
        I’m not impolite towards my coworkers at potlucks, but if we’re being honest, my stomach lining can only handle so much Velveeta and sugar at one time.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Saying he would rather stab himself in the eye than eat his coworkers’ food it outwardly expressing judginess, IMO

            1. MommaTRex*

              So let’s be judgy back at them and keep beating that dead horse? I think we should stop speculating so much about the OP’s intentions and just be done now with this line.

          1. Mental Health Day*

            Expressing outwardly to AAM, yes. Not expressing outwardly to their coworkers (as I actually wrote).

            1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

              Well now we’d just be arguing semantics, because you wrote towards not to, so I read that to mean the judginess was directed towards his coworkers, not expressed to his coworkers. ;)

              Anyway, for the most part is seems everyone who has a problem with OP’s tone, including me, agrees that this staff appreciation day doesn’t sound very appreciative and certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but that their attitude towards it, if it is truly obligatory, could be adjusted.

        2. Tomato Frog*

          No kidding. The moment I read those lines in the letter, I cringed, not because the OP made me cringe, but because I was anticipating these comments.

          People often express themselves with hyperbole and in an overly-emotional fashion when they are facing something that makes them anxious and they are talking to a third party with whom they don’t have to hide it. It’s not the greatest thing, but it’s not that hard to understand.

          1. Mental Health Day*

            Yep, not the greatest way to word things but totally understandable within the normal range of human behaviors. It’s an anonymous letter to an advice blog.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yes. If I thought OP was going to express that toward their coworkers or even 1/2 of what was said here, I would be concerned – but this is someone being forced into mandatory fun and over-stressed and upset, letting it spill over, I think.

              Ideas for managing the stressful mess are more likely to help than remonstrances for judginess. And perhaps I have a little more sympathy because my fear would also be not finding anything to eat, albeit for wholly different reasons, rather than “I eat healthier than that” which, yeah, does sound judgy.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes, I am so confused as to why people think this is a pile-on post — this is one of only a couple threads where people are criticizing the OP, most are supportive and there are lots of posters who say they’d have the same attitude! Several other threads were near universal condemnation of the OP, and compared to that, this seems super mild…

          1. MommaTRex*

            Maybe I would have felt differently if there was some useful advice mixed in with the criticism.
            Also, am I supposed wait until after the criticism gets out of hand before I suggest a slow-down on it? And only compare it to when other posts were worse?

    6. Landshark*

      EXACTLY. The question was legit, but the tone came off too snooty for my tastes. Play nice.

    7. Chickaletta*

      I can’t decide if they have a bad attitude or if they were just being really honest and saying things in the letter that they wouldn’t ever say out loud. Maybe they were just venting. I don’t like being fun-told either, but part of the responsibility of being in a leadership position is to rally the troops. But, if the OP really feels as strongly as they do, I suspect their direct reports already have a sense of their attitude, feelings that strong are hard to fake.

    8. TootsNYC*


      I confess that I get majorly exasperated with all the over-the-top responses to these sorts of things.

      I get all the objections, but seriously–if you stop whining long enough to take it seriously, you will find some way you can make it into a positive.

      First, you’re psyching yourself out before you even get there.
      Second, there is almost always a quiet, unobtrusive way to deal with things like not wanting to go biking, not wanting to cook for a potluck, etc.
      Third, the bigger of a fuss you make about it, the more actual damage you will do.

      I used to tell my 10yo daughter: Grownups eat food they don’t particularly like all the time–they just don’t eat a lot of it, and they don’t whine about it.

      It’s one stupid meal. OK, go ahead, starve yourself rather than eat those horrible foods. It *is* a really childish reaction, especially if you complain about it or draw attention to it.

      There are positives to gain here–you can get a chance to get to know people in other departments, so take it. You won’t get anything out of it if you bail early and have a whiny attitude the whole time.

  10. Dust Bunny*

    So bring something you like for the potluck and eat that. And if there’s a committee planning these things, get on it so you have some influence next year.

    It’s one day. Look, I’m as big an introvert as anybody can be and still function in a workplace, but I don’t know when this idea came out that we don’t have to be kind of uncomfortable, ever, in the name of workplace culture.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this stuff is particularly frustrating when it’s wrapped up in “we’re doing this because we want you to enjoy yourselves!” It’s much easier to deal with when it’s a clearly labeled work function for obvious work reasons. It’s super annoying to be told “we think we’re going to build morale by making you miserable and we’re too oblivious to realize some people hate this sort of thing.”

      That said, yeah, sometimes at work you need to suck it up and deal with something that will make you a little uncomfortable, and that’s not the end of the world.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        I agree with this. Every “employee appreciation” day or party I have ever been involved in it was truly not mandatory, not on a work day (or not during work hours), and something low key and that most people thought fun (like bowling, or a BBQ at a Haunted Corn maze one year near Halloween). We never had to bring our own food.

        That said, they aren’t asking for a 20 mile hike in 100 degree weather or for everyone’s first born. This falls in the suck it up category to me if it is a mandatory day.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Well, if it’s soon, in much of the US, the 100 degree weather really could be in play for that bike ride!

          1. Katie F*

            Yeah, I’m in the South – there’s no way a one-hour bike ride is safely happening for anyone who isn’t used to riding in this kind of heat.

            1. Fire*

              Word. I’m a bike courier, and I do not blame ANYONE for not wanting to ride in that sort of heat. I actually will take shifts from others once it gets above 100 because I can handle heat much better than most – and I’m not talking about from rookies, either.

            2. esra (also a Canadian)*

              I’m in Canada and a one hour bike ride right now would have the whole company passed out on the road.

        2. TychaBrahe*

          I’m fair. As in my-ancestors-came-from-Russia, count-the-veins-in-my-arms fair. I’m not a White person, I’m a Liquid Paper person. I burn easily, and the strongest sunblocks don’t do anything to stop it.

          I do not go outside in the summer between 9 am and 3 pm. I just don’t. The thought of a potluck picnic in the sunshine and an hour long bike ride plus assorted other activities gives me anxiety. I will be feverish and flushed and dopey, and have to spend the evening in a cool bath. That is nowhere near my definition of fun.

          1. neverjaunty*

            I’m also super pale and this is nowhere near my idea of fun, but the LW didn’t say “this is a health issue for me” – she just found it boring and annoying and apparently thinks her co-workers are nutritional Cro-Magnons.

        3. Mike C.*

          An hour long bike ride and I saw above a soccer game (usually lasts 90 minutes). No f*cking way does this fall into the “just suck it up” category.

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            I was working off the assumption physical activity is not mandatory, just being there is. So suck it up and make an appearance, not suck it up and exercise against your will. I find it hard to believe a company would require physical activity of every employee not knowing if they can do it or not

            1. Kelly L.*

              We’ve seen enough wacky stories over the years that my disbelief is pretty much perma-suspended for team building activities.

            2. Temporary Name Change*

              Mine tried to with a “fun” day. Combined with a compulsory donation and forced annual leave if you didn’t want to play sports. And this is normally a wonderful place to work, but that announcement was the most tone-deaf thing I’ve read in a while.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I specifically said in the post that she doesn’t have to do either of those things. She just needs to show up, be pleasant, and then leave early.

        4. JB (not in Houston)*

          I envy you. I have worked at places where they are mandatory, even if labeled as optional. At one of them, we had a sports day one year, and I am (1) very fair and the sun is not my friend and (2) not athletic. People would not stop putting pressure on my to get out from the covered picnic area and go play one of the sports. I finally caved, did terribly, and was teased endlessly about it. I was miserable the whole day. And it’s only in the last few years that the place where I work didn’t have the employees being appreciated make and bring the food for it.

        5. Oh No They Took My Firstborn*

          Aaaand now I’m imagining a bunch of sweaty people in suits, juggling a baby in arm and a crockpot in the other, as they scale a desert version of Mt. Everest…

        6. WellRed*

          Bowling. Yaawn. Of course, I’d suck it up and go. For the beer. Which the company better pay for.

      2. Katie F*

        Yeah, it feels like a kind of dishonesty on the part of the company “We want you to hvae fun! But all the work will still be there when you get back, you won’t enjoy what we’re planning, and we expect you to invest financially in it by having to buy the food you prepare for other employees to eat! Wheeee aren’t we the best?”

        I like my workplace, because my boss will, occasionally and when the budget allows for it, take us all out to lunch somewhere nice. And we have a Christmas party that consists of hitting up a particular nice restaurant every year, on the company’s dime. It allows us all to really relax.

      3. paul*

        My last manager was *awful* about that; she’d try to do a “team building” event like this about once a month, usually after hours…and actually got mad when I started not going…I’ve rarely been so glad to see a manager go.

      4. TootsNYC*

        “miserable” seems a really strong word for this!

        Whether you’re miserable or not is often a choice. Especially since actual torture isn’t involved.

        1. NotASuperHuman*

          Oh please, don’t try to blame people for unpleasant events making them miserable. That’s just mean. Torture is hardly the only miserable thing in the world!

          If you have some sort of superhuman control over your emotional states, that’s lovely for you. Or you’re a robot. Most people do get affected by the experiences they have, though.

          And yes, a day like the OP describes would make me absolutely miserable. And no, that’s not my choice. Screw that, and anyone who wants to make that my fault!

    2. Turanga Leela*

      The “workplace culture” thing… OP doesn’t say if the rest of the staff enjoys this kind of thing. If she works at an outdoorsy kind of place where most people are happy to do a one-hour bike ride, she just may not be a great fit for the organization’s staff appreciation days. I agree that they shouldn’t be mandatory, but if OP is a department head, she may be expected to show up anyway. There’s some good advice in this thread on how to make the best of it.

      For whatever it’s worth, OP, I do better with this kind of thing when I think of it as part of my job. It’s not your job to go on the bike ride, but it sounds like it is part of your job to show up, put on your game face, and rep your department. Good luck! I hope it’s not too bad.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this is what I was thinking too – if the majority of the staff actually do like this kind of event, than as management it is OP’s job to show up and not whine about it, but also support people that want to opt out (as it sounds like she’s done by allowing her whole team vacation that day?).

        Since it sounds like she’s kind of new, it sounds like this year her job is to suck it up and show up for at least part of the day, and then to advocate for alternatives if there are a lot of staff members that don’t feel “appreciated” by events like this. I totally get where the OP is coming from – my favorite part of past events like this at my previous jobs were escaping back into the air conditioned building while everyone else was outside – I enjoyed sitting quietly by myself as much or more than being outside all day enjoying the festivities.

        Unfortunately, it sounds not un-similar to spending a ton of time organizing Mother’s Day gifts and events with my mother and mother-in-law, to the point where I don’t enjoy it at all myself as a mother or as a daughter.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Omg yes to your last paragraph. Why is it only the oldest mothers actually get to enjoy themselves? It should really be called grandmothers and great grandmothers day.

          1. The Strand*

            Sounds like fathers and older siblings need to step up and help out the “younger” mothers, by making sure that Mother’s Day is enjoyable, not another burden.

    3. Person of Interest*

      Seriously, I don’t get the big deal with the potluck food issues (aside from being asked to cook your own appreciation lunch). I have food allergies and I’m a fairly picky eater. When we do a potluck I just make something I like and eat that, and if no one else likes it then great, dinner is already made. Or if I’m too busy to cook, gourmet cookies from the grocery store and done.

    4. TootsNYC*

      This is the point that I keep coming back to, every time these things come up:

      “It’s one day.”

      It’s one meal. It’s one afternoon.

      It’s also not necessary for a grownup to enjoy everything they do. Some stuff is great, some is mildly interesting, some is meh, and some is downright horrible. I really don’t think this rises to “downright horrible.”

    5. Guest*

      I’m not sure how you got “I should never have to participate in anything that isn’t super fun while at work” from “I don’t want to go to this event because xyz.”

      I don’t think anyone’s arguing that this is the worst thing in the world, it just sounds annoying and pointless.

      I’m sure sure if something annoyed you, you wouldn’t appreciate someone being dismissive of you.

  11. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

    My first thought was ‘mental health sick day’. Good time to use that PTO maybe.

  12. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    Asking staff to cater their own appreciation day is like a pot-luck wedding – it is gross and rude and just… no.

    That being said, while I certainly feel you on not wanting to participate, your attitude towards this day seems overly hostile rather than simply annoyed – and your comment about coworkers food seems judgy (plenty of people eat healthy and bring healthy things to pot-lucks). It could just be that tone doesn’t translate well in writing – but that is how it comes off. The reason I bring this up is I wonder if there are underlying things at the office that you are upset/angry about and you are projecting your feelings about those situations onto the appreciation day? (If I am wrong about the tone, just ignore that)

    If your entire staff will be out of office and those proposals must be turned in that day, I definitely think that is a valid excuse to not attend. Do you think presenting it that way will just be met with “well why can’t you have them done the day before?” or are proposal deadlines well understood to take priority in your company?

    1. Government Worker*

      I agree about the potluck. My default potluck dish is a quinoa and vegetable salad – I like it because it’s vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and hearty enough to serve as a main course for anyone who is having trouble finding other things in those categories, but it’s also just a side dish that won’t cause raised eyebrows as being weird vegan fo0d.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        At one of my previous companies we had a no gluten vegan and the company ALWAYS ordered a vegan dish for him (that we could all partake of of course) and he always brought really interesting and yummy things to pot-lucks

      2. DoDah*

        I am so opposite you. I am a health-nut but I see a pot luck as a chance to cook something crazy-indulgent that normally, I would never let myself have at home. Plus I like feeding people something over-the-top.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Costco makes a great one of these too. I’m the queen of meat and potato eaters and even I like it.

      4. TootsNYC*

        yep! The one good thing about a potluck is that you get to bring something that you KNOW you will want to eat. (and will be able to eat)

        So, OP, do that. Then you’ll have food.

    2. CrazyCatLady*

      A bit off-topic, but though I’ve never heard of a potluck wedding, I wouldn’t be offended by it. Work is different because they’re pressuring you to attend by threatening your livehood.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        It is considered rude because you are the host, so you should be hosting your guests fully, not having them provide themselves (and you) with the refreshments you should be providing.

        1. Natalie*

          It’s considered rude in *some cultures*. In others, potluck weddings are fine or even traditional.

          There’s no factory-installed etiquette standard, wedding or otherwise.

          1. the gold digger*

            I would be happy to attend a (local) potluck wedding, especially if it were done so the couple could include more people.

            I just got back from a potluck funeral. Family provided the fish fry and some catered dishes, but almost everyone brought some kind of dessert. It’s how we roll in my family.

            1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

              Funerals are different – you are assisting the bereaved.

              I never said I wouldn’t attend a pot-luck anything – I happen to enjoy pot-luck parties. I brought up the wedding as a comparison. Because a work pot-luck to celebrate Flag Day is one thing, but saying “hey we’re having a day to show you how much we appreciate you! Oh but you have to feed yourselves because we don’t appreciate you *that* much” falls along the same lines as asking guests you are hosting to feed themselves (this is going off US etiquette evidenced by writers like Miss Manners and Emily Post that asking guests who are likely bringing a gift to also feed themselves is seen by many as rude – like asking someone to dinner at your house then charging them for the dinner and wine).

              IMO a put-luck appreciation day doesn’t show very much appreciation. I was trying to express that via that comparison.

              1. the gold digger*

                In that case, I completely agree with you. I am happy to contribute when it is voluntary and I am on equal social standing with the people hosting, but I don’t feel appreciated at work if I am ordered to prepare the food for my own appreciation.

      2. WellRed*

        I went to a potluck wedding, which is unusual but i dont think it was offensive to most guests
        Course, i am in thrifty Yankee territory where an over the top wedding would raise more eyebrows

        1. JTD*

          I’ve been to one and it was fabulous. Very in tone with the couple and their friendship circles. And that was the wedding gift – they wanted us to share favourite dishes with each other as our gift to them. I was very smug that my very basic dish was scoffed completely.

          1. esra (also a Canadian)*

            I have NO idea how my friends’ potluck wedding worked, but somehow it did. The old Europeans + young health nuts + baking fiends all somehow came together (with zero organization and not a single spreadsheet) to make the most amazing meal.

    3. Parenthetically*

      I had a pot-luck wedding. I had a dozen or more people remark on what a good idea it was and how everyone felt like they were pitching in to make it a great day. The atmosphere (outdoor wedding in a friend’s big backyard) was casual and convivial, and the meal was amazing — not that I got to eat a lot of it! :)

  13. CMT*

    It doesn’t sound fun, but since you are obligated to go, at least try to work on your attitude. With an attitude like the one in the letter, you’re going to hate it no matter what. At least give yourself a chance to not be miserable.

    1. Happy Lurker*

      I would have an attitude too! OP says they have to do a few late nights in order to take the time to attend the event. That would burn me alone, but the potluck and mandatory sports would just be the icing on the cake.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Part of those late nights sound like his own making though, since he allowed his entire department to take vacation when there is a proposal deadline…

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          It’s almost like he’s already showed that he appreciates his staff by working longer hours to accommodate their vacation plans…….

      2. CMT*

        Which is part and parcel of being a manager. And, honestly, part of being an adult is sometimes doing things you don’t want to.

  14. Stephanie (HR)*

    I loathe staff appreciation events (I’m such an introvert), but as HR, my attendance is pretty important, and I’m usually even the one in charge (no, they’re never mandatory when I’m in charge!) I also have some difficult-to-accommodate dietary needs, so I can’t even usually eat or drink anything at the event to keep my hands busy. So this is what I do:

    1. Remember that Staff Appreciation events are about the Staff, not me, and about their morale. So I go, smile, and try to be a force of happiness. I chat with people for a few minutes, mingle, participate in the activities I can, and then move on with my day. It’s just Part Of The Job when you’re in management or HR, and there really are staff who need/enjoy these kinds of morale boosts.

    2. I say no. I never say no to attending, helping, setting up, tearing down, being friendly, but I say no to the things that I Will Not Do. Like the mechanical bull-riding. A very no-nonsense “No, thanks, not for me.” shut that down fast. Eating a cookie? Sorry, can’t, I’m on a weird diet, but how is it? Even if it’s “mandatory,” if you do what you can, and draw the line where you have to, people are pretty respectful.

    3. I build enough capital with my boss to put work first. By attending as many of these vents as possible, doing as much as I can, putting on gloves to serve cake when the dietary staff is going crazy, when I need to bow out because of a deadline, nobody bats an eyelash. If all I can do is show up for five minutes and say hi, then I have to run back for recruitment thing, it’s all good.

    4. I volunteer. I’m pretty task-oriented and socially a little awkward/shy, so the socializing aspect is easier for me when I have a job to do. So I serve cake, keep score, pour drinks, scoop candy, whatever. That allows me to focus on a task, and keep the pleasantries short, and I don’t feel like an anxious, awkward wall-flower with no wall to stand against. It also makes it easier to explain why I’m not eating the cake–I’m busy serving it. Why am I not running the 5K? I was taking pictures at the finish line or serving water at the water station.

    1. Hellanon*

      #4: yes, this, always. Easiest way to attend these things is if you have a specified job – check people in, help with the food or the setup – anything that gets you gracefully out of the things you don’t want to do is a plus!

    2. TootsNYC*

      great practical advice!

      OP, I’d say, just don’t put so darned much emphasis on this. It’s during the work day, at least–there’s that! You’re just being paid to do something different with your time.

      And keep your focus on the other people. Stop thinking about yourself and how much you plan to hate this.

      Focus on the other employees from other departments; ask them about themselves, their work, etc. Treat it like you’re interviewing them for a story, or something. Get out of your own head, and focus your energy on other people, and relationships between departments, etc.

    3. Parenthetically*

      #4 forever. I once had to go on a retreat with about six zillion other people, most of whom I didn’t know, and was freaking out about it until the woman in charge of coordinating it asked if I’d like to lead a discussion group between sessions at one of the tables. Being a facilitator with a specific job (rather than “go! have fun! socialize! meet new people!”) just eliminated the anxiety for me.

        1. Bee Eye LL*

          If you get impaled at a mandatory work party, that still counts for a Workman’s Comp claim, right?

  15. Cookie*

    The cost of pot lucks is an issue that the OP should raise…especially if it doesn’t apply to him. I had a co-worker mention to me that they couldn’t participate in food day because as a single parent she really couldn’t afford to bring something and didn’t feel right about eating then. I actually baked something for her but I will admit I hadn’t thought about that before. As a “leader” it gives him a way to discourage these types of events while it can look like he cares about his employees and company morale.

    A friend in another department had a horrible time when her boss would have lunch meetings at expensive restaurants and each person was expected to pay. Most of the people in the group couldn’t afford it (they always packed and didn’t go to “sit down” places at lunch) and started saying no…the manager got really angry at people. It made everyone uncomfortable and didn’t really go away until this manager did.

    1. Cake Name*

      >A friend in another department had a horrible time when her boss would have lunch meetings at expensive restaurants and each person was expected to pay.


      1. Happy Lurker*

        I worked for one of them…and then the “boss” would have no money and we all chipped in for her. I found many, many excuses for every meal after that. Thank goodness she wasn’t my direct boss!

      1. Cookie*

        If you don’t have friends just make your employees go to lunch with you. It was pretty awful.

    2. BRR*

      I’ve totally brought my own food to a pot luck. I used to be a far pickier eater (and to a certain extent still am) and I would just rather not worry about it.

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Did anyone tell the manager? I honestly feel like unless people have money issues themselves they’re sometimes clueless about this kind of thing … and it doesn’t come from a mean place, it just honestly doesn’t dawn on them!

      1. Cookie*

        Yes, several people told her but she didn’t feel it was a legitimate reason. They should budget better and attend for the good of the team. She was a pill.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          That sounds like my workplace. I’ve brought up issues that others face but that I don’t. Stuff like having some group bonding activities during the workday so parents can attend or some people might not like to drink so maybe some group activities shouldn’t be at the bar…

          Yeah. They looked at me like I had 3 heads and was trying to crap on their fun.

  16. TeaPotDesigner*

    My old companies had a couple of these staff appreciation parties. My director showed up, but he was rarely present throughout the whole event – only showed up in the designated “Director’s speech” slot, maybe chatted with some team leaders, had a drink or two and then left. We didn’t mind much, we just assumed he had a lot to do. So what I am basically saying is, just show up, socialise for a couple of minutes and then head back to the office. Most would assume you have deadlines. The lower ranking staff would be glad the boss is gone, so they can really cut loose.

  17. Argh!*

    Complaining about the food at a pot luck is really bad form, since you have the option to bring something that you yourself like.

    Don’t be a food nazi! Go, enjoy the day, and don’t be a party pooper or a snob. It’s a gift and you’re not supposed to look a gift horse in the eye.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        Yeah it reminds me of when Ralphie got the bunny outfit in A Christmas Story then his mom made him go put it on.

      2. What's In A Name*

        Also not a gift if you have to bring a potluck dish big enough to feed the crowd or put in extra hours to make up for the party-time because workload dictates that. Both involve cost to the receiver.

      3. TootsNYC*

        It’s still a gift even if you don’t enjoy it. No gift is *required* to please its recipient in order to qualify for the title of “gift.”

        It might be no a -great- gift, but it’s still a gift.

        And it’s hard to come up w/ a gift that pleases everyone.

  18. Bend & Snap*

    So I HAAAATE these things a lot.

    I usually buzz in for a slice of pizza/glass of wine/whatever, do a lap, and boogie out of there. Nobody knows I was there for half an hour or less.

    1. C Average*

      Yep, exactly. This has always been my approach.

      (And as I’m going through the motions, I find myself wondering if everyone else is also going through the motions. If you were to take an anonymous survey of event attendees, would the haters be the minority or the majority?)

      1. SevenSixOne*

        “If you were to take an anonymous survey of event attendees, would the haters be the minority or the majority?”

        I wonder this too! I doubt that more than half of the attendees would say they enjoyed it, and even then it’d probably be more like “eh, it wasn’t the worst way I’ve spent a Sunday afternoon” than “I HAD A BLAST!!! CAN’T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR!!!”

        1. C Average*

          I feel like the best-case response would be “it didn’t suck as much as I thought it would.” I find it impossible to believe that anyone is truly enthusiastic about these things, and their continued existence is bewildering to me.

          (Whenever I think about stuff like this, I remember a life-changing moment in college. I had been at a loud, awful, boring, beer-drenched party at the Delta Chi house, and I decided I was tired and wanted to go home, so I did.

          I found one of my best friends sitting in the TV room, eating Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese and watching “The Matrix,” which immediately struck me as the most enjoyable possible thing to do on a Friday night.

          “Why aren’t you at the party?” I asked, because everyone in our sorority had gone to the party.

          “Because it wasn’t mandatory, and I hate parties. Actually, almost everyone hates parties. They just think they’re supposed to like parties, so they act like they do.”

          Eureka moment: It’s okay and kind of normal to not like parties, and you don’t have to go to them just because someone invited you.)

  19. BRR*

    You could also try asking for some comp time for having these late nights due to the event as another option.

    I think I’ve said it before but mandatory fun sounds very North Korean to me. This event doesn’t sound like it’s up my ally and I know the consensus here is usually against this type of thing but I think these things are more tolerable (and in some cases enjoyable) if you don’t go in with an attitude of “I know I’m going to hate this.”

  20. Rocky*

    My sympathies, but as a department head myself, I agree with Alison that you have to go unless you’re willing to use up some political capital. This whole thing sounds dreadful to me, but I’d probably go to the part that seems least terrible or most convenient, then say “Sorry, but deadlines” for the rest. I’d guess we all have things we absolutely hate doing, but have to at least phone it in occasionally, because it’s part of the job.

  21. Bee Eye LL*

    I have worked for two places that did the mandatory fun day:

    1. Company founder’s birthday – in the summer heat – outside all day. Co-workers were taking shirts off and slathering up with suntan oil. It was soooo awful. Every year. And no alcohol was served.

    2. Another company celebrated it’s founding by having a party for all clients AFTER work. So we were expected to work all day, then schmooze with clients for a few hours after. We all got paid salary so no overtime or extra pay was earned though we were expected to “make an appearance”. At least there was beer.

  22. madge*

    I’m curious as to why all of your staff are taking vacation on this particular day? Are they avoiding the “appreciation” day? That gives you more ammo to push back on this thing. It sounds like a nightmare, and I’m someone who lives for baseball, picnics and bike rides. How about a survey to let employees give feedback on what non-monetary things would make them feel appreciated?

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I’m also curious why, if these proposal deadlines are so important, OP let his entire department take vacation around a deadline?

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        I wondered this as well. Actually I can’t imagine many scenarios when I’d allow my entire staff to be off at the same time but definitely not with proposal deadlines imminent!

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          Exactly! It seems odd to me. But if his entire staff is two people, then it makes more sense

    2. Balance Beam*

      I’ll be honest – I did this a few years ago in my old job because I wanted to get out of attending the company holiday party. It was after work hours, drinks only (no food). I knew it was going to be a big hot mess (in past years, people got super wasted and sexually harassed co-workers), so I just took a PTO day.

  23. Christine*

    I am curious about the biking thing, are they being supplied for you? Get a tube of white lipstick, smear it around your lips the afternoon before, eat something spicy if it makes you flush or sweat. Start feeling ill, throw a bag of cough drops on your desk along with a box of alka selzer, throw a fizzy in a clear cup and dump it, so it looks like you drank it …. “I am too sick to go, really need to go home, but I have deadlines.” I’ll stay at the office.

    Do you a question for the PO … how is all of staff going on vacation that day? You might get dinged on letting everyone take off on the same day. Most employers require a certain number of employees to be in house; that not everyone can take off the same day in case something comes up, etc.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are plenty of depts where that works just fine. It just depends on the work. We should trust the OP to know if it’s okay in her office or not, since it’s not the point of the letter.

  24. Violet Fox*

    I wonder how this day would work for people who can’t do things like an hourlong bike ride for whatever reason (no bike, cannot ride a bike, physical ability, physical disability etc). It just does not seem well thought through, timing with deadlines aside. I think though rather then approaching it from the side of ugh bike ride (even though I agree there), approach it from the side of the work you need to get done for work, the deadline, projects etc.

    1. Anne*

      I was wondering this too. I haven’t ridden a bike in years, and I’m almost 8 months pregnant. There’s no way I would be able or willing to go on a bike ride (especially in this “feels like 110” mess that Texas has going on right now…)

    2. TootsNYC*

      You just say you can’t go. And you hang out and wait for everyone to get done, or you quietly leave. There will almost always be some sort of “headquarters” area.

      Nothing can work for everyone. In general, people don’t expect it to.

    3. Maxwell Edison*

      I’d have an easy out – I’ve never learned to ride a bike (and at my age, I’m not about to learn).

  25. Lily Rowan*

    I basically agree with what others have said about sucking it up, putting in an appearance, not sounding like you think your coworkers are disgusting, etc., BUT:

    Given that it’s a full day in an awkward location, and you have deadlines that day, I feel like you can safely skip the event. I have never been able to get a proposal done a full day in advance of the deadline, if it’s a deadline that other people know.

    1. CMT*

      Or leave early? I don’t know if that would be logistically possible in this scenario, but I think showing up and pretending to enjoy yourself for an hour or so and then ducking out with the (valid) excuse that you have work to do would be fine.

  26. Nicola*

    I think there’s a lot of value and respect for those who are a good sport about it all. Bring something healthy to the potluck. I bet there are a ton of people who would appreciate it. Also, if you don’t want to play in the sport, cheer on the others. Just be there and have some fun even if you have to fake it.

    1. Brooke*

      Yep. These things very often turn out to not be as bad as anticipated. This is about the team, not any one individual, and graciousness shouldn’t be overlooked.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, and there will likely be others opting out of some or all of the physical activities who may appreciate there being a department head who is also forgoing them.

      Depending on the size of the company and how high up your position is, I may plan to stay for the whole thing even if it means doing the proposal work ahead of time. From the perspective of lower level staff who may also be dealing with deadlines or wishing they could skip the mandatory fun, it looks pretty crappy for a dept head to ditch on the day they’re supposed to be “appreciating” the staff. Seems like the political capital may be better used to push for different appreciation methods in the future than to get out of this one day.

      Of course, if it’s a large company where your absence or early departure won’t really be noticed, than maybe it’s not that big of a deal. But I could see some scenarios where the best thing to do is to go and be a good sport about it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree with the idea that you might look pretty bad if you bail out.

        Almost any excuse will work for skipipng the bike ride (“my sense of balance isn’t that good right now,” or “No, I’d rather cheer everyone on” or anything else)

  27. mimsi*

    This reminds me of the time that my (former) employer decided to hold a thank you event for the staff with the Board for dealing with a challenging conference. First off, the conference was a mess because of terrible decisions made by the Board. And then to make matters worse, the event was a catered dinner in the office. A mandatory event. After hours. The staff had to wait for the Board to get their food before we could eat, and there wasn’t enough space for everyone in the conference room, so most of ate at our cubes while the Board patted themselves on the back for being so good to the “workers” – meaning the conference center workers, not us. Nothing like staying 2 hours late at work to eat some cold food out of foil trays without so as a blink of recognition that if they really wanted to thank us they could have just let us go home early one day.

    1. Christine*

      Why don’t employers just add an additional 4 hours of comp to their employees; a $25 – $100 dollar gift certificate. Seeing my co-workers after hours or doing some type of physical activity is not enjoyable.

      Years ago we did a bowling event after hours, but it was your choice. I had a because I enjoyed it. But that was a former job where we worked as a team.

      1. Judy Johnsen*

        That is an excellent idea, especially in a day where money is tight for many people. I would say maybe a few hours comp time and a few hours pay, maybe do it quarterly. And why not a catered lunch in the cafeteria? Especially around holidays?

  28. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    This is only somewhat on point but …I almost never eat food that people bring from home. I had a coworker who would brag that her young kids helped her make stuff. I have young kids and I know what it looks like when they “help”; licking fingers, sneezing, coughing and just getting their mouths in too close to the food. Might be ok for immediate family but yuck. Having said that…upper management should take note that it’s not the employees suggesting a staff appreciation day.

  29. De Minimis*

    I probably would skip it if I were the LW, even as a dept. head, though my main reason is I never learned to ride a bike, and have no athletic ability as far as ball playing.

    I got tired of potlucks at my last job…would always spend a bunch of money for stuff that people didn’t eat. Glad they don’t do that here [it’s allowed to spend company money on food for employees, that’s at least one perk of a non-government job!]

  30. Kristine*

    I don’t understand these types of events at all, but especially not mandatory bike rides. My office once scheduled a group bike ride and I had to tell them I didn’t know how to ride one! Yeah I know it’s probably weird for a 30 year old not to know how to ride a bike, but I didn’t have one as a kid so I never learned. I told them they’d need to get me one with training wheels if I really had to participate. They went without me and I got a quiet, productive afternoon out of it.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I don’t know how to ride one either – and I’m in my 30s as well. I don’t think it’s as uncommon as we’re made to believe!

    2. Rocky*

      My friend had a mandatory-fun “bike to work day” at her job. She said, “I live six blocks away, so I walk to work. And I don’t have a bike.” Response: “Borrow a bike.”

      1. Chameleon*

        Wow. I live 25 miles from work. It would take 10- 12 hours round trip for me to bike to work. I can only imagine the choice words I’d have.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          Word. I live near three very busy, take-your-life-in-your-hands-to-cross roads where literally no one rides bikes (and bikes are pretty popular where I live) and I would have some very choice words about this.

      2. JanetInSC*

        Sometimes you have to push back. Are they going to fire people because they would not/could not ride a bike into work?

    3. Gallerina*

      I’m 29 and I can’t ride a bike! My parents tried for years to teach me and I never got the hang of it. Eventually it just got too stressful for everyone concerned, so we just stopped trying.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If you ever decide to try it again, get a youth bike–essentially, a bike that is too small for you. One that will let you put your foot down without the tiniest effort.

        And find a low-moderate hill, and just coast down over and over until you get the hang of balancing.

        Then add pedaling at the bottom of the hill only.

        Then add in how to start pedaling on flat ground.

    4. Alton*

      I learned how to ride a bike as a kid, but I haven’t ridden one in 20 years. I’m sure I’d have a learning curve if I got on one now (even if you supposedly “never forget”). I think a lot of adults who don’t bike regularly are in this position.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, that “never forget” thing is totally a myth. Rode a bike as a kid, tried again as a grownup, and while I’m sure the learning curve was a bit less steep than if I’d never ridden before, I still basically had to re-learn from scratch. And I discovered that I still really don’t like bike riding and don’t feel safe doing so in the street to commute, so the bike is now with someone who actually wants it.

      2. Fire*

        Yeah, it kind of varies from person to person, but there’s always a learning curve to getting back those skills. I got mine back pretty quickly, but I think I’m unusual in that regard. It’s definitely not as bad as first starting to learn, but you can’t just immediately hop on and ride.

        1. Chroma Green*

          I know how to bike, but I get stressed out riding one through city streets — I’m more of a leisure bike-around-the-park person, which is why I don’t normally like to do city biking during rush hour (i.e. for errands).

          It was more than a decade since I “re-learned” biking, though. I once fell over my bike at a complete stop during the first few times after that, which was embarrassing.

    5. anonderella*

      I was going to post that if no one else did – can’t ride a bike. Last time I tried (age 14) I ran into a little thing called Going Uphill; the time before that (age 9) I ran into a little thing called a Metal Mailbox – that highly-witnessed event cooled off my desire to bike around the neighborhood for a few years.
      And after I realized what it was going to take to Go Uphill, I realized I only had to wait a year or two to get a driver’s permit. Biking, to me, has never been worth the trauma of the energy, painful and surprising obstacles, or hot pants required by the activity.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I had an experience with Metal Mailbox also. It started with my brother betting me I couldn’t ride the entire length of the driveway with my eyes closed. Turns out he was right.

        1. anonderella*

          “Sorry boss – can’t bike for medical reasons. I’m allergic to pain; it makes me hurt.”

    6. Thumper*

      I’m 23 and I can’t ride a bike either. My parents tried teaching me when I was little but I couldn’t get the whole balance thing down, and I was more of a stay inside and read books kind of kid anyhow, so they gave up.

    7. Violet Fox*

      I don’t know how to ride one either. On top of that I have a bad ankle (ice, winter, and I do not get along so well), which means I don’t really have a great desire to learn.

    8. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

      I know at least two people in their 20s/30s who never learned. It’s not that uncommon, and I’d find it a REALLY weird mandatory-fun activity.

    9. Rye-Ann*

      Another adult who doesn’t know how to ride a bike here! I’m 24, and at this rate I doubt I’ll ever get around to learning. (Partly because even if I bought one, I’d have to keep it in my apartment, and there’s just not a good spot for it! Also partly because I’m not much of a sports person, and because there’s several other expensive things I need to buy.)

  31. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

    “Mandatory Staff Appreciation Party” should be the name of an IPA.

    1. Laura*

      It makes me think of 30 Rock – “there ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party, ’cause a Liz Lemon party is mandatory!”

  32. Cafe au Lait*

    Am I the only one who likes Staff Appreciation Day? My current job books a patio at a local bar, and provides, pizza, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It’s not mandatory, but it is a nice chance to catch-up with my peers since we work at different locations.

    My OldJob had a 8-5 Staff Appreciation Day. While I was dreading it for days before, it turned out quite nicely. I met a ton of people I *should* know to help do my job, but didn’t know because that college was a disaster at communication. They gave us swag, fed us lunch, made sure that we moved around a lot to meet new peers. I got 200% better at my job after that day since I knew who to contact to pass the byzantine levels of bureaucracy I had been trying to navigate.

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I love it too, but my current and previous companies did it right, where they provided the food, there were multiple activities of varying types, and it was definitely not mandatory

      I’d love the one OP describes too, honestly, but I get not being into it. It is OPs demeanor that bugs me, though I agree that this appreciation day doesn’t sound very fun.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        I’m picturing “hour-long bike ride” as “bike ride from 9-10am” meaning the hour is when bikes will be available, but not mandatory. The same with sports; there are fields booked so staff can play, but you’re not required to play one or the other. The potluck does sound like a bummer.

        The mandatory aspect doesn’t even bother me because you can’t meet peers if they don’t show up. I’m an anxiety-prone introvert, and it’s incredibly hard for me to put myself out there. But I realize the value of attending when I’d rather be holed up in cubicle.

        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          That’s a fair point – it might just be that bikes are available for a certain time. I keep wondering how large this company is, where this is all playing out (are there shaded areas to hang if you aren’t into physical things) how folks are expected to get there if it is so far away from the area they work, etc.

          I think mandatory is fine for company events that are business related, like end of the year wrap ups or what have you, but making an appreciation day mandatory doesn’t seem very appreciative…

          1. Regular Coffee Drinker*

            Yeah, OldJob would usually start with a thank you from the provost. Then they’d start discussing stats on how many students finished their degree this year versus dropping out. They’d read compliments students would send in about staff. Even though I wasn’t personally involved, I felt like my work was appreciated even when invisible.

    2. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

      I like staff appreciation events as a rule, but adding ‘mandatory’ to it would turn me against it pretty fast. My current job likes to get us gifts instead of the big party. Last year we got Bluetooth speakers, previous year really nice branded ceramic coffee mugs with lids, one year was rechargeable batteries for USB devices. They hold an in-house lunch buffet during work hours and that’s it. Its nice.

    3. corporate anon*

      I like them when they’re optional. My current company gives people the option the attend the summer party during a work day or take the day off. There are some people who choose to work instead of going to the party or having a day off, but it’s their choice (HR frowns upon a manager forcing them to work unless it’s for a stop-everything-we-need-to-fix-this-immediately emergency).

      Even the ones I’ve been to where there were physical activities, they were always optional and most people didn’t care if you wanted to participate or just sit and eat or stay for 30 minutes before leaving. I guess I’ve just been lucky that all “fun” activities at my current and previous companies haven’t been mandatory.

    4. Whats In A Name*

      I love them too, but for my employers they’ve been during work hours but optional, offered a variety of activities, been open to family and catered. I wonder if that would change if I saw it as mandatory and had to bring something in order to participate.

    5. AdAgencyChick*

      Yours at least sounds far better than the OP’s — no forced physical activity, and no making employees bring the food!

    6. Marillenbaum*

      Yeah, I’ve enjoyed staff appreciation events when they’re done the way you describe. My old office handled them much more poorly (potlucks, mandatory, etc.) but I would make the bet of it, because I was too junior not to and I might as well try not to hate it.

    7. JMegan*

      I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but my previous job had the best Staff Appreciation Day I’ve ever seen. And this was a dreary government office with super-low morale (or maybe that was just me, lol…)

      The office was split between two cities, and the event was at a provincial park halfway between them – about an hour’s drive for most people. It was mandatory, but it was during work hours, and it finished at 2:30 so everybody could get home in a reasonable amount of time. The day went like this:

      ~Arrive and set up
      ~Unstructured activities – some people went for a walk in the park, others played volleyball or board games, others just stood around chatting.
      ~Lunch (potluck)
      ~Structured activity – usually baseball, and “cheering” was a totally acceptable way to participate
      ~Director’s remarks – ten minutes max
      ~Tidy up and head home.

      I am not usually a fan of staff appreciation events, but this one really did work well. It struck just the right note of getting everyone together away from the office, with people encouraged to participate in the various activities – or not participate – in whatever way felt most comfortable for them. Now I’m in a place that does no team-building at all, and I have to admit I kind of miss it!

      1. Judy*

        At a former employer, they did a fairly good staff appreciation day. During the morning there were at least 3 offsite activities to choose from, over the years including go-karts, bowling, target shooting, golf, canoeing, or you could work. There was a catered lunch in the park, and the afternoon had games at the park, a softball game, volleyball, cornhole, bocce, and card and board games at the shelter. We were done around 2:30 or 3, free to go home.

    8. Fire*

      It super depends upon how it’s done. Like, for instance, one of my current workplaces is doing a super awesome one next month: we’re closing up for three days, and they’ve rented us a cabin in the next state over, less than two hours away. Current employees only, and totally unstructured. It’s near some great mountain biking trails, which is a plus for a bunch of us (we’re a restaurant with bike delivery), but you don’t have to go mountain biking if you don’t want to. It’s also okay if you just want to hang out outside and read. Alcohol is also allowed, though you need to bring it yourself. And the whole thing is optional.

      1. Nina-Marie*

        So let me get this straight – you get to go and spend 3 days and nights with your coworkers on a sort of summer camp while leaving spouses home to deal with the day to day responsibilities of family life? I wonder how well that will go over the spouses/partners. Not to mention – spending 72 hours with my workmates doesn’t sound that much fun. Also – If you don’t chose to participate – do you get to have a paid vacation for those days? I bet that most of the staff would rather have the $$ spent on this Summer Camp split up and put in their checks as a bonus.

    9. BananaPants*

      I enjoy our staff picnic. We all meet up at noon at a park maybe 5 minutes from the office. The managers grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie burgers and serve a bunch of sides and non-alcoholic drinks (all on the company dime). There are sports but those who choose not to participate can just sit in the shade and chat or play giant Jenga or whatever. People start to leave at 3ish and everyone is invited to one manager’s nearby house to enjoy the contents of his kegerator if they so choose. It’s a fun afternoon away from the office.

    10. TootsNYC*

      I like them too!

      But that’s because I start with the idea that it might be mildly fun, or that I could MAKE it mildly fun.

        1. Marvel*

          Seriously. People have different tolerances for things. You have a high tolerance for mandatory work events; congratulations.

          1. Being Anon Right Now*

            Heh, seriously. And the whole CBT/The Secret/etc “you’re only miserable if you think you’ll be miserable” thing is really condescending and annoying.

            Yes, grownups sometimes have to and can suck it up for an afternoon, especially if they’re managers and getting paid manager salaries. But it’s helpful to vent, and on boards like this one, it’s useful to let other employees or employers know that a lot of people really dislike these events, especially the mandatory aspects, and maybe change workplace culture around that.

    11. Marvel*

      I like them when they’re not mandatory. That is literally the most important thing for me; I do not appreciate being told how to have fun or who to have it with in my off hours.

      I also work a job where 50-60 hour weeks are common, so I feel Very Strongly about this.

  33. animaniactoo*

    I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this yet, but that’s a really curious coincidence that all of your staff are out on vacation on the day of a company event that you dislike yourself….

  34. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

    As an obese person, I had potlucks too!

    For starters, I struggle with healthy food choices, so being surrounded by sweets and greasy meats is challenging! If I were an alcoholic I would not go to a bar, but struggling with food addiction I”m told to “suck it up buttercup” and deal with being surrounded by this stuff and it’s mandatory for me to attend!

    In addition, I get GLARED at when I walk up to the food line and people heavily scrutinize everything I put on my plate! It’s really, really, annoying! If I put too little on my plate people make this “Puh-lease. You know DT eats more than that usually!” and if I load up a hefty portion similar to those over-indulging around me there’s the “Tsk-tsk DT has no self control.”


      1. Murphy*

        It’s a really common micro-aggression. People, often unconsciously I hope, judge me and my food choices because of my size. It’s a really demoralizing experience to go to the grocery store and have people side-eye you because you put something in your cart they think you should have.

        1. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

          My spouse flipped the first time this happened when he was around. He had a crazy sweet tooth that week and bought ice cream, chips, gummy bears, caramel sauce, and candied pineapple.

          The teenager at the check out counter looked at me and said “I bet I know who all this is for!” With a big smile like he was in on some unique joke. My husband deadpanned “This is all for me.”

          Sadly, not the end of the story!

          The teen then proceeded to argue with my spouse! Guffawing a “What! No way. Nice joke. This isn’t for you.” By the end of it my husband practically yelled – this stuff is for me why do you think it’s for my wife! Before the teen got it. I sent my husband away to get paper towels to diffuse the situation.

          The teen then looked at me and said quietly – is this *REALLLLYY* all for your husband. I told him “Yes. I actually don’t like candy.” True! My struggle is more cakes and cookies, I’m not a fan of candy of any sort. Even candy bars.

          1. Nina*

            Good Lord, that’s awful. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

            Bad enough the clerk said it, but he just kept going. Talk about digging your own grave, kid. I wouldn’t blame you or your hubby for going off on him.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I wish you’d said, “What, just because I’m fat? Not cool, dude.”

            I like your hubby, though.

      2. BananaPants*

        It’s very common for overweight and obese people to have their food choices judged. If you’re fat, consuming anything other than a salad in public will mean you’re judged.

        I’m the only overweight person in my husband’s entire extended family – they all have naturally fast metabolisms; the sort of people who can eat and eat and never gain an ounce, and they’re all married to similar people. Let’s just say that I am NOT so blessed. At family parties I never go up to the food until most of the other adults have eaten and then when I do go I have maybe a half portion of the entree and never appetizers or dessert. If I actually take portions like everyone else I get very pointed looks and even little comments.

        1. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

          Sadly I get judged even when I just eat a salad! They make this face of “She’s just making a show.” Sometimes they’ll even comment – “Is that really going to be enough for you?”

          I get side-eyed at the gym, even though I am there more often than most of the folks looking “confused” as I train my husband on proper weight-lifting and neutral-spine techniques.

          Luckily I grew up husky, and then was super fit in college, so I developed quite the confidence. I was pretty good high school athlete as well and I’ve accomplished some awesome physical feats. These people don’t impact the way I view my body – but it is still annoying!

          1. Ange*

            Yes, I have a co-worker who does that to me. She actually suggested that she should bring me a book on how to eat healthily. I am 41. (Not that younger people don’t know how to eat healthily, but seriously, I’ve been feeding myself for 20+ years.) The same co-worker also likes to tell me that if I followed her diet I would cure all my health conditions in a month. Two of these are genetic…. The best part is that we work in a hospital.

    1. Chris*

      I am obese myself, and it’s been over a decade since I was the first person to get food at anything. I would rather they run out and I get nothing, than have me be the first person to have food. Our days are spent carefully navigating to minimize public judgement… to paraphrase Lindy West, if an obese person and a non-obese person are both sitting on broken chairs, the non-obese person will have the chair break because it was broken; the obese person will break it because fatty-go-boom, etc.

      Oh, and a sidenote: if you’re around fat people who make jokes about their weight, don’t join in, k thx. It’s a defense mechanism for us.

    2. chickabiddy*

      I’m a large woman too, and today I stopped by the grocery store with the good bakery to pick up some fritters (for a family member who wears a size XS, not that it should matter) and the clerk looked at them, looked at me, and said “I can see you have quite a sweet tooth”. Sorry, family member, you’ll have to buy your own fritters from now on because I’m not going back to that store.

      1. GrumpyPants*

        That is so terrible! I always seem to end up in line at the grocery store checkout behind that person who only has *healthy* foods in their cart, mine being a mix of healthy and definitely not healthy, and getting side eye and arched eyebrows from them. What I put in my cart is my business, no one else’s! And certainly not the person at the check out! And if they did, I would talk to the manger about the poor customer service. Grrrrr…..

  35. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I hate complaining about these things because I’m sure the organizing committee genuinely thinks this will be a fun day for everyone. But a few things really stood out for me here. I’m not sure what your work dynamic is (so this potentially isn’t an issue at all) but ALL of the activities you mentioned are physical. Which means that anyone with mobility issues or other physical issues likely won’t be able to participate. Also the potluck … it sounds like you’re going to be outside all day so is there anywhere to refrigerate anything? Are there coolers or fridges? The last thing anyone needs is eating some funky cheese on a hot summer day.

    All that said … if your diet is so regimented you can bring whatever you like to eat in a bigger portion – I’m sure your coworkers would be happy to share. But I wouldn’t automatically assume that all of them will prepare something awful (unless you have actually experienced this where you are). If I were you I’d just suck it up and go – steer clear of the activities you aren’t comfortable with but otherwise try to enjoy the day. It is only one day, after all.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      The physical activity part is concerning… The letter writer might be able to do that, but a lot of people could not. And that’s fine. If the OP is located in the same region I am, an hour long bike ride is going to be horrible and possibly unsafe for even the normally physically fit. It’s so hot and humid lately.

      1. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

        I’d feel askance about the physical activities as well, and context is something to consider here, context we don’t really have from the OP. If this is, say, a company that makes bicycles, then the activities don’t sound out of line. (Except for the mandatory part.) It’d be like my part-time job working in the OFFICE of a horse show company making all of us actually get on horses and ride around, not optional. Might be cool for some, probably way not cool for others.

        And cool/safe temperatures is a consideration this time of year as well. Ugh.

  36. Whats In A Name*

    So, I do think that this event seems overkill and not much like appreciation or a gift I do think you have an obligation to go. You are a head of a department that will have no representation AT ALL if you don’t show up. If possible, just go for an hour to a part of the day you might find the least offensive. Sounds like you can physically do the bike ride, why not just do it. You can even stay a bit ahead of the crowd and you won’t even have to talk to them. At lest you’ll be seen as a team player and company supporter – important to those above and below you in the food chain.

  37. Sans*

    Do they really think everyone is able to ride a bike for an hour? I would end up in the hospital – there’s no way I’m in good enough shape for that. I don’t even own a bike currently.

    And as someone else said, what a pain to lug a bike into work, even if you do have a car!

    1. Meg Danger*

      I think the awkward location part is a non-starter for me. I am a cyclist. When my company has events off site transportation can be a pain. +1 for carpooling, but not so much for being stuck at some far-away location until the carpool driver is ready to leave. I have been known to bike 20+ miles for work events, but it would be pretty hilarious to then bike for an hour after arrival (then bike home).

  38. Looney Lovegood*

    What about for those who are not in management positions? Our company is doing a similar event next month, focused on an athletic team sport, and I am not even a little bit interested in making a fool of myself in this way in front of people I need to see and work with every day. To make matters worse, this is being seen as the “reward” for getting through a particularly tough time for our company. It will cap off a three-month period of longer hours and stressful client calls as we go through a major change – and on top of all this change, we hit record numbers for our productivity. Many of us would be thrilled with some time off or even a dinner out, but instead we’re being asked to participate in a team sport day. It hasn’t been announced as mandatory, but the subtext is that it looks awful if you don’t go, like you’re not a “team player”. I’m wondering what I can do to get through it.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I feel for you. I hate when you work long hours and your reward is…more hours of forced socializing! Bonus points if it’s an activity you hate!

      Depending on how good your relationship with your boss is, can you talk to her and say that softball (or whatever it is) feels like more work and not like a reward, and that you’re not the only one who feels that way? If you can get any coworkers to chime in with you on that, even better. Maybe your boss will be able to raise things up the food chain so that at least management picks an activity that’s less of a pain in the ass, even if they probably won’t give up on a “reward” activity altogether.

      Failing that, plead a bad back or something?

      1. Looney Lovegood*

        Thank you for the sympathy! Fortunately I do have a good relationship with my boss, and she agreed it was a rather misplaced gesture. For what it’s worth, she is excellent about speaking up when she observes the disconnect between what the upper levels think would be a GREAT idea, and she brings them back down to earth a bit! I adore her, but I do think she’s done about all she can do in this situation. There is quite a lot of agreement among the staff as well that this is not so much a reward as a punishment. I think the reservations have been booked, unfortunately. It’s also a rather small family company with a culture of not offending the big boss, so I think any more stink than I’ve already raised would be unwise! Although, I have a feeling this will be the last “let’s all go do sports” activity for a while, if it all goes as I’m expecting.

        Honestly, the biggest part of my frustration is how this embodies the disconnect between upper management and the rank and file – they seem to be really out of touch with what the day to day is like for the rest of us who don’t get to roll in around 10 and leave early. I am trying to tamp down my bitterness!

        Haha, I think I may develop a very serious injury right around the time this event rolls around! :)

      2. chickabiddy*

        “I hate when you work long hours and your reward is…more hours of forced socializing! Bonus points if it’s an activity you hate!”

        In the spring, my daughter, who hates social studies but did all her work anyhow, was told by her teacher that because of her “diligence and responsibility” she and a few others were selected to do a special oral history project that was actually about four more hours of homework. She did not feel special.

    2. Isabel C.*

      If you’re not looking for a promotion or whatnot, I’d rely on the fact that nobody can prove you don’t have the flu.

  39. MillersSpring*

    Reminds me of the time a former boss new to the company found out that one of his direct reports had a swimming pool and strong-armed her into hosting a pool party at her house for our team of six. He even made her buy a water polo set. (!) Well, NO WAY am I appearing in a swimsuit in front of my coworkers. I told my coworkers that I would come but would not swim, then I told him during our next 1:1. He was super annoyed and disappointed. (Starting with this and other uncomfortable conversations he had with our male coworker, it became clear that the boss was deep in the closet but really wanted to see the coworker in the pool, at the gym, etc.) We had the party, and Boss was the only one who brought a swimsuit. We had good food and conversation and only dangled our legs in the pool.

  40. JMegan*

    Potlucks are standard at every staff event I’ve ever been to. I work in government, so obviously we can’t go Wasting Taxpayer Dollars (/snark) on catering or anything like that. Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, the expectation is the same, and potlucks are absolutely the norm in my experience. Obviously it’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s not also unreasonable for lots of people!

    I am very confused about the logistics of bike ride + potluck, though, and wondering how people are expected to bring both items to the location. In any case, I would suggest going for a couple of hours, avoiding the potluck, cheering at the baseball game, and ducking out early. And try to adjust your expectations a bit. Obviously it’s not your favourite way to spend a day, but if you go in thinking about how miserable it’s all going to be, you’re probably going to be right.

  41. Mental Health Day*

    OP, I’ve endured these Staff Bring Your Own Appreciation Days with a potluck at a previous job. It used to absolutely infuriate me to have to cook and prepare food for the potluck and then clean up after the whole mess and then have your normal workload waiting for you back at your desk. I nearly had a rage-stroke when I read your letter. I know people up-thread are giving you shit for a bad attitude, but honestly, I can totally see myself writing this just out of sheer frustration. You are right to be frustrated. These cheap-skate companies that make millions off the backs of their staff and then can’t even drop a few thousand on a simple catered meal. Who do they think they are fooling?

    1. corporate anon*

      The OP is getting called out for judging what other coworkers bring to a potluck, not because they have to bring food. There’s a difference between being annoyed (and rightfully so) that you’re required to bring food to an event and writing that you’d rather stab yourself in the eye than eat food coworkers bring because it’s not up to your standards.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Yes, exactly what corporate room said. This is an annoying situation but OP was judgy and borderline hostile rather than just annoyed (or at least, that’s how the tone comes across – it may not be how the OP is but that’s the tone that is being read)

      2. Mental Health Day*

        People are allowed to have opinions about things. Especially things they are going to put in their mouth. Was the OP snarky and perhaps exaggerated a bit? Sure.
        And people do bring crap to these events. Because they don’t want to spend the time, money, effort (who does?) to do any more than the bare minimum. One more reason not to have them.
        But perhaps all of your coworkers are Michelin Star chefs in their spare time?

        1. corporate anon*

          Yes, people are allowed to have opinions on what they eat, but it’s also not okay to judge others for what they choose to eat. LW can choose not to eat what their coworkers bring, but they don’t have to comment on how disgusting it is just because they don’t personally like it. That’s unnecessarily judgmental.

          1. Mental Health Day*

            You just stated above that you don’t bring food to potlucks because you are concerned that it will have dog hair in it. Others have mentioned that they are not interested in eating food that their coworkers’ children have helped prepare because of concerns about unsanitary food prep practices. I don’t think it’s a stretch to be turned off, even disgusted, at the possibility of eating pet hair, boogers, scabs, fingernail shavings, snot, germs, or anything else that managed to lodge itself under a small child’s fingernails. Nothing judgmental about it.
            The OP’s comments on this matter were written in an anonymous hyperbolic letter to an advice blog. They were not expressed to the OP’s coworkers.
            But, hey, if you are convinced that this is really the most important issue here, then by all means, don’t let me stand in your way.

            1. Kyrielle*

              And conversely, I know people who always bring chips and/or soda, *even though* they may or may not eat or drink those. Why? Because they’re cheap, popular enough to be plausible, and transport well….

  42. Rick*

    * Providing “fun” activities that employees don’t like

    There are plenty of appropriate reasons for people not to participate in a lot of activities (health concerns for athletics, PSTD for anything gun-like, bar-hopping for those who don’t drink, etc), but the negativity here carries to the natural conclusion that the company should never provide any fun activities, which I can’t agree with. Promoting an inclusive culture requires engaging employees in a casual setting. These should be varied, so that there’s at least one thing enjoyable for everyone, and reviewed so that everything is enjoyable for most people, but not thrown out entirely.

    * Making “fun” activities mandatory

    This absolutely should not happen, unless you’re in a senior role where you’re representing the company.

    * Negative attitudes by employees towards events

    I’m sure employees have to do lots of things they don’t like as part of their jobs. Maintaining a pleasant attitude around coworkers in the face of that is one of their responsibilities. LW’s attitude here is not appropriate, as representing the company is part of her job. Insulting other people’s food is especially galling.

    1. Katie F*

      Yeah, but “bad attitude in anonymous email to advice columnist” doesn’t exactly mean “will have that exact same negative attitude at the event itself”, you know? We don’t have any reason to believe the LW won’t put on a happy face once the event itself comes.

      I’ve been known to rant myself in infuriated little circles about things that I have to smile and be polite and happy for. It helps to be able to express your negative attitudes SOMEWHERE, and while I thought the letter was caustic, nothing about it told me she/he can’t put on a happy face when she/he has to.

      1. Isabel C.*

        Hee, yeah. My mom is always expressing concern when I vent about bosses or relatives or whatever around her, and eventually I had to say, “Hey, Mom, I know how to lie, remember?”

      2. TootsNYC*

        I do think there’s a danger, though, if you let yourself carry your annoyance that far. You wear a groove in your brain, and you’re in danger of slipping into it later.

        That’s exactly what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does–and it’s a PROVEN technique.

        So it’s smarter not to go there.

          1. Being Anon Right Now*


            Most of us are adults. Many of us have been going to work events/extended-family Thanksgivings/weddings where we hate half of the couple/parties with That One Friend of a Friend/whathaveyou for ten years or more. If smiling and making nice in public while making catty notes for a later brunch with actual friends has worked with us so far, I think we’ll do juuuuuust fine without the “helpful” advice, thanks.

    2. the gold digger*

      engaging employees in a casual setting

      A co-worker, who is a super quiet, heads down working all the time engineer, took his direct report who was here from the regional office to the best team-building event I have ever heard of: During the work day, they went to the state fair. He is brilliant. (She loved it.)

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I would LOVE going to the state fair as an activity. Deep-fried butter! Sharpshooter games! Farm animal petting zoo! I just really want to go to a state fair now.

    3. Maxwell Edison*

      engaging employees in a casual setting

      Maybe it’s paranoia/PTSD left over from ToxicJob, but I can’t really wrap my brain around this concept. I would not be able to relax with an employer in a casual setting, as I’d be constantly on my guard against saying/doing anything, no matter how minor, that could be used against me later. (“When you fell down and smacked your knee against a rock in the potato sack race, you swore, so obviously you have an attitude problem and need to go on a PIP.”) Or I’d spend the entire month after the event worrying if I said/did anything that could be used against me later. There’s no such thing as “casual” at some companies.

  43. Lora*

    Hey, something nobody seems to have mentioned yet – since your staff will be unavailable to participate, for whatever reason, how about *instead* you take them out for an Employee Appreciation Day some other time when they will be available…and you can do whatever you like best for that event, or rather, what the staff like best?

    Used to work 2nd shift as Essential Personnel, so my crew almost never was able to go to the summer picnics, beach outings, offsite team building exercises, etc. because we were always covering for the other shifts so they could go have “fun”. Senior management couldn’t very well say “no, you boring people don’t need to have any fun/appreciation EVER! MWAHAHAHA!” and had to let us have an evening off. We went to see that weird plasticized Bodies exhibit (bunch of science geeks), ate at California Pizza Kitchen and then went to drink beer and play billiards, because that was what everyone agreed they wanted to do.

    You might still have to show up for 20 minutes to smile and wave and sip a drink, but you don’t have to do the whole shindig.

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      Oh hey — I have a friend who worked on that Bodies exhibit! (And I shudder a little every time I hear them talk about it…)

  44. James*

    My company tries this sort of gimmick on occasion. The company spots a problem with moral or something, and decides that we need an “appreciation day” or “mentoring meet-up” or something. Fortunately they’re not pushing mandatory exercise (FitBits and the like do NOT work in a firm that includes engineers and geologists!), but they do the pot luck thing fairly frequently. I luck out; I eat healthy the vast majority of the time, and live in the South, so I indulge at those times! If you’re afraid you won’t like what others bring, and an office refrigerator is available, here’s what I do: The day before, bring a double portion of your normal lunch. Put the leftovers in the fridge. If you’re still hungry after the pot luck, eat those leftovers as a mid-afternoon snack.

    The real problem with fun activities is that the definition of “fun” is individual. Check out Errant Signal’s discussion of this on YouTube (he’s a video game critic, but the concept is more universal). I consider swordplay–from rapiers to greatswords to foils–to be a lot of fun, and I consider football to be just about the most boring thing on the planet. Quite obviously, a huge segment of the population disagrees with me; an office fantasy football league would probably be a huge success in my office. I know people who consider neither to be at all fun, but who consider cooking to be the most fun thing ever. Others would love to play cards (Hearts, Spades, Uno, and the like). And so on. As a manager in a company of any significant size, the reality is that you have two options: 1) Decide you’re okay with excluding a significant portion of your staff and opting for a fun activity that another portion enjoys; or 2) Try to be as inclusive as possible and end up with bland games/activities no one likes but no one actively hates. It sounds like your company tried Option 1.

    Personally, I dislike these sort of things because they’re pretty transparently tricks. Even if you enjoy them, are you going to stick around at a company just because it throws a party every once in a while? Of course not–it’s the general culture, the benefits, the pay, etc that keep you there. If the parties are an outgrowth of the culture that’s one thing, but if they’re used as an attempt to build the culture (as seems to be the case in the OP) they always fail.

  45. Anna Marie*

    These types of events are Hell on Earth for me! I really do like my coworkers, I just don’t want to spend my personal time with them outside of work. My boss loves this kind of crap and I’ve become the master of slipping away. Play your cards right and you can get out within an hour or so!

    Have your exit route planned out in the very beginning. For example, if you park right in front of the soccer field people are going to notice that you’ve left. Make sure you place your car in a location that can’t be seen well from the event.

    The success of the mission hinges on socializing! Decide who your key players are…the people that really want you there. Small talk with these people for 5 min. each and then slowly work yourself out of the conversations and onto the side lines. Bonus points if you can get many of these people into one conversation because you’ll ultimately get out faster!

    For the potluck: bring a veggie platter or something else of that nature – make sure people know you have brought it so your participation counts. Don’t over sell it because people will know it’s fake, it’s all about being casual. Talk about how great everything looks and consider eating a little something while you chat with key players. At bare minimum put something on a plate and carry it around. In my experience, if you don’t do this people will often ask why you’re not eating and try to push things on you…it’s not only annoying but it will draw more attention – the last thing you want.

    Biking/sports: Do they provide a bike? If not, you don’t have one, so you can’t go. Make sure you act disappointed.
    If they do provide a bike and for all team sports: you sustained a strain while you were doing [whatever regular exercise you like] and while it’s starting to feel a lot better, you don’t want to risk further injury. Make sure that you are present for the start of biking and the team sports, enthusiastically cheer them on. From there your work is done and you need to start working yourself out of the situation. Going to the “bathroom” can provide a great breaking point that’ll help you with your escape.

    1. Kristine*

      You are my hero. I’m like this with all social events and parties. Even if I enjoy the company of the people present, 90 minutes is my absolute max before I get drained and cranky. I have specific plans on how to navigate the evening and make sure I can slip out unnoticed and unmissed.

  46. Izzy*

    A company I used to work for had a mando-fun picnic every year at a somewhat remote location. They chartered buses to pick up employees from their offices. You couldn’t leave until it was over because you came on the bus. We were strongly discouraged from coming in private vehicles. I thought of that when I read the suggestions to just go for a little while. Maybe that isn’t possible.
    One of my big anxiety triggers is being stranded somewhere with no transportation or way to leave. I may not want to leave, but I need to know I can if I want to. One year I overslept (accident! Honest) and missed the bus, so I drove. Suddenly my team mates all wanted to be my best buddies, as they were ready to leave as soon as lunch was over. So we bailed – they couldn’t fire all of us.

  47. Noah*

    I mostly think these complaints, while valid, are an overreaction. However, the combination of “inconvenient location outside our city” and “potluck” seems both absurdly burdensome and likely to mean the food will either be awful because it’s gotten cold, or there will be an absurd amount of salad and cold cuts. So, unless LW doesn’t know what “potluck” means, I hope EVERYBODY at the company would ask not to combine long distance travel and potluck.

  48. Chris*

    Oh, employee appreciation events. You’re almost always the worst.

    My last job was at a library, and we had potlocks every time the wind changed. But that was because we had great cooks who loved cooking, and it was just a matter of hanging out in the break room eating and chatting.

    Formal events need to be planned, and they attract that most dreaded person: The Planner. The people who seem fundamentally incapable of understanding that human beings are perfectly capable of enjoying chatting and hanging out. But no, we need to schedule games! Events! Karaoke! C’mon, it’ll be fun!!! Don’t be a spoilsport!!!

    I am NOT an introvert. I love socializing, and hell, I’ll do karaoke on occasion. But only when the mood strikes me, and I resent being forced to do anything in that enviornment.

    Oh, and the bike ride? Lol no. It’s actually one benefit of being overweight. I can just point at myself and ask if they think I would enjoy riding a bike for an hour with coworkers.

  49. Ruthie*

    I see why this event is a major bummer, but I think it was planned with good intentions and am surprised to see so much negativity in the comments. I would be more disappointed to see my colleagues approach an event like this with a bad attitude then in the misguided attempt at employee appreciation. I know the grass is always greener, but my employer puts zero effort into recognizing us.

    1. Isabel Kunkle*

      I, and I suspect other people, would much rather not be recognized at all if “recognition” means a mandatory activity that disrupts our schedule and isn’t fun for many of us. (If it was truly optional, that’d be great.)

      As far as good intentions go…well, you know what they’re paving material for, right?

    2. James*

      There’s recognition and then there’s recognition.

      Recognizing extraordinary efforts, extraordinary successes, or even just “I know you put up with a lot of crap, so here’s a way we’ll try to make it better” can be very good things. They let the employees know that you appreciate what they’re doing. And these sorts of things are tailored to the employee to a certain extent.

      A generic “staff appreciation day”, on the other hand, indicates a corporate culture where the folks deciding to throw the party are very disconnected from the employees. I may be off base here; it’s certain that the OP is not the norm in the company (the complaints about coworkers making unhealthy, disgusting food show that). But generic efforts to show appreciation often come off as exactly what I described.

      The real issue is whether they’re using this sort of event in addition to, or in place of, other efforts at recognizing employees. If they are doing this event to check the “Recognize employees” box, then moving on and ignoring the concept the rest of the year (and I’ve seen places do that), this event could actually be worse than not recognizing employee effort at all. Making it mandatory is also something of a slap in the face–it sounds too much like “I’ll tell them what to enjoy and they’ll damn well enjoy it”. (Making it mandatory for department/division heads, but not for lower-tier employees, would be reasonable–you’re upper management, you’re NOT one of the folks being shown appreciation.) Making it an inconvenient location just rubs salt in the wounds by making getting there annoying. It’s a bunch of little aggravations piled into one giant day of suck.

      I agree that one should try to make the best of it (it’s not the WORST thing I’ve done for my job, not by a long shot). But there’s something wrong if the folks you’re trying to show appreciation for come to the event and try to make the best of it.

      For my money, the pot luck is the saving grace. Bring a dish you like, enjoy sampling some of the dishes your coworkers make (does the OP SERIOUSLY think that this day and age they’re the only one to eat healthy?), and break out of your culinary comfort zone a bit. I’ve had some fantastic food at pot lucks. Okay, I also had chocolate-covered Spam, but that was a special case. And it was surprisingly un-horrible.

    3. Guest*

      I think a lot of people just have differento ideas abut work. I know some people really do seem to enjoy these kind of things, or are at least happily ambivalent for them.

      For me, and I’m sure for others, I view work as….well work. I don’t come to work to have fun. I’m not saying “fun” can never happen at work, but it’s better when it’s genuine and organic and not foisted upon you.

  50. Nina-Marie*

    I’ll never understand “Staff Appreciation” Days and Activities where the STAFF ends up doing all the extra work. I mean, it could be just me but I feel appreciated when people are doing things for ME. We have this kind of thing where I work but it lasts a full week. Each day you need to dress up as some kind of new theme. That means you have to go out and find something to fit the theme. Then you need to take a team picture so you can’t just op’t out. There are special puzzles and extra activities daily – all while getting your regular work done. Of course, there are prizes attached to these activities but nothing is given to you for free – just to say – Hey we appreciate you. No – its still like a way of forcing you to produce once again for management. I find it all a little passive aggressive.

  51. Red In SC*

    hahaha, this hit pretty close to home. I’m a senior staff at an organization and we had our staff “fund day away” today. We had a lot of people who wanted to opt out, and the CEO really didn’t want that to happen. But by calling this a “fund day away” or “staff appreciation” the organization is being too coy.

    What this is is a team building exercise. It’s a way to make all the different areas of a business or non profit work together, spend time together.

    We discussed this at our Senior Staff meeting, we’re going to change the language around these days. Change the expectation, this isn’t an “appreciation” it is team building. This is your chance to get to know those folks in finance, or operations that you don’t interact with on a daily basis.

    People at our day away, and I suspect this LW’s event don’t have the option of leaving early. We contracted a bus, so everyone was expected to be on it. We did have a great turn out, but I think it’s important for the sr. management to be honest about these days and what we’re hoping to gain from them.

  52. Chickaletta*

    The great thing about being self employed is that staff appreciation day is everyday at wine o’clock,

  53. The Other Dawn*

    The employee side of me agrees that this event has SUCK written all over it. You shouldn’t have to make your own food when it’s supposed to be a staff appreciation day or drive a long distance to participate in activities you don’t enjoy. And, yes, the monster workload will still be there when you get back.

    But the manager side of me says to rally yourself, buy a small food item to bring, have a positive attitude, and get through the day the best you can. Then be a catalyst for change for the next time this type of thing comes around. I’m not sure if it’s too late now, but you could suggest to the planner(s) that the event be catered so as to lessen the burden on employees. Being a department head, you likely have some influence in the company. Use that influence to help make the next event into something that isn’t so loathsome to the employee, or to suggest alternatives to having such an event.

    1. purple people eater*

      And someone may have already said this, but if you’ve made an appearance (I love the park in a less visible spot, bring a veggie tray, speak to the higher-ups, cheer on the start of the bike ride/sportsball, and ghost strategy), your input on the next activity will have more weight if you were seen at this one.

  54. Trixie*

    I’ve never been a fan of office functions but maybe it depends on the office. My current new space (six months) does a fair number of functions ranging from catered holiday meal to potluck lunches (folks sign up for what to bring: dishes, drinks, desserts; food is either deli or homemade) to team retreats (all-day things where office closed, activities planned for variety of abilities/interests.) But everyone participates which is great to see, especially executives. I like potlucks exactly because it’s a chance to make/buy something tasty and healthy for a team who may have never tried it before. I think it boils down to our individual attitudes and making the best of it. For most of us, there are worse things in the world than being asked to take a break from our daily jobs and socialize with our colleagues.

  55. Lamington*

    At work after people got food poisoning due to a coworker bringing shrimp and lefting it on the car for way too long abd serving it, potlucks were banned.

    One manager tried to brought them back when the VP join to welcome him. This man makes 6 figures.
    I can’t believe a Fortune 500 can’t splurge on a measly lunch, even sandwich trays, for its employees. I’m glad we went back to kill it and just met the VP on a regular meeting.

    1. James*

      I don’t think it’s an issue of capacity. I work at a Fortune 500 company as well, and we’ve done pot-lucks. The issue isn’t budget (though often the budget for this sort of thing is cut to the bone these days), but rather team-building. Cooking for an event like this brings you into the event. Seeing people eat your food and enjoying it establishes a connection between you and those people. Breaking bread together is a basic form of human interaction, going back to our earliest cultures, after all.

      That said, as a “Welcome to the company” thing for a VP, it’s a bad idea. If they had hired 15 new junior staff, sure–it’s a way to show that we’re all one big happy family, and to give the new guys a low-key chance to show another side of themselves. Making employees pay to welcome their new boss seems very tacky to me.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Making employees pay to appreciate themselves is tacky too, though.

        As a few of us have said, generic celebration, like a holiday, a pot-luck is fine. But a day meant to show staff appreciation? It’s crap to make them cook their own food.

        1. James*

          I can see that logic. On the other hand, I can also see the logic of using a pot luck to break out of the “Joy, sandwiches again” rut. Allowing people to bring their own food, and to enjoy a wider array of foods, can be a very nice change of pace, and can (in some cases) more than compensate for the annoyance of needing to buy your own food. I know folks who love to bake, or barbeque, or who have family dishes they enjoy sharing (just NEVER ask how it’s made!). Those folks love the chance to show off a bit.

          I think the big thing is to look at the culture. In one office I’ve worked out of, a pot luck would have been considered a pretty egregious burden to put on the staff–folks sometimes brought in food to share, but were never expected to. At another office, folks consider it almost a perk to have occasional pot luck meals. And in an office where a large number of people enjoy pot luck meals, using Employee Appreciation Day as an excuse works as well as any other excuse.

          To be fair, I’m generally on the side of “Don’t make employees buy their own food on Employee Appreciation Day”. I just know that in the culture of my current office, such a move would go over really well. If that’s how the office works, the OP needs to bear that in mind.

  56. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

    I think you’re framing this the wrong way. This is a staff appreciation day, and you are a department head. The day is not for you to be made to feel appreciated, you are there to make others feel appreciated. It’s part of your leadership role. It’s a bummer your staff won’t be there for you to express your appreciation, but you can support others. Maybe you can go out of your way as a leader to provide a good experience for those who opt out of the bike ride and who want healthy food options.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      The day is not for you to be made to feel appreciated, you are there to make others feel appreciated. It’s part of your leadership role.

      yes yes yes yes yes YES!

  57. Nicole*

    I hate these types of events too and wouldn’t want to go either but OP saying they rather starve than eat co-worker’s ‘horrible food.’ OP doesn’t sound childish, they sound snobby and downright rude!

  58. KP*

    I’m glad you said you were childish so I didn’t have to. You’re displaying a very rude attitude towards this. You’re better getting out of it than scowling about everyone’s ‘horrible food’.

  59. DQ*

    We know this event is mandatory for OP, who tells us that she is Department Head, but we don’t know if it was mandatory for the staff to attend though the fact that her staff isn’t going to be there suggests that it wasn’t. Sorry, OP, but your job carries additional responsibilities, including being a positive influence on your team and enthusiastically appreciating your team, and all of the other staff-level people in your organization. It should be mandatory for an organization’s leaders to attend events like this, participate, bring food, hell…they should serve the food to the staff. It is literally your job to show appreciation to the staff.

  60. Guest*

    When I first read the letter, I was put off by the tone of it and the language op used. But when I read over it again I got the impression that op was likely just being intentionally exaggerated for an effect (Like saying “It’s a million degrees outside!” when it obviously isn’t).

    I think people need to keep in mind that tone doesn’t always come across well in written form and it’s wise not to immediately make up your mind about what someone intended to say.
    That said, I too thought the food comment was rude. However, after thinking it over , I’d like to think op may have just been trying to be tongue-in-cheek or maybe they’ve already been to a few of these events and her coworkers are truly horrible cooks. Probably not, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

    I’ve noticed that a number of people were being particularly dismissive of the op. I think it’s fine to offer an alternative perspective, “For what it’s worth, these events often end up being more tolerable than we think. You might even have a good time.” It’s another thing to be flip and tell them to “get over it” or “suck it up”.

    I think giving people the benefit of the doubt also means assuming that people are intelligent enough to not need a “tough love” lecture about xyz not being the ‘worst thing ever’ and “sucking it up”.

    Look, sometimes life is just annoying and everyone knows that. I don’t care how mature someone thinks they are, everyone gripes and grumbles about life’s daily frustrations. If we didn’t we’d probably explode. So long as it isn’t done in excess, I don’t think it’s a problem.

    Honestly, it’s really easy to be above-it-all when it’s about something that doesn’t effect you or it’s not something that you care about. If op was complaining about something else that frustrated those same people, I highly doubt they’d be so eager to call the lw “childish” (as one commenter put it) or tell them to “suck it up”.

    1. Guest*

      Whew, now that all that ranting is out of the way, some people brought up the point that as a department head, the event technically isn’t for you, it’s for the staff you supervise.

      It’s a chance for you to show the staff how much you appreciate them and help make the day more enjoyable for them.

      That being said, if you truly don’t want to go to, I’d argue you could get out if by simply working on the assignments that have an upcoming deadline like you mentioned in your letter. Yes, this event won’t be the worst thing you’ll ever have to do in your career, however you’re absence won’t be the worst thing in the world to the events participants. I’m sure they’ll survive.

      Given the nature of your job, it’s probably best just to show up, even for a little while.

    2. James*

      To a certain extent, I can agree with this. In theory we’re all adults and can generally be expected to act like it. However, we all also occasionally need to be reminded that life sometimes sucks and we need to deal with it. I’ve read accounts of world war combat units where the soldiers said they had to be careful not to commiserate with their comrades too much. If they did, the comrade could easily fall into depression. Sometimes the griping had to be cut short, usually with a joke but not infrequently with a pretty harsh “What’d you expect when they drafted you, a picnic?” Keeping people from dwelling on the negatives kept their perspective and let them better tolerate the hardships. The concept is transferable to office work. I’m not saying office work is as dangerous as combat; I’m just saying that 1) sometimes we all need to be told to stop complaining and suck it up and 2) sometimes someone doing that helps you keep perspective better.

      1. Guest*

        Reading over it again, I guess I only hinted at it, but if someone is constantly griping then I’m fine with them being told to get their priorities straight. I hope it’s done nicely, but if they’re that annoying person who finds a reason to complain about everything, then I can’t blame anyone for wanting to shut them up.

        Someone complains one time, about one singular thing that ~isn’t-that-big-a-deal~ and people are ready to chastise them for it? Let’s be honest, people don’t do that because they’re trying to help someone, they do it because they can’t (or won’t) empathize – “How dare you care about something I don’t. Stop that.”

        I find that the best advice is comstructive (I’m not saying it has to be sugar coated, but you don’t have to be ass about it either). “Shut up and get over it” is not constructive – it’s dismissive (and rude, frankly).

        I mean if something annoyed me to the point where I sent an email to an advice blog, I doubt my opinion of said thing would do a complete 180 just because some internet strangers told me to “Suck it up.”

        I get your point, I really do, but the fact is no one knows this person. Maybe they do gripe constantly and need a reality check. Or maybe they were annoyed by a minor inconvience – something we’re all guilty of.

  61. sara*

    I’m unclear as to whether this event is actually mandatory for the staff who are being appreciated. In fact, it sounds like it’s not mandatory for staff, since none of your staff are coming! It may be that for those staff who are choosing to come, this is an event that makes them feel appreciated and that they really like — I guess I’m in the minority of posters here, but for me personally this sounds really fun and I have in fact participated in somewhat similar events at a former workplace (where they were optional for staffers, although like in your organization managers were expected to show up). Ultimately, as a manager this event is really not about you. If this is something that a higher-up in the organizion has planned and mandated, and the staff seems miserable, I think it is reasonable to point that out for future years that perhaps an alternate activity would be a better choice. However, it’s quite possible that this is something that is really enjoyed by the staff (and optional for them), in which case it really is your job to show up and shut up — they’re the ones being appreciated, not you.

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