update: my bosses want our remote team to work out together 3 times a week

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose bosses wanted their remote team to work out together three times a week? Here’s the update.

After your response to my letter and seeing all the thoughtful comments (which I quickly found I couldn’t keep up with) I decided to keep an eye on the situation and continue to not participate. I had a conversation with the other coworker who had a problem with the exercise as well and I told her that I would not be attending and that I would have her back if anyone gave her a hard time about not attending. I explained to her that she has rights under the ADA and that I would go to bat for her if she didn’t want to attend and got any pushback. I thought that was that.

In our next KPI meeting they created an entire program so we could get to know members of our team who we did not otherwise have the opportunity to work with.They separated our team of 20 into 4 groups and then we were given a list of things we could do to earn points. The group with the most points at the end of the quarter wins a prize. At the top of that list was attending the workout, and at the bottom of the list it was specified that “all group members must attend an event for the group to get the point.

I immediately expressed my disgust, and my lead came to speak to me within the hour. I expressed to her how uncomfortable the situation made me and explained to her the issues we were already experiencing with being pressured to participate. I laid out how now, if someone chooses not to participate, they are letting their group down and preventing them from getting points.

I was less than thrilled with her response. Her first suggestion was that I attend and not participate, which I immediately shut down as discriminatory. I laid out the list for her: what if someone has an eating disorder, exercise anxiety, trauma, a physical disability or just doesn’t want to be exposed to diet culture in the workplace? What she basically implied was that the leads know their team members well and that if someone had an issue that prevented them from participating that they would already know about it. We basically ended that conversation with her telling me that I did not need to participate, it was optional, and they agreed to alter the team building guidelines so that if any members attend the workout then the group gets a point.

I also went to HR and documented the situation so they were aware that a posible ADA violation could result from this program. The HR rep was great, she asked all the right questions, and at the end she laid out my options for having the circumstances addressed. I decided that I didn’t want anything addressed at this time but I wanted a record of the situation so that if it escalated there would be no question of why it wasn’t brought up sooner. I was still new to the team and was worried about damaging my standing within the ranks, but if someone else on the team was upset and wanted to make a report at least there would be a someone else’s story on the record to back them up.

This was all in July. The workouts are still happening three times a week, but no one has said a word to me about not attending. I was worried that my dissent would cause issues with my grand boss, but she has given me more responsibility and my performance reviews are all positive. In September the company laid off about 10% of the workforce, including my lead.

My new lead basically leaves me alone and I have had zero questions about the workout. The group bonding exercise needed to be altered because people were spending so much time collecting points that they weren’t getting their work done, and while we’ve changed groups several times not one member of the team has questioned me or pressured me to attend, and several have expressed how stupid they find the workouts in general.

So all in all I am holding tight and standing my ground. I still find the situation irritating but getting your response and all the comments was very validating and helped me recognize that I wasn’t overreacting.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Season of Joy (TM)*

    “The group bonding exercise needed to be altered because people were spending so much time collecting points that they weren’t getting their work done”

    This makes me laugh. We also have a grossly gamified workplace wellness program, so seeing another poorly designed program backfire is quite satisfying.

    1. Wintermute*

      The first thing businesses get, whether they want it or not, is what they incentivize. I’m staggered by how many managers don’t thoughtfully align what gets rewarded with what produces business results.

    2. Up and Away*

      This is me on Duolingo…I had to reign myself in from trying to get points, and focus more on learning the language!

      1. Another Jennife*

        I decided that I’m going to earn my >200 points/day, and if they’re going to design a gamified system, they should bake in the rewards/scoring. I’m still practicing the language…

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Huh, I found a number of aspects (streaks, XP, quests) helpful for setting habits. Then again, I’m a gamer, so I’m inclined to find games rewarding.

        2. Janeric*

          For me some of the older aspects — like streaks and “double points for fifteen minutes” — but now that I can’t choose to take a lazy day and I have to watch an ad to keep my streak, I’m losing interest.

          I have had “finish X Duolingo modules” as a New Years resolution for 4 years and this year it’s going to be “find a replacement for Duolingo”.

          1. Janeric*

            *some of the old gamification things made me study MORE, I meant. The new gamification in update is a real motivation killer for me.

          2. TrixM*

            Babbel is good and they do regular “lifetime subscription” deals it’s worth keeping your eyes open for. I don’t know of anything that’s entirely free that’s decent, and it’s worth it to me to pay not to have ads.

          3. Susie*

            I love Memrise for this. The focus is on learning the language. They have lots of different types of lessons based on language-learning research. And they frequently have sales for their lifetime membership.

      2. Kes*

        yeah gamification can really work either way. It has made me do more Duolingo at times, but at other times it just makes me not want to do it at all so as not to risk going down a league.
        It’s also part of why I don’t join any of the sports teams that my work has for those who want to play, even when they need more female players – I don’t want to be the one letting the team down at something I know I’m not great at

    3. ecnaseener*

      Lol right, who could’ve seen that coming? When you heavily incentivize a ton of non-work activities during work time, less work happens!

    4. learnedthehardway*

      That one gave me a good laugh too – you get the employee behaviours that you incent. In this case, they were incenting people to work out.

      It amazes me that people don’t think this out to the logical conclusions.

  2. BradC*

    “The group bonding exercise needed to be altered because people were spending so much time collecting points that they weren’t getting their work done…”

    Ha! That old rule of “careful what you measure/reward”.

    Rewarded for lines of code? Hmm, why is all this new code long and messy instead of short and clear, like they used to be? A mystery!!

    1. I need a new name...*

      Was Dickens a good writer? Yes.
      Would reading his books feel less like hard work if he hadn’t been paid by the word? Also, yes.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Conversely, Heinlein’s contracts were for a certain number of words, after which he’d just end the story. You can see this really clearly in the book Starship Troopers, where it ends abruptly at the beginning of a major battle.

    2. Wintermute*

      The working title of a book I’m writing is “the six things businesses get (whether they want it or not)” and chapter 2 is “you get what you reward” (chapter 1 is “you get the opposite of what you punish”).

      1. Really?!*

        You’ll never convince a a “more is better” person that any form of efficiency is better because it’s not more.

        My boss is like this. I submit long reports….sigh

        1. Antilles*

          In my experience, the “more is better” mindset typically comes from someone who doesn’t really know the subject. Since you can’t tell the quality difference, you fall back on the quantity because it’s the only thing you can actually measure.
          100 lines of garbage code and 100 lines of brilliant code look fairly similar to a non-programmer…but even someone who’s never touched a computer can tell the difference between 100 lines and 100,000 lines.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Back in my previous life, I was a department manager in a Walmart. This is not really management. It is a modest boost to the hourly wage in return for responsibility for a couple of aisles. One of these responsibilities was resetting the merchandise on a four-foot section to comply with the inevitable revised schematics we received so very, very frequently. If this was a major reset, the best approach was to tear the section down entirely and rebuild it from scratch. But for minor resets, the better approach was to move items around. The kicker was that this required thinking ahead. So there I would be, standing in the aisle contemplating the diagram and the merchandise, working out how best to reset it. There was this one guy who, while not in fact a real manager, enjoyed imagining that he was. He would see me and criticize me for just standing there. The result, of course, was to break my concentration, making the job take longer than it had to be. He got promoted, eventually. Fortunately, that was about the time I left.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I like rewriting bad code, so I brag about the number of lines of code I’ve *deleted*.

        Cyclic complexity is a much better rule-of-thumb, but even that can go too far.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The length–or shortness–of a block of code means nothing and is completely irrelevant to its value.

        This arc of my career is highlighted by decompressing broken chunks of nearly-inscrutable codified black holes–“But they can’t be the problem; they’re short!”

        Spoiler alert: they’re the problem.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, people who write idiomatic and “compressed” code drive me nuts. To them it’s showing off how well they know the language, to me it’s a giant pain to debug.

      4. Wintermute*

        code is much like writing, only even moreso. a wise man once said “you’re done writing when there is no more you could say, you’re done editing when there is no more you could remove.” Code works the same way but to an even greater extent– the best measure of quality is brevity.

  3. Prospect Gone Bad*

    Holy moly. I really hate that you have to do the ADA route since it’s not the main issue (though I don’t fault OP for going that route here, I’m saying it’s ridiculous that they have to). I feel like it’s getting them on a technicality and TBH can make people look a bit dramatic. “What is someone has a disability” can easily be met with “well, does anyone” “no” “then why are we discussing it.”

    The “meta” issue is judgment on their part. You can’t micromanage when synergy occurs and when relationships occur. In fact, doing it like this will ensure people form relationships based on collective suffering through ridiculous events.

    I find people bond best over their everyday work. Have people shadow each other for an hour or train their coworker. That’s when relationships form

    1. EPLawyer*

      Well at least the ADA got the lovely response that “the leads know their team well” Well clearly the lead did NOT know her team well since she thought this was NBD. SOMEONE on the team thought it was.

      At least HR took the concerns seriously.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        That comment infuriates me. Someone who has body dysmorphia or an eating disorder is probably not going to go around telling their team lead about it, nor should they feel the need to reveal any personal information like that. It’s such an incredibly obtuse reaction.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          I probably have an undiagnosed eating disorder and some body dysmorphia, and workplace “wellness” programs pushing universal dieting and exercise set it off in a big way. If I “diet” I end up 10 to 15 pounds heavier. If I try a generic exercise program I end up frustrated because I can’t do it with my disability (hemiparesis) or I injure myself trying. Last time I tried a simple “double my steps per day” thing I ended up with a painful heel spur and could barely walk for weeks.

          I do not discuss this with my coworkers, unless they start pushing diets and exercise “plans” on me, and then they get it with both aggrieved barrels. A simple mention gets a “No, thank you.” Pushing gets a diatribe about the damage that stuff has done to me over the years.

      2. Pants*

        Right? Would have been a perfect situation if OP had the teflon comfort of saying, “Obviously the leads don’t know their teams well, as you’re promoting this activity and I am on your team.” Unfortunately, teflon comfort is so rare, they tend to keep it in a closet in the ivory tower of the C Suite.

        At my previous job, we partnered with a point-system workout app/company. There were a set number of points you could earn a day and they could be used to “shop” in a designated store. (I always went with Amazon cards.) The best part was that there were levels to the points. Silver, Gold, Platinum. Each lowered your insurance premium by a percentage. 15%, 25%, and 50%. I was in amazing shape because that 50% off my benefits was a badge of honour for me.

        Then the panini happened, I got laid off, and I discovered I’m a good baker. I’ve morphed into Fatniss Everdeen but to be fair, I’ve had a good time getting this body. It’s been a delicious journey.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          I think this is the second time we’ve seen auto-correct change pandemic to panini, and it’s ridiculously funny, especially given you’re next point is that you’re a good baker and you morphed into Fatniss Everdeen (which is equally hilarious as an expression!)

    2. Don*

      The proper response to “well, does anyone?” is not yes or no, it’s “we have no way to know if someone hasn’t needed to disclose before now.” This situation creates a requirement for disclosure which is worse for everyone, basically for no good reason.

      Another good answer would also be “I’m not going to reveal any protected disclosures just for the sake of discussion.”

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I like this.

        Whether anyone has an invisible disability that does not need to be disclosed for the work environment is immaterial, because the same phrase applies. It doesn’t matter if you know who has what or not.

        I guarantee that any workplace with 100 or more people that there will be at least one undisclosed invisible disability. (In my field, one of the most common is a bad back, due to the tendency of companies to buy lifting equipment for servers, and instead use their junior employees who are young, strong, and not knowledgeable about how to lift equipment safely. If you never have to lift, and have an ergonomic chair, it seldom comes up.)

        1. allathian*

          And regardless of any disability status, some people simply don’t want to exercise in a group. I don’t, I hate it. I’m not disabled, at least not yet, but I am fat and self-conscious about it. And one of my boundaries is that my coworkers don’t get to see me in any state of undress.

          I’m so grateful that I’m in Finland with single-payer health insurance. Sure, there are wellness programs here too, but they tend to be less intrusive and completely voluntary. And except for some professions where physical fitness is essential to the job (military forces or emergency services, for example) it’s pretty unheard of for employers to include physical fitness as a metric for evaluating performance.

      2. TomatoSoup*

        Yup. I have one of the issues mentioned and have never said a damn word about it in the workplace because it was never relevant. I’d like to keep it that way.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      In fairness, bonding over shared misery is a real thing. I am still in touch with people from a document review job twenty years ago. This friendship is not based on a shared appreciation of what swell job it was! But neither is it likely that this bonding benefited our employer. We cheered one another on about finding better jobs and getting out of there.

  4. I need a new name...*

    So glad OP found a way to stand their ground clearly and also have it not jeopardise their career. And very happy to see an excellent HR response!

  5. lilsheba*

    Lord I hate these kind of bonding group exercise things SO MUCH. When I worked at a bank in a call center it was constant pressure to engage is stupid games and desk workouts and all that crap. I just wanted to be left alone. I’m so happy I don’t have to participate in this junk anymore.

    1. Wintermute*

      call centers are their own special brand of Hell. The fundamental issue is the work kind of sucks, and an entire room full of people whose job is basically to be yelled at is not going to be a pleasant environment. Attempts to make it into happy fun time are basically doomed, yet they still try.

      A dose of honest fatalism (“Yes, this is unpleasant, but customers need people to support them, you’re a vital part of the customer experience”) and pay on par with the emotional labor required would help– and yet they never seem to go that route, instead thinking they can fix it all with cheerleading gestures.

      The funny part? If only thanks to trauma bonding, call centers often have really good team cohesion as long as management doesn’t actively destroy it by doing things like this which put people into adversarial positions where one person is seen as “bringing the team down”.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        If they actually care about customer experience, the incentives would have to be changed to reward solving people’s issues, rather than getting through calls as quickly as possible.

        1. Wintermute*

          it’s true, they sadly punish people so much for taking the time to solve complex issues that often to keep from being hired they have to either lie, make stuff up, or outright hang up on customers, and yet they never seem to see this is why their company has a bad reputation.

          the call support for my internet provider inspires feelings people normally reserve for war criminals, and a big reason is because actually taking the time to put in a work order is too long so they love to tell you they did and then no one shows up and there’s no record of your conversation or said work order ever happening

    1. Ama*

      One of my primary reasons for working out is the physical activity helps me *stop* thinking about work, I definitely don’t want reminders of work mixed into the workout.

      1. Antilles*

        For me, it’s even more than that: Working out is the physical activity to let me stop thinking about *anything*. It’s just me, my breathing, the weights, and what exercise I’m doing now/next. Nothing else.

    2. londonedit*

      Yup. I enjoy running with friends, but going to the gym with them? Nope. I just want to get in there, do my thing, and get out again. And that’s *friends*. I get on well with my work colleagues, but there is no way on Earth I’d want to do any kind of group exercise with them!

  6. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I say this as someone who fairly recently developed a gym habit and keeps my appointments to lift weights and run fairly religiously…

    If I so much as made eye contact with a coworker while exercising I would willingly and immediately fling myself into the sea.

    1. Manders*

      LOL! I work out at my workplace’s gym, but I always go on the off hours so that I don’t run into people I know.

    2. Season of Joy (TM)*

      Many years ago, while largely pregnant, I had just finished running at the campus gym and was doing circles on an exercise ball to apologize to my hips for inflicting such trauma. MY BOSS comes up to me while I was doing this to say hi and make small talk. Believe me, I metaphorically flung myself into the sea.

        1. Season of Joy (TM)*

          This is a question I regularly ask myself, even if I know the answer is because I live in a very landlocked state.

          1. Zelda*

            Here in Illinois, there isn’t even that much hope of a fault opening up to engulf one at an opportune moment. I mean, there is the Yellowstone supervolcano, but destroying the continent might be just a touch of overkill for workplace boundary violations.

            1. Robin*

              A friend of mine who works in Chicago would metaphorically fling themselves/others in the Lake Michigan when necessary

    3. Ragged and Rusty*

      One of my coworkers asked if I wanted to work out together as “accountability buddies” and I’m just here like “I won’t even work out with my significant other.”

      I would fling myself into the sea if they witnessed me sweat like that.

    4. JustAnotherKate*

      Totally! I work out at home after years of group exercise for a reason (well, other than that I bought pricey equipment during the pandemic) — I don’t get energy from groups and I don’t need to be seen by strangers wearing my tight exercise clothes doing squats or whatever. The idea of being seen by coworkers is even more CRINGE!

      1. allathian*

        Oh absolutely. And I’m in Finland, where people are supposed to be comfortable with nudity, and I’m not. I suppose I could deal with strangers seeing me in various states of undress, but coworkers, absolutely NOT! And I like my coworkers, I just want to see them only when all of us are fully dressed for work.

  7. irene adler*

    Way to stand your ground, OP!

    Why, oh why, can’t the workplace simply be a place for people to work? I don’t need my workplace to manage my social/exercise/health needs. I can do that just fine myself.


    1. Clisby*

      Yes! And even if I were completely incompetent at those things, it’s not a sign the workplace needs to step in. All they need to know is that I’m competent at WORK.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I really enjoyed taking exercise classes or using the gym provided by my workplace in Before Times, but it has to be completely voluntary. If my manager had been monitoring my attendance, I would not have been comfortable at all.

  8. Ama*

    Can we talk about the mental logic required for the supervisor to answer “but what if someone has an issue they don’t want to disclose?” with “that wouldn’t happen because we know our teams well enough.”

    I …just….arrgh

    1. Sabina*

      It’s giving “well none of the hostages have complained about being a hostage, so it’s all good” energy.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Total logic fail indeed. And why my current boss doesn’t know about my long history of anorexia. I KNOW she’ll argue that I don’t really have it because otherwise she’d have known.

      (Yeah, even in IT we can logic fails)

  9. GoLightly*

    Oh man, no thank you. Currently pregnant and hiding it from my coworkers as long as possible – I can’t do the same workouts as everyone else and I do NOT want to disclose why! I would probably just show up with my camera off and not participate, but still, ick.

  10. Anonymous+Engineer*

    “the leads know their team members well and that if someone had an issue that prevented them from participating that they would already know about it.”

    I can guarantee they don’t!

  11. Bookworm*

    I missed the original letter but was happy to read up on this drama. O_O. Glad that it seems to be working out but sheesh, this is ridiculous. Hope they continue to leave you alone!

  12. Jshaden*

    I wasn’t a big fan of group workouts when I was in the military and physical fitness was an actual job performance measure, but it was known job expectation and I was an officer, so I participated. Now that I’m no longer in, I have no interest in workplace workouts that are tied to any work related incentive. Might I join work 5K team if it is optional? Maybe, but only if it is truly optional.

  13. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Thank you OP. Sincerely thank you for standing up for us.

    It can get exhausting to try and explain to the boss that a) you really can’t go exercise with the team b) no I really can’t because of reasons and c) no I don’t want to educate you as to exactly what is wrong with me and what treatments are best and why can’t I suggest an exercise I can do.

    Often more energy than we have left after a day of work.

    So to everyone, including yourself, who fights back at this ‘everyone can exercise!’ stuff at work: you’re heroes to me. Thank you.

  14. David Levine*

    My former (I am now retired) company had these kind of events, but the employees made their own teams. If someone didn’t want to participate, they just didn’t join a team. The employees got minor prizes for achieving milestones. The only problem was coming up with new prizes. One can use only so many water bottles.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I hear that most people are happy to receive cash, even if they already got cash the last time.

  15. MxBee*

    Another day, another dance of “well, you don’t have to participate”. Exclusion is not accessibility!

    I can’t join a gym because of my disability – but my disability is invisible and I have accommodations figured out for it so I don’t need to disclose at work unless I choose to do so. (I miss the gym but that’s not the point.) My boss isn’t aware that I can’t join a gym/go to an exercise class/etc, and that’s fine, because he’s my boss. He cares about how I code, how I support my colleagues, and how I lead my team. A boss like OP’s would have me running straight to the union!

    1. alexa k*

      I have an invisible disability and right now I can only work out a) in the pool b) in the presence of one my physical therapists (I have a whole entourage of different pt specialists they are great). If this happened to me I would struggle to decide between filing an official complaint and inviting my boss to come march around in the pool with me during our next one on one.

  16. Rebecca*

    I’m a teacher; a former principal was a certified jazzercise instructor. You can see where this is going! She had the entire staff so jazzercise together as a welcome back to school activity the week before school started

    1. RJ*

      I cannot think of something worse than forcing your passion on people. I’m a yoga teacher who is passionate about her practice and I would never, ever do this to anyone. Mandatory team building activities are self defeating when participants have no choice in the matter or subject.

  17. Missy*

    I missed this the first time around but lawyer brain is seeing potential liability issues when someone gets hurt while exercising. Good luck explaining to worker’s comp that your team building exercise program is truly voluntary when it comes with points and a bonus for participating.

  18. Curmudgeon in California*

    I always have “fun” with this type of stuff. I have a visible disability, plus several invisible ones. I often end up in department meetings where some idiot is going on and on about their wonderful wellness weirdness, and I shut it down with maximum awkwardness with “I don’t think I can do that unless you have a physical therapist who is trained to assist with workouts for partially paralyzed people, and I know that insurance won’t cover that.” Then it dissolves into awkward sputtering and “Well, then you don’t have to.” *Poof* mandatory becomes optional.

Comments are closed.