my team doesn’t ask managers to hang out with them

A reader writes:

I have a small tight-knit team of eight people. The people that I’ve hired in the last two years socialize together quite a bit, which is great. The downside is they don’t invite me or the other managers; the junior members will hang out together and not invite the managers. The disappointing part of this is that this team has historically been very tight and (we hoped) didn’t feel hierarchical. As we hire more people, I would prefer that the environment feel inclusive. It’s a little awkward when five people spent their weekend together and are talking about it and the remaining three weren’t invited.

Recently at a team dinner one of them said to someone outside the department that “everyone went” to an event together. The person asked me if I had gone and I said, I hadn’t been invited. My team member said I wouldn’t have gone anyway.

The managers do have babies or life responsibilities that keep us from socializing together after hours. We also have more friends outside of work than most of the junior members so the likelihood of us participating is low. But we still would like to be asked and feel a little hurt to be left out while recognizing that the team should feel free to hang without being obligated to ask us to come. I guess they don’t want their supervisors to come along and that is tricky for us because we really encourage a “flat” culture and it’s put a small us vs. them vibe into the team.

I’m not exactly sure the best way to handle this or if there’s anything to handle at all.

Nope, there’s nothing to handle!

It’s very normal for people not to socialize with their managers. And in fact, that’s far preferable.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a manager occasionally grabbling drinks or dinner with their team! That’s fine. But managers should not typically be a regular presence in their teams’ after-hours socializing.

The reality is, flat culture or no, there are power dynamics in your relationships with the people you manage, and it’s not good for either side to blur those boundaries. You are still the person charged with assessing their work, giving them feedback, delivering bad news, evaluating them for raises and promotions, and potentially laying them off or firing them one day. You need to be able to do all of those things objectively, and — equally as important — you need people to believe that you’re doing all of those things objectively. That’s much harder to pull off when you’re regularly socializing with people who report to you (again, beyond the occasional drink or meal).

I know you’re not saying you necessarily would attend these social events; you just want to be asked. But that’s putting an inappropriate social expectation on your staff and ignoring the realities of your respective roles.

Frankly, it’s not necessarily great that your junior staff are all hanging out together this much either. There’s not really anything you can or should do about that, but be aware that it can sometimes cause problems of its own — like if one of them has a problem with her manager and the others decide to fight that as their own battle too, or if people develop group-think, or if they don’t like your next junior hire and she ends up feeling excluded, or if your next junior hire doesn’t want to hang out with coworkers this much but feels the culture expects her to, or if it just makes people feel like they can’t disconnect from work. It can also be a sign that you don’t have as much diversity on your team as you should — that you’re not, for example, hiring people who are older or who have kids or so forth.

But the immediate issue here is that you’ve got to reset your ideas about relationships with employees. You can and should have warm and friendly relationships with your employees, but you can’t ignore the power dynamics inherent in your roles. It’s not fair to expect them to treat you like peers or to be hurt if they don’t invite you to socialize.

Now, certainly if you see the group dynamics start to cause specific problems, that’s different. For example, if you felt that your junior employees were starting to act as a group when they should be acting as individuals — like filtering their ideas through each other and never suggesting anything without group approval, or spreading cynicism or toxicity — you’d need to address that. But you’d be addressing that specific manifestation, not the fact that they hang out together.

{ 308 comments… read them below }

  1. MuseumChick*

    I understand how this can make you feel left out. But it really isn’t appropriate for managers and direct reports to socialize together even if you get along really, really well. They should not be part of your social circle.

    It sounds like in the past there haven’t been good, clear, professional boundaries at your work place. It’s a good thing this is changing!

    1. Seriously?*

      It is also important to keep in mind that if you always say no to invitations, eventually people stop asking. The OP said that she and the other managers have kids and are not able to go to many after work events. If she does want to do something, then maybe she can organize an occasional happy hour or dinner with the other managers and invite the team.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        This. People who always turn down your invites but then sulk when you “figure ok, I get the hint” and stop asking are the worst. “I’m not going to hang out with you, I just want it established that you want me to hang out with you but I have better things to do. Oh, and also I’m your boss. Bish please!”

        1. BigLeaf*

          Lol. Totally not the situation but I appreciate your response. I’m more concerned about the office dynamics as the team grows and people (not just myself) feeling excluded- so it doesn’t feel like high school. The team works really well right now and I want that to continue and not feel clique-y, etc.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            You’re the boss. By definition of your job you are excluded from underling socializing. That’s how office dynamics are supposed to be. Your boss/teacher/parent/commanding officer is not your friend.

            1. BigLeaf*

              We don’t have that POV – “Your boss/teacher is not your friend” where I work or even in the industry that I work in but I hear what you’re saying and I understand that’s a division that needs to happen for some people and, to some degree, my team as well. Thanks!

              1. Catgirl123*

                You might not, but it does appear that your team does have that POV. That may be why you feel so hurt, having the mind frame that this is not the norm could be making it seem more personal that it is.

                1. Anon Asst*

                  Underlings have that POV and know while boss may be friendly, Boss is not an equal friend. There is no such thing as a flat hierarchy. It doesn’t exist.

              2. Lavender Menace*

                I don’t know what industry you work in. I work in tech, where bosses often perceive or want this “flat hierarchy”/”your boss is your friend” mentality, but where the reality is often quite different. I love my leads and they are great, warm, friendly people…but I also do not want to socialize with them outside of work. You can have a warm, non-cliquey feeling on your team without socializing with your underlings.

                1. Junior Dev*

                  Oh god. I work in tech and my “informal,” “nonheirarchical” culture is causing a bunch of huge problems around communication, where you’re supposed to *just know* what the boss wants but she doesn’t feel obligated to tell you directly.

                  It’s not on you to decide that the heirarchy is flat when you’re on top of it. There’s a power imbalance that makes it really toxic and dishonest when your boss makes pretending to be their friend an implicit condition of working for them.

                2. TardyTardis*

                  For some time at ExJob, some of managers ran Pampered Princess/CandleSomething/Tupperware parties. Guess who felt pressured to go and at least buy *something*. Finally the word came down, and it stopped, but we just kept on smiling…

              3. Atalanta0jess*

                You might be friendly, but your direct reports always know that you have power over their job. So you aren’t the same as other types of friends.

          2. Anon Asst*

            I don’t want to socialize with my boss on my own time. Most people don’t. There is no such thing as a flat culture. There is always hierarchy. Accept that and don’t let your emotions get in the way. Employees pick up on that and any projection of you acting like your feelings are hurt looks bad on you.

            1. Anon Asst*

              That’s right. It’s just a trendy but non-existent concept. Your boss is your boss no matter how friendly flat open etc.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            When you say it’s not just you that feels excluded, are you just including the other managers that you referred to in your letter, or are there other people at your staff’s level who feel excluded as well?

            If it’s strictly the managers/supervisors who are not being included in these events, that’s a totally normal thing for junior staff to do. If they’re excluding people on their own level, though, that’s a little different. You still can’t tell your employees who they can and cannot socialize with during the hours when you’re not paying them, but if there are non-management members of the team who are being left out, you’ll want to keep an eye out to be sure that those team members are still being treated respectfully during working hours.

        2. GetReal*

          I read this the same way!

          “We also have more friends outside of work than most of the junior members so the likelihood of us participating is low.”

          Really, how much more petty and insecure can a person be?

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      This. Coworkers excluding coworkers, for whatever reason? Not OK. Coworkers excluding their manager? Reasonable, if not expected. No matter how “friendly” OP is with their employees, at the end of the day the manager is still the manager.

      1. MLB*

        It’s also ok not to invite every single co-worker. If you’re excluding one specific person all the time, that’s one thing, but this isn’t kindergarten. Not everyone has to be invited to the party.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Exactly. And, as I said in my other comment, this is not work. This is personal time.

          They really can not invite anyone they don’t want to include. I mean sure it’s not a great thing to do, not “nice” and all of that but it’s their right to spend their off time as they wish.

          I can even see excluding the guy who is always inappropriate, telling sexist/racist “jokes,” hitting on women in a creepy but deniable way…every single time.

          Management doesn’t like that? Tough. This is not work time. It is private, after hours time spent with people that they just happen to work with and is none of management’s business.

    3. LondonCallingAfterHoursWhenRatesAreCheaper*

      There is nothing stopping the managers from hosting an after work hangout. NOTHING. Maybe 1-2 times a year the managers can have an appetizer hour at either one of the locations the junior people hang out, or at a venue nearby the jr’s hangout. But to expect the juniors to include you in anything they do after hours is not going to happen.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Also this is their after hours (i.e. not work) time. They are free to do as they wish when they are off the clock. They can hang out together as and entire group, two or three together, etc. It does not matter because this is not work time. The OP (and other managers) have no standing here to insert themselves in the personal, non-work lives of their staff. None.

    4. fposte*

      Yes, hierarchy isn’t a bad thing, and feeling that it is can interfere with managerial responsibilities. It doesn’t make you a dictator or mean work can’t be collaborative, but you’re getting paid to tell people what to do and it’s a problem to avoid accepting the implications of that. Hierarchy is also much more apparent when you’re looking up than when you’re looking down; the subordinates don’t have the luxury of ignoring it even if the manager does.

      1. Junior Dev*

        The exception might be if you were a worker owned cooperative or something, that literally had no managers at all. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. If you have the power to fire someone, they cannot be your equal. That’s not how it works.

  2. Utoh!*

    Hi OP, I don’t socialize with my managers or even other coworkers unless it’s a company-sponsored event. I don’t feel slighted to be excluded from what they do outside of work at all. I really keep a hard line between my work and personal lives, it’s very rare for me to have close friendships with people I also work with. It sounds like your team members realize that you have a life outside of work which would keep you from joining in these activities and so don’t ask because you will inevitably decline. People used to ask me, and I politely declined every invite so now they don’t even ask. Win/Win in my book! :)

      1. Doug Judy*

        This. I spend more time with my coworkers than I do my family and friends. 40+ hours a week with the same people is enough. Actually if I saw my husband that much, I’d want to spend time with other people too.

    1. Jenn*

      Great response from Alison and I agree with you Utoh. I like to have a solid boundary between the professional and personal. I’m friendly with my co-workers but we are not friends.

    2. Peachkins*

      I just have to say, reading this and some of the other comments here has been really refreshing. At the places I’ve worked, there have always been a large number of coworkers who were good friends outside of work with other coworkers and even other managers. I’ve always felt a bit odd because I tend to keep work and my personal life separate for the most part. Glad I’m not the only one!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I once dipped a toe in the water of having personal relationships with my boss and colleagues, and the consequences are still happening years later. I’ve also learned enough about my boss since then to know we can never, ever, in any situation, be more than acquaintances.
        Meanwhile I have friends and a social life who are really wonderful, and that’s another reason to keep quiet – there’s always a jealous type in every workplace – and those jealous types have no ethics about trying to get me fired just because they’re jealous.

  3. Roscoe*

    So, you sound well meaning. But you really aren’t being realistic here. You can’t say “my team” or “junior members” then in the same breath claim your organization is flat and lacks heirarchy. It just doesn’t. You aren’t seeing things clearly.

    I also really get annoyed at people who basically say “well I wouldn’t have come anyway, but want to be invited”. If you aren’t going , why do you need to be invited? So you can be the one to say no instead of having that choice made for you? Again, this is about the power YOU want to hold, yet you claim to think its a flat organization.

    If the managers don’t want to hang out together, that is fine. But don’t pressure your subordinates to invite you out. All that will likely do is make them not hang out as much if you want to be there.

    However, if you really want team bonding time, why don’t YOU plan a happy hour event or something that your entire team can go to. Then you know you’ll be there

    1. Jadelyn*

      I have to disagree with your second paragraph there – for most people who have that mentality (including myself), it’s less about having the power to say no, and more about feeling like your presence is wanted and valued. An invitation is someone saying “I/we would like you to spend time with me/us” – even if you know you’re going to say no, it’s a nice feeling to know people like you enough to want you around.

      That said, I agree with the rest of this – in particular, it’s clearly not a flat organization. (Personally I don’t think there’s any such thing as a truly “flat” organization, outside of worker-owned coops; there’s always *someone* who has the final say on things.) The hierarchy and the vibe at that office may be pretty casual about hierarchical things, but it’s still present.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, it’s a nice feeling *for you* but it’s not a nice feeling for the people you are constantly turning down. Reciprocity is a thing, you know. You’re basically saying “I want you to make me feel that you like to spend time with me while I make you feel that I don’t like to spend time with you.” People aren’t obligated to do that for you.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Right. Part of the reason I stop asking if someone is always saying ‘no’ is that I want to take the hint and not bother them… but part of it is that there’s an uncomfortable power imbalance in repeatedly extending yourself and being turned down. It’s a minor rejection, but it’s still rejection, and over and over it gets cumulatively more awkward and even painful. Unless someone has been up front with me about something like “I have a lot of health issues, so I have to say no a lot, but I really want to hang out when I can” (AND, when they’re feeling better, they do their share of asking me out for coffee or whatever), I’m going to stop in part because it’s frankly annoying to be expected to suck up the rejections–however minor–repeatedly.

      2. Roscoe*

        Its still annoying. Not trying to be insensitive to your feelings, but its like being angry that your sig other dumped you before you had to dump them. The end result is the same. You just like to be able to say no.

        And as Traffic Spiral below said, its also annoying to invite people along all the time who just say no.

      3. Totally Minnie*

        I get that it’s really nice to feel wanted. But from the other side, if someone has turned down all of my invitations and I decide it would just save time and trouble not to invite them to the next thing, that’s not an indication that I don’t like that person or want to spend time with them. It’s an indication that I understand that this is not the sort of event this person typically attends, and I want to save both of us the time and the trouble of the “Oh, I wish I could, but…” conversation.

        OP, I’d recommend not taking this too personally. This is not an indicator that you’re not liked or respected by your team. It’s super normal for coworkers to hang out without their bosses around.

      4. BigLeaf*

        I put “flat” in quotes on purpose, I know the hierarchy is there and that “flat” doesn’t really exist. Someone has to lead!

        Agree w/@Jadelyn about the value of inviting people, even if you know they won’t come. It’s in my nature to invite everyone because I know it hurts to not be invited. With that said, I hear the comments on this board loud and clear and agree that the team should socialize w/o management and it shouldn’t be a problem. I do worry about new people not feeling included but I will cross that bridge when i come to it!

        Thanks for your thoughts!

        1. Justin*

          I’ve worked at “flat” places and usually that just means that they’re too small to have developed any real hierarchy and people wear a lot of hats. And the managers usually want to be part of the “gang” with the more junior employees.

        2. Lew*

          “I do worry about new people not feeling included but I will cross that bridge when i come to it!”

          I’m glad to hear the feedback is landing, OP, but I’d also urge against trying to monitor the social lives of employees – even if it’s with the well intentioned goal of making sure people fit in. Current employees can socially exclude new employees if they want to. If it’s intruding on the work day or impacting productivity, that’s another story.

      5. batman*

        But if someone is constantly turning me down, it makes *me* feel unwanted and not valued. That’s why I would stop asking. Also, if the person doesn’t like me, I want to stop bothering. I’ve had people I dislike not take the hint that I wasn’t interested in hanging out with them and it’s really frustrating and annoying.

    2. Operational Chaos*

      Agreed across the board. The OP is allowing personal feelings into a professional setting. It’s human, but it really should be dropped.

    3. Sketchee*

      Exactly right, the language doesn’t match the situation in many ways.

      There’s a great and fun episode of Friends where Chandler deals with the same struggle. Phoebe becomes an employee at Chandler’s job, and as his friend she explains the situation:

      ” Don’t feel bad. You know they used to like you a lot. But then you got promoted, and, you know, now you’re like “Mr. Boss Man”. You know, Mr. Bing. Mr. Bing, “Boss Man Bing”.”

      It’s a great episode if you like this kind of show and is pretty spot on. Employees don’t want managers who want to be your friend. A flat company might not have tons of middle managers. But it still has hierarchy. Pretending that it doesn’t exist will hurt your perception with employees who definitely are aware of your role

  4. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

    I’m kind of flummoxed by the language of inclusivity OP is using. That’s not really in play here.

      1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

        And it’s not even that. She’s not included in the reindeer games because she’s a moose. Inclusivity doesn’t mean “everyone is included, even the people filling out the performance reviews,” it means “people who would otherwise be eligible for inclusion aren’t marginalized by an in-group.”

        1. LCL*

          To some of us, who don’t work in HR, inclusivity means everyone is included. Of course that can’t happen, for the reasons Alison stated. But you know, we’ve all been preached to in the last 30 years about how inclusivity is a good thing, and we believed it, and we didn’t hear the disclaimer that nobody told us, which is ‘we mean inclusive of those who aren’t management.’

          I think in the next 20 years, as the people who were educated when inclusivity was a given and didn’t need it explained to them rise in the workforce, OPs exact situation will occur with greater frequency. This is the basic template, future managers, be prepared.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This is a really peculiar interpretation of “inclusivity,” and I don’t think the majority of managers (or workers) of the age you’re describing have the same interpretation that you do. Liet-Kinda and I are not in HR, I came up when “inclusivity was a given,” and inclusivity has not had the definition or effects you’re describing.

            I don’t think OP’s situation will increase because “people who were educated when inclusivity was a given . . . rise in the workforce.” OP’s problem is not an inclusivity problem, it’s a role-confusion problem.

            1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

              Yeah. That is not a “non-HR person” concept of inclusivity, it’s just an incorrect one.

              1. LCL*

                Sigh. You all aren’t getting it. I’m trying to explain what people feel, and why someone would feel excluded.

                1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

                  I understand the many things person could feel in this scenario and I understand the many reasons why. But the way forward is to remind yourself that you’re the boss, you’re being excluded because you’re not their peer, have a quick sad, and move on. That’s actionable and applicable.

                2. Trout 'Waver*

                  While I guess there may exist a person out there who feels that way for the reasons you give, I see no evidence that the OP believes that and that the processes you describe affected their beliefs.

                  Furthermore, stating your opinion as both a fact and the voice of the people is somewhat disingenuous. People are perfectly capable of both understanding your post and disagreeing with you.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I understand what you’re saying, but I’m trying to help identify that what you’ve described is an outlier/minority perspective. That doesn’t mean your feelings don’t exist or that no one else shares them, but it does mean that those feelings and views are uncommon and that it may be useful for OP to reexamine in light of that information.

                  Folks are disagreeing with you because what’s most important and helpful for OP is to help them reset to what the prevailing norms are outside of their organization. And the prevailing norms are closer to what Liet has described, which is why folks are registering disagreement. We’re trying to help OP navigate to the more common standard.

                4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  FWIW I get what you are saying (I think!)

                  LCL Explanation of OP perspective
                  Part A: OP sees herself as part of the team
                  Part B: To be inclusive everyone on the team should be included
                  OP sees herself as being excluded because she isn’t invited. OP has been taught that that inclusive means that everyone gets the birthday invitation and that her price of admission is being part of the team.

                  Part A: OP sees herself as part of the team
                  Part A.1: Team sees OP in a different category than them and not part of their Team
                  Part B: To be inclusive everyone on the team should be included
                  Part B.1: Team is being inclusive of Team
                  Part B.2: OP sees herself as being excluded because she isn’t invited.

                  I think the general feel of the comments here is that the second set of facts are the reality, but LCL is explaining why the OP might be feeling as if she is being excluded. I was waiting a for this line of thought to come up. It’s not surprising to me that some people who were raised in the world that if someone excludes you from something they are wrong and/or a bully.

                  I think that most of can relate to inviting the whole class to our birthday party, but we were allowed to pick and choose which kids we wanted to play with at recess. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore, the OP is likely feeling like she’s not being invited to play tag and she should be because she’s ‘one of the kids at recess’ instead of being the teacher supervising recess.

                5. JSPA*

                  Seems like a long-ish re-statement of the old truism, “it’s lonely at the top.” (Or rather, it’s progressively lonelier as you gain power over others, no matter how sure you are that you use your powers only for Good).

                  Unless the corporation in question is a cooperative with rotating roles and/or where all decisions are taken by a vote of the collective, it’s normal, as Alison explained, for managers to have less freedom to socialize with people whose lives they control. If there’s a TGIF, the managers might come for the first 15 minutes / one beer, then make their escape. And then strictly leave their reports to their own devices, in their off-time.

                  This has nothing to do with “inclusivity” which works out to, “not excluding people for personal traits (protected or otherwise).”

                  Having boundaries is…the norm? The Freshman mixer is limited to freshmen. The company retreat doesn’t include the company next door, even if some of your people know some of their people.

                  “Level Workplace” is for working hours. It allows a new, low-level hire to broach a topic with / make a suggestion to someone a couple of steps up the command chain. It does not mean department heads party with new hires. That’s … reality-TV-worthy.

            2. Lance*

              Yeah, as I’ve always known it, ‘inclusivity’ applies to a number of things… and hierarchy is not one of them.

          2. BigLeaf*

            I’m the letter writer. I appreciate what you’re saying and I think what you’ve written is definitely something to keep in mind. One other manager on the team is lamenting not having a good friend or go-to person on the team after her buddy moved to another company. Another manager understands that junior members want to hang out and vent, etc. but feels excluded when we all travel (we travel a lot). They play games, etc. together when we travel and don’t invite the managers. We’re all learning to adjust to the new team dynamics and I think what you’ve said about preparing people for this change that happens with promotions is valid and I plan on giving rising managers that insight as they are promoted. Thank you!

    1. LCL*

      I…don’t see anything bewildering or perplexing about this. To OP, she and the other managers are being left out on purpose. Because they are. If you’ve ever been on OPs side of it, it hurts. But unfortunately, Alison’s view is the right one on this. That’s the real world. Or as the boyfriend said to me ‘of course they’re not going to invite you to ski with them. They can’t have the boss around when they smoke pot.’

      1. WellRed*

        Being left out is being the only manager not invited, or being the only team member not invited. No managers are invited, which is common and probably good idea. She could occassionally organize something but these are not her friends and she needs to remember that.

        1. LCL*

          Nah, it’s not fair to tell someone feeling left out, don’t feel left out. OP feels how she feels. No managers invited is, as you say, a common and good idea, but it’s also one of the harsh realities of managing that most places don’t think to warn you about. The first time you are faced with it, it is devastating, it can even make you feel momentarily suicidal. I’m not exaggerating for dramatic effect, or trying to make light of people with mental issues. It hurts so much because if you are a good manager, you spend a lot of time advocating for your group and looking out for their best interests.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I think this is making light of mental health issues. Suicidal people battle ideations many times over; being “momentarily suicidal” is an exaggeration and a hurtful one to those who were left behind to deal with the aftermath.

            1. LCL*

              I am trying hard to be very respectful of those that have issues. Hell, we have them in my family. I meant what I said, and I meant it without snark or mockery. Don’t tell me I’m making light of something when I’m not. Momentary flashes of the urge to self destruct are very real, and can have fatal consequences.

              1. Ethyl*

                If you meant what you said about not being included causing you to enter a mental health crisis, even momentarily, I hope you tell someone about that. That reaction is wildly out of proportion to the situation at hand, and is extremely concerning.

              2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                I’m entitled to holding my own opinion, as you are yours. I’m sorry for the suicidal issues in your family. I would hope that would give you greater awareness of the severity of these issues and understand that lack of a happy hour invite is not going to make someone “momentarily suicidal” without those issues, to the point of ending it all. It’s a severe overreaction and tonedeaf to those who deal with ideation over many things.

                Maybe you didn’t mean it with snark or mockery but I can only go by words on a page. It’s a gross exaggeration and doesn’t belong to the OP’s letter.

              3. Jadelyn*

                @Dr Johnny, I don’t find LCL’s comment to be a “gross exaggeration” at all, or tone deaf. Just because you, or people you know, haven’t experienced the “momentary flash of self-destructive emotion” version of things that LCL is talking about, don’t assume that it’s just Not A Thing for anyone and therefore LCL is making it up or saying it to mock people.

              4. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                @Jadelyn. I am perturbed because I do understand suicidal ideation. Don’t assume that I do not. It is a gross exaggeration to say that the OP would feel suicidal just because LCL did (or states it’s possible).

                I’m well aware of the momentary flashes and the fatal consequences. That’s why the language upsets me so. It makes light of real issues by implying that rejection would send anybody into a tailspin.

                I sincerely hope anyone who does feel this way gets immediate help.

              5. Jadelyn*

                @Dr Johnny, I’m not assuming anything about what you do or don’t understand. If anything, you’re the one who’s refusing to acknowledge that other people understand suicidal ideation, if we understand it or experience it differently than you do. I find it deeply offensive that you are refusing to allow that some people may have experiences like LCL is talking about, and basically trying to act like we aren’t allowed to have those feelings or acknowledge them, or that doing so is “making light of ~real~ suicidal people”.

                I mean, “It makes light of real issues by implying that rejection would send anybody into a tailspin.” Are my issues not real issues, then? Because perceived rejection has, in fact, given me some very bad moments like LCL describes. This is what I’m talking about when I say you’re universalizing your experiences and leaving no room for people who have different experiences with suicidal ideation. I’m literally standing right here saying “Actually I’ve experienced that thing LCL is describing” and you’re replying “that’s not a thing and saying it is making light of Real Suicidal People(tm).” I hope you can see why that would be offensive and upsetting.

                LCL didn’t say OP *would* feel suicidal. LCL literally said people *may even* experience flashes of suicidal thought from a perceived rejection. I feel like there’s a lot of misreading of that one sentence.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Speaking as someone who is only alive by the grace of some very good friends and family members who kept me safe from myself, I don’t find LCL’s comment to be making light of anything. If anything, it’s acknowledging that perceived rejection can be an intensely psychologically painful experience.

              I mean, I genuinely do have “momentarily suicidal” experiences. I’m doing fairly well, my depression and suicidal ideation is well-managed with appropriate medication these days, but because I spent over a decade actively wanting to die before I got treatment, I still have a reflexive moment of suicidal thoughts when something upsets me. I can shake it off pretty quickly, but it’s still there. That’s what I took LCL’s post to be referring to.

              You can’t really paint suicidal people, or people with mental health issues, with a single brush an assume our experiences are monolithic, any more than you can any other disparate group of people.

              1. Sketchee*

                Rejection does feel very terrible. Especially for someone with a history or issue that could cause an extreme reaction.

                At the same time, it’s not a function of the LW’s workplace or coworkers to manage or even be aware of that when they are planning happy hours.

          2. Emily K*

            Opinions differ but a lot of people actually find it very useful to critically examine their reactions to things and try to reframe how they’re perceiving something from a damaging/hurtful one to a positive one. (Basically the essence of cognitive-behavioral therapy.)

            We don’t need to shame OP for feeling left out, but we can help her see why that’s not a perspective that makes a lot of sense or is helpful in this context, so that she has these mental defenses ready to go next time she’s feeling hurt: They’re not leaving me out because I’ve done anything wrong or they dislike me or anything else that I need to worry about, they’re leaving me out because that’s a normal and healthy boundary between managers and employees, even in a relatively flat structure.

          3. Amtelope*

            If not being treated as a friend by people you manage literally causes even momentary suicidal feelings/thoughts, I would strongly recommend a therapist/crisis hotline/medical help. It’s not actually normal or common for not being invited to social events as a manager to bring up such strong feelings. I would expect some disappointment — “It’s a bummer that I can’t hang out on weekends with the team since I’ve been promoted, that’s something I will miss about my old job.” But if instead you’re feeling intense despair or having thoughts about suicide, I think that’s a sign to seek help.

              1. a1*

                Someone else being suicidal is “hurtful and angering”? Wow. Just… wow. I just can’t. Is it “hurtful and angering” because you think it’s a stupid reason to be suicidal?

              2. Rat in the Sugar*

                How is it hurtful or angering for someone to express that they’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past? LCL has said that they were not exaggerating and that’s how they really felt in that moment. I agree that it’s an outlier response that shouldn’t affect Alison’s advice, but I don’t see why you consider it hurtful or angering.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I believe “hurtful” was a reference to the belief that it was minimizing mental health struggles, although I don’t know if that’s accurate.

                Regardless, this is getting off-topic so let’s move on.

          4. LCL*

            See, I agreed with you. And I agreed with Alison. I’m just saying the first time it happens, it’s really devastating.

          5. LCL*

            I am trying to illustrate, and you aren’t believing me, that the first time or first few times you are faced with this it can be devastating. Over the top reaction? Yes. But strictly in line with my experiences, and fanfic is the furthest thing from it. I’m not saying OP is going to do anything damaging.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              Anecdotes do not equal data. I’m sorry you felt this way at adversity, but that doesn’t mean everyone is hurt to that extent.

              If you continue to feel momentarily suicidal at setbacks I urge you to seek professional help.

            2. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

              No, I do not believe that I need to factor that extreme a reaction into reasonable general discussuon on the subject and frankly, I’m not going to participate in this line of discussion further. If this is your reaction, then you need to know it’s an edge case.

            3. Private for today*

              LCL, I get what you’re saying because I felt like that too. Yes, I deal with other mental health issues, and yes, I did ask for help. Before I became the manager for the rest of my team, I had been friends with all of them for years because I had been their peer. I was part of that group that went out with everyone. They were a strong support for me when the rest of my life was falling apart. Suddenly, I have “manager” in my title and my support system vanished. Should I have seen it coming? Yeah, probably. Did I? Nope. Not one little bit. Like LCL said, no one warns you about that. I’ve come to terms with it now, but at the darkest times, suicide did cross my mind. Yes, it was an extreme reaction, but not everyone is so mentally healthy that they can so easily detach their work lives from their personal lives so quickly.

          6. LCL*

            That brain reaction is like a sudden muscle cramp. Exactly, yes. That is a brilliant analogy, and I will be using it where appropriate. Thank you.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        This sounds a bit like the problem that occasionally arises with student teachers, or very new teachers, who are closer in age to the high school students they are teaching than to their 40-60 year old peers, and feel closer to them socially, and try to get invited along as the “cool” grown-up who really gets it.

        This is not a good thing in a teacher, even if everyone is over 18–because the teacher evaluates these people, they have control over their lives, and expecting your students to handle your social life for you is… very not good. As a teacher, you might ask your students to include the new kid in class. You shouldn’t ask them to include you because, hey, you like pizza and movies and you spend a lot of time helping them.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          When I started teaching at a junior college, I was late 20s and my students were mostly my age. I genuinely liked most of them. I also made myself some very firm rules: no FB friends with students until after they graduate, no hanging out with students still enrolled at the school etc. There was one notable exception (and I married him), but that was my rule for the first half-decade I worked here. Now, as a mom, that has relaxed somewhat just because many of the students are moms of kids my son’s age, and we can “talk shop” especially since a lot of them have older kids as well, and can reassure me as an older but first time mom. Also, I’m not in the teaching role any longer other than rarely, and my position lends itself much more to warmer acquaintanceship, though since I am still in a middle role (professional tutor), I am giving feedback and sometimes it is critical, so I do still hold to boundaries.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        People are allowed to feel what they feel of course and I would never try to tell anyone to not feel genuine emotions. However, OP isn’t being realistic. Managers are not likely to be included in the non-work social activities of their subordinate staff. Ergo not getting invited should be a given and not taken as a slight…therefore not something to be hurt by.

      4. Atalanta0jess*

        I think it hurts a lot less if you adjust your expectations to accurately reflect the power dynamics and inappropriateness of hanging out with your direct reports. The reality is that they are being really appropriate in their choices, and there’s no reason to think it’s personal. Being a manager can be lonely…that’s just part of the territory.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree. Even the broader interpretation of “inclusivity” isn’t at play, ime. One of the difficult things about becoming a manager is that it can feel somewhat isolating/lonely from the team you manage. But that doesn’t mean you should ask to come to all the events/activities your team is organizing in their free time, and it definitely doesn’t mean you should figure out how to be included in their social lives.

      It’s ok that OP feels this way, but they’re going to have to work through or cabin/manage their emotional reaction so they can let this go. It’s going to be hard to maintain their professionalism if they (and other managers) feel aggrieved.

      It might also be helpful to the management team to specify what “flat” means in the professional context. As Alison notes, even in collaborative/”non-hierarchical” teams, there’s a hierarchy and a power dichotomy. That dichotomy will always be there. So instead of ignoring it, it may be helpful to try to figure out its contours so that the management team can establish clearer and more reasonable expectations of the relationship between managers and their reports.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, becoming a manager in a place without a lot of managers can be incredibly isolating! And it’s always a little isolating, in my experience. But those are the breaks! Also, in the words of Don Draper, that’s what the money is for.

        I’m currently a little nervous because I know people on my team hang out outside of work, and my newest hire lives farther away and has a young child, so I imagine she won’t be able to do that, but I do hope she’s at least invited. But I also figure it’s in no way my place to manage, unless it affects the working relationships.

      2. Anon From Here*

        I mean, “flat” … like the paycheck with my boss’s name on the “authorized signature” line. I’ve been in some hyper-democratic organizations where authority was distributed across many roles, but there’s always some kind of hierarchy.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I worked in an organization that said they operated under “sociocracy,” and I can tell you that it was a dictatorship. Although we may have had inclusive and flat conversations, our boss (the ED) always had authority to trump anything we decided, and she often did. It became so tiring that many of us wanted to ditch our long, thoughtful conversations because we knew she’d override us, anyway.

          As you note, there’s always some kind of hierarchy, and folks at the top of that hierarchy often don’t realize how their power telegraphs to people farther down the hill.

          1. JSPA*

            Ah yes…
            The Tyranny of Structurelessness.


            I feel like I’ve seen it from all sides (local meetups of national issues groups, specifically). This was brought to my attention when I was guilty. Didn’t really change much, in that groups where everyone who shows up is a member for the day, don’t bring in people who expect to use Roberts Rules. But in a business, where there can be clear processes, and the people involved don’t drift in and out, there’s a LOT to be said for not using pseudo-sociocracy, and instead having actual clarity on who gets to make which decisions about what.

        2. Emily K*

          Yep, I’m in an environment where decision-making is pushed to the lowest-ranking person who can make the decision, where individual contributors are considered the resident expert/decision-makers in their area, and where there’s a lot of autonomous cross-collaboration between ICs that doesn’t involve their respective managers other than perhaps a, “just so you know, I’m working with Fergus on a solution to a software bug that was surfaced by Wakeen based on customer feedback, I’ll let you know how it goes,” sort of thing during a regular check-in.

          But we all still need our managers to approve our PTO or flex time arrangements, grant us permission for professional development opportunities and other expenses, conduct our performance reviews and advocate for compensation increases, and synthesize feedback from all the junior staff and demands from upper management to guide the overall strategy for our teams/departments.

          Managers come to happy hours occasionally–usually when there’s been a big win or project wrapped, and usually they pay for at least one round for the junior staff with their fatter paychecks, which certainly doesn’t hurt! But the lower-level staff who are friendly with each other organize more social outings on a mundane/routine basis that managers aren’t a part of.

        3. EPLawyer*

          yeah. there is NO such thing as a truly “flat” culture. Someone has to direct the work. Someone has to make decisions about the company’s direction. Every worker is NOT equal. Trying to achieve that leads to “everyone at work isn’t my new best friend.”

  5. Autumnheart*

    If your subordinates aren’t inviting you to hang out with them outside of work, you can’t be credibly suspected of inappropriate relationship dynamics or favoritism at work.

    1. LondonCallingAfterHoursWhenRatesAreCheaper*

      Agreed. Plus what if there are some junior people who don’t hang out with the group? Once the managers are hanging out, then it becomes ‘a work thing’ and now employees feel pressured to be there.

  6. Anon From Here*

    Hanging out with my supervisor and boss outside of work hours, or outside of company events, is literally above my pay grade.

  7. LarsTheRealGirl*

    It’s really easy to see the plane as flat from the top of the mountain…

    That’s to say, no matter how you view it, they (correctly) view you as a manager and act on the power distance appropriately.

    Remember a “flat” organization doesn’t aim to get rid of all hierarchical rules, but to encourage employees to be able to interact freely with all levels of the organization *in the context of their work*. Mixing social aspects isn’t the goal.

    1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Right. A flat org encourages people of all levels to talk to each other and collaborate together, but it doesn’t remove the authority that comes with the roles people play. It just opens up the conversation and teamwork in the office.

      Being flat doesn’t mean that people socialize with each other inside and outside of work, just that communication lines are open. Don’t be upset that you aren’t invited with your junior staff. They’re doing you a favor by leaving you out so that you don’t get involved too heavily with them socially.

    2. Genny*

      Exactly. In my experience it means “we got rid of layers of middle management so now you’re expected to interact more frequently with the higher ups at work” not “we got rid of all management and thus all expectations for appropriate manager/employee relationships”.

      OP, Allison is exactly right. You’re their manager, which means you need to have a level of distance to maintain objectivity. It also means it’s less relaxing and fun to hang out with you at non-work events because people will feel like they have to be on their best professional behavior, not their casual, hanging-out-on-the-weekend-with-my-friends behavior. It has nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with you as a manager.

    3. BRR*

      Ooh I like that phrase. But yeah, the letter talks about how the employer tries to not feel hierarchical and be like a flat culture but that it isn’t a flat culture. I think that’s what the LW needs to look at. At the end of the day it is hierarchical and it might not be as hierarchical as other employers, but it’s definitely not flat.

    4. GrandBargain*

      Nice picture. But I’m wondering whether it should be that it’s easy to see the mountain as flat from a plane flying high overhead? At least that’s been my experience when looking out the window. :)

  8. CanuckCat*

    At my last workplace, it was an incredibly tiny team (4 staff members, myself included when I started, 6 staff members, me included, by the time I left – and then two directors) so naturally the staff did things like ate lunch together most days. One of the two directors started to openly resent how close the staff were, and it got to the point where we weren’t allowed to take lunch all together – only two staff could go at a time, and the only way a third staffer could join them was if the fourth (or fifth or sixth) wasn’t taking lunch or was going out for lunch by themselves. Ostensibly it was because the directors wanted someone in the office to answer the phones (we didn’t have any admin staff) but outside of scheduled phone calls, we really didn’t have that many people calling on a given day.

    All that to say, having been on the flipside of having been close with my co-workers and then being told we shouldn’t be close, it’s very nice that you want to spend time with your team but at the end of the day, you may just need to realize that junior staff don’t always want to spend a ton of time with managers/senior staff (as my former director never did; she instead chalked it up to us ‘hating her’ and ‘being cliquey’)

    1. BigLeaf*

      Thanks for this response. It’s really thoughtful. I would never want my staff to feel they couldn’t spend time together. Bonding is encouraged. It’s interesting to see a story of someone’s supervisor being so hurt they restrict time their staff can spend together at lunch!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Oh I’m so glad you identified yourself. Please try to view this as a really, really, really normal thing for junior staff. It is highly unlikely that it’s personal. No matter how flat you brlieve your office to be, you are still “the boss.”

          Getting an invitation should be something that surprises you because it is do out of the realm of how people grnerally want to spend their off time. *Not* getting invited should be your default expectation.

          Most people don’t want to see their boss, even an otherwise lovely boss, when they are not at work. It keeps them in “work mode” in a way being with peers doesn’t.

          You are the manager. You can’t be “one of the kids.” It comes with the territory.

        2. Anon Asst*

          It’s not a mean girls situation, btw. They are not doing this to hurt your feelings. Detaching a bit from the personal aspect may help. Few people want to hang out after hours with their boss. That’s just reality.

      1. CanuckCat*

        I hope it didn’t come across as my suggesting things were like that in your workplace – that was certainly not what I intended! I just wanted to share my experience of having a boss who wanted to be more included, didn’t understand why they weren’t and instead of working to address it (like you seem to be doing, so kudos) just let it breed a ton of resentment.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Once I worked in a place where 4 of the 11 staff really clicked and we were the same 4 that were never invited when the other 7 folks (including the manager) went to lunch or hung out after work. NBD one would think. Nope. The boss told us that we were not allowed to plan things with just the 4 of us and we were required to invite her any time we planned something. Oh, and one of the 4 who had originally been one of the bigger group was asked why he didn’t hang out with the cool kids anymore. O_o

      Not surprisingly all 4 of us quit of promoted out of what appeared to be the workplace version of Jr High

      1. Lance*

        Junior High is right, especially if they used ‘cool kids’ verbatim. That is not a phrase I ever want to hear in the workplace in any such context.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          It was used verbatim and with a straight face. I have so many stories from that office. I would swear my boss wanted to be the popular girl in HS but didn’t get a chance until she could order people to be her friends

    3. Ama*

      Yeah I worked at a previous job where on my very first day, my manager warned me that the other two people in my department were “cliquey” and “might try to sabotage you.” What had actually happened was that the two of them lived in the same neighborhood and had become fairly close because it was easy for them to spend time outside of work together — manager took her exclusion personally instead of seeing it as two people who lived near each other not wanting to hang out with their boss (manager also lived on the entire opposite end of the city, so even logistically hanging out would have been difficult).

      Their being friends didn’t impact my working with them in the slightest, other than the awkwardness manager caused by occasionally trying to get me to admit to feelings of exclusion I didn’t share. Thankfully she left within my first year there and we all could relax a bit.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        I had a boss who was like this with me and my coworker/friend. She made a rule that we could not go to lunch together by ourselves, and if we were making lunch plans we had to include anyone from the office that wanted to come. Which we were already doing pretty regularly, because our coworkers were pretty fun people. But if we needed to vent about something or talk about something personal that we couldn’t bring up in front of the whole group, we had to leave for lunch about 10 minutes apart and “accidentally” choose the same restaurant.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            Nope. She couldn’t write us up for it, but if she saw us leaving together or coming back together or both of us with cups from the same restaurant in the afternoon, there were lectures.

            This was not the only way in which she was problematic, but she was best friends with the CEO, so no one could really do anything about it.

    4. DecorativeCacti*

      I also was in a situation where I was told my coworker and I couldn’t go to lunch together. There were three of us in a department (two specialists and an associate), the two senior of us were told we weren’t allowed to be at lunch at the same time in case of “emergencies”. Emergencies that never, in the ten years I’ve been here, have occurred. The only thing it did was lower morale and make us resent our managers – they both went to lunch together every day.

        1. CanuckCat*

          In my case, it was more that all the staff knew that the grief we’d get (truthfully there were times when entire staff meetings were dedicated to how ‘clique-y’ certain staff were, not to mention tons of off the cuff meetings where we’d be called into the director’s office to discuss our behaviour) wasn’t worth it, in exchange for eating together. It didn’t stop resentment from building but it was truly one of those ‘lesser of two evils’ scenarios.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Same in my messed up work place that I mentioned earlier. We ended up planning things in secret and going all full 007 if we wanted to hang out after work or grab lunch together because we all got sick of catching grief. Some bosses are quite controlling.

        2. DecorativeCacti*

          They weren’t directly telling us what we could do on our lunch break. They were telling us WHEN we could take our lunch break. Which, as far as I am aware, they are allowed to have a say in especially when they relayed it as needing coverage.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          Employers can tell their employees to do or not do a great number of things, even off the clock. As long as the behavior isn’t expressly protected by law, that is.

          1. soon 2be former fed*

            I know that, but to dictate who you eat with, or not, is very North Korea-ish. I would push back but I have a big mouth.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Sorry, I didn’t realize that that “how can anybody” was rhetorical, since it’s often a genuine question.

      1. CanuckCat*

        No but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d gotten stuck in that mentality. We had another co-worker who started after me, who didn’t routinely take a lunch because they just preferred not to (and we always asked when going to lunch if they wanted to join us), but somehow my director extrapolated that into us excluding the new co-worker because we were jealous of them, and how close they were to the director.

  9. Not a robot*

    The best advice I ever received starting out in management was that I can be friendly with my team but I cannot be personable. He said that when you become personable the lines between the manager and the employee get blurred. When the lines get blurred the employees no longer see you as a manager someone, that they need to look up to for leadership and guidance.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I’ve read “friendly but not friends.” You can ask how the weekend was, if you have plans for the holidays. You can’t go on a Saturday picnic or Christmas shopping.

      1. medium of ballpoint*

        Precisely. A manager has subordinates at work, not friends, and no matter how cool or hip or bleeding edge your company is, there are plenty of good reasons for that divide.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yup. Friendly but not friends has to be the policy/byline of being a manager. It’s a total shift if you’re used to being friends with your team/coworkers, and that shift can be difficult. But ultimately, it has to be the goal.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Exactly. Friendly but not friends. And thinking over my own employment experience my best bosses always maintained this distance. The bad bosses I’ve had crossed that line repeatedly. Honestly just thinking about a manager pouting over not being included in the team’s out of work socializing is making me uncomfortable.

      1. Icontroltherobots*

        I completely agree – managers who get hurt feelings over this sort of thing have no introspection that their employees may feel compelled to go along with what ever the “boss” wants because of power dynamics.

        I have done many a tequila shot, that I didn’t want to do, because I had a boss who **needed** to be friends with his employees.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        ::Puts on cranky old lady glasses::

        This is the result of everyone getting a trophy gor just showing up. Get off my lawn!

        Seriously though I think a lot of people, particularly a generation (plus) younger than mine did grow up thinking that everyone had to be included in everything all of the time.

        For contrast: Valentine’s day at school we got valentines from only some classmates not all. For not-at-school BD parties…kids invited who they wanted period. Not half of the clasd or less. I’ve literally seen all but two kids from a class invited to a classmate’s BD party.

        That’s hurtful when youre a kid but I have to say it prepared me for reality. The world can suck. People can be not nice. One will not always be included for whatever reasons.

        1. Dr. Pepper*

          I’m probably a fair bit younger than you (yes, I’m a dreaded millennial) and I don’t expect to be included in everything. Even with participation trophies. I remember class-wide Valentines but that’s about all I ever expected. It’s not a generational thing in my opinion, but more a sign of the times thing where our society is both trying to establish what good boundaries while we try and break down the old racist, sexist, etc. boundaries of old. Some people take it too far and want to say “oh but we’re allllll equal here!” when that’s neither true nor appropriate, such as in this letter.

        2. batman*

          This is unfair. I mean in my mid 30s and i grew up im that culture and I’ve never thought everyone needs to be included in work social outings.

        3. Lavender Menace*

          People say this so often, but I’m a millennial who has never gotten a participation trophy, often did not get Valentine’s or invited to birthday parties, and does not expect to be included in everything. Sometimes I really wonder what kind of millennial upbringing people who talk about this have observed, because it doesn’t look anything like mine.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            It doesn’t look anything like most of ours. It’s gas-lighting on a mass scale, to the point where most people participating in it don’t even know they are, because they believed the rhetoric. Yes, we complain that we’re not getting what we deserve, but it’s not because of entitlement, it’s not because we think we deserve more than previous generations, it’s because we are legitimately getting shafted. Instead of admitting that, people paint us as entitled in order to explain the discontent away as our problem, and not one of the current economy. It’s literally an ad hominim against an entire generation. “You cannot believe Millennials when they complain about work conditions, because they are entitled.”
            Meanwhile, literally all most of us are asking for is 40 hours a week, health insurance and a wage that lets us eat and pay rent. Job security would be nice, but we all know that’s a pipe dream. Huge numbers of us are “permatemps.” You know… full time employees, doing full time jobs, for years on end, but classified as contractors and temps so they can pay us a ‘probationary’ wage for years at a time and don’t have to give us health insurance and they can get rid of us at a moments notice. Was a time when a person directly out of high school could find a job that would pay them enough to live. That time is gone. Now we work 60+ hour weeks combining multiple jobs and a few “side hustles” to make ends meet… but we’re lazy.

        4. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          “Seriously though I think a lot of people, particularly a generation (plus) younger than mine did grow up thinking that everyone had to be included in everything all of the time.”

          I think this is a facile, rewarding, and basically false and insulting conclusion to jump to.

    3. Gadget Hackwrench*

      My first boss out of college was like… maybe 27, and I was 22, and his only subordinate a the time and the guy clearly had no clue how to keep the boundaries in place between manager and employee in either direction. He treated his boss, the company owner, like his father, or his priest or something, all knowing and all good, and to be fawned over and stay close to as much as possible.

      He was socially needy to the nth degree and completely lost my respect within the first 6 months I worked there with his constant attempts to pressure me into hanging out with him all the time after work. He wasn’t anyone to look to for leadership or guidance any more after that, he was a controlling man-child yes-man with no life.

  10. EditorInChief*

    Alison is 100% correct. You need to reset your expectations and how you think about your professional boundaries. You aren’t “one of the gang”. My team goes out without including me and that’s how it should be. When I sponsor a team happy hour or event after we’ve finished a big project or celebrating a milestone, I will go at the start of it, social a bit with each person on my team, maybe make one toast acknowledging what we’re celebrating and then leave within about 30 mins.

    1. BigLeaf*

      I’m the letter writer. I hear what you’re saying but the culture where I work is different than that and supervisors are expected to stay more than 30 minutes, though don’t have to close out the night. That’s for company sponsored events.

      I do agree that Alison and many of you are correct. It’s just been a culture shift within my team within the past two years that has been a little uncomfortable for me as I’ve always worked with friends. Guess that’s the rub w/being senior manager and the recent new hires being junior.

      Thanks for your insight!

      1. Sarah P*

        Yes, it’s very normal for junior staff to band together, especially if they moved to the city for the job, and it can be a good thing for them to have that peer-level support! But I actually think that relying on work friendships too much is a bad thing. Everyone needs to have non-work friends and non-work lives, too. I have seen productivity dip in a workplace where the young/new people were more focused on friendships and fun and pranks than they were on work.

      2. Lance*

        Yeah, as stated a lot on this site, unfortunately that’s the reality of being in management: you don’t have the luxury of being friends with your subordinates (as it can easily cause issues). Hopefully you’ll be able to work it out for yourself, and there’s no harm in spending such time with the management team on occasion, if you don’t already.

      3. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        I get it. And some of this is just natural as a team grows. I’ve found as a team grows the separation between manager and report grows. Because for the direct reports they have more choice over who to socialize with from work, and their co-workers often are better people to commiserate or celebrate with.

        I occasionally socialize with my direct reports. But, I also expect them to get to together without me. So if they want to talk about things that they don’t want me to know that they can (venting about me or the organization, talking about something personal, or even talking about looking for another job).

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          I actually disagree. Maybe pick up the first round, or some appetizers, but I don’t actually think paying the whole tab is necessary.

      4. soon 2be former fed*

        LW, apparently the culture is not as different as you think. you must realize that the presence of the boss has a chilling effect on social interaction. It’s not personal.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          That’s part of it, I think. Certainly it seems that the junior employees see the culture differently than the managers do, at the very least.

    2. Not a Blossom*

      I was going to suggest that if the OP and other managers wanted to hang out with the team, they do something like this. Plan an event, keep it casual, DO NOT DRINK TOO MUCH, and leave early-ish.

      Alternately, maybe plan a day for everyone to go out to lunch together (if feasible). Those are typically less “intimate” (for lack of a better word) that after-hours get-togethers, so there can still be socializing without it feeling like too personal an event.

    3. NewHere*

      Agreed- my old team had a happy hour two or three times a year and the supervisors would come but they always left earlier than rest of us, generally after buying everybody a round. Part of it was because they did tend to be older with families to go home to, but also because they know that it’s hard for everyone else to let their hair down, relax, and not be on their best behavior when they’re sitting next to the person who writes their performance reviews

  11. Icontroltherobots*

    Oh lord, another case of hurt feelings. Sounds like OP wants to be invited to parties they don’t want to attend.

    Allison is totally right as usual, your employees shouldn’t feel obligated to invite you to after-work social gatherings because the power dynamic make things awkward. If you want to encourage socializing with the whole team plan something!

    Once a quarter (or what makes sense) have a happy hour, go do something fun outside of work. The catch here is that if the whole team is invited, and participation seems mandatory, the company should be picking up the tab. It’s also helpful to plan the activities during normal working hours when possible, so participation fits into everyone’s normal schedule.

    1. BigLeaf*

      I’m the letter writer. Yes, we do have quarterly social events. And yes, feelings hurt because I’ve always worked with friends but I get it, it’s not the end of the world. I was curious how Alison and others viewed the situation. Thanks for your insight.

      1. Sarah P*

        Thanks for being receptive to all the advice here!
        It stings to not be invited/included in ANY situation. I try to remember a few things:
        1) Not being invited doesn’t mean that people don’t like me.
        2) I don’t always want or remember to invite everyone I know to everything I do, so I can’t blame others for being the same way.
        3) If I actually want to hang out with people – not just check the box of being invited and declining – I need to be the one to organize things and reach out.

      2. Autumnheart*

        Consider whether you would invite YOUR boss or grandboss along on your social excursions. Probably not, right? Nobody wants to mess up in front of a person who could have a direct impact on their career or job stability.

      3. Anon Asst*

        Hurt feelings are not something you can control. It happens to everyone. What you can control is realizing your expectations of personal socializing are not reasonable.

      4. Mookie*

        And yes, feelings hurt because I’ve always worked with friends but I get it, it’s not the end of the world.

        The difference here, I think, is that friends become friends, whether they’re also colleagues or not, because they have unadulterated, high quality, off-the-clock “friend time” for each other. But as you say, you and your peer managers don’t have that kind of meaningful time. You have a larger social life than your team members and a greater circle of non- and ex-colleague friends. Is there room there for more?

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Absolutely agree with your quarterly get-together idea. We do that at my work and each quarter it is slightly different activity and group mix.
      Q1 our director took each team out to lunch (he is over a large group separated into 4 groups) so it was director, boss, and my team. Fairly small and got to chat about work and non-work and director paid.
      Q2 everyone under direct boss went on a boat ride after work on Friday
      Q3 was a whole company baseball game
      Q4 was a holiday lunch out with the whole department

      1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*


        I was just about to comment that it comes off a bit unnecessarily patronizing. Otherwise, the advice is spot-on and the ideas are great.

    3. michelenyc*

      Please make sure you pick up the tab when you do this. I had a manager once that announced team Christmas lunch (we were a 3 person team) both me and the assistant assumed that she was picking up the tab. Much to our surprise she did not and I barely had enough to cover half the bill because the poor assistant happened to be broke. My manager told me I can’t believe Emily didn’t have enough money and since I had known my manager for years. I told her we both thought you were paying for lunch since it was a team thing. She was shocked that we would think that! All of the other managers picked up the tab for the Christmas lunches with their teams. After that I never went to one of her team events.

      1. Anon Asst*

        That cheap a zz manager sucked. How do you do that to people? You invite an underling to lunch you PAY.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        If money is involved, you ALWAYS make it clear to your staff what you are paying for and what you are not. As in: “Happy Hour this Friday, first round is on me!” or “We’re placing a group order at xyz for Tuesday’s meeting, I’ll cover the delivery fee.” It’s really unkind not to give people advance notice in those kinds of situations.

  12. your favorite person*

    I wonder if they are a new/young manager? It can feel weird, especially at first, to being part of a group then being promoted and looked at differently. This is very true when working with younger workers who do primary hang out with their co-workers and don’t have very established outside-work lives.
    Personally, I know when I was younger, I wanted to be friends with my co-workers and hang out outside of work. When I became the boss, I had to take a step back and it was sad for me because I was still their same age, in college, and wanted to be friends.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I wondered about this, too. OP, if this is your first gig as a manager, the transition can be a little rough. But you’re in a different category now, and after a little more time, you’ll understand why.

  13. Former Computer Professional*

    At a previous job, there was an unwritten rule about managers & underlings socializing together.

    About once a month or so there would be an off-site social gathering, usually at the ’round-the-corner watering hole. The managers would show up, buy the first round or three of drinks, swap some war stories, and be sociable for no more than an hour or so.

    Then they’d head off, leaving us to spend the rest of the evening complaining about our jobs and how crazy our managers were.

  14. Kierson*

    It can be a difficult pill to swallow. When I was a manager of a small team, I once ordered sushi in and asked my team is they wanted to jump in on the order. This morphed into “Sushi Fridays”, where the entire team would leave the office during lunch break and grab sushi together, leaving me to cover the office. At first, my feelings were a bit hurt, especially since Sushi Friday was a spin-off of my original sushi proposition.

    But I realized that was unhealthy managerial thinking, and I reframed my thoughts into feeling pride about the team that I helped build, mold and develop taking a lunch break every 2 weeks to indulge in their love of sushi. And then I thought the behavior was really cute, and liked hearing how happy they were :)

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Instead of commandeering it and even ordering sushi on the company every two weeks, you let them take it and run with it. Great perspective and great outcome.

  15. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP, imagine you’re a high school student. Would you invite your teachers to hang with you and your friends? Didn’t think so. Same goes for your workplace.

      1. BigLeaf*

        Actually, that’s not a very good comparison. We hire intelligent adults who are expected to “own” their own work streams and behave professionally and be able to socialize and work w/people of all ages, cultures, etc. But I get the point. Thank you.

        1. Reba*

          But the issue or the ‘exclusion’ is not about age or culture–at least not based on the details you’ve given. The issue is about people’s levels in the organization, and who has oversight/power over who.

          If exclusion is occurring over the age or culture factors, you have something to deal with! If it is happening because the junior members perceive that “flat” culture only goes so far, you have nothing to deal with.

          It’s great that you are open to thinking about this differently.

          It’s not like a grade school situation where you have to invite the whole class or less than half. And while it’s nice if your reports and colleagues think you are cool, there are other ways they can show it than wanting to hang out with you outside of work.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          But there is an inherent power differential that will always exist, no matter how ‘flat’ you want your hierarchy to be.

          Maybe a better comparison would be to ask if you would invite your therapist out for drinks.

        3. Marlowe*

          Well — switch it to university, if you like, where the students are adults expected to socialize in an intelligent manner. It would still be vastly inappropriate for a university professor to ask they be invited to a students-only event just because they felt excluded, right? They’re the one who control grades, who accept late turn-ins or not, who counsel and support the students’ learning process; and that influence becomes even more important the further along you go in academia, as the students’ careers can be at play. They wield power over the students in a way that the students don’t, between themselves.

          It’s a quality in a boss (be they a teacher or a manager) to know when to stay back and give your subordibates breathing space.

        4. soon 2be former fed*

          EEK. Being able to socialize with everyone doesn’t mean that you want to or need to socialize with everyone. Perhaps you didn’t mean it this way, but you comment comes across as kind of a backhanded slap at your employees. it’s a good comparison in that their is an inherent power difference between teachers and students, but work teams likely have people in similar stages of life, so the comparison isn’t 100%. Please don’t denigrate or resent your staff that does not want to socialize with you. Boundaries are a good thing.

        5. Turtle Candle*

          “people of all ages, cultures, etc.” seems like an… odd way of framing this. It almost feels like it’s making this an issue of, I don’t know, morality or justice in a way that I doubt is helpful to you. If the dividing line is “manager” vs. “not manager,” that’s not really the same kind of thing as ageism or exclusion based on cultural origin, and it’s maybe not helpful for you to have that framing in your head.

        6. Isabel Kunkle*

          There’s a difference between being *able* to socialize and work with people of all ages and so forth and *wanting* to do so. I was raised to be able to have dinner with my parents’ friends, my teachers, various relatives, etc, and to be polite and friendly and engaging in those situations. I even enjoyed many of them. That doesn’t mean I wanted to hang out with them in my free, drinking-and-making-snarky-comments-about-fashion-choices time.

          (I mean, now I do those things with my parents and a former college professor, but at thirty-six, the power dynamic has shifted a lot.)

    1. bonkerballs*

      While I guess I get what you’re saying, I don’t actually think this is a great analogy. Outside of work, my manager and I are the same. We’re both adults. If we didn’t know each other from work there would be no reason we couldn’t be friends or in a relationship. Outside of school, however, a student is still a child and a teacher is still an adult. There would be no reason that’s not inappropriate for a random adult to just be hanging out with children.

  16. NW Mossy*

    OP, would it help you feel more included if you arranged social events for you and the other managers? It sounds like you’re feeling left out in a social way, and one method you can use to address that is to consciously join a different group. Meeting with your own peers takes the power dynamic out of the equation, but gets you a chance to connect with others grappling with similar stuff to you.

    I do sometimes hear in passing about the infrequent events that my team members are doing together (paint nights seem to be a particular favorite right now), and I think about it as a good thing for the team. It tells me that there are strong relationships and trust happening at that level, which I see show up as them collaborating effectively and having care and consideration for each others’ opinions. I don’t need to be present for that to happen, and in fact, it probably happens more readily because I’m not.

  17. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I didn’t invite my boss to my wedding, and I know she was really, really hurt by that because everyone else in the office went. But honestly that’s the way it had to be. She was the boss, and she let us know that all the time. I was really good friends with all my coworkers, and I wanted them to be relaxed and have a good time. That’s difficult to do when one of the wedding guests has been snappy and dismissive to a dozen of the other wedding guests over a period of several years. Don’t get me wrong. My boss had a high profile, high risk job. We understood why she was the way she was. But she wasn’t our friend. She hadn’t been particularly fair or nice to me or a few other coworkers. That’s okay, but I didn’t want that dynamic hanging over my wedding.

    You have to remember that, OP, no matter how much you feel left out. Your direct reports are not your friends, and they shouldn’t be.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      You were brave to do that? Were there any repercussions to you for excluding her? I applaud your honesty.

    2. Mediamaven*

      I kind of feel for her on that one. As a boss I’m never expecting to be invited to employee weddings but if I was the only one in the company to not be invited that would sting.

  18. Amber Rose*

    From an underling perspective, even though there’s lots of friendly, casual chatter throughout the workday and we also don’t really feel like we have a hierarchy, spending non-work time with my boss is mildly uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter that we get along. It just feels like I have to be “on” in my off time in a way I wouldn’t normally be and it makes me awkward.

    I have caught lunch with her a few times, because it’s still good to have those sort of networking-ish moments. But she invites me. I can’t see myself inviting her. It’s no slight against her, it’s just the way the power flows.

    So on that note, it’s really up to you to invite them if you want to socialize. And you totally should, although I wouldn’t make a frequent habit of it in case you end up excluding people who can’t/don’t want to go.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      This could make them feel obligated though. If OP is doing something like that it should be during work hours and on her/the company’s dime. Making staff feel that they “have to” socialize outside work stuff just because the boss initiated it feels very icky.

      1. Techworker*

        I lived with my second line manager and their partner for ~6 weeks inbetween house moves.. (the manager is friends with my partner, it was meant to just be a week but the sale took ages going through). I’m grateful they let us stay (we paid some nominal rent) but wow I am glad it’s over. Stress levels were through the roof

      2. Amber Rose*

        Doesn’t sound like that kind of dynamic though. People generally only feel forced if they have a bad boss or if the invites are super frequent. I don’t think “I’ll be at [pub] if anyone wants to come for a drink” every few months is so awful if the relationship is good.

  19. LimeRoos*

    Yeah…it’s pretty normal for people to not socialize with their manager. Sometimes it sucks – I have an awesome manager who I’d love to grab a beer with, but have refrained from any social outside of work stuff (minus occasional facebook likes of her kitties who are super cute) since that has the possibility to put either of us in an awkward position.

    1. tink*

      My last manager wouldn’t add any of us on social media (or do anything outside of a “we’re all going together for team bonding or whatever outside the workplace” gathering) with us until she was no longer our manager, and tbh I think that’s for the best.

      The only time I’ve really had that sort of “management/team” blur was in a retail position where all of us were of similar age to the assistant/acting manager and we all mostly also went to school together and sometimes shared classes? But even then there was “work ASM” and “school/friend ASM” and that person was very careful to keep them separate.

  20. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Perhaps the letter writer can arrange a weekend event, everyone is invited, kids, partners etc. It could be a volunteer event or a day at a park etc. Of course management will have to make it clear that it’s strictly voluntary and that they’ll pick up any costs. It may satisfy the urge to socialize without any pressure.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I get what youre saying here but that feels so much like *forcing* staff to socialize.

      Even if it’s voluntary they will feel obligated. It’s their weekend, their free time.

      They shouldn’t have to be presented with something like this just because OP is having an issue with not crossing the streams.

      1. Techworker*

        I’m not sure weekend socials = obligation, though perhaps it depends on the company size. We have weekend socials and maybe 50% of the company comes? I think it’s generally understood it’s very much optional.

  21. Mary*

    OP, if you do want a bit of manager and team socialising time – ORGANISE IT! If you think it’s something that would benefit the team, then as a manager it’s on you to take the initiative. Set up a Doodle poll to find out when everyone is available, see if you can get a bit of budget and offer everyone a drink – and if you can’t, tell everyone the first drink is on you. If you have work-related reasons for thinking that a bit of socialising would benefit the team culture, then you don’t wait for your team to organise it, you either do it yourself or you task a junior team member with doing it as part of their role.

    But you also need to be aware that socialising with management is *work* for your team. They don’t necessarily want to let their hair down in front of management. So make sure that your participation is time-limited – you go for the first drink but leave at 7pm and wish them a good night, for example. And you also accept that some team members may not want to come, and that’s totally fair enough when it’s their time.

    A little bit of out-of-work socialising isn’t a bad thing, but don’t confuse it with purely-social socialising. If it’s something that would be good for the team and good for the employer, then it needs to come from you.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Yeah, if it’s that important, organize something yourself. My old boss did that, perhaps once a year for a holiday or at the end of a super big project. It was great! We usually had a bbq potluck thing at his house and it was pretty chill and enjoyable. He was a great host and nearly the whole team would attend.

      However, don’t kid yourself that such a thing is 100% social. Your team might have a good time and be more relaxed than they would be in the office, but they are still *on* to some degree because you’re still their boss.

      1. CanuckCat*

        At one of my past jobs, the woman who owned the company would usually take staff out for one or two happy hour nights during our busy season, but it was common for her to stay (and pay) for the first two rounds and then excuse herself, because I think she knew full well that staff would not relax fully when she was there, even though she was a lovely person.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      “If you think it’s something that would benefit the team…”

      I think the thing here isn’t that OP is thinking “hey social thing to build the team” so much as “why didnt I get to gooooo?”

      Suggesting she do this under the guise of team building let’s het weaponize her hurt ferlings because of the power differential. Especially as it sounds like the team is doing just fine on their own.

      1. Mary*

        That’s why I said “if”! Maybe there isn’t actually a work benefit here. That’s something she should reflect on.

        If she decides there is a work benefit – which is quite possible, because a little bit of organised socialising definitely can be good for morale and team-building – at least some of the costs should be borne by the organisation, whether that means it’s organised on work time or there’s some budget for refreshments.

  22. CatCat*

    “… it’s put a small us vs. them vibe into the team.”

    That seems concerning. Are you sure you supervisors are not projecting something that isn’t really there? I get that you and the other supervisors feel left out, but that doesn’t mean there is something adversarial going on here from the staff level. If there really is something adversarial going on here, that is something to address, but the solution is not for supervisors to be invited to staff social gatherings.

    1. BigLeaf*

      That’s why I said “small”. We are humans – it’s impossible not to feel some slight when the majority of your team, that you like and enjoy spending time with are doing something and you aren’t invited when in the past you were invited. New people, new dynamics…

      Me and the other managers aren’t losing sleep over this, we’ve just noted it. I wrote in to see if there was a way to navigate it other than what I’ve been doing (nothing) and Alison confirmed that nothing is the best course of action.

      Thank you for your input!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think CatCat is flagging that you’ll have to address that feeling of adversity among yourselves, because you don’t want it to fester or linger in the background and become a lens through which you perceive interactions with your team. Unfortunately, I think the managers are going to have to come up with strategies to shake it off and disassociate from the negative feelings you have when you’re not invited to join.

        It’s tough when norms shift or change, but it sounds like this may be a helpful reset since the previous practice was probably not great (even if it felt more inclusive to you).

  23. margaret*

    I find it interesting that the OP seems to assume that they (and the other managers) have more friends and life responsibilities. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t! It just seems weird for the OP to bring that up. That sort of assumption/mindset can easily lead into the kind of misguided thinking that causes managers to assume, “well Janice doesn’t have kids so she can be the one to stay late working on the project” or “Bob doesn’t have a lot of friends, so he won’t mind working this weekend”. Or, going the other direction, judging one’s personal life can also lead to de-valuing someone with outside commitments such as children (research shown that women who become mothers suffer from slowing of their career trajectories and wage losses but men typically are not impacted).

    The managers here need to be less invested in being “included” in the social activities, due to the power dynamics. If you’re being frozen out at work, that’s a different story. Employees are allowed to socialize with whom they choose outside of work; when it starts to negatively impact the dynamics at work, then the manager can address it. It should NOT be about “you didn’t invite me and that makes me sad” because that absolutely puts your employees in an awkward position. Watch your professional boundaries!

    1. BigLeaf*

      You’re running down the wrong road in your first paragraph, that doesn’t exist. I can tell you that everyone is expected to work the same unless a major life event means they need flexibility – which happens to everyone at some point.

      I see your point on the second paragraph. Thanks for your input.

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          Because it’s the reason why OP and the other managers are too busy to go these events even if they were invited? I don’t see any reason to read anything into it.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Funny, I read it as having other obligations was the reason that the managers didn’t socialize with each other, but either reading works now that I go back to the letter.

  24. StressedButOkay*

    The one piece of advice I can offer is that by remaining socially apart from those you manage, especially if they’re younger, you’re imparting them with really good work etiquette. When I was younger, I worked at a place where managers and staff hung out and it became very normalized. When I switched jobs, I had some hurt feelings that I had to deal with when managers – who would have normally been folks I could have easily befriended – kept that divide. I eventually learned why they kept that divide and came to respect it.

  25. Marlowe*

    By definition, no office culture is truly flat. It’s great that you can encourage the creation of a dynamic where your team can foster personal relationships with one another, and presumably with the management team, too, within the office itself! But from the point of view of an employee:

    a) your boss is always your boss, at work or no. They’re the one with power over you. Personal time spent with friends is designed to relax, not watch every word you say for fear it might be misconstrued.
    b) employees often take time after hours to rant about something that happened at work that day. Venting work-related frustrations is almost impossible if your boss is in the room.
    c) if you’re going to say no either way, and they know it, their choice not to invite you makes logical sense. From their point of view, they’re not excluding you so much as acting with respect to the fact that you have families and other friends that take up a lot of your time. Accusing them of excluding you not because you planned on actually joining them, but because it’s nice to be asked, will prioritize your slightly hurt feelings over your employees’ well-being and good rapport.

    That said, maybe you could try to focus on the relationships that you do, right now, have within your office with your employees. There are plenty of ways for management and office mates to be friendly and mutually productive that don’t involve spending the weekend together, and that relationship can be as nourishing and important too as any friendship.

    1. Lucille2*

      I’ve always understood the flat work structure means that employees have a higher level of autonomy than they would in a more typical hierarchy. It’s intended to cut down on bureaucracy. It doesn’t mean managers and individual contributors are on an even level. Managers are still expected to provide guidance and feedback on performance, but not necessarily dictate how the work is to be done. I think the OP is misunderstanding the purpose of a flat organization, or their workplace culture is getting it all wrong.

      1. doreen*

        It can mean more autonomy – but it doesn’t have to. A flat organization is one without middle managers- a small business where all 10 employees report directly to the owner is a flat organization, even if the owner does not allow the employees to make any decisions.

  26. Dr. Pepper*

    I ran into this when I first became a manager, and yes, it hurt. Especially because I had been peers with the team I was now managing and we HAD been friends and socialized together. But then I realized I was now their boss, and as much as you might like your boss and have a warm and friendly relationship, you really aren’t friends with your boss because your boss controls your work life. That’s a power dynamic that you simply cannot set aside. Your team is “we” to you, but to your team, “we” refers to their group of peers. You are not part of their “we” and that’s just how it is.

    So I say this not to be harsh but with care and consideration as someone who has been in your shoes: get over it. It hurts and you need to deal with that privately and move on.

      1. Esk*

        Are you friendly with the other managers/ team leads in your company? Because I found that once I was promoted, I started being more friendly with other people in my same position. If that culture doesn’t exist, is it something you could try and create? Not necessarily for a night on the tiles – as you say, your peers are a bit more settled than the juniors, and probably aren’t looking to bond in quite the same way. But you could still try and make time for a quiet pint or dinner once a month.

        I do miss the nights out I had when I was the lowest rank on the pole – drinking with my workmates, setting the world to rights, fixing all the problems that management were too blind* to even notice. But if I’m being realistic, it’s also just nostalgia for a time of fewer responsibilities and the now-vanished ability to roll into bed at 2 and bounce out barely the worse for wear the next morning.

        *fun fact: we were wrong about almost everything!

  27. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Manager perspective:

    OP, yeah this can be awkward and it can feel isolating sometimes, but unfortunately this a typical and healthy dynamic for a team and their manager.

    Here’s a couple of suggestions for you.

    1. Initiate after hours socialization with your peers.
    2. Plan some during work hour team socialization events/activities
    3. Initiate a very very very very occasional no pressure after hours event inviting the whole team… seriously this should be considered a work activity and should only happen about once per year, to do something you normally can’t do during work hours.

    1. Sauce or gravy*

      Another thing to keep in mind that usually when the manager initiates going to get drinks or a meal that the manager covers everyones meal and 2 drinks. I have never been out with my management when they didn’t cover the bill.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        I’d guess this is industry dependent. At my last job I barely or didn’t make more than my reports (because of longevity) and there was never an assumption that I’d cover. We’re not in a highly paid industry.

  28. Lucille2*

    I’m really glad Alison commented on the slippery slope the team’s tight knit culture can go down. This is how teams can get cliquey. It’s nice when the team is small and everyone gets along well, but don’t expect this dynamic to continue as the team grows. It’s very good for the workplace to have people from different experience levels and varying perspectives. Hiring someone from a different age group or very different cultural background is going to be a recipe for cliques or exclusive dynamics with this set up. It happens in so many workplaces. Best to get ahead of it before you end up having to do damage control.

    Also, as a manager, you’re job is to take the high road. I’m not sure it’s possible to be friends on a social level with your direct reports. Focus on being a great manager – that’s what they need and that’s what you need. Besides, they need a little space to vent & get peer perspective and they aren’t safe to do that with you present. Just like you need space to vent, but shouldn’t with direct reports present.

  29. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    In my previous job, our 100-person staff was spread out throughout the country and most folks worked remotely. The organization brought us together twice a year for all-staff conferences, and my team got together at least one additional time each year. Every time we gathered in person, my team held a “Team X Minus Managers” dinner on one of the nights. It was an important opportunity for folks to let their guard down and share our experiences. Our managers were great, but being with your manager involves some level of performance; it was nice to be able to just relax.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      This is a great idea. Agreed that time away as a team from your manager is important. It’s almost like the philosophy that it’s important for bosses to take vacation… because it’s a vacation for their employees from their bosses.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Lol, yes! At another previous job I used to joke that my boss going on vacation was even more restful than going on vacation myself.

        1. Butter Makes Things Better*

          Ha! So true about the “dance, monkey, dance!” aspect of being around higher-ups. How self-aware of your former company, VN.

  30. Ja'am*

    I think there is something to handle, your own feelings. You have to realize that not everyone wants to hang out with you or be your friend, which is the worst case scenario I doubt is actually happening. But if it is that’s okay. Plus, you’re their manager, as Alison said, you need these lines between professional and personal relationships clear.

    And you can’t expect people to invite you if you know and they know that you probably wouldn’t accept. Why would they waste their time if they know there’s a good chance they’ll get turned down? That’s really not a good attitude to have, it feels like entitlement and that is made a lot worse seeing as you’re a manager putting social expectations on your team. It’s really not good, it’s inappropriate.

    Part of being a manager is putting some of your personal feelings aside and that can’t happen if you’re buddy-buddy with them either.

  31. Bend & Snap*

    OP, do you want to hang out with YOUR manager? Try to put yourself in their shoes.

    I left a culture where everyone hung out all the time and socialization was expected. So as a junior staffer I went to mandatory happy hours and other events where management was there all the time. As a manager I organized the events and everyone had to go. And I cannot tell you what a relief it was to move to a company with normal boundaries and expectations of staff socialization (twice a year at team events, during work hours).

    Try to cultivate friends at your level and outside of work, and breathe a sigh of relief that both you and your staff can be off the clock during personal time.

    1. Gil*

      THANK YOU.

      It’s about time someone pointed out that LWs always want to be friends with the subordinates, but never their higher ups.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      “..,both you and your staff can be off the clock during personal time.”

      And this… is the crux of the issue. It is off time.

      OP should be no more invested in whether the staff all went out Fruday night any more than she would be if Emplotee 1 went to the beach, Employee 2 went to the circus, and Employee 3 napped.

      It is their personal, private, *off* time to spend as they will and no one can reasonably expect to be invited into someone else’s personal sphere.

  32. Like what even*

    Especially given the fact that you say you wouldn’t even go to these events this really seems like you’re expecting your employees to do some weird emotional labor here. And the fact that you think you’re in a position to tell your employees how to spend their time outside of work says a lot about how heirarchical your relationship with them really is.

  33. SigneL*

    This statement gave me pause: “We also have more friends outside of work than most of the junior members so the likelihood of us participating is low.” Really?

    1. E.*

      I commented on this below, but depending on where OP is located and what type of job it is, I think it’s pretty common for younger people to have less of a local network than older employees (if they’re single, don’t have kids, recently relocated, etc.).

        1. E.*

          They might! It’s just been my experience that younger/more junior people tend to be newer to the city, and to not have a partner or children they might meet people through. Whereas older and more senior staff tended to be more established because they’d been there longer, plus might have their partners’ network or other parents. So many people I know in their late-20s/early-30s say that their co-workers are the main group of (local) friends and make up most of their social life. But maybe other jobs or cities are less like this.

      1. Kat A.*

        I disagree. Young adults without children (as it was inferred in the letter) tend to have much more of a social life and wider social networks.

        1. E.*

          That hasn’t been my (as a young childless person) or most of my friends’ and co-workers’ experience. In fact, at my most recent job, it was almost exclusively the younger/junior people who ever got together after work, for the exact reason that most older staff had more other things going on (family stuff, PTA and the like, as well as long-time friends because they’d been in the city a lot longer). I’m thinking of people in their late-twenties/early-thirties, who knows what the 22-year-olds were up to :D I imagine this depends on the industry and location too.

  34. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP – It might be helpful for you to reframe how you and the other managers are thinking about your relationship with your reports. I actually think that your direct reports have a better understanding of how manager/report relationships should be structured than you and your fellow managers do. There are several really good reasons why it is basic management 101 to not socialize/be friends with your reports. It can lead to real or perceived favoritism, which causes resentment and poor morale; it can be difficult to provide feedback to poorly performing staff with whom you are friends (imagine having to put someone you went to dinner with last night on a performance improvement plan today); reports who consider you a friend may not respect your role as a manager and may disregard your direction or guidance because they see it as the recommendation of a friendly coworker rather than the direction of their manager. I’m sure there are more reasons for having a friendly but not friends relationship but these are a few that occurred to me.

  35. Butter Makes Things Better*

    OP/BigLeaf — much credit to you for writing in about this and being open to reframing how you and the other managers look at this. When I was promoted to management at OldJob (a large company where I’d been friends with many of the folks in my department), the same thing happened. Because it was my first foray running a team and I had no mentors or AAM to check, I had no idea that friendships aren’t supposed to survive moves up the food chain. I also didn’t connect the dots that my friendships there and at every other job had worked because we were all peers.

    I never mentioned my vague feelings of sadness and being left out to anyone, nor was I punitive or any less friendly than I had been. But the baseline sense of isolation did wear on me. The context that AAM and other posters are giving you would have helped.

    Not sure if this’ll work for you, OP, but one thing that did help was this online quiz (link in my handle, I think) about emotional needs, because once I realized 1) what my specific needs were; and 2) that I was trying to get them filled at work (which most of us find out some point isn’t a great life strategy), I was able to recognize when I was going down path No. 2, and I tried to find ways to get those needs met by non-work friends and family instead.

    I did find friends in management, of course, but my non-management friends (probably because they were younger and had fewer obligations) had been so much more fun!

  36. E.*

    Totally agree that the manager shouldn’t feel hurt by this and shouldn’t pressure her reports to invite her. But I’m actually surprised by this line: “Frankly, it’s not necessarily great that your junior staff are all hanging out together this much either.” We don’t actually know from the letter how often they’re actually getting together, and for so many people (like if they’re single, don’t have family nearby, relocated for the job, etc.) their co-workers may well be their closest friends.

  37. Undine*

    OP, I want to reiterate the other half of Alison’s response, which is to be aware of the line between tight-knit and cliquish. As you grow, you need to ensure that this close group dynamic doesn’t end up exclusionary towards new hires. And you also need to ensure that you are not restricting hiring to only those people who will slot right into a tight-knit group. This is more of a risk if the group is already fairly homogeneous: all the same age/race/gender/or economic status.

    Whatever your employees do together off the clock, at work they need to be accepting and friendly towards anyone who works there. And you and your fellow managers need to make sure that everyone gets equal treatment, including access to knowledge from coworkers and their share of interesting projects, regardless of how well they socialize with the rest of the group.

    This site has multiple letters about cliquishness and exclusionary behavior. I can’t find the one I was looking for, where a boss consistently all but one of the team go out for beer, while the only non-drinker had to cover the desk. Due to this and other problems, the entire team, including the boss, was fired. (Maybe someone can help me out?)

    You as the boss need to be able to maintain the distance and the authority to keep things fair if cliquishness arises, and the less you are “one of the gang” now, the better off you will be when the day comes that you have to put a limit on the behavior of someone who works for you.

      1. Lavender Menace*

        It doesn’t have to be. An entire team can be tight-knit without having small cliques form that exclude others. And you can be close to your coworkers and yet still welcoming of newcomers or people from other teams.

  38. LGC*

    …there’s SO MUCH to unpack here.

    But I’m going to touch on something that I didn’t see come up – the team! I feel like in general, you should probably avoid talking about events where more people were invited than not invited, precisely because it’s so awkward for the people that weren’t invited. And – like, yeah, I don’t think it’s great that the employee essentially said “oh EVERYONE was invited, but you don’t count.” (I just find it rude to say out loud.)

    But…also, OP, I’m sorry but your employees don’t love you. (Nor should they.)

    To be less pithy, I feel like you think having a “flat” team means you guys are all friends. But for reasons that have been eloquently stated by everyone else, that just can’t work! (Or it can, but it’s exceedingly difficult and requires total buy-in from everyone involved.) My advice is to work on making their jobs easier, not being their friends. Listen to your team, take their opinions into consideration, be as collaborative as reasonable for your projects. And be responsive to their needs.

    And certainly don’t go on midday brewery runs.

  39. Carlie*

    There have been a few ” what happens when my friend becomes my manager” questions here in the past. Those might be worth looking at as well, because Alison really explains the difference between being able to be friends and having a managerial relationship with an employee.

  40. CanuckCat*

    And for all we know, the junior staff are subtly trying to manage up – I know I’m doing that at my current job because it’s my manager’s (who I adore) first time in this sort of organizational structure and I’m her first ever direct report, so when I say no to doing things with her, it’s usually me establishing boundaries between myself as junior staffer and her as manager.

  41. HeyyAhnold*

    My boss who is my age (early 30s) was hurt that I said “my team” when giving a presentation about the services we offer our clientele. I meant that it was my team like the people I work with. He thought I meant that I was supervising them. He’s got no boundaries and always harps on about “perception.” He was also mad that I declined him hosting my baby shower at his house on a Saturday with the rest of my coworkers. I wish I had a boss that was more mature than that. How can you lead a team when you have no idea what boundaries look like?

  42. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    Having been at a place where the managers blurred the lines between work and personal lives until those lines were just sad, dirty smudges- please no. Those who didn’t hang out were excluded from opportunities, work was chaos, and so on. I will grant you that this was on the extreme end of the spectrum, but still, please don’t try to insert yourself too much in the lives of your underlings.

  43. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Yeesh… rough comment day.

    Kudos to you OP if you’re still here. I’ll paraphrase (and expand) a comment I made that was deleted as a response to a rule violation.

    When I became a manager nobody handed me the super secret Manager Handbook(TM). I made my share of mistakes, had some odd ideas, and perpetrated some interesting blunders. Some things about managing don’t make sense, right up until they do. So a lot of the posters here have either learned the hard way or have witnessed some things that they are trying to help you avoid.

    I know it may seem far fetched right now with your team, but imagine this scenario; you are all super tight, hang out with each other regularly, why just last night you all went out during for happy hour and movie. You come into work the next morning and you find out that Bob (the same guy you were doing shots with last night) just made a huge, costly, and totally avoidable mistake.

    A. How well are you going to be able to correct this issue with Bob, knowing that you were drinking buddies with him last night and you have plans with him and the team 2 days from now?
    B. How’s Bob going to react to your correction? Will he take it seriously after becoming friends with you?
    C. What happens when Bob’s explanation for the big mistake is “Oh boy I remember that day this happened, that was the morning after we were all out and you and I were the finalists in the beer pong competition! Oh yeah, I was really hungover that morning, I think you were worse off than I was”

    Replace Bob with any member of your team, and the after work activity with anything that’s plausible. Essentially the social distance between you and your employees is to protect all of you and to give you framework and structure to the working relationship.

    1. Butter Makes Things Better*

      That was my experience also, Random. I wish there was a real AAM “Don’t Be A Fergus”-type handbook with tips that people don’t think to tell you about moving up; it would make a great gift. There’s so much about managing that you don’t know you don’t know — and often *can’t* know that you don’t know because you’ve never been in the situation before — until it smacks you in the face. And sometimes not until way after that.

      This is especially the case when the “We’re all family here” sentiment is so prevalent, or when previous managers have modeled the idea that everyone hangs out with everyone off the clock. At Job Before the Old Job, my manager suggested (platonically; we’re both females) vacationing together after a multiple-week work trip overseas. We did, it was fine-ish, and because nothing dramatic happened, I didn’t learn the lesson that bosses and underlings aren’t supposed to be friends.

      For folks questioning OP’s feeling hurt, sometimes feeling those hurt feelings can lead to behavioral changes, and again, people learn when they learn. I actually think hearing “You aren’t the only manager who’s made this very mistake” could be useful for a lot of new managers. I know I would’ve felt less dumb/embarrassed with my management hiccups.

  44. chickia*

    LW: Two thoughts that didn’t come up so far in the comments – look out for this stuff in the future:

    1 – New Jr. team members who are excluded for whatever reason (Alison mentioned that in her answer) Because it’s hard to join a team who is that tight, especially if you don’t quite fit in or want to join in all the after hours events.

    2 – what happens when eventually one of your current Jr team members are promoted to a Sr / management role? With how close they all are, I’d be concerned that they will have issues making the transition into management if they are managing their very good friends. This closeness they share now may be great, but it has the potential to cause big issues further down the line if/when they end up supervising each other!

    1. Rin*

      “What happens when eventually one of your current Jr team members are promoted to a Sr / management role? With how close they all are, I’d be concerned that they will have issues making the transition into management if they are managing their very good friends. This closeness they share now may be great, but it has the potential to cause big issues further down the line if/when they end up supervising each other!”

      ^^My life right now. Doing the best I can to manage/supervise a close-knit pals-outside-work team that I was previously a member of, and the emotional & social balancing act is very real and very tricky.

  45. Bea*

    I’ve only hung out with bosses on their terms. I don’t invite them because then it’s awkward AF. And we’ve all been very close otherwise.

    You should step up and invite everyone to happy hour if you want to be included. Don’t stress out your staff with trying to act like you’re one of the gang.

    I can get tipsy and feel no wrong in front of my coworkers. We’re all dumb like that. I can only do that with my boss on their terms (I do drink with bosses and it’s been fine but you’re still putting on a different face and pumping a different set of brakes)

  46. Ames*

    “We also have more friends outside of work than most of the junior members so the likelihood of us participating is low.”

    This sounds really insecure. Sort of like, “It’s not like it matters since I have more friends than they do, so i can’t even make it anyway, but why don’t they invite me???”

    How would the OP know how many friends they have outside of work? If you do, you are way too interested in their lives than you should be.

  47. Kat A.*

    Something you said really rubbed me the wrong way. You wrote: “We also have more friends outside of work than most of the junior members…”

    OP, there’s no way you know how many friends your junior colleagues have. No way. None.

    My own family probably couldn’t even tell you how many friends I have, and we’re close. I don’t want you to feel attacked, but I think you should know that statement comes across as really petty.

    It seems to me that, if you really had plenty of friends, you wouldn’t be pining for social invitations from junior colleagues. So, some questions to ask yourself are: Are you happy with your social life? Do work and kids keep you from having enough of one?

    If you want more of a social life, look outside of work.

    I hope you heed Alison’s advice. It’s spot on.

  48. Kaitlyn*

    BigLeaf, just as your professional responsibilities changed when you were promoted, so too did your social responsibilities. Instead of making sure that your team is making things fun *for you,* like inviting you to happy hours, you’re now tasked with making sure that everyone on your team has the same social access through the workplace. You have to pay attention to things like who gets a card on their birthday (everyone? no-one? hopefully not the folks in the office who have friends with good memories! maybe this is something you organize!), how quarterly or annual team events are organized, how work anniversaries are celebrated, advocating for subtle social-team shifts that make overtures to include workers with kids, who don’t drink, who have long commutes and want to leave straight after work, etc. (Maybe it’s time to institute “long lunch Fridays” or whatever?) The upshot is, you have more power, so you have more responsibility, and that doesn’t stop just because you’re off the clock.

  49. Canadian Public Servant*

    I recently went to a training session for managers, and the facilitator asked us to draw a quick diagram of our teams – for most of us, we drew ourselves, and our direct reports. Then she talked about how, if you asked the team members, they would likely NOT include us on “the team.” And, if we felt that was unfair, maybe we should ask if our own team diagram had included our boss…

    Anyhoo: it was just a useful reminder for me about different perspectives, and power, and relationships.

  50. Orange You Glad*

    I work in a small department with a manager who very much wants to promote a flat hierarchy and frankly that makes me uncomfortable. I’ve dealt with it over the years by keeping barriers up and limiting my socializing with my manager (certain topics/facts about my life I keep off-limits). We can socialize at work functions or chat over dinner while on business travel, but I don’t accept invitations to football games or barbecues.

    It may seem great when a boss doesn’t want to be treated like a boss and just another co-worker, but the flip-side is this “friend” may have to turn around a discipline you or your performance evaluations could be affected by something you did/said outside work. I’d prefer to see my boss as a friendly mentor than a friend I see outside work.

  51. Michael Scott*

    In my office there is a very strict no lunch with the boss policy and I don’t know who instituted it. I think it started right after my predecessor stepped down,

    1. TalGOT*

      That is a stupid policy, it prevents employees from getting face time with the boss, why u want to stop ambitious employees from advancing?

    2. Eddia*

      I wish so much that was the rule at my job. Our manager eats lunch with us EVERY day. And she literally controls and changes the topic of conversation if she doesn’t like what we’re talking about. And the lunch table is in the same space as our desks so we can’t ever get away.

  52. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

    OP, I understand why you feel hurt but believe me, bosses shouldn’t be so friendly with their people. My boss unfortunately is besties with my co worker–they go out together, have shared holiday dinners, exchange clothes, etc. Think my boss is able to be objective? And my co worker is her back up and learns everything and I’m shunted aside. You’re doing the right thing by not being so involved.

  53. Hooty*


    I had a previous manager who insisted on coming to drinks with the team and it just made things super awkward. His neediness made us respect him less, and when we didn’t manage to skip out to the pub without him we just used to sit around awkwardly for the minimum amount if time until we could politely go home.

    The final straw came when I didn’t invite him to my wedding. When I came back from my honeymoon, he was obviously butt hurt that he wasn’t included and started making spiteful remarks about my work which he had previously described as exemplary. Pretty soon after that the previously cohesive 10 person team all started finding jobs elsewhere. From all reports it’s taken him about 5 years to rebuild the team into something that produces the quality output that team, and I think he’s learnt his lesson because he doesn’t constantly ask to be included anymore.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      What a baby!

      I have always been of the opinion that “I rent X amount of my time for Y money. Anything outside of XY is personal, private, and absolutely not the provenance of ‘the boss.’”

  54. Layla*

    Thank you for mentioning how this aspect of the working culture can cause problems. I once started at a job a few years ago early in my career where the team was super close like this, and while that sounds great on the surface, it meant that I felt constantly pressured to go out with them when I really didn’t want to. I was taking a night language class 2 nights a week, and this is something I am not proud of but it is resolved now, but I got into some financial issues a couple of years earlier in my last year of undergrad as the result of poor financial planning/decisions and had a resulting credit card debt I wanted to pay down ASAP to reduce interest and get it off my back. I promised myself to put 75% of my disposable income after my language class fees and books on it every week because if I did that, I would have it paid back after 6 months. It would mean a pretty miserable 6 months, but it would be over and done with. So I didn’t want to be going out for meals and drinks all the time. I also didn’t want to get TOO involved socially, because like many, I learned the hard way at a previous job that it is not a good idea to have your co-workers as your friends because of all the drama that results from it. It really sucked. But not wanting to do this meant I was viewed as a “snob” and was treated accordingly.

  55. Nonnymouse*

    I’m surprised at the majority of the comments. In most workplaces I’ve been in, there is some level of socialization with the boss(es.) Not all the time or every event, but definitely certain opportunities. In my last job, we had a situation similar to the OP’s. The other managers and I wanted to occasionally have team lunches or take someone out for their birthday, and the other dept members were lukewarm at best. We set up a dept wide lunch to celebrate a promotion (discussed/planned with the person who was promoted), to have her cancel at the last minute. Then we see her going out to lunch with certain other people in the department. All such events were in line with company/dept history and historically enjoyed. It doesn’t feel great to make efforts to celebrate with the team and they obviously don’t like you. I feel for the OP and think some of these comments are harsh. Of course it’s not high school, I think we all know that. I’ve always appreciated an occasional chance to get a bit more face time with higher ups (even if I don’t love socializing) because such networking is a normal expectation of professional jobs.

  56. Safely Retired*

    I remember when the place I worked hired about 18 fresh college graduates and very junior people over two years, many of whom relocated for the job. Of course the socialized with each other, most of them didn’t know a soul in the area other than people they met at work. In that instance we ended up with a pretty tight-knit group that worked well together.

  57. Big Biscuit*

    I’m sort of wondering if the older one gets the less one care about invites? When I was younger I would socialize outside of work with my employees, but it was mostly pizza parties, movies (fairly harmless stuff). I now have 11 direct reports and 100 plus indirect, I don’t get invited and I don’t want to be invited. I will certainly have a drink with some of them at conferences, but even then I avoid any off facility things at night (that are not company sponsored). I encourage my team to do the same, but albeit with mixed results. They do things together, have all the social media with each other. I just think it becomes a slippery slope and I’ve had to counsel managers who have had conflict that was created through after hours socializing. I think it’s hard to avoid for managers in certain situations, but I just think it creates unnecessary risk and exposure.

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