my employees held a party without asking or involving me

A reader writes:

My husband owns two companies and we are both very involved in the management of the businesses. The companies employ about 20 people. Company 1 invited all the employees in both businesses to a holiday party. This party was refused by all but one employee in company 2.

Without any consideration, company 2 decided to have holiday party during their lunch break. This took some planning and included a gift exchange, potluck, etc. No member of management, including the owner who was present at the time, was ever asked or invited to the party. No one asked us if it was okay to even host a party. Literally, the owner was sitting on the other side of the wall eating a sandwich when he realized a party was going on. He was not offered a plate of food or an invitation to sit with the staff or recognized in any way.

We only discovered this party at the time it took place. There were many attempts made to work out any scenario that would bring company 1 and company 2 staff together for our party. It’s usually a blast and everyone talks about how much fun the parties are years later. I feel offended and I think the staff was sneaky. I can only imagine all the things they are doing behind my back, too. I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners. What should I do now? Just forget it and move on? It’s done… not sure there is anything that I can do.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Coworker is pressuring us all to chip in more money for a gift to our boss
  • Holiday gift favoritism
  • Being fair about time off around the holidays
  • Gifts for employees

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. Rusty Shackelford*

    I can see both sides of the holiday party situation. Yes, I agree that I wouldn’t want to join with my boss’s other business; I’d want to have a party with people I know. But I also think it’s a little odd that they’d have a party without inviting the boss. It would be different if it were just one department throwing a department-only shindig. But a party for the whole office minus the boss feels wrong to me. Maybe he’s not normally (or predictably) in their office during lunch, since he owns two businesses, but I still would have popped in and invited him.

    1. Stabbity Tuesday*

      Totally get the wanting a separate party thing, but I feel like if I found out my employees didn’t want me around at all during a casual lunch potluck, or even just didn’t want to give me a heads up, I’d start to wonder if there was some kind of resentment. They don’t owe it to the owners to invite them, but it’s during lunch hours and on company property, it’s a bit weird to just not tell him.
      That said since the LW goes straight into accusations and “I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners”, maybe that ship has already sailed and LW and husband just didn’t notice.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That said since the LW goes straight into accusations and “I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners”, maybe that ship has already sailed and LW and husband just didn’t notice.

        Definitely a possibility…

        1. BubbleTea*

          What struck me is that there’s no indication that the LW even works there. She is getting all het up about this on behalf of her husband. Is she “very involved with the management” in the sense that she involves herself, or does she actually have a job where this stuff is in her remit?

          1. Mily*

            She reminds me of the stay at home wife of a surgeon I used to work for who very much thought she was also my boss.

      2. Observer*

        That said since the LW goes straight into accusations and “I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners”, maybe that ship has already sailed and LW and husband just didn’t notice.

        Highly likely, I’d say. Especially since they also seem to have an extremely controlling attitude about their employees.

        1. Observer*

          I seem to have messed up the tags.
          This part should not have been in the block

          Highly likely, I’d say. Especially since they also seem to have an extremely controlling attitude about their employees.

      3. Lady Meyneth*

        Eh, I wouldn’t want my boss on a casual holiday party either. I’d want to be able to be silly with my coworkers and not have to watch what I say in front of the business owner. It is a little rude not to invite him since he was right there, but I’ expect a boss to decline such an invitation unless they were extremely close with their staff. It’s not an official company party, after all.

        And yeah, the OP’s accusation got a strong side-eye from me.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I read this stuff and thought WOW: ” I feel offended and I think the staff was sneaky. I can only imagine all the things they are doing behind my back, too. I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners.”

          If the party is one of many examples of the employees being like this, then yes, the party is concerning. But if the party is one of very few examples, then I think the OP needs to think more about themselves and why they are so accusatory and upset, and less about the employees. Something is up either way, and it’s not good.

          1. Annony*

            The tone of the whole letter is a little weird. It seems like maybe the employees at company 2 are unhappy and the OP and her husband aren’t really willing to hear about it. First off, the “official” Christmas party is described as company 1’s party that company 2 was invited to. Second, the party is described as something that everyone enjoys and talks about for years but the fact that almost no one from company 2 wanted to go suggests that it is something that company 1 enjoys but company 2 was uninterested in. Third, how many people were even there? If management was not involved and there are only 20 employees between the two companies, it seems like this is very small party. Would they even have known that the owner was there that day? To me it seems like maybe the OP and her husband are not as involved in the day to day operations of company 2 as they seem to think.

          2. Hey Nonnie*

            I really wouldn’t read that much into a small, potluck party at all. I may be friend(ish) with my co-workers, but I definitely won’t be friend(ish) with my boss, because it’s impossible to have that kind of relationship with someone who ultimately controls my livelihood. Company holiday parties are not that fun, frankly, because it’s still a formal, work event. (cf. ALL those AAM letters about people getting drunk and in serious trouble at company holiday parties.) A more casual get-together would be more my speed, too, and I don’t feel like I need to ask permission just to hang with my co-workers. It was over lunch, so they weren’t abusing company time.

            This isn’t any kind of “pattern,” nor is it concerning; it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. The boss (or “boss”) getting actually offended by it makes me think that management… don’t really have a good grasp of professional norms or boundaries. I mean, Yikes, they sound like a nightmare to work for.

        2. Public Sector Manager*

          I agree. I manage a team of 20 and they absolutely don’t need me at every gathering, and it’s a nice perk for them to get together in the office without me being there. It sets a different dynamic when I’m in the room.

          I tend to get invited to the larger holiday office gatherings, and not the smaller gatherings. And even for the holiday ones, I always think of a reason to leave early so they can, as you put it, be silly with coworkers.

          I think the OP is taking things too personally and is probably the first one to say “but we’re a family!” when dealing with employee issues.

        3. Snuck*

          I dunno if it’s just me, but if you don’t want the boss to be at your party don’t hold it on his turf…. go somewhere else?

          1. Snuck*

            (And I mean this like “If you REALLY don’t want the boss to be there, if you EXPECT him not to come…” It’s not that you can’t hold events on the worksite, it’s that if you genuinely want to be free of management you don’t have any right to hold it on their turf. It is incredibly rude to hold a party and squat on someone else’s land! Now a good manager will show up for the official twenty minutes and then duck off leaving people to chatter, but if you are going to hold a unofficial Christmas party in his lunchroom then for heaven’s sake invite him and don’t make it awkward and difficult. And if you are holding ANY events on work grounds that are generally going to be considered “the Christmas Party” then don’t exclude people. Otherwise you are playing favourites. And before you say “but everyone can go to the other one, so this isn’t cutting anyone off” it’s obvious that everyone doesn’t want to go to the other, so to create an unofficial alternative and not invite one, three or 10% of the employees is to be playing favourites and dividing the workforce into some form of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ . Nope. I dunno. Maybe I’m just from another culture, but this totally wouldn’t wash with me. I’d be Very Unhappy to hear my employees had deliberately excluded people from an event held in the work premises. Go do it down the pub after hours if you want to pick and choose.

        4. Some Lady*

          Yeah, even with bosses who are lovely, it can change the dynamic to have them there for more social moments. As the people in charge you need to have the maturity to be okay with not being part of the group, because you’re not. Maybe there’s more going on here, but the tone of the letter thinks that maybe LW would benefit from focusing more on professional separation/not getting personal/not taking things personally since she’s so close to management. Employees and employers owe each other kindness but not social engagement.

      4. Lacey*

        Maybe they didn’t want to invite the owners because they’re the kind of people who jump to conclusions about people?

        1. SomehowIManage*

          Then they could get together offsite. Having a party onsite and excluding one person is rude and unprofessional.

          1. Jen in Oregon*

            He wasn’t the only one excluded; OP specifically said that he wasn’t when stating “no member from management, including my husband was included…” This doesn’t even sound like a party to me, it sounds like a slightly festive lunch.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            Agreed. I don’t think it’s at all unprofessional or cliquish for workers to want a party without the owner/boss around – the power dynamic inherent to the relationship can put a damper on it being a relaxed party even if the boss is great. I also don’t see an issue with planning an informal potluck during lunch without bothering to tell the boss.

            But IF they have the party in the office, everyone in the office should be invited. Including the boss. Not inviting someone to a party happening in their own building during their workday when everyone else is invited is a slap in the face no matter what position they have with the company.

          3. Mallory Janis Ian*

            “no member from management, including my husband was included…”

            I don’t think it was cliquish; it sounds like all them employees at the non-management level just had sort of a casually festive potluck thingy at a company where the owners did a party for company 1 but not for them.

            It does seem a little short-sighted collegiality-wise to not extend an impromptu invitation to the boss when he was discovered to be there; I’d feel awkward about that, and offering to include him even if he ends up declining is what I’d be inclined to do.

      5. Sacred Ground*

        Maybe it’s not so much a “closed clique” as it is a simple fact of business owners and business employees being actually different groups with different interests. A business owner can only expect so much personal closeness with an employee. The business relationship of boss/employee will always come before personal relationship of friends hanging out and partying. It’s not that they can’t coexist but the one will always come first. And that’s as it should be. Employers who forget that truth will mismanage their businesses.

        I obviously don’t know all the context, but it seems to me the employees are asserting this boundary in a way. Maybe they (not all, but enough) feel this boundary has been blurred? I mean, the OP really does seem to be taking this personally.

          1. Snuck*

            I don’t have an issue with the boss being part of a properly run Secret Santa – if everyone follows the rules, it’s genuinely secret etc, then why can’t the boss be part of it? It’s not like a person is directly gifting the boss (especially if you make it that the gifts are randomised before they go out, so not just ‘buy for this person’ but ‘buy a $5 gift and we’ll draw from the pile’)

            1. TardyTardis*

              I know, the old ‘steal this present’ party with a limit on steals is often quite fun (I remember an especially dramatic moment with the conga line and the bucket of Corona, though that was at a private house).

    2. Josh*

      It may be indicative of how that company’s culture is developing under their middle management, or it could also signal some potential negative feelings from that company if no one felt like they wanted the boss around. You say you are very involved in the running of the company, perhaps – and I do not say this as a dig or to be rude – you may be seen as a micro-manager. It might be tough for you to step away from a business that you’ve built and love getting “in to the weeds” as they say, but your employees may feel its too much. I could be wildly off-base, this just comes from a place of experience for me. Ultimately you could probably find out exactly what the sentiment is over there by having a skip meeting with a team lead and giving them as safe space to vent or express any reasons why they seem so closed off.

      Best of luck!

      1. Snuck*

        This is how I take this… as an indicator that there’s a mismatch in company culture somewhere. Between the two companies, between the owners and staff expectations and so on.

        I do feel that having a pot luck and not inviting the boss (who is eating a sandwich the other side of a sheet of plasterboard) is odd, and it wouldn’t have taken much for someone to stick their head around the corner and say “we’re having a little pot luck, come join us!”. This suggests that for some reason the staff didn’t feel comfortable to do that. Why not?

        Not going to the other business’ Christmas Party is a sure sign that there’s a need for each business to have their own observance of festivities. At least for now. Or host the two businesses at a neutral location – a restaurant or similar. I wonder if the two businesses are in competition with each other somehow, or in wildly different industries. Even if they aren’t in direct competition is there a culture of competition or one up manship or favouritism? I’d ponder that.

        Having a casual Christmas Potluck at lunchtime is fine, having secret Santa is fine, but not making any effort to go through all that planning and intentionally not invite the owner of the business feels sneaky. If he wasn’t there that day he’d never know? It would be different if it was a casual cake and $5 gift exchange as a nod to the lack of Christmas Party (and someone emailed the boss to say “hey, just so you know, we are doing this on Friday morning tea instead), but to do it secret squirrel, without ANY signs means that someone has made an effort to HIDE it from the boss. That speaks issues to me. Casual pot luck is fine, but if it’s being held at work, during work hours, and your boss is the only person not invited, there’s an issue. If you want to have a casual catch up with workmates and talk about things that the boss shouldn’t hear don’t do it at work, go down the pub and do it after hours. Lunch time is technically your time, but it’s at the boss’ premises… go somewhere else.

        As for whether the OP/wife is sticking her nose in… we don’t have enough information to know that. I’m leaning towards “this is a battle her husband should fight as the owner/manager of both businesses” but if she legitimately works across both, in more than a passing role, if she has business cards and a place in the org chart and is strategically involved, then she should consider with her husband how to fix this cultural problem. If she isn’t actually deeply involved in the business then let him sort it out. If this happened in our business I’d be sitting people down over a coffee and asking what was wrong, what they felt we needed to change and how we could improve the relationship. But then we’ve got the relationship with our employees where they can usually speak their mind about things… so why hasn’t this employer?

        1. Snuck*

          And the OP asks what to do?

          Put aside your personal feelings, nothing good will ever come out of dealing with this with personal feelings at play.

          Work out why Company 1 and Company 2 don’t want to mix. In that lies the answer to how to manage future events. Is it a different workforce? Competing priorities? Differences in (perceived?) favourtism? Is there wildly different staffing in each – professional levels, numbers of people, stages of life?

          Also ask yourself who found the Christmas Parties in previous years ‘really fun’ because that’s very different to the norm – most people HATE PASSIONATELY Christmas parties… so why was yours different? Is it just fun for some? Are you listening to a select few? Is it that one company found them fun and the other didn’t?

          Take a long look at the culture in both workplaces. Just because Company 2 did something unexpected this time doesn’t mean Company 1 is off the hook. Work out what is working, and what could work better. Not for you – but for your employees. Why did they go to such effort to organise a Pot luck and gift exchange and obviously make some effort to not tell anyone in management about it?

          And don’t go asking the employees about this until you’ve done some serious self searching. If you go in half cocked and emotional then you might inflame the situation. If you can work out the root of the problem great! If you can’t find one or two trusted (but realistic and honest!) staff and ask their advice. You mention sneaky and imagining all sorts of behind your back stuff. Stop that. That’s not going to help. Unless you have direct evidence of more, in which case, work out why your staff don’t feel they can be open and honest with you. Telling them to be so won’t work, because if they felt they could they would, so work out why they aren’t and fix the root cause. It’s usually not a lack of ability, it’s a lack of availability that stops this stuff.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            I think this is good advice. It’s not really about a party is it? It’s about why Company B employees don’t feel they could be open and honest about what they preferred, or to ask for a reasonable alternative. Why?

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I guess I’m at a large enough organization that a larger party with people I don’t know isn’t so unusual. Just socialize with those you know and feel comfortable with. But I do think it’s rude that they had a party during the work day on the business property and didn’t invite the management that was also there at that time. If they had a party off-site on their own time… no problem at all. Sounds like there was a big rift between workers and management and this was a “message” that had nothing to do with a joint party for both businesses TBH.

      1. jbouv*

        It sounds like they have had parties with both companies in the past, too, so it’s not like a new thing or like they’d not recognize anyone else. This plus not inviting the boss/owner who is literally right there, and I agree this is odd. I hate to say it, but I think Alison missed the mark here.

        1. Artemesia*

          I can see wanting to have a separate party if they felt invited to someone else’s party rather than it being their party BUT having it in the office on a work day and snubbing the owner who is there seems very hostile. If they don’t want to have everyone at work there, then have it Friday after work at the local bar. The problem is not the party but whatever mismanagement lead to people feeling hostile to the boss. I think this one missed the mark too.

          1. Blisskrieg*

            I agree with you and was picking through the comments to see if anyone expressed what you just did. It’s not so much that they had the party, but the fact that they did not invite the manager WHO WAS SITTING RIGHT THERE. I cannot imagine–from a human perspective, not a work perspective–having someone in the general vicinity and saying “hey, we planned a potluck today. Since you’re here today, won’t you come and join us? ”

            that really bothered me from a general manners perspective. Everyone has feelings, and as a manager I would not expect a special invite to an event, but I would be genuinely hurt to happen to be so close by and not offered to pull up a chair and have a plate. (Especially since it was pot luck–not an restaurant order where everyone has their own limited food).

        2. Annony*

          They had a potluck during their lunchbreak. If the owner does not normally eat lunch with them it really doesn’t seem that weird that he wasn’t invited.

          1. Marthooh*

            This is exactly it. They had a slightly more festive lunch together than they usually do. I’m gobsmacked that people think this is something to be offended over.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, me too. It may have been on company premises, but if they did it during their lunch hour, they didn’t do it on the clock.

              That said, I think Alison was spot on about the two companies not wanting to mix. Next year, organize a party for each company and you’ll probably have happier employees.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I don’t understand why they didn’t ask him over to participate once they noticed (if they did) that he was there, though. It doesn’t seem strange that he wasn’t initially included in a lower-level staff casual potluck, but for him to be sitting right there and not be asked to pull up a chair and get a plate seems awkward, rude, and hostile. It seems like somebody (or several somebodies) should have had the presence of mind to extend an impromptu, “Hey, won’t you join us?”

            1. KateM*

              If owner always eats in his own office during lunch break, I can see how the worker bees would think he really doesn’t want to join them.

        3. Nice Try, FBI*

          I don’t think the fact that you disagree with her means she missed the mark. I agreed with her completely. The entire tone of the letter is kinda off. My first thought when I read it was, I’m sensing why they didn’t invite him to the party. I think it’s a really weird takeaway, unless something else has been going on.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            I agree the owners feel… miffed, suspicious? And maybe too much so. But it’s not the party itself, but how it all felt rather secretive. Perhaps it is just over a stupid party, but this isn’t really totally normal behavior either.

      2. yala*

        In Normal Times, we have 2 Christmas parties. One is a potluck lunch that the whole library goes to, including the grandboss. There’s a dirty santa game, and usually acknowledgments for folks who’ve hit a milestone.

        Then there’s a smaller one, just for the downstairs (non-public-facing) folks. For that one folks just bring in small desserts/hors d’oeuvres/etc. It’s the last day before break, everyone’s pretty chill. We sit around the table and chat.

        Odds are good that management, or folks from other departments will mosey down at some point. We always greet them and offer them food. It’s our party, but we still all work together, and it’s in a reasonably public space.

        Now, last year, my department and some of their friends had an even smaller party that was just them. While it felt a bit rude to be the only member of my department not invited, at least they had it in a non-public space (an office).

        Having a staff party out in a public space and not at least acknowledging someone nearby and offering a plate just seems really rude and uncomfortable to me.

        1. SweetTooth*

          That still seems kind of rude, the kind of thing where they should perhaps have considered leaving the building to have. Office holiday parties should be open to everyone in whatever size area they are for (team, department, whole office), and personal friend gatherings should be a separate thing held on their own time in a different location. At least that’s how I feel about it!

        2. Silly Goose*

          Huh. My read was that the boss was on the other side of the wall, so I assumed they didn’t know he was there. I imagined it as a thing that came together over lunches rather than some form of ‘not inviting the boss’s because I’ve seen those happen. That said, if they saw him, they should have offered some snacks, etc

    4. whistle*

      I can’t imagine attending a work party and not inviting the owner who is literally sitting right there in view of the party. I’m sorry but that’s gotta sting. (I also think the OP is being weirdly dramatic and paranoid about it.)

      It reminds of this stats class I took in grad school. It was offered by the psychology department (not my department), and I was the only student who was not a first year psychology grad student. So of course I was an outsider, which was fine. They all knew each other and were navigating grad school together. Until one day someone brought in cupcakes and proceeded to go around the class offering cupcakes to each person one by one….except me. It was such an astounding display of cliqueshness I could really only laugh about it.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I work at a wonderful, supportive workplace, where we often collaborate across groups to serve our customers. The only two groups I struggle to work with are the psychologists and the behavioural scientists. They just don’t seem to engage with other people’s points of view.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        I would be tempted to bring in my own full mini-cake and proceed to quietly and absentmindedly snack on at the next class, partly because it would make me feel a little like Alice in Wonderland.

        In fact, I would be tempted to bring in fun, themed snacks like that for myself regularly.

        1. chi type*

          Or bring a dozen open it and very obviously set them out on your desk, eat one, then pack the rest back up and take them with you (presumably to your next class that’s NOT full of jerks).

      3. Artemesia*

        That is so gross it is hilarious. Years ago our AA who sucked up to the boss planned elaborate gifts and cake at a year end event to honor the boss’s birthday — someone said ‘hey it is Artemesia’s birthday too’ and so the AA grudgingly put my name on the corner of the cake and grudgingly announced my birthday. She then gave the boss a leather briefcase engraved with his name and presented me with a ‘gift’ which turned out to be a piece of faux fur with adhesive on the back that you stick on the floor of the car to protect the back of your high heel when driving. Like a dead tribble. It was so grotesque that everyone in the room burst into laughter — and that was the end of the suck up gifts to the boss who was actually embarrassed by the whole over the top thing. I assume my ‘gift’ was a freebie and I have never seen such an item before or since. Through decades and many moves I have kept it and it pops up every time I move and am going through stuff to throw and I laugh again.

        The cupcake is artistry though — everyone but you. I hope you were able to laugh out loud at the time.

      4. HoHumDrum*

        Wild* that someone could get that far in life and still not learn the very basic etiquette lesson most of us got in elementary school: if you have a special treat or invite for folks you either (privately) distribute them to less than half of the group or you give them to everybody.

        *I mean of course people do this, because people are ashholes. This is why it annoys me when people are dismissive of the “soft skills” early childhood educators spend time on in the school system, because imagine how much better the world would be if we cared half as much about kindness as we do achievement.

      5. Me*

        It doesn’t seem that the owner was in view of the party at all given the OP stating he was on the other side of the wall.

    5. Lynn*

      Same. And like, do company 1 and 2 even work together or do anything similar or is basically just two different groups that happen to have the same owner?

      I get weird vibes from this whole thing. I wonder if the root of the issue isn’t the party — the root is some weird social stuff between the employees of the two companies, and that manifested in some party weirdness.

      1. Artemesia*

        yeah — sounds like the real company and real party and you are ‘welcome to drive over to our party.’

        1. Annony*

          I also wonder if the employees of the two companies are different demographics and the party really only appeals to one. For example, if most of the employees at company 2 have small children and don’t want to hire a sitter for an evening party. Whatever it is, it only appealed to company 1 and then company 2 is blamed for not wanting to go which seems weird.

    6. Retired worker bee*

      “But a party for the whole office minus the boss feels wrong to me.”

      At one company that I worked for, I found out that they always had a holiday party. However, the owner gave us a memo in December stating that there wouldn’t be a party this year. Instead, the office would close one hour early on December 24 to give us time to make our own party. (At our own expense, of course.)

      So we planned to go to a bar. It never occurred to us to invite the owner. But as we were about to leave the office to go to the bar, the owner announced that two employees couldn’t leave, because they had to stay and work with him. Everyone got very upset. So those two stayed, and the rest of us got in the elevator. We didn’t say a word, but when we got to the ground floor, we all went our separate ways. We all knew that we didn’t want to have a party without those two co-workers.

      Now I’m wondering if the owner did that because we didn’t invite him to the party.

      1. SomehowIManage*

        It may have been malicious on the owner’s part. But since you didn’t invite him, is it possible that he assumed a party had not actually been scheduled?

        Anyway, this reminds me of the idea that you should invite your neighbors to your party so they don’t complain about the noise.

        1. Retired worker bee*

          The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the owner did not expect to be invited to the party. I mean, I found out when I started working there that they always had a holiday party. And then, we were told in December that there wouldn’t be a party, that we would be closing one hour early (as opposed to previous years when there was a party, when they closed on December 24 at the usual closing time) so that we could make our own party. Doesn’t that sound like an owner who decided that he doesn’t like holiday parties? Or that he doesn’t like paying for holiday parties?

          I really don’t know why he assumed that there wasn’t a party when he specifically told us that we would be closing an hour early so that we could have our party elsewhere. Even if he assumed that we weren’t planning a party, it still was awful that he insisted that two employees not leave at the time he had told us we could leave. At another job that I started in the month of September, we were specifically told that the office would be closed on Monday, December 31. On Friday, December 28, the owner decided that she wanted me to come in and work all day on December 31. Not the whole company, just me – doing data entry all day. After she had specifically told us that we would be closed that day. Luckily, a co-worker talked her out of it. I still think it’s crummy for an owner to announce ahead of time that the company will close early on a specific day – or not open at all – and then act as if he/she never said that.

    7. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I mean the LW is going a little off the deep end with the rabbit hole of “other things” and “cliques” but I do think it’s rude to exclude one person, who is physically present(!), while everyone else is just on the other side of the door, regardless of who it is. It’s just basic manners.

    8. Momma Bear*

      Re: the party, I was once working at a small business incubator. The incubator had multiple offices and decided to host some of their holiday parties for all the small businesses at a second location. The time/date/location was not particularly convenient for many of us, who used public transit, who had kids, etc. Not going was less about not wanting to participate but the logistics. It could be the same for the second company.

      Now, not inviting the owner is a little weird. That is something I would think about in the bigger picture. How integrated is he and does he need to be more involved/get to know the people better at C2? Are there other factors at play that feed into business there that need to be addressed? This is the part I’d be more worried about than the party itself. What factors lead to this behavior?

    9. Cat Tree*

      I think at a small company like that there is a false sense of closeness. If it was a much larger company and 8 or so people decided on their own to have an in-office lunch together, nobody would notice or care.

      Maybe it’s a little odd to specifically leave out 2 people, but since they split their time between companies they probably don’t have the same level of friendship that the employees have with each other.

    10. Koalafied*

      Yeah, mentally trying to imagine this situation playing out in different jobs I’ve held, it would have felt strange at larger companies where my boss was just middle-management and so he’s basically one of us with just slightly more authority, but I can see it playing out exactly this way at a smaller place where I worked, where the owner was basically off in his own world most of the time and only interacted with us to the extent that he needed to make official company announcements.

      The rest of the time he was in a back office or off-site doing, I guess, Big Cheese things, and the day-to-day management was left in the hands of assistant managers. He wouldn’t have ever been around when we were doing the planning and I would have probably assumed he didn’t give two poops about any kind of social activity with us, because if he wanted to socialize with us he could have come out of his office at literally any time to say hello and how’s it going today. If he doesn’t want to say hello to us the other 364 days a year, I would assume he didn’t want to say hello the other day, either.

    11. Roscoe*

      Yeah, this is what I was thinking.

      Like its one thing to just have your own party. But if your boss is there, you’d think you’d at least offer them some food or something. That, for me, is just rude. I don’t know that it says anything about them as employees, but in general, it just seems like bad manners.

    12. mediamaven*

      Yeah – it’s super rude when he’s actually there. That’s really not a smart way to build a relationship with the boss.

    13. Lora*

      Eh. A long long time ago I was working for a startup that had been recently purchased by a small local privately owned company that was similar in nature but not quite – the place I worked for sold third party lab and development services, the one that bought us was a distributor for the types of materials we tested / formulated / developed. Startup had always had a Xmas potluck, and we had some VERY good cooks who brought in all kinds of wonderful food: we had a crockpot full of one guy’s family paprikash recipe, my boss did wonderful chocolate things that were a cross between a cookie and a truffle, there were all kinds of yummy homemade salads, casseroles and breads. The previous owner who had become the general manager brought in platters of peel-and-eat shrimp, it was quite a smorgasbord for a potluck of 15 nerds. Previous owner told us to all wrap up our work and then take the rest of the afternoon off as a thank you for our hard work during the year.

      We found out later, at the same time, the other company had had their holiday party – which was paid for by the new owners as opposed to a potluck. The new owners got the cheapest ham sandwiches on soggy Wonder Bread, and one 2-L bottle of soda for 25-30 people to share. Apparently one of them heard loud talking and peeked in on us (we didn’t notice), saw the decorations that the admin had put up, the table covered in really good food with crockpots plugged in full of hot food, the trays of shrimp, the holiday cookies, the leftovers being packed up. After their hour of Moist Sandwiches, during which they were lectured at by their owner, they had to go back to work.

      Of course, the other company had no idea this was a potluck. They thought the owner had paid for our party too, and that we were getting some sort of favoritism. When my boss and the general manager were angrily, loudly informed by the owners that they had committed a terrible faux pas, my boss tried to explain that this was an employee-organized POTLUCK, and honestly, if Other Company wanted to join in the potluck and bring their own family recipes, that was fine! Honest! They were welcome to come over to our side of the building, or they could have their own potluck! Owners LOST IT and boss was in tears the rest of the week.

      The next year we had a new General Manager, who at least did a bit better than unnaturally moist sandwiches, but I think she probably paid for them out of her own pocket.

      1. Lizzo*

        Those owners sound like real turds. They screwed up their own party, and then needed to make other people feel worse than them so they didn’t feel/look as bad. #MiseryLovesCompany So gross and childish.

    14. Electric Pangolin*

      I’ve (pretty much accidentally) organized an everyone-but-the-boss potluck before. I came back from holiday and talked about the haul of delicious home-country food with my co-workers over break, and we decided then and there to have a bit of a tasting the next day. It never even occurred to me to invite the boss – who was lovely and I had an excellent relationship with – simply because he had a private office a bit off to the side and the dynamic was always that we went to see him, never the other way around (in the five years I was there, I think I saw him step into our cubicle farm twice). On the other hand, in the lab I worked in before that one, everyone had their own office and the whole group including the boss always went to lunch together, and there he was naturally included in any such get-together (a boss I liked much less, just to underline how little you can conclude from these circumstances…)

    15. Lunita*

      I think it’s a little odd as well that they didn’t invite the boss, mostly because it’s such a small office-two companies with only 20 total employees. Also, I can see not wanting blended parties, except that Company 1 did open it to everyone so if the companies are close by and maybe see each other in the same building it could make sense. That said, the end part of the letter does leave room for the possibility that LW hasn’t noticed things are awry. For the future LW or the owner could offer to arrange the party, thus making sure they are included.

  2. DE*

    Ummm not to mention THE CURRENT PANDEMIC that is happening. I wouldn’t want to intermingle with another company right now either.

            1. Urt*

              No, there isn’t. None of the three links are for the “employees held a party without asking or involving me”

              1. Koalafied*

                I’ll post the link in the next comment but since comments with URLs get held until manually approved, you can also find it by searching “We only discovered this party at the time it took place.” in the search box (with the quotations).

        1. yala*

          lol, my mind went there first too. I was like “Well, no WONDER OP is mad, folks having a party right now!”

    1. fhqwhgads*

      It literally says in the intro “where I am revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them)”

  3. Bob S.*

    It’s astounding how many business owners seem to confuse employees with serfs. These are people who have their own lives and the freedom to choose who they associate with during their breaks and off hours.

    1. Bostonian*

      But not offering food to someone who also works there and is present? That’s kind of rude. The rest is a bit overblown, though.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Yeah, I’m with you on that, Bostonian. People can associate with whomever they want, but if the entire office threw an onsite party with just the very obvious exception of one admin who wasn’t invited or even told, yeah, I’d consider that rude. Freedom of association not withstanding.

        I think this is in the same category. I don’t think that they should have to ask permission for the gathering. They are all adults. But it just seems like basic politeness to say, “Hey, we’ll save you a piece of cake.”

        1. Marthooh*

          No it is not in the same category! Excluding a coworker is not at all the same as excluding the boss.

          1. allathian*

            This. Excluding the boss should be fine. If a boss is invited to a party organized and paid for by the employees, the boss should attend if the schedule permits but make their excuses early.

      2. Observer*

        Yes. But actually not all that surprising. The OP is mad that they didn’t ask permission – I can see why a group would decide not to invite their boss if they expected to be reprimanded for not asking permission first. The OP is also mad that the boss wasn’t “recognized in any way”. I really don’t think that it’s that shocking that they were not interested in a party that’s actually a hommage to the boss. ESPECIALLY if the boss thinks that they need permission to make a party on their lunch hour.

        1. Lacey*

          Yeah. It’s on their lunch hour. And while it probably took some planning, it doesn’t sound like much more than, “Hey, who wants to bring dessert? Who wants to bring a salad? Should we have a sign up sheet?”

          Granted – in every company I’ve been at, bosses have been at these kinds of things. But, if this was my boss, I’d be looking for a moment away from them too.

        2. juliebulie*

          If I didn’t see Observer’s name up there, I would have thought I had written this myself. It’s not “sneaky” to have a party out in the open, and it’s not insubordinate to have the party during lunch.

          OP’s attitude also flies in the face of the philosophy that you gift down, not up. Even putting aside the religious aspects of the holiday, Christmas is not about recognizing the BOSS!

          1. Old Med Tech*

            I too got an odd feeling of entitlement from the boss’s wife. I posted down at the end about who pays for these parties. Maybe the employees are expected to chip in. Maybe the boss expects his employees to always share their food, but never provides any for his employees.

            If not then it is rude not to offer food to the boss.

        3. Mockingjay*

          Owner and Owner Wife might think the combined event is a great idea, but employees, not so much. I don’t blame them for wanting a separate party.

          As I read further about Owner Wife’s indignation, I kept picturing the scene from LOTR, when Galadriel is tempted by the Ring and declares: “All shall love me and despair!”

      3. Bob S.*

        As far as the letter writer indicates, the owner (ie. the guy who owns the business not someone who just “works there”) was in another room and already eating lunch. There’s no indication that the person actually showed his face at the party or interacts with the employees.

        The whole thing reads as the letter writer and his/her husband being a source of toxicity.

        1. CatWoman*

          I agree with Bob S. If this business owner had any actually connection with his employees, why wouldn’t he stick his head in the door and say, “Hey, is this a party?” yay! I’ll get some sodas from the machine!”, instead of sitting on the other side of the wall with his sad little sandwich, waiting for someone to “offer him” a plate of food?

          1. jbouv*

            If your entire office literally planned a lunch party w/o you, would you really pop your head in and join them? at an event they specifically excluded you from? boss or not that would be… I don’t know, but just doesn’t seem like something many people would do. Except to make a point maybe?

            1. CatWoman*

              I sure would, if I owned the company. But that goes back to my question of what type of connection there is between boss and employees. My feeling is that, if there is one, he would have know they were having a little office lunch and the situation wouldn’t exist.

              1. KateM*

                If there was one, he would maybe have a habit of eating his lunch in lunch room together with employees, in which case he would be naturally included in any lunch-time shared food.

      4. Le Sigh*

        The suspicious, paranoid tone of this letter suggests there’s a LOT more going on here than what is in the letter.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I think that’s where I’m at. If you are having a casual potluck type thing, then I think it would be polite to extend a simple “hey, feel free to grab a plate” type invitation to anyone else around (assuming there is enough food). But as the boss, I think the only reasonable response to that snub would be feeling a little put off and then moving on–certainly I think it would not be appropriate for the boss to outright say they should have invited him, that would just make things weird for everyone. But feeling so privately sounds reasonable.

        Extrapolating that out to think they might be doing other “sneaky” things though I think is definitely going too far. So I vote for: feel your feelings, be mildly irritated, then let it go and move on unless you see other different signs of inappropriate “cliquishness.”

    2. Ryn*

      Right? I can’t possible imagine why these employees would want time away from their boss and boss’s wife, who clearly think they are owed feudal tithings every time employees want to spend time together. /s

      1. Nice Try, FBI*

        It’s that same kind of attitude of people who think they should be thanked for giving me a job. I’m not a charity. I work; you pay me. I’m not going to thank you for it. My thanks is in the quality of the work I perform.

    3. Absurda*

      Yeah, the LWs attitude about her employees daring to do something on their own, at their expense, during lunch without asking for her blessing seems to me like the employees may have reason for not wanting to include the owners.

      Bosses, especially owners, tend to be quite separate (socially) from their employees so I’m wondering if boss really has the kind of relationship with his employees where they’d even think he’d want to attend.

      I’m reminded of one episode of MASH where Mjr Houlihan is having it out with her nurses and complains they never invite her in hang with them. They say, “we didn’t think you’d accept.” There was so much distance between boss (the Major) and the staff nurses that it never occurred to them that she’d want an invite.

      1. Salsa Verde*

        I recently saw that MASH episode too, and that’s a great analogy! Houlihan probably wouldn’t have accepted an invite to hang, but she’s upset that she’s never invited, and is punitive towards her nurses because of it.

        I can see that the LW sees this situation as one where the owner has invited the employees to a holiday party and the employees at C2 have rejected this offer, but many commenters have pointed out that the LW definitely indicates that this holiday part was not billed as a joint party but as a C1 party to which C2 employees were invited, and that is not the same.

  4. Legal Beagle*

    I work in litigation, so maybe we’re all just more mercenary, but I wonder if I’m the only one who would prefer the bottle of wine over the note from that final letter. Maybe I’m just super shallow, but honestly, gimme that wine and gift card!

    1. Lady Meyneth*

      I’d appretiate the card. But I’d definitely prefer to have the card along with a little gift, even if it’s something impersonal like a mug. And I’d value that mug a whole lot, because it’d bring the card to mind every time I used it.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I have no desire for mugs. I don’t drink coffee and I barely use the mugs I already have … most of which are gifts. I view a mug as something I don’t want or need, but now clutters up my cabinet because I can’t just throw it out.

        Now I’m not trying to say mugs are a terrible idea, but it is really hard to provide a gift that everyone will even appreciate

    2. yala*

      I think I’d rather the wine/gift card myself. I don’t know that I’d believe the sincerity of the note.

      I mean, I wouldn’t be *upset* to just get a note. But if there’s a choice between the two options…

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I’ve had bosses where the note would have been great, and other bosses where I would have rolled my eyes because I guarantee that the note was a) the same for all employees with a few minor tweaks and b) from some horrible management book that emphasized using the current buzzwords and would have been essentially company propaganda.

        1. Joielle*

          Totally agree. My spouse’s boss recently sent each direct report a little gift and note, which would be nice except the note was two sentences long and one of the sentences was a line from their company mission statement. (And the gift was that she had made a donation on everyone’s behalf to the Salvation Army, which is pretty inappropriate.) So…. it’s a good thought but there’s definitely a way to do it wrong.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Oh, wow. A donation to a charity is not a gift to me unless it’s a charity that *I* would donate to. Otherwise, you’re doing what you want and pretending it’s for me.

          2. Black Horse Dancing*

            I’d be royally PO’d at the Sally Ann donation. They have a strong history of anti gay/LGBTQ work and add in they are a church, I’d be seething.

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          And that’s the differentiation, right? It’s easy to tell when it’s a copy-paste note with minimal thought, and when it’s a truly thought out, meaningful note.

          Some of my past bosses I would have injured myself from how hard I would have rolled my eyes to get such a note. Other bosses, I would have been very touched.

          You really have to mean what’s in the note and otherwise be demonstrating good managerial practices & telling/showing your staff that they have value.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I agree but it depends on how well I liked the person writing the note and how personal it really is TBH. A boss basically giving me a performance review in a Hallmark card really wouldn’t be that special to me. But I’m also a little particular on wine and wouldn’t be thrilled with a 2-Buck-Chuck either.

    4. MistOrMister*

      I am personally not a fan of giving wine. But that is because I only like a select few types of wine and on the ocassions when someone has given me wine, it’s been a waste as it’s a kind I don’t like at all. Maybe I am more picky than most but I would stay away from wine unless you know the person likes that specific type, not just that you know they drink.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I don’t mind wine and I don’t drink at all. I regift it or keep it around the house and offer it when I have company over. It’s no big deal.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I just commented on a different post that as non-wine-drinkers we save up bottles that people give us and then we always have some on hand to bring as hostess gifts if we go to a dinner party or something.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            [Just to clarify, I know that wine is still not always a good gift as some people may not want to have alcohol in their house at all, just that if the only issue is that you don’t like a particular brand or type then it doesn’t have to go to waste!]

      2. Mockingjay*

        I don’t drink alcohol, but most people at work don’t know that, including my supervisor. (Not concealing it; it just never came up.) I would be irritated by a gift that I couldn’t enjoy.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’ve been given wine before, and I don’t drink, so then I had to try to figure out who to give it away to. Kind of a pain really.

      3. yala*

        I mean, I’d like to *get* wine, but I pretty much only give alcohol as a gift to my Dad and my stepbrothers, since I know what they like.

        Everyone that I know except for them is *picky* about what they drink (including me). And that’s with friends. I can’t imagine giving a coworker an alcohol as a gift unless it’s a conversation you’d specifically had with them.

    5. Usagi*

      Agreed! The note is nice, but I’d much rather receive a gift, even if it’s a generic umbrella gift that’s the same for everyone.

      I mean, that said, there’s also nothing stopping OP5 from doing both…?

    6. Ginger Baker*

      As an admin in BigLaw, there are very definitely Expectations and Guidelines around how much you should expect to receive from an attorney, depending on the level of attorney and how much you support them (so a $300 gift from a 3rd year you support would be Very Nice, but the same from a share partner would…have me quite upset and worried they were planning to fire me) – but it is a super specific industry thing for sure. That said, a note *with* that is very valued by me, provided it is sincere, and I more than likely will keep it and reread it a number of times over the years.

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      I hate that wine is a go-to present. Nothing against giving it to people who enjoy it – just that it’s often used as a generic “anyone will like this!” gift. I don’t like wine. No one in my household drinks, most of my friends/family don’t drink (and those who do don’t like wine), so I don’t have anyone to fob it off on even.

      If you know the recipient likes wine, it’s a fine gift. But if you don’t know for sure, don’t give it! A gift card would be nicer.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Right! I’m a non-drinker, but I’m not clean&sober and I don’t abstain, I just don’t like most alcohols and I can’t drink the few I do like because they should not be combined with a medication I take. People have a hard time with this distinction.

  5. NQ*

    It might depend on the amount of hierarchy in the organization, but I totally agree with the employees holding a party like that as being okay. We did this kind of thing somewhere I used to work. Wouldn’t ever have considered asking the boss along; he didn’t consider himself socially on our level at all. However, the one time he saw us with a tray of cakes for Cake Friday, we did offer him one and explain the Cake Friday concept. I think he declined.

    1. Campfire Raccoon*


      People get all sorts of wrapped up in expectations and nostalgia it’s a perfect storm for being butt-hurt.

  6. employment lawyah*

    A party where they choose not to invite you is not a party where you would want to attend.

    It sounds like you may have a different idea of your relationship than they do. This isn’t bad, but you may want to step back and think about it.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Ding, ding, ding. Winner.

      I am betting she touts the whole “we are like faaaaaaamily” line with employees. But then wants the Boss honored at the employee party. And complains about cliques. With a tinge of resentment that Company 2 prefers their own party to the one SHE puts on at Company 1’s location that everyone says is a blast.

      1. employment lawyah*


        When my very-close-friend-at-work-but-not-outside-work employee got engaged, I saved her the awkwardness (after heartfelt congratulations) by saying “look, I’m just going to say it: Do not invite me to your wedding. Who wants their boss at their wedding? I sure didn’t, and you don’t either. Besides, what if I get drunk and dance on a table; I will never live it down! Do not invite me. I do, however, reserve the right to send a present.”

        And then there was a dinner celebration of the engagement! With me…. providing the authorization to do it on the firm credit card. And which I ALSO did not attend, nor offer to attend. Because again, who wants to make moony eyes at their new fiance with their boss there, or “celebrate an engagement” with their %^$#! boss?

        It is really not so hard, people. Friends = good. Best buds = weird. Family = wrong.

  7. Quickbeam*

    From my point of view, Please don’t give alcohol as gifts. I don’t drink at all and I cannot tell you how many bottles of wine/spirits I’ve been handed with a bow over the years. My current company alwasy did that until I complained and now they get me a case of root beer every year. Lots of peopel do not drink for addiction or religious reasons.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Adding to this as someone who does drink – I have a cupboard full of gifted wine I will probably never drink. Unless it’s a wine you know they love, that bottle is probably going to gather dust or be re-gifted.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I don’t gift and just regift wine or bring it out when I have guest over. I think it works fine for me, though I understand that if someone has an addiction problem or doesn’t even want it in the house for religious reasons.

        Otherwise, it’s just a thing. Whatever. I regift.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’m a non-drinker and I love receiving alcohol – it’s super-easy to re-gift, and always very much appreciated by those I re-gift it to. I don’t understand what the problem is unless someone is a recovering alcoholic and might be tempted.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Not everyone finds it that easy to regift. It probably depends on whether someone has friends and/or family who like wine.

      2. Adultiest Adult*

        Several problems, in no particular order. I don’t drink alcohol, so I don’t gift alcohol. All the people I know who do, have very particular tastes that I know very little about and probably wouldn’t get right. I take 2 trains to get to work and would curse the name of whoever thought that lugging a bottle of wine in addition to my usual work stuff would go well with that. It would take up limited space in my house after I managed to get it home until I figured out how to get rid of it. And depending on how it was given, it’s not like I could just park it in the break room and say “free” like I do with other miscellaneous things I have no use for. All in all, I am lucky that I work in an organization that would consider a gift of alcohol in very poor taste (and no, it’s not religiously based.) I will take chocolate or that note any time. Alcohol is not a universally appreciated gift.

      3. inksmith*

        I want my gift to be something I can enjoy, not something I have to give to someone else? Because then I don’t have a gift, and sure, not every gift is going to be exactly what people want, but there are people who always give wine and it’s like never getting a gift in that case.

    3. Bilateralrope*

      I’ve got two reasons why I don’t drink. The reason I tell people is a medical reason. That’s the reason they accept easily.

      But I wasn’t touching alcohol for quite a few years before that. I just can’t stand the taste of alcohol. Well, I can taste the same thing in every single alcoholic drink I’ve tried and I don’t like that specific taste.

      Though I have had one client give me a bottle of wine as a Christmas gift. Even though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t drink for religious reasons and I know he doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

    4. Nice Try, FBI*

      I don’t like receiving alcohol (or any beverages, really) because I’m picky about what I drink. There are only a few types of wine I like, and I’m even pickier about beer and liquor. Don’t get me started on soft drinks and food (a few severe allergies). Yes, I can re-gift it, but, unless you’ve been out with me and know my preferences, don’t gift me any food or drink.

    5. Applecake*

      The issue here is that there really isn’t any gift you can give everyone that will be welcome by everyone.

      I don’t drink and hate when people know I don’t drink and gift me alcohol. But for random but everyone options I get that it is easy option.

  8. SomebodyElse*

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s a little weird though not to invite the owner/boss who is literally sitting on the other side of the wall. It would be just as weird to not invite the admin, or the warehouse guy, or any other person who works out of the same office.

    I can’t say I’m bothered about not inviting the other office, that makes sense in that they aren’t working together day to day. But yeah, I’d be head-tilting in this situation.

    I think that’s what the root of the issue was for the LW.

    1. CatCat*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily weird for it to be staff-level only. Having the boss there can sometimes suck the fun out of an event, honestly.

      I do think it’s a little weird he was unaware it was going to happen until it was happening, but it sounds like a pretty informal affair with a lot of people pitching in a little. In that situation, it can easily slip through the cracks that someone should mention “hey, just so you don’t wonder where folks are, staff will be using the breakroom for a little staff-only holiday gathering for an hour on Tuesday”

    2. yala*

      No, I feel the same way.

      I dunno, having a Very Obvious Party right by someone else and not even acknowledging them just feels rude.

    3. DaniCalifornia*

      Nope, I thought it was weird and if anything unkind. It sounds like the boss/LW tried to have one big party with both companies and Company 2 didn’t really want that. Company 2 should have just said “No thanks, we’d rather have our own holiday party, here is when/how we’re going to do it.” To not invite a boss who is literally right there is not right esp in such a small environment.

    4. KateM*

      I think it is really weird to make workers of one business party with workers of an unrelated-to-them business just because these businesses have the same owner. Feels like owner wanted to be cheap and do just one party instead of one?

      1. jbouv*

        It’s 20 people total, so 10 at each company. One party for 20 vs 2 for 10 seems pretty fine/normal to me. AND they’ve combined them in the past with both companies attending, so it’s not like they haven’t met each other before. These are not some big large corporations where it’s be 100s of people.

        1. justcourt*

          I don’t think it’s really a point in the owner’s favor that the two groups of employees have met at a previous combined party. Someone that you met once a year before is still a stranger, just slightly less of a stranger than some random guy off the street, but only barely.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      You’re not the only one – I thought it was weird, too. Not the holding their own party or planning it themselves or even not inviting the owner/management, but saying nothing about it at all was odd.

      Several of our departments host a pot-luck or mini-get-together around the holidays (in normal times, not this year), and they always give their boss a heads up and confirm that the during-work-hours time is fine for the whole staff to be otherwise occupied. It’s pretty standard for the boss to provide phone/mailbox coverage during these parties so the staff can all enjoy themselves, too.

    6. juliebulie*

      It did seem a little weird to me, but then I don’t know the owner/boss. He might be an ass.

    7. boo bot*

      I guess I’m not entirely certain that he was deliberately not invited? A potluck during lunch with a gift exchange could be a !Party! but it could also be a pretty subdued affair. There’s food, it’s in the break room, maybe the boss has his door shut or looks busy and everyone figures he’ll come out if he feels like it.

      If I were a boss in this situation, I’d probably go wish them a happy lunch or whatever, it would feel weird to wait for someone to come to me with an invitation or a plate of food. And if I were one of the workers at the party and I saw the boss eating a sandwich in his office, I’d probably assume he didn’t want to come.

      That said, other elements in the letter suggest that there might be existing tension with management, so who knows.

    8. Paris Geller*

      I find it rude, but not to the extent that I would fear the employees are plotting behind the owner’s back.

    9. tiny cactus*

      I think it really depends on the boss. For me it does seem a bit weird, but my bosses have always had a friendly relationship with the rest of the staff. The vibe I get from this letter is that the owner expects a weirdly subservient attitude from the employees, which might be why they didn’t want to invite him.

  9. CatCat*

    I feel like it’s quite a leap to go from “staff-level only potluck in the breakroom” to imagining “all the things they are doing behind my back.” Yikes.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Yeah, that’s where I land. I think it’s a rude to have a private party on company property and not invite everyone present at the time (at least if it singles out only one or two people), but the LW really goes from 0 to 60 there.

      1. KHB*

        …and that kind of disposition may have something to do with why the employees wanted to have a party that included everyone except the bosses.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      To me it’s because they offered a company-paid party and everyone declined, and then had their own party on company property. That IS a message. If the company hadn’t offered a party and then the workers organized their own, it would be a big leap to assume there is a rift.

      1. Black Horse Dancing*

        Eh. Maybe the offered party was not during work hours or at a restaurant that people are weary of/dislike or maybe they just want a company one party. I was thinking it was in the evening and people often just don’t want to go after work.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        The party offered was with a different company though. I don’t think it’s a rift if you don’t want your holiday party to have people you don’t work with just because your boss also happens to pay them.

      3. disagree*

        But … it wasnt their company that was hosting the party. Its not unreasonable to want to keep your celebrations to your coworkers.

    3. Nice Try, FBI*

      Yep. If the letter writer had expressed feeling hurt or left out, I could totally understand that. But to make a leap to them plotting and being sneaky is a little much.

  10. alexmegami*

    I’d avoid alcohol as a gift generally; even if your employees don’t have an issue with it personally, they may live with someone who has problems with alcohol, may not be drinking for medical reasons, etc.

    1. Nice Try, FBI*

      I think it depends on the culture and how well you know each other. My workplace does happy hours (when we’re not in a pandemic), so I know who drinks, who doesn’t, and for the most part who drinks what. I’d happily buy a bottle of vodka or wine for someone whose preferences I know. I would not, however, buy it for someone without knowing this information.

  11. yala*

    I dunno, I feel like having someone being *right there* and not offering them a plate is a little rude.

    Granted, I say this as someone whose coworkers have frequently had Social Lunches directly outside of my cubicle, and not acknowledged me in any way. It’s a little different, since that includes our manager, but it’s still, like. Really Uncomfortable? It sends a message.

    I dunno, it just feels weird to me to do this without an ok, but then, I pretty much always wind up regretting not running things past a higher up before doing them.

    1. Alice*

      I get that maybe they should have offered a plate to the boss if he was in. However, it was on their lunch hour; I don’t think there is any need to run past everyone bringing a dish and have lunch together one day past anyone.

      Years ago I worked in an office where there was quite a split between in office staff and the bosses who were often out at meetings. We, almost monthly, had a staff potluck and never explicitly invited bosses. Everyone just brought a dish and it was on our lunch hour (possibly with the exception of the Thanksgiving one, which was my favorite day of the year at that office). If one of the bosses happened to be in or came by the staff room we of course offered them a plate, but they were never included in the planning of it. These were also not official office parties (which management planned), just something fun staff liked to do once a month or so.

    2. Nice Try, FBI*

      I worked in a small office once where everyone would go to lunch without inviting me. They’d be talking about where they were going to go all morning and walk right past my office. This wasn’t a different levels thing either. I was in management, and the group was management plus employees. It made me feel like I was back in school not being picked for kickball or something – rude and petty.

      However, I think this letter writer is taking a leap by thinking the employees are being sneaky.

  12. Lala762*

    I don’t think it’s weird at all for a small office of co-workers to want to have a group/team holiday lunch.
    It’s on their own time and as they’re so inclined.
    Someone else suggested thinking about why you might not be invited – owner – and that’s a great point.
    I also think it’s entirely possible they wanted to get a little silly without the boss/owner in attendance, and that’s OK too!
    Please DO NOT make this a thing.

  13. D3*

    My guess is they didn’t invite the boss because they knew the boss would whine about how they HAD a party and didn’t go. Inviting company 2 to the company 2’s party was incredibly tone deaf and showed the employees of company 2 the boss doesn’t view them as worthy of their own party. So why would they want them at the party they had to put on themselves?
    You own two companies, you do two parties. You cut corners and it backfired.

    1. agree*

      There are some serious power dynamics here, and a lot of people are ingoring them. When your boss owns multiple businesses it isnt usually that hard to figure out which business he favours and gets the best of his resources. Not super surprising to me rhat employees dont want to celebrate with the other company.

  14. Green great dragon*

    Arranging holiday cover by seniority sounds fine for one year but definitely feels like something that should be tracked across years, even with turnover. Fine for the new guy to be stuck with it one year, but not great if they get stuck with it the next year as well because too few new people have joined to cover the minimum.

    I’m guessing seniority here is length of time served – I would personally be inclined to go with the most senior person who hasn’t done coverage for the last x years gets stuck with it, but views may differ.

    1. Jellyfish*

      Agreed. I used to work for a company that required 24/7 coverage, and I thought they handled holidays quite well. First, they asked for volunteers. A couple people reliably wanted the holiday pay or had a different family schedule anyway.

      They made sure that no one covered more than one winter holiday, so if you worked Thanksgiving for example, then you were guaranteed to have Christmas and New Years Day off. That also led to some people volunteering to work one holiday in order to have their preferred two off.

      The company also kept the prior year’s schedule so anyone who worked Thanksgiving in 2014 would be sure to have it off in 2015 (unless they volunteered of course.) With those considerations, the longer PTO breaks centered around holidays were a bit easier to negotiate.

      1. whistle*

        That sounds very similar to how it was handled at the hospital where my mom as an RN for 40 years. She always seemed happy with the system.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        My mom is also a nurse at a hospital and this is how it works for her too. She happily works Thanksgiving every year to be guaranteed Christmas off. I think she gets time and a half too, so that’s an extra happy day for her!

      3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I once had a roommate who worked in a call center with similar rules. It wasn’t quite 24/7, but Christmas Day was the only winter holiday they closed for. Since she was Jewish, she always volunteered to work the Christmas Eve shift, and in exchange was able to arrange to always have Thanksgiving Day off.

        Letting people who volunteer to cover one undesirable shift be guaranteed to get another undesirable shift off can work really well in these sorts of circumstances.

    2. whistle*

      Yes, absolutely! The people who get the week off one year go to the back of the line the next year. Unless the company actually has 100% turnover, even high turnover companies are going to have some long-timers and they will end up being the only people who qualify to get this time off.

    3. KayDeeAye*

      One of my relatives is Canadian, and (before she had American children), she used to volunteer to work Thanksgiving, the reason being that Canadian Thanksgiving is in October instead of November, so the November Thanksgiving just wasn’t that special for her.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      My father told me the story of his government job. Seniority ruled for holidays off, so my Dad always got Christmas off. The second most senior guy complained and complained, because he never got time off. So they changed the rules, saying that 2nd senior guy got the next Christmas off. Then my father retired, so the second most senior guy was now senior, and again didn’t get Christmas off (not sure why they didn’t realize it was a new senior guy and adjust, but my Dad thought it was pretty funny and ironic).

    5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes, very similar to my experience. Everyone’s expected to work one of the unfavoured days, and you specify if you have a preference (eg if you’re going out of town or want to coordinate with your partner).

      Equally, though, the workdays are shorter (say 9ish-4ish with two hours for lunch) and easier (maybe polish off something overdue if you feel like it, but mostly just be available in case something lands unexpectedly) and you’re credited for the full day. I liked Alison’s suggestion of getting lunch or snacks paid for. I think this all helps to get volunteers to cover the entire period without needing to force anyone. Obviously it would be different for a 24/7/365 workplace like a hospital or power station.

    6. Snuck*

      I’m really glad to see Alison has spelt out “how” to do holidays and done it so well.

      It’s not rocket science but people often mess it up.

      Another option could be that while you allow seniority to dictate at some level, you can also require a certain level of seniority on the floor for each roster/shift.

      In Australia the Christmas/New Years are prime picking for holidays due to all the public (bank) holidays resulting in using three or four days annual leave (PTO) to get the equivalent of nearly two weeks off usually. I used to resent people who would demand it because they had kids, I needed that because I was living across the country and needed time to fly home and see my family too (and all our birthdays fell around that time so it was a big family time). It shouldn’t be based purely on who has kids, or long distances to travel, but be more fair and equitable. Splitting Thanksgiving and Christmas seems good – Australia doesn’t have a nice month gap between events though, so this leaves me pondering alternatives…. It’s fairly common for businesses just to shut down around 20 Dec and reopen around 6 Jan unless they are retail, and many local shire councils and small government departments, universities (and schools are shut obviously mid Dec ot end of Jan), and things like engineering and architecture firms or even small local doctors offices to shut as well. Another solution to some of this is to think about whether there is actual benefit to you being there, open, or whether it’s a good time to give everyone some leave…?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, I agree. Got horrible memories of the manager who would never allow you to book time off near the holidays unless you had children. Didn’t stay in that firm long.

        1. Snuck*

          It was tricky because while the average Aussie gets four weeks annual leave, the summer holidays are six or eight weeks, plus another six through the year between terms… so there is a need for kid care. It makes sense to let parents take as much of this as they can, also many child care options dry up at this time, but why does one persons need consistently override another’s? Share that leave opportunity around a little! (And I say this as a person who has two children who cannot be put into child care or holiday programs and must be cared for by a parent or a reasonably qualified nanny type person, so it’s expensive and difficult.)

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, if you go that route then I think you need to consider both: 1) seniority AND 2) who has got to have that time off in the past. Obviously the first year you implement that it isn’t so much an issue, but something to keep in mind in future years.

  15. TurquoiseCow*

    Since the owner owns two companies, maybe he’s not on site at this particular location every day and is dividing his time, so the employees didn’t know he would be there that day. They decided to have a gift exchange and bring in food to share and didn’t include him, maybe because he wasn’t present when the planning was going on, maybe because he wasn’t expected to be in the office on the day it happened, or maybe they just didn’t think he’d want to socialize with the little people.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, but it takes two minutes to walk over and say, “Hi, Bob! We didn’t realize you’d be on site today, and we’re having some lunch in the break room. Would you like to fix yourself a plate? Jane made her famous pineapple-upside-down cake, and it’s delicious.” Problem averted. He’s welcome to decline to socialize or say, “Thanks, but I already got a sandwich — enjoy yourselves!”. The totally ignoring the owner is socially awkward, at best.

      But I’m Southern, and the compulsion to offer people food is genetic.

    2. Snuck*

      There’s a lot of people commenting about some kind of class distinction between management and employees. While gifts flow down (not up) and management should contribute more than employees for end of year celebrations are Good Ideas, the idea that a bunch of staff can deliberately exclude all the management from a planned event without even a whisper to them – the idea that this is ‘normal’ just smacks of classism to me. If you want to claim an “us and them” mentality exists and is unfair, then you shouldn’t promote it! Break down the barriers, don’t assume someone won’t break bread with you because of their pay bracket, and remember even Jesus ate with the Tax Collectors and Pharisees.

      Assuming someone doesn’t want to be part of a pot luck and not inviting them denies them the choice to show whether they do or do not want to be there. You are then firmly placing them into a basket of your own making, and denying them a chance to show you otherwise. If you do this in many subtle social ways you can’t really claim annoyance at any time that they are ‘above you’ because you have knowingly placed them on a pedestal yourself. Now… if you invite them, and they say something snooty back “Why would I join YOU?” Or “I don’t like PotLuck I only eat gourmet crunchy organic duck skin sandwiches imported from France” Then sure… knock that pedestal out… But don’t blame them for being separate if you don’t invite them in!

  16. NoFunAllowed*

    LOL compare the Xmas party Q with the jealous wife losing her mind over a Bday cake from a couple days ago.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I don’t know. I thought it was odd to ask the wife for her husband’s favorite dessert and not invite her.

      Whereas co-workers having a festive lunch together seems like no biggie.

  17. Mary*

    IMO it would have been in good form for the highest-ranking person in the office to formally invite the boss to the potluck, if not the gift exchange. When you’re dealing with only 10 people in the whole company and you’re the 1 of 10 that’s been excluded, that’s got to sting, and feel oddly personal.

  18. jbouv*

    I disagree a little with the “Holiday gift favoritism”, too. Yes, people can form friendships and do things that don’t include the whole office. I agree with that, BUT to do their gift exchanges at the office? where everyone can see? that seems rude.

    1. Sleepy*

      I agree with this. If you’re close enough to purchase gifts, you’re close enough to arrange to do it at an offsite lunch or happy hour.

    2. Haha Lala*

      Yeah, but if one of those people is a manager of the others, then you still have the weirdness of the managing getting gifts for some employees and not others… But I guess that’s another reasons for managers and their reports not being normal ‘friends’ outside of work.

    3. Roscoe*

      I don’t know. I think if its a whole “gift exchange” production, I may agree. But if a few people just bring in gifts for their friends, I don’t see the issue. Again, we are adults, not children where everyone needs to get the same thing. Now, if this was like the party, and it was literally everyone except one person, I may think that was an issue. But a few people bringing gifts for their work friends is fine.

  19. Jennifer*

    Well, it sounds like there may be some animosity there between the two companies and 2 just wanted to celebrate on their own. I think a better tactic would be to tell find out what’s going on between the two companies instead of taking it as an insult.

  20. RMNPgirl*

    As someone who works in healthcare, I just never get the drama around working around/during the holidays. Everywhere I’ve been has always done a rotation so you’re usually only working on the holiday itself every few years and then time off is the same way. If someone had Christmas Eve off last year, they won’t get it off this year unless no one else requests it. Maybe it’s different because generally people going into healthcare understand it’s 24/7/365, but I think the idea of rotating holiday time off can be expanded to almost any field.

    1. noahwynn*

      Same, but I was a paramedic all through college, so was used to rotating holiday. We also would bid to determine which of the holiday time we received off each year. My family does a get-together on Christmas Eve so that’s more important to me than Christmas Day. My coworker has kids, so maybe it is more important for them to have Christmas Day off. Another coworker’s anniversary is New Year’s Eve, so he always puts that as his #1 choice for time off. Some people want to work all the holidays for the extra pay. There are just so many ways to split it up as long as people recognize they’ll have to work at least some of the holidays.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s different because those in healthcare or even in assigned shiftwork fields know what the score is going in. Offices tend to vary a lot more by culture, vacation time, how much business actually takes place around the holidays, etc. Some can close down between Christmas and New Years for a whole company holiday (and I dream of working at such a place).

      I also tend to have a lot of fresh college graduates who are not accustomed to not having 2-4 weeks off between December and January and even just getting Christmas Eve/Day off and nothing more is tough for some of them. In my office, people are also project-assigned, so one project may be dead over the holidays and not require any staffing, and others may be hot and heavy so those assigned to it are needed in the office more (and we can’t always plug in different people based on client staffing/billing requirements or institutional knowledge). We try very, very hard to keep things fair and give as much advance notice about holiday-adjacent deadlines, including giving compensatory vacation days to people who work high-demand times. There is still always at least one very unhappy person every year.

  21. I'm just here for the cats*

    I have to disagree a bit for LW1. They should have invited the owner or it they were unsure if he was going to be onsite that day, at least invite him at the time. I can’t imagine having a potluck with everyone and the boss sitting alone eating a sandwich. I do think that was odd and tacky, but not to the point that anything needs to be done.

  22. Phil*

    Re: Time off at the holidays: I used to be in a business that recognized that the time between Christmas and New Year’s was DEAD-the music/record business-and we got the week off with pay. I mean, no work is getting done so why not?

    1. londonedit*

      It’s the same in my industry (publishing). Historically, when most books were still printed in the UK, the printers would all shut down between Christmas and New Year, so it became tradition for publishers to close as well. Everywhere I’ve worked has shut down between Christmas and New Year – I’ve had jobs where you get fewer annual leave days but you don’t have to take any holiday for the shutdown (so say you’d get 20 days but in effect 23.5 because the office would close at lunchtime on Christmas Eve and wouldn’t reopen until the first working day in January), I’ve had jobs where you get say 25 days’ leave but you have to save 3.5 for the Christmas break (even though the office is closed), and I’ve had magic jobs where you get 25 days’ holiday and also get the whole Christmas break off without having to use your own holiday.

  23. Ginger Baker*

    Note on typo/ format: The third question is missing the “Green responds:” and it makes it a bit hard for a moment to figure out where the letter ends, just wanted to flag that for Alison.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Odd — I see it there. Inc. has been having some strange tech stuff happening — if you see that again, will you screenshot it for me so I can send it to them?

  24. wait what*

    > becoming a closed clique with horrible manners

    This part is weird to me. Is it the company’s responsibility to teach manners? Sure, be concerned if it seems like a new hire would be alienated and try to squash that based on alienating actions, but focusing on the manners of the act is odd.

  25. AngryOwl*

    Not inviting the owner that was literally *right there* in hearing distance of the party is odd. Not evil or nefarious, just…odd.

    That said, the reaction to it—what else are they pulling, bad manners (??!!), etc. is even odder and speaks to some possible toxicity.

      1. noahwynn*

        That was exactly my thought. It is rude and odd to leave out someone who was there. I wouldn’t explicitly invite the CEO to a department potluck, but if he walked through I would offer him a plate.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Yeah, on its own I’d find it odd to not invite the boss or offer him a plate if he’s right there. But given the LW’s reaction, I feel like there might have been context to that decision…

  26. avocadotacos*

    I forgot these were old letters, I was about to be outraged about a company sneakily holding a party. The before times sure were fun!

  27. Not A Manager*

    To me, those employees sound pretty fed up with management. First, it sounds like the joint party has been going on for a while and people usually attended. So something is different this year. Maybe the joint parties were never such a blast and people only performed enjoyment. Maybe they used to be fun but for some reason Company One is no longer as happy as they were – with the parties or just in general.

    But the more-or-less boycott of the company party, combined with not even acknowledging the fact of the on-site party or offering a plate to the owner, makes me think that the on-site party was meant to communicate *something* and wasn’t just a coincidence.

    And given the tone of the letter itself, I’m guessing that there might be some serious management issues underlying the employees’ discontent.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      The person who suspects these employees are up to no good was the same one who told us they loved the combined party, so…

    2. Filosofickle*

      Yes! All the other issues and explanations aside, the 2nd party feels like an intentional message. They didn’t go to the main party, created their own, and management was explicitly not included. There’s something here that needs to be listened to.

  28. Rebaroo*

    Between this and yesterday’s Case of the paranoid wife and the not store bought birthday cake, I am so glad I don’t work at a husband/wife owned business! Messy messy messy entitled entitled entitled immature immature immature people.

    1. tangerineRose*

      It isn’t always like that. I worked a long time at a company that was founded and run by a husband and wife team, and it worked well. This might be more the exception than the rule, but they were kind, generous people who cared about their employees.

  29. Firecat*

    To me it depends on the “party” was it a casual pot luck where everyone took their lunch hour together? Or was it an actual party that went over the length of a typical lunch and involved a lot more socializing?

    I do think it is weird to plan party type number 2 without any management involvement. What if the boss decided last minute to schedule that room or have a working lunch meeting for a project? Suddenly you have a whole put out company because boss didn’t know you were planning a party. If it were just a departmental lunch id feel differently but the whole company? And frankly even if it were just our department, if a Sr boss was in unexpectedly we would definitely invite them. I couldn’t imagine having them sit in a cubicle eating a cold cut while we ifnored them because ‘theyre a boss”.

    I also think it’s rude to decline a company offered party to then schedule your own party under the radar. That element makes it weird for me.

    It reminds me of my mean clique friends in highschool who secretly planned a party when they knew I would be having wisdom teeth surgery. We had been discussing a graduation party for months (weird residential highschool) and hadn’t set a date yet. After the surgery I offered a few dates up and that’s when I was told “we already threw one on surgery date”. When I expressed being hurt and feeling excluded I was gaslit with basically – “we are allowed to have a party. Just because a time doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves.” Basically acting as if I was the one being weird for being slighted by their obviously exclusionary actions. :/

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I dunno. If the big party doesn’t sound like fun, but a lunch-hour potluck is on offer, I might do the same thing. The possibility of the boss scheduling a working lunch sounds like a ‘know your office’ thing–maybe it’s just never done at that company.

      If the attitude of the boss is anything like his spouse, I can understand why they didn’t explicitly invite him.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Mean girls (?), but. Thank the stars I never went to a residential school, but I’ve heard that they can be pretty cliquey places, even worse than non-residential schools.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    I don’t see an issue with Company 2 wanting their own lunchtime party. That’s perfectly understandable, and you probably should have listened to their concerns and desire and preferences to do so (especially this year).

    However, yes they acted a little underhanded about doing so! Because they felt they weren’t listened to… they basically went behind you back and took matters into their own hands. I’m concerned this might be a sign of a much larger issue. Or maybe it isn’t, but you need to put your anger aside and have a real discussion about why they felt they couldn’t discuss the party openly and present their solution.

    1. PeteyKat*

      Where did you get all this back info from? Did I miss a post stating Company 2 had concerns that weren’t listened to, etc? Or are these just assumptions on your part? What am I missing?

      1. PeteyKat*

        Ok to edit my answer someone down thread went to the original post and Company 2 employees concern with the party was the drive – it was to far for them. A very valid concern.

    2. Observer*

      What exactly was “underhanded”? They didn’t trick anyone, they didn’t spend company money, they didn’t bring anyone in. They just had some shared food on their lunch hour

      1. MissDisplaced*

        It does have a bit of a sneaky vibe because
        >They were invited to Company A party but they all declined. Which is fine, but they declined because they obviously wanted their own party, which seems to have not been considered (accommodated?) in the effort to combine company parties.
        >They seemed to go out of their way to hide the fact they were doing their own party, their way, anyway, and then didn’t even tell the boss? Who was sitting right there? Eating lunch?

        Look, nothing wrong with wanting their own party OR having it. I just find all the passive aggressiveness of this whole story odd. Someone at Company B should’ve spoke up and said “We aren’t coming to Company A party because (reason) and we’re planning to hold our own low key potluck party lunch X day at X time instead.”

        And I have no idea why so many are getting hung up about “it was their lunch hour.” That’s FINE but it did seem like the owners actually wanted to give them a party, which was like oddly, IDK, rejected? Usually, if even a low key potluck, a company might happily order in lunch and pay for it, but it seems they all went out of the way to keep it on the downlow. Why? It’s all a very weird story.

        1. Observer*

          “We aren’t coming to Company A party because (reason) and we’re planning to hold our own low key potluck party lunch X day at X time instead.”

          In the original letter, the OP notes that people declined because they didn’t want the drive – and the OP decided that this was not a good enough excuse. So, the staff DID tell them that they were not coming and why.”

          But you’ve not given any reason whatsoever that would explain why staff have the least bit of obligation to tell the boss that they are making a potluck during their lunch hour– ie time that they are not supposed to be working anyway! This would be true even if they had not told the bosses why they are not interested in the other party.

          And I have no idea why so many are getting hung up about “it was their lunch hour.”

          People are getting “hung up” because it’s THEIR TIME. And they DO NOT NEED PERMISSION to do stuff together during their time.

          but it seems they all went out of the way to keep it on the downlow. Why?

          Because the OP isn’t interested in making the employees happy. Rather they want to celebrate the boss at a party that the BOSS likes, regardless of what the employees are interested in.

  31. cheeky*

    Why are people in an office having parties in a pandemic? Who cares about the fact that you weren’t invited, that’s the least of the issues. Also, why you you think employees from two different companies would want to party together?

      1. cheeky*

        That aside (and I think the article should have updated for the context), it’s really a goofy thing to be upset by.

  32. Jennifer Strange*

    I found the original post for letter 1 (I like to see if the advice/opinions have changed at all since then) and noticed that this reprint leaves out that the reason most employees from Company 2 gave for not wanting attend the joint party was that it was too far a drive for them, which adds a bit more context. It may have been that the party that year (and possibly in previous years) was more convenient for Company 1 which may have created a sense of favoritism from the owner. Just another perspective for why the employees may have chosen to have their own private party.

    1. Aquawoman*

      Along the same lines, I noticed that it was framed as Company 1 had a party and invited Company 2. I could see that as being a little insulting to the people in Company 2.

    1. Cj*

      I wondered that, too, because it is otherwise odd to me to word it as “Company 1 had a party”, and not “we had a party for our two companies”.

  33. Anonymity*

    This is being taken WAY too personally. The immediate staff wanted their own party, did it at lunch so everyone could be included. Instead of pouting in the corner eating a sandwich, I’m positive if Boss walked over they’d be happy to give him/her a plate.

  34. Cj*

    Why did Company 1 have a party and invite Company 2’s employees? Why didn’t they call it a joint party to start with and have it offsite of both companies?

    And why on earth should employee’s need to ask “permission” to have a potluck on their lunch hour? Since they exchange gifts, I’m sure they didn’t want to do that with/in front of Co 1’s employees.

    They probably should have offered for the boss to help himself to some food, since there is always way too much at a potluck, but otherwise I don’t see the problem with any of this.

  35. JB (not in Houston)*

    Seeing all the people who think it’s rude not to invite the boss and comparing it to coworkers not including you is really interesting. I don’t think those situations are comparable at all. Your boss is not your coworker. Like, it would have been rude in high school to invite all but one of the kids in my French class to my birthday party but it would not have been rude to invite all the kids and not the teacher. I get that the boss is right there, but how does a boss get their feelings hurt if occasionally the employees want to socialize without you? You’re the boss, in most places even if they like you it will automatically be less fun if you are there. (Plus, in this case, it seems pretty obvious why they did not include the boss)
    And I agree with Alison, it’s not surprising that they wanted to have their own separate party away from the other office. Like she said, they don’t work with those people.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Like, it would have been rude in high school to invite all but one of the kids in my French class to my birthday party but it would not have been rude to invite all the kids and not the teacher.

      Except in this case, the birthday party is being held during French class. It’s not rude that they wanted a no-boss party. It’s rude that they did it right under the boss’s nose. Getting together after work would have been a completely different story.

      1. Marthooh*

        Except in this case, the birthday party is being held during French class.

        No, it’s being held at lunch. And it sounds like these are people who always have lunch together right under the boss’s nose.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          With an on-site party during business hours, even though it’s during lunch, you don’t get to pretend “we’re not at work.”

    2. Not playing your game anymore*

      I don’t think the separate party is odd at all and I don’t have a problem with two or all of the “staff” getting together on their own time and not inviting the brass. (full disclosure, I’m part of the management team) People in our office get together (or used to in the before times) for pizza or to try out whatever the new place is, or to go to a show. And the management team is not included in these outings and that’s fine. But I’d be pretty salty if they laid out a potluck or birthday party and didn’t let everyone working know that they were welcome to partake.

      Of course the usual way similar things happen at our place is someone brings cookies, or a bag of garden surplus and puts it on the counter by the sink and sends an email to let people know it’s available. We seldom have full on potlucks.

  36. Not playing your game anymore*

    I think it’d be shockingly rude to have a potluck type event and deliberately not include someone whom you know is going to be in the area. If the person is usually not there and ends up in the office on the day, you offer them a plate. If you want to have a party and NOT include the boss you do it offsite.

    We have potlucks and often have people just wander in. Everyone gets offered a plate, or at least a brownie. If you happen upon a party anywhere on campus, you’ll be invited to join in. It’s just rude not to feed the guest. Heck we even make up take home packs for students who won’t be able to attend a cookie exchange.

  37. Former Employee*

    It’s extremely rude not to invite someone who is right there. It would be like deciding not to invite the intern because they aren’t a “regular employee”.

    To me, it is a sign that there is either an entire group of people who have no manners or there are a couple of “leaders” who are setting the tone and the other employees are following them. Whether it’s a sign of anything else, I couldn’t say and would not want to speculate.

    However, I would pay attention to this group to see if there is any indication that the majority of the employees are following the lead of one or two of their co- workers. This isn’t the sort of initiative that I would like to see if I were the owner of a company.

    1. allathian*

      Nope, not remotely the same thing. It’s perfectly normal for employees to prefer to let their hair down a bit without the boss being present. It’s something all good managers need to learn to expect, approve of, and not take personally that their company is not always welcome. Not inviting the intern because they’re not a full-time employee is rude.

  38. blink14*

    Having worked at a handful of small businesses, all 3 of them family owned, this is odd behavior on a variety of levels. The letter has a weird tone, in which I suspect is the basis for this party happening without the owner knowing. Not at least giving the owner a head’s up, especially in COVID times, since really shortsighted and also intentional.

    At all three of the small businesses I worked at, two of which I am related to the owners for full disclosure, holiday parties were held with the knowledge of the owner. The larger of those two is in manufacturing, and for many years had multiple parties – one for the floor employees that was catered and had a drop in from the owner, but was mostly left to the employees to get together amongst themselves; a lunch for the smaller front office crew, similar scenario; and a third that was an all expenses paid for dinner with the front office staff, owners and their families, and high profile clients. Some years these parties topped 100 people. These days the dinner party doesn’t happen anymore, for a variety of reasons, but the other two are still paid for by the owner and with their knowledge. The smaller business I worked for, owned by another relative, I was part time and remote but the office staff was only about 5 people. They had a holiday lunch attended by and paid for by the owner.

    The third small business I worked at was family owned, no relation to me, with the headquarters in a different state, with probably 15 or so staff, and then the office in my state which was 4-5 people. We had a holiday lunch that was attended by our manager and paid for by the company. The owners sent gifts and gave very minimal bonuses, but otherwise were incredibly stingy and it came off in a weird way to receive a nice gift for the holidays, but to have pretty poor health insurance and salaries, and a bonus that worked out to maybe a weekly grocery bill after taxes.

    I now work in academia – when I first started, our entire division had an expensive, paid for holiday lunch hosted by our grandboss, along with a potluck that the upper management was always made aware of and invited to, and usually attended. Last year, the grandboss changed and some positions were shifted, equaling no holiday lunch but the potluck still happened.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      As to the COVID part, this letter is years old–it’s part of a series in which Alison digs out old letters and re-addresses the question. Sometimes the advice changes!

  39. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder if Alison’s advice in #1 would change if one of the employees wrote in, rather than the boss’s wife.

    I do think it’s kind of rude not to invite the boss to an at-work holiday party when he’s literally sitting on the other side of a wall! But I don’t know if that opinion really helps the boss’s wife at this point, and the best thing for her to do is to drop the resentment and move on.

    1. Batgirl*

      I would tell an employee that it would be rude to host a party on work premises, in front of the boss, because you never know how a boss is going to take it; it’s just smarter to be warm and friendly.
      But if I was the boss? I’d consider it a win. There’s no need to foster good relationships or boost morale by planning a party for them (the worst task ever, which is why it gets foisted onto someone junior). They took care of all the good fellowship themselves. How is that not a win?

    2. PeteyKat*

      Yeah – I think her advice was really weird. I mean, yes, employees can socialize without their boss, but that is usually outside of the office. But the ENTIRE office getting together for a holiday lunch in the office (using the office facilities) and not inviting the boss who is in an office right next door? Not a good look. But the event has happened, and the OP needs to reflect and as you stated, move on. But I think she may have difficulty dropping her resentment.

  40. lazy intellectual*

    It’s weird to exclude your boss if you hold the event on company property. I’m all for coworker only hangouts off campus, but it does seem silently hostile to include everyone but one person on a team, boss or not.

    1. jbouv*

      It says right in the post

      I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).

  41. Dizzy Belle*

    To me, if it’s just a slight festive ‘dressing up’ of people going to the break room to eat their lunch, which they’d be doing every day anyhow, and the boss never joins them for lunch, it makes sense that they wouldn’t invite him. If they don’t all usually gather for lunch, or if it really was a full-on ‘party’, then it would be kind of weird to not even tell the boss it was happening. That’s my judgment.

  42. Ladycrim*

    “it’s reasonable to go by seniority (as long as you’re not in a low-turnover situation that would mean that some people never get the time off that they want, year after year)”

    This is the situation in my office. We get premium vacation days on a ‘bid’ system: We request the time off we want at the beginning of the year, noting which days are our higher priorities, and submit them all at once*. Then Management looks at who wants what time off, and schedules it accordingly. Getting the vacation time we want is usually not a problem, except around Christmas (and occasionally other big holidays).

    By our contract, vacation time is allotted by seniority. I have been there for 20 years, and yet there are enough people senior to me that I have been able to get the week between Christmas and New Year’s completely off only once. Finally, this year one person didn’t request that week off for whatever reason, and I was awarded it. Hurray! A world of holiday possibilities! We could visit my in-laws! Maybe go to Disneyland! I was so excited!

    … and then COVID hit. Oh, well.

    *We are allowed to change our dates and request additional ones throughout the year as things come up; we just risk not getting them if too many people took those days off in the bid period.

    1. Not playing your game anymore*

      We have long timers too. What we do is keep track of who had what previous holidays. We can generally let at least 1/2 of the staff have time adjacent to any given holiday. (It helps that the students and faculty are gone, we can run with a skeleton crew and short hours over breaks. If you had Christmas last year, you’re at the bottom of the list this year. Same with Thanksgiving, the 4th, etc. If everyone who didn’t have Christmas Eve last year has scheduled their time and there are still enough people working, a repeater can take of too.

      But no. No one is getting registration week or labor day off, it’s our busy time and the student staff are all new and untrained…

      Only the people who want to streeeetch every 3 day weekend and holiday, usually get turned down.

    2. Starchy*

      I have a team of 15 and I don’t do by seniority or who requests firsts for the major holidays. My rules are if you had Xmas this year, then you don’t get 1st choice next year. If no one wants it then you can have it. Also if you had Thanksgiving week off you don’t get Xmas week off and vice versa. It gives everyone a chance to have a holiday off. I follow the same rules for myself with my team supervisor.

  43. Lisa Large*

    Years ago, the owners of the company I worked for had wife’s assistant oversee collections for ‘gifts’ for the two of them. Wife had a fondness for higher end Waterford Crystal pieces. It sucked forking over $50 for them to have a ‘merry christmas’….

  44. Elle Kay*

    1- This is not your business and, therefore, not your concern (you’ve clearly stated they’re “your husbands businesses”; unless you’re actively a part of the management you have no role here
    2- It is not, in any way, a surprise that company 2 wants their own party. Frankly, even if they attended the party w/ company 1 I would assume they’re also going to have a small party of their own
    3- Party at lunch is 0 conflict
    4- I admit it’s not the *best* look to not even ask the manager if he wants a plate but if it’s not that close of a relationship with management it’s not terrible. Frankly, even if they are close with management there’s a lot of concern about where the lines are between authority levels and I can totally see them erring on the side of caution.

    You have no reason to be worried; honestly I’m more worried that you are worried and I wonder how you are reacting to other, totally normal, things.

  45. Dancing Otter*

    Since the owner threw a party for his other company that almost all of these employees could not attend, he essentially stiffed them of a party, right?
    When they proceed to organize their own celebration, at their own expense, what obligation do they have to include the owner?
    None to my mind.

  46. Chickaletta*

    I don’t know…. It’s a small office and everyone except one person was invited to the party, am I reading that right? And the party was held right in the other room? I think if we get rid of the titles and put aside for a moment that it’s the owner’s wife who wrote to Alison, it is pretty rude to do this in just about any setting. There are such better ways to go about this if the office wanted to have a gathering without one member of the group.

    The wife, however, really shouldn’t get involved with office drama like this and jumping to the conclusion that they’re sneaky about other things is a stretch. She can roll her eyes and pour a drink for her husband at the end of the day, but that’s about it. (I was going to defend her, but I went back and re-read the part where she said it was her husband’s company but they’re “both heavily involved in management”, and red flags popped up all around me).

    If this were an AITA question, the answer here is ESH.

  47. All about the balance sheet*

    It is really rude to exclude one person from a party on work premises, even if that person is the boss. In an office of 20 people, you notice when someone isn’t there. If they took it elsewhere, I wouldn’t have an issue. Ultimately though, the business is there to make you money, not friends. If they are performing, didn’t use company funds for the party and used their lunchbreak, then I wouldn’t tank morale by punishing them over a party without you. I completely understand your hurt feelings but take hubby out to a very nice restaurant on the company card as a reminder of the end goal.

  48. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    “There were many attempts made to work out any scenario that would bring company 1 and company 2 staff together for our party. It’s usually a blast and everyone talks about how much fun the parties are years later.”
    Is there any reason for the two companies to celebrate together? Are they in the same field, are they complementary to each other? Is there any overlap? Do employees from one interact with the other? Because otherwise, I see no reason why employees would enjoy going to a party at another firm. They wanted to have their own party and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t after all.
    Some people may have found them fun, and been vocal about it. Others may have different opinions, and perhaps dare not say anything because the organiser would then bristle, much as OP is doing here.
    It rather sounds like a family celebration where two sisters are estranged and Mum wants them all to attend anyway. Mum/owner may be happy to see their entire brood all in one place, but the individuals involved have no such feelings. I don’t think it’s cliquey to want your own party just with your own colleagues and without the people from the other company that you just don’t have anything in common with.

  49. In my shell*

    AAM wrote, “It’s pretty reasonable that they’d want to hold their own party with their own co-workers…”

    Right, okay, I totally get that(!), but having AT WORK when non-invitees are present? Owners and managers are still human and deserve consideration. Have all the parties you want, but not in a place where any non-invitees are present – that’s just unkind.

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