should I ask a staff member why he’s not going to our holiday dinner?

A reader writes:

I need your help on a tricky holiday party situation. I recently sent out invitations to our 20-person staff for a three-course holiday dinner. I first verbally surveyed our staff to make sure the restaurant choice wasn’t going to exclude anyone. I received much excitement and no negativity.

Now that RSVP’s are due, one staff member is saying he isn’t going to go. This staff member is our most quiet, shy developers, and I want him to feel included in our staff holiday celebrations. What do I do here? Should I ask him if he is not coming due to the restaurant choice? Should I leave it be? Should I change where we are going?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee wants to return a company raffle gift
  • Giving a gift to my direct report but no one else
  • How do I downscale our holiday celebration?
  • Is our Secret Santa too expensive?

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. Jen*

    Maybe he doesn’t want to go. I doubt it has anything to do with you or the company and the fact for some people, events like this are an absolute nightmare.

    1. What She Said*

      I really do not like going to things. I also don’t like it when my boss askes me why I RSVP’d no. Please do not ask him. Accept the decline in the invite for what is, a simple decline.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        This. If he simply hadn’t replied and you were trying to figure out numbers, sure, a follow up might be in order, but he actively declined. Leave him alone.

        1. EPLawyer*

          YES. The whole point of an RSVP is to get numbers, not an explanation. You know your numbers, you have the information you need.

      2. Lizzie*

        I’m the same way. My standard response, when we still had holiday parties was “Oh too bad, I have plans so I won’t be able to go” that’s it. nothing more.

    2. Rex Libris*

      This, and also there are still some people not eating out in group settings because of Covid, so it could be that. …and trust me that we’re all tired of feeling like mutants because we’re still taking precautions.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, or having to cave in and eat in situations that concern us because of work making us.

        (I note I had an eating party yesterday, went into the location and the air filters said they needed to be changed and were working at level 3….I had no idea what to do about that, no one to complain to, I sucked it up.)

        That said, it just occurred to me this is an old letter, so covid probably wasn’t a factor.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Alison specifically mentions Covid in the reply, so I assumed it was a more recent one (at least within the last 2 years).

          1. Tea Rose*

            It’s from 2016, and there were a lot more specifics in it, like the type of restaurant it was.

            Regardless, there are managers today who are probably wondering whether they should reach out to the person who declined the invite to the holiday party, so answering with today’s circumstances is reasonable.

      2. turquoisecow*

        My department is having a lunch at an Olive Garden today. I didn’t feel like getting into the Covid discussion so I let my boss think I wouldn’t be able to attend because of childcare issues (I work remotely part time so I’m not normally in the office anyway). Since everyone else is going to work unmasked and my employer doesn’t require vaccinations, I don’t feel safe going to the office and I’m certainly not going to eat indoors with them.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I also skipped a team lunch but I have been open with my team that our household boundaries currently include not eating indoors in restaurants. I have joined them for outdoor meals but obviously it’s getting too cold for that now here.

      3. Powercycle*

        Normally I’m more than happy to attend social outings during work hours but not this year again. I just declined our work holiday team lunch that’s next week. I didn’t mention why but covid is very much the main reason why I declined.

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

      Yes, why is it always such a big deal for people to opt out of holiday parties? It doesn’t even need to be a “nightmare” for him, or religious conflict, or dietary restrictions…he doesn’t want to. Let him live his life.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. There could be any number of reasons he’s unable to go. If he simply RSVP’d no, then just accept that as it is, don’t give him a hard time about it, and move on. If the person hasn’t indicated an issue then don’t create one.

      2. TomatoSoup*

        Yup. I know such events are fun for some people, which is why they happen. I’m not one of those people. While I’ve attended when pressured, it wasn’t fun. It was obligation, especially when I worked in a place where it was the most hectic time in my work year but quietest in all other departments.

      3. Gerry Keay*

        Yeah like, I’ve been to holiday parties I’ve enjoyed, but most of the time I would get more enjoyment out of being at home crafting and spending time with my family. “I would simply rather not” is all it is sometimes.

      4. AnonORama*

        Totally — there are as many reasons as there are people who don’t attend. Honestly, I’m not going to mine — a harmless team lunch/happy hour that I’d normally enjoy — because I didn’t hit my goal for the year (96% dammit!) and don’t feel like celebrating. No one suggested I shouldn’t attend, but it was phrased specifically as a celebration of a great year, and I’d feel icky celebrating a “success” I didn’t have.

        As far as my team knows, I have a doctor’s appointment. I’m generally scrupulously honest, but this seems easier than getting into what I — or anyone else — deserves.

      5. EchoGirl*

        In this case I think OP means well — they’re concerned that they’ve somehow made a decision that has made this person not want to go, and they want to make sure they’re not excluding him. That said, I think they’re working from a faulty premise (that the only reason the employee doesn’t want to go to the party is because there’s some specific detail about it that’s turning him off) and that’s probably not the case at all.

        1. Myrin*

          I definitely got that feeling as well and am agreeing strongly with your “faulty premise” suggestion. OP seems kind and thoughtful but like she hadn’t considered the premise could indeed be faulty which makes me hopeful she’ll have read the answer and come to the conclusion that a much better way to find out if someone really wants to attend but can’t because [hindrance she hadn’t considered] would be to encourage trust on her team and show that it’s okay to express worries like that.

    4. Grace Poole*

      In the letter writer’s defense, I can maybe see, as a party planner, that the information is less about guilting anyone and more for planning purposes. Are they not coming because of the food? The time? The location? etc. Something that might help make a more inclusive and enjoyable event. OP might be in such party-planning focus that the notion that someone just would rather not come for no specific reason isn’t on their radar.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Which is a hospitable instinct, but the most hospitable thing you can do with a declined RSVP is accept it without making a to-do. Otherwise you risk making it seem more like an order than an invitation. If OP wants to open the door to feedback on their arrangements, the time to do it is in advance of next year’s booking. Just an open email asking if people have any particular requirements, or giving a few different options would be more inviting than asking for a no to be explained.

        1. Dona Florinda*

          Yeah, if that is OP’s concern, then next year they could send out a form (or something that’s a little more concrete than verbal survey) and ask about dietary restrictions and preferences, but for now, there’s probably nothing they can do.

      2. Gnome*

        That can be handled by saying something like: if there was something about the event itself that made it hard to attend, feel free to let us know for the future. We want to be as inclusive as possible.

        That doesn’t push now, but leaves the door open for conversation if the issue is something avoidable.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        As a party planner, I cannot imagine planning a party for 20 people and expecting 100% of people to RSVP yes.

        And as a work function participant, if one person politely declines and then get asked for details on why then suddenly that work party starts to look fairly mandatory, so if that’s not a vibe they want to create then they should drop it.

      4. Alice*

        That’s a great instinct – both your charitable interpretation and hypothetically OP’s motivation to learn and improve. Luckily, OP could achieve that by saying, “if you have feedback about the planned party, I’m all ears,” instead of “why aren’t you coming?” :)

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          I like that!

          With the additional context that the employee is quite shy, I *might* go as far as saying, after the event, “We missed you, but I know there’s always a million things happening in December” and then drop it like a rock.

    5. Not So Little My*

      As an introvert and neurodivergent person, I would be horrified if someone asked me why I wasn’t going to the holiday dinner. I’m willing to drop in to happy hours for half an hour and make the rounds for political reasons, but sitting through an entire dinner where I couldn’t get away would be the worst. I keep my personal life and work life separate, and I preserve my quiet time fiercely.

    6. Software engineer*

      Yeah there’s lots of reasons people decline. I think leaving the door open for them to tell you is good (“Hey sorry we won’t see you at the holiday dinner, hope you have a nice evening! If there’s anything we could keep in mind for planning next time let us know!”)… then he can tell you if he’d rather do lunch because his evenings are busy or say he enjoys eating with the team but the smaller gatherings are too big or mention if it is a restaurant issue. Or he can just say ok thanks and not give any feedback if he doesn’t actually want to go so he doesn’t want you to plan around him. Suggesting you’re open to feedback without asking point blank can help give an opportunity without backing them into an awkward corner

    7. CJ*

      Might also be that it’s a “holiday” dinner, and if staffer’s experience is like mine, that’s a very thin synonym for “Christmas”. And if Christmas is a problem, based on personal history or based on religion, his wanting to peace out of a party is perfectly understandable, as is his not wanting to explain why.

    8. Curmudgeon in California*

      Plus the fact that Covid is not over and we are in the midst of a winter surge. That’s reason enough to decline in my book.

    9. Em*

      YUP. My company’s holiday party is tomorrow. I’m not attending. Thankfully my manager gets it (and told me he’d prefer to skip as well, if he wasn’t a manager). I hate being asked to donate my personal time to hours of small talk about work when this time of year is already busy enough. I need my evenings to take a break!!

    10. TrixM*

      Yep, I once managed a guy who was like this, and he absolutely never went to any social event outside the office. We had occasional morning teas or birthday celebrations in the office, and he would sometimes eat a piece of cake at the latter and quietly return to his desk after a few minutes.

      Since we all knew he was extremely introverted, and he was a lovely considerate man in general, none of us were bothered or took it personally.

      In fact, the final week we worked together – the entire division was made redundant – we were working to clear up a storeroom. Without meeting my eyes, he said that it had been a pleasure working with me – it was the most personal thing he’d said in 15 years as colleagues – as he continued stacking parts into boxes. I managed to blurt out that I felt the same, and that I very much appreciated his calm and extremely skilled contribution to the team, before I hastened to the restroom so I could have a small cry.

      I still tear up thinking about it. But I certainly wouldn’t overthink a very introverted colleague bowing out of a social event if their relationships with colleagues seemed positive overall, albeit not en masse.

  2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I’m struggling to understand how someone wanting to return a gift that was not chosen for them specifically and they didn’t ask for is rude, let alone “incredibly” rude.

    Also, IMO, Secret Santas should always have a spending limit up front.

      1. Rivakonneva*

        Ours sets a limit of $10, and we encourage shopping at Goodwill and Dollar Tree for gifts. As well as re-gifting. It works out well for us.

        1. UKgreen*

          We’ve had ‘sustainable secret santa’ for a few years now. Everything has to be less than £10 and/or recycled / regifted / handmade. Last time I was gifted the most beautiful notebook, which the giver had re-c0vered with scraps of fabric. It’s gorgeous!

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I think raffles imply a randomness and a possibility you’ll get something you don’t want/need that you accept by participating in one, which is probably why it feels rude.

      The better option for the workplace would be to let people opt into which prizes they want to win, e.g. if you get 10 raffle tickets for showing up, then let employees decide if they want to put three in the Deluxe Llama Grooming Gift Basket, five in the Chocolate Teapot Set, and two in the big screen TV raffle box, or if they just want to go all out and stick all ten in the Deluxe Llama Grooming Gift Basket to the exclusion of all other options. This lets people opt into what they want and makes sure the prizes go to people who actually want them.

        1. Friendly Internet Stranger*

          I came here to recommend gift receipts. If the concern is that the employee will see the total spent for all gifts, this is very, very easy to fix with a gift receipt.

      1. many bells down*

        That’s how my husband’s office does their raffle. Every item has a basket and you only pop your tickets in for items you want.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I think there’s no “rudeness”. It’s not for her. If I got an item that didn’t fit, I might ask for the receipt, too. I think the OP needs to either provide a gift receipt or not, but not make a big deal. I think OP is kinda taking it personally.

      3. TomatoSoup*

        This is excellent! I’ve been at raffles where I wanted to win only one of the prizes and that option would have been nice.

      4. Random Biter*

        At OldJob I was a fundraiser event planner. By far, the “basket” or “Chinese” (no, I have no idea where than name came from but I heard it a lot) raffle always had the most participants. Being able to win something you wanted/could use beats out something you have zero use for, and the more you wanted it the more tickets you were apt to buy to drop in the containers.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          My hometown called this raffle style a “tricky tray,” but that is apparently a really, really local name for it

    2. CG*

      It’s not even a “gift”! It’s a raffle prize! The employee won a contest and the contest prize wasn’t quite up their alley. It’s definitely not personal.

      1. Miss Muffett*

        They could just decline and let the next person drawn get the prize. It’s not personal, but it is pretty tacky to say, can i just have the money? It’s a completely different situation than a gift.

        1. I would prefer not to*

          Miss Muffett, what do you mean by “tacky”, exactly?

          At this time of year, there’s a lot of financial pressures, even on people with reasonable salaries. I wonder if she thought it was worth asking for the money because that could really make a difference.

          Unless she argues back when she’s told no, sorry, not possible, then it isn’t an unreasonable thing to ask, just in case it’s an option.

        2. KHB*

          They could do that…but should they have to? I’m sensitive to this as someone who doesn’t use a good portion of the standard raffle prize selection (I don’t eat meat, drink alcohol, shop on Amazon, or use smart home gadgets). If the point of the raffle is to make employees feel valued and appreciated, it should be structured in a way that makes everybody feel valued and appreciated – and forcing some people to self-select out doesn’t do that.

        3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I think the idea that talking about money is “tacky” originates with people who already have a lot of money and whose interest it is in for other people not to talk about money. As far as I am concerned, it is just practical to exchange something you won’t use for something of value.

          1. Really?!*

            Since we’re offering ideas here, let me offer from my “real” life…. it’s not always people who have a lot of money.

            People with “little” money that are great bargain hunters.
            People with “little” money that are not great bargain hunters.
            People who don’t like receiving things that cost a bargain.
            People who fear judgement on how they allocate their funds.

          2. Shhhh*

            I think what we’re seeing here is exactly what Alison said in her response. People have different ideas of what is and isn’t rude/acceptable/normal/etc. around gifts.

            I think the suggestion to have people have a set number of raffle tickets and allocate them toward different prizes is a really good one because it doesn’t get into really emotional values issues in the way that other conversations and strategies around this do.

        4. Darsynia*

          I feel a strong need to push against the idea that wanting money is tacky, when it’s a workplace event. Why work at all, if wanting money is tacky! Should employees opt out of the raffle that includes something they do want if there’s something they wouldn’t use? How odd.

          1. Beth*

            Thank you — that’s one of the key points to me. This is WORK. Work is all about getting money.

            Personally, I’d rather have no raffle at all at work, and divide up the money that would have gone for raffle prizes between the staff. Making a raffle out of it just means that gift funds are distributed unevenly, and employees are stuck with what someone else decided was a good gift item.

          2. Caramel & Cheddar*

            Getting paid is compensation for your labour. Winning a prize whether you want it or not isn’t compensation for attending a party.

        5. Fluffy Fish*

          You’re trying to apply rules of personal gift giving to a business.

          If it was a gift from a person it would be generally considered rude.

          It’s a gift from a company. The company has no feelings. The company did not thought fully pick out a gift for the person who received it.

        6. Observer*

          It’s not personal, but it is pretty tacky to say, can i just have the money?


          It’s a completely different situation than a gift.

          Exactly. So why is anyone trying to apply gift conventions to the transaction?

    3. ecnaseener*

      That was my thought as well for #2 – where is the insult?! I would never ask for a gift receipt for something picked out especially for me, so it’s not just a culture thing – it’s that this is a work appreciation event where the entire point is to randomly distribute objects in the hope of making the winners happy.

      1. KHB*

        in the hope of making the winners happy

        I think that’s exactly where the insult is. “We got you this thing to make you happy, so you’d darned well better be happy! And if you’re not, then shut up, because we don’t want to hear about it.”

        1. ecnaseener*

          But everyone involved knew it was impossible to guarantee the raffle winner would like their prize — make it make sense :{

          1. KHB*

            It makes perfect sense, if you have a range of prizes, and everyone can choose which raffles to enter. If you’re worried that there are people who won’t like anything, include a couple of Visa gift cards or other cash equivalents.

            1. ecnaseener*

              I don’t think they could choose which raffles to enter, based on the letter. Sounds like random drawings for each prize.

    4. Pinto*

      It is rude because they received it from a random drawing and if they didn’t want it could have allowed it to go to another employee. It was not a gift it was a prize. You either accept the prize or not, you don’t demand something else.

      1. ThisisBeans*

        Yes this is where I think the distinction lies. If it was a gift the it makes sense to try to get something you actually want, but when it’s a random prize, it feels kind of not in the spirit of the thing to ask for a receipt to get something better. Especially after the fact.

        1. L-squared*

          I could see being the person who never wins anything, but then getting something you can’t/don’t want to use. Then its like why can’t they just exchange it for something they can use

        2. jess*

          It sounds like you think it is rude to ask to exchange it after the fact, but to me at least, it’s not clear why that is more rude than saying in real time when they won the prize “no thanks, I don’t want that.” Some people have different assumptions than others around this kind of thing– some might find it rude or awkward to decline the gift in front of everyone, but they might think that this approach (talking to the organizer one on one after the fact) is the more polite approach.

    5. doreen*

      I don’t think it’s “tacky” or “rude” but I do think it’s odd to ask for a receipt so you can return a raffle prize. Never seen or heard of it happening and I’ve been involved in plenty of raffles. I’m sure people have returned prizes for store credit, I’ve seen people pass up prizes they didn’t want so another ticket could be pulled and I’ve regifted prizes I couldn’t use but asking for a receipt to return it for cash just seems strange. Especially when you don’t even know if there is a receipt – if my husband wins a tablet at his company Christmas party, I don’t know if they bought it or if they got it from one of their vendors.

    6. Dances with Flax*

      Yes, $30 IS too much! A maximum amount can quickly become a MINIMUM amount to spend because nobody wants to look like (A) an unregenerate Scrooge or (B) just plain poor. They feel pressured into buying stuff they can’t afford for someone that, often enough, they hardly know anyway. Having your holiday party full of attendees who are silently seething with resentment because they had to shortchange gifts for their own family members to contribute to one more damn Secret Santa exchange is hardly the way to engender warm, fuzzy feelings among your staff!

  3. Dee Engineer*

    Maybe this employee doesn’t celebrate any “holidays” in December. They didn’t want to draw any attention when OP asked verbally, so the employee quietly declined the RSVP.
    This is exactly what I would do because I don’t celebrate any holidays in December.

    1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

      Same. My work sent out a survey about their holiday party and there was a question there about why we didn’t attend for those of us who didn’t. I just put I didn’t celebrate the holidays and left it at that. It was anonymous, so at least no one asked.

      Except for Festivus. I most definitely celebrate with the airing of grievances.

      1. Momma Bear*

        For a lot of reasons we’ve punted our “holiday” event to February and to be honest it takes a lot of pressure off with other things going on, both at home and work. December is so stressful.

  4. Rozi*

    As an autistic person, the asker’s dilemma is not only impossible for me to grasp, but also, I totally empathize with the employee in question! I’d be mortified if someone asked me why I’m not going. Just leave it.

    1. Alpaca Bag*

      Likewise! I don’t want to tell them that I’m neurodivergent and the idea of being in a group of people having multiple conversations makes me nervous. I tried to go to a small team luncheon once (before The Virus) after my boss told me how much everybody would like to see me there. I got a few feet from the conference room door and my pulse, respiration, and anxiety jumped way up and I couldn’t do it. I had to go outside and walk around the building a few times until I stopped crying about it. Luckily, there were no questions afterward.

    2. TomatoSoup*

      I’m neurotypical and it sounds mortifying to me as well. It doesn’t help that I’m fairly quiet and I end up either being asked “what’s wrong?” repeatedly (instead of just a normal greeting/conversation starter) or ignored entirely. Not fun.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Yeah I really don’t see this as a neurotypical/neurodivergent thing as much as a “people generally don’t like being forced to justify their choices” thing.

        1. Rozi*

          Oh yeah, that wasn’t what I meant — of course people of any neurotype could feel bothered by this. My point was more that the act of socializing is much more fraught for us (and therefore I even less want to be forced to justify myself).

    3. Spindle Spinner*

      Excellent point! Ironically, pressuring people to explain why they turned down a company party invitation is a “great” way to make them feel EXCLUDED…as if there’s something wrong with them if they prefer not to party.

      Please managers – the road to hell is paved with good intentions! Don’t let YOUR good intentions (wanting everyone to feel welcome) lead you to blunder into tin-eared behavior towards staff members who just don’t want to attend the company bash. Okay!

  5. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    It’s great that you want someone to feel included, and you did your part toward that by giving them the invitation. If someone declined, it’s because they have a conflict or simply would rather not attend. The specific reason isn’t any of your concern. Pressing the issue would be an overstep.

    1. Sssssssssssssssssssss*

      It is better to RSVP no, than to RSVP yes because everyone expects you to and then you at the last minute bail or no-show, also.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Right, but the conflict in the first question above is that the person did RSVP “no,” and their “no” is being challenged.

        I agree, it’s better to RSVP “no” than no-show, but questioning people over their “no”s discourages them from responding at all, or worse, encourages them to “yes” and bail.

      2. Gracely*

        I meant on the part of the person doing the inviting, not the person getting the invite. Obviously if you’re not going, you RSVP no.

        But if you’re going to invite people and then follow up with people who replied *anyway*, why bother? Just accept the no.

    2. Software engineer*

      I mean you ask for RSVPs so you can plan

      It’s not being challenged they just want to know if there’s an issue, which is a thing many hosts or organizers would be concerned about. You don’t want to find out somebody is vegan and somehow the communication got scrambled and they’ve been left out because the choices were not accounting for them and they feel bad about something that is supposed to be positive for the team!

      But I agree with Alison that you shouldn’t put them on the spot and ask because they may just not want to come, and that’s fine too. It’s not a subpoena they’re allowed to decline and they don’t need to give a reason.

      1. Gracely*

        See, that’s what I’m saying. Following up after someone RSVPs no makes it awkward for the person who was invited. And assuming that a “no” means something bad or that there’s something to be addressed that you need to talk to the person about makes it seem like you actually just expected everyone to come, and can’t handle a no (so why even act like “no” is an option?).

  6. Brooklynblondie*

    There’s still a raging pandemic, 300+ Americans are dying daily. Indoor dining is a terrible idea right now for anyone concerned about their long-term health.

    1. cncx*

      Also, where I live, literally everyone is sick right now with either Covid, rsv, strep throat, the flu or just a bad cold. I imagine there are a lot of people who are saying no to indoor stuff in the next few weeks, I know I am. I’m already weak from strep and the thought of catching covid or the flu on top of that for going to a work party… no.

      1. bratschegirl*

        My husband has strep right now! We are the most fanatical maskers you can imagine and are hard pressed to imagine how he picked it up, but there you go. Woke up with a mild fever and sore throat, went to urgent care and got swabbed for everything, did NOT expect strep to be the one thing that came up positive. Feel better soon!

        1. allathian*

          Strep throat is caused by a bacterium rather than a virus, and it can be transmitted via contaminated food, unlike Covid. Streptococcus can live on room temperature butter for up to 48 hours, for example. Strep throat is one reason why I no longer eat birthday cake if the birthday kid has blown out the candles on it. Just the idea gives me nausea now. I hope your husband feels better soon and that you can avoid catching it.

    2. SunshinyDay*

      Thank you so much for pointing this out. I think it’s impossibly rude, careless, thoughtless, and highly unethical to put people at risk by holding parties, dinners, and gift exchanges in indoor spaces where very few people mask at all anymore. Do people read the news at all? Look at the hospital ER wait times and bed availability in your region. Look at the Walgreen’s testing numbers right now. What is even happening. Also, it’s rude and self-centered to put people on the spot during trying economic times by pressuring them to buy gifts for Secret Santa games of any value. And simply asking or sponsoring these events = pressure. I feel like the world is so broken. Why can’t employers take the money spent on these things and roll them into raises or something of real value to employees instead of creating these awkward social situations and making some people feel stressed or guilty. It may be fun for some folks, but certainly not for everyone. If you genuinely want to have everyone participate in something joyful, these things aren’t the answer. Especially now when so many are still trying to keep themselves and family members protected from the flu, RSV, covid, strep, etc. You could even have people vote on a charity or two or make a donation to a community non-profit.

      1. Darsynia*

        I was eating my own hair earlier last month when I found out that my husband’s company was having an all-hands ‘appreciation’ event they expected everyone to attend, at a restaurant. The date was less than a week before a major four hour necessary surgery my husband had been waiting for since August.

        I rarely do this but I told him I needed him to tell them he couldn’t go, and why. I fully expect that if he’d caught Covid or any illness that close to the surgery they would have rescheduled and made us wait another three months! As it happened, my no-nonsense husband had put ‘dental surgery’ on the calendar (it was to remove an aggressive growth and place a PLATE in his jaw) and hadn’t made clear how serious it was to anybody. He had been on a strict soft food diet for 3 months at that point and would be for another month and a half afterwards, so even if he COULD go, he couldn’t have eaten anything!

        It turned out that he was meant to be honored for his work at the event, and they had to reschedule! They’re waiting until he can actually eat before picking a new date. I feel like this whole situation was a giant stress ball of good intentions (except for having an all-hands during a pandemic but it’s a small office and they’re just… following the local vibe, I guess) on all sides. I genuinely don’t know what better approach my husband could have taken, but I do feel like he ought to have been more clear about how big a deal his surgery was, so his coworkers knew what was going on. I doubt they’d have scheduled a *restaurant in-person event to honor him* less than a week before his jaw surgery of that magnitude, if they’d known.

  7. Ssssssssssssssssss*

    In the name of inclusivity, I invited Shy Suzie to everything. She would never participate…and would also never decline.

    She came to work meetings she knew were 100% related to her work (but never accepted, she would just show up); everything else was ignored.

    We also never asked her. She had been like that for years long before I joined that team so it was just accepted as just “how she is.”

    1. Pudding*

      Early in my career, I would accept social invitations with coworkers but then would always have some kind of last minute emergency that kept me from attending. It wasn’t intentional, I was just super anxious, both about social stuff and about the last minute fires I’d fight.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssss*

        Oh, Shy Suzie was like this for *everything* – weekly check-ins (never showed up), twice a year branch-wide meetings (nope), all-hands-on-deck once a quarter mail outs (nope), and of course, things like Xmas lunches and baby showers were a hard nope.

        She’d make sure she’d book a vacation day on those days if possible.

        1. Rosemary*

          Not showing up for the social/optional stuff is one thing…but the other stuff?? Yikes. Not cute, not professional. Why was she allowed to get away with it?

    1. Tea Rose*

      Sure, it’s an older letter. But, there are probably managers in this situation right now, so a reminder that modern-day quiet, shy developers (and others) might be declining indoor events due to COVID is reasonable.

      1. Never Boring*

        Amen. I am skipping two indoor family life-cycle events this month alone because of COVID. I’ll be damned if I will take a bigger risk for an office holiday party.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Republished “and sometimes updated”– Alison does write that maybe they don’t want to go because of the pandemic.

    3. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

      This is the third holiday party season since COVID became a thing. In addition to the “updated response” disclaimer that Alison mentions, it is totally possible that it was an older letter AND COVID was already a concern.

  8. KHB*

    Q2: Good for your employee for her willingness to speak up about the gift not being her thing. You’re well within your rights to say no to giving her the receipt, but I hope you won’t punish her for not being sufficiently deferential to the company’s largesse (which seems to be where this idea that she’s “incredibly rude” is coming from).

    And I hope you’ll give some thought to restructuring the raffle in the future to avoid situations like this. My company came up with a good solution this year: We each got three raffle tickets, and there were ten or so raffle prizes (ranging from gift cards to gift baskets to gadgets) each with their own fishbowls, and we could enter whichever of the drawings we wanted. No more worries about the vegetarian getting the basket of meat or the teetotaler getting the bottle of wine – problem solved!

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This –“not being sufficiently deferential to the company’s largesse” is well said!

    2. Catalyst*

      A company I used to work for did this and I think it was fantastic. It came about because we had people who would travel for the party and the year before someone won this really nice lawn ornament that was the size of a person but they lived in another country and had to fly home so they ended up having to give it to someone. They also stopped giving gifts of that size after that. lol At least they learned their lesson on that one.

      1. KHB*

        Hah. My company used to always make a big show of raffling off the table centerpieces (think gaudy plastic wreaths and the like) at the end of the party. They gave that up, I think because they noticed that most people were just leaving those “prizes” behind.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      +1 to your second paragraph. I would rather not enter many raffles because the odds of winning something totally random is a bit of a drag to those of us trying to avoid being buried in clutter.

  9. desk platypus*

    As someone who at this moment is avoiding a company wide potluck (too many horror stories, high risk, not my thing, etc.) I’ve been dreading all day my department asking me why I would turn down free food. Like others have also said, there’s a wide variety of reasons to turn these things down even in pre-pandemic times and some can be incredibly awkward to explain. Letting it go is usually the best path here.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I’ll be doing this next Thursday! I do not eat food from people that I don’t know the status of their cleanliness. I’ve seen/read enough things. I also don’t want to make merry with people who spend most of the year ignoring me.

  10. Jedi Mike*

    This makes me rather glad my office doesn’t appear to be doing anything like a secret Santa this year as Mr t said ‘Thirty Dollas is too much , foo!’

  11. Clefairy*

    It’s so odd that OP1 is assuming he isn’t going because of restaurant. I enjoy meeting up with my colleagues outside of work, and if the group chose a restaurant I wasn’t interested in, that wouldn’t be enough of a deterrent for me to not attend. Like, maybe I’d eat beforehand and just order an appetizer or something, but generally if someone want to spend time with their team, they’ll make it happen. More than likely, this person either doesn’t enjoy team outings, or they have a conflict.

    1. I would prefer not to*

      Or they’re busy with their own family and friends! It’s a busy time of year. There could be a million reasons. Assume nothing.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      For context that was in the original letter, the plan was a “blind dining” event, and I think it was discussed in the comments at the time that that might have been a reason.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        And here’s where I would love an edit button because I did mean to say that it could be just about anything, he might very well have something else already planned that same night.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It’s an irony of life that many work events are planned by people who cannot conceive of missing a work event. Then when they get someone being lukewarm to their well crafted plans, it doesn’t occur to them that possibly no plan would be tempting enough. You can’t compete against the possibility of an evening with my partner, pizza and Netflix; don’t even try!

      1. Allonge*

        Not sure why this should not be so: I very much prefer that parties are organised by people who want to be there. I spend my life about 1:100 nights party:Netflix, just for the record.

        The issue here seems to be at least partially that OP wants to make sure they did everything possible to make the absentee included, this is a good intention. OP just really really need to internalise that, as you say, some people will always say no.

  12. RJ*

    I spent 14 years arranging and setting up all sorts of holiday dinners, events and lunch and learns. The day my company stopped having formal events and invested that money in informal events/employee bonuses, it was like the world’s biggest boulder had been removed from my shoulders. I have never thought these events should be mandatory and if an employee declines politely, IMO it’s best to leave it at that.

  13. Risha*

    I know these are old letters. But please never ever ask someone why they don’t want to attend a work event after they already declined. Just leave him alone. It’s not like he ignored the rsvp, he responded and said he’s not going.

    There are so many reasons why someone wouldn’t want to go. Social anxiety. Family obligations. Religion conflict. Or simply just not wanting to go. I don’t want to go to any work events either, especially if they are after work hours. I would feel very pressured and put on the spot if my manager or teammates asked me why I’m not going. Why can’t quiet shy people just be left alone? That’s all we want lol. Why do people feel the need to make us attend things or speak up or be outgoing? We don’t try to make outgoing people less outgoing. I’m at work to do work and make money. I’m cordial and professional at work. I don’t want to attend events, so please just leave me and the rest of us shy folks alone. Please.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Ugh, I have an extroverted friend who is usually cool enough for us introverts to hang with. So much so that even her husband is quite introverted (as well as preferring less social time, he’s also relatively shy). So, there’s me thinking she knows the score when she tells me that she’s started pressuring him to make friends with other dads in the park because “he needs a push” …. After I picked up my jaw, I put her straight on just how rude and tactless that was.

  14. Rich*

    You’ve already done a lot to make sure your plan was well thought-out and appropriate for the group. That’s not something you need to correct. Since there’s nothing to correct, the only practical outcome is that the non-attendee will have to justify their non-attendance. “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer that doesn’t need justification.

    You already planned well — so well that 95% of people are going, which is honestly amazing. Digging further is for your benefit, not your employee’s It’s not a benefit they owe you. Leave it be.

  15. Fluffy Fish*

    LW 2 – You are taking a business transaction way too personal. You didn’t personally hand select each gift and pay for it out of your own pocket. The business bought them.

    Honestly raffles aren’t my favorite because of this situation. Sure a gift is “nice” but one that isn’t useable by the recipient isn’t all that great. You know all those letters about company gifts that are not useful to the recipient? That’s what this is, except in raffle form. And unless everyone got a something in the raffle, it’s also a crappy thing – here the business gets you something if you’re lucky enough to get drawn but otherwise too bad?

    If the company insists on doing a raffle, at least give people a number of tickets that they can put in the hat for the items they would actually be interested in.

    1. Grace*

      Yep. I was at a raffle recently that included stuff like a golfing pass in the city the event was happening in (I don’t golf and live three hours away) and a full-sized foosball table (which was absolutely not fitting in my car). Fortunately, they were letting people pick from all the remaining prizes and I got a $50 gift card to a decent restaurant chain, but if I’d actually gotten the foosball table? No, I’m sorry, it’s not happening. Pick someone else.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Ugh – I’m glad you were able to get something you could use. Raffles are the worst. How many people legit want a foosball table?

  16. Jennifer*

    I have a very firm policy that I am not at work functions if I am not getting paid. I also am not friends with my coworkers outside of work so holiday events violate both of these policies.

  17. I would prefer not to*

    December gets so busy, a lot of people don’t have enough time to see all the people we choose to see; friends, family, etc. Prioritising that over a dinner with colleagues is pretty understandable, even if you love all your colleagues! And a lot of people merely like them. At best. Not for any dramatic reason, they’re just not the people you actively choose to have in your life.

    But other possible reasons are that he’s tired after work, that he doesn’t celebrate Christmas, that he has complicated dietary requirements which he doesn’t want to make everyone accommodate, or doesn’t feel like explaining to waiters in front of all his colleagues, that he doesn’t like eating in front of people, that he’s a recovering alcoholic and doesn’t want the temptation, that he doesn’t enjoy spending time with any of you, or any other number of possible reasons that wouldn’t occur to you.

  18. Me ... Just Me*

    I don’t understand why it’s rude to ask for the receipt on a raffle prize? Surely, the intent is for the employee to receive something nice that they would enjoy? The whole, “we don’t want them to know how much we spent” is odd to me. If you got a discount or were donated the item, I would just say that the item is non-returnable, apologize, and suggest the person distribute it however they see fit. If you are embarrassed by the cost/quality of the raffle prize, maybe go for something better next year? — otherwise, just let the person actually enjoy being a raffle winner and give them the receipt.

  19. Katherine Boag*

    What is a dotted line manager?

    Asking someone why they’re not going to an event so that you can counter/remove/fix their reasons is not a fun experience for the person you’re asking. I’m glad Alison basically answered with ‘no means no’.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Generally someone who oversees work product – might be a specific project for example, but is not responsible for hiring, firing, performance appraisals, etc.

      So for example I manage some admin staff on a project they do for me – work quality, end product, training etc. But I’m not their manager. They have other projects and tasks that they do for others and they have a direct manager who oversees their overall workload, personnel stuff etc.

      1. Clisby*

        So, a project manager, for example? At least, no project manager I ever worked for was responsible for hiring, firing, or performance appraisals. That is, they would give input to the performance appraisal, but had no hand in writing it.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I had a manager and a dotted-line manager once. My manager (“John”) was in the HR systems as my manager, and was responsible for my performance reviews, raises, all the usual manager things. About 60% of my work was for projects on John’s team. I also had a dotted-line manager (“Greg”) and about 40% of my work was for projects on Greg’s team.

      If I remember correctly, Greg sat in on my end-of-year performance evaluations but not my mid-year performance evaluations. So Greg managed me somewhat, mostly focused on the projects that related to his team, and John managed the projects that related to John’s team and did the bulk of the other “people management” work for me.

    3. Purple Cat*

      I worked in finance and so my direct manager was a Director of Finance. However, my role supported the manufacturing team so the VP of Manufacturing was a dotted line manager. They had no hiring/firing/review responsibilities, but my workproduct was delivered to them, so they had to be happy with my work.

  20. Union*

    Would it be okay to for OP1 to ask the employee, maybe after the event or early in the planning stage next year, if there’s any issues that could be accommodated? I’m struggling to find the right wording, but the sentiment would be “it’s totally fine if you just didn’t want to go, but if you wanted to go but [the restaurant choice] [the timing] [the location] was preventing you, we can change it up next year”.

    1. LawBee*

      Why put the burden on the employee to explain why they don’t want to do a voluntary social event? They don’t want to.

      My office could have a holiday party at my favorite restaurant with my favorite food and my favorite entertainment and I still wouldn’t want to go.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s silly to target the employee who said no, because saying no doesn’t translate into “your plans suck”. So much awkward will ensue if OP takes it as such! If they want feedback, they should ask everyone. There may be people going who don’t like the plans at all, but who still want to go. The employee who said no might actually think the plans are awesome and is hoping to do the exact same plan another time, or with other people. It just doesn’t make any sense to ask this one person.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I’d be inclined to make this a more general thing. Like maybe ask everybody for suggestions as to how the event could be improved the following year. Then it comes across less as “what would it take to make you come?” and more “how can we make this event suitable for everybody who wants to come?”

      And some people who went might also have had problems with timing or location or restaurant choice, not serious enough to want to skip the event, but enough that they’d have enjoyed it more/might have been able to say longer if the choice had been different, so I think it makes sense to throw the question out to everybody.

    4. hbc*

      I would make it a statement more than a question, and probably over email to decrease pressure. “Hey, thanks for the RSVP! If there’s anything in the plan (logistics, location, activity) that would make it more likely for you to be able to come next time, let me know any time between now and next Thanksgiving.”

      Though I had good luck putting together a survey that included selecting the best/worst times, best/worst activities, and options like “If this is on paid time, I’d still rather do my work than go to a company party.” I’m pretty sure that being explicit about expecting some people to be unenthused led to people feeling comfortable enough to write in restrictions and concerns I didn’t expect. (Turns out my idea of scary city driving didn’t match with many employees, in that I didn’t count three-block long “downtowns” as a city, nevermind fear driving and parking there. We arranged transportation to increase comfort level.)

  21. I would prefer not to*

    Whose idea was the raffle? How long have you been doing it? How many people win something? How many people enter? How many people are pleased when they win? How many people win things they find a massive pain to get rid of or re-gift because it is no use at all? How many colleagues just say nothing for fear of being called “tacky”?

    Any companies which do raffles should ask themselves this fairly regularly. A short anonymous staff survey might be useful.

    What are companies trying to achieve with raffles? Because there’s usually a better way of achieving most of the goals.

  22. Ver*

    LW He’s not going because he doesn’t want to. Simple as that. He doesn’t want to go or he doesn’t want to change his current plans or he doesn’t want to have a three course dinner with people he works with every day or whatever.

    I wish more management would remember that things like this should be optional.

    1. rayray*

      I agree. I work 40 hours week with these people, why should I have to give up even two of my precious few hours off to entertain them?

      I hope out-of-business-hour work parties can be another thing that Millennials and Gen Z abolish.

      1. L*

        > I hope out-of-business-hour work parties can be another thing that Millennials and Gen Z abolish

        I hope not! D:

        I hope them being defacto-mandatory is something we abolish, but not the tradition altogether. I really enjoy going to my company’s holiday party and getting to interact with coworkers I don’t generally see on a day to day basis. Especially now that we’ve gone hybrid and most people are choosing to work entirely from home.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I feel like stuff like this gets overemphasized in some managerial minds; like this is the only time they get some kind of thumbs up for a job well done from their staff. If you’re managing well and putting out fires, it’s not like your staff are going to review you and tell you you’re an awesome boss. But, if you plan an event and some people have a lot of fun, there’s a sense of achievement that’s more palpable.

  23. HearTwoFour*

    Off topic but not really…does everyone here have a subscription to Inc? I know it’s only $10 a year, but thanks to some untimely bad luck, my budget is stretched thin. It would feel truly irresponsible to subscribe, considering I recently cancelled two streaming channels. I’m a student, and the student subscription price is more than the standard price, so there’s no savings there.

    1. Kbell*

      I don’t have a subscription. And I can read the articles for free. I’m not sure if you have having an issue or if you want to subscribe to read additional articles, but I’ve never had an issue reading Alison’s articles there

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I think there’s a monthly limit to the free articles at Inc. I don’t read the Inc. articles Alison publishes all the time, but when I occasionally want to read them I can usually access them without a subscription.

      2. HearTwoFour*

        I wish I were that lucky! A big paywall box immediately pops up, cutting off my access to the article. I can’t even scroll the article to read in the 1/4 inch space below the paywall. Oh well.

    2. Alpaca Bag*

      I don’t have a subscription. If I only click through about every other time, it lets me read the articles. For the topics that don’t seem as relevant to me, I just read the comments. I did sign up for their newsletters to get free access to a couple extra articles a month, in hopes that Alison gets some kind of credit for my still receiving it.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Also don’t have a subscription, so I read through the titles and see how much they interest me and skip the ones that don’t sound that interesting. That way, I can usually see the ones that do. Not always and I occasionally miss something that sounds interesting, but not too often.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I believe you get a number of free articles a month, so if all you read is Ask a Manager, you’re generally okay.

      1. HearTwoFour*

        I’ll have to see if it resets in January. All I read there is AAM, but I can’t remember the last time I got to see an article.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I believe they might be part of a wider title that has the same restriction, so if you’ve read any articles from another imprint it counts those too.

    4. Hermione Danger*

      You might be able to access a subscription through either your school’s or a local public library. They often have digital magazine subscriptions for students to use.

  24. Bookworm*

    “Whatever the reason, it’s OK for people not to go to things.”

    Please don’t ask and don’t hold it against the employee. In a job that was pre-COVID, I got feedback for not going to the holiday dinner as not being a team player. Mind you, this was after hours and go could go on for hours (one year my boss emailed me early the next morning to let me know that we wouldn’t be starting until like 10 because I guess they all had such a good time).

    I know that there are reasons for people to socialize at work, for the happy hours, for the parties, etc. I hate every aspect of it and really wish this stopped being part of the work culture in general.

  25. Poppy*

    I wish I could have skipped out on my company party without it becoming A Thing. It took almost 5 hours out of my one weekend day off to eat an OK $10 meal that came out 25 minutes after everyone else’s. Not exactly a fun time.

  26. SadieMae*

    I’ve never, ever been to a work holiday party I enjoyed, even a little bit. And I’m a friendly, outgoing person who usually enjoys parties! It’s just such a weird combination of work relationships and social relationships (like, when I was an office admin, I was expected to attend the holiday party off the clock but also to liaise with the venue and the catering staff while I was there). If you keep it cordial but professional, people say “loosen up, it’s a party!”…but we’ve all seen many times on AAM what can happen when people start drinking and really let loose. (And it’s trickier for women, because sometimes our male colleagues get liquored up and sexually harass us.)

    And at several of the places where I worked pink-collar jobs, the bosses would set up a somewhat fancy holiday dinner party every year and then spend months defending themselves against any accusations of too-low pay and/or mistreatment by crowing about how well they treated us: after all, didn’t we all just get free prime rib and an open bar? Leaving us all thinking, “What did that cost, about $100 per person? Once a year? That hardly makes up for underpaying us the rest of the year.” (And also thinking, “At the very least, just give me the $100 and let me stay home.”)

    All this is a roundabout way of saying that while I’m sure some holiday parties are great, in my experience (attending them for my work and my husband’s work over the years), mostly everybody just wants to get through them and go home. And if I, a generally outgoing person, hate them, I can only imagine what they’re like for shy people and/or people who have difficulty navigating tricky social situations. I really wish employers would consider holiday parties to be 100% optional (and make that clear to their employees).

    1. Jack*

      Well said!

      My employer doesn’t give any type of salary increases (no merit raises or bonuses, no matter how good of a worker you are). When we had our Holiday luncheon last Friday, they celebrated “how lucky they are to have us” with catered food and raffle prizes. I’d rather have a pay increase instead, but apparently nobody in management thinks that.

  27. Middle Name Danger*

    Just leave people alone when they decline!

    Especially when there’s food involved. Food is the default go-to for any kind of gathering but it’s layered with issues for so many people, from dietary restrictions to eating disorders. Just let it go.

  28. Richard Hershberger*

    “This staff member is our most quiet, shy developers, and I want him to feel included in our staff holiday celebrations” by pressuring him to do something he has already declined…

  29. L-squared*

    Really? I don’t find that tacky at all. They didn’t ask for the money. They asked for a receipt.

    Like, why is regifting or selling it totally fine, but wanting to just get the cash from the store tacky?

      1. Darsynia*

        I know you’re explaining, but that shouldn’t apply here, because the gifts were distributed at random.

      2. Dahlia*

        But it’s not a gift. It’s a raffle prize. It’s not from Jenny in HR, it’s a random shot at winning a random prize from the company. No one picked it specifically for this person.

  30. KatEnigma*

    “I want to be inclusive so my instinct is to pressure the new introverted/shy guy into explaining why he doesn’t want to go party with us!!!!”

    Please, LW1s of the world, just let people participate or not in social activities. Inside or outside of work.

  31. Irish Teacher*

    Given that he’s quiet and shy, the most likely explanation is that he…doesn’t like parties. A lot of people don’t. In a group of 20, to be honest, I’m surprised it’s only one. I wonder why the LW assumes it’s because he wants a different restaurant rather than…because he finds socialising/restaurants boring.

    The coolest boss I ever had told me “I’ve added you to the list for the staff party, but you don’t have to come if you don’t want to” and then said no more about it.

    I do go to work parties in my current job and enjoy them but there are people who don’t go and that’s fine too. I also plan to go to the meal and leave either before the move on to the pub or else go to the pub for half an hour and then leave.

  32. Purple Cat*

    I’m fascinated at the differing viewpoints on the Company Raffle.
    When it’s a random gift, it’s not surprising that it ended up going to somebody that doesn’t like it. And why wouldn’t they ask about converting it into something they DID want – hence the request for a gift receipt. It’s not a personal affront to the company, since it wasn’t a thoughtfully selected personal gift for the employee. And even if it was, people are allowed to not like gifts they are given.

  33. Jeremy Stein*

    Regarding the request for a gift receipt (letter #2), no one mentioned that a gift receipt could change a de minimis gift into cash-equivalent compensation triggering tax and record-keeping requirements.

    1. Observer*

      I think no one mentioned because it’s not really relevant. There are a lot of reasons that the OP would legitimately not want to provide the receipt. Which means it’s also fine for them to (politely but firmly) say no.

      What people are reacting to is the idea that merely asking is “rude”.

  34. CatMintCat*

    Maybe he just doesn’t want to go? I’m not going to my work Christmas do this year because they have decided it’s going to be based around the game of lawn bowls. I’ve done that with the kids (as a teacher) and have never been so unutterably bored and miserable in my life. I will never be old enough to find that game entertaining.

    So I’ve chosen not to go.

  35. Admin Amber*

    Stop expecting workers to spend even more time with co-workers. I love the holidays, but in no way want to do anything holiday-releated with my co-workers. Office parties are not fun for a lot of people. Don’t pry if someone doesn’t want to attend.

  36. no one reads this far*

    No is a full sentence. The employee declined the invitation to the holiday party. That’s all you need to know.

  37. merida*

    20 employees were invited to an after-hours holiday party and only 1 RSVPed with a no!? That’s a really high attendance rate. It’s normal to assume that anytime you invite a group of people to anything, a few people will have scheduling conflicts or will otherwise RSVP no for some reason or another. If attendance was supposed to be mandatory then it should be during work hours or otherwise paid time. A no is not a personal affront to the party planner; it’s just a no.

    And while there’s no need to assume that there’s anything secretive, it’s still considered polite to give people privacy for their “no.” I was once witness to some well-meaning colleagues badgering a coworker for why she couldn’t come to the office Christmas party. “But it’ll be so fun! Just cancel your plans and come!” They were the office busy bodies and just would not. Let. It. Go. My coworker was visibly uncomfortable and ended up unwillingly revealing that her scheduling conflict was a standing therapy appointment. I was within earshot and felt badly I hadn’t tried to step in sooner… But really, regardless of the reason, we’re all entitled to say no.

    1. teapot manager*

      I have to think if the question was ‘should I ask why this person doesn’t want to go?’ the reason everyone else is going is because they knew it would be a Thing if they didn’t.

      So spoken or unspoken peer pressure lined everyone else up for Mandatory Fun.

  38. The Dude Abides*

    Piling on the “if someone declines, do not follow up under any circumstances.”

    When I worked at a place that organized a number of after-hours social events, I attended 1-2 per year – I’d make a token appearance at the Christmas party every other year; and cleared the calendar for the trivia night.

    Anything beyond that, hard pass. At the time I had three distinct hobbies/interests that took up a lot of my free time (2-3 nights per week, 50-60% of my Saturdays), and the winter months were the slow period for me, so I very much put a premium on my free time during that stretch.

  39. Galaxiid*

    Yeah, definitely don’t assume that people always want to go to extended social events. I have a potluck coming up with about 30 coworkers and I’m actually looking forward to it, but my boss also wants to do lunch with our small team soon and I really don’t want to go to that. I see my team all the time, the lunch has been scheduled as 2 and a half hours for some reason (??), and it would require me to come in on a day I was planning to wfh. My boss is also the kind of person who schedules way too many unnecessary work meetings and uses them for socializing. I don’t feel like I can decline without it being awkward, so I’m planning on “not feeling well” that day. I’ve never faked illness before and am generally seen as a team player, but I really do not want to spend that much additional time with people I already see far too often.

  40. Bob-White of the Glen*

    I’m disheartened by someone who writes “I received a note today from an employee who won an item that they appreciate it but will never use it and asking if they can have the receipt to return it for something else” and see this nice request as “rude.”

    I’m far more disheartened by the number of posters who also find the employee rude for trying to get something they will use instead of ending up with something they won’t. They have belittled the employee and their manners without knowing the financial situation, their stressors, what’s going on in that person’s life that may mean trading in an unwanted item could make a difference. But even if that is not the case, keeping something you don’t need/want is the ultimate conspicuous consumption.

    All the employee did was ask. The answer may need to be no for a variety of reasons. But if the employee had written in to a weekend open thread, most posters would have said just try. We claim to want communication in the workplace, but for many here that communication does not include this poor employee daring to leave their station with such an outlandish request.

    Really disappointing.

  41. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

    It’s very common for introverts to dislike parties and to feel uncomfortable when forced to attend them. This doesn’t mean that they dislike the other party guests or that they feel excluded – it simply means that they don’t. like. parties! Inviting your colleague was proof that he is NOT being excluded and he knows it. Now please respect his right to decline your invitation, be gracious about it and don’t probe for answers or “solutions” to a nonexistent problem!

  42. the frost tells me it's cold*

    One of our co-workers can’t come to our party this year as they’re an adult caretaker. You may never know why they turned down the invite, but most of the time it’s not meant to be taken personally.

  43. Clawdeen Wolf*

    The only thing that can be done would be a general reminder to everyone that you want to accommodate potential special needs at future events and promise to do so confidentially and non-judgmentally. That covers your bases just in case the reason someone isn’t attending is because they don’t want to be the strict vegan who ruins the barbeque, or something. Then you let it go forever (or until someone new is hired).
    Otherwise just accept that people have loads and loads of reasons for not doing potentially awesome stuff, ranging from “I just don’t wanna” to “I must be home by nightfall or I’ll become a werewolf and it’s embarrassing to be that hairy in front of colleagues and if I bit someone that might not be covered by insurance”.

  44. No Parties Thanks*

    As someone who is skipping my work holiday party, it’s not your business. For me, it’s because I am on a round of steroids currently and my already wonky immune system is a bit more wonky because of them. I’m leaving the country in a week for a long awaited trip and do not want to risk getting sick at a work event with 200 unmasked people. I feel safer in an airplane and at the airport masked than with the coughing masses that work in my building. EVERYONE is sick with something!

  45. Spicy Tuna*

    In 25 years of working in Corporate America, I have never attended a holiday party unless it was something mandatory – one company would do a company-wide town hall meeting followed by a catered lunch, so that was hard to get out of – but also not particularly socially stressful or disruptive. Some people just want to do their jobs and go home.

  46. Kira*

    #1 You should have it during work hours. Some people have commitments outside of work that mean they will never be able to attend after hours events. And it really sucks to not be able to join the fun.

  47. BumbleBee82*

    We are a 15 person team in a small consulting firm. We all used to work in an office together in two different sites, but when COVID hit we went permanently virtual. One of our most senior staff always opts out of any social event (we have 2-3 a year in person – it’s the only time we all see each other). It’s hard, because he has a supervisory role, and the people he supervises would like to be able to meet him in person, even if it was just once a year. But, he is an introvert who does not like social events, and won’t come to any event (all of which are very inclusive, fun, and only last a couple of hours). So, in response to this, we’ve had to introduce quarterly in person staff meetings that are mandatory because it is the only way we get to see this person. I understand the argument around “he shouldn’t have to do anything social that he does not want to do” but there is an element of making an effort that would be appreciated by his colleagues, who do put thought in such events and are not a horrible group of people to be around once a year for a couple of hours.

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