my boss wants me to be her assistant, what to wear in a casual office, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Our office assistant left and now my boss wants me to do her job

I work for a small company (<8 people) founded by my boss, Cersei. I am an associate and I primarily do client-facing project management and data analysis work. I am also the most junior person on our small staff who’s here in the office — others work remotely.

Our office assistant/analyst, Arya, just left to go to graduate school. Cersei frequently had Arya order and pick up her lunch during the week, print out documents and bring them to her, and make vet appointments for her dog.

Cersei has replaced Arya with a part-time assistant who primarily works remotely. As such, Cersei has now been asking me to print things on her behalf and has once asked me to get her lunch. Since this request was over email, I ignored it, and Cersei hasn’t brought it up. But I’d like to nip this in the bud in case it happens again. What should I say to my boss next time she tries to treat me like her personal assistant?

You can try pushing back in the moment once or twice, but if it continues after that, you should have a big-picture discussion with her about it.

To push back in the moment, try citing higher priorities — “I won’t have time to finish X by the deadline if I do that” or “Right now I’m pushing to finish Y before my call with the client” and “I’m sorry, I’ve got to finish up this project” or so forth. (Only use these when what she’s asking for is time-consuming; they won’t have credibility in response to a request to print something out that will take just seconds.)

But assuming that doesn’t stop it, you’ll need to address it more directly. You could say something like, “Since Arya left, you’ve been asking me to pick up some of her work, like X and Y. I’m of course happy to help out in a pinch, but I’m concerned that since Ned works remotely, that stuff might start falling to me regularly. It’s important to me to stay focused on the project management and data analysis work I came on board to do.”

It’s possible you’ll hear that the needs of the company have changed and this is how it’s going to be from now on; sometimes that happens in small companies, especially when you’re the most junior person. And if your boss won’t budge, you might need to decide if you still want the job under those conditions. But before you end up there, it’s reasonable to raise the issue, explain it’s not the work you signed on to do, and ask her to reconsider.

2. What to wear in a casual office when you don’t love jeans

I just accepted a job in a role with a very casual dress code. I was told a nice shirt and jeans are the norm because they don’t want to make their working class clients uncomfortable. The person I interviewed with kind of side-eyed the dress I was wearing to the interview.

The thing is, I don’t really love wearing jeans. I find them uncomfortable for office jobs since I have to sit all day. I usually wear skirts or dresses, but I am under the impression that those will be seen as too fancy. Do you have any recommendations for other types of pants that might be okay? Or maybe a way to make a skirt or dress look not as fancy? Or should I suck it up and go buy some jeans?

Try chinos or khakis! Or other pants of similar material — plain cotton rather than more formal suit-like material. They’re almost as informal as jeans, and you can dress them down by pairing them with a top that’s on the more casual side of “nice shirt.”

But I’d bet that skirts and dresses would also be fine as long as they’re casual. The dress you wore to your interview probably wasn’t especially casual — because you were interviewing — but I suspect you’d be fine in skirts and dresses in casual fabrics. If you’re unsure, you can always check with your manager in your first week, explaining that you’re not usually a pants person.

3. Are there ANY events we can do that won’t be problematic for someone?

I understand that teams who connect with each other beyond the basics of their role tend to be higher performing. From the various questions you’ve answered, it seems that almost every type of event/activity that provides an opportunity for employees to connect on a more casual basis is fraught with issues. Golfing — gender discriminatory. Meals — problematic for those with eating disorders. Team-building activities — generally icky. Etc.

I’d love some suggestions from you and the readers of activities/events that will be appealing to a wide range of people and also inclusive. I’d love ideas for both things that could be done within work hours, plus things that might occur during the evening or weekend. These events/activities would be optional and fully funded by the company. The intention would be to create a casual atmosphere where people can chat beyond the strict confines of their role/position and with others who they don’t necessarily work with regularly.

There isn’t any one activity that will be fully inclusive and embraced by everyone. Different people have different preferences (and different dietary needs, restrictions on movement, levels of extroversion, etc.). I suspect we could point out potential problems with or find someone who disliked literally any activity you named.

What you want is to find something that works for your office — which might be wildly different than what works for another office. The keys are to talk to the people on your team to find out what they’d enjoy; to make it truly voluntary and not to penalize people who opt out; to watch for activities that seem to be segregating along problematic lines (such as gender or disability); to be thoughtful about the burden you might be placing on people (particularly with activities outside of normal work hours) and the fact that many people won’t comfortable being honest about their interest level or pushing back; and to notice if someone is regularly opting out and talk with them about whether there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them to participate, if they want to.

4. I recommend people apply at my company and they get ignored

My workplace is often recruiting new staff, and management asks us to please help out by recommending friends or former colleagues and putting them in contact. Every time my current manager asks us to recommend people to them, I have. Three times so far. It starts with me chatting to the relevant department head about the person, they respond “yes, please, tell her to send her CV through, thanks so much!” I give my friend the heads-up to do so and help them with their cover letter/CV, and they send it off. All three times, my contacts haven’t ever heard anything back. Not even an acknowledgement of receipt, a quick “thanks,” nothing. I find this embarrassing.

I know that nobody else has recommended people so they’re not overwhelmed with candidates (it’s a small place and we talk about it in the staff room), and they haven’t formally advertised yet. I have a good rapport with management and we’ve personally chatted about the person I’ve recommended before they send in their CV. It’s also not like I’m simply recommending my best friends; it’s people who I have worked with before, are amazing and inspiring at what they do, would genuinely make a wonderful impact at my current job, and are very experienced/ appropriately qualified.

Would it be okay for me to say something about this, and when would be the best time? Like, just mention it generally at our next drop-in? Or when I’m next asked if I know any other people suitable for XYZ department? What about if it’s a manager who I don’t see often — would I be overstepping to email a friendly nudge? Or follow up with the manager after a few days to ask if they received my contact’s application? Like in a breezy, friendly, nonchalant way as though I don’t know my contact has already applied? I’d like to do it this way as this is actually happening at the moment … a friend sent her CV in a few days ago.

I’m not even necessarily expecting my referrals to get moved onto the next stage or anything, just a wee simple acknowledgement so I don’t feel like a twat for bigging up my workplace and managers to them. And because I was specifically asked to put my friends in touch..

If they haven’t formally advertised yet, they might not be in active hiring mode yet, and they might be hanging on to your contacts’ materials for whenever that happens. Or they might be looking for something they haven’t fully communicated to you (or that you haven’t fully understood).

Regardless, though, you can absolutely ask about this. You can follow up with the manager you spoke with and say, “Jane Smith mentioned to me that she applied but hasn’t heard anything back yet. Are you able to give me a general timeline I can pass along to her for when she could expect to hear back?” And/or you could ask, “Is she the kind of candidate you’re looking for, or should I tweak the profile of person I’m referring to you?” Whether to do it in-person or via email depends on the relationship and how you normally communicate with the person, but generally either is fine.

Also, are these requests typically coming from the same person/people? If so, you can also talk to them and say something like, “You’ve asked a few times for referrals of candidates. I’ve referred three people and as far as I know, none of them ever heard anything back. Can you tell me more about what you’re looking for, so that I’m not sending over people who aren’t right?” It’s also fine to say, “Since I’m talking up the company to my contacts and urging them to apply, I want to make sure they’ll hear something back, even if it’s just a rejection note. Is there a way for us to flag candidates where the relationship means it’s important they get some kind of response?”

5. Is it weird to say “good for you” when a former boss leaves a crappy job?

Is it weird to say “good for you” when a former boss leaves a crappy job? My former boss from 2017, “Janet,” left that position this past September. (I don’t know if she was fired or resigned, but I’d put money on resigned any day.) I didn’t find out until about six months later, because I was desperate enough for an internship that I wanted to explore that as an option this spring. I didn’t enjoy my internship on 2017 because of the stress, but objectively I think I did decently well at it.

But Janet wasn’t exactly … chummy. A quote from her that I will never forget is, “You’re not the first intern I’ve made cry.” However, I think a lot of that has to do with the chain of screaming that she got from *her* bosses, and because I was going through some outside personal issues that occasionally seeped in. Still, by the end of the internship, we got along significantly better because I generally appreciate directness. She ended up writing me a really good recommendation for grad school.

When I saw that she was no longer working there, my first thought was, “Good for her.” She had mentioned that she understood my anxiety in part because she herself took anxiety meds for the job. I’m genuinely happy that she was able to escape the chaos and pressure, much like I was happy for myself when I left. Would it be weird if I reached out (via text; I don’t have her new email and her LinkedIn doesn’t list a current position where I could look it up) and said, “Hey, good for you for leaving?”

Don’t do that. You don’t know that she sees things the way you do; she could have generally positive feelings toward the organization, and your message would make it clear that you don’t and that you’re assuming she doesn’t either. That’s presuming something you don’t have grounds to presume. Even if you’re right that she’s glad to be gone, she hasn’t indicated she’s open to discussing that with you, so you’d be putting her in a weird spot.

Plus, if you’re applying for an internship there, you definitely don’t want to do this. They might contact her for a reference, and that would make your text seem particularly odd to her.

{ 560 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Womble

    #1 I don’t think you can just ignore requests from your boss by email, so definitely don’t keep doing that.

    Reply
    1. fhqwhgads

      I took that more as, the first time it happened, she had plausible deniability like “I was doing XYZ and by the time I looked at my email, ordering lunch would’ve been a moot point”. Not saying it’s a good idea to straight ignore boss’ emails, but in the right context, it wasn’t a completely weird move given she was clearly trying to formulate a better way to deal with this moving forward. For a one-time avoidance technique, it kinda worked.

      Reply
      1. Tallulah in the Sky

        Me too. First, it’s totally possible that I would miss that e-mail in time for lunch. And even if I did catch it, I would just assume scenario number 1.

        But I do agree that this is not a long term solution.

        Reply
      2. That Girl From Quinn's House

        Yup, I’ve done the exact same thing. Except it was a bigger company, and the job descriptions meant that I could fully ignore requests to do personal chores, because it literally was not my job.

        Reply
    2. Chris

      Not sure if that is universal but email here is something that does not warrant an immediate response but rather that you read and answer it in the next few hours or depending on your workload and priorities even in the next few days.
      Time sensitive things are not supposed to go via email. Call the person, send them a text or chat with them to get a faster response.

      Reply
      1. Amethystmoon

        I agree. I had a job where things were sometimes extremely time-sensitive because we were dealing with fresh food, and I asked them to IM or call me if it was very urgent. Every once in awhile, the e-mail servers hiccup and you don’t see things until the next day.

        Reply
    3. Trout 'Waver

      Nah, I think LW#1 did just fine in this case. There’s a huge difference between a professional request and what happened here.

      Reply
      1. Mediamaven

        When your CEO asks you one time to grab her lunch at work I’d wager that’s considered a professional request.

        Reply
    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I took it more as a timing thing, since emails are generally not viewed as something that are to be responded to immediately, but in general, no OP shouldn’t get in the habit of ignoring the boss. I think OP does need to have a chat with her boss about expectations so they’re both on the same page, but I also think it’s more of a “suck it up and deal” situation. Unless the things boss is asking of OP are keeping her from doing her work, some assistant responsibilities may fall to her since she’s physically in the office.

      Reply
      1. Fergus

        I can see ignoring the boss on anything that has nothing to do with her job, i.e. getting her lunch, washing her car, picking up dry cleaning, rubbing her feet, etc., then wait until she says something. If she has an issue she will bring it up.

        Reply
    5. Needy's Assistant

      I had a boss who would text me on the weekend to tell me to remind him of something on Monday (instead of just m emailing himself a reminder). I would ignore the text and make a point of not reminding him of said thing. When you’re junior, you sometimes have to take passive steps to train the more senior person….

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        This advice is how you end up fired in a lot of cases. When you’re junior, playing dumb or forgetful or like you can’t be bothered to take instructions gets you viewed as unreliable and dead weight.

        Reply
        1. Managed Chaos

          Yeah, passive steps are not a good way to build your career. As a junior, you typically need to either suck it up or address it directly.

          Reply
        2. Fergus

          So the question is, She needs to order lunch, wash the car, pick up the dry cleaning, rub the feet? Really?

          Reply
          1. Clorinda

            No, but the reminding seems like a reasonable request. And even with the other things, a clear refusal might be better than ignoring them

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        3. Jadelyn

          In many cases yes, but that’s more if you’re playing dumb or forgetful *in reference to legit stuff*. A boss treating you like his personal reminder app on your day off? Nah. I’d ignore it, too. If I’m off the clock, I’m not performing the free emotional labor of remembering your stuff for you. I have a hard enough time remembering my own stuff. Work stuff is certainly not going to take up already-scarce mental real estate in the “remember Thing” department if I’m not actively at work.

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        4. Mediamaven

          Seriously. Goodness I am shocked at the bad, entitled advice going on here. Ignoring your boss? How on earth is that smart?

          Reply
    6. Mediamaven

      I completely agree with you. Surprised at the reactions here.

      I’m the CEO at my company and very, very rarely if I’m in an all day meeting or conference call I’ll ask one of my executives to pop around the corner and grab my lunch for me. No, they aren’t my assistants but they do work for me and sometimes we need to do things outside of our job descriptions. Just like I take out the trash. No one would ever feel slighted by my asking for the favor and if they did, bye.

      Reply
      1. Fergus

        I see your point, but from what I read from it she wants her to be her personal assistant, and do everything a PA would do, that’s when it becomes a problem. Yes I think all day meetings would make sense it picking up lunch, but spending the day taking fluffy to vet, picking up dry cleaning, washing her car, etc would become a problem

        Reply
        1. Mediamaven

          From what I read, she asked her to pick up lunch one time, and to print a few documents. If she does ask her to set up a vet appointment then that’s not cool, but that has not been done yet. She has not indicated she wants her to be her personal assistant. You are making some huge reaches based on the letter. Many of those things weren’t even asked of the actual personal assistant.

          Reply
  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#5, I think the trick here is (1) making sure you have a close enough relationship to send her a note, and (2) that she’s leaving and has new employment. If either of those factors is missing, then I’d refrain from sending her anything (how awful would it be if she were fired and received a “congrats!” note?).

    Assuming you’re close enough that texting her is reasonably normal* and that she’s voluntarily transitioned to something else, then I would text something a bit more neutral. So something like, “Congratulations on your [new gig / next steps / new endeavor / transition]!” should be fine. But again, you have to be super confident that conditions 1 & 2, above, are met before sending anything to her.

    * I definitely have 1-2 bosses, who I still communicate with by text/phone, but the vast majority are e-mail or office phone. It may be totally fine to text, but you’ll definitely want to verify that that’s an ok medium.

    Reply
    1. Vendelle

      If texting them is a thing you do semi-regularly, would it also be okay to text aomething along the lines of: “I saw you left Company and wanted to wish you good luck for your next endeavour”?

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        If she was fired and feeling raw this will rub salt into the wound and make it seem like she is monitoring her in a sort of creepy way. I see no up side on anything but a congratulations when she hears that Janet has a new position.

        Reply
      2. Hermione at Heart

        I’d generally caution interns to be very careful about texting bosses — I’d only text bosses who have texted you after your internship has ended (not just responded to texts you sent them, or texted you while you were working for them). I manage interns and I’m only about 10 years older than our typical undergrad, but I always find it a little jarring to get a text instead of an email about something non-urgent after the internship has ended. Not anything I’d hold against them, but just a bit outside our work norms. This will likely vary by office!

        I realize the appeal of texting in this situation since presumably the intern has the boss’s company email address, which is probably shut down. But if you weren’t on the list that got her new or interim contact info, you probably should just let this one lie until you see that she’s got a new position.

        Reply
    2. WellRed

      The OP is a former intern, though. Do they really have any standing to reach out about this? I’d say no.

      Reply
      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        I’d say it depends on the relationship between intern & manager. At one point when we had a couple of big low-level time-crunch projects, we had two summers with interns. Some of them I wouldn’t remember their names if I didn’t see them occasionally in project records. One of them I keep in touch with.
        So…it depends.

        Reply
      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Right?

        I can only see this coming up if OP needed to reach out to say “I’m job hunting/applying for another internship, are you able to be my reference from the time we worked at Acme Inc together?”

        Then if Janet says “I’m no longer at Acme, I’m at XYZ.” then you can say “Congrats on the new position, I hope all is well.” but don’t just act like you see she left Acme and assume anything or reach out specifically for that reason.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think it really depends. In most cases, the answer will be no. But in some contexts there may be an adequately close relationship for an intern to stay in touch or reach out.

        I suspect OP is not close enough to Janet, which was partially why I highlighted the two predicates that have to exist for OP to be able to pull off any communication about the change. The facts that OP didn’t know about the move until several months later and doesn’t appear to be in regular contact with Janet weigh heavily against sending anything.

        Reply
    3. JJ Bittenbinder

      I think this is fine big-picture advice for future readers, but if LW #5 didn’t even know that Former Boss had left the company until months later, let alone the circumstances, I’d say they absolutely don’t have the type of relationship/closeness where this applies.

      This is what bugs me about LinkedIn’s default “congratulate So-and-So and their new role” prompt. many times I have known someone to get laid off and they change their profile to say that they’re looking for a new role, and people just start replying “Congrats!” because LinkedIn has prompted them to do so.

      Reply
  3. Nep

    OP2: I also hate wearing jeans (and can rarely tolerate pants in general) – hooray for skirts. I’d say 1) wear what you’re comfortable with, if anyone asks, tell them it’s super comfy or (if they’re being annoying) that it takes as much time as putting on a pair of jeans. And 2) match shirt-wise what your coworkers are doing and have your skirts be fairly simple affairs. More old navy than Ann Taylor.

    Good luck on the new job!

    Reply
      1. Artemesia

        Mine too. If jeans are uncomfortable then khakis are not going to be comfortable; in my experience they are considerably less so. If the OP likes wearing skirts there are tons of casual skirts including denim skirts which might be a place to start and worn with a fitted T or casual blouse they are no more ‘fancy’ than jeans and a nice shirt.

        Reply
          1. YouCanBrewIt!

            Yes! I hate jeans & I hate dressing up. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at several places with no dress code over the past 10 years – and I’ve always worn yoga pants and no one cares.

            Reply
          2. Shad

            Yoga pants are definitely a step down in formality from jeans! I would definitely not.
            I would go with the kind of skirt that works with a nice t shirt, personally, or a dress made of that sort of material.

            Reply
            1. Tallulah in the Sky

              Not all yoga pants are the same. My guess is those are more legging types of yoga pants. I have black thick yoga pants, not too tight, they’re not made to go work out in. This paired with good shoes (like boots) and a cute/cool shirt, I have no problem wearing this in this kind of office.

              Reply
              1. Liz

                I do as well. Mine are a nice cotton knit, and it helps that they’re black. They’re also straight leg so work with flats, boots, sandals etc., paired with a cute, casual top, and if need be, a sweater. I also have traditional tighter fitting yoga pants, but that’s my weekend etc. attire.
                I usually mix them up with jeans in cooler weather since we can wear them, and I have some that have stretch that are quite comfy.

                Reply
              2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

                OK, dumb question but considering yoga is a workout, how are your pants yoga pants when they’re not made to work out in?

                Reply
                1. Mpls

                  +1 – I’m betting Tallulah/Liz are talking about ponte knit pants. It’s a stable knit, but since it has some stretch, are more comfortable than the woven/twill fabric of jeans/chinos.

                  I would say some ponte knit pants could also be yoga pants, but not knit pants are yoga pants.

                2. TootsNYC

                  actually, it often has to do with the waistband.

                  Yoga pants tend to have a wide, stretchy band of fabric that is shaped to go around the hips (as opposed to a folded-over casing with elastic in it), and it often doesn’t reach to the waist itself.

              3. RUKiddingMe

                Yeah this is pretty much the type I’m thinking of. “Standard issue” yoga pants? Not so much.

                Reply
      2. CarolynM

        With you on the denim skirts! I loathe pants – I own exactly one pair of jeans for when pants are needed and I pretend-pout anytime I have to wear them. But I love my denim skirts! I have them in a bunch of different washes and pair them with tees and cardigans.

        Reply
      3. Amethystmoon

        Same here. There are also skirts and dresses made of khaki-like material. A khaki or denim shirtdress would be pretty casual.

        Reply
      4. (Mr.) Cajun2core

        I came here to say the same thing. At a former job, a co-worker who did not wear pants for religious reasons, would wear denim skirts on casual Fridays.

        Reply
      5. OP2

        I should go out and see if I can find some more denim skirts! I have one but it comes to above me knees so I am not sure if that would be to short for this office yet.

        Reply
        1. Real_Ale

          Perhaps try “scrubs skirts”? They’re made of scrubs material, at the softer end of that spectrum. I’ll bet they have great pockets (I love pockets), and are not very short. I think the work-wear aspect of them would be comforting to others who wear a not-exactly-uniform but definitely clothes for physically work.

          Reply
          1. iglwif

            I used to have a favorite long skirt (we had to part ways when it stopped fitting me) that was lightweight dark-wash denim with an elastic drawstring waistband and A KANGAROO POCKET. It was the BEST SKIRT EVER. I *think* it was Eddie Bauer or maybe American Eagle? But I got it at Value Village.

            I still miss that skirt.

            Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      There’s plenty of ways to make dresses and skirts casual. I’d suggest going edgy. Chunky fun jewelry, ankle boots, colored tights, ballet flats, tennis shoes. Wear t-shirts with the skirt.

      You might also want to try some stretch pants or yoga style pants instead of jeans. Athleta ankle pants comes to mind, or Old Navy pixie pants.

      Reply
      1. Jasnah

        Exactly, there are plenty of ways to make dresses and skirts casual! T-shirt, skirt, leggings, & converse shoes sounds very casual, but comfy enough to wear sitting down for hours and hours.

        Reply
        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

          Yep, I’m on the last day of a Disneyworld trip and I’ve been traipsing around theme parks in tees, maxi skirts and converse for a week. One of my traveling companions did similar, but knee length skirts and leggings instead of maxis. Comfy, functional and casual.

          Reply
      2. Cassie

        I love the Old Navy pixie pants! There are some fun colors and patterns that can easily be dressed up or operate in a casual environment. I appreciate the stripe/checkered patterns especially because it feels relaxed and summery. I personally wear mine in super casual workplace (academic lab) but will be wearing them at an upcoming conference.

        Reply
        1. SheLooksFamiliar

          Same here, Cassie! I’m an older woman but I love Old Navy in general – and especially love their Pixie pants. They can be dressed up or down and are SO comfortable.

          Reply
        2. Managed Chaos

          Another Old Navy option would be their “swing dresses” with leggings underneath – very casual look overall!

          Reply
      3. londonedit

        This is what I was thinking. It’s a thing at the moment where I live for women to wear a smart/casual dress (most often a lightweight midi dress, sort of tea dress style, or jersey fabric) with Converse or white trainers. It looks cool and it dresses down a floral midi dress.

        Otherwise, I wear a lot of jersey trousers – lots of shops here do a whole range of slightly slouchy jersey trousers in plain and patterned fabric, they’re sort of tapered in shape and are really flattering but it’s really easy to make them look casual if you wear them with a t-shirt and sandals or Converse.

        Reply
        1. Media Monkey

          agreed – i think the shoes are really important for dressing the whole look down. skirts and dresses are my usual go to (i work in a very casual unless you are meeting clients office) and i wear trainers/ converse, low heeled ankle boots or ballet flats depending on the weather. and either opaque tights or bare legs in the summer.

          Reply
      4. Connie

        I think what this organization is trying to say isn’t so much casual as it is inexpensive. They say they’re doing it cuz at the clients feel bad.

        Edgy is more casual, but doesn’t necessarily look inexpensive. (At least not if you’re doing it right.)

        Reply
      5. Lily Rowan

        Honestly, there are people who always think a dress is fancier than whatever it is they are wearing. I’ve worn a literal t-shirt dress with flip-flops and had people comment on how I was dressed up.

        So this OP is going to have to judge her office and her clients to figure out what’s going to be OK.

        Reply
      6. Iris Eyes

        I’m not sure that edgy is the best route in this case as they specifically said that it is to look more like their “working class” clients. The idea seems to be “not putting on airs” with the clothing you are wearing.

        Many of the comments seem to be going for a “smart casual” vibe, but I think that the vibe is probably more straight casual. Kinda the difference between Target and Walmart, they are wanting Walmart.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      It can be more complicated than “just wear what you’re comfortable with” though. If their client base is more comfortable with people who are dressed informally (will trust you more easily, etc.), it can be legitimately problematic to ignore that (plus you shouldn’t ignore a clear directive from your boss).

      Reply
      1. OP2

        I have not started yet but from what I understand the clients will mostly be contractors/people who work in construction. I think it’s a thing of not wanting them to think I am too fancy.

        Reply
        1. Chinookwind

          If they are construction people or other blue collar types, they may not find it strange that office people wear something other than jeans. They wear jeans because it is PPE (jeans take a lot more of a beating than other pants) the same as if they wear overalls or coveralls. Office staff don’t require that type of protection, so it isn’t strange for their own office staff (think HR, payroll, accounting) to wear dresses and skirts or something other than jeans.

          I say this as someone working in this exact field and the office staff all dress one step higher than the field workers because we don’t have to worry about getting our clothing ripped, dirty or burnt. All the women (and we are all women) wear dresses in the summer because it is cooler.

          Reply
      2. Jadelyn

        This is why my org went to casual dress code a couple years ago. We’d been on the upper end of business casual before, but we’re working primarily with low-income communities. Turns out they felt we were more approachable when we looked like regular folks instead of Bankers. So there’s a genuine business-related reason for the dress code sometimes, and in those cases dressing up is less of a personal quirk to be shrugged off and more of a real issue.

        Reply
        1. OP2

          Yeah I really want to find a good balance between my personal style and what will make my costumers feel most comfortable.

          Reply
    3. Beth

      Since your interviewer said the reason for jeans was to make the clients feel at ease, maybe pay attention to what your clients are wearing and take your cues from that. That might end up meaning something similar to jeans, or it might mean midi skirts or some other approach.

      Reply
      1. Kiki

        Yes! You can definitely emulate what clients are wearing but do it in dress-form. If they’re wearing jeans with flannel shirts, wear a flannel or chambray shirtdress. If they are wearing t-shirts and sneakers, wear a long t-shirt dress and sneakers. If anyone asks why you wear dresses, I think most people will understand when you say that finding pants that fit comfortably for you is difficult. As long as there’s no safety reason you’d need pants and you keep the dresses casual, I think you’d be able to get away with it.

        Reply
        1. Media Monkey

          i can honestly say no one has ever asked me why i wear dresses all the time and i wouldn’t suggest talking about the fit of trousers. just say that you prefer skirts.

          Reply
          1. Kiki

            I have found people do ask and shopping for pants is a commonly loathed activity, so in my experience this answer goes over well. It’s nobody’s business why LW wears what LW wears, but sometimes if you are perceived as dressing more formally than everyone else, people will think you’re snooty. This explanation may help counteract that

            Reply
          2. MCMonkeyBean

            I used to only wear dresses at work and I had people ask me about it all the time on “casual fridays” when everyone else was wearing jeans.

            Reply
    4. Kuododi

      First before anything else, I would recommend getting in touch with your supervisor and simply asking for some additional clarification on their idea of casual dress in order not to make the clients uncomfortable. (For example, would a casual t-shirt dress with flats and discreet jewelry be appropriate? Allison’s suggestion about casual slacks and top was terrific. ). I went years without even owning a pair of jeans for all the same reasons you had listed. I was able to find a clothing store carrying jeans in petite length and plus size. (Woohoo!!!). I must admit the minute the weather warms up I would break out the casual dresses. I find them helpful bc of my turbo charged hotflashes. These types of dresses are able to go from casual to somewhat dressy with an upgrade in shoes and jewelry. Best wishes.

      Reply
    5. KayDay

      Would it be possible for the OP to try shopping at some of the same places where the clients would get their clothes? (this might be easier in some locations that others, I realize.) I’m not saying complete wardrobe overall, but it might be a good way to find dresses or other things-that-aren’t-jeans that would be similar to what the clients are wearing.

      Reply
      1. MarinaZee

        But cheap fast fashion isn’t actually good for anyone. Better that the LW tone down her accessories and obvious designer logos, etc..

        Reply
        1. Shad

          That is…rather an assumption on two levels.
          First, regarding the clothing worn by clients. Plenty of skilled blue collar work is well paid and several companies make high quality clothing suitable for that type of work—off the top of my head, Duluth trading company, ll bean, Eddie Bauer.
          Second regarding LW’s clothing. If the issue is formality of dress, that is poorly correlated with cost; even a fast fashion blazer and matching slacks would be extremely over dressed compared to jeans and a top suitable for manual labor.

          Reply
          1. Michaela Westen

            Eddie Bauer and LL Bean are rather expensive! Working-class people can’t afford that stuff unless it’s deeply discounted.

            Reply
            1. Iris Eyes

              Not necessarily. Clothing stipends exist and when you work hard you need clothing that works as hard as you do, yeah that sounds like an advertiser’s line but its true.

              Quality is often cheaper in the long run and that isn’t lost on people who are “working class”

              Reply
            2. cmcinnyc

              I come from working class, and most can afford LL Bean. The big difference is that my family is most likely to wear the same pants/shirts/boots season after season without regard to fashion and trends, because work clothes are pretty much fashion/trend free. If you need steel-toed boots you need steel -toed boots. You do NOT need *this year’s hottest trend in steel-toed boots.* You replace them when they are worn out, not because the color is “last year.” I only wish my office wardrobe could work this way! (I think a lot of men’s clothes does.)

              Reply
            3. VelociraptorAttack

              Shad specifically mentioned that a fair amount of skilled blue collar work is well paid. Working class does not necessarily equate to low income and it would be a mistake to presume so.

              Reply
            4. Michaela Westen

              I know some working class pays well, and I’ve known others who can’t afford more than Wal-Mart. I was thinking of them.

              Reply
          2. Chinookwind

            Around here, blue collar people often make more than anyone else due to a combination of wages and overtime. Blue collar does not equal poorly paid.

            As for buying clothes that fit the clientele, in Canada we have Mark’s (Work Wearhouse) that sells all sorts of coveralls, steel toed boots, and scrubs right next to casual office wear. The stuff isn’t cheap but it isn’t expensive either (plus their steel toed shoes come in runners and Mary Jane’s). KayDay is right in thinking about checking out where the guys buy their clothes to see if there is anything there that would work for you.

            Reply
        2. Hey Karma, Over Here

          I’m not familiar with the term cheap fast fashion. Does that mean Walmart type or Kohl’s type? Is it about crappy labor practices? I’m trying to guess, but just not my area. (I match my chuck Taylors to my polo shirt and move on.)

          Reply
          1. Sophie before she was cool

            Fast fashion normally refers to items you’d get at Forever 21 or Zara — cheap, trendy pieces that aren’t meant to last more than a season or two. Part of the negative connotation is the labor practices that result from the short turnaround time to keep up with fleeting trends, and part of it is the consumerism that makes people feel like they need to be replacing their wardrobe every few months to keep up.

            Reply
            1. Not Tom, Just Petty

              Thanks, to you and everyone. I see now. And I see some key words to read further. So I appreciate everyone commenting.

              Reply
          2. Wendie

            It’s inexpensive and made in sweatshops. Target, old navy, Walmart, Kohl’s. Look up Bangladesh factory collapse.

            Reply
            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

              Unfortunately, that’s all many of us can afford and/or have to shop at.

              Reply
            2. Sophie before she was cool

              This is not what “fast fashion” means, this is just inexpensive clothing. While there are certainly ethical issues with many mass-produced brands, conflating the two does a disservice to folks who need to shop at places like Walmart or Kohl’s for financial and/or geographic reasons.

              The factory that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013 produced clothing for places like Walmart as well as places like Benneton, and the implication that only cheap brands exploit cheap labor is unfounded (and, frankly, classist).

              Reply
              1. Wendie

                Yes, it is even worse when I see a $300 dress that was made for pennies an hour! All the women in my family are seamstresses and it is hard to see the cost and quality sometimes. I agree it is hard to find alternatives (rural area).

                Reply
                1. Michaela Westen

                  I’ve always noticed a disconnect between the attitude toward expensive/designer clothes and the actual quality.
                  I don’t remember the details, but a couple of times when I was young I saw pricey clothes that were made sloppily with unfinished sewing, or fell apart quickly, and that cured me of ever thinking there was a connection between price and quality.
                  Since the Great Recession I’ve begun to understand that attitude though. Manufacturers reduced their quality so much it made new things unusable. I’ve gotten along by buying from the one or two brands that still have quality. LL Bean is one last I checked.
                  Now I’ve found a good thrift store and finding much better stuff there. :)

                2. Chinookwind

                  Wendie – a good alternative is eshakti dot com (spoken of highly by many here). Their factories are monitored by a third party for working conditions and some of their savings come from the fact that their material is cut by computers. The fabric is decent quality as are their seams and other thread work (I can’t say the same for many clothes that I look at in stores).

      2. Not a Blossom

        Even if she didn’t buy clothes there, looking around to get a general idea might be helpful.

        Reply
    6. WoodswomanWrites

      OP2, I’m like you in that jeans are uncomfortable for me. I’ve found a pants style that’s casual but super comfortable. If it’s just jeans that are a problem and you’re okay with other pants, check out Gramicci’s women’s pants. I wear these cotton pants to my casual office and have them in multiple colors. They have a gusseted crotch, an adjustable built-in webbing belt, and different lengths available.

      Reply
    7. Blue

      Some people will never see dresses/skirts as anything but fancy (even though they are, imo, often the laziest and most comfy option). I can wear a simple cotton dress from target with flip flops and no jewelry to brunch and have friends ask why I’m so dressed up. But if OP’s boss isn’t one of those people, a basic knit skirt and shirt with casual shoes should be considered casual enough.

      Reply
      1. MatKnifeNinja

        I have relatives that consider any women in a dress “dressed up”. I could wear a beach dress with dollar store flip flops, and that is considered dressed up.

        You have to remember many people working blue collar jobs either wear a uniform to work (service industry), or are making by with jeans. A dress is for church, kid’s teacher conference, going out to eat etc. My relatives would never ever wear a dress just because. They also consider women in a dress to have a higher position. (Think supervisor). My father (factory rat-his term) would instantly clam up around man in “dress pants” or a woman in a dress. It was sort of a class thing with him. The better the job, the hire the education, the nicer the clothes. Those people are “better” than him, and desired total deference. He was born in 1936, and many of my younger relatives still act like that.

        It’s the same deal that everyone in a white lab coat is a doctor. I have relatives that think the phlebotomist is a doctor, just because of the lab coat.

        Maybe it to run by the supervisor some pictures of what they would consider okay for skirts. I might be tempted to find some soft, comfy darker color pants. The thing you don’t want is clients clamming up because your dress says higher level gate keeper to them, instead of hey I’m here to help intake person.

        Reply
      2. Yorick

        This is what I was thinking. They might think a skirt with a t-shirt seems enough like jeans (especially if you like denim skirts), but some people always think of a dress as “dressed up.”

        Reply
    8. Casual Cassandra

      I worked in an office where I often dealt with people who couldn’t pay their bills. Dresses in T-shirt material were the norm. Denim on Fridays. Only the boss dressed up.

      Reply
    9. CDM

      My comfortable casual go-to is a solid colored t-shirt dress with lightweight printed leggings underneath. I wear ballet flats, but could also wear with sneakers to be even more casual. I wear that for for long drives or flights, it’s definitely comfortable for a day sitting at a desk. Bonus points if you manage to find print leggings that are related in some way to your work – there are a ton of options out there at a variety of price points. And you may find that some of your current dresses and skirts can read as casual enough when worn with fun prints and casual shoes.

      Reply
    10. Emily K

      Yep, my office is super casual but I wear dresses all summer because DC is muggy as heck and pants, especially jeans, are like suffocating my legs in a sauna. If looking approachable to working class is truly the issue then casual dresses won’t be an issue – working class people wear dresses too. Just stick with cotton blends, less structured pieces, in fun prints or patterns. (I have fond memories of grade school teachers who wore dresses with tiny schoolbuses or cats or clocks etc printed all over). You can pair with leggings in the winter, and if your office doesn’t have a closed toe shoe policy a flat sandal can really dress it down. Costume jewelry like big colored baubles instead of delicate gold/silver jewelry can also help read more casual.

      Reply
    11. Non-profiteer

      Old Navy pixie pants! I live in them in the summer time. They come in a million colors, are comfortable and lightweight, and you can dress them up or down. I wear them with suit jackets when I need to dress up, with nice tops when we are business casual, and on the weekend when I’m totally casual.

      Also, if you’re into this style: leggings with tunics. The most comfortable thing in the world!

      Reply
    12. alphabet soup

      I wore skirts for years because I also used to find jeans to be very uncomfortable. I managed to do this in an extremely casual environment by wearing denim skirts or cottony bodycon type skirts with leggings and a pair of cute boots. As I’ve gotten older, I feel less comfortable in skirts because they make me look young (I regularly get mistaken for being 10 years younger than my actual age). So I’ve switched to jeggings made from really stretchy material. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more comfortable they are than regular jeans. Old Navy has a “secret slim” jegging style that’s amazingly comfortable– they feel legit feel like leggings.

      Reply
    13. betty (the other betty)

      This. My standard uniform is casual skirts (there are lots in sporty-clothing or travel-clothing brands) with plain t-shirts. Looks nice enough without being super dressy, and the skirts are comfortable and usually wrinkle-free.

      Reply
    14. haley

      i wonder if culottes or similar wide leg pants would be a good compromise here? especially in the summer time, an elastic waist cotton wide-leg pant can feel like a skirt in terms of comfort but is much more casual (without being sloppy). plus, if you’re on a job site, you can maneuver a bit better than if you were wearing a skirt. uniqlo is great for this sort of thing.

      Reply
  4. Suzy Q

    LW #2: Finally, someone I can help! Pixie pants at Old Navy are inexpensive, comfortable, and casual. Also, I just found the best pair of blue jeans I have ever owned in my entire life (and on the clearance rack) at Bealls (Florida), brand is Dept 222. I HATE jeans, but these are thin material, stretchy, and also look really good on me. An actual miracle! My current work is fairly physical, and I can wear them without wanting to murder someone by the end of the day.

    Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      The Pixie pants are super comfortable. They are made it of a thinner fabric so aren’t as stiff. They also have spandex in them and four way stretch. Lots of colors, great price point.

      Reply
      1. Justme, The OG

        I must be the lone person on the planet for whom Pixie pants do not fit because I see them recommended everywhere and everyone loves them.

        Reply
        1. Cat Fan

          Nope, I tried on a couple of different pairs and they just didn’t work for me. Ended up with some other pants from Old Navy, and I especially love a pair of jeans I got there. They are super soft and stretchy.

          Reply
          1. Justme, The OG

            I don’t think I’ve found pants from ON that fit me. Even their workout or athleisure pants aren’t cut for my body shape.

            Reply
        2. zora

          Me three, Pixie pants just don’t fit me right.

          Which is especially weird bc Old Navy’s Rockstar jeans are my goto and fit me perfectly.

          Reply
    2. RUKiddingMe

      I recently got some Lane Bryant brand “stretchy” jeans. I can wear them all day. They go down to size 12 and up I think to 28 or 30.

      Reply
    3. Not a Blossom

      It’s funny to me that so many people are recommending the pixie pants, because they just do not work on me. Something about the cut looks weird on my body, and it makes me sad because I love all the patterns, so much so that I try them on every time I go to Old Navy just in case something changed.

      Reply
      1. Super Dee Duper Anon

        I’m totally with you. No Old Navy pants fit me – their fit is just made for someone with a very different body type than mine.

        One specific suggestion, especially for those whom Old Navy pants just don’t fit or work on their bodies – Daily Ritual (they’re an Amazon only line) jeggings or leggings. I basically live in them and I will not wear regular jeans for comfort reasons. Very soft and very stretchy – even in the waistband! My work is business casual (basically anything “above” jeans) and the black denim jeggings totally pass for non-denim black pants.

        Reply
        1. Joielle

          I love the Daily Ritual jeggings! I’m quite pear shaped and was pleasantly surprised at how well they fit and how comfortable they are. And they look nice too – pretty good quality for the price.

          Reply
      2. Justme, The OG

        OMG THANK YOU. They do not fit me either, way too big in the waist and too tight in the thighs.

        Reply
      3. Petticoatsandpincushions

        Me too! On my they somehow make my knees look bulbous and lumpy? I want them to love me so so badly but they just don’t :(

        Reply
    4. CheeryO

      In general, there are a lot of stretchy jeans (dare I say, jeggings?) and black pants out there right now. Anything along those lines would be fine.

      T-shirt dresses are also pretty big right now. As long as you pair them with a more casual shoe, they aren’t going to read as more formal than jeans.

      Reply
      1. Karen from Finance

        I agree. I’m Team Stretchy Black Jeans all the way. Some models out there hit just the right spot where you’re not over or under dressed for most offices that have varying degrees of formality, and they are great at multitasking for most other occasions as well.

        Reply
    5. Orange You Glad

      Also Old Navy’s rockstar pants – I have one in every color that I wear to the office. The pixie pants just don’t fit me correctly.

      Reply
      1. zora

        HA, We must be long lost twins. I wear ON Rockstar jeans every day in different colors. And I can’t wear the Pixies.

        Reply
  5. Eric

    #4, I wonder if the problem is that your friend is sending it directly rather than you. Your coworker might see it as an unsolicited CV from someone they don’t know and not connect the dots that it is the person you referred (even if it says it in the email, they might not have read it closely). You might have better luck forwarding give email yourself.

    Reply
    1. OP4

      Thank you, that’s a good shout! For some reason, I thought it would seem less professional for me to email CV’s over directly but now that seems like a silly thought! And if I email referrals through myself, then it opens the door to give a gentle nudge using the script suggested.

      Reply
      1. Meißner Porcellain Teapot

        I wouldn’t go so far as to email the CVs yourself, but I also work in a job where we are regularly encouraged to motivate potential candidates to apply. When we’re really in need of people (very seasonal job) we might even get a referral bonus. Either way, we have clear instructions from HR that referred applicants must put the name of their referrer both on the CV (underneath their contact info) and within the first paragraph of their cover letter, so that HR can immediately see that an employee referred them. If the people you refer haven’t done that so far, check with HR/hiring manager if that would be a good thing to do in case of your company and start putting that info in the cover letter / CV!

        Reply
        1. CDM

          And that’s company dependent. I’m in the offer negotiation stage of a job where I was referred in by a current employee, and I emailed her my resume, and she forwarded it to HR. Partner’s last job transition was similar, though the person who referred him into the company was an outside mutual contact, he emailed his resume to contact who forwarded it to management at the company.

          So check with HR and/or the hiring managers as to how they want referrals handled.

          That could be a good opening to follow up on your previous referrals too: “Hey, I’ve asked several good candidates to apply for our job openings, but none of them have even received even an acknowledgement from the company that their applications were received. Is there some sort of disconnect between our application process and the managers who need positions filled? If there a better way for me to have my contacts apply for the future, like sending me their resumes to forward to the hiring managers?”

          Reply
      2. John B Public

        You guys and Alison are far more thoughtful than my first knee-jerk reaction, honestly a large part of why I’m here.

        My instinct would have been to respond to further requests with “well this company ghosts all of my recommendations, so I’m preserving the remainder of my professional contacts for things that don’t waste their time.”

        Which might be fine if you have no more respect for your workplace, but I’d hope everyone here has managed to leave those toxic workplaces behind.

        Reply
        1. OP4

          Yes, I appreciate the insightful answers, thank you!

          When we were again asked to refer people for the most recent position, after two of my referrals had already been ignored, I did have to bite my tongue as I wanted to say something like that about the ghosting then and there!

          As well as the CV, there is a quite lengthy application form to complete, and one of the questions in that asks if you know anyone in the company and the relationship, and another question asks where they heard about the job. (this is actually another reason why I feel bad/ embarrassed because of the time it takes for them to complete it, as well as my time as I always help out!)

          I’m going to use a version of the script above to give a nudge about my most recent referral and hopefully she’ll at least get an acknowledgement/ polite rejection if nothing else!

          Reply
  6. Rich

    OP#3, I very much agree with Alison’s recommendations. I’d add that it’s a good idea to try to mix it up — a group lunch during working hours, an after hours activity, a meal, a sporting event, a museum, a potluck, an afternoon riverboat trip, mini-golf, a magic show, crafting, volunteer work.

    Having a wide variety of events over time is a great way to let people communicate their preferences without having to assert themselves in a way that may be uncomfortable. Intending to provide variety from the start is also a great way to be sure that you don’t simply satisfy a core group who latches on to the first thing _they_ prefer which may not suit everyone.

    The three types of “dials” I consider when thinking about team events are:

    – active vs. passive (e.g. playing golf or packing Thanksgiving meals vs attending a ball game or going to dinner)
    – Sporty or not (this one is pretty broad, but so many activities end up sports themed that it’s an effective division in my mind.
    – Loud or quiet (this one is hard, but it’s important. If I’m at an optional event and it’s loud and crowded, I’m gone as fast as possible — and if I expect it to be that way I’ll do my best to opt out. Get people outside, put them in a setting where they’re not shoulder to shoulder, able to exist on their own or in small groups using “inside voices”)

    Variety along these lines will give you a better chance of pleasing more people with _something_ even if a particular event doesn’t have universal appeal. Which is what you want, since you already know nothing has universal appeal.

    Finally, thank you for recognizing the optional nature of your events. Please help to foster that. Sometimes people don’t want to participate. In general, I’m not interested in being friends with coworkers — I have exceptions, but as a rule I keep professional relationships exclusively professional. If you treat the events as optional (as you intend), please reinforce that fact with the people who opt-in as much as the people who opt-out.

    Reply
    1. Jasnah

      I really like this concept of “dials” and I think this, combined with keeping the goal of the event in mind, will get you on the right path.

      If your goal is to welcome visitors from another branch, then you might want to adjust your dials more toward their preferences than the home team. Or just adjust some dials, for instance, if the visitors are very sporty and the home team is not, you could do a more passive sporty event, like watching a baseball game.

      If your goal is to get teammates to break the ice and increase their investment in a project, it might make sense to do something with active participation, but maybe it’s not so sporty and it’s at the office. Like having an active brainstorming activity related to the project at the next team meeting.

      I think this topic can easily turn into “not everyone can eat sandwiches” but with Alison’s suggestions I believe you can find something YOUR office will enjoy, even if someone not at your office wouldn’t.

      Reply
      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Think broadly about “sport” — table tennis is a game that’s accessible to those who are extremely athletic and those who aren’t. It’s also one that’s played in wheelchairs at international competitive level….and if you have the space in a cafeteria, it’s one that can be set up and left up with minimal maintenance cost of an occasional pack of pingpong balls.

        Reply
      2. Sneaky Ninja for this one

        Thinking about sporty stuff. It’s great if the company wants to buy the group tickets to the sportsball game. But what about my $30 in parking, my $10 in gas to get there, the $4 in tolls each way, the $50 on food and drink? Please don’t make your employees pay to have fun.

        Reply
    2. Womble

      Also, don’t be swayed by the number of AAM commenters who say they don’t want to be friends with coworkers. Lots of us do, and the commentariat isn’t representative on this just FYI.

      Reply
      1. Batgirl

        I think that’s simply the nature of an anonymous forum. I’m not interested in being friends with people at work and this is one of the few places I can say that. Even if I’m just trying to avoid problematic cliques, it would be rude to say that somewhere like social media.
        Ironically I did say this to a co-worker recently, who agreed with me and we might be developing a friendship which actually shores up your point!

        Reply
        1. Works in IT

          I’m in a middle ground where I would not mind befriending coworkers, but I live in an area where most people…. do not have the same political beliefs than me. My life is working, playing video games, playing with my kittens, and being active in local political organizations. Befriending coworkers feels awkward.

          Reply
      2. Mookie

        The LW doesn’t appear to be in danger of doing that, and Rich’s point stands: participation should never be marketed as mandatory and activities should be team-based and focused on a task or event rather than just a sandbox of informal networking (where people with greater personal responsibilities outside of work, for example, already lose out). The rule of thumb for these events is that they’re purposeful, not too long or frequent, accessible where possible, and they cause no unintentional harm (to participants and non-participants alike).

        Reply
      3. Guacamole Bob

        There’s also a huge spectrum between “Asking whether someone had a good weekend is prying into their personal life and taking away from work time” and “my coworker is my roommate and we’re besties and my whole department hang out at each others’ apartments all the time.”

        I think I’m in a common spot – I enjoy my coworkers and we have common interests that led us to this field/job, I like chatting with them about stuff that’s not strictly work some of the time, and I hope we’ll keep in touch should one of us leave this workplace. But we don’t socialize outside of work contexts, I don’t share a lot of truly personal info, and I don’t really consider them friends. They’re “work friends”, which is kind of a different category.

        But I’d enjoy the occasional team-building event, and I think it does help the work to not be 100% strictly business at every moment. It’s government, so it’s all funded by employees, which means we’ve generally stuck with the occasional happy hour and sometimes our department director sponsors a pizza lunch or holiday party, but if there were funds to go to a baseball game or something every now and then I’d enjoy that.

        One key is to set the frequency of events at a level that fits your office. My department could handle quarterly out of the office/outside work hours events, I think, before participation would start to drop off. In-office during business hours could be slightly more frequent, but still. Don’t go overboard.

        Also keep in mind that things like baby showers and retirement parties kind of occupy the same non-work-event space, so if your office does a lot for birthdays or promotions or weddings or babies, take that into consideration when you’re deciding on the frequency and type of other events.

        Reply
        1. Willis

          Yes – I think what you identify as “work friends” is a pretty common take and that there are plenty of people who would enjoy the light socialization you describe. It seems like this perspective often isn’t reflected in the comments here… probably because folks in the middle of that spectrum don’t have strong feelings that move them to comment. But, this sort of collegial/friendly attitude without wanting to be overly involved in each others lives is pretty typical of the offices I’ve worked in.

          Reply
        2. Jasnah

          Agreed, and I think your (and my) experiences match real life expectations more than the “never talk to my coworkers ever” I often see here.

          Reply
      4. ChimericalOne

        To be honest, I don’t know if that position is even representative of the commentariat: negative voices tend to strike us more heavily that positive ones do, so it may well be the case that our perception of the commentariat as anti-team building / anti-coworker befriending is skewed by that.

        I see this in group meetings all the time. All it takes is 2-3 vocal people saying “This thing is awful” for people to perceive that “the group” is against it. That’s why I like to have a “pro” mic & a “con” mic whenever I have to open the floor for debate (of a discussion I’m moderating), and alternate between them. It helps cut down on that skewing: you can usually see that the negative line is shorter, or equally matched on the positive side, despite how it initially feels.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes! I see that a ton here where someone will say “on the X post, all the commenters felt Y” … when if you go back and look, it was like two or three people, often repeating the same position many times.

          I do think we hear more “I hate work socializing” here than we do in many other places and so that makes it stand out, but that doesn’t make it the majority of voices here, just more noticeable (and sometimes much more strident) ones. And I think the reasons we hear it more here are (a) it’s not socially acceptable to say in a lot of other venues, especially when your name is attached, which it’s not here and (b) I’ve written a lot about the problems with team building and other mandatory socialization at work, which probably makes people more comfortable talking about it themselves.

          Reply
          1. Richard Hershberger

            I’m totally OK with “work friends,” and a few have turned into real friends. I also think that this is pretty common, internet misanthropy notwithstanding.

            That being said, the problem with all this team building stuff is that it tries to artificially force what should be organic. Yes, a team that voluntarily goes out for a drink after work on Friday is a team that probably works well together. But keep track of the direction of causality. They are socializing together because they enjoy each other’s company. Forcing a group to socialize won’t magically make them enjoy each other’s company and therefore work together better. That is simply magical thinking.

            Reply
        2. Princess prissypants

          We’re also not talking about “being friends with coworkers” in Womble’s terms. I We’re talking about forced socialization with coworkers who are not necessarily friends. I’m very pro-making friends on my own terms, and very much anti-workplace-mandated social events, especially ones that are exclusionary. So when you see me (and others) saying, “OMG NO LEAVE ME ALONE” it’s not because I don’t want friends; it’s because I already have exactly how many I want.

          Reply
    3. Chaotic Neutral

      Another one I’d consider would be timing and family-friendliness of the event- for many people they may not have time or inclination to participate in something outside of work because of the impacts of getting children to and from school or care or activities, needing to stick to a routine, having very young or special needs children, etc. Or hell, aged parents or disabled spouses. Whatever. Those employees may still want the face-to-face time and camaraderie of the activities, but it not be practical for their families.

      Reply
      1. TechWorker

        One of the best events I attended for getting everyone involved was a charity fundraising event where every team had to run a ‘stall’ with games and you took it in turns to man your stall and to go play games at other teams stalls. The inventiveness of the games people came up with to play with random bits of string/cardboard/office equipment/ping pong balls was amazing. It was over a long lunch with no expectation of making up time so everyone who wanted to could participate and at the office so even if people were super busy they could come down for a short period of time and then go back to their desks.

        Reply
    4. Lena Clare

      What’s a “dial”?
      We’ve had various stuff, such as ‘olympics’ and ping pong, emphasis very much on team.

      Ideas that’s got pushed around were also escape room (a HUGE no for me but others seemed keen) and a cupcake baking thing, which didn’t get the go ahead in the end although I wouldn’t have minded that.

      The problem with our place is that the bosses actively encourage team building and give us time for it (part work day, part own time) but we have to pay for it ourselves. I personally think this is outrageous, especially when the time goes into our own.

      Anyway, in the end we mostly decide to do breakfast when we have our weekly team meeting, and take it in turns to bring the food in.

      Reply
      1. Lena Clare

        Oh and our activities are not optional either – there’s only leeway on the type of activities we do – so I concur that it’s really important to make them optional which you seem to be doing OP, kudos to that.

        Reply
      2. Hey Karma, Over Here

        So the boss says, “here’s some things we can do. Let’s vote.”
        The winner is escape room.
        Then you have to pay $50 to do it?
        Cuz nope.

        Reply
      3. Seeking Second Childhood

        Rich put it in quotes — he’s invented a verbal shortcut to refer to mixing up the kinds of activities.
        ie “Your new employees aren’t sports fans? Dial it back a notch and try a putt-putt course.” (aka miniature golf)

        Reply
      4. Michaela Westen

        I googled escape room. That would be a huge stress trigger for me! Combining everything that makes me anxious. Yikes!
        I also think it’s outrageous your company makes you pay for your team activities. I hope they at least pay you enough so it’s affordable!

        Reply
    5. Polymer Phil

      I’ve found that people grumble the most about being strongarmed into giving up an evening or weekend. If the team building activity is during work hours, they’re a lot more willing to suck it up even if they’re not crazy about the choice of activity.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        Yeah, I’m game for almost anything during work, even if it’s not necessarily my cup of tea. The standards are much higher for an after-hours thing.

        Reply
        1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

          It’s six of one, half dozen of the other. An evening/weekend activity takes away from your “free” time, but if something is done during work and you’ve got a heavy workload and looming deadlines that can be hard to manage.

          Reply
          1. bonkerballs

            Exactly. June and July is the slowest time of the year for everyone in my office. Except for me and my boss in the accounting department because it’s year end. The amount of times our leadership has tried to plan some kind of team appreciation luncheon or whatever on the last day of the fiscal year is astounding.

            Reply
        2. Dragoning

          Agreed–I can think of it as something I am being paid to do, whereas a weekend or evening event, even as an hourly employee, is unlikely to get approved on my timecard.

          Reply
        3. Beth

          Here, here. My bosses at ex-job decided that it would be a Great Idea for us to have dinner together at intervals.

          Then they decided that dinner at a nice restaurant was too expensive for them to cover, and a meal during business hours was too disruptive . . . so one of them started hosting barbeques in his back yard. In addition to the loss of a weekend evening, this also meant up to a 3 hour round-trip drive for one member of staff. (Her regular commute was an hour each way; the extra drive to Boss House added another half-hour.)

          They actually thought this idea would be good for morale.

          Reply
    6. Going anonymous for this one 2019

      Lots of good ideas here. I’ll add one more for a general ‘get to know you’ that I’d never have thought of.
      My office has had a series of jigsaw puzzles set up at the edge of the cafeteria and it’s mixing up people from manufacturing, engineering, marketing — even sales when the regional managers had their quarterly meetings.

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        We had this at a small biz one time. Just a table set up with a puzzle and people would take breaks at it.

        Reply
      2. Scout Finch

        I am in tech. We have an empty office with jigsaw puzzles.

        It is amazing what 10 minutes in the puzzle room can do to refresh your mind when you are stuck on a work problem.

        Reply
        1. MatKnifeNinja

          I don’t even like puzzles, but I’d be down with this.

          It keeps your hands busy, and you can chat. Also you can bail at any time without losing face.

          Reply
          1. Lucy

            Our local (very small) library always has a huge jigsaw puzzle out. My contribution is rarely more than moving a loose piece to the right quadrant, and it’s very rare to see more than one person at the table at one time, but I do feel it fosters community in a very gentle way.

            Reply
        2. Going anonymous for this one 2019

          Exactly! I may be in a Catch 22* but i can put a few pieces together and see progress.

          Reply
      3. admin2

        I’ve also seen oversized coloring pages (think of dimensions of over a foot or two per side) and colored pencils left out, so people can stop by and color for a bit.

        Reply
    7. Rachel in Minneapolis

      I love how my small office (12) does team building. Once a year, usually in January, we have a team activity and lunch out during work hours, paid by the company. We choose something with minimal walking but some amount of fun, like Top Golf or curling. Sometimes, a team member chooses to take pictures instead of participate and that’s great too! 2 hours max and then we go out to eat at a nice restaurant with a sufficiently broad menu to accommodate our vegetarian, our gluten-free staff, and even the facilities manager who eats nothing but burgers and pizza.

      Staff birthdays are celebrated at our weekly staff meeting. We each buy small snacks for the team (usually fruit and donuts or a homemade treat) and a birthday card for one birthday. Our admin creates a calendar and sends a reminder the week before.

      That’s it for company-sponsored team building events, but several of us have created more opportunities for those who want to join in. We like eating at the local ethnic restaurants, so the first Tuesday a month we have an open invite to the staff to go out to eat. I love the Pho restaurant and the taco stand; my coworker loves the Ethiopian buffet and bahn-mi shop. Sometimes it’s just the two of us, sometimes the whole crew joins in. When we went to the Italian place, our stuffy accountant even joined in! We all like each other, even if we are very different. It makes work so much fun.

      Reply
      1. Rich

        I love that you include curling. My first thought was “must be in Minnesota” — which of course was right there in your name ;-)

        Reply
    8. MK

      Mixing it up has the added benefit that you don’t end up with a years-long practice that might become exclusionary in the future and have to deal with the fallout of making changes. Even if you manage to find one thing that everyone on staff right now loves, letting it become the standard risks that, five years from now, you get a mix of people who got sick of it, others who are new and hate it, and some who will resent having newcomers squash their tradition.

      Reply
      1. EventPlannerGal

        Agreed. I think this is often the problem underlying the previous letters the OP mentions – for example, even as a very anti-golf person from the original post, I think that taking your team to play golf once would not necessarily be a problem if it was opt-in and you also put on a wide variety of different activities. It’s when the team activities are dominated by only one activity/type of activity or become compulsory that it becomes exclusionary, and that can be on grounds of gender, age, disability or even just not liking that activity.

        Reply
    9. Dana B.S.

      Rich’s post is wonderful. I do want to second the idea that I’m not as interested in having friends at work, but I do understand what these events can do to make the workday more enjoyable. Variation is the key in addition to the optional component. I don’t mind going to a basketball/baseball game once a year, I don’t mind mini-golf, but if sports are the only focus, then I’m going to start skipping these events. Same thing with other activities that I enjoy – painting classes, karaoke, museums – will be less enjoyable for others if that’s all we do.

      I wanted to add that I prefer after-hours events that my spouse can attend with me. Allowing partners/older children can increase participation in some. We only get a few hours together each day and extending my work-day with a dinner/event and not seeing my spouse is not appealing.

      Reply
    10. Elizabeth West

      Yes, it definitely pays to remember that some people will always opt out. Some folks just don’t like team-building stuff or don’t want to do things with coworkers after hours, etc. They just want to do their work and then go home, and that’s okay.

      Reply
    11. PersephoneUnderground

      This- variety addresses a lot of issues. Another “dial” (or dimension to think about) might be educational/directly work-related versus not-work-related. Like going to a workshop or event as a team that’s related to your field (work-related) vs. going to happy hour (not). Some people might connect better in a context that’s still relevant to the job, or feel like it’s more worth their time if it’s actually related to the job versus something purely social. And others would prefer the more relaxed stuff.

      Reply
      1. Lucy

        Does work-adjacent socialising risk compromising how optional it is? If there’s an optional workshop to develop skills then those who can give up a Tuesday evening will have better opportunities for professional development than those with caring responsibilities (say). I agree that this is a useful dial to consider, but it might need to be handled with care.

        Reply
    12. Insert Clever Handle Here

      I work for a large company that does this really well in two ways.

      1) Throughout the year are several company-sponsored volunteer events at various points on the dial (clean up this stretch of the park before a festival; staff the hospitality tent at a charity tournament; make knitted fleece blankets for the homeless community; stuff backpacks for kids after a natural disaster), some of which take place during work hours and you get paid to attend. Many are not restricted to employees only so partners and kids can attend.

      2) The company hosts “Family Fun Days” each summer at a variety of locations on certain days (a few local amusement parks; theatrical events; special museum exhibitions; sporting events). Each employee can choose one event to attend and gets 4 tickets, with no limitation on who can use the tickets; they also make considerations for employees who are on shift work. The company provides meal and snack vouchers as well as a company branded items like a hat to wear at the event to help you find other employees. There might be a meet up at 1:00 by the clock tower to take a group picture, but otherwise it’s up to the employee to decide how much or how little they want to interact with the others.

      Reply
      1. Insert Clever Handle Here

        Oh, and almost every family event has the option to purchase additional tickets at a discount if you need more than 4 tickets.

        Reply
    13. Blunt Bunny

      Also want to add a forth dial as expensive vs budget
      E.g. Fancy afternoon tea vs indoor picnic (each person brings in something sweet or savoury too share).

      Indoor picnic has been popular with my team as it doesn’t take much prep (unless you want to bake or cook) it depends on the person how much money they spend. For the organiser they don’t have to worry about the weather or people dropping out or deposits. Just book the normal internal meeting or have it in tour office.

      Other popular team activities are bowling, crazy golf, quizzes and walks.

      Reply
    14. recovering from micromanagement

      I used to work for a high-end ski and apparel company. We would take a couple of (week) days every year to test gear at a resort. Some would ski downhill, some cross country or telemark. Some would snowshoe, others would go snowmobiling or on a sleigh ride. One year I had sprained my ankle, so I had a spa day and went swimming and other low-impact things, and others joined me in these non-athletic pursuits. But the important thing was that there was no judgement, and we all met for dinner to discuss our days, and it was fun. All activities that people wanted to participate in were paid for. Not all companies can afford that type of thing, but it’s a way to think about options.

      So like Rich says above, if you offer a certain amount of “togetherness” AND autonomy, it will be appreciated. That year of the sprained ankle was actually one of my favorites. I could have backed out (no pressure), but I’m glad I didn’t.

      Reply
  7. Anono-me

    OP #2.
    Have you considered denim or khaki skirts? They both are pretty casual; especially with a ked style tennis shoe or a ballet flat and a top comparable to what your new coworkers wear.

    Congratulations!

    Reply
    1. Michaela Westen

      I was coming to suggest this too! I’m also a skirt person. There are lots of options in casual denim or twill (khaki) skirts.
      You could also wear converse shoes if you like those, or there are lots of sporty style shoes that would look good with a casual skirt. :)

      Reply
      1. Dana B.S.

        White sneakers like Adidas and Reebok are very trendy right now. Paired with a cotton dress, very cute.

        Reply
    2. Lucy

      As an exclusive dress wearer, I think a skirt doesn’t do what a dress does, but I endorse this suggestion!

      Reply
  8. Em

    #3 – The most success we’ve had on my team has been potlucks. That way everyone can bring something they know they can eat, or people can just buy something to bring if they don’t feel like cooking. People can just show up with something cheap / low stakes like a pack of paper plates also! Not foolproof, but it’s definitely had the best reception for us.

    Reply
    1. CastIrony

      If anyone wants to go cheap, they can bring cheap drinks, too! Drinks are so forgotten, I find.

      Reply
      1. Not Alison

        Yuck on the potlucks. That is my least favorite option. The best thing is something that is on company time that the company pays for.

        A previous commenter mentioned alternating activities (loud vs quiet, outdoor vs indoor, etc). That would be my preference. I am always open to doing something with co-workers that is low on my preference scale as long as my co-workers joining me in doing something that I prefer.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah, this is my point in the post — there are possible objections to literally every activity we could name. Which is why the OP needs to figure out what works for her particular team.

          Reply
    2. YouCanBrewIt!

      I find potlucks gross. But I know I’m in the minority and you can’t please everyone so I’m sure most people will love the idea.

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        I don’t mind them in theory, although the idea of making your employees pony up their time and money as a teambuilder is abhorrent to me.

        Reply
        1. Em

          It works for us because there are a lot of home bakers / home chefs who are proud to show off their cornbread / egg rolls / ribs / vegan macaroni / etc.

          Reply
          1. alphabet soup

            It works for our team because it’s a male-dominated environment, and most of the guys are married, and they had their wives make their dishes.

            While I am one of the only single women, so I brought chips and guacamole, and was given grief for it. Sorry I’m not married, dudes– my wife is the grocery store.

            Reply
            1. Dragoning

              Ooooh, the thought of having to make a dish for my spouse’s work makes me a little rage-y. Just wow.

              Reply
              1. Lucy

                I had to make a cake for my spouse’s work bakeoff. He (I) came second, to the guy whose teenage child had made a Charm City Cakes style industry-relevant masterpiece.

                Reply
        2. The Man, Becky Lynch

          I like potlucks if they’re in the form of sidedishes and extras, when the company at least supplies the entrees and drinks! But otherwise it’s just so cheap and anyone can rally to get one set up, it shouldn’t be billed as a company sponsored team builder.

          Reply
        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Some ppl find them gross because of germs and it’s often how viruses are spread among groups (due to cross contamination and unwashed hands).

          This is why buffets are my only “nope nope nope” for dinning options.

          But I trust my coworkers and am less grossed out by them than the mass public. They all use serving utensils at least.

          Reply
    3. Dana B.S.

      Potluck success is variable. In my experience, it works if we talk about it and make a plan. Like we set up a taco bar and assigned different people to bring different items – different kinds of protein, tortillas, toppings, drinks, plates, etc. We knew what was coming and how to accommodate those that were vegetarian, gluten free, allergic to shellfish, etc. Other ideas: winter favorites, brunch bar, baked potato bar, tapas, salads. We’d have it quarterly and discuss it in the first weekly meeting of the designated month.

      Reply
    4. emmelemm

      Only if nobody is going to grumble if I bring something store-bought. We’ve definitely had a few letters where people are very judge-y about people not “participating” in the cooking aspect.

      Reply
      1. Dragoning

        I got reamed out in the Open thread a couple weeks ago for struggling to bring things to ours at work. Ugh.

        Reply
          1. Dragoning

            It descended pretty dang quickly to “I hate people who take good food [or, in my case, hope people will bring food I can consume] at a potluck when all they bring is store-bought things.”

            Reply
    5. CanCan

      Not a fan of potlucks. I find it exhausting to cook for my own family every day, with most of our meals being fairly simple because there isn’t enough time to go fancy. To also have to cook for my coworkers would not be a “fun activity” but rather another chore. Sure, there’s store-bought stuff, but I would feel bad about that – and then if everyone brings something cheap, this is no fun.

      If you’re considering a potluck, run a poll to check people’s preferences.

      Reply
  9. Socks

    OP2, bit of an obvious one, but do you also find stretch denim or even jeggings to be uncomfortable? I blew my boyfriend’s mind when I told him that those exist because he had no idea there existed jeans that one could actually bend their legs in, so I thought I’d mention it, just in case.

    Reply
    1. A.N. O'Nyme

      …What on earth are jeans like in your area that you can’t bend your legs in them? I realise this is probably a hyperbole, but still…

      Reply
      1. Wednesday's Child

        I have a pair of skinny jeans that fit me beautifully–when I’m standing up. They don’t have stretch to them, so they shape my legs nicely, but the put weird pressure on the tops of my kneecaps if I am sitting normally for any period of time.

        Reply
    2. Paperdill

      Yes – that was what I was thinking! Some really good quality jeggings, the ones that actually have a fly and button.
      There is a brand in Australia that gets marketed to mum’s, and hot damn, u could sleep in the things, they are son comfy! But they are stylish enough to wear out.

      Reply
    3. Grace

      I’m not the OP, but I honestly do find *every single jean* uncomfortable. All of them.

      I sometimes still wear them, either in bad weather or to pair with a specific top, but I change into a skirt or dress once I want to relax. Every single pair of jeans I’ve ever worn – stretch, jeggings, high-rise, medium-rise, stretchy waistband, button and fly waistband, every single variation – ends up digging uncomfortably into my stomach, makes my legs itchy and too warm, and a small waist/wide hips/long legs combo means I spend the entire day hitching them up so they don’t sag around the tops of my thighs.

      I hate them. Burn them all. Sometimes I like how they look, but it’s not worth it for long periods of time. Skirts and dresses are much more comfortable.

      Reply
      1. Ashloo

        The last couple years I’ve gained weight in stomach, thighs, and butt, and I cannot find jeans that are comfortable and in a style I like. That’s hyperbole, of course, since I’ve not tried absolutely everything, but when you don’t like the dominant “skinny” or ankle-length styles, it’s challenging. And stretchy things just ride down, as you say!

        Reply
        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Hold tight — there’s a move away from skinny low-rise pants at last. Both the fashion world and the teenagers who drive their sales.

          Reply
          1. Grace

            I would say the move away from low-rise came a few years ago – everyone wants high-rise now, which I own and they are a little comfier, but I find that they still ride down and are very restrictive when you’re prone to bloating.

            Reply
            1. Proxima Centauri

              I’ve got the same shape. My waist is smaller than my hips, so jeans and pants rarely fit well, regardless of the rise. Old Navy Pixies included.

              There are ways to do casual with skirts/dresses. Tee shirt dress with sneakers. Skirt with a graphic tee. But the staples she has in her closet probably won’t work.

              Hit up a consignment shop and have fun.

              Reply
              1. Grace

                Yeah, as much as I feel like loose dresses are perfect casual-wear, the world at large seems to disagree. Sometimes I grab a dress out of my wardrobe and throw it on, a single item of clothing, really the laziest style of dressing that exists, not bothering to coordinate or anything – and promptly get asked where I’m going, if I’m doing anything nice, why I’m all dressed up.

                I’m not dressed up! I’m wearing a shapeless fabric sack that’s nice and loose and breezy and enables expansive sprawling on the sofa. That is the extent of the thought put into this outfit. How on earth is that *more* fancy than jeans and a nice top?

                Reply
      2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

        See, I’d be burn all the skirts and dresses because for me they’re all pretty much uncomfortable/ugly on me. Jeans are practical and comfy and I can brush pet hair off them. With us two, no one would have clothes!

        Reply
        1. Grace

          I think my main problem with jeans – and why I prefer dresses – is because of how much it digs into my stomach. I find it very hard to get comfortable wearing them, and when I do (which is only in jeggings) it’s usually because getting them over my thighs and hips has stretched out the waistband so much that it’s a solid two or three inches bigger than my actual waist. A loose shift dress is completely non-restrictive, which is what I love about them.

          Reply
        2. Not All

          I’m with you! I hate hate hate wearing skirts/dresses. On top of being super unflattering on me, they have no usable pockets. I despise purses and will NOT carry one. Then there’s the impracticality…number of positions you can sit in is limited. Plus the “up-drafts” from the World’s Coldest HVAC System at my office. And the limited options for what kinds of shoes you can wear with them. Not to mention no protection from dogs, kitten claws, tall grass, etc. Nope…burn all skirts! :-)

          Reply
        3. Arts Akimbo

          I can wear dresses, but I find all skirts to be particularly ugly on my body type. I’d way rather wear non-jean pants any day.

          Reply
  10. Elizabeth the Ginger

    OP 2, I think the key to making dresses and skirts not look too fancy, along with doing casual fabrics (cotton jersey, corduroy, etc.), is to not accessorize them too much. Wearing leggings with a skirt or dress can also dress it down a bit, as can choosing more-casual shoes.

    Reply
    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      In addition to casual shoes, I’d suggest simple knit dresses with playful thematic prints to change the feel from corporate to casual. Do a google search on “teacher dresses” and “STEM dresses” (or STEAM). Bonus, these are often designed with pockets. (The one I’ve been eyeing is svahausa, but I haven’t found my size in my pattern yet.)
      Birds, pencils, math formulas, proofreaders marks, constellations… you get to say “it’s just so fun!”
      And come to think of it a lot of these are also available in skirts so you could split them up that way too.

      Reply
      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        So I just got silly and came back online and googled “llama dresses” and “teapot dresses”. These are real. And some are really awesome. Although that second one you’ll want to filter out Disney & costume.
        That got me feeling sillier and I googled “Corgi dress” and …. ahem. Coffee break is over. Suffice it to say that there are dresses in almost any interest-print I could think of. And fabric out there for the ones I couldn’t find in dress form. (Game of Thrones dress…you get cosplay. Game of Thrones fabric? You get hilarious cottons!)

        Reply
        1. Lucy

          Endorse. I get the most compliments the day I wear one of my (plural) dinosaur-print dresses, second only to the few days in late October when I wear the pumpkin print.

          Reply
      2. Jaybeetee

        I bought the svaha “constellation” faux-wrap dress (I don’t work in any kind of related field, just thought it was pretty…). Can confirm, dead comfortable dress, nice thick fabric, with actual functional pockets big enough to hold a cell phone. Just be warned, the faux-wrap style is… low-cut. I would never wear it in public without a cami.

        All that said, at least that particular dress still strikes me as rather…dressy, if the office is mostly jeans. I haven’t bought their “fit and flare” style dress, perhaps it would be closer to what LW would need?

        Reply
    2. OP2

      I do have a pair of nicer sneakers that I plan to wear to dress down things. Do you think maybe adding a jean jacket to a dress would help it look more casual?

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        My colleague has a jean jacket in the original jeans blue that looks very casual. By original blue I mean that dark blackish-blue color. It looks like authentic, original jeans.
        A jean jacket in white or pink would be too fancy IMHO.

        Reply
      2. Lucy

        Definitely. Or a cardigan (“boyfriend” or “waterfall”).

        Alternatively you could look at pinafore dresses and look at putting very casual tops underneath – very versatile for changing seasons as you can alternate between long sleeved thermal and thick tights, and thin cap sleeve with cropped leggings or bare legs.

        Reply
  11. Maya Elena

    I figure you know your company: if you’re fairly confident that the consequence of someone not participating in these events is minor – i.e., people *won’t* ostracize them, the boss *won’t* bear a grudge, and “face time with the boss” isn’t key to getting ahead, then the stakes in including everyone are that much lower.
    I think a good-faith effort to make people feel not-imposed-upon, heard, and respected, is sufficient. At some points, people with hidden, rare, and non-obvious preferences or edge-case needs will need to speak up for themselves. And some people are just complainers, and there’s no pleasing those.

    Reply
    1. AcademiaNut

      Yes, there will be some people who won’t like *anything* that involves interacting with coworkers beyond the bare minimum required to do their jobs. For the rest, having a variety of activities and making it truly optional will take care of a lot of the other problems.

      And you can avoid a lot of the remaining problems by considering

      – dietary restrictions (offering vegan and gluten free options, at a minimum)
      – barriers to participation (do you need a particular level of fitness to take part? a car? extra money? childcare?)
      – cultural blind spots (for example, don’t assume that everyone at the office is straight, or culturally Christian, or wants to talk about their family and background)
      – the burden the activity puts on the employees (labour, money, etc.)

      Reply
    2. Bagpuss

      Yes, I think if you are offering a range of types of activity so that they are not *all* variations on the same theme, (whether the theme is’sports / physical activity’, or ‘food and meals’ ) and are making sure that there are no repurcussions if people don’t attend, then you are OK.

      I do think it is helpful to ensurethat you are offering a mix of types of activity and that you are as far as you can, offering a mix of those that take place in working hours and those which don’t – for instnace, taking th team out to lunch rather than organising a weekend picnic.
      I also think it can help to arrange activities where not eveyone has to join in everyhing. For instnace, we have, in the past, had events which were meal + thing – e.g. meal followed by kareoke, and meal + quiz, and made clear in advance that it was OK to come for the meal alone, for those who didn’t want to actively take part in the other activities.
      It can also help to be very specifc about what the event is as people can sometimes be uncomfortble asking questions, particualrly if they are new, or early in their career, so be clear upfront about what the employer is paying for or providing, whether or not employees can bring their partners etc, timings (not eveyone drives, and knowing when something is suppsoed to end can be useful if you rely on someone else, or on public trnasport, for your travel. This is still true even if you lay on transport – people may still need to be home by a certain time, or to arrange onward transport back from the office.

      Also I think that you may find thatthere is one person, or a small number of people, who won’t do *anything*. (We have one member of staff who falls into thicatergory. She never, ever, comes to any work-related social event, she always complains that we don’t do the right sort of things. She never voluntarily suggests anything and when we specifcally asked her, and organised an event based on what she said she would like, she *still* didn’t attend and was still vocally critical, despite the event having been tailored to exactly what she said we ought to be doing!
      (The same person complained that she was not personally invited to a holiday meal out organised in a branch she doesn’t work at, despite the fact that (a) she doesn’t work with people from that branch at all, so there was no reason why they should have invited her (b) there were meals out for each of the branches, so she was invited to the one for the branch where she works (c) the only people who were invited to more than one meal were the 2-3 people who split their time between branches so, as they work in both were invited to both. She did not, of course, attend the meal out for the branch she actually works at, which took place in working hours (paid, of course!) )
      Some people just enjoy complaining

      Reply
      1. Retail

        Ooh yes a mix as well as spelling it out explicitly are great. I’d also say give as much advance notice as possible so people can truly make plans or talk it over (are they gonna have decent food, did you do this last time, i went there before, etc).

        Also knowing what’s ahead means I won’t feel bad for skipping golf one time and someone else won’t feel bad for skipping the food since we all know this won’t be the only thing happening.

        My old job had a deal with a theme park 3 hours away where our district HQ was where you got parking, food, admission, 3 extra hours after the park closed for $25 and yes friends/family could come as well. Talk about optional! No one from our area went at all but I had fun both years!

        I also think food depends on the workplace culture – I’ve only had the kind of jobs where people are happy it’s free. A few weeks ago we had a retirement lunch and it was annoyingly an hour later than our normal lunch which meant working 6 hours in the heat instead of 5 before eating solid food. Some team members were going to take lunch at 11 anyway until they heard that the food would not be terrible and there’d be a solid vegetarian option.

        As much information and variety as possible are paramount to success.

        Reply
        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          Sigh… before we were bought by current corporate, we had an annual summer picnic at a historic local amusement park. We paid a small fee and could bring family, friends, etc. That paid for buffet lunch, almost all rides, and a company logo Tshirt you wore to get lunch. There was also an employees-only raffle — and I’m talking electronics not water bottles. But our new corporate owner has a mutual deal with Six Flags so the local park thing went away at the first excuse they could find.
          One thing corporate does still do is “lunch truck day” — we’re near a city that has a lot of them, so a couple of times in a summer they find an excuse for a celebration and bring in a variety of lunch trucks. Simplified menus, but all paid for. There’s been everything from pizza to stir fry to Indian.
          Only problem is when it rains LOL!

          Reply
    3. Anonymousse

      Seconded! I think a casual activity at work that is just there (like someone mentioned above- the giant colouring page, puzzle pieces) with no expectation or any sort of requirements would be a low commitment and a good place to start. Events are a bit trickier as people have their likes and dislikes but for the love of god don’t make people participate in a sporting event like company soccer. Potlucks can be nice if truly voluntary and the company provides main entrees and drinks. Free food will generally be well-loved but be mindful of providing options for those with dietary restrictions so that they don’t miss out. I will have to echo those who said that it is best to keep it to work hours.

      Reply
  12. LJackson

    #3 – I have had good and bad experiences with team building since I have some mobility issues. The best was a cooking class for a group of 14 people. We split up and each team mad a different dish to share and went home with a cookbook. The worst was a day at the gun range. Many of the staff members didn’t feel comfortable holding a gun.

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      some brave people who put co-workers at a gun range. I went to one once with my family and it was terrifying. Here I who had never handled a gun was handed one with no real instruction besides how to load it and to sweep up my brass and we were in a long room where all sorts of other people to my right or left without barriers were also holding guns. I could if so inclined have shot several people randomly and quickly; if I hated my co-workers and was overcome by the power of what was in my hands, I could have been big trouble; an accident didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility — I could have turned to ask a question of someone with that gun in my hand and accidentally shot them. Wow that a workplace would make that an outing.

      Reply
      1. JunieB

        I have epilepsy and learned my first time on a gun range that the sound of gunfire triggers partial seizures for me. Fortunately when it hit, the safety latch was still on the gun I was holding; by the time anybody noticed I was having a problem, I’d wandered off in a post-ictal haze and was blankly swinging the loaded gun in one hand. It could have been terrible… and as a work activity? What a potential nightmare.

        Reply
      2. RUKiddingMe

        I have no issues with guns. I was raised with them and taught to use them. I taught my son how to use them and about gun safety because I feel it’s better to be as informed as possible. I have almost always owned at least one. I am perfectly comfortable with them.

        That said, I am *not* at all perfectly comfortable with others, especially others who may have little to no training or some kind of power because they are holding s gun ego thing having them around me.

        Gun range team building? Hard, hard, *hard* no.

        Reply
        1. Environmental Compliance

          +100, as someone with a CCL. Currently have my pistol & a hunting rifle. I’m very comfortable with guns themselves, incredibly uncomfortable with people who think they’re neat toys that you get to play with.

          There is *one* coworker I’d go shooting with….and he’s an ex-cop, so really, it’s a “please teach me all your knowledge & wisdom on gun handling” rather than a “hey, let’s go shoot at targets”.

          Reply
          1. NoNameForThisOne

            There was some conversation recently in the news about arming teachers. Now, I’m a teacher who served several years in the military and is completely comfortable around guns. I don’t want to be expected to be armed in my classroom. That being said, there are some teachers here who should absolutely NOT have guns at any point in time, much less in a classroom. A day at a gun range what some of my nutty coworkers sounds like a recipe for disaster.

            Reply
        2. Skeet Shooter

          I’m a competitive skeet shooter who also gives lessons. I would definitely not want the people at my day job anywhere near a range as “team building.”

          Reply
        3. Richard Hershberger

          And simply as a team-building exercise, a gun range seems peculiarly ill-equipped: so noisy that you wear hearing protection. How exactly does being in the same general vicinity as you are unable to verbally interact build team spirit? I grew up in a military town. Going out into the desert and plinking at soda cans was considered a perfectly plausible recreational activity, if only because desert towns don’t have a lot of other options. But this was really just a vehicle for hanging out together. The actual shooting was not a huge part of the activity, if only because it’s not as if we had the money for a lot of ammo.

          Reply
    2. Hey Karma, Over Here

      That’s a hella wide spectrum. And a great example of what happens when you let everyone choose a thing. For better or worse.

      Reply
    3. SenseANDSensibility

      What the?! A gun range outing? Who in the world thought that would be a good day out…and what kind of company was that, just curious. Just the risk of inciting political opinion office wars over such an activity would be one reason not to do it.

      Reply
  13. JulieCanCan

    OP 2 I am in the same situation, I used to work in a very formal corporate environment (I wore suits daily, and occasionally a nice skirt and blouse) and I now work in the tech world where everyone wears jeans and t-shirts. I just bought myself a few pairs of linen pants of various styles and even some pleather leggings – much more comfortable (for me) than jeans and I can dress them up or down, with flats, boots, etc, and I don’t feel over dressed. I also like jeans with stretch – they’re very forgiving and don’t leave a huge red indent around my waist by the end of the day, lol.

    I also love maxi skirts and dresses— they’re so comfortable and many of them don’t look really dressy. I wear t-shirts or anything comfortable with the maxi skirts.

    All in all I love being able to wear basically anything to work. My office is really small and it’s fine to be dressed up also – that wouldn’t be looked down on or considered weird. It’s just nice not to have that worry every day of which suit and top I’m wearing, my dry cleaning bills have essentially stopped, and it’s just easy!!

    It definitely takes some getting used to but I bet you’re gonna love it once you have been there for a while.

    Reply
    1. Sara

      I second maxi dresses/skirts! They’re so comfortable and just feel very casual, especially with ballet flats. Someone in my office wore a maxi the other day with tennis shoes, which looked super cute too.

      Reply
      1. But I Don't Want To

        I find maxi skirts and dresses to be a trip hazard, and I’m fairly tall (5 ft. 8 in). Beware if you must frequently go up and down stairs. Midi length is better for me.

        Reply
  14. Introvert girl

    OP 4 I had the same thing happen. I recommended 3 people, really good former coworkers I used to work with. None of them got a job. It seems the company was looking for cheap employees, not good ones.

    Reply
    1. Not Tom, Just Petty

      There’s a theory at my company. Since a $250 bonus goes to current staff members who recommend people who get hired, recommending us the kids of death.

      Reply
      1. College Career Counselor

        I think you may have something there “why do we have to pay more to source a candidate when we can get the same result from indeed/industry job board/hr web page, etc.” But, if the company is NOT getting a great pool of candidates, then that’s just short-sighted thinking.

        P.S. “the kids of death” GREAT band name! :-)

        Reply
        1. John B Public

          I’m wondering if that was supposed to be “the kiss of death” which my phone just tried to change to the “loss” of death so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Reply
        2. Not Tom, Just Petty

          Hahaha! Kids of Death will open for BongWater at the My fat fingers vs iPhone festival!

          Reply
      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I honestly don’t think it’s cheapness. A $250 bonus is peanuts compared to the sunken cost of hiring/onboarding.

        I’m sorry to say it’s more likely that there are different ideas between who is a good hire and what the hiring managers are looking for.

        When you recommend someone, you’re invested in them even slightly because they are a former colleague or acquaintance or possible family member etc. Their cover letter may be poorly done or their CV not as impressive to an outside eye. It’s rarely because of a $250 bonus given the tens of thousands a recruiter costs and advertising/vetting costs the longer a job sits vacant.

        Reply
    2. OP4

      It’s quite embarrassing, isn’t it? I’m not even expecting them to get a job, just a simple “thanks” for applying would be something.

      Reply
  15. nnn

    For #2, given the stated principle of “jeans and a nice shirt”, your best bet is probably to let your skirt/dress fill the “nice shirt” role, and have the rest of your outfit be at a “jeans” level of formality.

    For example, for warm weather I’d pair skirts with a t-shirt, bare legs, and sandals.

    In cooler weather, I’d pair it with leggings, a sweater, and shoes that wouldn’t look out of place with jeans (which could be anything from converse to ankle boots depending on variables).

    This can be extrapolated to some styles of dresses, but others would come across as too dressy. (I’m really bad at articulating in words what design features would make a dress cross the line into too dressy, but other commenters here are good at that sort of thing.)

    I’d keep jewellery to a minimum until you’re confident you haven’t overshot your look.

    Also, since part of the intent of this dress code is to avoid making clients uncomfortable, it might be worth keeping an eye on what the clients are wearing. If a significant number of your clients are wearing maxi skirts, for example, it probably won’t make the clients uncomfortable if you wear them.

    Reply
    1. Michaela Westen

      The skirt would still have to be not too dressy. For example, it can’t look like the bottom half of a suit. No silk, lace, or pretty prints, unless the print is on denim.
      For jewelry I would say no sparkly jewelry. More like plain metal jewelry, maybe understated turquoise or other stones. It should not look like jewelry you would wear to a dressy evening event.

      Reply
      1. OP2

        I do worry about many of my skirts and dresses being seen as too fancy. I tend to wear a lot of A line skirts and dresses because I find them more flattering for me but I wonder if I would be better with something less structured.

        Reply
        1. Michaela Westen

          I expect a denim A-line skirt would be fine. Or twill (like denim but not blue), or maybe a sporty drawstring skirt?
          Like other commenters were saying, clarify whether your client base sees all skirts as dressing up before you buy.

          Reply
  16. Ohsoanonforthis

    Removed because it caused a huge derail on language (at the moment I’m cleaning this up, it accounts for one-third of the comments on this post). Profanity is fine here. We’re adults, and while I get some people find the word offensive, lots more agree it’s barely stronger than “twit.” Regardless, I’ve removed the derail. – Alison

    Reply
  17. Dan

    #3

    Are you sure your office actually wants these activities? My boss tries to plan stuff for our department of about 60, and turnout is really low, maybe 10-15% of the department shows up.

    At my office, we are required to account for all of our time (think the exempt version of punching a time clock.) These types of activities are off the clock, so time must be made up. My company offers flexible work schedules, of which many people take liberal advantage, including me. I know people who want to hit the road as early as 230pm if they can. Others work past the time happy hour typically ends. So there’s no real time that works for “everybody”. Quite frankly, I find these things to be a chore and a hassle, rather than “fun”. It also doesn’t help that rush hour traffic in my area truly sucks ass, and there’s only one watering hole convenient to the office.

    IMHO, it’s one thing to do “team” happy hour now and then, but it’s another to do “department” stuff. Realistically, I don’t have much of a connection to most people in my department, so “social time” with that select group has no
    more appeal than social time with my much larger company.

    I guess the point of all this is to be sure that your office truly wants social activities. My department management at least had the idea to survey people and ask if we wanted stuff… TBH, it’s one thing to say “sure we want department fun stuff”, (who’s going to say no, including me?) It’s another to find a date, time place, and activity that actually works to get enough people interested.

    Reply
    1. TechWorker

      I think the key problem here is that your office is expecting you to make time up – I’m not surprised that results in terrible turn out.

      Reply
      1. Lucy

        Agreed. I’m sure participation would rocket if they simply said “alpaca-petting Tuesday afternoon (optional, on the clock)”.

        Reply
    2. Scarlet2

      I would add that I’m not sure non-work related group activities are that important to build a good atmosphere. Alison said in the past that if you don’t already have a friendly atmosphere in the office, group activities are unlikely to change that for the better, and might actually make it worse.

      And I say that as someone who has generally enjoyed our office activities (BBQs, pre-Christmas dinner at the restaurant, the occasional potluck).

      Reply
    3. OP3

      My particular office is pretty engaged. We have various sports teams throughout the year, weekly in office drinks, frequent lunch n’learns with lunch provided. These are all optional but well attended. Based on recent posts here I want to make sure we are being as inclusive as possible.
      We are a networked organization and project teams often involve people from variety of disciplines. Ultimately it is the individual’s career and their choice as to if or when to get involved but generally the people who thrive at the organization have reasonable relationships with colleagues (whether through getting involved in activities or through any other effort to connect).

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        I work on a massive office and the easiest event that includes everyone is a morning tea. Everyone is asked to bring a plate. Tea is start up in a common area and then whoever wants to participate goes by with their work buddies or by themselves at their own pace. There have been no complaints ever and people tend to bring dietary food in too.

        Reply
      2. hbc

        How do you think people would respond to a survey? I had pretty good luck with getting people to buy in when they were getting a vote. It was anonymous, and allowed for things like “Which of these activities will you never do?” and questions about restrictions and strong anti-preferences, both in terms of activities and timing.

        We also did a bigger event once a year where the more Official Mandatory Team Building activities took place during work hours (think lunch, company trivia contest, motivational speaker/magician) and then the after-hours dinner following was completely optional.

        Reply
      3. Qwerty

        Variety in activities also helps, especially when activities are more frequent. It’s a much bigger deal to not be able to participate in an event if the company only does two a year than if events are taking place monthly. Try to pick activities that will cover a large number of people and make sure that it isn’t the same people who are getting left out every time.

        Reply
        1. Sunflower

          I agree and I think variety is key here. You are never going to please everyone with everything so you want to try to find something(not everything) for everyone/ Reading the description of your office sounds a lot like my office. We also have interest groups here and will often have the interest groups ‘sponsor’ these events or happy hours. We’ve done wine tastings, flower arranging, candle making, GOT themed happy hours. Our interest groups range from fitness, history, writing, etc.

          Most people can’t and won’t want to attend everything. Most people will be a lot happier to have a few things that appeal to them.

          Reply
    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      If I had to make up the time, I’d say ef-that-crap too! I don’t blame the majority for skipping.

      We don’t do that. Nobody is punching out literally or figuratively. So our events have a great turnout.

      Reply
    5. Winifred

      I’d also consider the optics of company-paid events if your salaries are below market or raises are low/nonexistent. I worked in a place that sometimes gave 1% raises and no, I’d rather have the $25 you spend on my team building event to help pay a bill. Worse, making underpaid staff pay to participate, whether by cooking for a potluck or a fee for skeet shooting. I resent people telling me how to spend my money.

      Note I am not saying your company is underpaying staff.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        It’s not always about underpaying either, it’s all about what people view as expendable income and such.

        I’m always telling people that I don’t mess with their money and it’s up to them what they are comfortable with/deem an acceptable purchase. This comes up in terms of reimbursements all the time, everyone gets the choice “Do you want a check right now or in your next paycheck?” because I don’t care of it’s 5.50 for parking for an event or a two weeks long per diem they’re entitled to, I ask if they want it prior to leaving or if they want it in their next check.

        So I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate “activities” that are supposedly “inexpensive” and even if you’re paid 100k a year, I don’t get to say that $25 is reasonable or not. I’d pay $25 for certain things and be fine with it, I’d be angry at paying the same amount for something I wasn’t interested in. $25 for all you can eat, drinks included outting. Let’s do it. $25 for some spa day? I’d rather keep my $25, thanks. Whereas others would want to do both or neither.

        So it can get dangerous even if you assume everyone is paid over market rate! It should really never cost an employee anything if you want it to be a morale booster. Guess what, you can write off the $25 a head for tickets to the museum….I can’t as an individual. So take the tax write off and treat your employees if you’re deciding to make things happen!

        Reply
    6. JM60

      If attendance at these events aren’t really optional, then your company should be paying them as on the clock (and depending on the specifics, the law may require them to pay you for it). I’m a non-exempt employee working for a company that does occasional social outings, and I always report the time as on the clock, because it is a work function.

      Reply
  18. Batgirl

    OP2, I think I work with similar clients to you, which was jarring for me as a new comer who would wear a shift dress every day given my choice. The only difference is we can’t wear jeans! So a list of what my co-workers wear might be useful:

    -Leggings and tunics
    -Strappy summer sandals
    – Casual ballet flats.
    -Wearing open shirts and cardigans over tee shirt dresses
    -Floaty maxi skirts
    -Three quarter sleeved tees and sweaters with slightly smarter skirts
    -khakis and chinos
    -Palazzos (crop/full length) or ankle gathered pants.
    -Capri or ankle grazing pants in stretchy fabrics.
    -Midi jersey skirts
    – Denim skirts or denim dresses
    – Pinafore dresses or strappy summer dresses over a tee shirt.
    -Cotton summer dresses or shirt dresses.

    Hope this is helpful! New work wardrobes are exciting :)

    Reply
    1. AnotherSarah

      I was going to say leggings and tunics, or casual cotton dresses! That’s what I wear most days, in a casual work environment. Sometimes the dresses have fun prints, which also, I think, adds to the casual look. Best to check in with someone else, but for me, this hits the holy grail of comfort and matching the office culture.

      Reply
    2. OP2

      Ohhh thanks this is really helpful!!! I am someone who would dress in vintage inspired clothes on the regular if I could but I know that is not always okay for every office.

      Reply
  19. Everdene

    OP2, mine is a fairly casual office due to the clients we serve (although they also appreciate sometimes we need to dress up amd sometimes they do). Myself and the only other woman (small office) both wear a lot of dresses, often with black tights and ankle boots/converse. Now the weather is warmer bare legs and flipflops/sandles/sandshoes are fine.

    With skirts, wear tshirts instead if blouses, generally cardigans or zippies instead of jackets, statement jewellary can change the look of a dress. We tend not to wear any/much make up but add it when needed for photos, fancy visitors. (I also keep heels and a black suit jacket in my office so I can ‘level up’ in an instant). Also while you have to be conscious of the feel of the office, clients get that ‘this is Mary, she always wears dresses’.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      If you have the same clients over time this is definitely something that can end up with “this is Mary, she always wears dresses” as a no big deal kind of thing. And if you do have the same clients then changing other things to be more casual can help a lot. Your language (not just words but idioms, cultural references, and the like) can make a big difference in how casual you’re perceived. If clients come to you, how your workspace looks can make it more casual. The way you sit/stand can change it too. I think that being aware of a wider range of things than just clothes can let you consider how to dress down your look.

      A dress in a casual office/cube space is going to look less dressy than a dress in a very formal office/cube space. If you talk and your language is very formal your dress is going to look dressier.

      I always wear dresses and I definitely change it up with posture and vocal patterns depending on what else I need to convey.

      Reply
  20. Feed Yourself

    I really find it tacky when people aren’t responsible for their own lunch. I get that it’s common for assistants to order food for their bosses, but it just rubs me the wrong way. Just cuz you’re richer than everybody else doesn’t mean you can’t brown bag it. Or *gasp* order what you want yourself. And then for OP1s boss to just randomly try and force her non-assistant to fetch lunch for her? Big yikes in my eyes. It’s like she views each one of her employees as peasants.

    Reply
    1. Scarlet2

      Yeah, the boss asking OP to bring her lunch really rubbed me the wrong way. I think asking to print stuff is fine, because it’s more work-related, but lunch goes beyond that. Unless it was a situation like “if you go get lunch for yourself, could you bring back a sandwich for me? I’m totally swamped.” – that would be more acceptable.

      Reply
    2. valentine

      No good reason she can’t have actual delivery people bring food to her.

      The printing really rankles. It seems so precious and takes longer to order than to do it yourself. She could also put a printer within arm’s reach and have the remote guy send her jobs there.

      Reply
      1. londonedit

        It rankles with me too, because early on in my career I had a boss would would send things (usually emails…) to the printer, and I would then have to go over to the printer, collect the printed pages, and bring them to her desk. I should mention that we sat in the same office room, and the printer was as near to her desk as it was to mine. But no, I was the assistant, so I had to go and collect her printed stuff and deliver it to her!

        Reply
    3. KayDay

      I was someone’s assistant once (actually, something similar to the OP happened to me, although in my case the change of role was made much more clear, so I knew what was expected of me) and my boss very rarely asked me to pick up coffee or lunch (e.g. a sandwich from next door) for her, when she had a really pressing business need (e.g. she had very little time to prepare for an important meeting or was on an important conference call). She actually felt bad about it (for pretty much the reasons you describe) and therefore always would let me buy myself something equivalent on her dime. I knew it wasn’t really a favour, but I really appreciated that she recognised that it really wasn’t the type of experience I wanted to be getting :)

      I’ve had various bosses ask me to print stuff, however, and I really hate that. Unless there is some specific reason, I don’t care if it’s work related or not…no one is so busy that they can’t manage to print a single copy of a single document. Hell, it takes just as long if not longer to email it to me as an attachment! And this is something that has happened randomly throughout my career, not just in clearly “assistant” level jobs.

      Reply
      1. Lily Rowan

        Every so often, I overhear a higher-up here sheepishly asking his assistant to get his lunch, and he always offers her to get something too, but it’s usually like 2:30 at that point (I’m sure he was hoping to find a minute to go himself!), so I always wonder if she actually needs anything.

        Reply
      2. Lucy

        That boss sounds great.

        I agree that telling someone else to print a single page is just rude. Reserve delegating printing for when it’s multiple duplex copies needing stapling/binding, or possibly if the printer is on a different floor and will genuinely take several minutes to fetch (in which case apologise as well, and approach IT for a simple printer on your floor!).

        Reply
    4. 867-5309

      It’s pretty common for assistants to grab lunch for their bosses. OP’s situation is different, of course, as she didn’t come on board to BE the assistant. But I don’t think it’s universally unsavory.

      Reply
    5. Sarah M

      Agreed. This was my biggest pet peeve (that phrase is far too low key) when working in admin. And no, it very specifically *wasn’t* my job to fetch food and beverages on demand – Management Co made that explicitly clear at the outset, not just to new CTAs, but to the consulting staff during onboarding. Some Very Entitled People just couldn’t/wouldn’t get the damned memo. When you have Major Deadlines all day, stupid time sucks like these could really screw things up. I doubt the client would have been too impressed that we missed one, either. Grrrr.

      Seriously, if Cersei’s isn’t going to spring for an in office PA to wipe her chin for her, then she needs to familiarize herself with UberEats, Door Dash, etc. There’s literally an app for everything now. She’d be finished making her order in far less time than it takes to dole out instructions to someone in the office – never mind the real work that goes undone while this is happening. Wake up and smell the 21st Century, Cersei

      Reply
    6. MatKnifeNinja

      The boss’s time is worth more (getting paid more per hour by the company), than someone below.

      Hence underling having to fetch lunch for the higher up.

      I was told that when I pushed back on being Grub Hub for my old boss.

      She told me what she wanted for lunch, I had to call it in, go get it AND deliver it to her. I was not her assistant, just some poor sod she could make hop.

      Boss is making $200/hr. You make $12/hr. I did a lot of deliveries for lunch.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        The boss is salaried. This is nonsense and blowing smoke. She’s paid the same to stop and eat. She’s not getting OT or something if her day goes 9hrs.

        Our CEO feeds themselves. They also books travel and wipes their own bum. Every business owner I’ve worked for does the same, minus travel because they were bad with computers.

        If they need a PA, hire one. Then they signed up for that kind of task.

        Reply
        1. Close Bracket

          No, the boss doesn’t get OT. That’s true. She does get paid the same to get her lunch as she does to work–and the company wants that high salary to go to time spent working, not time spent fetching lunch or doing other admin tasks. So the point is not nonsense or blowing smoke. Different companies of different sizes will consider different things to fall to admins or lower level employees. I was asked to cut and paste something from a document to send to a division leader bc giving her the page number and expecting her to page down to it was too much. Yeah, I thought that was a little precious, but division leader time is considered more valuable than senior engineer time, so she doesn’t have to page down and someone else had to cut and paste (she wasn’t my division leader, so I sent the document to someone in her division to do it bc wtf).

          There is a funny tie in to that story about lunch–I told my junior colleague about it, and he thought it was pretty wtf, too, as in, he was two levels junior to me and thought it would have a bs thing for him to have to do. He came to me the next day and said he saw the division leader in the cafeteria and said, “I guess she can get her own salad.”

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yep. Sometimes it’s a power play/ridiculousness when managers ask for this kind of help, but sometimes it’s actually a reasonable request, given the rest of their schedule that day. I know the printing thing sounds ridiculous, but if you’re in a zillion meetings or dealing with a crisis, sometimes it’s actually a reasonable move to have someone go to the printer, pick up your document, see it printed weird, fix it, and deliver it to you.

            Reply
        2. Arjay

          We had an exec who had an issue with her hotel while on business travel. She called her assistant back at the office to have her call the hotel and fix it, instead of just talking to the hotel staff that was right in front of her.
          I’d never make it as an assistant.

          Reply
    7. Detective Amy Santiago

      I’m not an assistant, but one day when I knew my boss had back to back to back meetings, I messaged her and offered to pick up something for her when I went out to get my own lunch. She declined, but I obviously wouldn’t have minded.

      Reply
    8. lnelson in Tysons

      If you haven’t signed up for that role, then yes it is really annoying. It is one thing it you are running out to fetch something and throw out a general offer. Or it is demanded of you. In the days before doordash and the like, I did have a manager who was annoyed that I didn’t offer to fetch lunch more often. Which really was rich coming from him as he almost always brought in his lunch.
      Had an entitled princess once who when she wanted lunch, she truly expected to be catered to and she was a really fussy eater, not bone fide dietary issues. She was introduced to Grubhub very quickly.
      As far as printing, it is annoying when someone is just doing it for some subtle power trip. It is another when there are printing issues. I worked in one office where the IT was often miserable. Not the IT guy’s fault, but our visiting co-workers pretty much always had printing issues and as I was there I was often asked to print something on their behalf. Rarely had an issue with that. There were plenty of times in that place a call would go out on who could actually print….
      The boss is the boss, but I agree if the OP#1 doesn’t want to be branded with the PA role, she will need to have some kind of conversation with the boss.

      Reply
    9. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I agree. Even as an EA, my bosses only asked this if they had clients! Then it’s actually an arrangement to be made.

      I had one boss that worked heavy duty machinery and some days were nutso. So I would grab him a sandwich on my lunch break without him asking. He was always grateful since it made him stop to eat something since he would assume he’d get a chance to go get lunch but life had other plans.

      In the age of Uber Eats. I don’t have the patience for this behavior.

      Reply
      1. Arts Akimbo

        Yeah, this is what I don’t understand about these bosses who want someone to go pick up lunch for them! There are food delivery apps, and phones!

        Reply
  21. Weegie

    #3 Definitely consider voluntary work/a community project. A few hours or a whole day of everyone collaborating on a beneficial project with a common goal is a great way to get people working and talking together in a different way that doesn’t feel forced.

    I’m a big fan of outdoor stuff like park/river/beach cleanups, or tending a community garden, but there are lots of things you could do that are indoor or less physical, like library, museum or local heritage projects. Worth a brainstorming session amongst your staff!

    Reply
    1. Scarlet2

      As long as it’s during working hours… If I was “voluntold” by my employer to work for a cause on my own time, I’d be very annoyed.

      Reply
      1. Miso

        Oh hell yes, that would be an extremely big nope from me.

        I’m also not sure what exactly you could volunteer to do at a library or museum with a big group of people as a one time thing. Or even regularly.

        Reply
      2. College Career Counselor

        I remember one of those years ago when I was at a different institution. The VP for student life put out the word that in lieu of a quarterly staff meeting, we would all spend the morning painting rooms in a children’s rec center downtown as a way of giving back to the community.

        Pros:
        It was on company time, and we were not expected to make the time up.

        Cons:
        1. It was definitely a voluntold situation and an expectation that we would all go (opt-out, even for those with mobility/chemical sensitivity issues, was strongly discouraged).
        2. It was disruptive to the rest of the day (I had subsequent meetings with off-site employers and had to go home to scrub the paint off and change clothes).
        3. The VP in question was there for two minutes to see us start and then bailed to go back to his office (do as I say, not as I do is not a good look for a “leader”).

        Reply
    2. Washi

      As a former volunteer coordinator, I have a rant about one-time volunteering projects that I pull out on various occasions because we got SO MANY groups that contacted my organization wanting to do projects not because they cared about our cause, but because they wanted their employees to get the warm fuzzies (if it was both, that would have been fine, but often it was really clearly just the latter.) It was an education nonprofit and a lot of companies wanted to basically borrow our kids for a feel good afternoon and then peace out.

      One-time projects are so, so much work to organize and supervise, and often ultimately a net loss of hours. This is why many organizations require a financial donation in exchange for providing these opportunities. The outdoor cleanup type opportunities tend to be a net positive for the organization buuuut I do wonder whether picking up trash for several hours would be seen as a good teambuilder? That’s the thing, a lot of the stuff that can be done with a big group that has no experience one time tends to be low-skill stuff like trash pickup, which is then not that fun.

      If a company really wants to promote social responsibility, I’m a much bigger fan of giving people paid time off to volunteer if they want to!

      Reply
      1. Guacamole Bob

        +1

        I volunteered doing office work at a Habitat for Humanity chapter a few years back – I was largely doing data entry for their volunteer database. It took so. much. work. to organize all the corporate groups that wanted to come build houses. I ended up thinking that the business model that Habitat uses is a really inefficient way to provide better housing for people, and that a big part of their mission, whether they acknowledge it or not, is to provide feel-good volunteer experiences.

        Reply
        1. Lucy

          Feel-good volunteer experience may lead to those volunteers donating cash later on? I know I’ve stopped donating to a charity where I had a bad volunteer experience, in favour of a charity that always makes me feel good (and I know this isn’t how we ought to make decisions, but it is how people do actually make decisions).

          Reply
      2. Lily Rowan

        Yuuuup. When I was the person dealing with volunteers at a youth-serving organization, so many companies wanted to bring in 50 people to “read to kids” for a couple of hours. That did not help us at all!

        Reply
      3. LegalBeagle

        I also work in volunteer management and this is my pet peeve. One-day projects are basically impossible for my organization, unless you want to do data entry…which is not a fulfilling volunteer experience. We end up saying no because we lose more than we gain by trying to accommodate these requests.

        Reply
      4. No Tribble At All

        +1 my company is giving everyone 2 days off this year for volunteering, which I’m super excited about because I need to take two days off to be a volunteer at a big weekend event. Good guy company (for once!).

        Reply
      5. Wehaf

        There are often good one-time group volunteer activities, although it takes more work for companies to seek them out and scheduling is less flexible. Big charity events often need large numbers of volunteers; for example, there’s a local marathon for charity and it needs tons of volunteers to staff the course, the water stations, the snack stations at the end, cleanup, etc. Park cleanups and gardening/beautification events, pet adoption fairs, library book sales, charity rummage sales, and similar things are great options. And the soup kitchen where I volunteer is often understaffed; we’d be thrilled to have a group of up to 20 people come in, as long as it was arranged beforehand.

        Reply
    3. Jaybeetee

      In my city, a relatively popular corporate volunteer activity is food sorting at the food bank. As other comments have mentioned, it’s not exactly exciting work, but it does help out, plus I think a lot of groups add a little excitement back in by splitting into smaller teams and making a “competition” out of it.

      My present workplace doesn’t do outings like this, but does have the option of taking up to two paid days off per year for volunteer activities of your choice. A previous workplace did have outings, but it was “opt-in” for whoever was interested .

      Reply
      1. Lucy

        the option of taking up to two paid days off per year for volunteer activities of your choice

        Now that’s the way to do it. Get paid to paint faces at your kid’s PTA Christmas fair / marshall at the local 10k race / litter pick in your park.

        Reply
  22. Not a Pants Person

    OP #2- I’m with you- jeans at work can be so massively uncomfortable with all that waist band digging and restricted breathing. I am whole heartedly not a trousers person in general and my office wavers between business casual and outright casual. Dressing is a nightmare.

    I’d recommend focusing on the fabric of your skirts/dresses rather than giving them up entirely. Cottons, linens in summer, knits in winter. Nothing too structured or suitlike in silhouette. If jeans are really insisted on, Uniqlo makes great lightweight ‘jeggings’ that I personally think mimic the look of real jeans better than anything else on the market and have the upside of not being as uncomfortable when sitting down all day. Then I’d bring your off duty wardrobe into the mix- where you might where a silk top, switch it for a t-shirt for example.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. londonedit

      I love Uniqlo’s jeggings, they’re really comfortable and stretchy. The denim ones are great and I’ve never had anyone think they were anything other than ‘normal’ jeans, and then the plain-coloured ones actually look pretty smart if you pair them with a nice top, or they can be dressed down to look like black/navy jeans.

      Reply
  23. Al who is that Al

    #1 – definitely push back, she is viewing the fact you are young and in a junior position means that you can be an admin assistant. Very old fashioned Boss tactics, does she tell you what to do and everything is done her way or does she encourage you to develop and grow ?
    #3- 2 things – The most important is that the event is included in work time if its a few hours or if its a trip away it’s leave Friday lunchtime (in work hours) and finish by Saturday . Asking people to give up their free time, the reason why they work, to do something with their colleagues is truly awful. Making sure the trip away does not take away everyone’s weekend is the way to get people to go if you must drag them away for that long. Otherwise do it in Work hours without making people frantically race to cover things they’ve missed afterwards.
    The thinking behind it baffles me: “We need to get our employees close-knit and better as team, lets take away their free time and increase their workload and force them to do things – that will work”
    Secondly – ask everyone what they want to do then listen. That’s the hard part

    Reply
    1. cncx

      yup, at my company we had these annual summer parties that were a big hit on thursday nights…when they started scheduling them on friday nights, people stopped going.

      Reply
  24. Anonandon

    I’m really getting fed up with this idea that we have to accommodate every single person’s individual preferences and limitations.

    How about this: “We’re going to go have fun, and if you don’t like it, don’t show up.”

    I constantly get invited to do things I don’t want to do and sometimes physically can’t do. I either don’t attend, or I show up and do the bare minimum. It’s not that hard. If you don’t want to be there, or your religion says you can’t be there, or you have some kind of disability, that’s just too damned bad! It doesn’t mean the rest of us have to give up our plans to accommodate the one person in the office who wants to whine about it.

    Reply
    1. Magenta

      That might be ok outside of work, even if it isn’t very nice or kind, but it certainly isn’t acceptable in a workplace. There are anti-discrimination laws precisely to prevent people being excluded by this kind of thinking.

      Reply
      1. Scarlet2

        This. Turning down an invitation from friends cannot be compared to refusing to participate in activities organized by your employer.
        But regardless of circumstances, I find saying “I’m fed up trying to accommodate people’s limitations” is pretty icky. It’s basically saying “You’re disabled? Sucks to be you”.

        Reply
        1. Harper the Other One

          Yes, and it’s also about pattern. Nobody minds if there are 9 work things they enjoy and 1 they can’t do for some reason. But if you hold all your work events on Saturday and one team member is Jewish, or you have nothing but athletic activities and a few people have limited mobility, etc., then people are missing out.

          And even without the whole “basic kindness and compassion” angle, TEAM building that excludes team members is obviously going to fail.

          Reply
    2. Dollis Hill

      That’s extremely unkind in a social context, and hugely discriminatory in a work context, and it’s also extremely concerning that you seem to be defining people who have limitations due to their religion or disability as whiners.

      Reply
    3. Witness Me

      That’s a great way for a company to get sued for discrimination! Acting this way as a manager would mean you’d be breaking the law. Which means this is such a bad idea that actual laws exist to protect employees from people like you.

      Not to mention it’s a very unpleasant, unkind and unempathetic way to behave as a humnan being! But I get the feeling that’s not something you care too much about, so…

      Reply
    4. Bagpuss

      That comes over as very hostile and exclusionary. It also misses the point that there is a huge difference between ‘don’t want to’ and ‘can’t’

      I think it is legitimate to recognise that it is not always possible to include eveyone in eveything, but it is importnat to make the effort, and as the bare minimum, to ensure that that eveyone *can* participate in the majority of events, even if there are events where some people chose not to becuase the event is not to their personal taste.

      For instance, if my workplace decided that they were oganising an event where we went to a football match follwed by a Kareoke bar,I would not go as I am not interested in football, dislike crowds, and hate kareoke. which is fine, not eveything will be to everyone’s taste, and maybe the next event will be a quiz night or a lunch out, which I can join in.
      It would only be an issue if they only events they ever organised were Kareoke or football related so there was never anything that took my tastes into account.

      If they organised an event which was physically impossible for me, it would be more of an isue, but again, if it was just one in a range of events it would not be the end of the world, and in some cases, it’s possible to make events a bit more accessible with a little bit of thought.

      In asocial setting, it is thoughtful to consider what all members of a group need, and in a work setting it is importnat legally to ensure that you are not acting in ways which are discriminatory.

      Reply
    5. Not Alison

      You go girl! It may not be PC on this forum but I agree with you. And how about if the whiner takes over making the suggestion of what to do next and does the organizing work for it instead of just whining about how what I want to do excludes them.

      Reply
      1. Zona the Great

        Eek!!! This is a truly shocking thing to read. Maybe give it another glance? The last paragraph was especially harsh. Are you being serious in your agreement?

        Reply
      2. TechWorker

        It’s not about being PC it’s about not being a dickhead. If in your group of friends you have one person who doesn’t drink alcohol, or who has an injury and can’t take part in physical activity, then it’s on you to organise events they can enjoy at least some of the time. (Note Alison does not say ‘never do something sporting’, or ‘never have socials that centre around a bar’ just that you should know your audience). The difference ofc is that if you are so into one type of activity that you just can’t bear to mix it up then you can drop your friend who it doesn’t suit. (People might judge you for it, but that’s your choice). At work you can’t exclude people cos they don’t fit into a narrow mould. If you’re ever not in the mould you might come to realise this is a good thing.

        Reply
        1. Richard Hershberger

          “It’s not about being PC it’s about not being a dickhead.”

          Um… What did you think “It’s not PC, but…” means? It is invariably followed by something complete dickhead.

          Reply
      3. Dollis Hill

        I am a not visibly disabled person and cannot participate in overly physical work events that require running, jumping or any other strenuous and high impact physical activity, however much I’d love to. Pointing out that I can’t participate does not make me a whiner, doesn’t mean I have to just suck it up and not should it mean that I have to bear the burden of organising something myself, especially as many workplaces have a specific person in charge of organising events. Asking to have more events that I can attend is nothing to do with being PC, it’s merely asking for kindness and to not be automatically excluded from something. I have to deal with attitudes like yours frequently and it’s exhausting – in most instances it’s merely that someone hasn’t thought to include people with disabilities and they make steps to include people in future. However, such overt dismissal of people like me as whiners who just need to deal with it and writing it off as “PC” is very explicitly unkind, ignorant and thoughtless, especially in the workplace. It’s really upsetting to see comments like this and asking people to be more thoughtful isn’t an outrageous request. I’m not a whiner or lazy, I just cannot so many physical activities without being in severe pain and risking debilitating injury, but that shouldn’t mean that I have to repeatedly be excluded from work events.

        Reply
    6. Falling Diphthong

      A lot of offices do not offer “If you don’t like it, don’t show up” as an option re the mandatory team building.

      Reply
    7. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

      It sounds like you’re complaining about the idea of explicitlyacknowledging “we know not everyone is going to want to come to everything, so we’re going to vary the events, and we won’t punish people, like Anonandon, who can’t or don’t want to do a specific event.”

      If a company/manager wants to encourage co-workers to socialize and get to know each other, they could present the exact same variety with either “we’re going to do a bunch of different things because we want to include everyone, starting with X Y and Z, if you have ideas for activities send them to Murgatroyd,” or with “we’re going to have group fun once a month for the next year, starting with X Y Z. If you don’t like it, don’t show up.” Whether or not I was capable of and interested in any or all of X, Y, and Z, “we want to include everyone” would feel a lot more inviting than “if you don’t like it don’t show up.”

      Reply
    8. Ewesername

      I am the visibly disabled person is our office who is constantly left out of team building events by people with attitudes like yours. I get that I won’t be able to do everything, but I’d at least like the option of trying.
      I am a person too.

      Reply
    9. Maya Elena

      I agree that there’s no pleasing anyone. Staying away from edge cases of “let’s meet at the strip club” or “let’s all climb Mount Everest together!” is probably a good idea, and in general, “don’t be an ass” is probably the best philosophy – like don’t maliciously exclude people to stick it to the PC Man or anything. Ultimately, if you can trade 1 unit of effort for 100 units of goodwill (e.g., go to a restaurant with vegetarian options), that’s the guiding principle.

      Reply
    10. MissDisplaced

      I think that attitude is fine if the company plans and does a couple of DIFFERENT things during the year. People will self-select the things they want to do or not do, and hopefully there will be at least something at some time they can feel included in and enjoy.

      But if the company is always planning, say, whitewater rafting trips, that leaves a lot of potential people out of all that “fun” and then it’s not really a company benefit if it can’t benefit all. And for goodness sake, make these things optional! Personally, I’m not really a joiner myself, and would rather just get a bonus instead of spending that money on events or holiday parties. But that’s just me.

      Reply
  25. RUKiddingMe

    OP3: Please, please, please stop trying to connect people beyond their jobs. Let people come to work, do their jobs, and go home without adding a burden of some kind of pseudo-social “team building” activities.

    To oh so many people these are a time suck and massively annoying. Most people feel obligated to participate regardless of any “opt-in/non-mandatory” language. Really, most people just want to earn their check and go home. If they want to connect with their coworkers on a more personal level…they will.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      Thank you! IMO, the reason many of these things fail is that we’re not together in the office because we have common interests or much of anything else in common (usually) aside from needing to earn money. It’s a job, not a membership to a country club. It doesn’t matter to me what my coworkers do outside of work. It matters that they do their jobs while they’re at work, so I can do my job, and get money for it. That’s it.

      Reply
      1. ChimericalOne

        I mean, if you can make friends at school (which is likewise a random collection of kids with no particular shared interests, unless you went to some kind of magnet school), then you can make friends at work. Just like with school, no one expects that you’ll be friends with all of your coworkers, but if you’re not friends with even one or two, it’s likely to be a barrier to your effectiveness. The reason that most companies do these things is that they know that strong relationships at work = better results. People communicate more quickly/easily, give each other the benefit of the doubt, go above & beyond for each other, aren’t afraid to ask questions, and get more honest feedback on their work. It can also facilitate cross-team communication and help people learn about projects outside their normal work that they could excel at (to the company’s overall benefit). In however many decades of polling, Gallup has also found that employees who have a “best friend” at work are far more likely to be engaged in their work than those who don’t.

        So, the OP honestly *should* be trying to foster relationships & give coworkers a chance to get to know each other better. Even if people see these things as a waste of time, they’re not.

        Reply
        1. OP3

          ChimericalOne thank you! You’ve precisely hit the nail on the head about why I want to foster relationships and give coworkers a chance to get to know each other better.

          These events are completely optional and opt-in. No one is taking attendance or will care if you don’t participate in these events. My employer is a networked organization with projects often involving cross-discipline teams. Staff are empowered to take charge of their career. Your progression, career opportunities and salary are directly related to your performance. Typically, people who have friendly relationships with other colleagues are the most successful in the work environment. Therefore, we try and provide opportunities to foster these relationships, but it is completely fair to decide any/all activities aren’t for you and to opt out and/or make an effort to connect with others in a different way such as inviting colleagues out for coffee or making an effort to chat to others in the lunch room, etc.

          Whether we agree with it or not, my industry (and company in particular) relies a lot on good relationships to get stuff done. I accept that some employees may want to put their head down and never have a friendly chat with a colleague and that is their decision. They also need to be willing to accept the potential implications of this decision on their career.

          Reply
        2. JM60

          Relationships with classmates are very different than relationships with coworkers. Besides, some of the best students are often not very social with their classmates. I personally had my grades go up in graduate school were I rarely socialized with classmates, compared to undergrad.

          Regardless, if someone is being held back due to lack of cohesion with coworkers, forcing them to do ‘social’ activities with them that they dobby want to do is more likely to be counter productive than it is to solve that problem.

          Reply
        3. Richard Hershberger

          Terrible analogy. Yes, schools usually are a fairly random collection of students, but they have a lot of room to sort themselves out. If there are three people there you are compatible with, the four of you will find each other and spend your not-inconsiderable free time together. The sorting procedures in most workplaces are driven by entirely different imperatives, having nothing to do with whether or not you are suited to be buddies hanging out together. Pretending that forcing you to hang out together whether you want to or not will somehow change this is simply magical thinking.

          Reply
          1. Lucy

            Also, plenty of people are absolutely miserable at school and never make friends and get swirlied every other day, and don’t have the option of leaving. A child’s experience of school and an adult’s experience of the workplace have very little in common with each other beyond “physically in a building most days and don’t get to choose who else is also there”.

            Reply
    2. TechWorker

      This *massively* varies between workplaces and it absolutely has not been my experience. It’s possible OPs workplace is like this – it’s also very possible it’s not and people working there, I don’t know, enjoy getting to know their colleagues outside of work. I truth them to know their audience more than some other random folk on the internet ;)

      Reply
      1. LizardOfOdds

        I agree, and as much as team events drive me up a wall as a severe introvert, there is good research to back these types of connections — particularly for millennial employees. The importance of trust and personal relationships at work is only growing with each new generation entering the workplace, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

        Reply
    3. CheeryO

      This is so not my experience. Maybe it’s because I work in government and our outings are infrequent and low-key since we pay for ourselves, but I have a big group of coworkers who legitimately enjoy spending time together in a setting that’s more structured than your typical happy hour.

      Reply
      1. Miss Fisher

        Same. I am always kind of shocked to see so many people who don’t want to befriend co-workers. I mean we are with them more waking hours than our own families during the week. It is where my dinner, shopping and movie buddies have all come from since leaving college. We all get together with past co-workers on a monthly basis for dinner on our own as well.

        Our outings typically involve eating, but we have done escape rooms, museums, pottery painting etc. We always find Groupons and go during work hours. Its always fun. Escape rooms can be great, you really get to know personalities in them.

        Reply
        1. RUKiddingMe

          “…you really get to know personalities in them.”

          Maybe it’s me but I don’t really want to “get to know” them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Reply
        2. Scarlet2

          I think there’s a difference between being on friendly terms with your coworkers during working hours and actively befriending them/choosing to spend time with them outside of work.

          I too have made long-lasting friendships at work, but it happens organically, not via “team building activities”, and I’ve also had a lot of coworkers I wasn’t interested in spending time with.

          Reply
    4. Washi

      But if I can occasionally earn my check by eating free food or doing something fun with coworkers rather than my usual work, why not? I don’t want to be forced into tons of after-hours bonding on top of my usual workload, but doing something fun at work a few times a year really does make things more pleasant for me.

      Reply
      1. londonedit

        I agree. I don’t particularly have any burning desire to be best friends with any of the people I work with, but I think it’s nice to work in an environment where people are on friendly terms and occasionally go for a drink at lunchtime or whatever. Overly corporate ‘team-building’ stuff isn’t my cup of tea, but employers that are willing to fund the odd company/team away day or picnic, or offer some non-work perks here and there (we have occasional lunchtime talks with free lunch, for example) are good employers in my book. I once worked for a small company where we went on an away day every year, and we would get the Eurostar to Paris, Lille or Brussels. There was a small amount of slightly cringey ‘sit next to someone you don’t work with and tell them about your typical day’ stuff on the train there, which no one really loved, but once we actually got there the rest of the day was about doing some sightseeing and having lunch together. People could choose what they wanted to do, and there was no pressure to do anything in particular. I definitely agree that you’ll never find an activity/place to suit everyone, but I think the key is to make it casual and for people to be able to choose their own level of activity within the day.

        Reply
    5. SenseANDSensibility

      Completely agree here. I work with many people who have zero integrity & are generally just bad people. Why would I want to pretend socialize with them outside of work when I don’t respect or like them, and can barely tolerate them while at work? That’s tantamount to torture for me.

      Reply
    6. JustaTech

      See, I have sometimes found these activities to be genuinely useful *for my job*.

      I’m not good at just meeting people at work who aren’t in my department. But at a “fun” activity I can hang out with the other wallflowers in other groups/departments. And this has been useful in a bunch of ways.

      I’ve found out about projects that would impact my team, but the other group didn’t know we’d need to be included. I’ve finally figured out who I’m supposed to talk to about ordering llamas, or that Bob reports to Jane and not the other way around.

      It’s not about bearing my soul or being besties. It’s about knowing your coworkers beyond an e-mail. It’s the stuff that comes up in the idle chit-chat waiting in line for hotdogs, like that Darryl raises goats. Does that matter for work? No, probably not. But does it help me remember that Darryl is a person and not a faceless e-mail when he’s late with my TPS report? Sure does.

      Reply
    7. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

      THIS!! (what RUKiddingMe said). I remember at OldJob, we were “encouraged” to attend a BBQ at the home of one of the managers. It was on a Sunday and the manager was someone I did not particularly care for. I was miserable the whole time. When co-workers want to get together, they will find a way to do so on their own without being forced to do so.

      Reply
      1. CanCan

        “On a Sunday” is the problem (assuming you’re usually off then). Any employee-organized activity should be during work hours. If the bbq had been on a Friday afternoon, and the manager lived right across from the office, it would probably be more fun (especially if you could leave early and then go home).

        If done during work hours, many employees would choose the activity over usual work duties. If done during off-time, the activity would have to be super-extra-awesome to be worth it, at least for people who have busy lives.

        That said, my office has too many “engagement” activities going on. I would love to take 2 hours to go to our offsite location and see all our fun park/wildlife initiatives firsthand. However, that would mean I would get 2 hours further behind on my work.

        Reply
    8. OP3

      RUKiddingMe: these things truly are opt-in and none would care/notice if you skipped them, but ultimately, in my industry (and especially company) those people who go beyond turning up at their desk at 8am, do their work in a silo and then leave at precisely 5pm are the most successful. If an employee wants to do exactly as you describe that is fine, but they probably wouldn’t really progress much. If you want to connect with colleagues over a coffee or lunch or in any other way that is totally fine and would ultimately have the same effect.

      As per my question, I was looking for ideas of activities to ensure we are providing truly inclusive options so that those who want to participate can, despite any limitations.

      Reply
      1. SenseANDSensibility

        In my experience, it’s the opposite: the most successful are those that buckle down and focus on work while at work, and who don’t fudge around for half the day. It’s the employees who go for extra long social lunches, go for six breaks a day to the break room or cafe on the corner, walk around the building talking to people, spend long periods of time on personal calls while at their desk, constantly chit chat with the boss and coworkers when they’re all trying to work…those are the people that are least successful and definitely least productive in their jobs.

        Reply
    9. Mediamaven

      Not always true unfortunately. I had an employee leave my company and say we had bad culture because I didn’t do enough activities and presents and prizes for them. This was after a six month stint where I flew one office across the country for a huge party for the company, brought in a massage therapist for in office massages, piled everyone in a limo and took them shopping at a luxury store, and countless meals. Trust me, it’s fun to be the boss when everyone’s idea of what they are entitled to at a job is different.

      Reply
  26. RUKiddingMe

    If someone were to say to me “you aren’t the first intern (intern!!!) I’ve made cry” I can’t think of any universe in which I’d wish them well.

    I don’t care what *your issues/stresses are, at work or in *your personal life, grown ups are supposed to not take it out on others, particularly when said others are waaayyy down on the power chain.

    /rant

    *the general you/your(s)/you’re/etc.

    Reply
    1. JustaTech

      I worked in a lab once where the senior PI (the big bigwig) took great delight in making all the grad students and post docs cry at least once. He generally did it in private, but still.

      I, the lowest chicken in the pecking order, didn’t merit such intense treatment. Then again, I’m not 100% sure he knew I worked for him.

      If anyone asks why I left academia, that’s my story. (There’s also the junk pay and incredible instability of funding.)

      Reply
      1. RUKiddingMe

        Oh academia. There was a time I thought about making it a lifetime career…tenure track and all, but I just had to walk away. I still take the occasional contract to teach a class for a semester here or there, but that’s more because I like the opportunity to help (generally) young people to start thinking in a different way than they’ve ever done before.

        Reply
  27. Another Sarah

    OP3, I think there’s a couple of ways to navigate this.
    I honestly think meals are a great option for team activity – I mean everyone’s got to eat right? You just have to be mindful of the kind of places you go to – most of the questions I’ve seen on AAM that are about inclusivity in meals are when the asker or someone the asker is dealing with wants to go to a specific type of restaurant – restaurants that do a wide variety of foods might be less exciting, more chain-like but they generally serve something everyone can eat whereas if you’re picking places like the House of Peanut Shrimp, that comes with restrictions some people just won’t be able to get around.
    Being mindful of everyone’s budget is another thing – the managers might be able to afford a white water rafting trip followed by champagne on a yacht but you can’t expect an entry level employee to be able to afford the same thing, so if you can’t have the company pay for it completely, it needs to be in the lower end of the budget or heavily subsidised.
    The other thing is to be mindful of why you’re doing these activities in the first place – it’s about getting the group to bond, not the specific activity. It never hurts to widen the scope a little – if the golf weekend had been a weekend of activities, one of which was a couple hours of golf, would anyone have minded? I recently went on a work event that was drinks, dinner and crazy golf – Maybe the golf fans would’ve preferred a proper round of golf, but I wouldn’t have gone to that, I hate golf and am really bad at it, but doing it this way, it was a great night, the golf nuts got to be all competitive without taking it too seriously and the people who would’ve been bored out their minds by golf golf still had a good time because we were in the right kind of environment (also there was a bar halfway round!) it was just a fun chance to bond, enjoying golf wasn’t a prerequisite.

    Reply
      1. HarvestKaleSlaw

        Aw man. But I love House of Peanut Shrimp.

        Seriously. Have you had their peanut shrimp? It’s amazing.

        Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m going to push back on the idea that there it’s easy to find restaurants that generally serve something everyone can eat — if you’re kosher, that won’t be true. If you’re vegan in some parts of the country, that won’t be true. Etc.

      That doesn’t mean this plan won’t work for some offices! It will. But again, like I wrote in the post, you have to know what will and won’t work for your group. There is literally no single activity that will work for all offices, and that’s what I’m trying to push people to recognize. That doesn’t mean there’s no activity that will work for any office — but that it’s more complicated than “X is great to do.”

      Reply
      1. Another Sarah

        Perhaps a better way to put it would have been to say that when you’re arranging work meals you ought to avoid places that deal with a very narrow spectrum of food wherever possible – I mean the difference between a chicken place that only serves chicken and an Italian say, that serves pasta, pizza, different mains and usually has more than one veggie option – obviously it might not be possible to accommodate everybody, but better to aim to accommodate as many different diets as possible in one place rather than opt for sending the entire department to the specific steak restaurant that one or two people really want to try.

        And just to clarify, I do think it’s a great option, but I didn’t mean to imply it’s the only thing I think a workplace should do or that it always would suit everyone, just that it’s not something that requires a specific interest to participate in – but it’s still just one option of many, that’s all.

        Reply
        1. RUKiddingMe

          And be very mindful of the time of year when planning meals.

          We are just about the middle of Ramadan right now. I’m home today. Husband is sleeping right now because he was up early to eat before sunrise and then played video games for a while (day off for him too).

          Soooo while he’s asleep I’m eating the leftover borscht I made last night. Once he wakes up and eating I do will be out of his sight. Not because he insists mind you…he has never even so much as politely requested I don’t eat in front of him. It’s just a crap thing to do so I don’t.

          Ergo… if it’s Ramadan, or (a) fasting holiday(s) for other religion(s) this would be something to be aware of as well.

          Reply
    2. Michaela Westen

      Chain restaurants cook with soybean oil, which is a common allergen. I and many others can’t eat at such restaurants.
      They say they accommodate allergies, but the only oil they have on the premises is soybean – so they can’t actually make me anything… There’s a lot of hidden factors like this in dealing with food allergies.
      Also this oil isn’t called soybean oil. It’s called “vegetable oil”.
      It’s also fun when none of the staff know what the oil is – the label came off, or the original container was thrown away – and the person who would know isn’t there…

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        I think the point I’m trying to make is, I might not be able to eat at the restaurant. I could work around by eating before we go and bringing a snack to eat with the team.

        Reply
  28. Birch

    #2, wear skirts with plain t-shirts! Especially white t-shirts for summer, and wear casual flats or even sneakers. I find that tunic dresses and shirt dresses also read as more casual than structured or A-line dresses, plus they’re super comfy. Also, do you think you could get away with wearing some nice quality joggers? In that case I think paired with a cute top or t-shirt and cardigan would look nicely casual.

    For pants, I HIGHLY recommend looking into ponte pants. They’re built like very thick leggings, so if you’re not comfortable with that you can always layer long shirts overtop. I usually wear them with a long t-shirt or dress shirt and a cardigan or blazer. They come in a million colours and the benefit is that the dark ones read as nicely tailored from a distance, but they’re also super stretchy and you can get ones with zipper details or colours that make them more casual.

    Reply
    1. OP2

      Oh I’ll have to see if I can find some ponte pants! I need to see if I can find some less structured dresses. Most of mine tend to be more on the structured side since I find them more flattering but I can see how they could seem more formal.

      Reply
    2. annalisakarenina

      This is really great advice. I love to pair plain white, gray, or black shirts with ponte pants, high-waisted legging pants, or slacks with a pattern (polka dot, etc.), or skirts. In the winter, I switch them out for sweaters with crew necks or turtle necks.

      Slouchy cardigans are also a good way to make a look more casual (if you get cold in the AC).

      Flats, wedge sandals, Keds are good examples of good casual work shoes.

      Reply
  29. Cynthia

    Sorry, I’m removing this so we don’t have a huge derail about golf, which was thoroughly discussed in a post last week. – Alison

    Reply
  30. Carlie

    OP2: I’ve seen women in workplaces with uniforms who wear ankle length knit black straight skirts instead of the regulation pants, and it always takes me a few minutes to even register that they’re wearing skirts. That might be an unobtrusive option too.

    Reply
  31. Probably Nerdy

    #2 – I’m a jeans-hater too, my only pair of jeans are some mom-jeans from land’s end.

    I wear chambray skirts, wrap skirts, cotton skirts, Columbia pants (stretchy hiking gear), pointe stretchy pants, dresses from Gap/Old Navy, maxi skirts, and the occasional denim pencil skirt, although pencil skirts aren’t my fave either.

    For shoes I wear Sketchers or Toms with occasional sandals.

    Reply
    1. cat socks

      Try the jersey swing dresses from Old Navy or the fit & flare dresses from Land’s End. I find them to be more casual. I wear dresses all the time in the summer and they work well in my casual office. If you shop at Wal-Mart, I saw some casual knit dresses in store. I need petite sizes and they are a bit long for me, otherwise I would have bought them. They are similar to the swing dresses from Old Navy.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Second the fit and flare from Lands End – I own one style in at least four colors. They frequently go on sale.

        Reply
  32. Hmmmm

    OP3
    This may not be the best possible group to poll about possible activities. I’ve noticed (and don’t think I’m alone in noticing) that this particular group is generally against activities with coworkers, during or after work hours.
    I would put a box or bowl and set of sticky notes in a common area for a few weeks. Let people know you’d like suggestions for activities and use the suggestions as a baseline.
    Not everyone can do everything but a rotation of activities designed to appeal to varying audiences (ax throwing vs happy hour vs a minor league baseball game vs a lunch and learn or just catered lunch at the office to have a break from work)

    Reply
    1. Moray

      There’s probably a lot of overlap between people who dislike team-building activities and people who prefer to spend their morning reading advice columns rather than chatting with coworkers. :)

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        One of the reasons I come here is, my coworkers don’t chat. I wish they would. I wish my boss wasn’t gone half the time. I wish he hadn’t caused a personal problem between us and then pretended he didn’t do anything.
        Of the two colleagues who are usually here when I get here, one is locked in her office with her headphones in. It hurt my feelings when she started doing this. I would come in and the admin was unfriendly (she’s since been laid off), my other colleague is barricaded with her headphones, and the third and only one who chats would chat with me for a few minutes. Then I go to my desk and try to feel good about sitting by myself. Without AAM I would have had to look for another job to get a sufficient amount of human contact.

        Reply
    2. Richard

      For real. The level of belly-aching in this forum can be overwhelming, and it’s good to remember that it isn’t always representative. I’m glad Alison and is pretty rational and presents some practical advice. If you just read the comments, you would think that anything that happens with coworkers that isn’t work (and many things that are work) are exotic forms of torture designed solely to ruin lives for the sadistic glee of managers. What would be appropriate and well-received depends a lot on the setting, but most employees are up for reasonable, low-key, low-commitment, non-mandatory events, and many are up for more involved activities.

      Reply
  33. staceyizme

    Connecting outside of the basics of the role at work translates to benemies for team performance. Okay. The thing is, a top down mandate for events isn’t the same thing as a real connection. Nobody is going to have an epiphany and think that their co-workers are great because of a few rounds of putt putt golf or a half day coaching intensive. Offer work that’s consistent with each person’s role, opportunities for growth when possible and treat employees with respect in terms of pay and interactions. After that, you may not need a team builder.

    Reply
    1. Washi

      Actually, I am more likely to think my coworkers are, maybe not great, but pleasant, after a round of putt putt. If I have a nice time with Fergusina at an event, it can remind me that big picture, she’s a good person and we get along well, even if she sometimes to responds to emails a little slower than I’d like.

      I also really like getting the opportunity to get to know people outside my immediate area, because they can then be resources later down the line. Maybe I wouldn’t feel comfortable knocking on Petunia’s door to ask her a question if I’d never met her and had no idea what she does, but if we had a good chat at an event, I’d be more likely to poke my head in to ask a question.

      Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Same here. I’ve gotten to know lots of coworkers at “teambuilding” activities or just hanging out in the staff room, and it’s really useful for cross-departmental collaboration. If I actually dislike a coworker for some reason, putt-putt isn’t going to help, but it definitely helps turn Bob From Sales from a face I vaguely remember at all-staff meetings to a person who shares my love of obscure alpaca breeds and might be the perfect person to ask about this new product rollout.

        Reply
        1. Richard Hershberger

          ” I’ve gotten to know lots of coworkers at “teambuilding” activities or just hanging out in the staff room”

          One of these is not like the other.

          Reply
      2. NoLongerYoung

        I have >15 years of goodwill built up from team lunches, mandatory offsites, optional dinners, and helping others. I get to know people. I truly do make an effort and I remember the details – I didn’t do it to build up goodwill as “points” for the future, but because I understand that being self-absorbed and insular, means I do not get the cooperation I need AND more importantly, makes my job harder and my life less satisfactory. I do a wonderful job (I’m an “exceptional” employee basically, in a company that reviews everyone as satisfactory), and I freely share credit and assistance with other team members and those outside my department.

        I am more content with my life when I have people interaction – and I spend the bulk of my waking hours at work… and that is so much easier if I have a smooth, frictionless (or as little as possible) working relationship.

        It has enabled me to know not only our department, but everyone we touch at least a little. I am genuinely curious (undergrad sociology major) about people and groups.

        I have the same “well socialized” introvert tendencies for family events and non-work social. I look for a chance to learn and grow as a person. I can learn something from everyone (even if, in some cases, it is a lesson learned).

        I do know that when I was in my grad school internship, the organizer HR person told my husband at a cookout (which we organized as a team of interns, and did with their funding), that they were paying close attention to who actually participated and contributed – it was a culture fit. That was many years ago but I remembered that lesson…. there is a cultural fit.

        I might not be an extrovert, but I can get along and learn a bit more about another introvert coworker (I look around and often seek outst the “other” outlier on the edge of the crowd for a conversation). I sometimes – if it is a really boring activity (IMHO worst was a baseball game, which for me is watching paint dry), set up a secret reward system… Oh, if I can make myself sit through this, I will treat myself to taking “X” afternoon off and going to see the special exhibit of Y at the museum (free day, but bus ride). Or stay home and just kick back equal number of hours.

        The benefit to my career has been strong, and even more importantly (if you made it this far) – when I had family tragedy, even though my one division alone had >400 people (and the company over 1,000), the division rallied together and gave me complete support and a lot of encouragement during and after.

        Reply
    2. Bruiser Woods

      I do agree with the last few sentence very much. My boss thinks making a lunch room after not having one for years will fix everything but talks to people like dirt. Sorry too late, also treat people better first a coffee machine wont make people forget the way you talk to them or fix your revolving door.

      Reply
  34. AnonNurse

    #2 – I don’t wear pants in general so when casual days come up I go with a jean skirt or cotton skirt, or casual dresses. Boho maxi skirts are casual and fashionable. Old Navy also has great swing dresses that are comfy and casual without looking sloppy. I love jersey skirts as well, as they are great for working all day comfortably and casually. I also shop a lot with LulaRoe (you can buy from retailers or secondary sources like eBay but there is also a second hand store in my town that sells a ton) because they have great skirts and dresses with pockets that aren’t overly dressy. I think what top/shoes/accessories also help whether or not you’re giving off a casual vibe. Like today I’m wearing swing dress with a jean jacket to keep it from being overly formal.

    Would be glad to pass on lots of other things but totally get not wearing jeans. :-)

    Reply
  35. Washi

    OP3, is there any way to connect the teambuilding to your work? For example, is there a broadly applicable off-site training you could send people to and pay for a nice lunch? Or pay for tickets to a documentary that’s loosely connected to your industry? I’ve always really enjoyed connecting with coworkers at these work-adjacent type things and never heard any grumbling about them (as long as they are completely optional.)

    Reply
  36. Falling Diphthong

    What is the rationale in assigning people to print things? I would think sending the email explaining what you want printed takes far longer than hitting “print” on the file menu.

    Reply
    1. Workerbee

      There’s a director I don’t report to who has a printer in her office, right next to her computer, and she will still ask people to print things for her on the main printer. Like single sheets. That she can then bring to a meeting she’s running. She gets all syrupy sweet about it: “Can you print these out for me? THANKS!” <–before you can even acknowledge her initial statement.

      Source: Me, who was asked to do this once. I was co-hosting the meeting–I also knew nobody but her actually needed any printouts, as she likes to doodle on them–so I let it pass, but that was it.

      I figure it's a mixture of learned incompetence and a power play.

      Reply
    2. Rebecca

      I think it’s a control thing, it goes right along with ordering lunch and making vet appointments. I can’t imagine how frustrating the last one must be – OP calls, gets appointment for Fluffy, sends appt to boss, who promptly says “that won’t work, I need earlier/later/another day”, lather rinse and repeat. Likewise lunch, I don’t get that. I’m an adult, I know I will be hungry during the work day, so I put food in a lunch tote and bring it with me to the office. I don’t expect anyone to do this for me. And the whole printer thing is ridiculous, too. It would take longer to tell someone what to print and bring it to me than it would just to print it.

      Reply
    3. Psyche

      I had to ask my boss to print things for me for a couple weeks when I first started because my computer was not on the network yet so I couldn’t use the printer. I guess if she is on a personal computer and can’t connect to the printer it might make sense. But that really should be a temporary issue, not the norm.

      Reply
    4. Maya Elena

      I think you definitely have a reasonable case for requests such as “need 10 color copies of this confidential 40-page presentation on the Really Nice Paper, stapled and collated, for the Big Executive Meeting later today”. It will probably be a 20-minute affair to figure out where the nice paper is, go to the only color printer on the floor, figure out how to get the printer to self-staple and collate (if it does), and if not to locate the big stapler to staple it by hand, and stand there until it is all printed out because it’s confidential info and you don’t want anybody else picking it up, and then checking to make sure all the pages are there.

      Again, none of these are in themselves difficult, but it’s definitely reasonable to ask the intern to do it rather than the department head.

      Reply
  37. Workerbee

    OP#2, I’m sorry you were side-eyed during your interview. I would hope that even a casual office would realize that interviews default to being dressed up.

    I’m in a casual office, and I don’t love wearing jeans, either. On the chance that even casual-style skirts and dresses will still be seen as too fancy, I’ve found that brands such as Talbot’s offer pants that blend in with casual office wear while also being super comfy and stretchy. They manage not to look like exercise pants but if you have to have to sit all day, you won’t mind. I don’t know if they always have them (they switch out their seasonal stock) but the ones I have come in both black and blue.

    Reply
    1. OP2

      Thanks! because of her side eyeing me I honestly was surprised when I got the job offer but I am excited to start work!

      Reply
  38. Delta Delta

    #3 – This seems like a “know your office” situation. There are some offices that would be very into something sporty and some that would be into something quiet and some that aren’t into anything. Unless it’s absolutely optional, I’d avoid after-work or weekend activities.

    This makes me remember an incredibly toxic job I once had about 10 years ago. The Office Bully somehow got the boss to agree to let people take the day off so they could all help her neighbor (who nobody else even knew) move. Apparently the neighbor was a flake and forgot to call a moving company until the very last minute and everyone in the area was booked up. Neighbor convinced the boss that it would be good optics for the company to look like it helped people in the community, and that everyone should pitch in and that it could be advertised as “community service.” Everyone was voluntold this was happening. I got to opt out because it was on a day where I had several things scheduled that I couldn’t change. This made me look like “not a team player” (sure, high-level client, I have to cancel our very important meeting that’s been scheduled for weeks because I have to help a stranger move). the moral of the story: don’t do this.

    Reply
  39. Ladylike

    OP #3 – Our team recently did an escape room as a team building activity. It was 1 hour long, everyone participated, and due to the time constraints, everyone stayed so engrossed in the game that there was no time to feel self-conscious or awkward. Plus, there were plenty of laughs to go around. If your team solves the puzzle, there’s instant gratification and bragging rights. If you don’t solve the puzzle, you have a good laugh and say, “Oh well.”

    Reply
    1. Humble Schoolmarm

      I love escape rooms for team building! I’ve found, even though you are 4-6 people in one room, that they are pretty introvert friendly because wandering off to a corner by yourself and fiddling with a puzzle can be a great asset to your team. Plus I get to channel all of the Nancy Drews and Agatha Christies I’ve read.

      That being said, op, mixing it up is the important thing. It’s completely valid to love axe-throwing and hate escape rooms, but if you’re doing a variety of activities most people should be reasonably satisfied.

      Reply
    2. Iris Eyes

      This does seem interesting. I wonder if for people who are nervous about being locked inside a room these places should offer some sort of table top version where they have to unlock the treasure chest or something. So you still get the puzzle solving without the confinement issues.

      Reply
    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      An escape room always comes up during these discussions (on this site and, in my office, in person), and it’s a great example of how I feel about these activities. I will not do an escape room (I am claustrophobic and even the thought of being in one triggers a reaction I would rather not share with my co-workers), but I don’t object to other people doing one as part of the entire activity. I’m perfectly happy to meet everyone for dinner and drinks afterwards, for example. Now, I would feel differently if every single team-building activity were an escape room or a cave dive or a dine-in-the-dark experience (there was a letter about that here a few years ago and I nearly lost it), but adding variety is important. I don’t think it’s critical to make sure everyone can participate at 100% for absolutely everything, but it’s good to switch things up so everyone gets the opportunity to join in.

      Reply
      1. JustaTech

        Good point! Maybe if what people like is the problem solving part of the escape room, but without the timer and locked-room-ness you could do board games (modern ones, not Risk).

        I would say that it’s a perfect activity: reasonably inexpensive, non-physical, can be done at work during work hours, but the last time I tried to arrange one for fun like 3 people showed up. (Granted, it was a holiday weekend and in the afternoon and we were told last minute “no beer” so a lot of people bailed for that reason.)

        But I think the common thread here has been “mix it up”. Don’t have all your activities be at one time or one type of thing.

        Reply
      2. VelociraptorAttack

        Genuine question – my office recently did an escape room and they made it very clear at the beginning that we were NOT locked in and while they asked that we stay in the room, we were free to exit if need be.

        Would that make you comfortable with it or does it not mitigate the claustrophobia? (And obviously, I understand that the claustrophobia would mean we wouldn’t even get the point of being there and being told that you weren’t actually locked in.)

        Reply
        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          Has absolutely no bearing on my reaction. I can’t speak for everyone with claustrophobia, of course, but for me, it doesn’t matter how anyone rationalizes anything or tells me otherwise; when the claustrophobia takes over, it takes over. You might not be able to tell by looking at me, and in a lot of cases I wouldn’t say anything, but it’s not a position I ever want to be in. I consider myself to be a really reasonable person, and I am VERY good at calming other people down, but it’s a phobia and if I don’t have to put myself in that situation, I won’t.

          It’s also important to note that we’re talking about a co-worker situation here. This makes the situation really different, at least for me. For example, my partner and I went to the Churchill War Rooms on our visit to London last year. About two “stops” in on the audio tour I started to have a very mild panic attack and I went back to the ticket area until it passed (which it did, after I went through a series of rationalizations combined with deep breathing and notes that it’s the UK and there are exits everywhere). He’s my partner, and while he’s concerned about me, he knows I’ll handle it. I also know that he understands. With workmates, though, it’s very different; I’m pretty senior and don’t really want to show panic to my team, and besides that, they’re nice people and would probably try to help, which is the last thing I would want.

          Reply
      3. LJay

        I won’t do one with coworkers because I know it will make all my most unattractive qualities come out.

        Either I am going to steamroll people into doing it my way. Or I’m going to be incredibly unhappy sinking time into doing something that I “know” isn’t going to have the desired outcome, and despite the way I try to hide that feeling it’s going to come across in my body language.

        None of these are good outcomes for me or the other people doing it with me. Nobody has fun. It’s whatever the opposite of team building is. So I’m not going to do it.

        I stay away from cooperative board games for that reason as well. And even pub trivia, I only do with my boyfriend who is not going to put up a fight if I know I’m right on something. Other people have gotten upset when I’ve gotten upset with them for taking their phones out when the rule is explicitly no phones.

        I can handle my worst “know-it-all” instincts in work and general life. But for some reason the context of “friendly” competition makes it hard to contain myself. So I avoid that context.

        Reply
  40. MuseumChick

    Echoing the others saying to mix-up the activities. During hours lunch, after hours happy hour, an escape room, museum tour, etc. You should also check in with your staff after each of these actives, did they find it enjoyable? Do they have any suggestions for other actives? The key here is creating an environment where someone could be comfortable saying things like “The last three events have been after hours which I can never attend. Could the next one be during the day?” Or, “I’ve noticed these events tend to be very physical. Due to my (insert condition) that often means I cannot participate.” and being receptive to that kind of feedback.

    Reply
  41. apopculturalist

    OP3: My office does a big group gathering out to see the local minor league baseball team. We rent out an area so we’re not crammed into seats like sardines, and it’s more of a social affair — we’re all chatting and there just so happens to be baseball in the background.

    We also do a chili cookoff once a year. (Which you could change to cookies, etc.)

    So general advice: Think local (any special events in your area you can tag onto?) and focus on what works best for your office. And please don’t penalize anyone for not going.

    Reply
  42. the Viking Diva

    OP3, what about something educational? I’m thinking about general professional development that is not training on a specific task or tool, but something people might find useful in their job or their life, their club or sportsball team or volunteer work too. Or that just provides an opportunity to reflect and share. Look for something offered as a workshop rather than a lecture, so that the focus is not on bonding people socially, but that does include social interactions as a side benefit of learning something together. People connect when they have something to talk about.

    Possible topics: Communication skills, active listening, career planning, writing a personal mission statement, working in teams, certain aspects of entrepreneurship?? I’ve always been impressed by the topics the alumni association comes up with at my school to engage alumni across generations and professions. Or (maybe) something relevant to the broader industry landscape or strategic directions for your organization? e.g. someone from outside presents “Whither teapots in the 21st century?” or “New directions in llama grooming” and there is small group/breakout discussion – not trying to generate actionable items for the work group but engaging people to develop the bigger picture of how their work contributes, where is our industry going, how are we positioned. The topic still may not interest *everyone*, but there is less risk of pushback that it’s inappropriate or unfair if it is vaguely work-relevant.

    Reply
  43. Miss Fisher

    OP 4, could this be a case of HR just not forwarding that resume on to Hiring Manager? That happened to me. I was temping at a company in a role for over a yr. When an actual position opened up, I applied and was rejected as not enough experience though I was doing the work. I had to mention this to the manager, who was unaware I had applied. She went on and told HR to pull my resume. It all worked out, but maybe after your friends apply, you can mention so to the hiring managers as a way to talk to HR.

    Reply
    1. OP4

      Thanks! Yes, perhaps there has been a miscommunication of some kind between HR/ Managers. Before writing in, I actually thought that I would maybe be kindly told off by AAM that it wasn’t my business after I referred, but I now feel more confident to follow up on behalf of my referrals!

      Reply
  44. Amethystmoon

    #5: I’ve never understood why some people at work think it’s fine to bully others, especially those who have lesser job titles than them. Bullying is something that should definitely not happen in a professional environment. Those who bully should know that anyone under them who is even a remotely decent worker will leave and not put up with it. I really wish they could make bullying in and of itself a crime.

    Reply
  45. LaDeeDa

    No Jeans/Casual– Try pairing more casual shirts with your dress pants and skirts. Today I am going to be meeting with a group that is with a casual group, I am wearing a black pencil skirt, a white v-neck tshirt, tucked in, a wide brown belt, and flats. I will also have a cardigan with me. I feel pulled together but it isn’t too much for the group I am meeting with. I think it is about balance, when I wear jeans I usually wear a nicer shirt and a cardigan, or a nice tshirt and a blazer, and heels. Good luck!

    Reply
  46. Phony Genius

    #3 – If you’re dealing with a really large group, it’s nearly impossible to come up with an activity that a significant number of people can’t/won’t do. Our large organization is going to have a picnic because a higher-up wants it to be a team-building thing. The committee that was set up to plan it found a not-great location, and figured out cheap food that most people can eat. When it came to planning activities, there were nothing but blank stares. It’s a month away, and as of now, blank staring seems to be the popular activity choice.

    I have actually scheduled myself for jury duty on that day. On purpose. I am absolutely telling you the truth.

    Reply
    1. Maya Elena

      A picnic could be fun! Things to consider for a location: grassy, with thick grass; not swampy; have enough of a non-sandy area where you can eat without sand getting into your food at the slightest breeze; parking lot close by; covered option in case it rains; picnic tables and trash cans galore so you’re not stuck holding your food on some grass.

      Activity suggestions:
      -Watermelon-eating contest – who can eat down to the bottom without their hands. Make it non-mandatory; but it’s fun to watch and cheer. :p
      -Bring a Frisbee, 3-4 sets of badminton rackets (with birdies), several balls, for people who want to go and play in a field to the side somewhere.
      -Scavenger hunt, but make sure things are hidden in a small enough radius, and close enough to the ground, that anyone can reach anything without effort, can find it in a reasonable amount of time, and doesn’t disturb other people. (So, don’t put an item/clue high up in a tree, or or out in the parking lot.) You can hide items of different colors, have each team assigned a color and have to retrieve their, say, 5 items first. Small but not crappy prize for the winner (e.g. a $20 gift certificate somewhere). The scavenger hunt is a very flexible medium, fitted for many settings, levels of effort, and team sizes.

      Reply
      1. Scarlet2

        Love picnics. Activities though… not so much. I think adults can eat together and socialize without organized “activities”.

        Reply
      2. LizM

        I enjoy picnics. We usually do one once a year at the beginning of our busy season when all the internals/seasonal employees start. The managers grill the main dish, and the sides are a potluck (we’re government, so zero budget for this, it comes out of management’s pocket). We also don’t ask the interns to bring anything, although some do sometimes if there’s a dish they want to make.

        It’s good – there is enough to do if you have a group that wants to be active (volleyball, badminton, frisbie), but also it’s fine if people just want to stand around and eat and talk. It’s also casual enough that it’s easy to include families if you want to.

        Reply
    2. Delta Delta

      I often have various toys/lawn games in my car, because you never know when frisbee or kite flying or a game of whiffleball might need to happen. I also once left a “stand around and stare blankly” party for a few minutes to pick up some games. I dashed to the nearest Walmart and returned with Jenga and Taboo. Some people played. Some people didn’t. But it helped for some people to have stuff to do.

      Reply
    3. JustaTech

      My site was told by the PTB that we *must* have a “family” picnic this year. Never mind that this is way more expensive for us that the other sites, since they just have it in their parking lots and we have to find a park (last minute, in the summer) and pay to rent it.

      Then one of the folks from Site1 said that this year they were doing an “All American” theme with pie eating contests and the like because last year’s carnival theme let too many people just play games and not interact.

      Thankfully the person from Site1 was on the phone and couldn’t see the look of horror on all our faces. So maybe I’m glad we won’t have the money for “activities”.

      Reply
  47. Missy

    #3: While it is true that teams that connect on more than just a work level do better, it isn’t necessarily something that you can reverse engineer. In other words, it is more likely that a workplace where teams are working well will then naturally want to connect on more than a work level. Forcing them (or even encouraging them) to connect outside of work won’t necessarily make them better teams. Too often employers have the mistaken idea that they can solve workplace issues by making everyone into friends, or that some sort of “team” mentality will cause them to overlook the day-to-day issues between them. You can’t use team building as a hack to fix problems in a workplace.

    But if you want to encourage bonds that are already there that is a good thing. Just be clear about what the purpose is. Do you want everyone to know one another and have a face to match with a name? Do you want people to meet new people in other departments to try and prevent siloing of information?

    Reply
  48. Rez123

    #3 no there are no activities that are not problematic for someone. We have a half a day twice a year for this type of thing. We have a list in the breakroom and everyone can write their idea. Then the commitee leader or manager eliminates the ones that are not possible. Then we vote on top 3. We ask quotes for these three and see if they are possible to do. Then based on that info we vote for the final activity. These avents are strongly encouraged but not mndatory.

    I feel like all extra curriculars get a lot of hate online (in every circumstance)I feel like it is fine as long as they are optional. If they are not optional then they should be during office hours. Even if it is not my personal favourite activity.

    Reply
  49. Roscoe

    #3 I’ve been on many social type committees in the past. I’d say the thing we did that people liked the most was a field day. We closed the office a few hours early on a friday, went to a park not terribly far from the office. Had catered sandwiches, but then also went to the store about bought some alcohol and other snacks. We also invested in some outdoor games (corn hole, bocce ball, that type of thing). Everyone loved it. The people who had to worry about child care could just leave at their normal time, people could participate in the games, or just sit on the grass or in a chair with a drink.

    Reply
  50. Princess prissypants

    #3.

    First and foremost – answer this: What’s the point of the activity? If it’s to have fun/socialize, then do whatever the hell you want on your own time with your own friends. It’s not a work event. If it is actually meant to be work-related/”team-building” (blech, I “team-build” by working with the people around me to get work done, not by frivolous outside activities!), then all of the following applies:

    NO SPORTS OR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY OF ANY KIND.
    Make it actually work-related.
    Have it at work and/or during work hours.
    Do not require public performances, adult beverages, late/weekend hours, forced social interaction, “icebreakers”, roommate assignments, homework, costumes, volun-told-ism, soul/secret-bearing, or any other nonsense.
    Do not require people to burden themselves to attend – don’t require they pay admission/tickets, don’t require they buy special clothes, don’t schedule the activity during a time people are required to find and pay for childcare, don’t require that they have to pay to travel to a location, etc.

    Reply
    1. Roscoe

      Some people actually enjoy doing fun activities with their co-workers at times. I can agree that they don’t need to be really often, but I’ve definitely developed better working relationships with co-workers based on these socializing activities. Physical activities are fine if it is optional.

      Reply
      1. Princess prissypants

        Me too. I have friends who are coworkers with whom I choose to do things outside of work.

        That’s not what this question is about. This question is “how can I get coworkers who aren’t my friends to participate in social activities (LW’s word was “connect”) with me?”

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Whoa, that’s a really uncharitable and inaccurate interpretation of what the OP is asking. She clearly states she’s asking because she believes it will benefit her team, not because she wants people to do social activities with her.

          Reply
          1. Princess prissypants

            The closest thing to reason the OP gives is:

            “I understand that teams who connect with each other beyond the basics of their role tend to be higher performing. The intention would be to create a casual atmosphere where people can chat beyond the strict confines of their role/position and with others who they don’t necessarily work with regularly.”

            While I don’t know if there’s evidence to support her premise, my answer to that is that I can choose to chat with whomever I want whenever I want about whatever I want without the imposition of someone else’s idea of “fun.”

            If there is a larger work-useful purpose to this event, she hasn’t shared it, which is why I suggest she start there.

            Reply
            1. Princess prissypants

              To more directly answer the LW’s request for suggestions,

              Anywhere that’s completely free-to-me, during work hours, on the clock, indoors, and where I can bring a book and be left alone.

              Reply
                1. Princess prissypants

                  To me, it’s heaven. Opposite of sulking. Force me to sit in a tell-a-funny-story-about-yourself circle for an hour? THAT would bring out the sulking.

                  Team building happens at work. when working together.

                2. MOAS

                  Yup. Whenever socializing/team building activities comes up there’s always comments about how people who love to socialize are annoying, not serious about work, etc. It gets a little tiresome. I don’t see anyone bashing those who like to work at work and not socialize. Like, just b/c you don’t like something doesn’t make it bad and the oens who like it less than.

                  There will never be a one size fits all. It really depends on the company and team. At my company, happy hours with food were the go-to. Or dinner. We’ve done boat cruises a few times, and most recently we went bowling. I’ll admit I was reluctant to go bowling but I had a still had a good time b/c I like most of the people I work with.

                3. Princess prissypants

                  MOAS, did I or anyone else say that people who like to socialize are not serious? Has there been bashing? I don’t see any. I did say that the act of pestering/requiring me to participate in such activities is annoying, because it is.

                4. Dragoning

                  Regardless of whether you consider it sulking or not–it’s not team building. At all. In any way. It’s you getting an extra break to do whatever you want.

                5. Princess prissypants

                  And golf is giving the golfers a break to do what they want. (sub zumba, bowling, hiking, whatever). Those activities don’t team-build for me, any more than quiet sit-down activities do for others.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              The reason she gave was the one most people give when they plan this sort of thing: They genuinely believe it will be good for the relationships on their team. I disagree with that in a lot of cases (although not all) but it’s really not true to say that she’s just looking to build her own social life, and that’s contrary to spirit of the commenting rules about treating people with generosity here.

              Reply
              1. Princess prissypants

                Ok so maybe it’s the “with me” at the end that gives a personal bent. Change to she wants people to socialize with *each other* because it’s good for inter-team relationships.

                My argument stands: a) is that true? b) then let me do it on my own terms.

                Reply
                1. OP3

                  @ Princess prissypants: I just re-read my letter and I can’t see where I used the words “with me”. I do say that I want to create opportunities for my team to “connect with each other”.

                  To provide more context, we are a networked organization and our work often involves cross discipline teams so people are frequently working with others that they have never worked with before. The people who are most successful at this organization tend to be the ones who have broad connections across the company. We don’t care/it doesn’t matter how you develop those connections and whether you participate in any activities.

                  However, we currently sponsor a variety of sports teams throughout the year, weekly catered coffee break, lunch provided lunch’n learns, some charity events, etc. These all tend to be well attended. Based on recent discussions and my personal reflections, I want to make sure the activity options we are providing are inclusive. Hence my question asking for alternative suggestions.

                2. Princess prissypants

                  Then OP3 to answer that question,

                  Yes your sports events are probably exclusionary, and the other things probably aren’t – but it depends on what you mean by charity events and whether you offer a variety of meal options at the lunches.

                3. Roscoe

                  The problem isn’t having certain events that are exclusionary, its having ONLY events that are exclusionary. There isn’t anything wrong with sports teams even if some people can’t or don’t want to play. It would only be a problem if that is ALL that was offered. Just about anything that you do will exclude or be unappealing to some group of people.

                4. MOAS

                  “MOAS, did I or anyone else say that people who like to socialize are not serious? Has there been bashing? I don’t see any. I did say that the act of pestering/requiring me to participate in such activities is annoying, because it is.”

                  It wasn’t just you alone, but enough comments I’ve seen over the last several months to come to my conclusion that majority of commenters here think ther’es something wrong iwth people who like to socialize/build relationships with their coworkers. I recognize that people like different things, but I don’t bash those who would rather go to work and then go home rather than socizlie.

  51. Maya Elena

    Another comment for OP3 with actual activity ideas:
    At one employer, we did monthly lunch-and-learns. If someone had an interesting topic they wanted to present on – e.g., they came back from a conference or just an interesting trip, or they farmed ostriches in their spare time, or just an interesting topic (e.g., “the unknown history of teapots”) they gave a talk about it, and people brought their lunch, listened, and asked questions.

    Reply
      1. JustaTech

        But it’s still a really good idea!
        You can also bring in outside speakers if you don’t have enough people who want to speak. (We’re a science company so we get in professors a lot.)

        We even had the various department give talks on who they are and what they do, because a lot of the time we don’t actually know what the Supply chain team *does*.

        Reply
  52. Former Help Desk Peon

    Op#3 – One thing my org does to get people talking across the org and outside our normal work day flows, is to encourage us to form “community groups”. They generally revolve around hobbies or causes–for example, we have a photography club, walking, genealogy, knitting, healthy cooking, etc. And groups that donate time to animal shelters or raise donations for a local food pantry. We’re encouraged to meet for a few hours a month, and the org gives each group an annual $500 budget (we can request an additional $500 for approved charity projects). Once a year, we do an expo to talk about what our group has done and get new members.

    For inner departmental “bonding”, we generally turn to pot lucks…we have some that we do annually that are highly anticipated, since we have a lot of good cooks. We also do random little events seasonally, like walking to a farmer market, or cutting paper snow flakes etc.

    Reply
  53. NKOTB

    Re: LW#3 – I’d like to point out that plenty of women play and enjoy golf as well. I know that it’s traditionally been viewed as a male activity, but there is nothing inherently gender exclusive about it

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Please click the link and read the comments on the post that Alison linked. There is a very sexist, racist, and classist history with golf that was thoroughly discussed.

      Reply
      1. Asenath

        Golf was indeed discussed, but the reputation of golf won’t change unless the fact that there are and have been “non-traditional” golf players for years – some of whom I know is recognized. Personally, I prefer that any team-building activities be kept out entirely, and if they must be carried out, they should be done for pay during normal working hours. I know that won’t happen since a lot of people disagree with me, but for workplaces that do value in off-site activities, golf is a good an option as any. Better than ones that involve overnight trips to remote locations.

        Reply
  54. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    #3 – Like Alison said, know your office. There are no activities that won’t be problematic for some segment of people in the world, but that doesn’t mean that you have all those people on your team! Avoiding activities with a particularly high barrier to entry (ie you already have to know how to play this sport, or you have to be able to drop all your responsibilities for an entire weekend, or you have to be able to cough up $100 at the drop of a hat) and then looking for things that work for the specific group of people you’ve got is what will get you a good response. And I say things, plural, specifically — rotating through a mix of things will create more opportunities for people to participate. If they have to sit out one activity for a specific reason, then the next one will be more likely to be something they can do.

    Another thing to do is send organizing emails via BCC; that way, if someone has an objection to a specific activity, they can voice it privately to the organizer rather than having to speak up in a meeting or group setting to say “Actually, I tend to panic in escape rooms” (or whatever).

    Reply
  55. LaDeeDa

    Team building- if there isn’t a budget to hire a professional to do it, then I would suggest doing something like volunteering at a shelter or for a charity fun run. That way everyone can pick the type of activity they can physically do and are interested in. We recently worked with a domestic violence shelter and we painted their bedrooms, cleaned spruced up the outside, painted furniture, organized closets, etc. We had a catered picnic for lunch that served our employees and the staff and guests of the shelter. It was a lot of fun and rewarding.
    If you do have a budget you can d some searches for team building services/consultants. I did one with a team last year in which the group was divided into teams and they had to build a wheelchair- getting parts and pieces of the directions by answering trivia questions. The wheelchairs were then donated to the local Veterans Association.

    Reply
  56. Jennifer Juniper

    OP5: If Janet has gone on to a new job, how about telling her “Congratulations on the new job” instead? That seems more neutral towards her former org and expresses positivity towards her at the same time.

    Reply
  57. Lauren

    #3

    We went to a movie and it was nice. We voted on it. Also, we did the xmas gift for a family thing and turned it into a day of going to the mall to get them and do our own holiday shopping. It was low key and let people go off in there own groups. Then we met in the restaurant for a recap drink – no food – to show off the presents we bought.

    Reply
    1. CanCan

      Good ideas for some group, bad for others. Key is to check with the group.

      I would skip both of these. I’m pretty picky about movies. And there isn’t much socializing anyway when you’re sitting in a dark theatre.

      Same with the other one. I hate malls. My xmas gifts for my family aren’t likely to be something one can find in a mall anyway. And watching someone else shop? – boring.

      Reply
  58. BlackCatMama

    #1 – If your boss explicitly has a conversation with you changing expectations of your role to include admin responsibilities, I suggest you push back hard. It is extremely difficult to be viewed in your original role (teapot analyst) once people start associating you with admin functions. I was once in a similar situation and it took years to distance myself from being viewed as an admin, even though my official role and responsibilities had nothing to do with admin responsibilities. Being younger looking and female didn’t help things either.

    Reply
  59. Cat mom

    Re teambuilding activities. I worked for a company where once a year in the spring we planned a service day for a less fortunate organization in a large city. Most of these folks were on commission, so weren’t even paid for their time and it was a source of pride. One year we cleaned up the landscaping around some public housing buildings. We had good quality t-shirts identifying us and the company, and work gloves were provided. Some of us from the suburbs brought in rakes, trowels and shovels and we had annuals to plant. A few less mobile folks helped water new plantings. I’m bee allergic, but that didn’t stop me. Everyone was instructed to warn me about nests, knew where my Epi-pen was, and how to use it. Occasionally people had work crises. One year my boss needed me to skip it and handle a client emergency, but for the most part it was seen as positive by all participants.

    I think this especially works for people with a social justice ethic who wish they had more time to give back to the community.

    Reply
  60. But I Don't Want To

    #2: There are plenty of dresses made of denim, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

    Reply
  61. Outings

    One of the most successful team excursions I’ve seen was to a local establishment that is similar to Dave and Busters. Basically, it had a room with old school arcade games, a room with air hockey, ski ball, the basketball game, a room with some of the more modern VR style games (skiing, horse back riding) a room with competitive console type games, a room with a pool tables etc. They had a buffet set up with a variety of foods and also made meals out back for anyone that had an allergy that was concerned with cross contamination. People that attended could sit in the dining area eating and talking, sit in the bar area drinking and talking or play any variety of the different games listed above. One who didn’t want to do anything could easily just blend in, walking room to room. You could probably avoid talking to people that way too if you wanted. It was during work hours and all paid for by the company.

    The worst one was at a water park where most people showed up in clothes intending to just “watch” rather than participate in a bathing suit with their colleagues. (duh.) This doesn’t really work if no one is participating. A handful of young employees participated and that was it. Everyone got sunburned. The food sucked.

    Reply
    1. Princess prissypants

      Yes, this. Similar ideas might include a mall – there’s one near me that does rock climbing, has a wide variety food court, multiple bookstores, etc – or a rec center with a (board) game/reading room, but the point is that everyone can choose to do something different and then meet back up for lunch *if they want*, but everything is optional and no one is or feels required to participate in something they aren’t comfortable with.

      I would rather quit my job than show up to a mandated water park outing.

      Reply
  62. Michaela Westen

    #2, I just remembered something that was discussed here – scrub skirts! They come in different lengths and several colors, and aren’t expensive. I wouldn’t think they’d be seen as too dressy.
    What do other commenters think?

    Reply
    1. Michaela Westen

      Here’s a link I found on google. If you like them shorter you can always have them hemmed!

      Reply
  63. MCMonkeyBean

    I think the socials at my work (we usually have one per quarter) go over pretty well so I just wanted to share some of the pieces that I think most contribute to making people like them:
    -Free food, and usually drinks are available (probably limited to one per person) though not everyone partakes and nobody ever pressures people who aren’t drinking (or eating for that matter)
    -They are during the work day, usually scheduled from around noon to five
    -They are truly optional, sometimes people don’t participate and other times they do
    -They often allow for different levels of engagement, for example we just had a social at the party deck at a baseball game and I thought it was nice because people could basically decide for themselves whether they wanted to engage in the actual baseball watching or just hang back and socialize
    -Most of the time people stay until around 2 or 3 and then they just leave. It’s not scheduled to be that way but it is just kind of what happens. This part is great because people get a few hours of socializing with coworkers but also they get some extra time for themselves which is always appreciated!

    Reply
  64. softcastle mccormick

    #2: This is me at my casual office environment! Like, casual to the point where folks wear leggings as pants. Our dress code states that as long as nothing is too sheer and hits the knee, it’s game. I wear lots of casual dresses with jean jackets, casual skirts with t-shirts and a chambray shirt, and black jeans with t-shirts and a blazer. Even though parts of these items may seem formal, like a statement necklace, or a dress, or a blazer, they are 1) super easy to dress down with casual elements, and 2) from stores like Gap, Old Navy, or higher end places like Anthro or Free People from a resale. My rule to never seem “stodgy” around our warehouse workers is to always have one classy/nice item, and have the rest of the outfit be casual. So, a nice long navy blue midi skirt, with a t-shirt and a chambray shirt tied around it and closed-toed clogs or booties. Or, a statement blazer with black jeans and a graphic tee (work appropriate, obviously) and super casual shoes.

    Sure, I get comments all. the. time. on my clothes, but honestly, it’s all folks telling me how nice I look, or asking me where I got something, or something of the sort. Sure, I have a reputation as being the fashionista in the office, but I don’t mind it. I like dressing up–it helps me get into a professional mindset. For professional clothes on a budget, I love Poshmark, ThreadUP, and Mercari.

    Reply
  65. Katie

    For #4- my team, of 10 people, does an outing a couple of times a year. We usually take suggestions and then do a doodle poll to figure out what to do. We’ve done things like kayaking, touring a chocolate factory, bowling, an amusement park, an escape room, etc. And we take other people’s issues into account- one time we nixed any idea that involved physical activity because one person had recently injured her foot.

    Obviously, this won’t work for a larger group, but in that case you can always make it optional.

    Reply
  66. LizM

    I work in a super casual office – I have some employees who spend all day in the field and are wearing work clothes most of the day. I’m a manager, and semi-public facing, so I do feel like I need to dress it up a little, but nice jeans and a shirt would be totally appropriate.

    I’ve gotten some dresses from Lands End and LL Bean, they seem to strike the right balance between not-jeans and not-too-dressy. Generally, cotton or jersey tends to be more casual, and less structured – I think an A-line dress that hits right around the knee tends to not look out of place if others are wearing jeans.

    Reply
  67. LizM

    Our organization has required diversity and EEO training every year. Last year, instead of watching videos like we usually do to fulfill that requirement, I arranged for our office to get a private tour of a local museum’s new exhibit that was on a topic that fulfilled that requirement and also involved our field. We did it during working hours, since it was required training, and the team seemed to enjoy it. And we knocked out a year’s worth of required training in a morning, and learned something directly applicable to our work.

    So another thought for team building is thinking about whether there are creative ways to get something done that you’d have to do any way.

    Reply
    1. Princess prissypants

      YES! THIS is actual team-building, relevant to work, doesn’t require forced socialization, musical performance, expensive child care, environmental hazards, or physical activity.

      LW 3 – THIS. Find the thing like this.

      Reply
  68. Nicelutherangirl

    #3. For some reason, I instantly thought of the episode of “The Office” where Jim, Pat, Dwight, et. al., take the work bus to Laverne’s Pies. So, yeah, a field trip to a rural pie stand, or a small town bakery at least 25 miles from where you work, would probably go over well with most people.

    I’m mostly kidding, but not entirely…

    Reply
  69. Jennifer

    #3 There is absolutely nothing you can do that someone won’t find problematic. I honestly think meals are the easiest option. They can be done during the workday and you can easily find places that will accommodate all diets if you live near or in a large city. No, people with restrictive diets aren’t going to have as many options, but that’s life. It’s still a meal that they didn’t have to prepare or pay for.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s still a meal that they didn’t have to prepare or pay for.

      … and can’t eat, in some situations, which means it’s not a meal for them. I’m not saying never do meals; they make a lot of sense in many situations! But you do need to consider the group you have and their particular needs, and that can make what will/won’t work vary. It’s not team-building if one person is sitting here with a plate of wilted lettuce, or nothing but a beverage, while everyone else eats.

      Reply
      1. Dana B.S.

        Exactly! I once worked somewhere that gave a free lunch every Monday. I’m a vegetarian – it’s my choice and I do not expect any special treatment. However, this was supposed to be a thank-you because we were given mandatory overtime. They only ever ordered deli sandwiches, fried chicken, and BBQ. After a while, it felt like I was almost being excluded on purpose – no pizza, no side dishes without bacon, nothing. Which is odd because veggie dishes are way cheaper than meat dishes. Yes, sometimes you’ll always have someone who is left out/unhappy with the food choice, but in this case it was always me. In my next job, the person ordering would ask for a free veggie plate because the order was so big and they always obliged. It’s fine if it’s too much work to accommodate everyone, but add some variety to your thank-you.

        Reply
  70. Eeether Eyether

    #2 I’m with you on jeans being uncomfortable. Jean skirts come in all colors and are a great substitute!! I have several.

    Reply
  71. OP4

    I just wanted to say thank you for the feedback here! I honestly felt a bit embarrassed after sending in my question, as I thought I’d be told that I was being entitled and that it wasn’t my place to give a manager a nudge after I referred someone so I now feel a bit more confident about doing so.

    Coincidentally, we’ve just received our annual employee feedback forms (they’re anonymous) and one of the questions is “how likely are you to recommend this as a place to work?” with the option to check a number from 1- 10 as well as a box to write in a statement with your reasons. I wonder if I could mention there that I’m unlikely to recommend it anymore due to lack of acknowledgement previous referrals have had (which is true, even though I think it’s a good place to work overall)? I know it probably won’t make a difference and it does seem petty since it’s anonymous but it’s funny to me to receive such as question today!

    Reply
  72. Jaybeetee

    For “team-building” activities, “gen” activities are preferable to specific or skilled activities. I. e. Day at the beach? Cool! Day at the beach with required volleyball? Not cool! (I’m personally someone who can burn by standing at a window too long, but even I like the beach).

    At OldJob, our most common activity was lunches out, at some larger restaurant with a lot of dining options. In our case, while we were a religiously diverse group, no one adhered strictly to halal or kosher or anything like that, so it worked for us. Beach Day, escape room, and bowling were other activities we did, albeit each of those had less enthusiasm.

    One big key is to discuss potential activities with your team, rather than just picking something. You also don’t want to make too big a deal of it if someone opts out for whatever reason. “Mandatory fun” isn’t really a thing, and if people feel forced to participate in something they can’t or don’t want to do, that’ll be counterproductive to your actual goals here. If most people show up and have a reasonably good time, that’s a win. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

    Reply
  73. Introvert

    #3: “I understand that teams who connect with each other beyond the basics of their role tend to be higher performing.”

    Then give your employees time and control to socialize on their own. Give them gift cards to restaurants and let them self-organize lunches with their co-workers. Give them the autonomy to take walks or other breaks together.

    Forced intermingling isn’t the key to higher performing teams.

    Reply
    1. Princess prissypants

      YES Forced intermingling isn’t the key to higher performing teams.

      Where did this ridiculous idea come from? All it’s ever done for me is lead to more intrusive questions.

      Reply
      1. JustaTech

        I think that a lot of people here have very different ideas of what is/could be a team-building activity.

        For some people it seems like it’s all trust falls and invasive poetry. For other people it’s on-site happy hour.

        I totally understand that a lot of formal team building is really bad. But what about standing around with the other wallflowers watching the bosses play giant Jenga? If there are snacks and beverages?

        I guess it depends on what the organizer wants to get out of the team building. Like, are they looking for the Band of Brothers? Or do they want you to know who those people on the 6th floor are? One of those things can be accomplished with the odd coffee cart and happy hour or lunch. The other, well, I guess that’s where the whitewater rafting comes in.

        Reply
        1. Princess prissypants

          Hm, I guess I would

          a) take the snack and drink, skip the jenga, and go back to my office
          b) talk to the people on the 6th floor when I need to work with them < this IS teambuilding, the rest isn't.
          c) always hit the coffee cart! and then go back to my office
          d) quit my job before going whitewater rafting with them

          Reply
  74. JM60

    “and to notice if someone is regularly opting out and talk with them about whether there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them to participate, if they want to.”

    As someone who regularly opts out of these activities, I completely disagree with this. If an event organizer confronts me about why I have been going to these events, that would make me wonder if they’re truly optional, and I’d feel pressure to go. I wouldn’t have much to say that would be useful for the organizer anyway. I’d just say something like, “This isn’t my type of thing,” followed by, “I don’t have anything in particular in mind” if asked what type of work ‘social’ activities I would be interested in.

    At most, I think you should give people the chance to give anonymous feedback, rather than confront those who have been opting out.

    Reply
  75. Sleeplesskj

    #3 golf outings are only problematic if you don’t open them up to every member of the staff (or at least the staff at the level you expect to invite.) Golf in and of itself is a perfectly reasonable activity.

    Reply
  76. Sleepytime Tea

    LW 3: I have found that the best option is diversity of events. Not everyone will want to do everything, and the key when you are having regular events is to make sure that you mix it up so that everyone will have something that they are interested in. My manager is amazing at this, and we have a couple of people on our team who come up with ideas, and then the whole team talks about them in a meeting. We have a diverse group of people and so there is no one-size-fits-all, but we have an event about once a month and no one is required to attend, and the turn out is actually usually quite great. Some things we’ve done:
    -Karaoke in a private room (turned into a power ballad sing-a-long which was pretty amazing, but no one was pressured to sing)
    -Dinner with a +1
    -Glass blowing to make Christmas ornaments (or glass orbs, however you want to put it)
    -Axe throwing (yes, my manager knows a guy who makes axes and you can throw them!)
    -Mini-golf
    -Happy hour
    -Trip to the zoo

    Ultimately not everyone came to each thing, either because they weren’t interested or they had a conflict, and that was not a big deal whatsoever. Making sure everyone knew that it was optional was important. And we hold them at different times of day. Sometimes we all leave a little early, sometimes it’s after regular work hours. Sometimes we hold it north of town and sometimes south, so that it accommodates people who don’t live close by and have a commute.

    I’ve never been on a team that gelled this well and had this level of participation socially. Sure part of it is the type of people my manager hires, but the group is incredibly diverse. All ages, physical capabilities, different demeanors, etc. And it works.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      I have found that the best option is diversity of events. Not everyone will want to do everything, and the key when you are having regular events is to make sure that you mix it up so that everyone will have something that they are interested in.

      Yes, this is a key.

      Reply
  77. LQ

    If hand eye coordination is a bonus you should really do some video game tournaments, the physical strain is way less, no mandatory specialty clothing and shoes, etc.

    But no one would suggest that because it is brutally boring if you don’t enjoy it. And if you are really really good and have to play with people who are bad it is painful. (Having been on both sides of that, it isn’t fun either way.) (Which is the same with golf and most other things like this.)

    Reply
    1. Princess prissypants

      Right. No matter how many times I said, “I don’t want to float trip with you; I will not enjoy it; I will not be good at it; you’ll have to stop and wait for me every ten minutes; I will be sunburned before we even take off; Yes, I’ve tried everything; No I absolutely do not enjoy it” it took me finally going, getting lost, getting found, still getting my boat two hours behind, getting hives from the terrible mosquito bites, and getting blistering sunburns for them to finally believe me that me going wasn’t “fun.” Same with lunchtime zumba, schmoozy golf trips with the boss, runs for charity, etc.

      Your fun is someone else’s torture.

      Reply
  78. Turanga Leela

    OP #2: Don’t know if this will work for your company, but I live in Eileen Fisher crepe pants. They are expensive, but they are incredibly comfortable; they feel like literal pajamas. And they just look like loose black pants. With a nice t-shirt and flats, they would look pretty casual.

    Reply
  79. amp2140

    LW #3, I will stand up for top-golf. To be clear, I hate traditional golf for all the typical reasons. My boss knew I was going to hate it and told me “yes, unfortunately, the team building is sportsball and it’s golf sportsball”. Top-golf was a total win for me. Staying in one place, bar and snacks, holes so big you could drive a truck into them… I haven’t golfed anything without a windmill and I wasn’t last.

    Reply
    1. Richard Hershberger

      For stuff that doesn’t actually have anything to do with my job, I am totally open to constructive incompetence. Mandatory golf? Let’s see what direction that ball goes! The club, too. Mandatory karaoke? You won’t enjoy it. I don’t mean “so bad it is good.” I mean monotone mumbling in the general direction of the microphone. If the physical layout allows it, there will be feedback. Soccer? If the ball goes near me, we will see how long can we spend retrieving the ball from God knows where. There are jobs where golfing actually is part of the job. That is different. But for BS stuff, I feel no obligation or shame.

      Reply
      1. LJay

        So you’ll go, participate, and ruin things for the people who are enjoying it rather than saying “no thanks, I’ll just watch” or actually giving it your best shot?

        That seems incredibly rude to your coworkers and counterproductive to building good reputations or good relationships at work.

        What are you hoping to accomplish with this?

        Like, I don’t like forced participation activities, and will opt out if I can. But purposely kicking other people’s ball into the woods or hurting their ears with feedback from a mic on purpose just seems mean, and would make me think a lot less of you if you were my coworker.

        Reply
  80. Ewesername

    We did a puzzle race last Friday that was really fun and was easy to engage everyone. We divided into teams that mixed the departments up and each team got a baggie with the pieces in it. Except some of the pieces belonged to another team and you had to figure out who had yours and barter with them to get yours back. There was also some clues to figure out because some of your pieces were hidden in the building somewhere. We did it in the afternoon before a long weekend- a day we’re not normally hugely productive.
    It was hugely successful because it included everyone – we have a deaf coworker, I’m mobility impaired, we have several people that English is their second/third language.

    Reply
  81. Girl Friday

    It’s interesting that Letter #1 hasn’t received more attention here. Alison said it so gently: She’s your boss. If she asks you to run errands for her, you run errands for her. Alison said “you can try pushing back in the moment once or twice…” but the big-picture advice might be: Having an attitude of “that’s not my job,” especially in a small company, will not serve you well in the long run.
    When your boss asks you to help, you help. It’s pretty simple, really.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hmmm, that’s not really my advice! My advice is that you can push back, and if she won’t budge you have to decide if you want the job under those terms. But that doesn’t make it okay to ask someone to do personal assistant tasks when they were hired to do data analysis.

      It’s fine to decide something isn’t your job and that it won’t help you professionally to do it; sometimes that’s the reality.

      Reply
  82. haley

    LW 3 – As someone who loves to plan offsites for my teams, this is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Avoiding physical activities and alcohol-based events is the most basic of ground rules, to me, for reasons that have been covered here already. Additionally it should take place entirely during the hours they would otherwise be working and it should be paid for entirely by the company. The things I’ve had the most success with are creative workshops – get the whole team together to learn pottery or make a terrarium or take a sewing class or something. People get a handmade item to take home, they learn a new skill, and they get to interact with their coworkers in a new way. Local artists and schools will often have packages for companies looking for team building exercises so it’s worth a shot to check those out.

    Reply
    1. voluptuousfire

      My work did “how to build a charcuterie board” and that was fun. It did involve wine/beer pairings but not everyone who was there drank. Overall it was very popular.

      Reply
      1. haley

        we have vegans on the team but there are some food based things that can definitely still work. i have my eye on a fermentation class.

        Reply
  83. Allison

    #2 – I wear dresses all year, so I’m in support of sticking with them! I’m often thinking about it more in the other direction — dressing up a casual dress with a necklace, belt, or cardigan — but you could do the opposite. Maybe try a simple dress (ex. the fit and flares from Land’s End, or something from Old Navy) with slip-ons or Keds, minimal jewellery, and either a really basic sweater or a jean jacket if it’s breezy? Or a t-shirt and a rounder skirt could feel more casual than, ex., a pencil skirt.

    Reply
  84. Matilda Jefferies

    Coming in very late here, but I want to share my favourite team-building story for OP3. I’m not normally a fan of this kind of activity, but there was one place I worked that did it really well! (Disclaimer, this is a government job, where there is never any budget for this sort of thing – potlucks are absolutely the norm in this culture.)

    The event was offsite at a local park, roughly from 10:00-2:30. Schedule went like this:
    *Arrive, set up potluck
    *Free time – some people brought cards and board games, others brought volleyball equipment or went for a walk in the park, lots of people just stayed around the campsite and chatted with their coworkers.
    *Lunch and cleanup
    *Baseball – anybody who wanted to play, played; anyone who didn’t want to play was encouraged to hang out on the sidelines and cheer.
    *Quick speech by the director – thanks for all your hard work this year, looking forward to next year, etc. 10 minutes max.
    *Pack up and go home.

    What made it great was that it was during the day, and attendance was encouraged but not required. It was very relaxed and informal, and there was a good mix of activities – everybody could participate in something, to their own degree of ability and interest. The opportunity to arrive late and leave early is not a bad thing either!

    Reply
  85. Bopper

    Events:

    We have had company picnics at an off site picnic/activity area.

    There is food (and you can request kosher/etc food) and there are organized games (from volleyball to ping pong), dances, water balloon toss, or you can sit in the pavilion and chat.

    Reply
  86. Rust1783

    To #3, I recently started a new job at a funding agency and we have a big retreat coming up. I learned that the
    “activity” we’re doing involves splitting up into groups and doing site visits at different organizations that we’ve funded. Not all of the staff does these types of site visits frequently, and nobody on our staff knows everything about every organization, so it will be a real learning opportunity as well as a way to connect more deeply with the work we do. It’s certainly more meaningful than a trip to a paint-your-own-pottery place or a golf outing.

    I know not every organization can do that kind of thing but maybe the answer is to identify a few nonprofits or community groups or arts organizations that align in SOME way with your work, and visit/volunteer at them, or organize a presentation by their staff. You don’t need to do trust falls or think up Jeopardy-style games or whatever for something like this to turn into a meaningful and authentic team-building opportunity.

    I don’t mean to sound haughty about this, but after having done this general type of service-themed team-building activity a couple times in previous jobs, I frankly don’t understand why groups do mystery rooms or picnics or table tennis tournaments at all, other than purely as optional weekend things.

    Reply
  87. Anon Anon Anon

    #3 – I would start by listing the goals for the activity. What effect do you want it to have on your team?

    From what I’ve seen, team building can be useful, but if it’s overdone, it can backfire. It can cross the line from professional to social in a way that creates problems. Or people just feel uncomfortable and don’t get much out of it.

    I’m a fan of professionally-related team building, and light activities that people generally enjoy or can opt out of without consequences. Is there anything kind of fun yet also work-related that you could do?

    Reply
  88. CanCan

    OP3 – this depends too on the size of the group.

    Our all-staff activities (there are 400+ of us) have been the following:
    – Awards breakfast (buffet-style breakfast at a rental events place, followed by speeches and awards).
    – Cruise along the river (somewhat connected with what our organization does) – took a few hours, there may have been a drink and a snack offered or not.
    – Everyone’s favourite: annual picnic at a local park. Included: volleyball (competitive: 15-20 teams initially, with subsequent quarter-, semi- and finals). Those who weren’t interested in playing (and there were a few, so they didn’t feel isolated) socialized. It was bring-your-own lunch, but the employer provided frozen desserts (dairy and non-dairy).

    Our smaller group events (~20 people, once a year around Christmas) are usually restaurant outings. If there’s anyone with particularly challenging dietary needs, that might be tricky, but run-of-the-mill food restrictions are easy to accommodate (e.g. vegan, gluten-free). Make sure to that everyone has a say in the choice of restaurant (e.g. ask if anyone has an issue with the top one or two choices).

    We’ve also done escape room and bowling, both of which worked well. There’s some movement involved, but not so much that our non-sporty 65-year old couldn’t participate. Again, you do have to check with the team before booking (and I wouldn’t consider it if someone has obvious disabilities that would preclude that).

    Also, activities should be optional, ideally paid by the employer (not always possible, but if not then make sure the cost is not prohibitive), done during office hours, and not too long.

    (IMHO, a couple of hours of golfing are not gender-discriminatory, as long as the company provides all the necessary equipment. I’m a woman, and I’ve only played golf twice, with an employer, and didn’t see anything gender-discriminatory about it. You don’t even need to know how to play in order to have fun – just hit the ball as many times as you need to. On the other hand, three days of golfing – or anything really! – that is just for huge enthusiasts. Golf may be an issue if you have people with physical mobility issues.)

    Reply

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