is it wrong to socialize with only one of my employees?

A reader writes:

I manage a specialty niche team of four. Last year, I hired someone I knew from a previous job, let’s call her Mary, where we were at the same level, but now she reports to me. I am a happy hour aficionado and regularly host happy hours for my staff where they are all invited (with no pressure to attend) and I pay for everything, maybe once or twice a month. The goal is to focus on spending time outside work together in a less formal environment.

Increasingly, these invitations are only accepted by Mary, so we end up spending significantly more time together outside work than I spend with the others on my team. This isn’t a problem for me and I enjoy these outings, but I worry that the perception among the others on the team is that Mary gets special one-on-one time with me because she is my “drinking buddy.” I would be thrilled if others would attend and interact with me on a more personal level more regularly, but I also respect their off-work time and would never pressure them to hang out when they’d rather be doing something else. Mary definitely gets more of my attention because she chooses to join me at happy hour, and while it isn’t directly due to our prior relationship, I fear that it’s being perceived that way. But I want to keep doing happy hour because I really enjoy it! Since this is becoming less of a group-accepted kind of event, should I just stop doing it?

I answer this question — and three 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:

  • My employee won’t stop talking about my pregnancy
  • Former employee is angry we didn’t acknowledge a death in his family
  • Fielding tons of questions about a job from someone who hasn’t applied yet

{ 219 comments… read them below }

  1. White Squirrel*

    I personally would feel annoyed that my manager was having twice a month happy hours. That’s a lot of socializing outside of work that people with busy lives may not have the time (or inclination) to attend.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, it’s never great when it seems like managers are using their employees to get their social fix. I recognize that’s a pretty ungenerous interpretation of the situation, but it’s probably what I would assume as an employee and I’d be a little annoyed by it.

      1. What's in a name?*

        There is no indication that it is only for her employees. Although then it becomes an event with the boss and boss’s friends, which is another pile of mess.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          The happy hour is meant to be for her staff. From the letter “I am a happy hour aficionado and regularly host happy hours for my staff.”

    2. Ama*

      Yeah, I think the manager in that question should have given the “increasingly no one attends but Mary” part a little more weight — you have a team of four and you are regularly hosting an activity 75% of your team doesn’t want to participate in. That should tell you there’s something wrong with the activity and/or the frequency.

      1. Rayray*

        I agree. They shud maybe figure out a different activity that everyone would attend. Not everyone drinks so that’s likely a major factor why they don’t attend.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          I’m a nondrinker who loves happy hour (cheap eats!) but I may be in the minority. Another issue is that not everyone has time or desire to attend functions after work. OP could try hosting a monthly or quarterly lunch for her team or other event during the workday. That would probably be better attended.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          Even people who do drink might not want to have their inhibitions lowered while with their boss.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, absolutely. I enjoy the occasional drink with friends, but that doesn’t mean I’d want to go on regularly scheduled happy hours with my manager, particularly not 1:1 happy hours… With a former manager, we used to go on quarterly after work drinks, but everybody paid for their own drinks, and nobody cared if someone drank a mocktail or soda rather than alcohol.

      2. Enough*

        Also I have to wonder if the LW was spending most of the time with Mary and the others saw no reason to keep coming.

        1. Dona Florinda*

          That’s actually a very good point.
          Since they already knew each other, it’s possible OP spent more with Mary than the with others and didn’t realize it.

    3. Cringing 24/7*

      Agreed – quarterly would, to me, feel more appropriate. With that, even, I worry about the people who abstain from drinking for various reasons that would have to opt themselves out of the event and still be excluded.

      1. Aarti*

        Why happy hours after work? When I want my employees to do any kind of team building it is on the clock. So we do coffee afternoons or occasionally do lunch. I do not ask them to stay after. They have lives other than mine.

        1. PT*

          This is really going to vary based on where you work: some places will not allow this sort of activity to be paid.

          1. Aarti*

            Tis true, but still rather do it over a 30 minute lunch then ask people to stay late.
            Currently I supervise a rather small team. Even among them:
            – one has a four month old, I’m sure she wants to run home and see her
            – one has a teenager who has after school therapy
            – one runs a dance class

            1. Loulou*

              This is a really fringe view. I’ve never been paid to attend a holiday party, but I’d much rather have the option to go to one unpaid than never have one.

              1. tessa*

                Fringe? Really? My workplace parties have always take place on the clock, and I don’t know anyone else whose hasn’t, also.

                If anything, I’d say wanting to go to an unpaid work holiday party is fringe.

                1. Loulou*

                  You don’t know anyone whose office throws a holiday party in the evening, after working hours? I genuinely find that difficult to believe, but to give you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps this is more industry or region specific than I realize. That said, I’ve lived and worked in several regions and have friends in a number of industries, and the convention of some sort of occasional after-work party seems nearly universal.

                2. Lenora Rose*

                  Loulou: but a Holiday party is once a year, maaybe twice depending what constitutes holiday time. This is every two weeks.

                3. Loulou*

                  Yes, I agree these happy hours sound too frequent. My point is just that “if you can’t pay your employees to attend [not-work fun optional event], don’t have one” would lead to a lot of people never attending a retirement party, bowling night, happy hour, lunch, or holiday party.

                4. Candi*

                  I think if attendance is optional, then it doesn’t need to be paid.

                  If the people are required to be there, for ANY definition of required, they need to be paid.

                5. JD*

                  ???? I’ve been to many off-hours work parties. When I worked reception at a real estate office, all the yearly parties were in the evenings, and no we did not get paid, except in food and social time, because we weren’t working. After that I moved to working in a retail-type setting that I’ve been in for 8 years, and that is not an environment where it’s at all feasible to hold social occasions while on the clock. All coworker gatherings-for-fun have been held off hours (barbecues, holiday parties, baby showers, etc.). If it’s just a social event with no work being performed and attendance isn’t required, I don’t see any reason for such things to happen on the clock. These kinds of things aren’t at all unusual for coworkers who are friendly enough to want to hang out after work.

                  That said, a happy hour every two weeks is kind of a lot, socializing-wise, and if there’s really just one or two people who seem interested in attending, then it’s probably not a great thing for a manager to be hosting.

        2. Loulou*

          Okay, but optional happy hours are really normal and many people enjoy them. I’d find such frequent ones as OP describes unusual, but the concept of optional drinks after work with colleagues is truly not an outrage.

          1. tessa*

            I think you misunderstand.

            It isn’t an outrage to socialize with colleagues after work. But it’s weird to socialize with your boss after work. It’s even weirder if boss wants to socialize regularly with those who s/he supervises.

            1. grapefruit*

              I mean, I’ve attended plenty of after-work happy hours where my boss was among those who attended, and I willingly spent time socializing with him or her (multiple bosses, at different jobs, which I think further demonstrates that it isn’t that unusual), along with others. I don’t think it’s that far outside the mainstream, though of course it depends on the particular workplace and individuals involved. Generally speaking, I’ve liked most of my bosses as people and enjoyed occasional out-of-office socializing. (And I am by no means an extrovert.) But it does sound problematic in this specific context, with one employee getting so much more of the manager’s attention than the others because of the personal relationship.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, this.

                I’ve also attended happy hours after work with my manager, but on those occasions, most of our team attended, and the optics are a lot different when there’s a manager and 1520 employees than when there’s a manager and 4 employees, of whom most conclude that the manager mostly talks with one person and they’d rather do something else.

            2. Rabbit*

              It’s really not? Very normal where I am for teams/departments to go grab a drink after work with people of varying seniority attending and mixing. I actually find it stranger the idea that even a casual even should be strictly segregated by grade.

              And how far does it go – am I allowed to attend an event with those that are technically below me if I have no power to discipline them? What about the junior employees I have helped train up on various tasks? I took over approving a couple of people’s timesheets for a bit because the manager was too busy, does that mean I have to stop attending for that month or is it just that one colleague I can’t talk to?

            3. Candi*

              I think the difference comes in where if it’s a general work meetup and the boss happens to be one of the people attending, vs the boss being the one to organize it and it being primarily for their direct reports.

            4. JD*

              I don’t think it’s at all weird to socialize with your boss outside of work, assuming that your boss is someone you like on a personal level. Where it gets weird is situations like these, where one person is having a much higher amount of social time with the boss compared to other employees. It can start to look like favoritism even if it isn’t.

          2. Bebop & Rocksteady*

            Not an outrage, but “optional drinks with coworkers” was always a bad idea for a number of reasons. Here we’re just seeing one of those potential negative consequences in action.
            Just because a thing is perceived as “really normal” doesn’t mean it’s good or should continue.

            1. Tali*

              ?? Optional drinks with coworkers are not always a bad idea. Many workplaces are perfectly fine with a holiday party or dinner, where participants have 1-2 drinks and some food and chat in a casual setting. This is literally as old as humanity, and most people can handle this fine.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I think this is about the additional context of this specific “optional drinks with coworkers”, where this is a very small team, and most of them are no longer attending at all.

    4. FridayFriyay*

      I agree the frequency may be a problem, as well as the type of activity. Only ever offering one type of socialization (happy hour) when it seems the team overall isn’t interested in participating means it is time to go back to the drawing board to figure out if the team wants to be engaged in this way and if so how to center the team activities around interests other than the boss’.

      1. Florida Fan 15*

        Yes, part of my problem with this is that OP wants to do happy hour because SHE enjoys it — there’s no mention of her staff enjoying it or with her wanting to do something THEY enjoy. I’m not saying they don’t enjoy it, lots of people including me do, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with happy hour. But as a manager, your focus should be more on what your team wants/needs and less on what you want to do.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      Even if the whole team likes the cocktail hours well enough, when these events are happening so often, it’s easy for inertia to win with a “Eh, kinda tired, I’ll just go next time.”

    6. JustEm*

      When I was a new college grad in my first full-time job I would’ve loved it! I regularly went to happy hours with coworkers and that was with no one footing the bill. :) Now that I’m married with a baby (and nearly 15 years out of college) I wouldn’t go often if at all. I think it’s probably a know your audience kind of thing…

    7. Absurda*

      I agree! When I read that, I thought it was way too often. She might try quarterly and see if that works better or people are more willing to attend. Another option would be a team lunch every now and again. It’s not a happy hour, but might be easier for people to attend and would also allow for some outside of work socializing.

      OP also didn’t mention payment. It’s unclear if, as host, she’s paying for the happy hour or just arranging it and everyone pays for their own drinks, etc. She may consider if these events are a financial burden for her team and think of free or less expensive activities.

      1. F.M.*

        She wrote explicitly: “…where they are all invited (with no pressure to attend) and I pay for everything…”

    8. HS Teacher*

      It wouldn’t bother me at all, especially if she’s paying. I love happy hours, but I’ve stopped doing them because I no longer socialize with a lot of my colleagues, and it’s a freaking pandemic.

      I really don’t have a problem with what OP is doing, but I do get that the optics may not be best. She’s trying to include everyone, and most of them would rather do other things. If one of her employees had written in and mentioned that they didn’t like it, it’d be a different story. As long as she’s inviting the staff and paying, I just don’t see the problem.

    9. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Yes, why not have a monthly at-work luncheon? People can drop in and out as their schedule dictates and no one feels the pressure to drink or take away from their family time.

    10. Candi*

      I’d be annoyed since I wouldn’t be drinking alcohol anyway. (Happy hours to me mean alcohol.) I’m a ridiculous lightweight when it comes to alcohol, so I only drink it at home. (For reference, one drink with 3/4 cup of coke and 1/4 cup of rum made me incredibly sleepy.) Combined with the whole can’t drive and buses thing, I’d be high on the mental “nope” list.

    11. Snuck*

      Yeah, this is my take on it too.

      If you want to have fortnightly drinking sessions why foist it on your staff? Many many staff will find time for one here and there and juggle child care needs or rearrange book clubs etc to give you the odd evening, but fortnightly? Bwhahaha. It’s a nope from me.

  2. Gerry Keay*

    I am truly just waiting for the day when it sinks in to the collective consciousness that giving unsolicited comments on other people’s bodies is not okay, has never been okay, and will never be okay. I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath, but it sure would be nice.

    1. anonymous73*

      I’ll see your request and raise you an “unsolicited comments in general”. People think they’re being helpful, when all they’re doing is sending a message that they think you can’t handle something and need their opinions. Why people think it’s any of their business to stick their noses where they don’t belong is beyond my comprehension.

  3. Maya Bohnhoff*

    Is the problem perhaps that some of your staff don’t drink and might be willing to have outings to a coffee bar or tea shop? You might consider asking if there’s a form of klatch they’d be more likely to attend. This is supposing that their reasons don’t involve family commitments. I know I often had to pass on after work activities with coworkers because I had more important commitments to little league teams and marching bands.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

      yeah, why drinks? Even if you’re going someplace that also serves food, calling it Happy Hour is giving the impression that you need to drink. And maybe they’ve had problems in the past with drunk bosses. Plus people have lives. kids to pickup. dinner to make. Maybe they don’t want to drink and have to find a ride home.

      A better bet would be lunch. Ask everyone what they would like to have for lunch and have it delivered and you’re team can bond that way.

    2. Snuck*

      This is a thought I had too… if your staff aren’t interested maybe it’s the activity that’s the problem.

      The OP says they are an afficionado of happy hours… that means they obviously have a lot invested in late afternoon drinking and possibly feels they know the best places to go and the best ways to do it… this is not a common interest except amongst select groups.

      Do something else. Less often. Mix it up. One fortnight make it drinks, another make it a morning coffee …. Another make it a weekend picnic with kids in a park. And for heaven’s sake reconsider it being fortnightly and make it monthly or quarterly!

      1. A*

        I agree with your overall point, but I don’t think regularly enjoying Happy Hour is an uncommon interest – at least in my area and line of work it’s not at all uncommon. Granted, that doesn’t change my opinion on this situation because I agree that the frequency is too high for a work gathering like this and that the disinterest in participation from the rest of the team may be an indicator that drinking based activities is not the right fit. But ya, in my area it’s not uncommon or unusual for people to frequently go out for drinks (not necessarily with coworkers, in general) and have opinions about the best spots etc. no different than with restaurants, or brunch spots.

  4. Lenora Rose*

    Sounds like Happy hour is the “Social time with the boss” of choice because **it’s what the boss likes**. If she wants to do a “social thing outside work once or twice a month” that actually includes her staff, and this particular kind isn’t actually attaining that result, she needs to talk to her team and say “Do you just not want to socialize informally, or would you prefer a different kind of social activity?” and take that into account.

    Many people don’t drink, and many people who do have social drinks don’t like doing so at a bar at happy hour (which sounds like a loud disruptive place to me, though I may be wrong and she does it at a small lounge with good sound-blocking and booths). Many people would rather go home than go out with their manager. These are normal things.

    She can do happy hour with friends or family if she likes the tradition.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      “Many people don’t drink, and many people who do have social drinks don’t like doing so at a bar at happy hour (which sounds like a loud disruptive place to me, though I may be wrong and she does it at a small lounge with good sound-blocking and booths). Many people would rather go home than go out with their manager. These are normal things.”
      This! This whole paragraph. I’m pushing 50. Hanging at the bar was something most of us outgrew before we hit our 30’s. Alcohol cost more at a bar then a liquor store so I’d be more likely to join a wine or beer night at someone’s house then at the local club. Some of us need to go home and let a pet out. Or feed small kids. Not everyone wants to socialize outside of work except for the holiday party.

      1. Loulou*

        Hanging at the bar was something most of us outgrew before we hit our 30’s.

        Uhhhh…what? Yes, many people don’t like drinking or don’t like bars, but where on earth did you get the idea that most people over 30 don’t go to bars? There are so many bars in my city that have customers of all ages, and that’s been true everywhere I’ve gone. What an odd comment!

        1. Koala dreams*

          Extra odd combined with the comment about cost. People in their twenties are often just starting out and have a lower salary, so in general people are more likely to afford going to the bar later in their career.

          1. Snuck*

            But people in their 20s also have more disposable income and less demands on it. When you add in kids, school fees, mortgages, years of accumulated health and life debt… the encumbrance means that there’s less of that ‘more income’ for drinking out at play.

            Young people have also more inclination to spend their income on disposable items (such as alcohol), innumerable studies have shown this in psychology and economics. Far more likely to buy a fashion t shirt or a few drinks or order out a quick take away meal than a person who is in the next life stage.

        2. JD*

          Yeah, I’m still happily hitting up my favorite bar once or twice a month in my 30s, and almost everyone there ranges in age from late 20s to 60s, occasionally someone older. There are some bars that definitely cater to a younger crowd (tends to be the louder ones), but many bars attract a not-young clientele.

          Really among my over-30 friends who have “stopped” hanging out at bars, it tends to be either people who never really enjoyed that activity to begin with or else people who currently have small children and thus it’s more difficult/expensive to go out, due to having to arrange child care, so they are more selective about the few outings they allow themselves.

        3. A*

          Ya, this is definitely not the case in any of the areas I’ve lived in or amongst any of my social and professional circles. There are people that do and don’t drink of all ages. I could perhaps see where this was coming from if we were talking about a rave club or something, but bars in general? Super common activity/location for socialization. Heck, I enjoy them MORE now that I’m in my 30s because I don’t have to contend with being hit on / randomly approached by strangers as much as I did in my 20s.

      2. Salamander*

        I’ve Escaped Cubicle Land…you’ve got it exactly right. If there was a “like” button, I would have mashed it. Most people lead incredibly busy lives. I personally find that having good boundaries between my work life and my personal life is a good thing.

    2. anonymous73*

      And it could also be that they don’t want to hang out with their boss. It’s not personal, it’s just not something a lot of people enjoy. You can have a friendly relationship with your boss and not want to spend your free time with them twice a month (which is A LOT). I’ve been fortunate that most of my managers have been cool and I enjoyed hanging out with them, but that’s too much happy hour. I would suggest dialing down the frequency to once a quarter, and finding something that everyone will enjoy during the work day (like lunch).

      1. Loulou*

        I think this just shows how nothing can really be universal. For me lunchtime is alone time to recharge during the workday — I usually avoid meeting even friends or family during my lunch hour if I can help it. So if I was invited to team lunch, I’d politely decline, but I’d gladly attend a happy hour.

        Does that mean nobody should invite their staff to team lunch? No, it’s just my preference, which is personal not universal!

        1. Chicanery*

          This is why variety is key! Clearly one of OP’s reports enjoys happy hour. Others might love a team lunch. Still others might be wishing for an activity that doesn’t involve food or drink at all (social eating is a minefield for some people) like, I don’t know, bowling or a nature walk. Why not mix it up so everyone occasionally gets to be in their element?

          1. Loulou*

            Totally agreed with your whole comment! I was just pushing back on the sentiment of “why not do something everyone will enjoy” because there is truly nothing that EVERYONE will enjoy. Offering a variety (and also accepting that some people will just never join any of them, and being sure to give them in-work opportunities for face time) is key.

          2. Metadata minion*

            Absolutely! I’m on Team Lunch So Long As It’s Rare ;-) I don’t usually want to go to the trouble of getting somewhere after work, so while I value my alone time to decompress on my lunch break, I’m very happy to join a team thing once a month or so.

        2. HS Teacher*

          Thank you. So many people think whatever is going on in their lives is the default. I don’t have kids (nor do I want to). I have a few jobs and grad school, so I’m busy. However, I love happy hour and really miss it. We stopped having them during the pandemic. I’m 49 and didn’t know there was a shelf life on my ability to go out to a bar or club. Guess I should buy a rocking chair and some knitting needles.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            I really miss my Wednesday’s bar trivia. Happy hours after work, 20 years, like a clock, only interrupted by a hurricane or a flu.
            I am in my 40s and all my friends are in 40s and 50s. We are not too old to go to a bar.

            1. allathian*

              Hear hear, I’ll hit 50 in a few months and I’m definitely not too old to go to a bar. It’s just that as a parent of a preteen, I don’t often get the opportunity to go to bars, and when I do, I prefer to go with my friends rather than coworkers, never mind my manager. Before the pandemic, I went out with my friends maybe twice a year on a girls’ night out, and once a year for after work drinks with my team.

        3. Observer*

          For me lunchtime is alone time to recharge during the workday —

          The advantage of a lunch rather than happy hour is that it means that there is a MUCH smaller chance of messing with people’s lives- everything from outside commitments, transportation, to tight scheduling for whatever reason. And while some of these issues could come up with a lunch, it is a lot less likely.

          But also, notice that the suggestion was to only do this once a quarter.

          I would also add that if most of the people in the office are like you, or even a substantial minority, the boss really needs to take that into account.

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yeah, I like happy hour and I like my boss, but I do NOT want to have twice a month happy hours with my boss. I don’t even have happy hour that frequently with my friends.

  5. Olddog*

    I think it would be helpful if there were opportunities to connect as a team that were not centered around alcohol (many people do not imbibe for a wide range of reasons) and also to make at least some of these gathering during work hours for those who have commitments that prevent post work social gatherings.

    1. Rayray*

      I agree. I don’t drink alcohol at all so that’s one reason why I wouldn’t attend. Even if I did, I’d feel weird drinking with my boss and colleagues.

      Even for work activities outside work hours, I’m not a huge fan. It can be fun, like
      The company wide summer party you can bring your family or a guest to but that’s Only once a year! For the most part, I’m against after hour work functions unless it’s a fun activity that’s a reward for you as an employee. I’d much rather have an on-the-clock lunch and hanging out only once in a great while vs an after hours happy hour. I’m already at work or commuting to or from that my free time eac day is super limited. I want to get things done or relax on my own.

  6. Smith*

    Stop. The others are sending you a pretty BIG message by not attending. And yes, they will perceive it as favoritism, even if they say they don’t care. Find other people to go to happy hour with.

    1. HS Teacher*

      Maybe the others’ message is that it’s not their thing. That doesn’t mean they are upset that it’s happening. I think OP should ask, if it’s something she’s worried about. This is one of the few times when I disagree with Alison’s advice, and that’s fine. For me, the only adults I see regularly are my colleagues. I live alone and can go days without seeing another adult. So I enjoy happy hour, but I don’t begrudge those who don’t. We should be a little less judgmental.

      1. Observer*

        No, the OP CANNOT “ask”. Because it’s highly unlikely that the staff will be honest if they have a problem with it.

        Why WOULD they? The OP has ignored the signal the people are not so interested in this. And they are giving Mary extras that others are getting – they admit that “Mary definitely gets more of my attention because she chooses to join me at happy hour“. They seem to think that just because it’s because they are drinking buddies rather than due to their past relationship that’s ok. But it’s NOT.

        What makes it worse is that the OP is so blind to the issue – they say that they “worry that the perception among the others on the team is that Mary gets special one-on-one time with me because she is my “drinking buddy.”” And say that they would never “pressure” anyone to do something that they are not comfortable with. But then they admit that the perception IS actually correct, but they don’t seem to see it.

        Even under normal circumstances, it’s unlikely that staff would be honest about this. When the boss is this out of touch? Why would the take the chance of a bed reaction to the “choice”. They are already paying for the “choice” to not provide their Boss’ social scene.

  7. Florp*

    Maybe the other employees don’t drink, or don’t like bars, or are uncomfortable with the behavior of people who have been drinking? When the only opportunity to see a boss informally is in a bar, that could be a problem. I get that the OP likes happy hour, but if they are doing this one or two days a month with employees, that’s 29 other days they can have happy hour with other people who genuinely want to be there. Maybe switch to lunches or have a nice breakfast brought into the office.

      1. Observer*

        The OP definitely did say that “Mary definitely gets more of my attention because she chooses to join me at happy hour,”

  8. middle name danger*

    Sounds like it’s time to find a socialization that people want to participate in, and/or dial back how often it is.

  9. The Smiling Pug*

    OP #1, please stop with the happy hours. People like to go home after a long work day, and yeah, it does look like Mary is getting “favorite treatment.”

  10. not a doctor*

    Not gonna lie, since the OP and Mary do have a prior and clearly friendly relationship, I also wonder if the other two stopped coming to Happy Hour because it turned into the “OP and Mary Show.” It’s not fun to sit around feeling like a third wheel (or a pair of third wheels), especially when the big wheel is your boss.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I was wondering this as well. I’d feel pretty uncomfortable sitting there while OP and Mary are having a gay old time, as the other three of us exchange glances and hope that one of us gets up the nerve to say they have to leave.

      1. tessa*

        Years ago when I was a restaurant server, most of my co-workers and I would regularly hang out at someone’s house (read: apartment), just having fun drinking beer and smoking really good weed.

        Occasionally, one of our managers, many years older than most of us, who would find out where the party was, show up, and try to blend. He really knew how to clear a room, poor guy. We liked him okay, but as most people know, you just can’t be yourself around the boss.

        On that note, I don’t understand people in supervisory roles who want to socialize with their employees. If any boundary needs to be firmly maintained, it’s to not socialize.

        1. anonymous73*

          It’s okay to socialize in the appropriate manner, like taking your team to lunch. Crashing a party at someone’s home…not okay.

      2. Loulou*

        Yep, I had the same thought. It may be that truly nobody else wants to attend, but it also seems possible that people feel awkward about the perceived closeness between OP and Mary.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Especially if the conversation keeps going down the route of things like “Fergus from Old Job” stories, which won’t mean anything to people who didn’t work there and don’t know this person. That’s not going to be fun for those other coworkers to listen to. I know on a trip once with my relatives, when it turned out a friend of my uncle from a cricket team they’d played on 20 years earlier happened to be holidaying in the same area and wanted to meet up, after four hours anecdotes about Mad Steve, Matt the Tightwad and Gary who was generally disliked started to wear pretty thin, and this was a one off occasion. If happy hour conversation regularly goes down that route, I do understand why the other employees might not enjoy that.

  11. MisterForkbeard*

    The “happy hour” question is a good one. I used to do this and it’s a good practice. But if he’s only getting these things with ONE attendee on a regular basis he needs to re-evaluate.

    Invite new people. Open it up to outside the team or to related teams. Change the timing. But probably it’s important to ask his invitees if they’d like to continue doing it. “While I’d love to continue having Happy Hours, we’re getting very low attendance. I’d love to hear from you all about whether or not we should continue to have Happy Hours and where, and if so how I can make it more convenient for you to attend.”

    Alternately, make it a more community event. Offer to fund it but have your team decide collectively where, when and how to do it. Then attend and pay for it.

    1. anonymous73*

      It can work but you have to know your audience. I used to work in a large IT department and we went to happy hour all the time, with employees, managers and the CIO (who was actually the biggest partier). It was fun, there was no pressure to go, we were mostly young(ish) and they were very informal.

    2. Nanani*

      It is not a good practice. It may be a common one, but it is not a good practice.
      A lot of people don’t/can’t drink, have other commitments outside work hours, get migraines from smelling alcohol even if they don’t drink any, etc etc etc.

      Hosting a happy hour as the way to get face time with the boss is no different than the characters in mad men hanging out at strip clubs after work. It’s not equal and it’s not an okay thing for a boss to be doing.

      Go drink with people who don’t work for you.

      1. Loulou*

        Hosting an optional happy hour is like the characters on Mad Men going to a strip club???? Good grief.

        It’s an obvious problem if going to a happy hour is the only way to get face time with your boss. The very existence of an (occasional!) optional happy hour is not a problem.

        1. Hannah*

          I sort of see where you are coming from but I also see the bigger point – if more than say, 1 in every 100 opportunities to get additional face time with the boss involve having to go to a bar where people are drinking, some people will be at a disadvantage because they cannot easily go into that environment (same as say, a strip club). A boss should be careful not to put people at a disadvantage based on things like sobriety, gender or religious norms.

          It sounds like in this case, 100 out of 100 opportunities to get additional face time with the boss involves going to a bar where people are drinking which is WAY too high.

          We could quibble on if maybe 5 out of 100 or 8 out of 100 are fine, but 100 out of 100 is not.

      2. dresscode*

        Whoa. I don’t drink and I still went to the occasional happy hours with coworkers. I just had a soda. You don’t have to make it so stark.

      3. Allegra*

        I agree that making events with alcohol the only way to socialize with a manager is unequal and not good practice–I don’t drink much myself and prefer sober events. But it is wildly different than going to strip clubs.

      4. HS Teacher*

        Migraines from smelling alcohol? That’s a new one on me. Of course, people aren’t going to be happy until we can’t drink, smoke, vape, eat what we want, or do anything that isn’t approved by whomever gets to approve these things.

        1. Allegra*

          Yes, migraines can be triggered by all kinds of smells, and probably by most things one would encounter in a bar on top of that (noise, crowding, some lights). I get that a lot of the comments have been really anti-happy hour and it’s a bummer if one enjoys that, but that doesn’t mean we have to get ableist about it.

      5. JD*

        “Hosting a happy hour as the way to get face time with the boss is no different than the characters in mad men hanging out at strip clubs after work.”

        It is very different actually. Very, very different indeed. Even if the happy hour was truly THE one way to get face time with a boss (which doesn’t quite appear to be what’s happening in this letter), it would still be pretty different.

  12. Anonfornow*

    I think you should talk to your team about what kinds of team bonding they appreciate! It’s very possible that they don’t drink, or have obligations after work that make happy hours difficult, but would appreciate team lunches or doing a fun activity during the work day periodically. I also don’t think you *necessarily* need to stop the happy hours with Mary, but you do need to create other avenues for people to have 1 on 1 time in a more casual way with you if you’re going to give her that forum. I was once “mary” in this situation and my boss made it a point to do a nice lunch 1x a month 1 on 1 with those who were non happy hour goers, to make sure we got equal face time.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, if you want team building events, do them during the workday. Most people are probably going home to the kids instead of going to bars after work and that’s why they won’t come.

      1. singularity*

        Yeah, and if you have young kids who aren’t in school, you’d have to find someone to watch them to do something like this. OP makes a lot of assumptions about how much time people have outside of work hours to do social things.

        1. Stitch*

          This as well. My kid’s daycare is near my work so I do dropoff/pickup. While my spouse does pickup sometimes, I wouldn’t ask him to do it every 2 weeks for something like a happy hour.

    2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      This. Asa person who doesn’t drink, I get really tired of being invited to endless happy hour deelios. No thanks.

  13. tessa*

    I think it’s a mistake to socialize with employees, period. It doesn’t matter that you and Mary knew each other previously. Things are different now, and necessarily so.

    That’s part of being the boss. I adore my boss – easily, one of the best human beings I have ever known – but I don’t want to socialize with her. It would just make things weird between us, especially since she evaluates my work performance annually.

    As for, “But I want to keep doing happy hour because I really enjoy it!” So do it. Just not with your employees. They deserve a break from their boss.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I think it’s a mistake to socialize with employees, period.

      If you’re only socializing with one employee (be it intentional or not) I agree, but I’ve been on teams where the whole group would go out for lunch or do a happy hour (not once or twice a month, but maybe 2-3 times a year) and those have been enjoyable for me. The key is that everyone on the team had equal access to these events and to our supervisor, so it didn’t become a special hang out for one person and the boss.

    2. anonymous73*

      Maybe for you, but it’s not that black and white of an issue. Socializing with one person in particular is problematic, but I’ve had several managers who I socialized with and there was no weirdness at all. I’ve also had managers I didn’t even want to work for much less socialize with outside of the office. In OP’s case, yes she needs to stop and figure out what her employees might enjoy and cut down on the frequency.

    3. Rabbit*

      This is a weird take. Every workplace I have been in and most companies I know about have had this level of informal after-work-pub at which it is totally normal for various levels of employee to mix and attend. The idea that all events should be strictly segregated by hierarchy or that noone could possibly enjoy socialising or caving a friendly informal conversation with their manager is another part of the extreme anti-social trend on this site that really doesn’t fit with how it has ever worked for me or anyone I know. And I don’t even love going to the puib or drinking, but I like my coworkers (including my manager!) and getting to know them

    4. Rabbit*

      Every place I have worked it has been very normal for teams/departments to socialise with people of various levels including managers and other senior employees attending and mixing with everyone else. It would be weirder to have an event strictly segregated by rank – unless it was a social specifically for new grads or something.

      If you don’t enjoy it then fair enough and I don’t think it should affect how you are evaluated or how you get treated at work but I also don’t really see any difference between a casual conversation after work and one at lunch or in a slow period and I don’t see how that would really ‘make things weird’ with someone

  14. Rick T*

    OP #3: I’m a bit surprised he thinks a company he left on a negative note would have any interest in updates on his family after the fact.. Why/how could you know about his daughter if no one in his group still contacts him?

    Don’t send a card, and just delete any future messages unread.

    1. anonymous73*

      Quite honestly, based on his attitude when he was fired, even if I had known about the death in the family I wouldn’t have reached out to him. It was 2 years later, he basically shit on everyone at the place when he left, and they hadn’t kept in touch. I would never wish that kind of grief on someone, but I also wouldn’t show them any grace after the way I was treated.

    2. The Starsong Princess*

      True. If OP had reached out, they probably would have received a load of vitriol to the tune of “Don’t pretend to care about, you horrible people”. A good rule of thumb is never reach out to anyone you’ve had to alert security to ban from the building.

    3. whereismyrobot*

      I rarely disagree with Alison, but I disagree on this answer.

      He has already proven to be a problem and I think he is just reaching out because of grief and anger. I would not bother responding because absolutely no good can come of it.

  15. Sunflower*

    Asking employees to give up their personal time every two weeks is too much. Maybe only on special occasions/holidays, or just have team lunches during work hours. Some people have families, 2nd jobs, school, or don’t drive.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Yeah, work was often the reason why I needed a cocktail with friends before heading home. Spending time with my manager or even teammates would not make my Happy Hour very happy.

    1. Pennilyn Lot*

      I know this is a work blog but tbh I so disagree with the concept of effectively cutting off a friendship with someone you get on with because of having a manager/employee relationship. The potential and possibility of favouritism meaning that you cannot socialize with people that you spend many, many hours a day working with and personally get along with just seems like such an overstep into personal lives. I doubt that every manager of every level is getting paid enough to justify fully eschewing friendships like that – I know mine, in the arts sector, most certainly are not. I know that this will be an unpopular opinion but I am also coming from the perspective of someone working in an environment where if everyone followed these rules, I would have no work friends and would not be able to socialize with work colleagues but they would still be able to socialize with each other because I am junior to them.

      A lot of comments here are acting like the LW is forcing the people they manage to attend the happy hours, when they clearly feel comfortable declining the invitation–it says right there in the letter that they’re choosing not to attend. I do not doubt that it would be inappropriate in many contexts and that there are many, many situations in which it wouldn’t be fine (please don’t feel the need to present hypotheticals to me) but I don’t think “no socializing with direct reports” is as black and white as it’s frequently portrayed on this blog.

      1. turquoisecow*

        The comments here tend to skew more toward the “don’t even say good morning to my coworkers” type, so I’m not surprised to see a bunch of people saying that they don’t want to socialize with their boss for x,y, or z reasons. I think there is a way you can do it that’s more equitable than “happy hour that literally only one employee attends,” but other, perhaps less frequent activities are fine. Dinner once a quarter, lunch once a month, maybe even monthly happy hours *if that’s what people are into.

        The issue is not that employees are socializing with their boss, the issue is that only one employee is socializing with the boss, the others either can’t or don’t want to do it, so that one employee is getting or is perceived to be getting preferential treatment. If the boss comes up with an activity that all can enjoy, that’s fine.

        1. Loulou*

          All of this! For whatever reason, only one person has opted into the activity LW chose. I think trying a different activity that might be more inclusive is a great idea.

        2. Pennilyn Lot*

          I totally agree with you, but it seems like the AAM stance on this is that the socializing itself is the no-go, rather than the happy hour itself being the issue.

        3. tessa*

          “The comments here tend to skew more toward the ‘don’t even say good morning to my coworkers’ type…”

          Untrue and unnecessarily hyperbolic.

          1. Rabbit*

            No, it happens every time a question that references greeting other people, or even in ones about coworkers that are too chatty – a load of comments comes in from people who consider it a terrible imposition to have to say anything at all that isn’t directly related to work

            1. SimplytheBest*

              Yep, every time there’s a discussion about socialization at work here, I’m envisioning about half the commenters as contestants on the bachelor or some other such reality show: “I’m not here to make friends!”

            2. Lenora Rose*

              AND a load of commens come in about people who are just fine with it. I think you’re seeing a real thing that does happen, but overinflating its frequency and importance.

          2. JD*

            I’ve definitely seen it whenever any topic related to off-hours social events comes up. There’s a contingent who finds it incredibly strange, for various reasons, to want to spend time with coworkers outside of work. But, it’s not strange, assuming you actually like your coworkers. It’s not for everyone, but it’s not as strange as some commenters tend to portray it.

          3. A*

            Oh, it’s definitely a thing. And it’s something that has been discussed numerous times before so it’s not an observation unique to this thread. Even the descriptive phrase ‘don’t even say good morning to my coworkers’ type…” comes from AAM letters. I can see how, if you’re new to AAM, this might seem like a gross assumption – but it’s a thing.

          4. All the Words*

            People here regularly defend deliberately ignoring the presence of co-workers when encountered in common areas like passing in the hallway. That refusing to respond to or acknowledge a greeting is totally acceptable. Just a nod of acknowledgement is too big an ask.

            So, absolutely true and not hyperbolic at all.

        4. Tali*

          Agreed. Honestly not surprising as I find most online forums attract people who dislike in-person socializing, as if online socializing is fundamentally different… Most people in real life, not just the vocal ones on this blog, are fine with occasional happy hour/dinner/drinks with coworkers including boss.

          The issues for OP are 3/4 of their team doesn’t seem to enjoy the current format, not the inherent idea of happy hours.

      2. Kitts*

        It’s not, because people don’t have good boundaries and don’t follow good practices. As evidenced by your comment. People justify bad practices to themselves in many ways, and convince themselves it’s fine. People are self-centred, biased, bad managers and poor at boundaries.

        But it absolutely should be, because of all the potential for problems it brings. How much people get paid is not remotely relevant. There’s a whole world of people who are not your employees for you to socialise with. If you cannot handle establishing appropriate boundaries with those you manage, you shouldn’t be a manager. You’ll certainly never be a good one.

        1. Pennilyn Lot*

          Thanks, I’ll make sure to pass it on to the one good friend I’ve made at work and who has helped me through a difficult professional transition during the pandemic that she’s got bad boundaries and is self-centered, biased, and bad. I’m sure that your opinion is suitable for every workplace in the world regardless of any and all context.

      3. Metadata minion*

        My feelings on this depend a lot on how big the company is — if the LW only has her reports, and her own boss(es), then she is kind of stuck in terms of work friendships. But if there are other managers on her level, or other employees who don’t report to her, she may have plenty of options for socializing with people who aren’t her direct reports.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        I certainly don’t think it’s a thing to never do, but we’ve been example after example of why you have to be careful doing it, and especially when this kind of favouritism optics comes in. And the choice of the people she manages to not attend is itself a part of what is turning this into a problem.

        If what she wants is social time with her crew, she needs to switch up the format of the social time so others actually want to participate.

        If what she wants is a semi-regular happy hour get together and her direct reports were just a convenient source of company, she might be better choosing someone who isn’t a direct report.

        And if she really wants a drinks with Mary event, she either needs to find ways to give her other reports face-time with the boss, or figure out some way to build a much greater separation between work and social life when arranging her and Mary’s nights out.

    2. HS Teacher*

      I don’t get the sense that they’re obligated to go. In fact, it sounds like the OP makes it clear that it’s optional. I really just can’t understand a lot of these responses. I rarely feel so out of step with the AAM crowd, but I think some people are way over the top.

  16. EmmaPoet*

    LW#3- I honestly don’t think there’s anything they could do at this point that would please ex-employee. If they send something, he’ll say it was only because they’re trying to look good, if they don’t, then he’ll blame them for that. I’m guessing he’s channeling his grief into anger, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I do think a card* would err on the side of graciousness, and we can all use that. They shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing, but now that they do, it would be a kind gesture if they feel they can do it.

    *Flowers can be tricky, depending on the culture they come from. White roses can mean funerals, but in Japan, China, and Korea, you’d do better to send yellow chrysanthemums. Also, different faith traditions have varied customs, so I’d probably stick to the card and let people write nice little notes on it.

    1. anonymous73*

      Someone who is going to lash out at a former employer, with whom he did not keep in touch, and who fired him OVER 2 YEARS prior is not anyone who deserves anything from them IMO. This may seem harsh, but based on the way he behaved when he was fired he is not a reasonable human being, and OP should not feel bad for not reaching out. I would just ignore the email and move on.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        I don’t see anything wrong with sending a card. The guy lost his daughter, so why not tell him you’re sorry about that? Even a terrible coworker deserves some kindness under these circumstances. It probably won’t do any good, but it can’t do much harm, either, so what the heck.

      2. EmmaPoet*

        Deserve, no. But if all we get is what we deserve, then we’re all going to be pretty miserable. I wouldn’t spend a lot of energy on it, but I don’t think it’s wrong to extend a bit of grace to someone who’s clearly in extremis. It sounds like he’s stuck in anger right now, and who’s to say that getting that card might not jar him out of it?

  17. Stitch*

    While it’s sad about the ex employee’s daughter his behavior is pretty bizarre. Why would you expect a 2 year old employer you left in bad terms to even know this had happened? A polite “sorry for your loss” email is fine. But really, this guy is definitely someone to be avoided.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Grief affects parents in ways I’ve only seen and can’t imagine. My easy-going sister shredded me over all kinds of things after her daughter died at 25 years old. She got angry over little things or brought up arguments I thought were resolved when we were kids. Much later, she told me she wasn’t sure how or why she remembered those things, or why her response was so volatile. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just thought she needed a target for her grief and I was okay with being one.

      It’s not okay for the ex-employee to take OP apart, but he might be lashing out because he doesn’t know what else to do, or who to target.

      1. Jaybee*

        Exactly. Anger is one of the stages of grief. In fiction it’s usually portrayed as ‘anger at the person who died’ or ‘anger at God’ but in real life it’s rarely that logical.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Either unless they all habitually read all local obits or she died in some very public, all over the news kind of way, it’s tremendously bizarre to think they’d know it happened.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Even if they did habitually read the obits, there’s still no guarantee they’d make the connection between the person in the obit and the ex coworker – the daughter could have had a different last name, or the last name could have been a very common one and they’d have no reason to connect it. Someone who wasn’t friends with or working closely with that employee possibly wouldn’t remember, or wouldn’t have known in the first place, what his daughter’s name was. It’s like in the post the other day where the coworker didn’t remember OP living in San Antonio, I think children’s names was something mentioned as an example of things coworkers might not remember, and when I tried to think myself I realised I wasn’t sure what one coworker’s sons are called, and this is a current coworker I am on friendly terms with.

  18. awesome3*

    Anytime someone writes in saying “they haven’t gotten the hint why is it still happening” to a hint that I would not have picked up on, I feel anxious about all the hints in my own life I must have missed and how I’m probably offending someone without them knowing it. Please be direct!

  19. Me*

    OP1 – I don’t want to drink with my boss. Ever.
    Frankly I don’t want to hang out with them after work on my own time either.

    If you want to bond with your team, make it during work hours and something that every can participate in – order in lunch monthly or such.

    1. Pennilyn Lot*

      If you don’t want to hang out with your boss, why would it be better to have an event during work time where you are obligated to do so, versus an entirely optional event after work that you don’t have to go to? Everyone keeps responding to the letter like LW wrote that they force their direct reports to attend against their will, which they clearly do not do, because the reports do not come.

      1. Lunita*

        People are responding like that because it’s unfair. For whatever reason, whether they don’t drink, are too busy, or something else, the other staff don’t attend. But maybe they would like to develop a better relationship with the OP or would attend if the activity or time was changed. OP should be changing it up so they aren’t always just hanging out with one staff member.

  20. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    I dont agree with the advice with #3 and the old employee. I wouldn’t engage. If he is so volatile that he emailed 2 years later saying horrible things an email back is not going to do any good.

  21. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    For the last one I think the specific questions about punching in or absences are so strange they raise a couple of red flags. My theories in no particular order:

    1) the person has issues at their current job with punching in on time and frequent absences, which could mean you may have issues with them on attendance or a favorable view is their current or past employer was unreasonable about use things. Or
    2) it is one of your current employees, who doesn’t think they are being fairly treated in terms of time cards or absences and is hoping you will but in writing a more lenient or spelled out version of the policy they will use to either go against you, or try to force your hand in some way.

    As I am just speculating, both of these reasons would encourage waiting for the interviews because a current employee won’t apply, and you might weed out a bad Apple.

    1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssss*


      I was speculating it was someone who is handling any anxiety about the unknown by asking as many questions as they can, so that they know what they can or cannot control when they start (if they start) and they know as much as possible because not knowing triggers the anxiety. OR they have a physical disability they have not disclosed and are wondering if they can be easily accommodated.

      That said, it’s still annoying for the LW and a gentle “We’ll can cover these if we move to an interview” is all that’s needed.

  22. Roeslein*

    I feel for OP#3. I had a boss who refused to accept that I didn’t want to make a company-wide pregnancy announcement (my project teams and everyone who needed to know were aware) and pressured me every single week to make one because “we are like a family”. Yeah, right. Then she proceeded to push me out at 6 months pregnant when I came back from sick leave due to pregnancy-related health issues. So much for being like family. Worst boss ever (she also had two children herself, which somehow makes it even worse!)

    1. All the Words*

      Nobody can screw one over like family, so anytime I hear these phrases I put on my mental plate armor because I know trouble will follow.

  23. BBB*

    your employees have already given you 40 hours of their week, stop asking for their free time on top of that. people can’t or unwilling to go to after work drinks and the situation is creating perceived favoritism which will result in resentment on your team.
    if you insist on team building, ask your employees what they’d like to do and then do it DURING WORK HOURS WHEN YOU’RE PAYING THEM.

  24. CoffeeBreak*

    I would actually like to do happy hours with my coworkers, but I live further away than everyone else so I’d rather not drive 35+ minutes for just a drink or two. Everyone here has good suggestions, such as talking with the employees about other team bonding things they would like, but it could also be a matter of distance. Maybe choose different bars each month so not everyone is always driving out of their way. This is just a suggestion since OP said they like the happy hours, this might salvage them.

  25. feral fairy*

    I think there are a few issues with LW1’s happy hours. It seems like the other team members were attending these happy hours at some point and then they stopped going (if I am reading correctly). I suspect that they might have stopped going because it was clear to them that the LW is closer to Mary and the others felt like third wheel. Also, the fact that these events are happening so frequently and that they are always at a bar isn’t great either. Frankly, I don’t have any children, but a lot of days after work I want to be done for the day and don’t have the desire to socialize with coworkers who I ostensibly saw earlier that day. For a more special event like a holiday party or a larger event, I will absolutely go but a happy hour every two weeks isn’t worth it to me.

    Also, I am in recovery and I don’t drink. I don’t have a problem telling people that I don’t drink, but some people don’t feel comfortable telling their boss (especially if they got sober recently and especially if the team culture involves a lot of drinking). If it’s a special occasion, I don’t mind going to a bar, but every two weeks is not appealing to me. There’s no indication from the letter that any of the teammates are sober, but if I was on that small of a team and all the team bonding activities centered on drinking, I would feel pretty alienated.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      It seems to me that there are Happy Hour fields vs non-Happy Hour fields. One of my housemates who worked on the Hill in DC had after-hours events every night of the week (and eventually moved to another job where she could regularly get to bed before 1am) whereas in my time working at libraries, I can count the happy hour events on two fingers and overestimate by at least one.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      And yes, you make excellent points. I’m wondering if they started happening even more after Mary joined, so even people who do drink and like bars might start getting tired of spending a couple hours every other Thursday listening to The Boss and Mary Show.

  26. Bookworm*

    I don’t know if it’s wrong (left that Alison) but I do hope that it doesn’t affect your relationship with other employees. I can’t stand happy hours (don’t drink and hate the concept). Yes, I know the purpose and why it’s a good idea to attend these things but I would really prefer if more organizations did more open-ended type things or tried for the occasional lunch or something during work hours. My time is mine and I see no reason to spend non-work hours with colleagues.

  27. Essess*

    Now that you know that after-hours drinking is not a social activity that most of your team wants to participate in, as an effective manager you should find something that is more inclusive for your team. When only 1 member of the team is participating, it is not a team-building/morale-building event and needs to be changed.

    If you are only holding after work activities and they all revolve around drinking, you are eliminating people with families that can’t spend their after-work time with you, people who are on medications that can’t drink, people who are pregnant (and probably don’t want to share that info yet), people who are in alcohol abuse treatments, and people who are of religions that aren’t allowed to drink. You are creating a negative environment which is the opposite of your intention.

  28. I should really pick a name*

    Your goal is to focus on spending time outside work together in a less formal environment.
    If only one person is attending, you are not meeting your goal, so the happy hours aren’t working and should be altered or discontinued.
    Find out what (if anything) your employees want to do and how frequently. Right it sounds like the arrangement only suits you and Mary.

  29. Underrated Pear*

    I have worked in a number of places where attending after-works drinks organized by the boss was very typical, and people generally enjoyed it fine. (For the record, these were small-ish workplaces, and I was close with all of my coworkers, so I’m not just saying that from my own biased lens.) So I don’t think this is as odd of a practice as some of the commenters do. THAT SAID, LW1’s employees are clearly demonstrating that it’s not what they want to do with their time, so yes, you should find another way to socialize a bit, preferably on work time.

    And whether or not it is typical practice in your location/field/culture, I do think that twice a month is way too frequent. I think in the past workplaces I’m remembering, we did this maybe once a quarter.

    1. Underrated Pear*

      Oh, and I do agree with everyone else who is pointing out why it’s problematic for events to focus on alcohol. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with people having the *option* to drink at a work social event, but I think it’s a problem if the default expectation is alcohol, because then anyone not drinking will stand out for reasons they may not want to explain.

      1. Loulou*

        Agreed, and it’s worth thinking about whether your team has cultivated a hard drinking culture, or whether so many of your events are at bars that anyone who doesn’t go to bars would usually be excluded. That’s totally different from the tone of some of these comments, which I’m pretty baffled by.

  30. Loulou*

    I’m really stunned by how unhelpful some of these comments are. OP #1 wrote in with an interesting workplace dilemma, and instead of engaging with her question a bunch of happy hour abolitionists came out of the woodwork to shout about how the real problem is ever inviting your employees to a bar (!!) after working hours (!!!!!!) in the first place?

    We get it! You never ever want to see your coworkers unless you’re being paid right that second. This preference is not relevant to every letter about socializing.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m someone who loves team happy hours, but I think most folks are offering a perspective on why choosing happy hours as the team outing (especially 1-2 times a month) may feed into why so few are choosing to take part in them, which is creating a scenario in which only one person is getting one-on-one time with the boss. With a couple of exceptions, I don’t read the comments as saying that you should never choose a happy hour as a team outing, but that the options for team outings should be varied (both in time and venue) so that folks who might be uncomfortable with one type of outing still have an opportunity to partake in another type of outing.

      1. Loulou*

        Yes, I totally agree with you and said something similar above! But respectfully, I’ve seen several comments that seem outraged at the concept of: a) ever being invited to a team event after work hours and b) ever being invited to a team event at a bar. I’m not sure exactly what would make those commenters happy.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          There was a post earlier in the week that sparked a TON of not-always-civil debate about overtime (“How do I reject a difficult internal candidate”) that is likely feeding into (a). I do think it’s fair to say that for LW’s particular team, she should stop doing happy-hours-as-team-building since they have turned into happy-hours-as-LW-Mary-1×1.

          Other than that, every single time a letter is about any socialization with coworkers, there’s a contingent that makes themselves very, very heard that they are never ok with socializing with their coworkers in any situation ever. It’s so predictable that it could be a spot on AAM Bingo.

          1. tessa*

            Predictable, perhaps, but that doesn’t make the feeling wrong, and it’s really unfair to put everyone who prefers not to socialize with co-workers in the same basket.

            I mean, if I’m a new mother, or caring for an elderly parent, or volunteer weekday evenings to help a schoolkid learn to read, or take a class most evenings, those are my priorities, so no, I won’t be socializing. Add that to anyone who is single, and the demands are even more stretched. Want the laundry done? Dishes washed? Litter boxes cleaned? Bills paid? Carpet vacuumed? Lawn mowed? There’s no one else to do it but you. And so on.

            Also, if you’re like me, I don’t like socializing with my co-workers because there’s a cliquishness about it that can show up at work, and I don’t want to risk things souring between me and my co-workers. That’s my sole reason. Is there something wrong with it?

            Honestly, it’s immature as hell to sneer people for not wanting to socialize with their co-workers.

            1. Loulou*

              Tessa, what do you think these comments are adding to the discussion? Obviously there are plenty of reasons an individual couldn’t or wouldn’t socialize outside of work. Nobody is disputing that. What we are disputing is the idea that because people who can’t or won’t socialize exist, nobody should ever be invited to such an event.

              tl;dr there’s nothing wrong with not socializing, but stop impugning people who want to or assuming that nobody does

            2. A*

              Tessa – you’ve made a few comments on this post that seem to indicate that you are quite upset and seem to be responding to things that haven’t been mentioned. The comment you responded to didn’t say anything negative about people who don’t want to socialize with their co-workers – they were mentioning the fact that a common theme on AAM is a vocal minority of commenters being hyperfocused on the stance that socializing with coworkers outside of work is inherently bad/inappropriate/rude anytime there is a letter that sparks this kind of discussion. I’m not trying to be harsh here, but I think you may be projecting some frustrations that you are having that are based on misinterpretations of these kinds of comments.

        2. Jaybee*

          Not being invited to after-hour team events at a bar. That’s what makes those of us who don’t drink and who have lives outside of work happy.

          I’ve enjoyed plenty of work events. I’m up for anything fun during work-hours and have organized plenty of work parties myself. After-work parties I will attend for special occassions (at the most recent one – a dinner for a retiring coworker – I got sat next to the retiring coworker who immediately got trashed and spent the next hour ragging on me and calling me a ‘pussy’ for not drinking. I laughed along with the jokes etc. but do you really think I wouldn’t rather have been doing literally anything else with my free time?) but I’m not about to give up free time to hang out with a bunch of coworkers who are participating in something I am not going to do, and who I know from experience will be uncomfortable with me just having a soda and hanging out.

          It is interesting, though, that you’ve chosen to interpret the comments you’re referring to as ‘outraged’. I didn’t see any comments that appeared to be ‘outraged’. I see a lot of comments saying ‘well, people may have stopped coming because they’re just not into after-work happy hours, because those are not fun for a lot of people’.

          1. Liz*

            About six non-nested comments up there’s one that ends with

            if you insist on team building, ask your employees what they’d like to do and then do it DURING WORK HOURS WHEN YOU’RE PAYING THEM.

            I tend to take caps as yelling, so I don’t think “outraged” is far off the mark.

          2. pancakes*

            It’s a bit snide to suggest that anyone who turns up for an after-hours event must not have a life outside of work. It also seems that the crassness of your coworkers has heavily influenced your views on how unpleasant it is to spend time with coworkers. That is not a problem everyone has.

            1. tessa*

              A commenter cites one example and that means their views are “influenced…on how unpleasant it is to spend time with coworkers”?

              Oh, dear.

              1. pancakes*

                You don’t think this particular example speaks to what their workplace is like? Nor their decision to laugh along with the guy’s jokes?

          3. A*

            “That’s what makes those of us who don’t drink and who have lives outside of work happy.”

            As someone who doesn’t drink, has a well rounded life outside of work, AND enjoys attending happy hours with my work team (although by that I mean ~1x/quarter at most) – you CANNOT speak for me. Blanket generalizations like this are inherently flawed regardless of what side of the discussion you fall on. People who drink, or people who don’t drink, are not one lump hivemind that all think/feel/act/live the same way and it takes a special kind of arrogance to make those kinds of claims. Just like how I would never say that all people that don’t drink are still comfortable going to bars – what I think/feel applies to me and me alone.

            I’m sorry you’ve had such negative experiences, and what your retiring coworker said & did was 100% inappropriate and inexcusable so I understand why you are frustrated – but please don’t project that onto everyone else’s experiences.

        3. Liz*

          Agree completely. I don’t drink but I looooove cheap appetizers, so I’m always down for HH.

          That aside, I think the point was made (and made, and made again) that HH aren’t always inclusive of those who don’t drink, have family commitments, long commute, etc. And I agree. But for every one or two of those comments, there seem to be several in the tone of “how DARE the LW expect her employees to DRINK at a BAR when they’re not even being paid to be around her! What a jerk!”

          This sort of reaction can apply to just about every other non-HH option, too. (Order lunch in? “WHAT ABOUT people who are on DIETS or have an eating disorder?! How insensitive can you be?!”)

    2. Roeslein*

      I used to work in a place where no one wanted to socialise outside of working hours. It was depressing and I ran away at the first opportunity. I was new in town, had a small child and didn’t get any opportunities to socialise with people outside of work, so the kind of work environment most commenters seem to aspire to in this thread was not appealing to me at all, but hey, to each their own – the other folks back there had active social lives outside of work and friends who lived nearby so I guess it worked for them. Also, I don’t get the issue with alcohol. I drink very rarely (not at all at the moment) and it’s never been an issue – I go to the bar and order lime and soda. Done. Never had to explain myself to anyone either – lots of other folks don’t drink and it’s never come up as an issue.

      1. Observer*

        the other folks back there had active social lives outside of work and friends who lived nearby so I guess it worked for them.

        Yes, that tends to be the case. It’s not the job of your coworkers to provide you a social scene, and I say this as someone who is happy to socialize with some of my coworkers. It’s even LESS the job or employees to provide a social scene for their boss.

        1. Lunita*

          Except plenty of people also socialize and become friends with coworkers. It’s weird you would make this comment when the commenter said nothing about it being an obligation of coworkers.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      I mean look, we live in an alcohol-drenched culture. And alcohol is dangerous. It’s one of the most addictive, harmful chemicals you can put in your body, and detoxing from alcohol addiction is one of the most dangerous things you can put your body through — like, people die trying to quit alcohol. Not to mention that it’s restricted by major religions! And yet, most people look at you like you’re weird/a killj0y/a teetotaler if you try to bring up the fact that maybe work events shouldn’t automatically involve one of the deadliest drugs in existence.

      This preference IS relevant to this letter about socializing, because it’s very clear that OP #1’s team is uninterested in participating in this type of heavy drinking culture. Readers of similar opinions are sharing why that might be.

      My boss can invite me to an escape room, invite me to a cookie decorating party, invite me to a coffee shop. I do not want the person in charge of my livelihood inviting me to participate in sometime that has destroyed the lives of people I love, and then having people like you look at me like a freak for not wanting to partake.

      1. turquoisecow*

        We don’t know why the employees don’t want to join happy hour. It could be they’re heavy drinkers but don’t want to hang with the boss, or they have families or other obligations after work. Many people don’t drink but we don’t know if objection to alcohol is why these particular people do not.

        1. Liz*

          Especially since they were attending the happy hours pre-Mary (which to me makes it pretty clear what the issue is).

      2. pancakes*

        I agree this letter writer needs to find other ways to socialize with their team, but this puritanism isn’t called for and isn’t going to go over well in many places. If the “major religions” were as strictly followed on this point as as you make them out to be, there would be a lot fewer bars and liquor shops in the world than there in fact are. Of course consensus on this is going to vary by region, etc., but you don’t seem to be taking that into account. There are many, many millions of people who use alcohol responsibility and don’t want or need to pretend they live in Utah or whatnot to turn down unwanted invites to have drinks. If the people in your life “look at you like you’re weird/a killj0y/a teetotaler” for turning down invites to have drinks, they’re behaving like insecure high schoolers. If, however, you’re making a point of telling them alcohol is a horrible danger and a religious no-no instead of simply declining the invite, they may have a point.

        1. Gerry Kaey*

          Trust me, I’m no puritan — I just believe that our current understanding of drug dangers and prohibition are completely backwards. I use my fair share of non-alcohol drugs (whose dangers are overstated) and I think we wildly misunderstand and understate the dangers of alcohol. I also really don’t think not having drinking as part of your work culture is equivalent to living in a dry state! I don’t invite coworkers to smoke weed after work despite living in a state where it’s legal — I don’t know why that norm shouldn’t also apply to drinking.

          1. pancakes*

            I do think it’s both puritanical and reminiscent of dry state restrictiveness to describe invitations to after-work drinks as dangerous and destructive. Alcohol absolutely can be, yes, but not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. I also don’t agree that the US’s historical demonization of weed should be extended to alcohol.

      3. Rabbit*

        It sounds like you have received some unfair and inappropriate pushback to not drinking/being interested in events that involve alcohol but this is really hyperbolic language that I don’t think really helps sell your point

        All of the alternatives you mention sound much much worse to me because they are a whole event rather than something where I could drop in for 15 minutes and then head off

        “it’s very clear that OP #1’s team is uninterested in participating in this type of heavy drinking culture” – It is not clear at all. While it is plausible that that might be a reason the other team members aren’t attending they could also just be busy in the evening, or have a long commute, or not be very fond of their boss…. I also think getting “heavy drinking culture” from having a couple of drinks once or twice a month is a bit of a stretch but you clearly have very strong feelings about alcohol so I suspect what other people consider normal has absolutely no value to you

      4. Tali*

        This is really hyperbolic and detracts from your message. One of the deadliest drugs in existence? This is alcohol, not heroin. Its danger comes from its commonplace overuse in the local culture, not its inherent qualities. It sounds like you are speaking from a place of dealing with addiction, and maybe projecting onto OP’s situation.

      5. JD*

        “It’s one of the most addictive, harmful chemicals you can put in your body”

        Well, no. No, it’s not. Not by a long shot. Alcohol can be problematic for many people, and heavy use will harm your health, but this is a very hyperbolic take and not particularly relevant to the letter, since there is no indication the team members are teetotalers (indeed, OP says they used to attend).

  31. Loulou*

    This is a really fringe view. I’ve never been paid to attend a holiday party, but I’d much rather have the option to go to one unpaid than never have one.

    1. Loulou*

      Nesting fail! I was trying to reply to a comment that said if employees couldn’t be paid for team lunch, etc. then they shouldn’t happen at all.

    2. Gilly Weed*

      Just because you’d prefer it doesn’t make it right. Your personal preferences are not the arbiters of workplace ethics. You do know that, right?

      1. Loulou*

        Sorry, I just don’t think it’s wrong to invite staff to truly optional, after hours events (like holiday parties) that they don’t get paid for. I agree my preferences aren’t universal and that there are many people, especially here, who absolutely do not want to attend after hours events. Their preferences aren’t universal either!

        1. Observer*

          What the OP describes is actually NOT “truly optional”. And the fact that they don’t realize that is one of the deeply problematic things about the letter.

          Why do I say that it’s not truly optional? Because even though the OP says that they would never pressure anyone, they also say that Mary DOES get more attention because of her decision to go to these happy hours. In other words, they actually ARE penalizing everyone else for not not making the same choice.

      2. Anon attorney*

        This is a really unnecessarily rude rejoinder imho. The commenter wasn’t attempting to arbitrate workplace ethics, she was sharing her preference about workplace social events.

        For me, the happy hour bit is a red herring. The issue is that OP#1 doesn’t realise her close relationship with Mary is inappropriate. I’m pretty sure the rest of the team assume Mary has the inside track to the boss. Even if OP#1 genuinely does treat everyone in the team equitably, there’s almost certainly a perception that she favors Mary and that has potential to undermine her managerial credibility.

    3. Rabbit*

      I’ve never been paid hourly (even when I was an intern) and in most of the offices I have worked everyone is salaried so the idea that this is an option wouldn’t really occur to me

      1. Loulou*

        It’s the opposite for me — I’m a salaried non-exempt union employee. I’m paid for X hours a day and have a 1 hour unpaid lunch, which I think is pretty common for union employees in my area. So the comments suggesting catered lunch during the day = being paid for your time certainly don’t apply to me!

        Sounding like a broken record here, but everyone’s circumstances are different and that’s why some of the very absolute, universal statements here are coming off oddly.

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I’m not paid hourly either, but in my job, my boss doesn’t (usually) set my workload. A 2 hour lunch (which doesn’t happen anyway because the kids need watching), even paid, doesn’t make that work go away, it just means I get to stay late photocopying and calling parents and then finish up the emails, marking and planning at home. In my circumstances, I would much rather have a voluntary evening event. I can plan my attendance based on the other things I have on the go and just send my regrets if I can’t (or don’t want to) make it work. Many people, as evidenced always in social event comments, feel differently and that’s okay. There simply isn’t a blanket solution and providing a variety of options is probably the best path.

  32. Not your typical admin*

    You have to socialize with all your employees equally. If you’re overly friendly with one or two in particular it just looks bad and can lead to all kids of problems. Even if you don’t intend it, you become biased towards your friend. I had a boss that was good friends with one of my other coworkers. The coworker could never do anything wrong, and was never corrected when she made a mistake. It all came to a head when our performance reviews were based on how her friend felt the rest of us were doing.

  33. Mary*

    I’m personally surprised by Alison’s statement that sending a card or flowers to the unhinged employee would be “a gracious gesture.” I can’t think of any good reason to engage with someone that vitriolic and out of bounds, and honestly is it even a gracious gesture if you’ve been scolded into doing it?

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