I hate my boss’s mandatory Zoom happy hours

A reader writes:

I’m in my first job after graduating last year and will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this means my boss has taken upon himself to organize “happy hours” outside of work hours. These aren’t really happy hours; they’re more work-meetings-with-alcohol-on-Zoom, and while they’re framed as not “technically” obligatory, they definitely are and I get pointed comments if I choose to not attend. My manager will bring them up in team meetings, saying something like, “Oh, you’re not busy because you’re all in lockdown, haha!” and then expect us all to attend.

The thing is, he’s right: I’m not busy in the traditional sense. But what I am busy doing is decompressing from work, cooking and doing chores, trying to organize my life, exercising, calling my long-distance partner, writing fiction, and also just lying on my bed and eating chips and staring at the glowing glass of my phone screen while trying not to think about doom and gloom. I understand the value of showing my face at these meetings and if they were truly optional, I’d show up once a month or so. But I hate the expectation of oh, no, every other Thursday from 5 pm until 7:30 pm you’re going to be in a work call that’s out of work hours so we can drink but also talk about work.

I wouldn’t care if they were during work hours, but they’re out of work hours so they can consume alcohol. (No one gets drunk at these by the way; it’s more a matter of “a glass of wine while we work”). I also just feel resentful having the boundaries between work and home being blurred even further by my job digging into my personal time. I live in a shared house and so have to work from my bedroom as everyone else is also working from home. I don’t have the opportunity that my colleagues do in having an office/kitchen table/etc., and beyond that, I don’t want to work considering my manager and I agreed I’d work from 8-4 every day. I enjoy my job, but it’s not the focus of my life.

How do I navigate this? I’ve tried suggesting to my manager that he have it during work hours, but he says the point of the call is for us to socialize and get to know each other better. My colleagues are fine, but they’ve shown little interest in being friends with me. The calls often include me being silent while they talk about children and product managing. (I am not a product manager and am kind of adjunct to the team.) The further this continues, the more resentful I get.

I’m not sure if this is relevant, but I don’t drink and am also the youngest on my team by 15 years and am the only one without children. I’m salaried rather than paid by the hour. We’re also all in the same time zone.

This has become such a thing over the last year, since so many teams started working remotely. And like you, a lot of people don’t want to spend their evenings making awkward conversation with co-workers over Zoom.

Unofficially, obligatory work happy hours have always been a thing, of course. They can just feel especially onerous right now, when people have a particularly high need to decompress from stress. And socializing on Zoom isn’t the same experience as socializing face-to-face; the constant gaze of the camera, the chaos of too many people trying to talk at once, and the delay from imperfect internet connections often make the experience more draining than relaxing — and even more so if you’ve been already dealing with video all day for work.

That said, your boss isn’t wrong to think there’s some value in finding ways for your team to connect informally. There is value in that. The problem is the way he’s doing it — like making people feel obligated to show up and not noticing that you’re being excluded from much of the conversation. Implying that you can’t possibly have anything else you’d like to do with that time is particularly obnoxious. As you point out, just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you don’t have other demands on your time, and even if you didn’t, you’re still entitled to decide you’d rather veg out on your own than have to be “on” for a work call.

I bet you’d feel differently about these calls if they were truly optional and presented as an outlet for team members who wanted it, with no penalties (subtle or otherwise) for people who didn’t attend. You’d also feel differently if your boss occasionally held these events during the workday instead — which he really should if he’s convinced there’s work value to them — and changed up the format so the conversation wasn’t consistently leaving some people out.

But there’s a long and storied history of managers being oblivious to all of this. My inbox is full of complaints similar to yours from people resentful that their employers expect them to spend non-work time on ostensibly “fun” activities that they’d rather sit out.

So, what can you do? One option is that effective immediately, you say that you have obligations right after work that you can’t get out of (whether or not that’s actually the case). You don’t necessarily need to explain what these commitments (or “commitments”) are; you might be able to just say, “Oh, I’ve got something tonight right after work so I won’t be there. Have fun though!” If that doesn’t fly with your boss or if you start feeling awkward saying that every time, feel free to explain that you’re taking a class that meets then, have a family Zoom call at that time (“it’s the only time that worked for my parents”), joined a book club, or anything else that credibly conveys, “I’m not available then.”

That said, it’s not a bad idea to attend occasionally. You don’t need to go every time, but there can be professional benefit to showing up for, say, every third event. You shouldn’t have to, but the reality is that sometimes people do get penalized (subtly or not so subtly) for never showing up. But you might find it easier to bear if you’re not stuck attending every single time! Plus, when you show up, you don’t need to stay for the full two and a half hours (and holy hell, that’s long for this kind of thing). You can show up, say something at the start like “I’ve got to duck out in a bit for a family thing but I wanted to say hi to everyone,” and then leave after 30 minutes. Keep your tone breezy, sound like you’re delighted to be there, and then matter-of-factly extract yourself and head off to enjoy your liberation.

Read an update to this letter here.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 211 comments… read them below }

  1. Nanani*

    LW, can you do anything else at the same time, like a game in another window or device – phone or book, like a colouring book or crossword or something?
    Since you’re not included in most of the conversation anyway you might as well make it slightly less mind numbing, and I’m guessing no one is particularly focused on your face while chatting with others.

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

      Yeah, honestly I’m old and curmudgeonly, I’d just start to do the dishes or laundry, get up and walk around a lot, take out the garbage. If you really want to be bold, get in your jammies and start clipping your toe nails or otherwise make it known that you are “off work” at this hour. But I’m much further along in my career so a younger person might be much more concerned with their professional persona since they don’t have a long work history to lean back on.

    2. violet04*

      That was my thought as well. How would it fly if you said your camera wasn’t working and you were just able to join audio? Then go about your business doing chores or whatever else you need to get done around the house. Not that this is a viable option, but I would be tempted just to put a cardboard cutout of yourself in front of the camera.

      1. wine dude*

        A company I worked in before the turn of the century had a dedicated video system installed so we could have video meetings with the main office 300 miles away. At some point we figured out the sound system was good enough to be able to hear and be heard from our offices that all faced into the central meeting space. One day I borrowed the wife’s Polaroid camera and took a picture of all of us sitting at the meeting table, and contrived to hang it in front of the camera. At the next meeting we all stayed in our offices and kept working, interacting as needed. We got most of the way through the meeting before they realized no one was moving in the video!

        1. Tisiphone*

          And if no one moves, it could be lag. Discord does that a lot when someone seems to freeze but their audio is just fine.

        2. Nephron*

          Not gonna lie I would love this if I was on the other end of this meeting. This would make my month!

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        I would suggest this too. If you can’t find a way out completely let them know your roomies need the bandwidth for school or something and turn off the camera. If you have a wifi headset you can then at least move around the room a bit or play on your phone while keeping half an ear out for your name. Also, yeah, feel free to have a class, family call, anything else that requires you to hop off after 30 minutes.

        1. Mongrel*

          You can add to the veracity of this by streaming a high quality video or two around the house and downloading some large files on your computer as well (if you have some large game installs on Steam they’re perfect)
          That should cause enough issues with sound & video that you’d be perfectly justified in switching to sound only.
          Also, blaming it on the ISP is far better than on room mates\partners as they may want you to ask other people to switch the times they’re having faux-family time, crappy ISP is universal… you’ve called them but and they said they’re looking into it….

        2. TootsNYC*

          or call into the meeting on your phone. My company had a learning seminar that took place in Europe at the time I normally get ready for work. It wasn’t interactive, so I just logged in on my phone and turned the video off. Then I carried the phone with me into the kitchen for breakfast, the bathroom to brush my teeth, the bedroom to put my clothes on.

          1. Hobbit*

            When I was in high school, my family went on vacation to visit family out of state. My uncle, who we were staying with, had a conference call, he logged & then put his phone down and did whatever. I was so shocked as to how rude this was… fast forward 15 years…. oh now I get it. LOL.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Lying about a fact like the camera can backfire.

        I’d say “I’ve got some other things to do, so I’m turning camera off” and then browse the internet while listening.

        Or more frequently, join then leave after 15 minutes with a note in the chat “I’ve got to go.”

        And then start skipping some of them.

        1. TootsNYC*

          this would be my strategy. Make an appearance, then say, “I’m going to go–I’ve got laundry/my roommates and I are going to play a game [I’d mention other people frequently even if it was a lie]/it’s time to meet my friend and her dog at the park.”

    3. Kesnit*

      I had the same thought. If you are looking at your computer screen, the camera has no way to know you aren’t actually looking at Zoom

      1. AutolycusinExile*

        Just to warn everyone: this isn’t necessarily the case? If you wear glasses or the monitor’s light output shines brightly onto your face, it can be very visible to other people that you’re switching between screens – especially if going from a white page background to a darker one or vice versa.

        1. LW*

          Yeah, this is my problem! I’ve been playing videogames on a handheld console, but I also wear glasses. It’s very, very obvious that I’m not using the monitor unless I blast light directly at my face.

          1. Nanani*

            Has anyone noticed? Some subtle playing around with lights could help but they probably aren’t paying attention that closely, especially if you respond when someone says your name or something relevant.
            If this was a work meeting it would be different, but it’s supposed to be “””fun””” so I’m hoping no one cares about your eyeline.

          2. TW*

            Would anyone care if they noticed you playing a game? Isn’t it normal for people to multitask or not pay full attention during these things?

            If it were an in-person happy-hour, you would be at a bar full of TV screens and games, so it shouldn’t be a problem to have similar distractions for on-line happy hour.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I like this. If nothing else, knitting or doing a jigsaw puzzle might bring a change of topic to something you’re more interested in.
      Someone on an alumni call spends mobile data on us and walks the dog–which has led to chat about architecture.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I think I’ve mentioned this before but I sewed an entire pair of toddler’s dungarees during a video training session.

        2. Selina Luna*

          I usually do a lot of crochet or knitting, but I have done none this year. I blame my 11-month-old for this, though. They keep trying to strangle themselves in the yarn, so the yarn is put away until I can trust that they’ll be content to do something else for a bit.

    5. Rayray*

      They could also use this time to eat dinner and maybe put a favorite show on another screen or device while this thing is going on.

      1. Ashley*

        I was thinking needing to go make dinner (and roommate excuse helps here for cooking for a group) as a reason to leave early.

    6. yala*

      Shoot, haven’t kids been taking videos of themselves “paying attention” and using those as their zoom bg or something while they do whatever?

      I’d at least want to keep an ear on things, but overall just…yeah, you should at least be able to do your own thing.

      1. new commenter*

        I’ve never commented but I read this blog quite frequently.

        I’m also a new graduate at my first job and what I’ve noticed is that the older someone is, the more they enjoy these “optional” Zoom hangouts. My job has Zoom hangouts for everyone’s birthday during my only break time and I haaaaaate them. It’s the only time I get to get up and walk around during my work day. I consider myself an extrovert and I attend them, but honestly, I don’t enjoy them. I don’t know my coworkers and I’ve never met most of them in real life. I’m also the youngest person in the office by about 15-20 years, so although they’re all perfectly nice people, I don’t relate to anyone there and they don’t relate to me. Hell, I don’t even zoom with my actual friends because I’m so over being on the computer all day every day.

        I’ve noticed it’s the well-meaning older higher-ups (typically people who don’t have kids and don’t have jobs like mine that require them to be constantly on camera) who really enjoy these. I think they like the novelty of it. Most of the staff below 40 seems to be somewhat over it.

        What can we do to make these higher-ups understand that no one actually wants this?

        1. Jessica*

          @new commenter, I feel you so much on this. I’m on the other side of 50, but I’m so zoomed out from work that I can hardly stand to zoom with my actual friends even though I miss them. It’s weird.
          But if your coworkers don’t have lots of zoom meetings and are just solo WFH-ing all day, I guess I can see how zoom socializing could seem like a great break from that.

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      Very much this. Mandatory socializing is always for the benefit of the higher-ups mandating it, the purpose being to support their self-image. Your role is to show your face. Back in the days of holiday parties, I would show up, chat with my boss, chat with my boss’s boss, and then discreetly sneak out. Or, if I suspected that this wasn’t enough, I would sneak out and find a quiet corner to read a book for a while, then return to the party and repeat the process. The sole advantage of Zoom socializing is that you can show your face from the comfort of your own home while actually doing something else. I go through my inbox, but really anything that you can do on a computer can be done while the camera is turned on. This works especially well when other people are sure to dominate the conversation. The only question is whether you can get away with turning the sound all the way down, or just down to a murmer. Literally your only purpose there is to be on camera. You write fiction? That’ll preach!

      1. TardyTardis*

        Yes, when I have a meeting where I have to take minutes, I take them on a Word file alongside the Zoom part. So just size things to where you can have something running that you’re more interested in. A somewhat minimized panel shouldn’t reflect that much, or if it does, adjust the lighting as suggested above. Outlook is also able to be sized so you can go through your personal email while you’re at that meeting.

    8. Emma2*

      I would do this and if I could not address the issue of these happy hours being problematic directly, I might say I did not have the bandwidth because it was movie night in our house and my roommates were using it for video streaming, or that my roommates and I usually did an online dance class on Thursday nights and the bandwidth was used up streaming that, or since it was after work everyone was doing online catch ups with friends and I did not have the bandwidth for video (or anything else that means (a) you cannot have the camera on; and (b) you actually have something else to do at that time).
      Your boss is terrible, I am vicariously annoyed.

  2. kt*

    Argh…. just show up for 30 minutes then say oh no my connection is really bad! or oh no my housemate needs a hand with some furniture — catch you next time!

  3. Seashells*

    My boss tried to do this when we were working from home last year. I declined all offers, as my family were home during the happy hours and the only place I had to work was the dining room table. I told him I appreciated the offer, but I was occupying the dining room all day and it wasn’t fair to my family to work beyond my normal schedule and expect them to be silent and out of the dining room for an additional hour or two every week.

    Perhaps something (call with family, dinner with roommates) can be “previously” scheduled when the next happy hour is suppose to happen? Bow out claiming to need to keep things cordial with roommates and family.

    1. Batgirl*

      “The workmen are too disruptive during the workday so they come at night. You don’t mind the noise do you?” (Turns on ear splitting recording of drill) “Well it doesn’t interfere with drinking, anyway” (OP and her glass of apple juice are drowned out by a gush of water from above courtesy of an out of sight accomplice with a bucket or bottle) “Do excuse me one moment!” (Everything goes black). *OP says work affecting the electrics will be going on for a few months at least.

  4. KHB*

    In an in-person happy hour, at least you can chitchat with the person next to you and let the people on the other side of the table do their own thing. In a Zoom happy hour, you’re all stuck in one big conversation, which is likely to be dominated by the same people every time.

    Early in the pandemic, my boss asked if our team (of about 20) wanted to have regularly scheduled social Zoom calls, just so we could see each other’s faces. We’d had a couple of those already, always with the problem mentioned above, with probably at least half the team just sitting silently through the whole thing.

    So instead I suggested we have virtual “water cooler chats,” where we meet up in randomly assigned groups of 4-5 to just talk about whatever. These have been working well, because (1) they’re truly optional, (2) they’re during the work day, and (3) they’re only 30 minutes long. I’d suggest that maybe OP could offer the same idea to her boss – but a boss who thinks that a 2.5-hour after-work Zoom meeting is a good idea may not be easy to negotiate with.

      1. Frodo of the Shire*

        As long as they aren’t mandatory and expected there is nothing wrong with it. If the people who DO show up, whether they talk or not, are enjoying themselves cool. I am a quiet person by nature and if I don’t relate to a subject I won’t say anything. I am fine just listening. But I have to be there on my own volition; not because I felt pressured or forced to be there.

        1. KHB*

          If it’s an official office event, whether it’s mandatory or optional, an effort should be made to make everyone feel welcome. That’s especially true if access to the boss is involved. Otherwise you end up with de facto in groups and out groups, and the people on the outs just end up getting more and more ostracized, because “they wouldn’t have wanted to come anyway.”

        2. Sometime HM*

          I feel like the letter writer is saying that they feel that their attendance is required, so semi mandatory? Or not mandatory but you get frowned upon if you don’t attend? What also bothers me is the length. We have optional happy hours for one hour, max. Someone mentioned 5 to 7:30. Yikes! I’d probably go and drop off after 30-45 minutes with a note in the chat about your online class/dinner with roommates/family zoom/whatever.

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

        Even 3 people can be too many if one dominates the conversation or is noisy when not speaking; the software is good for formal meetings — where one person is hosting/presenting and rest are mostly spectators — then you can use the chat feature or hand raise feature to control question/answer so everyone can participate; it just isn’t good for traditional informal conversation at all. I don’t want to raise my hand and be called on by a “host” to speak in turn about how my succulent garden is doing — that’s so kindergarten class, and that’s how it feels. I can’t actually make eye contact with anyone because the order of boxes is going to look different on each person’s screen — I could be looking to the top right of my computer, but they see me on their bottom left…maybe…I might not be on their screen if I’m not making noise.

        I have a coworker that just hasn’t picked up on Zoom etiquette AT ALL for informal conversation (she gets it for meetings); and it’s awkward and infantilizing to give her lessons on muting her mic if she’s going to turn around and yell to her spouse/child/cat or answer her cell phone, “Hey babe, what was the name of that actor in that movie?…yeah that one…what? oh right…hey bring me some of those chips (CRINKLE CRINKLE CRINKLE)…did you let the dog out?… did I show you guys the pics I took last weekend, let me hold up my phone to the camera… ” you get the idea. We’re all hostage until she’s done; and then her spouse/child/cats come into the camera to participate too! yea

    1. raktajino*

      Our weekly happy hours ended by the summer, and recently were replaced with 5 minutes of randomly assigned small groups before our big office update meetings (every other week). The reception has been WAY more positive: they’re super short, the groups of 3-5 are different every time, and they basically replace the settling in that happened in the Before Times anyway.

      Small group breakouts 100%.

    2. Slipping The Leash*

      Yeah, 2.5 hours? Every week? Is he disturbed in some way? I had a friend do a zoom baby shower and that only lasted an hour. For a first child in her generation. And when most of her family lives a 20-odd hour flight away. One hour.
      I would definitely make up a recurring commitment that cannot be moved, and only attend this travesty once a month.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, we have a weekly water cooler chat, or rather, a coffee break chat. It’s 30 minutes, completely voluntary. Out of our two-team department, usually about 3 or 4 people show up. I’ve enjoyed it the times I’ve attended, but there’s no obligation. Some of my teammates never attend, but they have lots more meetings per week than I do.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I basically switched our team over to using Slack to chat out of hours because on Zoom you could only have one person talking at a time really.

  5. Joielle*

    Two and a half hours!! I rarely spend that long at actual happy hour with my actual friends. We all have other stuff to do in the evenings!

    My office has been doing optional half-hour “coffee and chat” Zooms every other week during the day. I go to most of them, but nobody says anything if I don’t. We mostly just look at each other’s pets and babies and talk about the weather. That’s about the level of work socializing I’m interested in right now.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes. We do something similar, virtual tea breaks. They’re optional and sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t depending on how sociable I feel and what else I have on.

      I think it’s good for morale to have these, as long as they’re optional and ideally short. Making people sit through 2.5 hours of mandatory social zoom is not fun for most people.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Methinks the boss has missed the definition of Happy HOUR.

      I don’t even want to be in ANY meeting that long, let alone AFTER a full day of work.

      This is one of those push back as a group thing. I am betting you are not the only one who doesn’t want to spend TWO AND HALF EXTRA HOURS chatting with co-workers (btw, are you getting paid for this time since its work with wine)

      1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

        Given that the OP is salaried, I suspect they are not being paid for the time. Why would they, it’s a fun social occasion and they should be thrilled to attend after work hours! /s

        Given this boss’ attitude, I suspect taking that 2.5 hours out of the workday elsewhere probably wouldn’t be well received either, or at around 3:30pm I’d be tempted to tell them “I’m going to be logging off now since I need to be back on for the staff meeting tonight, (because if they’re discussing work, this is basically what it is, regardless of the presence of alcohol) see you then!”

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I need at least 1 bog break in a 1 hour meeting! Over two hours is just…nope.

    3. Artemesia*

      I am in 3 book clubs and a movie club all with friends — some couples groups and some women’s groups and NONE of them goes 2.5 hours. And we are friends and love getting together but after about 90 minutes we have had enough. This sounds like torture.

      Have something else you have to do and drop in once a month.

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes! I have a standing Zoom “crafternoon” each weekend with my actual friends, and I love it and look forward to it – but after about an hour and a half to two hours we’re all feeling done with being on Zoom and sign off. And, again, this is with people I *actually want to socialize with*.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. One, that’s dinnertime/family time! Many parents get a few precious hours to enjoy their family before time for bath/books/bed. No (unless maybe my coworkers are really good at Algebra and feel like tutoring…)

      And even if you don’t have children, no. To commandeer that much of someone’s after hours time every single week is awful. That we even have to suggest ways to “get through it” or excuses to get out of it is also terrible. IF I had time to be there, I’d pop in, keep myself on mute, and leave quickly. None of my coworkers needs to see me chewing my dinner or the inside of my home beyond my office space.

      And what’s with Thursday? Sounds to me like the boss has a real happy hour or some other obligation on Fridays.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Agreed. After work is my ‘time to work on my mental health’ hours. That doesn’t include talking to anyone.

  6. Unsocial Butterfly*

    I would hate weekly zoom work socials. However, there are merits to them over in-person socials – you don’t have the worry of arriving at the bar by yourself, sitting by yourself or being stuck with the person you’d least likely want to talk to, and unless there’s the dreaded ‘break-out rooms’, most of the time you can passively listen while the talkers natter away (and catch up on AAM in the background).

    1. Artemesia*

      good point. When I am in a boring zoom call, I just play boggle and it appears I am looking at the screen — you could have a kindle ap or epub on your computer and download books from the library and read during the call too. If you have a large screen you can easily have the zoom window to one side and the book the other.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Got through so many great books on kindle this past year due to having it running while on calls. Interested on the Saturday open post to hear what you’ve been reading?

  7. Still Here*

    Optional or not: if there is work being done and you aren’t exempt you probably should be getting paid for the time.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      She’s salaried and not paid by the hour so is likely exempt from OT; although, that not always a correlation.

      1. LW*

        More critically, I’m not in the US. We don’t have exemption here; when I signed my contract I agreed to overtime, which is standard practice. If I was being paid (or if they were actually optional!) my attitude, as Alison said, would be very different. Unfortunately they’re not. :(

  8. CCSF*

    I’m an extrovert, but even I don’t like forced social interaction. It feels, well, forced and not at all social. lol

  9. Rayray*

    I would hate this. I even dread going to after-hour work parties that are only held 1-2 times a year.

    Take back your free time. Maybe you don’t have anything to do in the sense of going out places, but you still need to take care of yourself and your home. It’s awfully presumptuous of this boss to assume that no one does ANYTHING besides work. Does he really think you just stare at the wall until bed time? People still need to eat, clean the house, exercise, read, watch tv, take care of kids, and so much more. Take your free personal time back.

  10. Amber Rose*

    I’d be tempted to make up increasingly implausible excuses. Start with something understandable like “it’s my friend’s birthday Zoom party so I can’t make it” and then eventually it becomes “sorry I need to get pudding… from the pudding store.”

    More realistically, I wonder if you can just keep cutting down your attendance in 15 minute chunks until you’re just popping in for five minutes to say hi and then leaving.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I would suggest the LW be busy exercising for many of the meetings. Exercise right after work before the sunsets or a virtual exercise class at that time.

      Or meeting a friend for a socially distant sunset walk.

      At this point in the pandemic, “you’re not doing anything” is not true in my neck of the woods; although, my friends and I do it in accordance with CDC guidelines.

    2. AKchic*

      “Sorry, I have a pirate photo shoot”
      “Can’t, I’m going moose riding”
      “Sorry, whale surfing!”
      “Berry hunting. Might do some nighttime moss fishing if the moon is dark enough”
      “My imaginary friend planned a glow-in-the-dark pie eating contest. I have a training session”

      1. Threeve*

        “I’ve come down with a bad case of evening-only laryngitis.”
        “You know ‘Dry January?’ I’m participating in the new thing, ‘No Small Talk April.'”

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        The number of times I’ve told people “Sorry, I can’t that night, I have to shave my goldfish” is non-zero. (And the number of people who’s response has been “Oh, you have a goldfish?” is also non-zero, which entertains me greatly.)

      3. Checkmate*

        “I have to floss the goldfish”
        “There are badgers that broke into the house and need to be removed.”
        “I’m trying to solve Fermat’s Last Theorom and am near a breakthrough”

      4. Web Crawler*

        “Sorry, I have to see a man about a horse”
        “Wish I could, but Timmy’s stuck in a well”
        “Not tonight, I’m watching grass grow”
        “I have other plans- I need to shampoo my cat”
        “Can’t, I’m busy thinking of excuses for next time”

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Can we have a post in the future of ‘sentences Allison never expected to say in her life’?

      5. another Hero*

        if you say “I have to go, but you all have a good night” after half an hour in a breezy, casual voice, most people will take that at face value ime. you can have an excuse ready – it sounds like your boss might be invested enough to ask – but channel a very glamorous lady who lunches and simply *must* get to her dress fitting. of course I’d love to be here with you all, but it’s simply impossible! (I’m serious, actually; rich people are great at leaving.) it sounds like you won’t be terribly missed in conversation, so once you show up and get out, you’re probably good.

        that said, if you want to claim a conflict for the duration of happy two-and-a-half-hour and not show up at all, I fully support you. I just think this way seems easier.

  11. Sami*

    That sounds like a my nightmare. Even without the virtual aspect, that’s a lot of togetherness that you’re being left out of. It’s a shame your boss hasn’t noticed and steered the conversation to other topics. And lessened the frequency changed the time. I’m with you in spirit!

    1. LW*

      This is actually a really good point I hadn’t considered. Thank you! The meetings would suck regardless, but they *especially* suck because I’m bored and ignored.

      My boss definitely wants to be seen more as ‘part of the team’ rather than ‘leader of the team’; he was promoted just before I joined the company, so there’s definitely a mismatch there. He’s also known some of my colleagues over a decade, and so I think there’s an attitude of wanting to be their friend rather than their boss. Definitely something to examine there.

      Thank you for your kind words!

      1. Momma Bear*

        OH, so he’s having problems with new boundaries now that he’s not one of the masses? That is his problem and mandating these zooms is not going to fix it. I’ve worked in a few offices where folks were friends pre-coworking and sometimes relationships need to change outside of work to preserve the hierarchy AT work. Sounds to me also like it’s more about these key friends than the entire team, hence you being ignored vs him being a good leader.

    1. Eye roll*

      Oh, heck no. No one needs to spend an extra 5 hours a month at work, just because the boss thinks you have nothing better to do.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Furthermore, those five hours are simultaneously unpleasant and utterly pointless. Deadline crunch? Five hours is part of the job. Sitting and watching people blather? Pure hell.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      But that’s 5 hours a month! (7 1/2 for some months.) It’s nearly a full workday a month of… watching co-workers drink. I’d attend once in a while & otherwise bow out with “commitments.”

      In the past year, some employers/managers have gotten very concerned with their staffs’ mental health. Their solutions often don’t seem to be created by or geared to real human people.

      1. Ashley*

        Plus it is an hour after normal done time and my prime relaxing time. It is one thing for an extra 5 – 7.5 work hours in a month when I can set the time but this is just painful.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The problem with ‘sucking up’ draining and pointless stuff is that it can a) become a habit and b) does absolutely nothing for one’s mental health.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    ThataBaby tried to solve this with a bobblehead of dad on the Zoom call, but the other meeting participants figured it out.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Husband unit uses Star Wars figures occasionally on his zoom calls. But, he works in software engineering and it’s generally more acceptable there.

  13. Bookworm*

    OP: No advice, just sympathy. I have come to really resent every Zoom meeting (work or work-related social gatherings), especially as we are not allowed to turn our cameras off.

    I skip every once I can, but I’m aware there’s a cost to that. Good luck. One thing I really hope COVID does is make people rethink this absurd unspoken “requirement” to socialize outside of work. :(

    1. Me*

      I just don’t turn on my camera for zoom meetings. I have one this afternoon that I may need to actually turn it on for since it’s outside stakeholders but for my boss/coworkers. Nope. Nope. Nope.

  14. Rayray*

    I have a question- I’m religious and from an area that is predominantly the same religion and we don’t drink alcohol. How would I be treated if say, I moved to the east coast and worked in an office with these kind of happy hours, virtual or in person? I’ve never had an office with these not-mandatory-but-expected happy hours. It seems rather unfair to those who don’t drink, no matter their reasons for not doing so.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Typically they’d just assume you’d choose something non-alcoholic to drink. But if that weren’t an option (for example, if they were held in bars and you had a religious objection to being there, or if you were a recovering alcoholic who needed to not be around alcohol), presumably you’d just privately explain you had a medical/religious need to not attend and then would opt out.

    2. Cat Tree*

      You would just drink iced tea or water or nothing. At in person happy hours it has never been a big deal. I used to go to them when I had a stomach issue that was made worse by alcohol. Sometimes people are pregnant, or don’t want even one drink if they’re driving home, or don’t like the taste, or follow a religion that doesn’t allow it. It’s generally not a big deal. Usually people won’t even notice or ask, but if they do a polite short answer is usually enough.

      1. UKDancer*

        I think the best thing (if you decide to go) is to have a drink of some description in your hand.

        In my experience (as someone who doesn’t drink much alcohol in the pub because I resent paying the prices they charge for indifferent wine in London) if you have a drink in your hand nobody much notices what it is. If you’re the only person there without a drink you’ll have three people trying to get you one in quick succession. I’ve gone to the after work pub and nursed a lime and lemon for 30 minutes and nobody has made anything of it. Over the years I’ve realised that as long as you look like you’re conforming, people don’t notice the details of what you’re actually doing.

        Obviously if you’re uncomfortable going to the pub then you don’t go to the pub and find a reason for not being there.

        My company now doesn’t have nearly as many events in the pub as they did 10 years ago. I’m quite glad we now have social events in a cafe fairly often as I think a lot of people can prefer that. I certainly do.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I used to run a Meetup group and one of the places we met was a restaurant/bistro place which had a bar in the evenings. Someone wanted to come along to the activity but said his religion wouldn’t allow him to attend a venue where alcohol was served, even if it wasn’t being served at that time. I was a bit flummoxed and couldn’t find a suitable alternative venue (central, large enough, with step-free access) because even the library sold wine in its cafe! I felt bad but I couldn’t find a solution that wouldn’t exclude other people such as wheelchair users or people relying on public transport.

          1. UKDancer*

            It’s difficult if you want somewhere that serves food and has a lot of room. In London I’d probably go for a large branch of something like Starbucks or Costa as a lot of them don’t have an alcohol licence (as they’re more expensive) but I’d struggle to find one with enough room for a really big group and that serves actual food.

            By and large the bigger places (like art centres) tend to sell alcohol. There’s one Indian restaurant near me which has a bring your own licence (they don’t sell wine but they let you bring it and charge corkage).

            I guess if you wanted you could use a church hall or community centre but you’d need to provide the food which may remove the incentive for a lot of the attendees.

            So yeah I can see why finding a venue that doesn’t serve alcohol might be harder.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          God, memories of trying to get a cup of tea or coffee in London pubs. I don’t want booze, I just need to drink with my coworkers after work and stay awake.

    3. Captain Raymond Holt*

      I live in a state where drinking is a very big part of the culture. I don’t drink and I just order a non-alcoholic beverage (generally a NA beer, kombucha, etc). I’ve never had a problem ordering something like that, even in a state famous for it’s love of alcohol.

    4. Nanani*

      In my experience as a non-drinker at work-related events where there is drinking (obviously pre-covid!), no one will care after the first round.
      Someone might be a jerk and try to push you into getting beer instead of tea or something, but once they have started their drink they will usually not care. Usually. Some jerks are extra jerky but that’s no different than if they were being nuggets about anything else, you can tell them to cut it out.

    5. Rachel in NYC*

      I have co-workers who either don’t drink at all or rarely drink (for whatever reasons. It’s not our business, we don’t ask.) No one in my office cares. Obviously non-alcoholic drinks are available. We are though typically in bars.

      Plus some people only come for 30 minutes cuz commute/kids/what have you.

      And some people just never come. And that’s totally okay.

      But it’s a question of the office. My office- if you come great, if you don’t come that’s fine. It’s no judgment. I know that’s not every office.

    6. Beth*

      It depends on the specific place’s culture. At a very inclusive place, hiring someone who doesn’t drink might lead them to realize that happy hours aren’t good for everyone and pick a different group activity. At a normal place, you’d be welcome to show up and participate with a non-alcoholic drink, or to skip if you prefer.

      At a less-than-ideal workplace, you might experience pressure to drink, low-key retaliation for not participating (I’m thinking of the “Fergus just isn’t a team player, he doesn’t really fit in, and Bob has better relationships with this other team anyways, so we should give Bob this project” type level, not necessarily conscious or bad-intentioned but potentially impactful nonetheless), and other issues. But this would be a sign of a bad environment, not a normal thing to expect.

    7. Momma Bear*

      Get something non-alcoholic. At one of my jobs they did happy hours and I had to drive home/could only stay so long. I definitely did not want to get drunk and try to get home, so I stuck with soda. Sometimes the host will buy food for everyone. If anyone gives you nonsense about not drinking alcohol, just say you don’t drink/this is what you want tonight/you are driving and leave it at that.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t drink alcohol at all (recovered alcoholic) and I’ve had great success with a hot drink. Reason for the hot part is that you drink it slower than a cold one and people’s brains tend to screen out something that’s been in their line of sight for a while.

  15. Allypopx*

    I really, really encourage taking Alison’s advice about saying you have other obligations, even if they’re fake. Shatter this idea that people are just “sitting around doing nothing” during quarantine.

    Some are, and that’s fine, they still shouldn’t have to go to this. But the idea that everyone is available for FIVE HOURS OF ZOOM SOCIALIZING that’s actually work a month sounds exhausting.

  16. Quill*

    The last thing we need during a pandemic is to be doing work outside of work hours.

    Some combination of obligations / logging in via audio and muting the computer seems like it would be the best dodge.

    1. Tisiphone*

      If I never again hear a variant of “Oh, you’re not busy because you’re all in lockdown, haha!” it will be too soon.

      Every day is Blursday, and even socializing via Zoom with friends is starting to feel like a work meeting. Having to be aware of when I have to log on to something means I can’t completely tune out and turn off. Thankfully my workplace doesn’t require us to attend these sorts of online events. I haven’t yet and I won’t.

      Household obligations is a good dodge. Spring is coming in the northern hemisphere and yardwork isn’t magically completed by invisible gardening gnomes.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Also, maybe I’m not doing all the things I might be pre-COVID, but there’s still kids to wrangle, dogs to walk, laundry to do….people have personal lives. I wonder if this boss thought teachers lived at the school when he was a kid.

      2. Quill*

        “Why can’t I call you?”

        Mom, all of my monopoly dollars on synchronous communication have been spent for the week. Text, like every other human that I voluntarily interact with.

  17. glitter writer*

    I worked for a time in a company with these not-really-optional happy hours — first in person, the online when the pandemic hit — and the main outcome of them was that parents of children under 12 had a very hard time advancing there, because they could not be present and lost facetime with upper management. Unsurprisingly the impact was disproportionately on women. So I’m pretty hostile to them as a baseline and would be wanting an out just like the LW!

    1. TechWriter*

      Yeah seriously, if these people are spending 2.5 hours talking about their kids on these happy hours… Lucky them that their partners are looking after the kids/making dinner/doing everything that needs to be done in an evening! Cripes. Imagine being a single parent or caregiver for an elder in this situation. You simply couldn’t ever attend.

  18. Essess*

    You can say you are busy. He can’t claim you aren’t just because of lockdown. You could have family zoom calls planned or have online lectures/classes you are taking or a friend’s zoom wedding or an online theater/concert that conflicts with his time. Even just reading a book and making yourself dinner is a plan that conflicts. He does not need to know what your plans are, just that this ‘meeting’ is taking place outside of normal work hours so you have a private schedule conflict and won’t be able to attend.

    1. Artemesia*

      This year I have had two zoom funerals, one wedding, a baby shower for a relative, participate in a local opera company that has regular sessions with artists as well as launches new productions on line, have done a class on writing about family documents, have regular zooms with out of state friends and family, and of course the book clubs and movie clubs. And meet up with friends or family out doors for walks and such. And exercise which I could pretend was an online exercise class.

      It should not be hard to make up stuff to do for at least one of these sessions a month.

      And fie on a boss who doesn’t notice the same blowhards dominate every time. This is the major flaw with zoom. At a real happy hour people would shuffle and reshuffle small group conversations and side conversations. In zoom everyone is audience to the most insensitive blowhard. We have had to work to structure things in our book and movie clubs and we are friends — it is really hard in a work zoom when there is hierarchy and those at the top like to hear themselves talk.

  19. AKchic*

    Ugh. No. Just no. I am the type of person that would be challenging that ish outright.

    “Is it mandatory that I attend?” No. “Then why are you bringing up my lack of attendance to an optional, voluntary social event?” Well, because it’s an event you should be at! “Am I being required to attend?” No! It’s optional! “Then I can opt not to attend?” Um…
    “You pay me to work. You don’t pay me to sit with a decorative glass of alcohol and listen to others while they ignore me for 2.5 hours.”
    “I’m busy” With what? “Personal things” We can change the time “I will be busy then, too”

    If your boss starts making it mandatory that you attend, start putting it on your timesheet. In the meantime, if you’re being pressured to be there, at least do something while you’re on the screen. Even when I’m at meetings I enjoy, I keep my hands busy. If I’m not taking notes, I’m crocheting. Otherwise, my mind wanders. The joys of ADHD. In professional settings I can’t get away with it because “optics”, but in other settings, people don’t mind so I work on a lot of projects while sitting in meetings and discussing a variety of things (and yes, taking notes when necessary). I’d say just mute yourself and go about whatever you need to do while they do their thing. Let them feel the awkwardness of being an intrusion on *your* private life since the boss wants to make it a voluntold event.

    1. Rich*

      100%. I have told many a boss and many a coworker that they were great to work with, I appreciate their desire to include me, but I don’t socialize with coworkers.
      “How come?”
      Sorry, I just need to keep professional professional, full stop.
      They think it’s weird sometimes. One was particularly insistent, and got the “Paul, you’re awesome to work with. I really don’t want to be your friend. It’s not you, it’s me,” talk.
      Pushback can have consequences, but if you make sure you’re actually awesome to work with, it’s a lot less difficult, at least in my experience.

    2. Deanna Troi*

      Many people don’t have the luxury of being able to have this attitude, because it could result in having fewer opportunities, such as raises, promotions, and access to professional enrichment.

      If you don’t believe me, see Janet’s Planet’s comment below, where she is proud of the fact that those who expressed what you’re expressing were selected for layoffs. I think it is wrong, but pretending it isn’t reality can hurt a person’s career.

  20. Frodo of the Shire*

    I don’t do ‘Mandatory.’ Nothing will bring out a more negative attitude out of me than that word. I have to deal with it during work hours but I would absolutely not put up with it being on my off hours. That is MY time and it doesn’t matter if I have a class or if I am lounging on the couch watching Teletubbies. I don’t have to explain myself. you want me to meet up; do it during work hours where I am paid.

    My suggestion? on days those meetings are scheduled, you change your hours so that it falls into work hours. Oh we have a ‘mandatory happy hour’ at 5pm on Wednesday? Then my hours that day will now be 11am to 7pm.

  21. Elizabeth West*

    Ugh, stawwwwwwp with the mandatory socializing. I’m happy to get along with my coworkers and even go to lunch now and then, but the division between work and home needs to be clear cut. I started prioritizing this while working for a toxic job–it became a survival mechanism. Plus, if I’m working full time, the ONLY time I have to write/edit/etc. is after work in the evenings.

    Doing it in real life is bad enough, but after being on Zoom all day, this would drive me bonkers!

  22. Cat Tree*

    This is where having a cat is super useful. I’ve had a hard stop at a few meetings that were drifting past 5 because I have to feed him. I mentioned on a different thread that I occasionally end things at other times by pretending that he’s puking but I don’t abuse it.

    Can you pretend you got a new dog that needs walks every day from 5 to 6? Find a few photos online, and when you are on cam just say she’s sleeping or shy.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Creating a fake dog is going to be a Reese Witherspoon plot. Might be easier to walk a neighbor’s dog once or twice when they are busy or feeling ill, and then use that as an excuse even after you’ve stopped walking the neighbors dog.

    2. raktajino*

      We had webcam calls with my brother in law and his family back when my nephew was a toddler. The kid would get bored and unceremoniously unplug the computer.

      Cats can do the same thing, right?

      1. Cat Tree*

        Yes, once my cat somehow managed to get tangled in the cord that connects my headset to my computer. I still have no idea how he did that.

      2. Tisiphone*

        Haha! My cat has stepped on the laptop in exactly the right place to start a Teams meeting. It was a few minutes before an actual meeting and I was getting ready for it.

      3. Nanani*

        Toebeans definitely work on touch screens. My cat has started and ended calls, video and not, more than once!

  23. Janet's Planet*

    My old company used to have quarterly after work events as part of a voluntary management club (though any exempt employee could join, not just managers). We’d go to art museums, scavenger hunts, plays, concerts, Seqway obstacle courses, haunted prison museums, wine tastings, game shows, musical improv, Native American reservations, aquariums. All very fun and interesting things, always with food an alcohol provided by the company.

    I always went and I was on the club’s committee a few times. Everyone who went always had a great time. Upper management was there and seating was always organized so you wouldn’t necessarily sit next to your own friends or department, which let some connections form that otherwise wouldn’t, though actual work talk was discouraged.

    However, there was a very stubborn group of people who didn’t join the club and would often repeat the same phrase, verbatim: “I work with these people for 8 hours a day – why would I want to see them on my own time?”

    Sure you work with them – but maybe you like some of them? You wouldn’t be talking about work with them, you’d meet new people, you’d have an experience… and hey, if all that sounds bad to you, just decline politely. But always that same phrase. Eventually in 2008 the company had a massive layoff – almost half the company wiped out in one day – and I can tell you, of those stubborn people who always made a point of not wanting to take part in the events, very very few made it through the layoff. Fair or not, there are repercussions for treating your co-workers like pariahs.

    1. ThatGirl*

      First off, in-person is a whole different ball of wax than virtual “happy hours”. I am so tired of looking at a screen at the end of the day.

      Second, while those events mostly sound like fun, I am kinda with your coworkers – even if I like my coworkers, I don’t want to spend a ton of extra time with them after work. I want to go home and walk my dog and start dinner and sit on my own couch. I’m not that extroverted. And what if people have kids or other obligations? That doesn’t mean you’re treating your coworkers like a pariah!

      1. Quill*

        Yeah. It ultimately does not matter if I like my coworkers or not, work does not get to dictate that I will spend extra, unpaid time, that they schedule, with them. I could have a doctor’s appointment. I could have a bath. I could be spending my days meticulously arranging stale rice grains on my kitchen floor with a tweezers. If they want to have something I can CHOOSE to attend for fun, fine. As soon as it becomes mandatory or even an informal metric of team playerness, it becomes a problem, both in terms of setting norms that companies are allowed to require things of us that aren’t compensated, and in the fact that it’s often a vehicle for unconscious bias and descrimination. (Because the richer, whiter, maler you are the more likely you are to be able to accomodate the company’s plans regularly…)

      2. GothicBee*

        Not to mention that the people who don’t want to go will likely bring down the mood if they force themselves to go. I just feel like these kinds of events are better left as optional so that they can be attended by the people who actually *do* want to socialize with coworkers after work.

        Personally, I like my coworkers, but I just don’t have much interest in spending a lot of time with them because I feel better when I separate my work life from my personal life in a really strict way.

    2. Daniel*

      Yeah, but these were quarterly, not every other week! That is a vast difference. It also sounds like your company actually tried to implement some sort of variety into these events. (Obviously that was much easier in the Before Time.)

      I also think that OP is nowhere near as derisive toward her coworkers as the group you saw were.

    3. Dasein9*

      Not “pariahs.” The term is “co-workers.” You were being treated like a co-worker.
      Referring to people who opt out of _voluntary_ activities as “stubborn” implies that, at the very least, management is lying about the “voluntary” part of the activity descriptions.

      It is possible to like our co-workers and not want to see them outside the 40 hours a week we already do see them. Tying that decision in any way to continued employment is a sucky thing to do.

      Yes, I know it happens, but it is nevertheless sucky and the sort of people who would do that kind of prove the point of those who don’t want to spend more time with them: people who do sucky things are unpleasant and spending time with them is something we don’t really want to do unless we are being paid to.

    4. Sam*

      It’s shocking to me that you think you/your company come off well here! Either it’s an optional event, or you can use it to decide who to fire; I’m not sure that you can actually claim both.

    5. Nanani*

      That’s hugely problematic!
      The people who don’t go to obligatory fun for medical reasons, or caretaking reasons, or any of a lot of reasons, got the short end of the stick in layoffs because of something that was supposed to be voluntary?

      This is literal boy’s club mentality – and no it doesn’t matter how many of the people in the club were literally boys. As others have pointed out, being able to go to extra activities strongly correlates with privilege, including but not limited to male privilege, so that toxic mentality is definitely present.

      1. Tisiphone*

        Oh no no no no! Using these kinds of events to decide who to lay off is terrible and the privilege is often that those who have someone else at home doing the household logistics have a lot more freedom to attend these things.

      2. WellRed*

        See, I read this and suspect it’s part of a bigger reluctance to network, but I could be wrong obviously. But if you have two people doing the same work, equally well, etc., and one has to be laid off, it should come as no surprise when the employee who never lifts their head above the parapet is the one let go.

        1. Aquawoman*

          I can’t help but wonder about people who are not white or disabled and go to this kind of thing and get tired of microaggressions or being ignored and then stop going and then are considered “not a team player.”

          1. Nanani*

            That’s exactly how it often plays out. There doesn’t have to be a no-girls-allowed sign for women to find it exhausting and demoralizing. Or any group that isn’t the default White Dudebro.

    6. Aquawoman*

      It sounds like this was a company that valued shmoozing more than work, and I can’t help but wonder if that contributed to them being in a situation where they had to lay off half their employees in one day.

      Also, extraversion is a personality trait, not a character trait.

    7. Rich*

      As someone who has often said exactly that (and always made it through the layoffs), one rarely starts with a combative rejection.
      “You’ll love it!”. Nope, sorry, I won’t.
      “It’s great team building.” In my experience, it isn’t, generally. In the kinds of teams that become pushy about it, almost definitely not.
      “Don’t you like us?” Sure. You’re great coworkers. I build friendships slowly, carefully, and rarely. I also like my family, my house, my own cooking…
      “It’s a great way to blow off steam.” I promise you, if I involve you in the ways I blow off steam, you will not have fun. My relaxation is quiet, focused, arguably tedious, specifically not intended for a crowd.
      “It’s only a couple of hours” Every minute here is 3 extra on the road. I can show you the spreadsheets I assembled in my blowing-off-steam time.
      It’s easy to politely decline a polite invitation. When the invitations stop being polite, you get “why would I want to spend my own time with them.”

  24. Lauren*

    This is a nightmare! LW, instead of just suggesting to your boss that they be during the day, I’d bring it up directly with them. You can say anything you want! “I don’t drink, so being on a call while people are drinking is difficult for me.” “The time difference means that 5-7 is the only time I can connect with my long distance partner.” “I have an exercise class/writing workshop/book club on Zoom every weeknight.” Whatever you say, then suggest that every other week, these calls start at 8am as coffee chats, and you’d even be happy to organize them. Better yet, find a colleague who is also sick of them to bring this idea up with you. There is NO WAY that all of your other coworkers are actually enjoying a 2.5 hour meeting after 5 on a weekly basis.

  25. Hello*

    Solidarity LW, I would do everything and anything to get out of this. Two and a half hours every other week? ONLY if I were getting paid!

  26. Admin 4 life*

    I am cringing at the thought of these happy hours. What are the people with kids/dependents doing?

    1. Dasein9*

      And the ones with a bad back? That’s 2.5 hours of sitting in that same chair again, without breaks??

      1. Quill*

        Mandatory company holiday party of 2015, during which my arches collapsed while bowling, has soured me on these sorts of events forever.

    2. misspiggy*

      Based on a comment upthread that said people with kids must be relying on their SO to kid-wrangle during these sessions: I’d bet they’re be using these to get out of evening kid duty/chores. ‘Sorry babe, I have to do this work socialising thing or I won’t get ahead in the company.’

  27. Nea*

    In your shoes, with the advice you were given, I’d do this:

    Starting immediately, only attend one of these events per month and explain that you have a class the other time. (It’s my experience that bosses slightly respect a paid-for class than they would something like a family zoom, even if you say it’s the only time that works for your aged granny.) Have a title for said class ready to go if questioned, and the vaguer and more boring, the better. Such as: “Examining sociological constructs and their various combinations” as code for “researching stuff for my fiction on YouTube.” Or “In-depth hands-on online writing intensive” for actually writing said fiction on your computer.

    Second, the now once a month time you are on these meetings, take the advice above to have something to occupy yourself just below the camera. Now is the perfect time to:
    – flip through cookbooks and mark recipes
    – phone scroll
    – doodling organizational ideas on a scratch pad

    1. Ashley*

      I would also suggest using the weather if you are in the northern hemisphere and amount of daylight. You will have to time this one to make sure it is pouring the rain. This could at least be a reason to leave after an appearance or to show up late.
      Also any chance of trying to have a bigger picture about the length or start time? Somehow rolling this in right after actual work seems less terrible.

        1. Freya*

          Imagine having a meeting with a tin roof in a thunder storm – or with a suddenly discovered leaking window…

    2. TardyTardis*

      Or complain about how difficult it is to translate Catullus properly and still keep things PG-rated (an actual problem for a friend of mine, who took full advantage of free classes, a perk for retirees at the university she worked for).

  28. staceyizme*

    You can try to meet the manager’s expectations part-way. Either pop in briefly and leave after connecting with a few key people (say at around 30 minutes into the session) and/or pop in every second or third time. It isn’t obligatory in the strictest sense of the word, but your manager is leaning on the idea that you’re “expected” to show up. So- show up. Keep it light and brief and friendly. Then, leave. That won’t erase your preference to decompress in quiet spaces and alone. But it will give you an “out”. It’s kind of like those meetings that last forever and that wander off-topic. At some point, y0u’ve got to split the difference between staying to hear what’s said/ meet management expectations and actually preserving the time and sanity needed to do your job. So, you exit early, stage left, with a conflicting meeting, project deadline or something you’ve GOT to check on NOW. Executed deftly, it’s usually tolerated. You still get credit for attending and you get to keep the majority of your time intact.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      How do you “connect with a few key people) on Zoom, where only one person can speak at a time? Announce that you are now going to schmooze Big Boss for the next five minutes while everyone else watches? This advice is perfectly sound for in-person mandatory socializing, but Zoom?

        1. Self Employed*

          The meeting host has to set up breakout rooms and assign people (or at least tell Zoom how many groups and it will randomly assign them). We use them for church social hour, and it’s difficult for them to figure out who needs to be assigned to the New Members or the Pastoral Care groups vs. who can be randomized to the regular chat groups. And then about half the time I end up in a chat group with someone I do NOT want to hang out with–the bully who makes fun of anything I say, the anti-vaxxer, or the “I don’t see race” guy who wants to rant about the pastor going to far with an anti-racism book club.

  29. Niii-i*

    Practise makes perfect! I Have taken it as Challenge to perfect My “that sounds wonderful. I’m afraid I Have other plans already, but I’ll join you next Time if possible!” Challenge IS that I convey a firma “no”, don’t explain myself toi much and I’m not over apologetic.

    At first it was awkward, and people gave me long looks. But after several Times, I’m able to keep it casual and Also others Have gotten used to it, so it’s just another change of words.

  30. Campfire Raccoon*

    Every time we get one of these letters I feel an overwhelming compulsion to order my guys pizza, send them all home at 1:30, and pay them for the rest of the afternoon. Universal karmic restoration via cheesy goodness.

  31. Daniel*

    “Oh, you’re not busy because you’re all in lockdown, haha!”

    Oh my God. No, no, nooo to this. I’m going to call this the worst part, actually. Why does your boss insist on reminding you guys about the mess the world’s in?

    In any case OP, is there any way to tell your boss that the space you work in needs to be used by your roommates after work? Or that it’s your turn to do the cooking, or something like that?

    1. Me*

      Right? I’m more busy. I’m home 24/7, so I actually can do stuff around the house or in the yard.

      I did one after hours zoom social hour with coworkers, and a coworker snapped a photo of me enjoying my glass of wine. Several of us were drinking and it was after hours. I lit into the coworker the next day for sending the photo around on work email. And now I pop in without a camera every other month for about five minutes while doing something for else.

      1. RowanUK*

        Oh, you have one of those too?! One of my co-workers took a screenshot of all of us drinking and laughing (and looking a bit frazzled) and sent it to us. Then another coworker posted it to her Facebook page where it got noticed by some industry big wigs. (I was doing the call from my bedroom, so I was super freaked out by her posting it to strangers.)

        I tore into her the next day. I’m super private and only relaxed around my coworkers because we’re very friendly. I didn’t go to the next one and treated all the others like a job interview rather than a fun social hour. We don’t do them anymore, but I’ll be really wary of them in the future.

    2. LW*

      I mean, I work from my bedroom as we’re all working from home at the moment, so there’s definitely not an excuse regarding the space I work from.

      I’ve told my boss that I just can’t attend this week’s. I’ve elected to not give an excuse. We’ll see how it pans out, I suppose!

      1. WellRed*

        You really need to learn the art of vagueness when it comes to work, LW ; ) You can absolutely need to vacate the workspace after using it all day. They don’t need to know you work in your bedroom.

        1. Self Employed*

          If LW has already let it slip that this is their bedroom (or you can tell by the decor it isn’t a common area) then they can’t assume the boss has forgotten this.

          1. LW*

            It’s the latter, haha; my bed is right in the background. I tried to reorganise to make the bed not the focus when I’m on-camera, but that’s easier said than done when you live in an old Victorian terrace.

            I can’t make the excuse of “my roommates need my bedroom” without that sounding… well. Super weird, honestly.

  32. Urn*

    If you really can’t get out of it and are an exempt employee, I’d play with taking lonnnnnng lunches or starting late on the days of these (not) happy hours.

  33. C.*

    I get the impulse and I’m sure there are nothing but good intentions behind it, but I hope managers far and wide read this and finally get it through their heads that your employees DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS. Once in a while, sure, but make sure it’s actually optional. Holding these with regularity and essentially mandating attendance is a serious misstep during a time like this.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I question the good intentions. Often the boss enjoys playing the role of Benevolent Patron holding court. The employees’ role in this play is Grateful Peons. Good intentions are inconsistent with making it mandatory, much less making it optional-but-not-really.

      The problem is that some employees do like this. An extrovert with no outside obligations might welcome combining work and social life. A climber might be thrill by the opportunity to strategically play the Grateful Peon. Then there are the ones who were cheerleaders in high school, and see that as the ideal model of adult behavior. There are lots of people who just eat this stuff up. They are exhausting.

    2. Nanani*

      Mandating attendance is bad, even if it came to light some people do like it, like maybe they work with their bestie or something.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I hate it already! And thank you for providing so much lovely hate-reading material!

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

      Thanks, I hate it. ;)

      What we really need are Success Stories of getting rid of these video meetings altogether.

  34. LCS*

    I bail on the video portion of these, use my wireless headphones, and use the time instead to jump on the treadmill or go for a walk. I’ll contribute a bit to the conversation but certainly don’t dominate it. The first time I was asked about my lack of video I turned it on and was visibly running on the treadmill – I just said really matter-of-factly that I’m trying to stay in shape which has been more challenging when working from home, so need to stick to my routine in the evenings. And also that I find extra hours of screen time after so much during the day can give me a headache so I’m trying to prioritize my health by consciously turning it off. It actually ended up with a pretty positive reaction from the group and we’ve started to normalize using some call time, in situations where screen-sharing isn’t essential, to get some exercise and de-screen a bit more.

  35. Lacey*

    Ugh, I hope the managers who insist on these kind of things read this website. Mine have been great, we only do this type of thing during the day, but it would be such a nightmare if they insisted on evening ones.

  36. CindyLouWho*

    LW, I wonder if you can get by with asking your manager if she/he really wants you to be locked in your room for an extra 2.5 hours on the days of the happy hours.

    1. LW*

      I don’t live in the US.

      My contract specifies overtime ‘when necessary’. I do not get paid for overtime as I am salaried. All of this is legal in my country.

      1. Charlief*

        If it’s eu/ uk you may be able to challenge it on discrimination grounds. Like this is pretty much going to impact people with kids- particularly women- and there’s some info on that.

        Like you wouldn’t need to go full righteous just a heads up in a ‘had a thought that this may reflect poorly on you as a manager/ us as a company grounds

  37. Dainty Lady*

    Lord have mercy, I am hoping this was from earlier in the pandemic and this whole thing has disappeared by now. This is far, far, far beyond reasonable.

  38. Cheesehead*

    As an option, rather than joining for 30 minutes, I’d maybe change it up to say that you have that family call at the same time, and you’ll join if you get done early. Then join late. Then 1) you have more of a valid reason for not joining future ones if people ignore you when you do join (oh, this just seems to be for X group….I’m never really involved in the discussions anyway) and 2) I think the optics of you making a special point to come to the “happy hour” late after your personal obligations are done looks better than coming in but ducking out early.

  39. Amethystmoon*

    I guess some bosses have forgotten that people do have friends, and people are doing things socially online. For example, I do Toastmasters on Zoom outside of work. I also play online games outside of work (and have done that even before Covid). People are also doing things like watching movies together and using Facebook or other platforms as a way to do that. Just because a person is stuck at home does not necessarily mean they have literally nothing to do and are sitting there twiddling their thumbs the whole time.

  40. Dancing Otter*

    If it’s supposed to be non-work social, I’d redirect the conversation every time anything work-related was said. “Oh, I thought this was supposed to be just social, since it’s outside work hours. What are you all making for dinner?” Or any other topic, really.
    Just drive it home to that manager that they can’t corral all of you for a work meeting after hours and call it socializing.

  41. WellRed*

    OP, you have to log back in to join these if you work 8 to 4? I’d really lean into that. I also find it hard to believe you’re not the only one who hates this. Al those people with kids? Don’t they want to have dinner with them? At any rate, if you have the nerve, I’d speak up at some point during the enforced happy hour. You have just as much right to bore people as everyone else ; )

  42. NotKV*

    The best description of pandemic life:

    “also just lying on my bed and eating chips and staring at the glowing glass of my phone screen while trying not to think about doom and gloom”

    Thanks for that.

  43. bopper*

    “I’m in my first job after graduating last year “….As a new graduate, who has not been working in person with others, I would attend to cement relationships. I might tell my boss “I have another appointment (early or late ) in the call but I will be there (before/after).” so you don’t have to be there the whole time.

    1. Self Employed*

      How, exactly, does LW “cement relationships” with people who are talking about subjects she has nothing to contribute to and ignoring that she’s even logged in? Depending on how many people are signed in, and the screen layout they’re using, they may not even see her.

  44. Just Me*

    When the lockdowns started, my old company had been doing random happy hours. They were completely voluntary, and we played work appropriate games (think trivia, two truths and a lie, and bingo). There was goofiness and fun, plus prizes for the games. Plus, they were monthly.

    I think a big part of the problem with the letter writers happy hour is the intent. I know the director in charge of the happy hours had the intent of helping staff cope with the isolation, not to do work. The more introverted people would leave their cameras off and just make comments in the chat. So the rest of us were kind of like a TV show.

  45. Tracy Flick*

    Is there any chance you could rearrange your work schedule (even if you keep that change to yourself) so that the happy hours count toward your normal workweek? In other words, take a few extra half-hour breaks here and there throughout the week, or knock off a couple hours early on a Friday?

    It wouldn’t help with Zoom fatigue but at least you wouldn’t be sacrificing your non-work time to boozy work. You have my sympathies!

    1. Natalie*

      I was about to suggest the same thing. I also suspect that if you mention this around other coworkers about how it is cutting into family/personal time more people may be on board for ending the social 2.5 hour than you suspect.

  46. MB*

    IMO consulting is where salary gets really scammy. I’m required to bill AT LEAST 40 hours/week, and I make the same regardless while I make the company much more depending how much I work/bill. Somewhat offset by massive bonuses at year-end and stock ownership, but still.

  47. aett*

    My office does these – fortunately, less often than OP has to – but the especially silly thing is that 4 out of 5 of the non-managerial people in my office (including me) play tabletop RPGs together online at least twice a week. (The fifth was invited, of course, but politely declined.) Our boss seems to think happy hour is our way of staying connected during COVID, but it’s really only for her, because each employee has weekly (if not more often) video chats with their respective managers as well.

  48. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m wondering, are they talking about actual work things in detail like you would in a regular meeting or is it more general speaking and commiserating like “Hey John did you get that email from client x too? Wasn’t customer Y being such a jerk? What’s with supplier B not responding. It’s been 2 weeks! ”

    I’m wondering if it’s actual meeting type of things like going over budgets, assigning tasks, things like that couldn’t that get into murky waters, especially if these people are hourly/nonexempt?

    And you know what, you can do team building stuff within work hours. We do it at work by devoting some time from one of our weekly meetings.

  49. nnn*

    Replace your camera image with a photo of you looking attentive (or a video of you in the last zoom, if that functionality exists), then just wander away.

    If called out on it, “Sorry, my internet froze”

  50. RB*

    In addition to the other excuses people were offering, how about, “my exercise class has started up again and I really need that right now.” Not a lie, because a lot of people’s gyms and exercise classes have started up again, and a lot of those are during the hours of this happy hour thing.

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