should I tell someone about my coworkers’ exclusionary behavior at a conference?

A reader writes:

I work at a Fortune 500 company, working specifically on one category that gets quite a lot of attention. I’ve been in the industry for 16 years and with this company for about half that. I have advanced degrees and am regarded as an expert in my field, internally and externally.

Recently I attended a large industry conference along with four relatively new employees. I went a day earlier because I had a specialized symposium to attend, but, before I left I messaged the group (all of them) and told them the dates I’d be in town and that I’d like to meet up with them for dinners or an activity. No one responded. No worries … everyone is busy.

I texted them again after my symposium and let them know I was going to go shopping in the touristy area of town the next afternoon (the conference was light for stuff on our topic that day). One person spoke for the group and said that one of them had a friend presenting so they couldn’t go. None of them could go. Because one couldn’t. They did invite me to join them for dinner the next night. Dinner involved a 20-minute drive, then a ride in a cable car before putting in your name for a table. They rented a midsize car (think Camry or similar). I didn’t. The leader of the group told me that there just wasn’t enough space for a fifth person. I regularly put five in my compact car. Four of the five people are average to small size. Five would fit. But, I didn’t make a scene and I Ubered and met them at the time they suggested.

The newest person paid the bar tab (against company policy) and I gently let them know that company policy says the most senior person pays. They acted cagey when I picked up the tab for dinner. Again, it’s company policy and the company takes its policy seriously.

The rest of the week, they seemed to actively avoid me, and when they did come around for a mixer and I was trying to introduce them to some of the literal founders of our industry, the leader proceeded to talk over everyone, founders included.

I’m professional enough to not take it personally, but I’m not sure what to do with my observations. I’m a people manager several levels higher than them. Should I bring this up to their manager? It’s one thing to treat a higher level colleague they way they treated me. It’s another for them to behave the way one of them did in public around the people we should be building relationships with. I got feedback from more than one of my industry peers that the poster deliveries were not up to par as well.

Adding to my uncertainty is that my manager and their manager don’t really get along. I do get along with their manager’s manager, though. I don’t want this to seem petty, but I’m concerned that they would treat others the way they treated me and it could have a real impact on their careers and on the scientific reputation of my company. What should I do?

Let it go.

None of this is a big deal, except for the one person who talked over VIPs at a networking event. That’s objectively rude, but it doesn’t rise to the level of something you need to report unless you’re in the kind of role where you’re asked to give that sort of feedback or they’re in the kind of role where they really, really need to be socially skilled (like a fundraiser, for example).

The rest of it, though … eh.

It does sound like they made you feel excluded, and it’s understandable for that to sting. But I think you’re taking it more personally than you should — and it’s making you apply a level of scrutiny and negative judgment to each individual interaction that isn’t warranted.

It’s not weird for one person to speak for the group and say they couldn’t join you for shopping, assuming you’d sent the message to the whole group; it sounds like they’d made plans among themselves earlier, and so one person responded to say that. But they did invite you to dinner, which is the opposite of being exclusionary. And not wanting to cram five people in one mid-size car isn’t that odd, particularly since Covid has made a lot of people less open to being scrunched against others in a confined space — and they likely figured you’d grab an Uber, like you did.

I do see how all of that together combined to feel cliquey, but it doesn’t rise to the level of something to talk to their boss or their boss’s boss … and I worry your personal feelings could be getting in the way of you assessing it objectively. (For example, the fact that someone paid without knowing company policy re: the most senior person paying isn’t a big deal. You explained, and now they know.)

About them avoiding you the rest of the week after dinner: Could they have picked up on irritation from you during dinner? (You do sound pretty fed up in your letter.) Or maybe they just don’t feel like they clicked with you as well as they did with each other — that happens. Or who knows, maybe they’re jerks who actively tried to make you feel excluded — but that’s less likely than the other possibilities, and there’s not enough here to assume it’s that.

The one part that could be worth raising to someone above them is the feedback you heard from industry peers that their posters weren’t up to par — if multiple people said that to you (!), it sounds like something was really off there.

But let the rest of it go.

{ 627 comments… read them below }

  1. L-squared*

    I agree with Alison. Let it go.

    None of this on its own sounds bad. And you do sound a bit… particular about how you like things to go. Maybe they just decided they’d hang with you for dinner, but that was about it. That is a perfectly valid thing to do if you aren’t gelling with people.

    Sometimes I go to work conferences and people from other offices in my company are there. If I’m with someone I get along great with, we’ll grab dinners, and drinks, and maybe go out a bit. If its someone I don’t get along with as well, I’ll be cordial, maybe do a dinner or something, but that is it. Its not exclusionary to just not get along great with someone.

    1. Not my coffee*

      LW does seem particular. Sometimes ego can be at play.

      I’ve been the senior juniors don’t want to be around.
      I’ve been the junior who didn’t want to be around the senior.
      I’ve been the junior seniors didn’t want to be around.
      I’ve been the peer who wanted to go on my own.
      I’ve been the peer who wanted to hang with the group.

      All of these are valid. LW does seem to be taking this very personal. I think the 2 managers who don’t get along is skewing LW’s perspective. Also, what would the “report” the manager be received? I think oddly, but in this commentariat I’ve often been considered odd.

      1. New Mom*

        I used to travel semi-regularly for work, and I remember it was always a balancing act when it was with someone I didn’t really gel with. Luckily, I usually got along well with most of my coworkers and could be blunt about what I did/did not want to do and didn’t take offense if they wanted to do stuff without me, sometimes that was welcomed tbh.
        There were definitely times when traveling where people were rude (I was literally stood up for lunch with one colleague and she never apologized or acknowledged it and we had spoken about it the night before) but it would have felt weird to report. Because what did I want gained from reporting it? Yes it was super rude, but even if she was reprimanded for it, what would that accomplish for me? Coincidentally that coworker despised my boss, so maybe that is a theme?

        As an aside, this reminds me of a letter from years ago where a junior employee was traveling to the city her sister lived in but her boss said she was required to eat every meal with him, including the meal with her sister. I think that situation is much worse.

      2. Van Wilder*

        It just struck me as obvious that the four new, junior people would want to hang out together, rather than with someone several rungs up the ladder. They probably feel more comfortable with their peers and don’t have to be “on” as much in front of a manager. I’d let it go.

        1. GrooveBat*

          Yes! This right here.

          OP, look at it from their perspective. You’re senior to them in the organization, and I could easily see how they might be uncomfortable socializing with a higher-up when they might have just wanted to decompress without that extra pressure.

          1. Annie E. Mouse*

            As someone who just returned from a 2 week trip with a peer and a 2 level senior, this right here. Senior is fine, but I was delighted that she opted to spend the majority of our down time without us. I can loosen up a bit over dinner and drinks with a peer, but I’m still in work mode around the senior. After long days of work, I just wanted to relax and goof off! I don’t think that OP is getting that their level introduces a different dynamic to every interaction.

        2. Staja*

          Yes! Last time I traveled for work, after a 12 hour travel day with my manager and then work time/meal/activity together, I jumped at the first opportunity to sit with with colleagues that WEREN’T her. She’s fine to work with and in measured doses, but holy moly…was I happy to get back to the hotel every night to be alone.

        3. I should be working*

          that was something that immediately came to my mind as well! it’s nice to have a dinner together, but colleagues don’t *owe* each other their spare time at conferences or when on business travel. Assuming LW is not only more senior in the company but also potentially older than the others, I can completely understand how they’d prefer to spend their personal time alone or with each other than with LW.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Given your level of scrutiny, I wonder if they picked up on it and felt uncomfortable. Many people, including myself, need to be “off” for awhile, especially on business trips. I don’t want to hang with a lot of people, especially anyone who is senior.

      Plus I don’t see a way to speak up without sounding unnecessarily critical. It’s one of those where you’d be right, but you wouldn’t be happy in the aftermath.

      1. Young worker*

        100%. Having to hang out with bosses (or senior folks) is exhausting after a full day of conference. I definitely don’t want to go shopping. Being among other peers is less exhausting because I don’t have to maintain appearances or the same professional chitchat. You may need to reflect on whether folks “below you” just need some time off.

        Not that this is you – but this is especially the case for senior people who are “nice” but personally drive me nuts.

        1. Jade*

          I don’t want to hang out with superiors on my down time. I never want to go shopping and I’m not cramming five people in a sedan.

        2. Ray B Purchase*

          Even speaking as someone who LOVES shopping, I’ve been shopping with coworkers before and it’s the worst. It feels particularly painful if you don’t know each other well and one of you has an objective and the other is just…there. I definitely wouldn’t want to go with someone senior to me, especially if there’s a big enough difference between our salaries that we wouldn’t be shopping at the same stores.

          I think it was nice of LW to invite them but she shouldn’t take it personally that nobody wanted to go shopping. Maybe the other instances were more personal, but most likely not this one.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes it’s not so much fun shopping with colleagues. I make an exception for something like a souk (I had a blast with 3 colleagues in North Africa) where you can wander to different stalls and regroup for mint tea. But in general shopping with colleagues can be painful.

            1. Dances with Flax*

              This is especially true when one person (or several) have far more disposable income to spend on whatever they want than the rest of us! Watching a well-off person breeze through a shopping trip buying things that you’ll never be able to afford is NOT fun. Having money can give people a “blinker effect”; they can become oblivious to the reality of what budgets are like for people who DON’T have it! (And yes, self-made people who worked their up from poverty can fall into this pattern as well – it isn’t limited to “trust fundies”!)

            2. Anon under circumstances*

              I once took a colleague into what I THOUGHT was a high end chocolate shop when we met up on a weekend.

              It was a sex boutique.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Yikes…. that’s more mortifying than some of the Mortification Week stories!

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yes, absolutely this. I’m pretty social and I like being around people but sometimes I… don’t want to be around those people. I’m polite and maybe I’ll do drinks. I also really like dining solo– helps me unwind and takes a lot of the pressure off after talking to people all day.

  2. Be Gneiss*

    I mean this kindly, but if you are several levels above them, maybe after being “on” all day at a conference, they didn’t feel up for socializing with someone higher up, and worrying that their interactions would be scrutinized.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seconding this, and that’s from someone with very chill bosses.

      But the rest of this suggests that maybe there is a reason they don’t want to spend that much extra time with the LW–is this the vibe s/he gives off at other times, as well?

      1. Tinkerbell*

        My initial guess – not knowing the genders of the people involved here – is that this feels very much like what would happen if someone these junior employees all like and trust gave them a heads-up about the OP ahead of time. It may not have been for this conference specifically, but “Dang, that one guy talks over women in meetings, he’s so rude!” could balloon into female employees being told “avoid that one chauvinist dude.” It’s not necessarily even something the OP can fix (or that’s their fault), if these employees’ boss/friend/etc just doesn’t like the OP and has said something about it in the past.

        1. Caviar Sandwich*

          I had this thought, too, especially when they became “cagey” about the bar tab…

      2. New Mom*

        Yes to this. I had to travel with the nicest boss years ago but I kind of wanted to cry when I found out we had to share an en suite on one trip. I had my own bedroom but we shared the bathroom and it just made me feel like I couldn’t really relax even though she’s truly a kind, normal person but I wanted to recharge after traveling and being “on” for 12+ hours.

        1. Anon for this*

          I once shared a dorm room (conference held at a college) with one of the bishops in my denomination. We’d never met, it was obviously not a perfect setup, I was casually swearing when she walked in the door, and I felt so uncouth. She was a really nice, engaging person with a lot of thoughtful things to say but man I felt like I had to be my best professional self the whole time. While wearing a bathrobe and similar dorm-living situations!

    2. L-squared*

      “worrying that their interactions would be scrutinized”

      Seems like that was a VERY valid concern based on this letter.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Bingo. I’m trying to be very sympathetic to the LW, but your assessment is what I suspect happened.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Yup. Very much this. This isn’t to say that they necessarily handled it great, but the impulse is perfectly understandable. The dinner was their collective concession. The concern over who paid was they didn’t want to incur further social obligations. (Also, it seems an odd policy. Is it being expensed later? If so, I suppose this might make the bookkeeping easier. If not, why isn’t everyone paying individually?)

      1. Dell*

        In my experience “most senior person pays” is a very, very common policy. However, it does strike me as unusual to make a big deal out of it. It’s just a general rule to make things easier on folks and not usually something (in my experience) that anyone is paying much attention to let alone something one would be in trouble for violating.

        1. Pajamas on Bananas*

          We need to trust LW when they tell us their company takes it very seriously. No reason for LW to break policy just because the group didn’t like it.

          1. Yeah...*

            I don’t doubt LW. The dinner may not have been on the company dime and if it wasn’t I don’t blame them for not mentioning it.

        2. Retired Accountant*

          It’s so there’s a level of approval from someone not on the trip and is attempting to control things like three junior associates expensing large bar bills, which the manager on the trip approves, then the manager pays for dinner and submits that on their own expense report. Some companies do take it seriously.

        3. WFH lady*

          In my industry, you have to deduct the amount of a meal that’s provided out of your per diem. So if I’m traveling to a conference and the per diem rate is $80/day, but my company hosts a lunch that I attend, I have to subtract that $25 or however much from my travel expense form. Which sucked when I was a new grad and would have happily eaten a $5 sandwich instead and pocketed the rest to help pay off my student loans, or go shopping for souvenirs.

        4. Kindred Spirit*

          I worked for a big tech company where this was the policy. The reason for it was so expenses received a bit more scrutiny and the highest-level person who paid the expense is more accountable.

          Imagine a group dinner where attendees are ordering the most expensive thing on the menu and running up the bar tab. The exorbitant bill arrives; the junior employee pays, and their manager, who’s at the same dinner, signs off the expense report. People who tried to pull that definitely got called in to explain why they violated the policy. It happened to one of my managers, and everyone knew about it.

        5. Kate in NZ*

          It would very much be a violation where I work. It’s done so someone who didn’t attend/benefit from the spend is the approver.

        6. Lea*

          We have rules about how much money can be spent on a direct supervisor or superior person but one drink? Eh

      2. JR*

        In my experience, the reason the most senior person pays is to prevent fraud. If I approve your expense account (because I’m your boss), and you pay, we can violate the policy and I approve it and no one notices. If I pay, my boss (who wasn’t there) has to approve it. That’s less relevant in cases like this where there isn’t a managerial relationship, but I think companies still say the most senior person pays to keep the communication simple.

        1. Tinkerbell*

          Also to avoid issues of “broke junior employee gets stuck with the tab while senior employees booze it up” or “poor employee never gets face time with boss because they can’t afford to take the boss out to lunch (even if it’s reimbursed eventually).”

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            This right here. It makes sense in the same way you don’t gift up. I have more disposable income now, at least until my kids go to college, than I did at 23. If I’m taking someone out to lunch, I’m paying the tab. If I’m traveling with someone of a junior rank to me and we’re getting food, I’m paying. (This is whether I’m reimbursed or not.) I won’t pay for a booze fest, but a glass of wine or beer is reasonable. To me it’s basic hospitality. YMMV.

        2. Rex Libris*

          Beyond that, it’s sometimes just because more senior staff have higher limits on their expense accounts or company credit cards.

        3. Properlike*

          I wonder if the junior employees assumed that, because they invited the senior person to dinner, they should pay.

          I love knowing the rules wherever I am, but perhaps they weren’t aware in the moment or don’t have enough experience to know why it’s a policy.

          Also: the LW seems VERY VERY intent on SHARING ADVICE AND CONNECTING. It would be reasonable that they’re also terrified of making mistakes (like this one.)

      3. Hillary*

        If it’s a Fortune 500, it’s being expensed. Both one check and who pays are controls and audit trail – the most senior person always pays because no one should approve an expense report for a meal they were at. One check means no one has to correlate reports later to make sure the alcohol policy or whatever wasn’t violated. It’s an easy control against fraud or policy violations and it prevents senior folks from pressuring juniors to violate policy. How do you say no if your boss tells you to expense a $300 bottle of wine?

        Could it be more nuanced? Absolutely. But nuance isn’t easy to successfully convey in a large org or with folks new to work travel.

        1. Hillary*

          Also, expense reports are a pain in the butt and expensive to process. It’s typical to have to name everyone there for each meal and to separate out food and alcohol. It’s easier to have it on one report because you can copy the guest list from one meal to another. It used to be the senior person had an assistant who would do all the work.

    4. EasternPhoebe*

      This is what I thought too. The stress of multiple days at a conference plus being asked repeatedly by a superior to do more lunches/dinners/whatever sounds exhausting. LW doesn’t know for certain that the newer employees were hanging out together. Maybe they just wanted downtime.

      1. Jade*

        I don’t want to hang out with superiors during a business trip. I need to decompress and having a superior call me multiple times with their agenda would stress me out.

        1. Mad Harry Crewe*

          I don’t want to hang out with *anyone* on a business trip, and that goes double for someone above me and triple for someone I don’t know and who seems like they’re judging me.

    5. Jmac*

      Exactly. How is it surprising people don’t want to spend their free time with management, particularly someone as seemingly high-strung as the letter writer

      1. Worldwalker*

        Especially if the junior employees are new to conferences, and were feeling overwhelmed. I can see them wanting to get away from the whole company vibe and decompress. (personally, I’d be hiding in my room)

    6. Knope Knope Knope*

      This was my thought. Based on the LW’s description of themself and their time in the field, they are probably my peer. I would not expect people a level or two below me to want to spend more than a dinner or short drink with me, and I would actively try to give them some space. Like be Gneiss said, they probably feel like they have to be “on” around LW and that can be exhausting.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I would also have been more proactive about our interactions at the conference. I’d have picked a night for us to get drinks, and made arrangements as the host, instead of leaving the ball in their court.

        And the car thing, I’d have had my own transport anyway, if only because I’d have wanted to leave separately in order to let them be on their own.
        I’d have understood not wanting to cram into a car with the backseat with a Big Cheese.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. That’s what I do. Now I’m usually the most senior person, especially if the others are new to the company / work travel. If we’ve not got other plans / formal dinners arranged I will fix to have dinner the first night with my colleagues to make sure everyone is alright and we know what we’re doing / the plan of campaign for the coming days / any particular things people want to do.

          I leave people to make their own plans for subsequent nights, not least because I actually want to make my own plans and like some time to myself.

        2. House On The Rock*

          Yes, the thought of cramming in next to coworkers in a small-ish backseat sounds awful. I was impressed that the junior folks pushed back on that, honestly, good for them!

          I’d also caution LW not to judge how many people can fit in what space based on their perceived size and what LW thinks is “normal” for the make of car. Some of us Gen-Xers grew up pilling all manner of folks in the Way Back of the station wagon, but it might seem very weird to others (this is mostly a joke, not wanting to sit on top of a superior transcends generations).

        3. Sunflower*

          Also, the intimacy level of a hangout defaults to however close you are with the least-close person in the group. So if you have four good friends and one acquaintance, it’s an acquaintance-level hangout. Which is fine for making new friends! But it’s also not relaxing or close. If I want to catch up with my best friend for example, and suddenly there’s a third, new person included, that can be a nice evening still but it no longer fills the function of catching up with intimate friend.

          They understandably planned for the conference time to be mostly the four of them, then did make an effort to include you by going to dinner with you. Seems like they were fine!

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        I would remove the softening “probably feel like” part. I have no doubt in my mind that this was an absolute requirement, at least in the context a senior person who is contemplating reporting them for not going on a shopping trip.

        1. Jade*

          Yes. It’s heavy handed. OP would feel so much better if they didn’t take it personally as an affront.

    7. A (Former) Library Person*

      This was my thought too. Some people who are newer in their careers and/or at lower levels in the hierarchy may see a lot of benefits to spending a lot of conference time with a senior employee (which seems to be what OP was expecting their reaction to be), but others might feel more pressure to be additionally “on” all the time. I can definitely understand why they might want to unwind in their spare moments, or at dinner, especially if they aren’t used to the heavy mental demands of attending professional conferences (I say this as an extrovert who loves conferences). I was in both positions myself early in my career: wanting to spend my time networking “up” as much as possible and also looking for peers at my own level to unwind with.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah. Also, I’d be happy to meet for coffee with a senior person and have a conversation with them, but going shopping with them doesn’t strike me as particularly conducive to that. (Being on the move versus sitting at a table and talking, etc.)

    8. I AM a Lawyer*

      This was my take, as well. (I am very senior, and I expect junior employees to not want to hang out with me socially.)

    9. Heidi*

      I’m also wondering if differences in income could be playing a role in this. I might feel weird about going shopping in a fancy area and not being able to afford anything. Similar with going out to restaurants. It can be stressful dining out with people who are used to expensive restaurants when you’re living on conference coffee and snacks. Also, it can be difficult to split up the group and have one go shopping if the 4 of them are sharing one rental car.

      1. Observer*

        I’m also wondering if differences in income could be playing a role in this. I might feel weird about going shopping in a fancy area and not being able to afford anything

        This is an excellent point.

        On top of which, for a lot of people shopping, touristy or not, is NOT an enjoyable social activity. At least when you go to dinner you get to sit down and hopefully you get something decent to eat. Shopping? On my feet during a conference where I’m going to be “on”, presenting and circulating? No way. Even if I’m well able to afford the place we’re going to.

        1. Young worker*

          Yes! I’m perhaps the oddball but I’m a woman who loathes group shopping. I need to focus and get out as soon as possible because swimming around mall music looking at tons of stuff makes me super cranky. I don’t want to extend it by shopping with someone else (or having to go to stores my boss wants to go, because they are my boss)

          1. Lady_Lessa*

            No, you are NOT an odd ball. I’m a woman who thinks the same way. Of course, if we were shopping at a bookstore or a craft fair, my answer would be the opposite.

          2. Fieldpoppy*

            I do not remotely understand “shopping” as an activity — I go into shops when I need a thing, and then I want to buy that thing with the greatest efficiency possible. And if I am in “trying stuff on” mode I do not want to be with other people and worry about looking terrible with them, making them wait, etc. SO not an “activity’ I would want to do with co-workers. I don’t even like doing it with my spouse.

            1. Potatoes gonna potate*

              Some of us like looking at stuff. or buying stuff, lol. Esp small, one of a kind shops or even the “usual” places like shopping malls.
              To me it’s fascinating what’ kind of items are sold in which markets and I have a weird habit I guess of wanting to visit grocery stores/local big box store when I go to a new city. Just to see what’s there.

              1. UKDancer*

                I do this too. I love seeing what supermarkets or markets stock and sometimes I buy spices etc. I don’t tend to do it with other people because I tend to be a bit boring and take ages reading the cooking instructions.

                I also don’t want to shop for clothes etc with other people because that’s not nearly as much fun to me.

                1. lucanus cervus*

                  Yeah, I love wandering around shops but for me it’s a solitary activity. (Unless I’ve managed to find another fat nerd who wants to look at plus size clothes and anime figures, in which case let’s go. But most of my colleagues are not that.)

            2. Broadway Duchess*

              I think the difference is that some people like the “looking” part of shopping, too. I like “looking” at new things, freshening up my wardrobe, seeing new trends, etc. I don’t consider that shopping, but some people do. I would absolutely loathe doing this kind of window shopping with another person, especially someone several rungs higher than I am on the org chart. I think OP is taking this really personally.

            3. yvve*

              i like shopping when it’s with a friend or something– its basically an organized purpose to hang out and chat. And to offer advice, like, oh, here, this would be good on you! but mostly it only works because it’s a structure for hanging out with someone you wanted to spend time with anyway

            4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

              My dad always used to tell a joke about “shopping” vs “getting”. I don’t “shop”, like leisurely browse and wander aimlessly. I “get”; I have a purpose for being there and my goal is to get in and out as painlessly as possible!

              1. allathian*

                I’ve always been like that. I go in, buy what I want if I can find anything, and get out without any buyer’s regrets. Shopping is one of the more stressful ways of spending my leisure time that I can think of. Shopping for clothes is especially terrible because I have to try things on to find anything and I’m fairly particular about how clothes should feel when I wear them.

                I also don’t shop for clothes online because it’s such a lottery, and I absolutely hate returning things. I will buy socks and underpants online, but that’s about it. The only things I’m truly comfortable buying online are books and physical entertainment media, although I don’t buy much of the latter any more thanks to streaming. Ironically, browsing bookstores and record/video stores is the only kind of shopping I enjoy, and record stores have all but disappeared.

                There’s no way I’d be comfortable shopping with my manager. We have a great professional relationship and we can talk about non-work things in a slightly more casual way, but a part of the reason why the relationship is great is that we have professional boundaries.

                That said, it’s partly cultural. I’m in Finland, and we have a very egalitarian society. This means that professionals generally consider each other to be social equals, regardless of the position in the organizational hierarchy and any salary differences, which are fairly small, especially in the public sector (the top boss of my agency makes only about 10 times the salary of the lowest-paid intern, my manager makes about 15K more than I do). If I were to meet a former manager who’s no longer working for my employer in the street, we’d definitely treat each other as social equals. But as long as we’re working for the same employer, there’s a difference in status that has to be accounted for.

          3. Worldwalker*

            I’m the same way. Shopping is a necessity (except in bookstores and MicroCenter), not a form of entertainment. I’d rather change the kitty litter; it would at least be over faster. Shopping with my boss — well, with a boss who finds shopping entertaining; my actual boss is like me — would be hours of torment. Especially at a conference when I would rather get something to eat, go back to my room and go over my notes, or just veg out and recuperate.

          4. Irish Teacher*

            I dislike shopping in general. Like Lady_Lessa, bookshops are an exception. Otherwise, shopping is a chore. At college, I’d be bribing myself with bookshops – “I need some new shoes/a coat/whatever. Right, I can’t go to Easons (well-known Irish bookshop) until I’ve got them.” Otherwise, I’d just go to Easons and be like, “oh dear, no time left to go looking for whatever it is I need now.”

            1. Timothy (TRiG)*

              Easons have a large footprint, but they don’t know their stock. I once asked whether they had anything by Tom Paine. I had to spell his name three times so they could look it up and tell me they didn’t. I then strolled across the Liffey to Books Upstairs (in the days when they actually were upstairs; odd that they’ve kept the name now they’ve moved premises) and asked there. The proprietor immediately said “Well, we should have The Rights of Man at least”, and was able to bring me directly to the right shelf. That’s a real bookshop.

          5. Or your typical admin*

            Not an oddball at all!!!!! I have 1 friend I can shop with, because we he similar budgets, and shopping stamina. In fact we do our weekly grocery shopping together while our girls are in dance class.

        2. Olive*

          Ironically, the more I’d enjoy or get utility out of buying something for myself, the less I’d want to do it with a senior manager. I do *not* care to solicit a senior manager’s opinion on my tastes in clothes, books, music, etc. And if her tastes or interests are drastically different from my own, I’m what, just going to follow her around while she tries on clothes I’d never wear and pretend I think she looks great in them?

          There’s a reason that absolutely ever other letter about upper management/employee relationships has the advice that management should keep a degree of separation.

        3. Sunflower*

          Yes for the shopping, they didn’t want to go and declined politely with a softening reason. They handled it perfectly!

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      Ding, ding, ding! This is the most likely explanation. I went to a conference with my boss and going to dinner with her every evening (something she expected) made me feel as if every waking moment was work. It was exhausting, but it was my boss, so a “no” was out of the question.

      I don’t know if I would put myself in that position for another executive who wasn’t my boss. I know you were trying to be kind and act as a mentor and a valuable resource for less experienced people, but please try to see it from their point of view.

    11. StressedButOkay*

      I agree – whenever I’m at work events, I make time to do the dinners/socializing with colleagues and bosses but it makes for long, long days. I love catching up but there’s a line I hit where I just would like some downtime. Sometimes that means without upper management.

      It’s never fun to feel like you’re being excluded! We’re all human but it’s one of the aspects of being senior, that sometimes folks aren’t going to be comfortable doing things like shopping or dinners every night with you.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yea OP should just imagine them as people who become pumpkins when their social batteries are drained. It’s not anyone’s fault

        1. StressedButOkay*

          I just cackled. Because, seriously, I 100% turn into a pumpkin at the end of these things. I push myself to get in as much interaction as I can but there is a limit and then – pumpkin

          1. Properlike*

            This needs to be a door ”do not disturb” or badge banner.

            I did two conferences this fall back-to-back this summer, didn’t make any presentations, but was burnt crispy by day three of the second one. And it took a week to recover.

            1. Iselle*

              Yes! Maybe an orange badge ribbon at conferences! (If only) My previous employer liked to do retreats at an AirB&B, and I loved them all, but it was a lot of togetherness.

    12. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, all of this sounds extremely normal to me! The one guy talking over people could be an issue but he might have just been nervous… and honestly from the rest of OPs letter and how much they objected to what seems like a very normal text I am finding it a little hard to take that judgment at face value.

      The fact that OP is considering “discussing” this behavior with their *grand boss* seems like a wild overreaction… and to be honest if that is how OP tends to respond to things like this it seems like a bit of a cycle.

      1. Olive*

        It was a little odd that OP describes herself as several levels above them, but her manager doesn’t get along with their manager? It makes the entire workplace sound a little dysfunctional (not necessarily because of either her or the group of new employees, but could explain why they were a little cagey, if they feel like they have to be cautious about office politics).

        1. blue rose*

          LW also says they themselves get along with the other employees’ manager’s manager (the “grandboss,” in AAM parlance), so we don’t know specifically how the organizational tiers align. If the LW and the other employees don’t work closely/often with each other, or their departments (if separate) don’t work closely/often together, that could also contribute to the feeling of distance.

        2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Eh, possibly not. I am at Level 6 but the people who are in a parallel role to me in other departments range between a 3 and a 7– more on the lower end. That is because I’m a lawyer and all the lawyers come in at Level 6 regardless of where they are in their career. Which means I can be several levels above someone who effectively my peer. It’s not a sign of disfunction, the issue is just to hire a lawyer with experience in a major metropolitan area the salary has to be that of a Level 6 and in order to keep the salary bands clean it is easier to squeeze the lawyers into a slightly off level than to build a whole different system to account for our career processes.

    13. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Networking with more experienced senior people can be fun and exhausting at the same time. Given that LW is a veteran and a rockstar, new people might find it nerve wracking to hang out while being nervous and unable to be authentic. Could any of these new people use a one on one or two on one mentoring relationship? LW could get to know them better as a teacher while the new employees are empowered to make a few mistakes.

      (Side note: this reminds me of the part in Feet of Clay where Sir Samuel joins in the servants’ poker game. He came from the same class as the household help, but they couldn’t help seeing him as Sir Samuel.)

    14. Well...*

      This was exactly my guess. I’ve gotten good at hanging out with big wigs in the field, and now I genuinely enjoy it, but I remember dreading it earlier and my career and just wanting to relax with my peers.

      Now I love getting a late career grump to start gossiping or regaling me with stories about various mishaps behind experiments/collaboration infighting/the thrill of gathering data that nowadays is used all the time. It’s so fun, and it makes me wonder if my war stories now will one day be entertaining for the next generation.

      1. Katherine*

        This. Many of us need to learn the skill of interacting with very senior industry professionals before we’re comfortable with it.
        Also there is a tendency for some senior professionals to see new graduates/people who are early in their career as NEEDING guidance/advice on every single thing, which often results in people feeling scrutinised or nitpicked. And there’s often zero regard given by senior professionals to the actual goals/priorities of the juniors.

    15. AngryOctopus*

      This, 100%. It’s very not personal (which the LW seems to be taking it so, even if they say they’re not).
      LW: these people are not people you seem to know well, just people who are new, and on your team (I guess?). It was kind of you to offer to meet up, but hey, if they all want to see a friend present, or be there, then they can. They invited you to dinner. It seems like they had rented the car because they’re friends, and felt awkward about smashing a 5th person (who is much more senior) in with them. And seriously, you can take an uber and expense it, which you did! As for paying–first, I’m not sure how you allowed the most junior to pick up the bar tab instead of you grabbing it. But you did, and then they probably felt awkward about that, as well as the normal “oh my god I’ve never had dinner with a senior person before, and it feels weird, what do I talk about” feelings they’re likely having as new people. You’ve got to let all this go.
      As to the poster presentations not being up to scratch–I honestly question why you’d have such new people present at all? I don’t know how long they’ve been employed, but it can often take a year to be fully comfortable with the range of topics often covered in a professional poster. There are parts of posters I present now that I’m less able to talk ‘off the cuff’ about because they’re not my areas of expertise, but you don’t have a whole group talk about a poster like that. So you should cut them some slack and also ask them what kind of support they might like before doing such a thing again. And please don’t imply they did a bad job–they could have felt less comfortable with some aspects and could bring that up with a “oh I didn’t realize that so many questions about X end up delving into Y, which I’m not as familar with. I’d love more background in Y were I to present this again”.
      Last thing: I personally find it weird that you messaged them to say you’re going shopping, implying that they could join you. But that’s such a person dependent activity, I’d find it weird if my boss/higher up messaged that. It would have been better to say “I’ll be in X area to shop around a bit. Are there good restaurants in the area we could meet up at for a team dinner around [time], or are you guys busy at the conference at that time? If so, we can pick another time/place.”

    16. Butterfly Counter*

      At a lot of professional conferences, people’s interactions ARE being scrutinized and by more people than just bosses.

      I have a bit of a different take on this, maybe because, at my first conference, I was very dependent on my senior “coworker” to let me know the expectations at an event that is almost equal parts work and socializing.

      It seems to me that OP went thinking that she would be showing her juniors the ropes to proper behavior at these conventions. Again, my own senior took us juniors to X and Y events and let us know that our professionalism and decor was 100% being assessed by future employers and collaborators and that we needed to be on our best behavior, then let us loose. Then, she took us to A and B events and told us this was our time to let our hair down and then she left us alone to decompress.

      I’m guessing OP saw that inviting the juniors out to do something locally was also a signal that they didn’t have to be tied to the conference activities the whole time. Yes, OP took it too personally when they declined, though.

      I think OP looked at this conference as a mentoring opportunity that the juniors not only didn’t avail her of, but they outright engaged in activities that might get them into trouble (who covers drinks and meals) and furthermore reflect poorly on the company as a whole by ignoring and excluding her (talking over bigwigs in the industry and whiffing on their presentations).

      Again, the fact that I had a mentor at my first conference was incredibly important to me in how she modeled appropriate conference behavior. I think the juniors in this letter missed out on OP’s experience.

      1. Properlike*

        I agree, but it seems no one alerted the junior colleagues to the senior colleagues’ expectation – and these aren’t even people from their own department. Which makes me believe the senior colleague simply assumed a LOT of things would happen and is disappointed no one read her mind.

        I also wonder how prepared the junior colleagues were for the conference and things which might happen with senior colleagues? I know we’re all kind of out of the conference habit after lockdown.

        I’m concerned LW is a bit inflexible with their approach and takes power and hierarchy very seriously in a way that not everyone else knows how to respond to, and also blind to the feelings and expectations of those lower than them in the hierarchy. Leaning more toward actual “invitation” with zero *expectation* is the way to go… it was the opposite for this conference.

      2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        I don’t think going shopping together or forcing everyone into one car would have given them much more opportunity to benefit from OP’s experience.

        So much of what OP is upset about isn’t to the benefit of the junior employees at all.

    17. WantonSeedStitch*

      This. As someone who has a team of indirect reports with whom I get on very well, I would never try to hang out with them this much at a conference. I might suggest dinner the night we get there (wording it as “if you don’t have other plans”), buy a round of drinks for those who want them since we can’t charge them to our employer, and then say goodnight and go do my own thing.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    I drive a large hatchback/crossover and I would consider it suitable for four adults comfortably even though it has seatbelts for five. In a pinch, sure, but it’s awkward; not everyone is cool with being (nonfacial) cheek-by-cheek like that. My dad will joyfully insist that we can all squeeze in but, honestly, even though he doesn’t mean it like that and is not otherwise that kind of guy, it’s a bit creepy.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      5 people to a car is giving me flashbacks to my childhood Christmases. All of us piling into my grandad’s Buick, the adults sitting half on top of each other while I was sat on the center console like the child prince of dangerous choices.

      Not pleasant, and we were all family!

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        Or going to the drive-in theater as teenagers. It was $5 a carload so we’d stuff in as many people as we could – it was the cheapest night out in town. Thing #387456 I’d never do as an adult with better options.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My personal record is seven people, bedrolls, and eight musical instruments in a 1984 Plymouth Horizon. But we were in college and that’s when you do stupid stuff like that.

      3. Dona Florinda*

        Christmas in South America in the 1990’s often involved a lot more people in the car than legally allowed, usually with the kids in the trunk.
        Cars were a lot more expensive back then, so we have to factor that in. But still, I would NOT do it today, especially with coworkers.

      4. Broadway Duchess*

        I hope you know I will be stealing “the child prince of dangerous choices” as I let out the most undignified chortle at that description!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I am a small person, and after years of being the logical one to get squinched in the middle of the back seat, I am a lot more likely to push for a solution with elbow room.

      Sure, sometimes, for a short distance, with my beloved family. With people I don’t know well? With people where our relationship is professional and so being pressed firmly together for 40 minutes has its own extra layer of weird? Uber can help.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            Exactly! This wasn’t a group of four buddies who refused to squish in to save the fifth the Uber cost. Presumably none of them were paying for transportation anyway, so why be uncomfortable?

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I am the shortest person in my family so I usually volunteer for the middle back seat, but my dad will try to be gallant and insist on it. But he’s 6’1″ and not a small man.

        I love you, Dad, but this is not pleasant.

      2. D*

        Oh man I feel this so much! In my extended family it’s ALWAYS the 6’+ men insisting it’s “no problem of course we can all squeeze!”. Which means they get the normal front seats and I get jammed between two other smallish people in the back seat sweating and awkward lol.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Reminds me of a college trip to a conference. The two professors (both male) had the front seats, and we three students (all female) were hip to hip in the back seat. And we travelled that way from KY to SC.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Ohhhhhh yesssssss. Heavy overlap in the Venn diagram of “person who thinks we can just all squeeze” and “person who is over 6 feet and it’s just going to make sense for them to sit in front.”

    3. Magpie*

      This was the part that stood out to me the most. I’m fine cramming in the back seat with family members or close friends if necessary but would absolutely not be ok with it in a work situation. That’s a lot of physical contact to have with co workers, especially since it sounds like the LW doesn’t know anyone in the group all that well and it sounds like it was not a short drive.

    4. atalanta0jess*

      Yeah, fellow small car driver here and I would think it was totally rude if a junior colleague tried to cram me into their small car with 4 other people! They were probably trying to be considerate! Most adults who have another option would probably prefer not to be crammed in.

      1. Sarah*

        Most senior person pays is because you don’t want an expense approver to be someone at the dinner. For example, a bunch of people attend a dinner. Jr guy picks up the tab and expenses it. Supervisor who was also attending approves it, even though it was out of policy. Manager who also attended approves the exceptions. All the controls the company put in place have been circumvented. If manager expensed it, his/her boss would have caught it.

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yeah, I have a CR-V and more than four adults in it gets cramped, even if none of them are plus-sized.

    6. aubrey*

      Yeah, I’ve been the middle seat person with coworkers I’d known for years and liked, and it was too awkward for anything other than a short trip in a pinch. I definitely would not want to be squished against someone I barely know several levels above me!

    7. Well...*

      IDK, I would have gone out of my way to be friendly after the car thing, when if I had a good reason. That did seem off to me. If I had a ride somewhere with a group and told another person to go solo, I’d be making an extra effort to make that person feel included and comfortable for the rest of the evening/into the next day.

      Maybe it’s my social anxiety, but that part did read as not something I’d do to someone who I cared about being collegial with.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        But this isn’t a purely social setting, and the OP is not a peer. You are never 100% on social terms with coworkers and you are definitely never 100% on social terms with work superiors.

        1. Well...*

          That would mean I’d make an even more deliberate attempt to be collegial after an awkward group split up like that.

          1. F as in Frank*

            the juniors might have tried to be collegial when they picked up the tab (not realizing the policy that prohibits that)

    8. Hosta*

      Yes, and then you throw in the issue of the juniors not necessarily knowing each other well, and the stress of having your work clothes squished and wrinkled, and three people in one back seat sounds more and more miserable.

    9. House On The Rock*

      I recently rode with friends to a concert about an hour away. The driver had a fairly roomy SUV, but if the two other average sized adults in the back seat next to me were not my spouse and a woman I’ve known for years, I’d still be a little uncomfortable sitting between them! The thought of a work colleague several levels above me trying to squish into the back of a mid-sized car, while insisting it’s fine, gives me the willies!

    10. Or your typical admin*

      Yes! My son will regularly fit 5 in our car when he and his siblings/friends are headed somewhere, but that’s not comfortable for adults. Even when my husband and I ride with another couple, we’ll typically go in our Monica’s so everyone has a comfortable bucket seat.

  4. Blue*

    Something about this is reminding me of the letter from the boss who set up a ton of post-partum resources and flexibility for an employee who was handling her pregnancy and infant-care planning in a way that didn’t require most of them. Like, OP, it seems like you had a very specific vision of what these younger/newer employees *should* appreciate and then felt affronted when they didn’t react as you expected. There’s an edge of expectation that your level in the organization and expertise should lead younger employees to automatically react to you in a very particular way that is both capital r Respectful (honoring and appreciating your introduction attempts) and chummy (wanting to pile into a sedan with you).

    I don’t doubt that they could have behaved better, but it seems like you may have inadvertently made some of these interactions a lot more charged than they needed to be, and I can understand why they were put off.

  5. S*

    They could have been more graceful, but I think the root of this is that they felt weird about socializing with someone several levels above them in the company hierarchy. Which is understandable.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m not loving several of the things these younger coworkers did but I’m still most astounded that OP seems to have wanted to hang out (semi-)socially with them – I would’ve expected the opposite both as a reader of this letter and if I were in on of the juniors’ position.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yeah, this is where I fall. Cumulatively, the younger coworkers’ actions were odd and a bit eyebrow-raising. However, going shopping with an unknown higher-up sounds awful (and I’m someone who enjoys non-work related social events).

        1. Yumyum*

          I think the shopping thing can be a bit of a financial stretch for junior people too. When I was new to my career, I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed a shopping trip with someone two rungs above me; I barely had enough money to cover my normal expenses.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            As a fat woman, I hate group shopping trips because I can’t buy any clothes in almost every store. And accessories/shoes don’t cut it.

        2. House On The Rock*

          Shopping with someone else has always read as a very intimate thing for me. I know that’s not everyone’s view, but there are so many potential pitfalls, from worrying your taste is being judged, to having anxiety around cost, to being self conscious about sizes.

          Also, many people didn’t grow up with casual spending as a leisure activity.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            There’s also a timing issue. I could spend hours in a craft store or bookstore, which might bore my companions, but I’d be bored out of my mind if they wanted to spend an hour in a high end clothing boutique (and I’m not always great at hiding my impatience when I’m bored).

      2. Oxford Comma*

        I have been at conferences where someone very senior took us out to lunch or dinner or for a drink and it’s been fine. But it’s been a single occasion, not the entirety of the conference.

        1. F as in Frank*

          I agree. Also, the senior person should extend the invitation as optional with a specified time and place. A senior level people extending an invitation to get together for ‘something’ leaves the juniors in the awkward position of having to figure out what the implied expectations are.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      The invite also sounded a bit prescribed and rigid. The OP may not have used the exact wording used here but, “I’d like to spend some time with you at this time or this time” seems almost like I’m being told to pick A Thing to do with a manager out of a list of approved Things.

      All of it would have made me pretty uncomfortable as one of the new employees, to be honest. I would have used the opportunity of receiving this in a group text to not respond and hope it all went away.

  6. saskia*

    Not bringing you in their car or wanting to shop with you? Fine. But being obnoxious, not responding to texts, and failing to make good conference materials? Not fine. Letting it go beyond the objective (bad posters) is probably the right thing to do. Maybe these people passed up this chance for networking, learning and advancing in their industry by acting this way — their loss.

    1. JustaTech*

      The conference materials really are the important thing, and is worth bringing up to their manager in a “this was the feedback I received about these peoples’ posters” since it is specific, actionable and work-related. And really valuable feedback that the junior folks are unlikely to have heard directly!

      Maybe it would be worth mentioning that the manager should review how expensing works, since this company’s policy might be different from their previous employers (for example, I don’t think my company has a stated policy of “most senior person pays”). Again, that’s work-related, specific feedback.

      The rest of it I would let go. I’m attending a conference with my two-levels-up boss in a few months and you can bet your buttons I’m not going to be doing any extra socializing with him beyond what’s part of the conference because I know I will be completely exhausted and not up for keeping my “working” face on that long. (The last couple of in-person conferences I went to I really enjoyed but also cried from exhaustion on the flight home.)

  7. Punk*

    You’ve been in the industry for 16 years and these coworkers are new to your company. Is this their first professional job? Are they close to 16 years younger than you? If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that they’re weirded out by attempts to become part of the group, especially since your itinerary was different and you have interactions with management that they don’t have. While friendships occur naturally among adults of all ages, it can be off-putting if someone in a different age range comes off as trying to hang out with the “cool kids.”

    The setup for this conference seems to enforce an assumption that you and your coworkers are on difficult levels. You were sent on your own while your coworkers were sent as a group – your company didn’t presume that a senior-level employee would miss the company of a group of (possibly much younger) new hires, so if you brought this up, it would make things even weirder.

    Perhaps in the future you could suggest that your company send another senior employee along with you.

    1. Yorick*

      In professional settings, an older, more senior person trying to spend time with younger, junior colleagues is not “trying to hang out with the cool kids,” and it’s sort of problematic if they viewed it that way. Especially if there was one “leader” that was keeping the other, shyer ones from having a networking opportunity. Not necessarily anything that LW needs to do something about, though.

      I do wonder if LW is from a different social group (gender, race, etc.) than they are.

      1. Olive*

        But she invited them to go shopping in the tourist district, which isn’t a professional setting or activity. It’s a shame that they didn’t capitalize on the opportunity to learn from industry leaders, but it makes perfect sense that they didn’t want to go shopping with a manager.

        If she’s an upper manager, she probably is from a different social group – one that shops at much different stores than younger, newer employees. Woooo, Eileen Fisher…

        1. Magpie*

          Upper manager probably also has a lot more disposable income. It would be awkward to go shopping with a wealthier upper manager with more expensive tastes and potentially have to explain that you’re not buying anything because you can’t afford anything in any of the shops you’re visiting.

        2. Summer Bummer*

          Yeah, shopping as a bonding activity feels kind of fraught and shitty when you’re doing it with junior employees who probably make a lot less money than you do.

          1. Velomont*

            And to some (including me), shopping doesn’t even qualify as an activity; I’d personally have many other things I’d want to do instead, especially with someone senior to me.

        3. Pretty as a Princess*

          I would not consider shopping to be “capitalizing on an opportunity to learn from industry leaders, ” though. There’s no “it’s a shame” that they didn’t want to go shopping, IMO.

          Not to mention, I’ve never been at a conference where I could just go to the conference all day and not need to tend to some items back home – either work or personal- at the end of the day. I definitely wouldn’t want to add random shopping in to the mix and then wind up needing to stay up late to get things done.

          1. Olive*

            According to the OP, they didn’t respond well when given the chance to meet industry leaders at the conference, separate from the shopping invitation.

            1. I Need Coffee*

              That is something that the OP may see as an important opportunity, but not everyone places the same value on meeting an “industry leader”. I have been in my career for several years and not once was meeting an industry leader anything more than an amusing anecdote after it was over.

              1. Victoria Everglot*

                It’s possible that they don’t really care about industry leaders. They might not be that invested in climbing the ladder yet, they’re still trying to figure things out at the level they are currently.

                1. ClaireW*

                  For many industries, industry leaders have absolutely no bearing on the average employee’s career ladder. My industry is huge, and I’d enjoy meeting some industry leaders because they seem like nice and interesting people, but knowing them would have about as much impact on my own career as knowing the woman in the corner shop near my house, particularly given I live in a small country where basically none of said industry leaders live.

            2. EchoGirl*

              I’m kind of left wondering if that might be a side effect of everything that came before it. It’s not a great reaction, but if they felt like OP was bombarding them with suggestions or invitations, I could see how they might just be over it with any interaction OP was initiating, even though in this case there was an actual work purpose to the interaction.

        4. I Have RBF*

          But she invited them to go shopping in the tourist district…

          I would have refused this in my younger days because my disposable income was nearly nothing. And now, my disposable income is better, but my patience for being dragged around to shops, especially shops coded as “feminine”, is just about non-existent. In SF, the only type of shopping I might want to do is in the garment district for fabric and trim, and that is a very niche thing that I wouldn’t expect my coworkers to care about.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yeah, I’m not reading OP as wanting to be a part of the group. I’m feeling the opposite. Like OP at worst, wanted them to be deferential but in general a little more eager and humble – a little more in need of help and a little more impressed or in awe of his/her position.
        I’m not saying definitely, just saying, more than hanging with the cool kids, OP expected to be de facto guide/leader of the group.
        The result is the same. OP is frustrated because his/her wants and expectations did not match up with the group.

        1. Punk*

          But it’s possible they perceived her that way, what with wanting to go shopping with them and cram herself into their shared rental to play at being a peer.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            That is brilliant. Both sides were viewing the situation so differently.
            “Why don’t these younger people get that I am trying to mentor/guide/lead them through this conference?”
            “Why is this older person trying to roll with us?”

            1. Jen*

              I think this might be what this whole thing boils down to (other than the work related stuff like posters not being as good as they should have been).

          2. Squirrel*

            There is quite a strong “don’t you know who I am” vibe to the letter, as though the LW expects people to be honoured s/he is willing to deign to spend time with them and is affronted that others don’t see LW as being as important as LW appears to see themselves.

            I’m not saying LW is any of those things, but sometimes people come across badly due to shyness, social anxiety, insecurity, lack of social skills, etc. Or lack of experience handing social situations with juniors. But generally most people dislike behaviour that comes across as self-important, and threatening to try get people in trouble for not wanting the honour of socialising with you does unfortunately read as very self-important.

      3. Dido*

        OP asked them to ditch the conference to go shopping in a tourist district with her. That’s very odd. New and presumably junior employees should be making the most of the conference and learning and networking all they can while they have the opportunity. Also, it says a lot that OP wanted them to attend multiple social events with her, but she couldn’t bother to go to their poster presentations – the actual work they were there for.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed with this. I think it is a bit odd you are so put off by them not wanting to hang with you for more of the conference. I think you offering is great and what you should do if able as a senior employee, but taking a no, thank you in stride should be a no-brainer.

      Their conference materials being terrible is the one thing I would bring up with their boss. I also would have approached the leader of the group myself one-on-one soon after to give feedback on talking over the founder. Some might let that go too, I think that is a reasonable option, but isn’t what I would do. If it wasn’t addressed right away or very soon after, I’d let it go at this point for sure, especially with the tension between managers you mentioned.

    3. Dona Florinda*

      OP’s age might not even matter in this situation. I agree that since they went alone whilst everyone else went as group, the dynamics got a little tricky but other than that, it all seems like a well intentioned, if slighlty clueless, senior employee who wanted to hang out with a group they weren’t part of.

  8. Sally Rhubarb*

    With all due respect, you need to let this go.

    I have no desire to cram myself into a car with 5 of my nearest and dearest, let alone coworkers or superiors(!!).

  9. FieldOverFence*

    Oh I have often tried to swerve a several-levels-more-senior colleague in the evenings at this type of event… I hope we were less obvious than this crew were, but yeah, would not have been up for minding my Ps and Qs when trying to blow off a bit of steam, especially with an exec I wouldn’t have known well

    1. Yumyum*

      I’m right with you. Going to conferences, in my experiences in my twenties, was generally pretty boring and tiring, with long days and lots of awkward networking. The only fun thing was socialising and sight seeing in the evenings with colleagues of a similar age. Being chased by a manager to go shopping (!), hang out constantly etc would be a nightmare.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP says they were all new employees, but doesn’t specifically mention their ages or the age gap, so maybe I’m reading between the lines incorrectly. But I can certainly see this group as saying to themselves “we don’t want to hang out with the old fart during our free time, on the first chance we get to go to a conference in a cool city.”

    Between the way they expressed that, and the failure to behave during the networking opportunity, I see them as pretty juvenile, not just unprofessional.

    1. Yorick*

      Yes, if that’s what they were doing, it’s juvenile and unprofessional – especially because LW noticed.

    2. A (Former) Library Person*

      I think it’s also possible, depending on how new they are to the field/this kind of career (i.e., the kind that has industry conferences), that they also might not know “how to conference”. I faced a pretty steep learning curve myself at my first conference (it was The Big One in my field) and only figured stuff out because I hung out with a peer who was on their second career and knew how to play the game. Something that might have been at play here is the OP trying to help them have a certain kind of conference experience, whereas they might not have wanted or expected the same thing (for better or worse).

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes! “How To Conference” is a skill that has to be learned, and is really best learned by shadowing a peer (or near peer) who’s done it before.

        Really at my first conference I was an undergrad at the American Chemical Society (so, just a couple of thousand people in New Orleans) so what I learned was 1) wear comfortable shoes and 2) how to get the good swag.

        It took a few more conferences to learn how to talk to vendors at booths, how to choose the talks to listen to and how to give a good poster presentation.

      2. linger*

        Yes, it sounds very much like the foursome’s main objective for the conference was to meet up with their friends. Their focus throughout is on their own in-group solidarity rather than acknowledging status. Thus:
        (i) underprepared posters, just enough to have an excuse to attend
        [It’s unclear if there was an accompanying presentation. In large conferences there often isn’t, and in such cases submitting a poster is the absolute least-stress way of attending at your org’s expense];
        (ii) attending selected presentations to support people they already know, as a group;
        (iii) indifference to industry founders.
        On the posters, OP shares others’ comments, but does not include their own evaluation. It is not clear whether this means (a) OP wishes to avoid their own possible subjective bias in this account, or (b) OP didn’t actually see these posters (e.g. because OP was more focussed on building/maintaining connections outside their own company). If these are first-time conference-goers, somebody at their own company should have been available to give prior feedback as to what the expected standard was and whether the work met it. If the presentations were on OP’s SME topic, then possibly OP should have been looped in earlier; but more generally, there should be some review of work internally before it gets released publicly with the company name attached. THIS is perhaps something that could be addressed going forward. (Though note, if there is some tension between OP and the foursome’s manager, that could be a factor in why this expected step did not happen here.)

        1. AngryOctopus*

          1-Posters are in large part vetted by management/legal before they are printed for a conference, not to mention the time the team takes to put them together. So I doubt the posters were underprepared.
          2-At least in STEM, you stand with your poster and explain it to anyone who comes by and wants such a thing, and you answer questions. This seems to be, from the letter, the bit that LW thinks [heard] they did bad at. But as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s also quite probable that they, as new employees, didn’t do well on in depth questions on aspects they might not feel up to speed on yet. It happens. A lot.
          3-Junior people may find it cool to meet an industry founder, but as far as networking goes, it’s unlikely to benefit them in any concrete way. Not like networking with peers, attending presentation sessions, and meeting people who are 1-2 levels above them.

        2. I Need Coffee*

          Not wanting to spend time outside conference hours with a leader several levels above them doesn’t mean they’re some sort of juvenile mean-girl clique. There is nothing wrong with needing time where you don’t have to be “On”.

        3. Office Lobster DJ*

          I’d say it was less “meet up with their friends” and more “meet up with their peers.” They skipped shopping with their co-worker so that one could support someone else they know in the industry, which likely meant introductions for the others. That seems like Conference Networking 101 to me.

    3. Olive*

      I think that declining to go shopping in favor of going to a presentation at the conference, but inviting the “old fart” to dinner the next night was neither juvenile nor unprofessional.

      If they didn’t network with other senior employees well, that’s a shame, but I feel like the LW already disliked them by the time that happened, so I’m taking her description with a grain of salt.

      1. Young worker*

        Yes, they did invite to one dinner. That seems fair. They didn’t do more socializing which also seems fair even if the OP had a higher desire for social interactions.

        Let’s also give some grace that younger people are still learning how to network!

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          And also that not every conference has to include 24:7 networking! I have a very very very low tolerance for it even when I — a senior person in my field — go to things that I really want to go to. I can manage one group dinner and maybe one or two dinners with a close colleague but otherwise I need time to process and chill.

        2. Dido*

          or maybe they were networking and that’s why they couldn’t spend all their free time with OP?

  11. NoxAeternum*

    I’d argue that them having the junior person pay is a pretty serious problem, though. My employer has a similar policy, and it was put in place to crack down on cases where a manager and report are dining together, and the report pays because then the approval goes to the manager, who of course clears it. Depending on what’s going on company-wise, this could wind up having a serious impact on them.

    1. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

      They tried to stop it, thought. Maybe they should have pressed harder.

      1. That Coworker's Coworker*

        My company has this policy, but ours doesn’t apply to the bar tab (unless the bar tab included non-alcholic drinks), because we can’t submit alcohol for reimbursement, so usually the person who sent the invite covers that, or it gets divided, depending on the situation.
        Also for us the senior-person-pays rule is mainly for optics at meals that include clients or others who aren’t part of the company, so it’s unlikely anybody would particularly care that the policy wasn’t followed in this setting. I can see how other companies might have other reasons for the policy though.

    2. She of Many Hats*

      The “they were cagey about it” comment suggests the juniors knew the rule and had already bent the P-Card rules somehow. Besides mentioning their conference prep mis-steps, maybe mention they may need a refresher on P-Card policies.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Another reason for cageyness. They weren’t sure if they were allowed to buy alcohol on the company card when they were on their own. I get that I can buy dinner and even have a drink with it, but I can go to the bar, after the day’s events and put a couple drinks on the card?
        I’m asking. I’ve never been a leave the home office person.

        1. Anon in IL*

          The cageyness comment stuck out to me too. I wondered if their manager (who doesn’t get along with OPs manager) had made some negative comments about OP. Maybe the juniors felt their manager wouldn’t like the idea of them all dining with the OP who then picked up the tab.

          That is, maybe they felt they would fall out of favor with their manager if they were perceived as friendly with OP.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        I feel like “they were cagey” could actually translate to “they were embarrassed that I told them they should not have paid for the drinks”. These are new junior employees. They likely already feel weird that they’re having dinner with someone so high up, that they don’t really know, then they get told that they shouldn’t have done something they did (and it doesn’t sound like it was a “oh I’m sorry guys, I should have grabbed that bill since I’m the most senior person here, it’s company policy and good manners!” said cheerfully but more of a “you shouldn’t have done that because I’m more senior” serious tone), and they just feel weird.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          Absolutely. I think we can let other adults make these kinds of mistakes and trust they will learn from them just like we did. This felt like when mom yelled at brother at the dinner table and now we all need to just keep eating.

    3. Managing to get by*

      The junior person paid for the drinks though, and the LW didn’t specify that was on the p-Card. At my company, we can’t expense drinks. It may have just been that person’s turn to buy a round.

      Also, where I work anything expensable needs to be paid for by not the most senior person but the person highest up in the reporting stream. It sounds like these people don’t report to the LW.

      They may all be peers in the reporting structure even is LW is more senior. We have Analyst Level 1s who are just out of college, and five more levels up to Senior Consulting Analyst which is a long-term career position for people who don’t want to have direct reports. If a group of them went out, it wouldn’t matter who paid as none of them can approve expenses for each other.

      If this is the situation (and it sounds more like it, as the LW stresses their seniority but does not mention a reporting relationship) they may have acted “cagey” when LW paid not because they were trying to commit fraud but because they saw it as an annoying flex.

      Honestly, this sounds like a group of younger peers hanging out and not wanting to spend their free time at a conference with a more senior peer who seems to judge their behavior and assert their seniority. The one offer of dinner was the right concession.

      If they had issues with their presentation, maybe the more senior person could have helped guide them or provide constructive feedback? That’s what I hope would happen if we had this situation on my team.

      I also would never try to socialize with my team at an offsite event outside of organized activities. I recognize they need time to just be themselves and not feel like they need to be on their best behavior. If they invited me out, I’d go for a short time just to visit a little and then leave them to themselves to unwind. It’s a little different as a manager rather than a more senior individual contributor, but I’d still be cognizant of whether they felt they needed to be “on” in my company.

    4. GrooveBat*

      In this case, though, the expense would have had to go to the junior person’s manager anyway. And their manager wasn’t there.

  12. witch*

    > The rest of the week, they seemed to actively avoid me, and when they did come around for a mixer and I was trying to introduce them to some of the literal founders of our industry, the leader proceeded to talk over everyone, founders included.

    I get the vibe you think they’re hanging around with each other and not you, but are you sure? They could all be going their separate ways after, and just avoiding everyone — not just you.

    After a conference I might get dinner with a group, but if this is a multi-day thing I’m using the evenings to laze around and get take-in in my hotel room. It’s not really a vacation, I don’t feel like going “out” after being at what is essentially work (just in a unique context) all day. And I don’t think it’s that unusual.

    1. B*

      It’s also, like, completely unclear to me why it would be a problem for four junior employees to spend most of their time together at a conference and less time with a more senior employee. In fact I find the LW’s persistence in spending time with them to be the borderline inappropriate thing here, not their lack of interest in doing so. Some of this stuff — like expecting they would go shopping together in the middle of the conference (?!) — is affirmatively odd.

  13. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I am going to be on your side since the comments so far are firmly against you.

    Yes, it is a bit bizarre to be on a business trip and to turn down invites from someone way higher up… go shopping.

    That being said, you should have planned an extra-curricular activity before the trip (albeit, you tried, and they ignored you). You can’t really tack yourself onto activities after the fact like that.

    So I do actually see a strong case to talk to the managers, it’s just not the biggest deal ever. But I’d be confused if I paid for employees to go somewhere and they ignored a higher up, so they could eat together and go shopping. I’d remind them that they can do that any day of the year, and a work trip is a work trip.

    1. Twitterpated*

      I think you’ve misunderstood. The higher up wanted to go shopping, the junior people were attending more at the conference.

      To me that’s actually more of a green flag. If I had employees at a conference and they said “yeah we dipped out early on Tuesday to go shopping with Cecil,” there’s a chance I’d be annoyed

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I have never in my life been invited to go shopping by any professional contact. Actually, I don’t think I’ve been invited by anyone who wasn’t close family or a close personal friend.

        I probably would have stayed at the conference, too, since that’s what my company was paying for me to do.

    2. And I'm the alchemist of the hinterlands*

      What would talking to the managers accomplish, though? I doubt they are going to be concerned about them being excluded.

      I do think it is fair to bring up the junior employee trying to pay and any other work related issue, but not being excluded in outside of work events.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        That these are work events and not social events. That it’s weird to ignore a VP (or whatever role they are) when they text you they will be at the same WORK FUNCTION. That while it does make sense to skip shopping (changing my opinion on that one) you always propose an alternative.

        I am reading the comments and people seem to have a mindset of “this isn’t the biggest deal ever, so isn’t a problem.” Wrong stance, just because something isn’t the worst ever, doesn’t mean you can’t say something. In general. That’s how you keep things from escalating.

        I’m also seeing people confusing this with a social event.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          But the alternative was attending the actual conference session instead.

          Also, yeah, going shopping with a manager from your company isn’t a social event…but it ain’t exactly a work event either.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Wait, I thought the LW was a peer of these people’s grandboss? That would make her fall into the category I’m describing, even if she’s not a people-manager.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                Ah, never mind, she says in the letter that she’s a people manager. I was right the first time!

        2. metadata minion*

          Maybe this is an industry difference, but I’ve always thought that part of the point of conferences is to network with people outside your organization. I’m happy to grab lunch with a higher-up from my library, but I can also do that when we’re not at the conference.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            Maybe at a Fortune 500 company your opportunities for networking with higher ups from your own organization are not plentiful.

            It seems like both the Letter Writer and the younger group were at cross purposes with each other.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            I would agree, and I would almost certainly pass on shopping with someone at my organization to attend a presentation by a friend, especially if I don’t normally get to see the friend.

    3. mango chiffon*

      I think you’re mixing up the shopping scenario here. LW, the person higher up, was going shopping and invited the new employees to go shopping with LW. The new employees declined and one mentioned a friend was presenting at the conference. Personally, I think it’s odd for LW to invite the employees to go shopping on a work trip, and even odder for LW to be annoyed by that.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        And they said “oh, let’s go to dinner instead, on X”. So they did the social thing LW wanted. But LW seems to think that they should have been intent on spending more time with them, and that’s not how it works. They don’t know you really, LW! They’re not your conference buddies! And as junior people, they are looking to get different things out of the conference!

    4. MissElizaTudor*

      OP is the one who went shopping. The other employees turned down the invitation to go shopping so they could see someone present at the conference. There’s no strong case to go to their managers there.

      1. B*

        Can you even imagine being that manager and having this person tattle on your employees because they declined to go shopping and attended the conference instead?

        If I were one of the junior employees I’d be wondering if *I* should tell my manager about this series of encounters to preemptively set the record straight, the sense of grievance is so misplaced.

        1. House On The Rock*

          I had a similar thought.

          If someone at my level or above came to me with these complaints about my employees, I’d be pretty taken aback. Even the criticisms of the posters feel slightly off. Simply saying the presentations “were not up to par” reads as a little mean spirited and not actionable. Maybe there was more and that’s shorthand, but, again, if I got criticism of my organization’s staff, I’d be inclined to defend the junior folks, not run to their superiors!

    5. blue rose*

      Just a note, it’s the other way ’round. LW went shopping, the other employees declined to go.

    6. Kate g*

      I think the letter writer is the one who was oraganizing shopping, and asking the more junior employees to go with them.

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      Shopping: It is bizarre in that they passed up a chance for networking/sucking up (take your pick). It is not in the least bit bizarre that they didn’t want to go shopping in the touristy area of town. When I am on family trips and we reach that phase of the proceedings, I find a quiet corner and pull out my Kindle. If the shopping trip were to area bookstores, I would be all in, but many other people would not be.

      So the question of bizarreness comes down to the expectation that of course they will jump at the chance for face time with someone senior to them. Frankly, I admire them for their choice. I have never been a fan of those who leap at every chance for this sort of thing. The idea of reporting them to their manager for this is what I find bizarre.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        I wouldn’t say it’s bizarre at all that they didn’t skip out on a part of the conference to go shopping with someone they don’t know, even if they do work for the same company. I would have felt really strange about being invited to do that in the newer employees’ situation.

        Honestly, it would have made me wonder if they’re setting me up for something sketchy in some way.

    8. I should really pick a name*

      It’s the LW who went shopping, not the 4 employees. They instead wanted to watch another presentation at the conference.

      I’m not really clear what the LW’s role is with respect to the new employees. It sounds like the only connection might be that they work for the same company, and may not even be in the same department. Considering that, I could understand why they wouldn’t prioritize meeting up.

      Not to mention, it sounds like the only thing they turned down was the shopping trip. The LW initially suggested a meetup, but it might not have been clear that they expected the new hires to suggest something.

    9. Venus*

      When did the junior folks go shopping?
      OP took a day to be a tourist while the junior folks stayed at the conference to see presentations, so if anything the OP isn’t doing work and needs your reminder “that they can do that any day of the year” (although I disagree with the advice and our cultural expectation in my industry is to take advantage of the location and be a tourist).

  14. mrsfields4701*

    “I’m professional enough not to take it personally.” Obviously not, lol.

    There are a million and one reasons why they may not have wanted to hang. One of those could be that they just don’t like you. Because I know I find this attitude really off-putting.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Right? That made me lol, given that OP is writing in to ask if they should *report* them over it, and calling their behavior “exclusionary”.
      OP, you totally took this personally.

      1. lost academic*

        I don’t think we can infer that much. Given what the OP said about their experience, niche, field, etc, I read this more as coming from a space of being concerned about the way these staff are representing the company at a very public event. We got a lot of extra detail for whatever reason and since it came at the top I can understand why it seems like it must be the largest concern, but it may just be an attempt to contextualize everything observed by the OP. I interpret the overall question from the letter as being “should I do something about this”.

  15. Twitterpated*

    If you’re pretty senior to them, even if you’re not in their direct chain they may have felt really uncomfortable hanging out with you on their off hours. I’ve been on trips with senior colleagues in the past and I’m not gonna lie I always hated meals after working all day, because I felt that I had to maintain constant professionalism when all I wanted was to have a beer or two and talk about something inconsequential, or ideally not talk at all and have doordash in my hotel room while rewatching a show I’ve seen like 7 times on Netflix to unwind.

    1. Clisby*

      This might be even more true if OP isn’t in their direct chain. When I went to conferences as a relatively junior employee, I’d probably have welcomed the chance to get to know senior people in my direct chain of management. I would have zero interest in getting to know senior people in, say, the financial chain of command.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, so much this! I always end up staying up ridiculously late at conferences and all day training, because I just need 3-4 hours of “not being on” time, and if I’ve been with work people from 9am to 9pm that means I’m not getting to sleep until after midnight!

    3. Super Duper Anon*

      Agreed. I was so happy at my last conference that nobody above me in the hierarchy went. I knew a few coworkers there so we socialized at a couple of lunches, but there was zero pressure for me to go out in the evening. I got to order in food to my hotel room and crash.

    4. Sloanicota*

      And the group element, which OP picked up on, does add to that. If the other colleagues were all similar in age and friendly, they may have developed some social downtime blowing-off-steam that didn’t mesh with a more formal business dinner in which they needed to be on their game, or being introduced at mixers, etc. Ultimately, it’s their choice to miss out on possible career advancement opportunities to hang out together in the hotel room if they want to (and as a younger person I would have totally made this error).

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Well, and as a junior person, meeting more senior people several rungs up generally does nothing for them except to be able to say “oh, I once met X person at conference Y”. X person isn’t going to be bestowing pearls of wisdom on junior staff that will enhance their careers. The people junior staff want to meet are other peers in a different company, and people one rung up who are much closer to their day to day experience.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        I find it funny you view this as an error. I would view pushing yourself to a place where you aren’t actually going to be able to do the thing you are supposed to do at conferences because you are giving yourself zero time to be “off the clock” to be an error. Which may be the crux of the LW’s issue– she sees this as some heinous misstep and others (a lot of folks in this comment section) see it as “this is not the golden opportunity LW thinks it is.” Neither are wrong, but I think whichever choice is the “error” is so person dependant we can’t make any broad statement of what the youngins should have done or not done.

  16. Dee Engineer*

    Ah, LW, I feel like we might be managers at the same company… I’m sorry that you experienced this series of interactions, but that’s the cost to be a boss. There’s a power dynamic involved here. Because you are several levels of management above them, they were likely nervous in your presence and wanted to minimize their time around you. For example, you pointed out who should pay the bar tab and dinner bill. What you view as helpfully highlighting company policy, they likely viewed as a Management infringement on them.

    1. Young worker*

      True! I would be mortified that someone thought I was potentially committing fraud. Even if you were pointing out a fact, I would definitely be a little on edge after that over embarrassment

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I dont think it was an accusation of fraud.

        Merely that the senior person pays which is likely the rule so that junior staff doesn’t get stuck paying a big tab they cant afford.

        While yes that usually turns out to be a reimbursed company expense – junior employees are known not to have the cashflow to float a large expense until the business gets around to paying. And often senior employee have a company credit card which is preferable to pay then reimburse anyway.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          Hopefully the OP explained the paying policy in a different tone than the one that comes through in this letter. If the tone is like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the junior colleagues did indeed feel they were being accused of something, or at least judged.

  17. Khatul Madame*

    The letter reminds me of a parent who wants to hang out with the friend group of their teen/young adult, and is offended by their deflection/avoidance.

    1. Yorick*

      That’s a weird way to look at this, IMO. LW is a more senior colleague trying to help junior colleagues with networking and annoyed they don’t want it. Sure, LW should let it go, but if the junior colleagues viewed this as an old trying to hang out with them, they’re looking at work interactions all wrong.

      1. Freya*

        I completely agree. In my career, I’ve had several instances of going to conferences, events, or even company retreats where a senior manager or employee and I were going together.

        There were instances like what the LW described where we were doing non-work stuff, but I was invited and chose to go for more visibility and networking with that person. I knew it was part of my job and didn’t think it was “hanging out.”

        It is worth mentioning to the boss’s boss as it seems like they don’t understand the standard professional norms that come with going to these types of events. Especially when acting weird about paying for the bar tab and then acting unprofessionally when networking with industry founders.

        I get wanting to take time for yourself to decompress at the end of the day. That happened after dinner when I was invited for another drink or an additional activity. That’s when I bowed out to do my own thing. Not every opportunity to network with a senior co-worker throughout each day.

        1. Jen*

          “Acting unprofessionally when networking” is a bit of a reach. They didn’t moon the guy – one of the group members talked too much. Which can easily be a nervous habit or a misguided attempt at making a good impression. Time and experience usually helps with that.

          1. Head sheep counter*

            They talked over a leader in their field. This is unprofessional. Sure it could be a nervous tic but if you are introduced to a person (whatever their level) and then proceed to talk over them… it is rude. Don’t do it to junior staff. Don’t do it to senior staff. Don’t do it to peers.

            1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

              Well, of course we have to take the letter writer at their word, but I do think there’s a risk that the LW has such a negative view of these colleagues that it has coloured their impression of that situation a little.

              Did they start talking a little bit before the end of their sentence? Did the industry expert talk loads and loads and loads and they actually just tried to get a word in (which meant talking over them a bit)?

              Sorry but the LW seems to me like they are really determined to cast their behaviour in an ungenerous light.

              1. Head sheep counter*

                If you take them at their word then you are being ungenerous. We all know what talking over looks like and its pretty straightforward. The LW didn’t use inflammatory language like mansplaining they stated that the leader behaved incorrectly.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Agreed. The top comment reminds me of certain groups of Internet folks who think that that any interaction between an adult and a minor is suspect.

      3. LinkedIn Ghost*

        How is a shopping excursion helping with networking? If anything the junior group who declined this bizarre invitation to go shopping during conference hours to listen to their colleague’s presentation was more helpful in terms of networking.

        1. Yorick*

          Sure, it might totally make sense for them to have skipped shopping to go to presentations – although LW thought the presentations that afternoon weren’t super relevant for their work. But a non-work-related activity (like shopping) is still not JUST “hanging out,” it’s still possible for it to be face time with a senior colleague that can help you at your current job and in your career in the long run.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Which is probably why they proposed going out for dinner with OP. Which is both a more common work/networking situation and at a time that didn’t overlap with the conference their company was paying for them to attend.

            Considering that OP and their direct manager don’t get along, “I skipped several hours of the conference to go shopping with [OP]” may have landed very badly. (Particularly because shopping is very feminine-coded, so it probably wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a networking opportunity as something masculine-coded like golf.)

        2. GrooveBat*

          I agree with this 100%. I like that the junior group wanted to support a peer. That’s also a form of networking, and it’s tremendously valuable if a group of people “on their way up” show visible support for one another. Those are relationships that can last an entire career.

      4. sagc*

        You keep describing this as all networking – why? The shopping trip absolutely sounded like the LW trying to get some company for a social outing. How would it be networking?

        1. Oxford Comma*

          Because they’re on a work-related trip and all know each other within work contexts. So even if they’re shopping, the conversation will inevitably turn to work. So it becomes networking. Would it be my personal choice for a networking opportunity with a higher up? Definitely not, but it would still be a networking opportunity.

          At a work conference, unless you are alone in your room, you have to act like you’re always on, because there’s a chance you’re going to be noticed doing something unacceptable. I had a colleague who was getting drunk at open bar events and it did him some damage, both at our organization and within our profession.

          1. Properlike*

            But it doesn’t seem like the LW knows these junior people or has worked with them.

            If a complete stranger asked me on a shopping trip at a conference… even if they worked at my company and I guess I k ow their name? Even if it were a peer. No. Not even a bookstore.

            1. Oxford Comma*

              I don’t disagree with you that a shopping trip is far from ideal. But the previous commenter had asked how it could be networking and I was answering to that point.

          2. GrooveBat*

            In this case, I think the more valuable form of “networking” was supporting a peer during a professional presentation versus milling around pricey boutiques with a higher-up.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Because developing social (or para-social) relationships with people in your industry is what networking *is*. You can do it over drinks while standing around in a boring meeting room, or you can do it at mini-golf, or you can do it while shopping.

          1. saskia*

            Yep. If golf is networking and business for old rich guys, shopping can be too. I’ve gone “shopping” with people from work I’d never met before. We didn’t really buy anything, just a trinket or two as souvenirs, but walking around and talking while looking at items was a good relationship-builder.

        3. Head sheep counter*

          If the LW had instead said invited them to golf… would it be more clear to you?

        4. Butterfly Counter*

          It could also be viewed as an area and time to give advice.

          “I like taking some time away from the conference to do shopping like this. That way, I can bring breakfast food and snacks back to the hotel room so that I don’t have to rely on the expensive meals provided at the conference. I also can look around this new city and appreciate the local culture here. You don’t have to stayed tied to the conference 24/7. I do trips like this all the time and it helps me save money and decompress. You might think of planning similar outings at your future conferences. Often these places can be found a little away from the city centers if you do a little research beforehand…”

          I gotta say that, reading between the lines, the juniors did a poor enough job representing themselves and the company at the conference, they should be corrected.

          1. sagc*

            If someone invited me shopping during presentations, then said this, I”d be… rather miffed, I think; they could have just said that and let me decide whether it was more important to attend the presentation or do what they wanted.

            1. Butterfly Counter*


              It would have been helpful to me at my first conference or two. I do agree that the invitation to shopping was a suggestion, not a summons. The juniors were not wrong to turn down OP if they had other plans. But I don’t see it as an inappropriate invitation as some other commenters do.

              1. biobotb*

                But I think the conference expectations for more junior colleagues vs. more senior colleagues are different. More junior people are not just expected to network–they’re there to learn, and a more senior colleague telling them to just ditch the conference really wouldn’t be that helpful. More senior colleagues are probably there primarily to network/present, so they actually aren’t as tied to conferences as junior employees.

                1. Oxford Comma*

                  I think your mileage may vary here. The first time I went to what was the main conference for my profession I went to so many presentations and events that I was burnt out by the third day. After talking with my manager and later with a mentor, I got the advice that you want to pace yourself, along with suggestions of what events were maybe less than necessary.

                  In this particular instance, I think the junior employees were right to attend their colleague’s presentation, but I don’t think occasionally ducking out of a multi-day conference to shop or take a walk or go to a museum on a light day is the worst thing in the world.

          2. I Need Coffee*

            Advice they didn’t ask for and might not need. Seems like choosing to go to a session where they could learn something from their peers would be more beneficial than shopping with the senior manager to learn what he prefers to do at conferences.

          3. biobotb*

            All that info could have been relayed at the dinner the juniors invited the LW to. No need for them to ditch the conference their company was paying for to go shopping.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        And the attitude that without her sage advice, these people wouldn’t learn from their mistakes on their own like many of us do every single day. It’s sort of like adding, “what were you thinking?” after correcting someone. There’s just something about the tone and attitude here.

  18. Abogado Avocado.*

    LW, you sound like a generous person. Yet, these new co-workers have done you a favor by failing to take advantage of the knowledge, experience and networking that you can offer. Yes, they’re idiots, but I agree with Alison that you should let it go. If I may, I’d suggest you concentrate your willingness to mentor and make connections for junior co-workers on those who ARE interested or who don’t have obvious mentors (and may not know how to acquire them). You’ll change the course of their careers and they’ll appreciate it for a long time to come.

    1. I Need Coffee*

      Not wanting to have to be “on” after conference hours does not make them idiots. And signing up for a conference should not mean your coworkers get 100% of your waking hours unless that is your choice.

    2. wait what*

      Woah calling them idiots is harsh. Calm down. Not wanting to go shopping (!!!!!) when you’re supposed to be at a work event isn’t stupid.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        Word got back to OP that they did poorly on the things they were supposed to be at the conference to do. And OP witnessed rude behavior, herself. While I don’t know if they’re idiots, they’re certainly shooting themselves in the foot with this behavior.

        (Also, the shopping could have been an opportunity for the OP to give advice for future conferences, as I discuss above. I don’t think anyone is rude or bad for not wanting to shop, but I don’t think it was completely unprofessional of the OP to suggest it.)

        1. sagc*

          I think if you’re going to suggest an obviously-social thing that’s going to cost them money as a learning opportunity, it’s on you to explicitly describe it as that. Otherwise, you’re requiring that they know that this is going to be a shopping trip where you’re also going to be educating them on how to behave at conferences… that’s just not a reasonable assumption to make when someone several levels senior to you – and already at your company – says “come shopping with me instead of attending your peer’s presentation”.

          Context matters, and inventing a scenario where they missed a learning opportunity by not going shopping… it assumes so much about this that’s not in the letter, and which I would say is somewhat unlikely. This is not a letter that describes good networking or mentoring practices.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            I don’t disagree that OP should not look at the shopping excursion as a way she was left out. I’m just saying that someone took me under their wing in a lot of ways during my first conference and that maybe OP (rightly or wrongly) thought they’d play a similar role not knowing the different expectations of the junior employees.

            I agree that my experience with conferences is coloring my view (as I am sure it is for many in this thread). I’ve been at the “I’ll go to your presentation if you come to my poster” stage. At our conferences, this stage is not about learning so much as it is maintaining connection with peers. It’s valid, but I also know that it might be valid in a different way to make connections with seniors in the company.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Your ultimate point here is correct; there are probably young people who would be thrilled to take advantage of OP’s generous willingness to share their professional experience and contacts, so OP should keep their eyes out for someone like that, and let these coworkers make their own decisions.

      1. AD*

        The OP invited them shopping, and they preferred to watch one of the conference presentations. That’s the opposite of childish and what you describe as a “generous willingness to share…experience and contacts”. The interpretations of this letter are getting kind of bizarre….

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Eh. It depends. The “I’ll see your presentation if you come to mine,” can be great, especially to build relationships with peers. But in my experience, it also can hurt individuals from branching out and networking out of their core groups. The trading of watching presentations IS something more juvenile conference-goers do.

    4. StressedButOkay*

      That’s very unkind – signing up to attend a work conference does not mean someone is in need/is in want of a mentor and it doesn’t make them idiots. And spending downtime with someone very senior is not something everyone wants to do after a long day at an event.

    5. Young worker*

      They aren’t idiots, how unkind of you. Just because senior person had their feelings hurt, doesn’t mean that the junior people did something wrong. I find that’s a common thought among people – “I feel wronged, therefore the others can bug off!” Maybe try to understand different perspectives. I don’t think shopping is mentoring.

      1. Clisby*

        +100. And why in the world would someone at a work conference want to go shopping with you? That whole thing sounds weird.

        1. Properlike*

          I certainly don’t want networking tips from this person.

          Seeing friends’ presentations is not a waste of time. Networking is NOT only lower to higher. Networking is relationships with people on the same level because you all grow together, and are sources for information and learning. Too many people think networking is “what can you do for me?”

          “Mistake of juvenile conference-goers” and “idiots” and similar comments here are assuming that the OP is even a reliable narrator here. I’m actual a bit concerned about “The Leader” she keeps mentioning. It all drips contempt.

    6. Any older username*

      Not wanting to go shopping during a work conference does not make anyone an idiot. I’d say it’s the very opposite – they made full use of their time at the conference. And supported their colleague who was presenting. Good for them. The fact that they didn’t do it in a manner to suit OP shouldn’t be a problem.

  19. lunalae*

    It’s also possible that if you are a big deal they were a bit starstruck and nervous and just not prepared to deal with that and it came out weird because they were trying too hard.

  20. I should really pick a name*

    They acted cagey when I picked up the tab for dinner

    I do have to wonder if at this point you already felt frustrated with them and may have been reading normal behaviour as cagey.
    It sounds like this might have become a bit of a BEC situation.

        1. Sloanicota*

          It comes from “b*tch eating crackers” meaning someone you’re so annoyed with that now every single thing they do (such as eating crackers) is annoying you.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Same. I think because otherwise we would have gotten some more emphasis on the issues with the posters and less of the size of the rental car (?). Then it is more like “Yeah, that was odd, but my concern is that they were forgoing networking with me, the industry leaders, AND multiple people told me they couldn’t answer basic questions about the content of the posters they were presenting and skipped events they were supposed to present at.” Instead we got a lot about shopping and and how an adult had to get an uber.

  21. Carly*

    The amount of scrutiny you’re putting on their social behavior (and the fact that you’re considering reporting their social behavior to management) is exactly why they didn’t want to hang out with you

      1. Kate g*

        Agreed, and OP is mostly (though not entirely) taking the more junior employees to task for social behavior. They absolutely don’t have to be available for dinner, or sitting flank to flank in a car with a senior manager, or shopping (?!) in the middle of a conference unless it’s a scheduled work event that’s part of the conference. Poorly designed posters is definitely a work issue, though perhaps not one for OP to deal with, depending. Unskilled social behavior at a conference networking event is also a work issue, though not likely one the OP is in a good spot to help coach on, given the prior interactions.

        1. Sloanicota*

          The poor socializing skills by newer people (I assume new to professional life, not just this company?) is so common that unless I was their manager I would brush it aside. Many, many people are not good at networking at conferences. I have witnessed a lot of cringe from even experienced people.

      2. HonorBox*

        Sure. But much of the interactions/behavior that is pointed out is based around non-work things – going shopping, going to dinner, etc. The fact that they chose to attend a session instead of shopping is commendable. They agreed to have dinner. The poster stuff and the interaction with the VIPs is concerning, but much of the letter is about not how they were working but how they were interacting with LW more socially.

        1. Freya*

          These ARE work things.

          Going to a conference and networking and building relationships with senior professionals both inside and outside your organization is part of the deal, especially on days when industry-specific content is light.

          1. MsM*

            Then OP should recognize they might have had valid reasons for considering it more important to attend the presentation (and potentially network with other contacts who might be there) than going shopping and not hold that against them.

          2. sagc*

            lol at the idea that going to a presentation was somehow the less professional option than going shopping with someone who may well not have any ability to do anything but report them for anodyne social stuff.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              A presentation from someone that at least one of them knew, and they wanted to be there to support that person!
              I had a friend presenting at AACR, and I assured her that if I were to go (didn’t get to this year, but I tried) I’d be front and center at her talk supporting her! If someone had asked me to go shopping at that time you better believe I’d tell them I was going to my friend’s conference presentation!

          3. B*

            It is absolutely not a professional requirement to attend multiple dinners or go shopping in the middle of a conference with a single person from your own company who evidently is not even in your specific department. We have no idea what the junior employees did instead, but it is plausible (and maybe likely) it was at least as productive and professional.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Not only is OP not in their department, their direct manager *doesn’t get along with* OP. “I skipped part of the conference to go shopping with that person you dislike (in addition to having dinner with them)” might put the juniors in an awkward situation.

              1. Expelliarmus*

                Yeah, I think that’s a big thing a lot of people are missing here. If their direct manager doesn’t get along with OP, I can see why they might generally not be willing to maximize their time with OP specifically.

      3. Carly*

        Okay but the level of scrutiny being applied to their free time on the trip goes far beyond work obligations, imo.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      “I invited people from my company, who are on the same work trip, somewhere, and they avoid me” is a normal thing to think. What do you think is so outlandish and “social” about it?

      Depending on the company, this is the type of stuff that leads to younger people getting excluded from conferences, or travel budgets getting slashed. “They went to the conference and ignored the VP and went shopping” is not a good look and isn’t “social”

      1. Kate g*

        In the case, the VP is the one who went shopping, and was miffed that the junior employees were attending a conference presentation instead, which strikes me as odd and not super professional.

      2. WellRed*

        It was the OP (senior person) who went shopping. Which admittedly is not an activity I want to participate in with coworkers. People have different shopping styles.

      3. blue rose*

        LW invited the employees shopping, which is not a work activity, even if exposure to senior employees can have soft benefits for junior employees. That’s what’s social about it.

      4. Panhandlerann*

        They didn’t go shopping. They stayed at the conference. The OP is the one who went shopping.

        1. That Coworker's Coworker*

          Shopping isn’t really a thing I enjoy in the first place, and if I were at a conference and had to miss some sessions to do it I particularly wouldn’t want to – especially since LW isn’t my manager/department, and my own manager might ask me about which sessions I did attend and/or expect me to have learned things from them.

          Also shopping with a more senior person who I don’t know well could just be generally uncomfortable: there are probably big salary disparities – I might feel embarrassed about things I can’t afford, and I don’t know how long the shopping is expected to last, and to what degree LW might expect me to tag along to the same stores, etc.

          The younger people did invite LW to dinner, and did network with LW (though not well, apparently) – so they did do what would normally be expected in terms of professional conference-going.

      5. AD*

        An invitation to shop (you’re getting the order reversed….the OP is miffed that her junior colleagues did not want to go shopping with him/her) is definitely not networking, and I’m getting annoyed to see this point coming up in comment after comment here.

        1. Carly*

          Exactly. Networking is meeting people at the conference. Not being required to do social activities in your free time with a senior employee.

      6. Carly*

        Uh, OP is the one who wanted to go shopping. The younger employees stayed to participate in the conference.

      7. Worldwalker*

        As multiple people have said, it was the LW, not the group of younger workers, who went shopping during conference hours. Their reason for not going was that they were attending a presentation, which seems a lot more professional to me than going shopping, alone or with the LW or any other way. (unless the situation involved lost deodorant, in which case shopping is not only commendable but mandatory!) It seems to me that the juniors were the ones taking the conference seriously, and doing their best to be professional (even if they didn’t get it 100% right) while the senior is the one who wanted the juniors to dance attendance on them at the expense of what they were there to do in the first place.

  22. Enn Pee*

    When I go to conferences, I tend to try to associate with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t interact with…that is, people from other companies.

    I can hang out with my coworkers anytime – but meeting new people or picking the brain of a colleague who lives 3000 miles away is not something I can do every day.

    In other workplaces, my coworkers and I also coordinated our schedules so that we would NOT be in the same sessions as each other (to fully cover certain topics and report back to the rest of the group post-conference).

    For the OP:
    Did you contact these folks beforehand or otherwise have a relationship beforehand, or were all of your communications strictly conference-related? (In the future, I’d recommend a meeting pre-conference to just introduce yourself to them, especially if your expectation is that you’ll be dining with them daily.)

    If the posters gave so-so presentations, consider contacting whoever will be presenting next time to review their presentations and provide feedback.

    It seems as if you want to be a mentor to these individuals, but that should come from a place of honesty, trust…as well as a clear desire from both parties!

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think this must vary wildly by industry. I’ve been to a lot of conferences with coworkers and if we’re not already close colleagues there’s no expectation that we’ll see each other at all, or do more than politely wave/nod in the halls or dining room. If we’re not in the same department, I wouldn’t assume we were attending “together” as opposed to just both happening to be there. A pre-conference meeting would seem odd. Just providing context.

    2. B*

      Indeed, is it not a bit strange that despite having so much industry experience and expertise they seem to have intended to spend multiple dinners with this one group of junior employees from their own company?

      1. Enn Pee*

        One thing I thought of as well: for the junior colleagues…we are just coming out of a pandemic and those colleagues may have missed out of 2-3 years of learning office norms (or conference norms?) and other soft skills.
        That should be taken into consideration as well!

  23. Phony Genius*

    Two things struck me. First, it seems that the LW was bothered by the group going to one of their friend’s presentation. If this is a work trip, they’re supposed to be there for work. Like attending presentations.

    Second, regarding paying the bar tab, if this was paid with corporate credit cards, it shouldn’t matter. If it does matter to the company, Accounting will notice it and deal with it. If the payment was out-of-pocket, then the company has no business telling employees how to spend their money.*

    * – Exception here if the employees are paying for their superiors. They should be able to have a policy against that.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      I also found this one odd – “because one couldn’t go none of them could”. It sounded to me like they all wanted to be there for the presentation either for moral support or (gasp) because they wanted to hear the content of the presentation?

      1. Worldwalker*

        I would use any excuse short of shooting myself in the foot to get out of going on a “social” shopping trip. Why yes, I absolutely must see that presentation on the history of battleship gray paint and its relationship to institutional green!

      2. AngryOctopus*

        Conference presentations are also usually in blocks. Maybe one person wasn’t interested in the friend’s presentation, but the one directly after that! There are many presentations to listen to in the block! So much opportunity to see and learn new things!

  24. bamcheeks*

    This sounds like fairly classic “we are all new and finding our feet and feel safest in a group” behaviour to me, which a lot of companies actively promote in relatively junior and young employees because it is good for retention. They are forming relationships with their peers, which will be the strong business networks of the future. They may well feel a little over-awed by the conference, and travelling as a pack (“we’re all going to this presentation because Kev’s friend is presenting and we’re going to support him!” “we’ve got a car together!”) is a perfectly good way of handling themselves when they feel like small fish in a big pond.

    (I have mixed a lot of metaphors here but you get the gist.)

    LW, what I can see is that you messaged them saying you wanted to meet up and have dinner or do an activity and they … met up with you and had dinner. They declined the opportunity to go shopping in order to attend more of the conference and support a friend / a friend of a friend– this would be considered commendable and highly engaged behaviour from junior employees in most organisations. And it’s not weird to choose not to squeeze five people into a car when you’re presumably all on corporate expenses and there’s no significant pressure to avoid the cost of an extra minicab. They may also not have been familiar with the company policy on paying for meals and drinks.

    There’s obviously something else you expected from them, but honestly, I’m not clear from your letter what exactly it was.I think you expected — more deference? more actively making time to appreciate the benefits of your seniority and experience? more gratitude when you paid for dinner, even though it was presumably on company expenses? — but it does very much sound like you are taking it personally, even though you say you’re not, and it might be worth reflecting on what you wanted to happen and what you’re actually cross about.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Honestly, this looks to me like some combination of wanting shopping buddies, and expecting that of course junior employees will jump at the chance for face time with someone senior and being put off when they don’t.

      1. Happy*

        I agree, and I can see how then cognitive dissonance could cause the very natural human response in this letter. It’s probably a bit embarrassing to invite a group of people to skip part of the conference work is paying for and have every of them turn you down!

        And then it turns into, “Well, I’M not the unprofessional one, they are! Let me enumerate the ways!”

    2. TootsNYC*

      >>They may also not have been familiar with the company policy on paying for meals and drinks.

      I think a senior person has an obligation to mention well before anybody orders that the company will expect the dinner bill to be on their card. So nobody worries.
      And so someone who had planned to splurge/skimp, thinking it was on their own dime or something, would know what the parameters are.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I was confused by the interaction at the restaurant. It made me wonder if it was somehow handled ungracefully. I’m trying to decide I would find it odd if a senior colleague made a big point of informing me they were paying because they were SENIOR TO ME, as opposed to just insisting they had this, or something.

        1. metadata minion*

          If it’s an actual policy that the most senior person pays, it makes sense to explain that that’s why the LW was paying.

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            Yeah but the tone that comes through in the letter feels very accusatory and, to be honest, a bit self important.

            After all the LW *was* judging them for (potentially) not knowing the policy (or for disregarding it out of not understanding why it was important), so perhaps they picked up on that.

            There’s a way of saying it that emphasises “I am senior and you’ve done something wrong,” and there’s a way of saying it that would communicate “this policy is important, you shouldn’t have to worry about the bill, this is my responsibility, and the policy is there for a reason.”

    3. Jojo*

      I was thinking about the LW’s expectations as well. My father-in-law’s family has what seems like an entire set of social rules that they just assume are obvious to everyone, but really are not obvious at all. It’s exhausting because I try to follow standard courtesy, and they end up reacting like I’m an alien or that there is something wrong with me because surely everyone in the world follows the rules of their family. Reading this, it kind of seems like LW is offended that they didn’t follow a bunch of social rules specific to the LW. In particular, it’s odd to me that the LW expected these junior level employees to go shopping with them instead of attending the conference. That seems like a positive thing to me.

      LW, I would recommend talking with some of your peers about kind of behavior they are expecting from junior level employees at conferences, not to find ways to adjust the junior level employees’ behavior, but as a way to possibly course correct on your expectations.

  25. Anon.*

    A lot of comments are pretty harsh on OP here. I agree with the advice to let it go, but I’m going to offer a different perspective: any chance OP is either dealing with a lot of microaggressions? That could lead to the kind of stressed reaction in the letter, regardless of whether there are biases against the OP or not. What if OP is a different race or ethnicity, queer, pregnant, fat, autistic etc? Or what if it is age? It makes total sense for the new employees to want to chill without leadership. But if there is an age difference or any other difference involved where OP is the odd one out, that complicates the dynamic, even if the advice is the same.

    1. bamcheeks*

      It’s possible, but I do kind of feel that if it’s something like that and you’re in a senior position, you need to be quite careful about flexing your own power against people more junior than you and instead making sure you’re seeking change from the hierarchy?

    2. Olive*

      I will eat my shoe if OP is, for example, a black woman and the new hires are all white men. There is just no way that someone with that life experience would have this level of obliviousness. The letter would simply *not* include “why ever wouldn’t they want spend the day shopping with me in the tourist district”?

    3. Baldrick*

      Funny, I took the opposite point of view as my workplace has a number of white, male experts who think that everyone should respect their expertise and don’t understand that they’re difficult to talk with. It could be argued that my problem coworkers are neurodivergent and I should be more patient, but I’m neurodivergent and learned how to be nice to others and expect the same. When I travel with any of them I don’t spend my personal time with them. Instead I have wonderful conversations with diverse colleagues.

    4. Ginger Cat Lady*

      I think if that was a possible factor, the OP would have included it. We are supposed to take letter writers at their word, and that includes not making up details and elaborate “what ifs” to embellish their story.
      OP knows the dynamic better than you do, no need to invent possibilities.

    5. GarlicMicrowaver*

      I think we have no choice but to take all letters at face value. We cannot armchair diagnose or possibly guess about biases or neurodivergences- unless shared.

    6. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      If OP was a minority, it would still be wrong to blame the weirdness on that when there are SO many other potential causes. Just because there are demographic differences and tension doesn’t mean the demographic differences are causing the tension.

    7. Dek*

      I don’t know about OP’s demographic or anything, but I know about picking up on subtle hostility/we-don’t-want-you-here vibes. Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s something. Most of the time, you can’t really pinpoint an exact thing, and every time laying out all the different little things makes you sound like you’re tacking red strings to the wall.

      But sometimes enough of those little things really does just make you feel like crap. And it’s ok. Some folks upthread were scoffing at OP for taking it personally when she said she didn’t. And, ok, she is. But, like. It’s okay to feel hurt? I took it to mean that she’s not going to let that feeling effect how she treats them professionally.

      Either way she needs to let it go, but I feel like a lot of the comments got really unkind really quickly.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t think it’s wrong to feel hurt! But I do think it’s helpful to acknowledge that you’re taking it personally: that kind of self-knowledge and reflection makes it *easier* to make sure you don’t let it impact your professional interactions, whereas if you’re insisting that you aren’t taking it personally you might not be conscious of the ways it is affecting how you treat other people.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        I don’t think they’re unkind. I think we’re urging OP to think WHY 4 young, new, junior employees might feel weird hanging around with someone several levels above them, possibly not in their direct line of work, who they don’t really know at all. It’s not because OP is a bad person (although OP, you do come off pretty self-important, so please think about that too), but because these junior people want and need a different conference experience than OP thinks they SHOULD want/have. There is a preferred outcome disconnect that OP seems to be missing.

  26. Falling Diphthong*

    Any time someone has a laundry list of small things, the advice if you are going to Go To Their Manager is to focus on one thing, at most two, that directly and negatively impact your job. Because otherwise the manager’s eyes will have glazed over before you get to the actually problematic parts.

  27. not a hippo*

    It’s very kind of you to want to help these newer employees network and connect with industry leaders. And they did take you up on dinner!

    But it also seems from your letter that they’d otherwise have no reason to interact with you. You’re several ranks above them, it’s not out of line for them to want some breathing room from higher ups.

    You’ve been in the industry for a minute but think back to your early days. Would you want to be in work mode all day & then have to entertain your bosses afterwards?

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, this is what’s confusing me too. They invited OP to dinner! It wasn’t some huge social snub to not want to spend all of their free time (or conference time) with a higher-up who isn’t in their department. I’ve never gone to a conference to network with just one person. If OP wants to be a mentor, that’s the kind of thing that should be discussed by both parties and probably approved by their manager.

    2. Janeric*

      You’re right — and I think that if these employees are this cliquish and unprofessional as a rule, it will be obvious in their day to day behavior and OP doesn’t need to spend social capital on something that might appear petty. If they’re some combination of worn out introverted and awkward, they’ll learn coping techniques soon enough and OP can afford to be gracious.

  28. LHOI*

    Personally, I would never even think to invite someone several levels above me to do something social at a conference except maybe to grab a coffee in a very specific networking sort of way. On the one hand, I would assume they have their own networking or meetings to attend to, and on the other hand I feel like it’s just on the senior person to invite junior staff to things like dinners.

    Also, after 16 years, this is a space where you have a lot of personal comfort, social capital, and perspective that they don’t have. Yes, invite them to dinner (and inform them about the rules about who pays), but don’t be miffed just because they are banding together in a new setting in a way that “excludes” you.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree with this very much:
      >>I feel like it’s just on the senior person to invite junior staff to things like dinners.

      The specific initiative was on the senior person.

    2. Sloanicota*

      To be honest, even if OP was the same age/rank as these colleagues, I would find nothing here to report to a supervisor. Is it friendly/kind/especially welcoming behavior – no. But it was within the bounds of civility IMO and would be odd to bring up to a supervisor later. Never mind when OP is the one with the power and who is much more senior.

  29. Someone Online*

    So my advice to new people is that if you are at an industry conference and someone in your company or senior wants to informally hang out with you, try to find a way to make that work. So much information is passed through less formal communication channels than what you see in office meetings/memos, etc. Take advantage of that time if you get a chance. Is it tiring being “on” for so many hours a day? Absolutely. But it can really pay off in the long run.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes. Having this access outside the office can be very beneficial. One dinner. Getting introduced to other industry leaders at a network event. Geeze. Don’t shoot yourself in the career foot before it’s even started.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Now I’m imagining what advice I would have given if the colleagues had written in instead of OP. I would have suggested they go to the dinner (they did) and be on their best behavior (as far as we know, they did) and be friendly, civil, and responsive to OP in networking events, but that they weren’t obligated to do extra-curricular things like shopping if it meant missing another part of the conference they were there to attend.

      1. Someone Online*

        I wouldn’t have skipped the conference to go shopping, but finding time to meet a few times, even for a cup of coffee 15 minutes before the first presentation of the day can go a long way. And that is doing double duty – caffeine and connection.

        1. Properlike*

          Why “a few” times though? Why are we assuming the four junior employees didn’t have other things going on in the off-hours? Because LW, who wasn’t with them, said so?

        2. MigraineMonth*

          But doing that with the same person you’re going to dinner with doesn’t increase your network, unless OP was bringing other people for them to meet.

          (Also, I would make a terrible impression first thing in the morning before coffee. OP would have been justified in complaining to my manager that I fell asleep and drooled on the conference table.)

    3. Worldwalker*

      Taking time away from the conference (remember, they wanted to attend a presentation instead) to go shopping, though?

  30. HonorBox*

    I’ve attended plenty of conferences, both with people junior and senior to me. As a junior, it can be nice to feel a little more “free” from someone with whom I work so I can spread my wings a little bit, get to know others and experience the conference without feeling like I’m “at work.” As a senior, I think it is nice to invite others but have never felt personally slighted if people are socializing with people who aren’t me. In fact, I’ve been actively supportive of that type of experience because I see them all the time.

    As far as saying something – It might make sense to bring up the posters. Perhaps the interaction with the VIPs. And maybe the policy of senior person paying. But I don’t know that I’d make a huge deal out of those things, and certainly wouldn’t bring up any of the other interactions… because honestly, if they didn’t accept the invitation to go shopping and attended a workshop instead, that might come off making you look less than professional (and I say this fully supportive of skipping a session or two that don’t apply to you). Heck, they were there supporting someone they know who was presenting. That in and of itself is a solid reason not to join you.

  31. SocialGrenades*

    You don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean you need to do anything about it. Just be a pleasantly detached observer. “Not how I would behave, but whatever. It’s no reflection on me!”

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      “It’s no reflection on me!”

      Except when the coworkers act rudely during networking and the OP has to hear about their low-quality posters. Both can reflect badly on the OP by association.

  32. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    LW, I think you’re looking at this as a situation where the cool kids aren’t letting you sit at their table when they may be looking at you as the vice principal wanting to sit in on all their conversations (even if you’re a very cool vice principal). There are power dynamics in a relationship between coworkers who are levels apart that makes socializing with you a more strenuous affair for them than it would be for you. (I’m making a bit of a leap here because you don’t specifically say how many levels there are between yourself and your coworkers, but you do say you are senior to them and have a longer tenure in the company, so I think the comparison is probably fair enough.)

    It’s also possible that on their end they saw you as a solicitous senior employee trying to make them feel included and comfortable, and they didn’t want to take up too much of your time! And the person who spoke over the founder of the event may have been trying too hard to impress and simply not have learned how to network effectively by taking turns (I’m reminded of bad dates I’ve been on with men who tend to monologue about all of their achievements instead of asking questions and showing interest in me).

    My point is, there are a ton of possible explanations here that don’t involve them not liking you or wanting to hurt you. I wouldn’t stress about this at all.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      (Although depending on how egregious it was, it may be worth mentioning to the chatterbox’s manager that he/she could use some gentle training in networking.)

  33. 123*

    I agree, let it go. As much as you said you weren’t bothered by it, it’s clear you were bothered by it and I agree with Allison that it’s clouding your judgement.

  34. EasternPhoebe*

    For the shopping trip invitation, it’s totally possible they (or some of them) had other work to fit in. I’ve gone on plenty of work trips to cool international cities where I would like to have some downtime and sightsee, but in addition to whatever conference or meetings I have, I’m still doing my normal job responsibilities, so my excursions are short and highly prioritized. Doesn’t hurt to cut your colleagues a bit of slack.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Another thing with the shopping trip – if LW was planning on taking in something like the Magnificent Mile, Times Square, or Rodeo Drive where the high-end stores are, the junior employees might have thought/known they couldn’t afford to buy anything. And it gets old really fast in a shopping type area when you don’t want to/can’t buy anything.

      I personally hate brick and mortar store shopping unless it’s craft supplies or hardware so there’s always that possibility, too :D

      1. metadata minion*

        I quite like browsing little art stores and things like that with no intention to buy anything, but I only enjoy a fairly narrow set of businesses for that, and it would be awkward if I were window-shopping and the senior person was actual-shopping.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        I live in Manhattan and legitimately, Times Square is my personal hell…especially in summer. I have turned down REAL networking events to avoid it when my bandwidth was like, zero. Expect me to leave a work conference, suffer through one of Dante’s crappier circles, then go back to a work conference? No. And if someone higher up than me REPORTED ME for it like it was insubordination…I would avoid that person like the plague and seriously consider changing jobs. Because if that is the level of constant stress that is expected, I am not cut out for that company.

    2. Poison I.V. drip*

      Yeah, this struck me as odd. Depending on how the junior employees are paid, maybe they don’t want to be shopping on what should technically be the company’s time? I’ll duck out of a conference to grab a quick nap in my hotel room, sure. But I’d be embarrassed to tell coworkers, “Hey, screw this, let’s go shopping today!” because that’s revealing something about my work ethic.

  35. CLC*

    Yeah I don’t see any real problems here. The worst offense is probably talking over the VIP but even that can be a common mistake with more junior colleagues and who knows maybe they were just nervous or something.

    There’s the possibility they excluded you because you are more senior. Especially with social aspects of work younger people/more junior staff tend to bond together. It could be they don’t want the stress of being “on” around management or they assume you wouldn’t want to hang out with them. And in terms of the shopping and stuff it’s kinda weird they didn’t reply but not super weird. Maybe they felt the one person’s response covered all of them.

  36. Falling Diphthong*

    If I’m at my first big conference, paid for by work, I’m not inclined to skip out and do other stuff. Even if a person senior to me in the org suggests it, I’d worry about it getting back to my own manager. Plus everything is more interesting when you are encountering it for the first, rather than 17th, time–the not directly relevant parts are a great way to learn more about the industry.

    There’s an alternate universe letter where Todd, who started three weeks before everyone else, decides that Tuesday’s offerings are lame and they should all skip out and go parasailing. And the person three levels up is like “Where the heck is Todd and his team? They’re supposed to be taking advantage of this quieter day to hone their presentations and make connections?”

  37. Maple Leaf*

    Or maybe they didn’t want to spend their free time hanging out with their manager or superior? That is not something to take personally, it is just having good boundaries. It sounds like you did the right thing as the senior person by offering opportunities to eat/shop/etc with you but they are free to turn down those offers if they wish.

  38. kiki*

    I think bringing up the poster presentations not being up to par is definitely worthwhile. It also might be worthwhile to bring up the employee who was talking over everyone, since that’s not a good representation of LW’s organization. But the after-hours socialization stuff should really be let go. It sounds like LW might be a more social conference-goer than the rest of the group and that may have meant their expectations were out of sync. From this letter, it seems like LW might think the group was purposefully excluding them. While that may be, it seems like there’s not necessarily evidence to support that– they may have just been doing their own things individually and not all hanging out as a group.

    1. kiki*

      I’m also wondering if this group of employees is really a cohesive group other than the fact that they’re all relatively newer and presumably work together. LW did mention a leader at one point? I wonder about this because it seems like LW is convinced this cohesive group excluded them when really it might have been loosely affiliated group of four just trying to figure out how to make it through their first work conference. That could explain some of the lack of responsiveness too.

    2. Sloanicota*

      This is a tough one to me. If OP wanted the young colleagues to hang out with her, going to their boss after the conference to report that the posters weren’t up to snuff is kind of the reason why they probably weren’t keen to do so. If the posters were like offensive or something, sure, and I wouldn’t *praise* people whose conduct I had been dissatisfied with, but would I make a point of going to their boss to register a complaint when I’m several levels above them? Instead, how about resolving to jump in early to review the posters for next year and offering some suggestions for improvement.

      1. kiki*

        That’s true, calling attention to their potential poor performance isn’t going to make LW more popular for future conferences. But if LW thinks their manager for whatever reason may not know that their poster presentations were not really up to snuff, it might be worthwhile to call out. And maybe not even necessarily as a “these four employees dida bad job” sort of thing, but a, “hey, it seems like expectations for poster presentation quality weren’t clear and it might be something to spend more time on in the future.”

        1. AFac*

          Yes, if the LW does end up talking about their poor posters, I think they should do it more as a general feedback, and not in an accusatory manner. Particularly if the LW didn’t directly observe the posters and is going off of other peoples’ casual comments.

          kiki’s wording is good, or something like “I’ve heard that the posters produced were not up to standards, so can we add a review step to the conference prep in the future?”. Assume that new people attending this conference just might not know better, rather than that they’re poor employees. This is particularly true if these people are a year or two into their first industry job–any practice they might have had attending traditional in-person professional conferences didn’t happen because those conferences basically didn’t happen for the past few years.

      2. Parakeet*

        The posters piece could be legitimate, but particularly at a big company, it surprises me that presentation materials weren’t reviewed and cleared by the employees’ managers ahead of time, especially with junior people. That’s how it’s worked in every context where I’ve done a poster or created conference materials like slide decks i(n grad school, this meant my advisor, but in other settings it meant a boss or PI). Or maybe they were reviewed and cleared, but in that case it’s at least as much on the manager as on the junior employees – I would argue it’s more so – and so the employees wouldn’t be the right target for the feedback.

      3. Engineery*

        Given that OP never even attended the poster presentations, I can’t imagine OP would have anything of value to say about them.

        I’m in a job situation similar to OP, and I was cringing throughout this letter.

        If OP genuinely wanted to mentor these junior employees, WHY skip their poster presentations? WHY encourage them to skip their peers’ (or their own?) presentations, and futz around downtown instead? How can the technical sessions be so useless that OP doesn’t bother to show to some (or all?) of them, but so important that gossip about a bad poster presentation must be forwarded by OP to that presenter’s boss?

    3. fort hiss*

      It sounds like the LW didn’t actually see the poster presentations, just heard secondhand:

      “I got feedback from more than one of my industry peers that the poster deliveries were not up to par as well.”

      Honestly, they may have been complaining a bit about the rude juniors (we’ve seen that they aren’t as good at being neutral as they think) and their peers chimed in to say the juniors’ poster deliveries were mid too. In my experience, it’s a common camaraderie thing to agree when one person is clearly not happy with a person/a group. Without firsthand experience, there’s really nothing to pass on.

    4. Worldwalker*

      If I were the LW, I’d want someone else to review the comments on the poster presentations and any feedback, and talk to the people making the comments. From the rest of the letter, I don’t think the LW is really capable of being objective here.

  39. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    With the exception of the employee acting boorish at a mixer with industry leaders, this sounds like “junior employees feeling awkward and uncomfortable about being invited to socialize with someone who’s several rungs above them in the organization” — which is totally understandable!

    Given the power dynamics involved, it’s very likely that the junior employees felt that OP was pressuring them, even though OP didn’t intend it that way.

  40. lost academic*

    Combination issues – don’t blame the LW for listing all the things that seemed odd to her, but it’s a combination of regular social mismatch and the more clearcut professional norms issues – mostly the latter things mentioned. Some of the social ones straddle both sides particularly given this event, but the real question to me is for the material ones (mostly the faux pas with the VIPs and poster quality) is how to find the right person with influence and authority over these people to do something about it, and that’s a question of the right messenger too as LW notes that there are issues above her head. But in my experience, for the things that need to be corrected, don’t wait – it’ll be hard to correct behavior and public work product the longer after the event.

  41. Observer*

    Dinner involved a 20-minute drive, ~~ snip~~ They rented a midsize car (think Camry or similar). ~~snip~~ I regularly put five in my compact car. Four of the five people are average to small size. Five would fit.

    Five might fit, but not comfortably! And the fact that one person is larger than “average” makes it worse. The fact that you are so much higher on the ladder than them makes this even more uncomfortable.

    They invited you to dinner. If you expected to travel with them, you should have cleared stuff up with them first, not made assumptions. And if you really wanted to share the ride with them, you could have offered to pay the difference between the Camry and a larger vehicle that seats 5 *comfortably*

    One person spoke for the group and said that one of them had a friend presenting so they couldn’t go. None of them could go. Because one couldn’t.

    And why exactly is this a problem? They see themselves as a group, which is not shocking. As a group, it makes sense for one person to speak for the group. And it’s not a big deal that the group wants to stick together for activities.

    I’m professional enough to not take it personally,

    Are you? Really? It doesn’t sound like it, to be honest. You complain about “how they treat(ed)” you although there is nothing here that’s at all egregious. You seem to think that because you are several levels above them they should automatically make themselves available to you on a relatively social level. Why?

    If you really care about the professional implications for your company then skip all of that. Nothing there strikes me as problematic. What you probably should bring up is the group leader’s rudeness during the mixer. And you should almost certainly bring up the poor quality of their work. Those are genuine issues that you legitimately have standing to comment on, and you and the company have legitimate standing to insist on changing.

  42. 3DogNight*

    I didn’t see anyone suggest this, but it does occur to me. You invited them to go shopping, which is not a business activity, but a social activity. They could not go, so they invited you to dinner, and I bet they thought it was a social activity, which is why one of them picked up the bar tab. Then you informed them that hey, this is actually a business dinner. They suddenly had to make a mental adjustment from “Friendly dinner with colleague” to “business dinner with Senior Colleague”. That’s all. Nothing nefarious.

    1. HonorBox*

      It occurs to me that the bar tab / restaurant bill situation may be part of a policy that the company does take seriously but maybe isn’t as clearly outlined to new employees as it should be. The person picking up the tab may have just thought they were doing a kind thing. Also, do we know for sure how the tab was paid? Was it their own credit card or a company card? There is a possibility (small, but possible) that they didn’t see this as a company-covered meal at all, so the fact that they were cagey could be that they felt weird about having someone pick up the whole tab.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Why does “I’ll expense this” equal friendly dinner while “senior colleague expenses it” equal business dinner? They’re on business travel, it’s going to be expensed.

      1. EasternPhoebe*

        Maybe there’s a rule about what can or cannot be expensed. No alcohol, or maybe a limit on the number of drinks the company will cover?

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Two of more possibilities:
        • The junior person was not expensing the drinks, but paying directly on the theory that this was outside the conference and so everyone would cover it themselves. (Might have applied this to just alcohol as the company was paying them to eat but not sample whiskey, and they took turns paying it or app’ed reimbursement to each other at the end of the week.)
        • The junior person was expensing the drinks but the senior intervening to explain that they had it wrong and company policy was something else made everyone feel called on the carpet. Maybe they have in fact been doing it wrong; maybe it was even for reasons of “If Joey pays for drinks, then Matt approves it and no one squints too closely at where we went drinking.” Opey was very much in senior work mode in that moment. Which sometimes you need to be, and if is was the only thing that had happened people would be like “Yeah, sometimes awkwardness happens at work when you have to tell someone junior they are doing it wrong.”

      3. Sloanicota*

        To be fair, the comment was apparently, “as I am senior to you all, company policy is that I should expense this on behalf of us all” which might have come across as a bit less friendly and casual (but I also am trying not to nitpick this).

      4. Nonprofit Pro*

        Not always. My old job gave a $37 per day budget for any meals that were not official business (client meetings/covered by conference). A group of coworkers having dinner together would not qualify and was expected to be paid personally.

          1. Nonprofit Pro*

            Yup. It was broken out by when you travelled as well. Left for a conference at 10am? Your $8 breakfast per diem is cut. They were brutal in scouring conference programs to make sure that you weren’t getting served coffees and bagels in the morning and still getting your $8

  43. AthenaC*

    From what you describe, I agree it sounds like they were being rude and exclusionary. But I don’t think there’s anything actionable there. I would just take it as several data points and don’t invest any more time or energy mentoring these particular junior folks. Save your efforts for when you find team members who are grateful for mentoring and assistance in networking.

    The whole experience sounds frustrating, so I hear you!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Could you describe what actions you felt were rude/exclusionary? (Other than talking over the VIP).
      This really just reads as mismatched expectations to me.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I have issues with social rejection, so if I was at a conference with four other coworkers, and they rebuffed most of my attempts to meet up, I would initially feel that they were being rude and exclusionary. However, I would also hopefully recognize that it’s an internal feeling, and there are other explanations (as we’ve seen in the comment section). Even my initial phrasing of “rebuffed” would need to be challenged.

        1. B*

          Would you still feel that way if you were (say) 40 and they were recent college grads, for example? Because I very much relate to the feeling you are describing but in this context it would be relatively easy to swallow.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            Yeah, I’ve had issues with social rejection as well, but I’ve also come to a point where I don’t desire social acceptance from every group I encounter. Undergrads when I was a grad student, for instance (and if I were a manager, I think I’d feel the same way about junior staff).

          2. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Probably a little, yeah. Like, I know it’s not rational, and it’s something I would quickly move past and be fine with, but I like being liked, and I feel bad when I feel like I’m not. Interestingly, I think the pandemic has helped me a lot with this. Pre-COVID, it was a lot easier for me to feel excluded when you’re in the office 40+ hours a week and see other people interacting/being friends. During COVID, we switched to fully remote, and the “out of sight, out of mind” helped me realize that I don’t need proper work friends to feel fulfilled socially.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Okay, in the most generous possible read, it’s clear that there was a bit of an “us vs them” dynamic, where all the junior employees did everything as a group, and OP was clearly not in that group. Do I think OP should have realized they were not in the group for a *good* reason – because they were more senior and had a different schedule as a respected person in the field? – yes. But, I know several people who are still pretty traumatized by past bullying that they are very sensitive to feeling excluded from groups.

        1. metadata minion*

          I’m definitely in that group at the end of your paragraph, but I feel pretty strongly that it’s on me to manage my feelings and learn to recognize when people are actually ostracising me versus when they’re just doing something that doesn’t happen to involve me, or excluding me because they’re having their Llama Learning Lunch and I work with camels.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah, it’s only because OP is contemplating going to their bosses’ boss about this that I’m like, whoaaa there. Sidenote, OP – since you said you and their manager don’t get along, is there any chance that’s playing into the weirdness? I don’t want to make you more concerned about this (I think you should let it go) but could their manager have said something about you or otherwise indicated they shouldn’t be looking to you in a mentor role? On one hand I wondered if that played into any weirdness you noticed, but I also don’t want you to feel paranoid about it.

            1. biobotb*

              Yeah, if the LW and the other employees’ manager don’t get along, they may have been trying to avoid office drama/politics.

        2. Worldwalker*

          Like MM, I am too. But that’s internal; I don’t let it out into my professional self. One of the most important things I’ve learned about the whole adulting thing is how to distinguish between what’s happening versus how I feel about what’s happening. (it only took a decade or two)

      3. AthenaC*

        1) It is customary and polite to respond to texts. The other coworkers did not, which was rude.
        2) It is customary at a professional conference with coworkers to socialize and network outside of the conference, and the senior person should typically initiate that. OP did such, and no one took her up on it. This isn’t exactly rude but it’s strange and exclusionary behavior for this sort of setting.
        3) When going out with coworkers, it’s customary and polite to fit everyone into one car if there are enough seatbelts. The other coworkers specifically excluded the OP which was rude.
        4) It’s normal and customary for the senior person in a work group to let the junior people know about norms and policies for the company, such as “the senior person picks up the tab.” The other coworkers “acted cagey” which was rude. (Friendly reminder that we take OP at their word.)
        5) It is normal and customary for a senior person to introduce junior people and help jumpstart their networking. The OP did this. The other coworkers not only essentially ignored OP’s efforts to introduce them but rudely talked over their potential professional contacts. That sort of behavior is rude anywhere but it also now reflects badly on OP who took the time to introduce them.

        So basically, the OP did everything that a senior person is supposed to do when at a conference with coworkers and the other junior coworkers were behaving strangely at best, rudely at worst.

        1. Worldwalker*

          1) They were invited as a group, and one person replied for the group.
          2) The juniors were unwilling to give up attendance at a conference session to … go shopping. That is not strange.
          3) Volkswagen Beetle packing went out slightly after phone booth packing. I do not want to spend 20 minutes with my boss’s elbow in my ear.
          4) “Act[ing] cagey” isn’t defined — what exactly did the OP mean by that?
          5) One person talked over people. Rude, yes, but in a “nervous newbie” way. If they ignored the attempt to introduce them, how could they have talked over anyone?

          No, a senior person is *not* supposed to expect juniors to skip conference presentations to accompany them shopping. And they are *not* expected to insist on jamming five people into a car just because there are five seatbelts (most of the time, the expectation of the auto manufacturer is that the people in the back seat will be children!). They should be able to bring up the policies on, say, paying the tab in a diplomatic and subtle way.

    2. figure*

      Nothing here is rude or exclusionary at all, and we need to stop massaging the hurty feelings of managers who can affect someone younger’s ability to move up in the world on a misunderstood whim.

      1. AthenaC*

        That’s a very interesting comment, given that the OP went out of her way to help her younger colleagues learn policies and norms and help them network which specifically would help them move up. So your comment really doesn’t make any sense.

        Frankly I think we need to stop massaging the arrogant egos of entry-level folks who think they are entitled to be rude, so I guess we just have different priorities.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          What doesn’t make sense is that the LW gave the example of *not skipping out on a conference session to go shopping* as an illustration of their rude and exclusionary behavior. Huh?!

          1. Curious*

            I’m sorry, but that is a “clock striking thirteen” moment that undermines OPs credibility.

        2. sagc*

          It sounds like what the LW was trying to teach was “obey your superiors”, even if it means going shopping with them when you should be attending a presentation. Does this really sound like the author was giving a ton of great networking advice? Or just stating what they wanted, and assuming any deviation from it was a slight against them?

          And obviously we probably shouldn’t coddle the feelings of someone who is concerned that this rises to something that should be reported to Corporate, or whatever – it should be pointed out that their expectations are what’s off, not every little thing the junior coworkers did.

        3. Worldwalker*

          How did the OPgo out of their way? (incidentally, we don’t know the gender of the OP) They demanded that the juniors accompany them shopping instead of attending the conference, when they wanted to go to a specific session. (they would, apparently, have reluctantly accepted one person going to the session, but the other three should have come shopping?!?!?) They tried to jam themselves into a car where they wouldn’t fit, for no valid reason. I get the feeling, from the tone of the letter, that they were rather abrasive in how they told the person paying for the dinner (or drinks; I’m not clear on that) that they should not be paying. The only somewhat helpful thing the OP did was introduce the juniors to someone who was probably minimally useful for them to meet, and one person jabbered nervously.

          That’s definitely not going out of their way to help the juniors, and in some cases going out of their way to *harm* them, like insisting that they take time away from conference sessions they wanted to attend to accompany the LW shopping instead.

    3. Head sheep counter*

      I agree. I’d have found the host of issues to hit the rude and exclusionary end of the spectrum (if two cars were needed, why not split up?) but other than suggesting some training on work travel (and not talking over people) or some specific work hosted event in adjacent to the conference (eg its understood that Friday is our company dinner)… I don’t think you win anything great by bringing this forward to management. I’d note the behavior and not spend more time or energy on this particular group.

      For the record: four people acting as a closed group unit and excluding the one other person from said group… is exclusionary. It might not be a big deal but the whole point of a conference isn’t to walk like a herd.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        But these 4 people ARE a group.
        They’re new hires who traveled to the conference together, and have the same manager.

        The LW traveled separately and has a different manager. It’s not even clear that they’re in the same department.

        From the LW’s description, it sounds like they were at the same conference, but not attending “together”.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s odd to frame as “exclusion” when the person being excluded is several levels up in power, yet not in direct authority over them. If OP had written in about wanting to hang out with them, or provide them with the guidance that their annoying manager no doubt hadn’t, the advice would have been to keep more distance.

        I think it’s better to frame it as someone did upthread, where OP and the new people went into the conference with different pictures of what that would look like, and no one’s vision is wrong–they’re just not identical.

      3. Head sheep counter*

        Again… if one excludes someone, for whatever reason, it is exclusionary… see the word exclude. Sure there can be power differences and those matter but feeling that something is exclusionary when you are being excluded… is in fact… a rational feeling.

        My point about the closed group… is that… its not appropriate for a conference. It was barely appropriate in grade school. These folk finally agreed to a dinner – 20 min by car which they refused to split up and travel with the LW – but only after it got awkward. The ignoring the reach out before the conference is… rude. It takes about 20 seconds to type out “I’m fully committed for the duration of the conference to my cohort, so thank you but no thank you to your dinner invitation”. Personally, I would have assumed no response was the response and moved on to find better more interesting people to network with. But for whatever reason it was important to the LW to try and network with their colleagues.

        1. sagc*

          Yikes – you are coming at this from the same perspective as the LW, and it’s extremely self-centred. These people *went to dinner* with the LW! As the junior parties, they actually went *above and beyond* by inviting someone above them who probably can’t really help them find a new job or get promoted.

          “Exclusionary” doesn’t mean that they did anything wrong; the LW was being *intrusive*.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I’m willing to give LW the benefit of the doubt–they felt their feelings, they didn’t act on them, they asked for an outside take. Feelings happen!

            But I don’t think it makes sense to validate the feeling of exclusion. If someone with a lot less power than you won’t ditch a conference to go shopping with you, that isn’t “excluding you.” Workplace exclusion would be five same-ranked people from the same team attended together but four of them kept making plans pointedly without the fifth. The senior person with much more professional power should not be seeking to be included in the social group.

          1. Head sheep counter*

            Generally – conferences are for networking and seeing other people’s work. Its about getting out in your field of expertise. Having a closed circle means that you are necessarily missing opportunities to meet and to network with people who are either your peers or your superiors. This can have big impacts on ones career trajectory… especially in the sciences where who you know really does help you out. It isn’t a social field trip from the office. If it were… the whole office would be there.

        2. Worldwalker*

          There was only one dinner invitation — the one from the juniors to the LW. The only invitation of the LW’s they turned down was the one to ditch the conference and go shopping.

          Why should they “split up and travel with the LW”? Isn’t the LW a grown manager who can travel by themself? No matter how the LW wants to put it, a bunch of new hires and a manager several levels above them are not going to be buddies, and the new hires are not going to want to be buddies with them, or pretend to. It just doesn’t work that way. They’re younger employees, possibly at their first conference, in a strange city — they’re going to group together. It’s what people do. They don’t feel any need to keep their manager company, and IMO it would be bizarre if they did.

      4. Worldwalker*

        When it’s 4 entry-level people and one senior manager, it’s rather what you’d expect.

        And why not split up for the trip? Because four people were probably splitting the cost of a rental car — shouldn’t they get to use it? Does the upper-level manager need to have someone with them at all times or something?

        1. biobotb*

          Yeah, would the company reimburse extra Uber rides if they’re already paying for a rental car?

        2. Head sheep counter*

          So when you go out… and the majority takes a vehicle and leaves you to take whatever transportation by yourself for 20 minutes… do you feel like its a great way to handle the situation?

          In my life, a full car load with one person left out means three go in the car and two navigate together else-wise… because… I’m going to dinner with these people. Now if the singleton bows out and wants to do their own thing, that’s fine. But honestly if a group is taking off at the same time from the same location… it is weird to leave one person by themselves and generally unkind. Especially when the next location is over 5 min away (which is a whole other question I’d have about this situation but…)

          As for paying… the ride services don’t charge per person at the one-to-two level and so the senior person or person without a rental car would charge and then be reimbursed.

  44. GwenSoul*

    I wouldn’t report the social stuff to a manager but if your company has mentors that you know they are using it might be good to point it out to them so they can get the feedback that is more soft skill focused.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is partly where I land. “Report” them? Absolutely not. They didn’t do anything report-worthy. A conversation about soft skills? Maybe. I don’t think they should be chastised for not wanting to go shopping, but maybe just a conversation about the most senior person paying (many companies have that policy) and taking advantage of networking opportunities.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I don’t think OP should give these people a conversation on soft skills, but if there is an existing mentor OP could mention it in a warm, friendly way as a potential topic new people could benefit from. Which would feel different from reporting it to their managers.

    2. pally*

      I like that idea.

      A little coaching from the mentor(s) would probably be well-received- unlike being ‘reported’ which might result in a ‘talking to’ or a disciplinary action (unlikely, but with some managements, you never know).

  45. learnedthehardway*

    The only things I would be concerned about in this situation is that the leader behaved rudely when introduced to VIPs during the conference and that the team’s posters / work wasn’t seen as up to par.

    The rest – well, junior employees don’t want to hang out with senior managers all the time. They’re also going to not know company norms. Perhaps their own manager had told them he would approve their meals out, and they felt awkward about having you do it. And from a safety and comfort perspective, I can totally understand why they didn’t want to crowd into a small vehicle with someone they don’t know – particularly in mixed company, they may be ultra aware of not doing things that make others uncomfortable.

    I can’t imagine why the OP would invite them to go shopping – knowing the difference in the likely compensation ranges between a senior manager and (presumably) quite junior employees, odds are the OP was planning to go to stores the juniors couldn’t afford to shop at. (Personally, I have memories of awkward/uncomfortable situations in which I realized that senior partners were buying suits that totaled my entire quarterly salary.)

    I’m not sure if the OP is male or female, but I would honestly consider whether – from the perspective of the junior employees (esp. if any are female) 0 whether you came across as being creepy in your expectations. From pushing them to spend time with you outside the conference proceedings, trying to pick up the tab, pushing to be in close physical proximity – it’s a bit much, honestly.

  46. I should really pick a name*

    before I left I messaged the group (all of them) and told them the dates I’d be in town and that I’d like to meet up with them for dinners or an activity

    In this kind of situation, as the person making the suggestion, it’s probably best to propose a concrete plan (“let’s meet up at X place at Y time”) that they can say yes or no to, or propose a different time.

    1. Worldwalker*

      Yes, definitely. I’d take a message like that as informational, and expect an invitation to dinner to follow — not as a subtle message that I’m supposed to plan an event and invite *them*.

  47. Falling Diphthong*

    I’m professional enough to not take it personally.
    OP, I’m going to take you at your word on this. I think you’re frustrated because a series of things happened that were not what you had expected, and you’re trying to figure out if you should say anything about the small having mass of uncomfortable moments lying on the floor. And it’s good that you asked here, as the consistent advice from outsiders is “Nah, let this go.” (With a side of “Except maybe the presentations part, and just possibly the speaking over part, but don’t include any of the other stuff if you want your input on those to be taken seriously.”)

    Plus what I so often find helpful in this comment section, “When person did (thing you found odd), that may have been for (this mundane reason) and not actually unusual, unreasonable, or unprofessional.”

  48. Amy*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned, so I thought I’d raise the issue. What if the junior employee might be avoiding interactions with the senior employee based on a legally protected status? If the junior employee was avoiding LW based (potentially) on gender, ethnicity, disability, etc., would the advice still be to ignore it, or would that rise to the level of something that should absolutely be relayed to the junior employees direct supervisor(s)?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think the power differential would really blunt that. If OP treated 3 juniors one way, and 1 junior from their group was excluded, and that excluded person was also the only adjective–that might be a thing that would make people side eye the senior person. The new people don’t have power, and so their excluding someone with more power (in the sense of not ditching work to go shopping with them?) isn’t an abuse of power. The only power they have in this hypothetical is being a friend group, and that normally wouldn’t include someone several layers up from you in the org, nor would inviting your senior shopping be a thing the org would want to insist on.

    2. Sloanicota*

      This is tough but I think it behooves us as we gain power within an organization to realize that the imbalance within power hierarchies greatly favors us. OP complaining about a seemingly minor slight to a new person’s manager could seriously impact their career, while OP is secure in her position and far more insulated from small complaints at this point. I’m not seeing anything in this report that rises to the level of needing intervention.

    3. Observer*

      What if the junior employee might be avoiding interactions with the senior employee based on a legally protected status?

      In addition to what the others said, two thoughts.

      What are the odds?Most people who are in the categories where they are likely to suffer this kind of exclusion are well aware of their status. And it seems to me very unlikely that the OP would have failed to mention it.

      Also, I’d still be leery of making a thing of it, in any case. These “junior” folks simply did not do anything problematic. They didn’t invite the OP to activities? Why would they? If the OP wanted to meet up with them, it was on them to make plans and issue an invitation *in advance*. And to choose something more appropriate than shopping in a high price low value venue (aka “the touristy area of town”). They turned down a shopping trip in favor of attending a colleague’s presentation? In what world is that unreasonable?

      Essentially this would come off as the OP saying “People behaved in perfectly appropriate ways that *I* did not like, because of ~~Protected characteristic~~” That’s just not going to go over all that well, in most places.

    4. Worldwalker*

      It wouldn’t matter to me who or what that upper-level manager was, whether they were my identical twin or green with purple spots — I wouldn’t want to hang out with them. It’s not the identity status — it’s the management status.

    5. Jessica Clubber Lang*

      Do you really think the OP wouldn’t have mentioned that in the letter? I’d assume someone in that situation would be well aware.. No need to stretch the facts

  49. BRR*

    I won’t pile on but something to go on the LW’s side is that if the other employees wrote in, I imagine we would tell them to handle these situations differently. That they should have responded to your messages, taken the opportunity to listen to the industry founder, etc.

    And if you should bring up the posters? I would ask yourself what you would do if other employees got this same feedback but who you didn’t go through all the other stuff with.

    1. Summer Bummer*

      This whole situation reads to me so much like junior coworkers banding together as a loose age-cohort, only to discover that one of them (OP says “the leader”) is actually bossy and boorish, but the rest don’t have the necessary social skills or capital to push back. If they don’t think of themselves as a group (and certainly don’t see the loudest one as their leader!), the idea that they were excluding OP would genuinely not have occurred to them.

      1. metadata minion*

        “This whole situation reads to me so much like junior coworkers banding together as a loose age-cohort, only to discover that one of them (OP says “the leader”) is actually bossy and boorish, but the rest don’t have the necessary social skills or capital to push back”

        Or one of them is the sort of person who tends to talk too much when they’re nervous/excited. It’s definitely something they should be coached on (or at least practice themselves) for the future, but I don’t think we can draw any real conclusions about this person’s character or personality from a second-hand account of one conversation.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I used to be that person, actually. My response to nervousness/shyness was to talktalktalk. It wasn’t meant as rudeness, in the sense of “what I have to say is more important than what you have to say” — it was more a matter of my brain freezing up and my mouth running off on its own. And I’m sure there are many, *many* people who do the same thing. Mix one of those with three who get tongue-tied and you get exactly the situation we see here.

  50. a raging ball of distinction*

    Continue being your gracious self and extending invitations to colleagues when traveling. Lots of people here are sharing reasons your coworkers might be more or less comfortable accepting.

    If they do in fact treat everyone rudely, these junior employees’ careers are their own to ruin. Everything comes back around, although you may not be present to witness it.

    Are you feeling uncomfortable because you’ve seen other rude people excel at your company? Sounds like you have the experience and network to move to a different org that would be a better fit.

    Were you hoping to get into a mentorship relationship with some or all of these junior colleagues? Your company and/or professional organizations should provide opportunities to do so.

    Was this experience is an outlier from your other work trips, or are you feeling extra disappointed because “oh no, not again”? I hope writing and submitting your letter helps you move productively forward.

  51. Prize Inside*

    Hey OP, you totally did the right thing by thinking about your frustrations (rather than acting on them) and asking for a second opinion. I’m someone who feels my emotions very strongly (yeah yeah, I’m in therapy about it), and a weekend of feeling excluded by coworkers when I expected some fun and interesting conversations would have gotten me down, too.

    Keep your feelers up—maybe the reason you reacted so strongly to this incident is that there is in fact something red flaggy about that group (or one particular member), and your instincts were reacting to intangibles. Maybe you just had a rough weekend with some (micro-group) cultural miscommunications and there was nothing weird or red flaggy at all about them, which seems a little more likely. But you didn’t do anything wrong by having an emotional reaction to your life, or by asking for some advice about how to handle it.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Really great point. OP hasn’t done anything wrong, and feelings are not a crime. I need to remind myself of this constantly! Telling myself I “shouldn’t” feel a certain way rarely works.

  52. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    I don’t know why people are being so hard on the LW, it’s kind of a pile-on. Everyone has had a situation in which any one incident you can describe is no big deal but the accumulation of incidents is larger than the sum of its parts. These junior employees repeatedly gave up face time with a higher-up, weren’t responsive to messages, insulted a senior person in the industry, and made poor materials. Most of the incidents alone are a nothingburger but when you put them all together, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think they suggest a lack of professionalism.

    1. NeedRain47*

      I think some of those things (posters, talking over VIP) are lacking professionalism yes. But it’s not obligatory to hang out with your coworkers when you attend the same conference/event, and LW seems to have been pushing for that even after fairly clear signals that they weren’t interested. Sometimes there really are cliques at work but as long as it’s not stopping the actual work getting done, you need to let it go.

      1. Head sheep counter*

        Yet this comment section is all wide-eyed nonsense about how this isn’t exclusionary. A clique is… exclusionary. And a conference is the wrong place to flex one’s clique in a way that is noticed by others.

        Is it a hill to die on, no. Is it part of the fact that these folk didn’t behave entirely professionally… yes. They need some coaching.

        1. JelloStapler*

          But I don’t see them as flexing their clique objectively, just maybe not be comfortable hanging out with a more senior person. I would likely prefer to hang out with my peers for the majority of a conference than an executive (but would have had one dinner, as they offered). And again, one who suggested skipping a conference activity to go… shopping versus supporting another junior employee … at the conference.

          The posters and networking, sure that needs polish- so as another commenter said- here’s a great way to encourage the company to provide support and training for these situations.

          1. MsM*

            I think even calling it a “clique” is reading a level of deliberate malice into their behavior that really doesn’t need to be there. OP is not their peer. OP isn’t even directly in their chain of command, and apparently there’s some kind of weirdness between their manager and OP’s manager they may just not want to get mixed up in. There are so many reasons not to take this personally, and while I’m not going to blame OP for feeling a little hurt regardless, I also don’t see a good reason not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

            1. metadata minion*

              Yes! I get the impression that they may not even have met the OP before this conference. I know networking is important, but as someone who is already typically overwhelmed and tired at conferences, I’d rather get to know someone over a quick coffee between sessions or when chatting after an interesting panel then jump straight to a whole dinner or shopping trip.

              Nothing wrong with the OP having suggested it, but four people in similar roles comparing notes after a conference day has a much different dynamic once you add someone much higher in the org chart.

            2. lucanus cervus*

              Yes! They are four colleagues who have the same manager. I don’t know if that means they work together on the same team every day or not, but either way, I don’t think it’s too out there for them to think of themselves as attending the conference as a group representing the Llama Tickling Department or whatever. They’re not just a random assortment of people from the company who’ve banded together based on personal friendships. And their manager has some conflict with OP’s manager on top of that. If there are known tensions between Llama Tickling and Alpaca Furtling, I’d probably worry about getting in trouble with my boss if I skipped a conference day to go shopping with a senior alpaca furtler.

          2. AngryOctopus*

            YES! 4 new employees having poster presentations not quite up to standard argues for making sure you train and prepare everyone BETTER before you send them off! These are new employees! New employees giving posters! They need guidance and help! It’s not an easy or natural thing overall!

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          But as a more senior employee, the LW is the one with the power here. Even if the junior employees were behaving as an exclusionary clique, what is the harm to her?

        3. Head sheep counter*

          I think training folk to not be clique-y at a conference is a valuable thing to do. You never know who might be interesting to network with and how your paths might cross with them in the future. If you leave a more senior person totally turned off by doing grade-school behavior… there could be eventual consequences. Not that the LW would be retaliatory but that these folk represent the organization they are from. And other folk might not find that representation to be the one they want for future conferences.

        4. Worldwalker*

          What you’re describing as a clique, most of us are seeing as four new, very junior employees huddling together (waiting for you to count them?) instead of socializing with someone much higher in the company who they are, very possibly, slightly in awe of and/or afraid of.

          Especially if the company is strongly hierarchical, that’s just not how it’s done.

        5. Head sheep counter*

          So they were described as having a “leader” and that they were renting a car together. That’s a bit more than meeting at a conference and finding each other. We don’t know the hierarchy of the organization. We know it is science adjacent and that is an area that is really heavily dependent on networking and getting to know people.

          As to the harm the LW had… well I don’t think it is harm. However, what if this hadn’t been the LW but just a colleague from a different branch and they behaved this way to them? If they do this to someone who they do have reason to be at least somewhat familiar with… it isn’t a large jump to imagine they’d do it to others as well. And that’s concerning. They represent the organization they are from. As such should be trained as to how to represent the organization.

          1. sagc*

            You second paragraph is all assumptions. They could have been meeting all sorts of contacts during the presentations, but the LW would never know, because they were shopping at the time.

            Also, we *do* know that this person is a) high above them and b) not in their direct chain of command. Also, they obviously had a reason to be connected; it’s the *LW* who is higher-level, works separately from them, and presumably has some awareness of why lower level employees aren’t going to find spending time with them relaxing.

          2. Worldwalker*

            The OP described them as having a “leader” but that’s an outside observation — and a possibly non-neutral POV one at that. That might just be the person who was least nervous about talking when the OP was around.

            I don’t think anyone said they met at the conference — they were a group from the company who traveled to the conference together, and since the OP mentions “their” manager, singular, almost certainly worked together as well. They already knew each other, and the common behavior of people who know each other when surrounded by a sea of people they don’t know is to stick together.

            I’m pretty sure if someone else tried to make them leave the conference they were being paid to attend and go shopping instead, or expected them to guess that they were supposed to plan an event and invite that person, or jam themselves into the back of a rental car in order to drive that person where they were going, they’d have not done it there, either. These are not things that are part of the normal expectation for people you actually *know*, let alone random strangers from “a different branch.”

    2. Someone Online*

      And being senior in her company, presumably LW is accustomed to attending conferences with junior staff and would recognize if this trip was different than others.

      I feel like the comment section has been turning in to a pile on a lot recently.

      1. Magpie*

        The LW doesn’t say how many conferences they’ve previously attended or how long they’ve been in their current role, just that they’ve been with this company for a while. Maybe they’ve previously attended conferences as a lower level employee and are struggling to understand the difference in the power balance now that they’re higher up the org chart.

      2. Napa Transplant*

        Is OP accustomed to providing unsolicited mentoring to four people whose manager OP’s manager doesn’t get along with? If so, I have additional questions.

    3. Anna*

      I agree! I was thinking that if I were in LW’s shoes, I’d also be much more hesitant going forward to introduce younger staff in my company (unless I’d thoroughly vetted them beforehand) to other senior people in the field, which is a hinderance to the company overall.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Only because OP is considering reporting these colleagues to their manager , or even their manager’s manager (!) – which is a pretty big deal in the career of a new person – that I’m reacting the way I am. I sincerely hope OP doesn’t choose to do that based on the discussion here. If OP simply said they were hurt or didn’t want to go out of their way to offer one of these colleagues a new opportunity, I think I’d be less concerned.

    5. no.*

      Don’t think it’s a pile on. The only rude comments I’ve seen were directed at the junior employees (calling them idiots)

      1. Lana Kane*

        Well, I’ve seen comments alluding to “if this is how you are reacting, I can see why they wouldn’t want to spend time with you”. Which isn’t cool.

      2. Head sheep counter*

        There are a bunch of comments saying more or less that the LW is wrong. And adding further personal observations.

        1. sagc*

          Well, the LW is kinda wrong? Asking very-junior coworkers to go shopping when they’re supposed to be watching a presentation is far enough out of the norm, and they also, y’know, wrote in for advice.

        2. Head sheep counter*

          The shopping thing seems to have gotten a lot of folk keyboard warrioring. What if it had been the more traditional “lets go golf?” would you have the same reaction? Because whilst I would tend to suggest some non-work thing like mini-golf or walking around the historic district… the LW thought shopping would be a good ice-breaker. I’m 100% certain that they will scrap that idea as folks evidently lambast one straight to hell for suggesting it.

          1. sagc*

            Then it’s on the LW to make that clear, and to not schedule it during presentations, and to consider whether it could be considered weird for a person who doesn’t seem to be in their management chain to be horning in on their time. This person seems to have just decided that these people needed their mentorship.

            Reporting people to their managers for not going shopping with you is not good mentorship.

            And if the outcome is that the LW doesn’t ask people to go shopping, other than as an explicitly-social experience? Or that they see this isn’t an issue with the junior coworkers being rude? Aren’t those *good* outcomes?

          2. Worldwalker*

            Shopping is particularly weird — I’d rather play golf, and I hate golf! — but demanding (which is what it amounted to) that the junior employees do *anything* during conference hours, and complaining that they were all going to see a presentation together, whereas at least 3 of them should have gone with the LW, is a problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s shopping or golf or a Taylor Swift concert: if they’re at a conference, then attending the conference is the priority, not any outside activity.

          3. Head sheep counter*

            I do agree that I wouldn’t report them not shopping. Its unclear to me the timing and the thoughts behind this. However, I do think it is standard to have some form of networking conference adjacent suggestion or activity. Some conferences require full time attendance and some have days of things and it is normal to do things outside the conference. We don’t know in this case. Since we are to assume good intentions I would assume that it was intended as a casual way to walk around and talk. That the LW was making themselves available for questions, discussion or collaboration in a more casual environment.

          4. biobotb*

            Why would golf make it different? Junior employees probably think they’ve been sent to the conference to.. attend the conference, not go golfing. It doesn’t sound like the LW chose their shopping period based on what presentations the junior employees were expected to attend, so maybe they really couldn’t ditch. Whenever I’ve gone to a conference, I’ve been expected to attend presentations and report information back to colleagues who couldn’t attend. Golfing wouldn’t make that any easier than shopping.

    6. MsM*

      I feel like a lot of people have also had the experience where a senior colleague keeps trying to set up social situations they don’t seem to recognize might be awkward with someone who’s not a peer, or is being overly prescriptive and maybe a bit condescending about how you “should” handle a situation where you feel like you’re an adult professional who can make that call for yourself, and are reacting to that. And as the senior colleague, it is on OP to separate out the things that might reflect badly on the company as a whole from the stuff that just stings on a personal level.

    7. Observer*

      These junior employees repeatedly gave up face time with a higher-up, weren’t responsive to messages, insulted a senior person in the industry, and made poor materials.

      There are two sets of issues here, and they really don’t have anything to do with each other. Their poor profession presentation *is* an issue, and the OP has the standing to bring it up.

      The rest? Absolutely not. There is no pattern of behavior, not “repeated” anything. Not responding a a vague message that “I’d love to hang out” from a superior, is not “not being responsive.” Neither is it “giving up face time.” Choosing to *attend a colleague’s presentation* instead of *going shopping* with a higher up is technically “giving up” face time, but what exactly do you expect to pick up from someone who clearly doesn’t understand the differences between them and junior people a couple of levels down? Is refusing to get crammed into a too small car with the higher up *really* “refusing face time? I don’t think so.

    8. B*

      I think people are reading between the lines to infer unflattering things about LW’s behavior and attitude. I know the letter made me feel instinctively protective of these junior employees, who even in this subjective retelling haven’t done anything wrong and are now receiving serious ire from a senior “expert” who may have the power to negatively impact their careers.

  53. MI Dawn*

    The things that stand out most to me are 1) that others mentioned the subpar poster presentations. That’s a big reflection on the company. And 2) the “leader” of the pack was rude and talking over the VIPs the OP was trying to introduce them to. While it could be young and nervous behavior, as OP does not give us any data regarding age/experience, it still is pretty rude. If I was their manager, I would want to know about these 2 things. Not the social items.

    The only other thing I might do is mention that all employees should be given a refresher about business meals and who should pay for them, as I doubt these 4 are the only ones who possibly weren’t aware. And here, OP seems to have done the correct thing by letting them know this.

    1. JelloStapler*

      This, it can be very hard to know the policy if a manager had not reviewed it with them or given them a link to the travel policy (if there is one).

  54. Moths*

    I’m going to take the letter writer at face value and say that given their time and experience in the field, they know that the new employees weren’t making a good impression and that something felt off the entire time. In fact, reading the letter, I can definitely see how that came across. It seems like one of those situations where when you’re trying to explain it, it just doesn’t sound like a major issue, but when you’re in the situation, you know that something isn’t right.

    I remember the first professional conference that I attended. I didn’t want to seem like I was a limpet on my supervisor, so I actively avoided him all of the conference. Afterwards, he made a comment about how he had barely seen me the entire time. I remember being confused and a bit embarrassed, realizing that he had apparently expected me to spend more time in proximity to him so that he could introduce me to people and help make connections. But I also remember being a bit annoyed that he hadn’t told me that ahead of time or reached out during the conference to let me know he’d like to meet up and sit together during some of the sessions. I took away some lessons from that and as a manager myself, whenever I have a fairly new employee (in general or to the company), I try to set some expectations prior to going to an event.

    LW, it sounds like you tried to do that by reaching out before the conference, but maybe next time, be even a little more active about it and about laying out expectations. “Generally, while at a conference the team will coordinate the sessions we’re going to so that there’s the best coverage of all talks of interest and then we’ll all do meals together a couple of times during the event to recap and socialize. Let’s meet to do breakfast together at 7:00 the first morning in the hotel restaurant to look at the schedule together and make sure things are covered.” Or something like that. Remembering what it was like as a new employee, I would have appreciated this kind of clarity so that I could have known the expectations of that field/position.

    I don’t think the new employees in this situation were being malicious or deliberate, so I don’t think it’s worth talking to their managers, but I do think they ended up unintentionally making a bad impression on a senior coworker. It might be best to just take it as a learning experience of how to better actively guide new employees next time.

    1. a clockwork lemon*

      The counterargument to this is that many managers would be less than thrilled to hear that their whole team skipped out on the conference to go shopping, even if the reason is ostensibly to get face time with senior management from another team at the same company. It’s even weirder that OP is attributing some amount of malicious intent or cliquish behavior to…conference attendees attending a conference presentation.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I think YMMV on that script. It would have seemed weirdly over-reaching to me coming from another employee who is not even my manager; even as a junior employee I was expected to be able to handle my own time on work travel, or take direction specifically from my boss. If OP wants to do this in future, perhaps reaching out to the supervisor (oh wait, they don’t get along – I actually think this could be one factor) and having the message come from them.

  55. JustKnope*

    I would raise the issues with the posters not being up to par with someone higher up. If you received multiple comments about it, that’s reflecting back on your company’s quality of work. That falls squarely in the category of work problems worth flagging. The other stuff, while frustrating, is not at that level.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Yes, and they should be as specific as possible about that feedback (“some people who went to the poster presentations mentioned to me that Jon’s explanation of the llama grooming technique seemed confused, and Sarah didn’t handle the statistical questions well” is better than “their poster presentations were sub-par”).

  56. nm*

    Regarding the part: “I got feedback from more than one of my industry peers that the poster deliveries were not up to par as well.”

    If the feedback included concrete, constructive details I think it’s quite sensible to pass that on to their manager and let the manager deal with it. Other than that, let it go.

  57. a clockwork lemon*

    The shopping trip has been beaten into the ground, but I’m curious about the dinner thing. I can’t speak to OP’s company, but mine has strict policies around what can and cannot be expensed when it comes to meals.

    Is it possible that these employees hadn’t planned to expense their meal on purpose and then were surprised at being chastised for it? If I’m out with my peers, it’s not uncommon for one person to pay then settle up with the rest of the group using Venmo or Zelle. I’m unfamiliar with any corporate policy that requires employees to not pay out of pocket for things they choose to do on their downtime–and clearly this company doesn’t either, unless OP planned to expense whatever they bought on their shopping trip.

  58. Ms. Murchison*

    LW, you wrote “I’m professional enough to not take it personally” but I gently urge you to consider the tone of this letter, which does sound to an outsider like you are taking it personally.

  59. Ginger Cat Lady*

    This almost feels like OP wanted the younger crowd to fill all their social needs at the conference so they didn’t need to network or talk to other people. Like expecting someone in one of your college classes to stay to by your side every minute and help you navigate a frat party instead of going out and meeting people.
    I agree that OP is completely overlooking the power dynamics here, and the impact of the scolding over who pays (which probably read to the newer colleagues as a reminder of that power dynamic and that they needed to remember their place.) certainly didn’t help.
    Asking them to ditch the conference with you may have also felt like a test of whether they would ethically behave on a work trip, too.
    OP, next time, get out there and network with others instead of expecting people from your company to spend all their time with you. Maybe plan for one company dinner on the trip. But don’t expect them to spend all their downtime with you.

    1. Heidi*

      Agree with all of this. Conferences often exist to allow attendees to network with their counterparts at other companies and institutions. I bet other senior managers would welcome the opportunity to meet up with an expert in the field at a Fortune 500 company. It might be more fun and productive for OP to hang out with those types.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I did have a moment’s thought; after 16 years in the industry, I’m surprised OP didn’t have other dinner/social engagements planned with colleagues in the wider field, and they could have kindly invited their junior colleagues but not particularly cared if they declined.

  60. HannahS*

    OP, it sounds like your “vision” of what attending a conference with junior employees was at odds with what your junior employees were expecting. It seems to me that you were expecting to take a personal “mentoring” role towards them; you wanted to show them the ropes and also show them around town a little, taking-them-under-your-wings kind of feel.

    I think your junior employees saw the conference as a chance to support each other doing something new during the day (attending/presenting at the conference) and banding together to relax in their off-hours without having to impress anyone.

    Neither is wrong. Some people would really appreciate the personalized hand you wanted to have in developing their career, and others prefer a much less personal approach. They may even have found it confusing. On the one hand, you wanted to go shopping together and casually squeeze into their car like a peer, on the other hand you wanted to introduce them to big-wigs like a boss–it’s a hard needle to thread for people on the low end of power hierarchy.

  61. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    If you still want to Do Something about this, maybe look into whether your company can provide better pre-conference mentoring and resources for the next group of new employees attending their first or second conference. Having them, for example, present their posters within the company and get feedback a few weeks beforehand so they can revise them and/or polish their presentations before the conference, have some “this is how to behave when meeting a VIP and trying to network” practice sessions, and so on.

    It doesn’t sound like anything here was so egregious that these particular employees need to be talked to about it in detail (although maybe they should also go to a practice poster session before their next conference), but that your company may have some reputational damage if this becomes the new normal, so the focus should be on making sure that whoever goes to the next several conferences does really well to get the overall impression back on track.

    1. DD*

      Jumping in to add an additional thumbs up. Sounds like these are younger employees who may need some guidance on attending events like these especially without any more senior/experienced people from the company around. Nothing wrong with having some fun outside the event but with a group it can get easy to lose sight that it is a work event first.

      Also having reviews and guidance before the event helps to reinforce this is a work event and not a free vaca to SF (assuming that with the cable car comment).

      1. allathian*

        Well, they did decline the LW’s invitation to go shopping because they didn’t want to skip a session at the conference.

        Given the poor relationship between the LW and the manager of the junior attendees, I don’t think the LW would be an appropriate mentor for them anyway. I know I’m making assumptions here, but if the junior employees were aware of the troubled relationship between their manager and the LW, they might think it prudent to avoid the LW at the conference.

  62. Rachel*

    I think you sound significantly higher in the hierarchy than them.

    Some people really feel “on” with somebody higher than them in a way they don’t feel around peers. During a conference week when people feel “on” already, this compounds.

    It’s not that they were avoiding you, personally, but your position. There is an old saying “it’s lonely at the top” and I’ve found this to be true.

    This reframe might help you.

  63. Nancy*

    If my options at a work conference is to attend more conference and support a coworker’s friend, or go tourist shopping with a senior employee that I don’t even work with (from what it sounds like), I’m choosing the thing I was paid to do. And as a manager, I’d support my employee’s decision in that. They even offered an alternative by inviting you to dinner! Good for them. As for the car, my days of cramming people into a too small car are over, sounds like theirs are too. People can be weird about who pays what. Let all this go.

    The only thing I would want to hear about is the poster feedback and maybe talking over the other person.

    1. Emily*

      I can also see why one of them tried to pick up the tab, since they’re the ones who invited OP to dinner, and not the other way around. Because it is company policy that the most senior person pays, it was appropriate for OP to point this out and pick up the tab, but I can see why one of the others tried to.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        And if they’re new, they might have been legitimately confused about the policy (like assuming “oh, of course we can’t expense alcohol” or “there were no clients there, so of course we can’t expense the meal”). These things vary from company to company, after all.

        1. biobotb*

          Yes, just because the company has policies doesn’t mean they’ve been well communicated to everyone.

  64. Workerbee*

    Based on my own conference experience during different levels of my career –

    Instead of expecting everyone to keep hanging out with only the “work group,” I’d encourage everyone to branch out and meet other conference-goers. Simply greeting the person next to you at a presentation, or welcoming someone to sit down at your table at the always-crowded lunches, can lead to great conversations and result in great professional relationships as well as after-hours prospects (vendor dinners, etc.).

    When a Big Cheese boss started coming to one of the large industry conferences and expected lower level employees to stick with him like his own personal gaggle both during and after hours, I noped out of that so fast I don’t think he even saw the door move. :D I was there to expand my network, not keep it constrained.

  65. teensyslews*

    IMO what actually transpired (a single dinner where you travelled there separately) was the appropriate amount of socializing, and maybe what you should have suggested in the first place. A meal with a senior person of the company you don’t know well feels very commonplace for a conference. A shopping trip (with all the anxieties of spending money, do you split up or not, trying to make conversation) is too high-stakes. The fact that they didn’t know the policy is not unusual, many junior people don’t read the policy and their manager doesn’t make them aware.

    The fact that they were obnoxious when you were helping them network is annoying but more of a “file it in your memory banks” and less of a “this is a performance issue”. If their manager is good and that employee often talks over people, it will already be noted.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I really agree with the bit about the high stakes of the shopping trip. I don’t enjoy shopping, in most contexts. So it’s walking along and being patient while the other person shops. This person outranks me, and I’m skipping the conference my manager wanted me to attend, and I’m not sure who is going to be more mad at me for guessing wrong.

      I might be sincerely more interested in “Iguanas: Can You Even Groom Them?” on a personal level, before we even get into what I feel is the right professional choice when I am on the clock, and want my manager to send me to more industry conferences.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Yes, as a matter of fact. The spines frequently don’t shed cleanly and need to be soaked and have the old skin manually removed, and cleaning the feet/toes is important, too.

  66. Risha*

    LW, I’m not sure why you are saying they’re being exclusionary. If they didn’t want to hang out with you due to your race/gender/sexual orientation/religion, then I would agree with you a million percent. But not wanting to hang out with someone several levels above them is not being exclusionary. You don’t have to be friends with people you work with. Personally, I would’ve hung out with you, and I have done social things with people many levels above me. But not everyone feels comfortable doing that, and that’s ok.

    I don’t know why you would report them to their manager. Because they didn’t want to hang out with you? Employees aren’t obligated to fulfill their higher up’s social needs. If you want to address them talking over others, or the employee paying the bill despite the policy then by all means report that. But not because they didn’t want to go shopping or pile into a car.

    I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m sure you’re a great person. But the tone of this letter is just not sitting right with me. Please, just let it go.

  67. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    Alison, I’m curious, if you see this comment–do you write the headlines or do the LWs (like is it their email subject line?), or a mix? I think the headline today is influencing people’s view of the situation as personal rather than professional.

    1. MsM*

      I can’t speak for anyone else, let alone Alison, but most of the time I don’t even read the headlines, much less remember them by the time I’ve gotten down to the comments.

  68. Peanut Hamper*

    I wonder what is meant by “acted cagey”?

    I would act strangely too, if I ordered a steak thinking that it was on my tab, but then suddenly somebody very superior to me pays for the bill, and there I am thinking I should have ordered something much less costly.

  69. KellifromCanada*

    Sounds like the kids were excited about getting away from school for a couple of days and don’t want the teacher hanging around. Not good that they were rude to industry colleagues or did a poor job on the company’s posters, though. I wonder how mature they are and how long they’ll last.

  70. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    Here I thought based on the title that the others were going to have been exclusionary based on a protected class (race, religion, etc). Something where it was obvious they were excluding someone. Instead, they just didn’t want to spend time with the OP. Which is OK.

    I’m wondering, is this their first conference? Was OP expecting the others to seek them for guidance?

  71. Snarky McSnarkerson*

    LW, is there any type of preparation for these younger folks before a conference? If it were the first time I attended a conference, I would ask my manager what the expectations were for my attendance. I really think this is the root of the issue – your expectations did not match theirs. But if they’re never told the expectations, it’s not really on them. Unless I was told “you should take every chance to socialize with VP’s (or whatever),” I would certainly not make it a priority. Why would a VP want to have dinner with me? And with the shopping thing, I presume they would be shopping for souviners? Maybe they didn’t budget for that.

  72. badger*

    if these are new employees, are they younger/more junior than the LW? I have to assume they are (since the LW establishes their experience). It is kind of odd to feel so excluded by junior employees – I used to business travel with my team a lot and it was expected that the manager/more senior employee wouldn’t always join, kind of with the expectation that sometimes junior employees spend time together in a more casual setting and the presence of more senior employees often makes it a Less Casual Setting

  73. That wasn't me*

    Skipping shopping to attend a presentation? Even though only one is a friend of the presenter? Maybe the actually wanted to hear the presentation. Even if not directly applicable to what they are working NOW, they may have felt they might learn something that might be applicable in future, or provide context to their work. Or maybe the presenter’s buddy asked them to be sure and attend to bulk up the crowd – being supportive, you know! And that’s a good thing.

  74. ijustworkhere*

    I agree. Let it go. Especially since you’re several levels up–they probably feel a bit awkward about how to interact in an environment where the “rules of engagement” are somewhat unclear. It’s a conference yes, but a lot of these activities (eating out, having a drink together, shopping) can blur the lines between work and socializing.

  75. Turingtested*

    I could be misreading the situation but OP it sounds like you made a lot of effort and it was spurned which never feels good.

  76. mlem*

    “When they did come around for a mixer and I was trying to introduce them to some of the literal founders of our industry, the leader proceeded to talk over everyone, founders included.” I’m curious for more detail about this in particular. Was the leader holding court and snubbing the founders? Were they enthusiastically “overtalking”, which drives me around the bend but is a culturally associated communication style? Was one of the founders being offensive in some way? (This comes to mind because of a particular software “founder” I’ve heard of.) I just don’t really know how much of the cited behavior was callousness, inexperience, cultural clash, or purpose.

  77. Emily*

    I don’t understand junior people who don’t take the opportunity to network. Often it’s the most important part of the conference. When people know a lot about your company and industry and are willing to share, you should talk to them.

    That said, I would not invite coworkers to go shopping with me unless I already had a personal relationship with them and we were at a similar level. One dinner seems like an appropriate level of interaction here. Group interactions in general, I think, are less valuable than just putting out there that if anyone wants to talk you’d be happy to grab coffee with them.

    1. blue rose*

      It’s not entirely clear to me that the junior people weren’t taking the opportunity to network. It could be that they were networking at the conference, where there were people outside of their company. It’s just that they declined to network with the LW, who works at the same company (so there is already a concrete connection there). The networking just happened “offscreen,” as it were. After all, the world doesn’t pause when the LW looks away, then resume when the LW looks at it again.

      1. Emily*

        Maybe. But their dinner didn’t include anyone else beyond LW and their core group and they also failed to talk effectively to the people LW tried to introduce them to. Regardless, it was a general comment that goes beyond that specific group — I do not understand when junior people don’t take the opportunity to network.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          We also don’t know how many other meals they had, or who they had them with. (Maybe the friend who was giving that other presentation introduced them to people she worked with?) And it sounds like they had dinner with the LW because the LW suggested it, so I’m not gonna criticize them for having dinner with her.

      1. Ahnon4Thisss*

        Same here.

        To me its two options:
        1) “Network” with a senior colleague who seems to take minor social blunders personally through…. shopping?
        2) Network at a conference that directly deals with the topic of your work that you are being paid to be at

        Option 2 seems like the obvious choice to me.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t understand junior people who don’t take the opportunity to network. Often it’s the most important part of the conference. When people know a lot about your company and industry and are willing to share, you should talk to them.

      Except that a shopping trip isn’t that. Especially in the “touristy area of town.” There are soooooo many ways this is a potential problem that I’m kind of surprised that the OP is surprised they didn’t jump at the chance.

    3. MissElizaTudor*

      There are a variety of reasons (some) junior people don’t take the opportunity to network.

      For example, networking at a conference is a relatively difficult or high-stakes type of social interaction if you intend to do anything except stand there and smile and nod. That’s anxiety-provoking and exhausting for some people. Even just the smile-and-nod type can be difficult. Networking at the conference may simply not be worth it, especially if those same people don’t intend to stay at the company or in the industry, or if they just aren’t especially interested in moving up in their careers in any organized fashion.

      Honestly, leaving aside the stress of the interaction, junior people just may not be super invested in learning about their company and industry, especially if they know they’ll likely have to leave one or the other in 3-5 years to get a good raise or if they aren’t career-oriented. It still might be smarter to network than to skip it (building connections and learning are good even if you don’t plan on staying in the industry), but it may just not be worth the time and effort, even if the person doesn’t have any sort of social anxiety. Relaxing in your room or building relationships with people you already know might be more worthwhile.

    4. Nancy*

      Staying at the conference to hear more presentations and potentially talk to others in your industry (instead of going shopping with one person you already work with) is an excellent way to network.

  78. Catabouda*

    It’s an interesting mix. Every workplace website/guru tells you to get good at networking, but very few tell you what networking IS. It sounds to me like the newer colleagues missed some great opportunities – especially with the founders – but I can chalk that up to inexperience.

    But I have memories of being the junior person in the group and wanting to just be DONE for the day and not wanting to be on my best behavior (it can be exhausting) at yet another conference adjacent event with the big wigs, no matter how much it would help me later.

    At one conference I declined after dinner drinks. My supervisor ordered me to show up because the big big cheese was the one who asked all of us to go. I sucked it up, and big big cheese singled me out saying how happy she was I changed my mind and came after all. It was a lesson to me that sometimes the BBCs of the world notice little things like that and that it could be important in future interactions.

    Having said that, now more senior in my career, I don’t hold people to the same standards and don’t get bent out of shape if no one wants to socialize. Especially after COVID.

  79. e271828*

    LW, I understand why you’re irritated, but I’m going to say two things:

    1. You should be inviting your younger colleagues to dinner, and you should be doing the inviting and booking the table before the conference, to make clear that this is a work-related event. Shopping is an activity of highly variable appeal.

    2. If you don’t have concrete critique of the posters, that’s a really tough one to bring up with management. (Like: were they mumbly? too fast? sloppy? uninterested in their own material? bad posters, if bad in what way?) You didn’t attend any of your colleagues’ presentations. Does your company teach new employees how to do a poster presentation in the way that your profession and company standards expect? Is this a skill training and practice-run gap that should be addressed?

    1. That wasn't me*

      Is “posters” a word also used for “presenters” or “commentators?” ‘Cause I haven’t heard it used that way. – I thought “posters” here had to mean some graphic thing, displayed on a wall or easel. Or a person commenting on or adding to a blog/vlog. But I learn new stuff all the time here, so if it does have a different meaning, glad to be introduced to it.

      1. Orange You Glad*

        I’ve only heard it used in this context in the sciences – scientists create a poster of information and present it at a conference. I am not in the field (I’m in finance so our conferences are more lectures and networking) but I have some friends that work in biotech and attended these types of conferences as part of their PhD programs.

      2. NeedRain47*

        it’s not just science, it’s pretty much any field where research is happening, so anything academic as well. I’m a librarian and it’s very common to do poster presentations or display a poster at a conference.

      3. Sloanicota*

        In my field (environmental nonprofits) I think super-junior employees – more like interns – do posters on their scientific research for conferences and then share them at the breakout. There is a presentation element where people come to ask them questions. But in that context, it would mean these coworkers were waay more junior than I was picturing, to the level where it’s weird for OP to be annoyed with them for social faux pas.

      4. Oxford Comma*

        In academia, posters involve you putting the information about your research or project on a poster board and then standing there and talking about the research/project to attendees. It’s usually the precursor to you writing a paper in a journal. You get to talk to all kinds of people like other academics, higher ups at other institutions, sometimes journal editors.

        I have no idea what happens at a business conference for this sort of thing though.

      5. Falling Diphthong*

        Usually there would be a set period in which you formally presented the material on your poster to some sort of group, and the rest of the time it would be displayed for reference.

    2. BPT*

      Thank you, especially to your point #1. OP, the way to handle it, if you are the most senior person from your organization going to a conference, is not to send out a vague “let’s hang out” invitation through text and then expect them to do the planning for it and include you. The way you handle it, is to send an email, saying something like the following:

      Hi [group],

      I’m excited to see you all at [conference]. When we go to conferences, employees of [organization] usually grab dinner together one night to ensure we touch base. I’ve made reservations at XYZ on Monday at 7:00 – but let me know if that date and time doesn’t work for your schedules and we’ll find one that does. If you are unfamiliar with the conference, it may be beneficial for you to also attend ABC reception, and be sure to check out XYZ session. Let me know if you have any other questions!
      It shouldn’t be an expectation that they have dinner with you every night, and you should do the planning (and that makes it easier for them to know that you’ll be paying on your card as well).

  80. That wasn't me*

    Also, curious about “the posters were bad”? Did you mean actual posters, that hang on the wall? Were they amateurish and reflect badly on organization’s or companies professionalism. Unclear in giving directions? Misleading as to information? Offensive to some? Poor graphics? (Heavens! Did they use . . . comic Sans for the font?? Surely not!) Could this be a design decision where designers of a particular generation picked a style intended to be cute/ironic/eye-catching and it just doesn’t come cross well to older, or more established colleagues? Maybe it’s the wave of the future, baby! (Or did OP mean “posts” like, in a blog/vlog?)

    1. NeedRain47*

      OMG…. please look up what a professional poster presentation is before you try to give advice about it.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        These are not common is all professional industries…like the “posters” in mine would be created by marketing along with the powerpoint deck and I, the person there to represent the company and our work, would have nothing to do with them. We have no posters–except maybe something with a QR code.

        1. Happy*

          Okay…so those also aren’t common in your industry…but they are in many others. Maybe you and “That wasn’t me” should both take a step back here and let people who know more speak about it…?

    2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      Almost certainly literal paper posters that hang on the wall or stand on easels/boards.

      They’re a standard way some disciplines share research (academia/education and non-academic STEM and more) or advertise products and services, and involve both producing the actual physical poster according to the expectations of the field, and verbally presenting using the poster as visual reference for the verbal presentation. Question-answering and networking are expected to follow from the presentation. Think, like, the professional version of a kids’ science fair, if that’s a thing you’re familiar with.

      Some conferences offer an option to remotely present a virtual poster, which even then isn’t like a blog/vlog — it’s more often a high-resolution file of the physical poster, or rarely a brief slide deck like a Powerpoint equivalent, with the verbal presentation, Q&A and networking through a software that works similar to Zoom but is optimized for the immense scale and scheduling of a conference with dozens to thousands of poster presenters.

    3. lucanus cervus*

      Yes, actual posters on display, and yes, this is a thing, and no, it doesn’t mean they produced some kind of middle-school Comic Sans glitter glue effort. It’s OK not to be familiar, but maybe google ‘scientific poster’ or something before you try to give advice on it.

  81. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW – It sounds as if you were trying to be kind and act as a mentor during this conference. I am sorry that you are feeling that those efforts weren’t appreciated. I really do think much of the awkwardness is due to the power imbalance. When I was a junior employee attending conferences, I was uncomfortable enough being around my own boss and senior employees from my own department. I would have felt very uncomfortable around a senior employee who was not in my chain of command, especially if that senior employee invited me to non-conference events.

    As for trying to address specific behavior, I’d let it go. If you feel you must say something, I think you need to separate personal concerns from the professional concerns before taking any action.

    Professional concern #1 – Mentions of poor-quality presentations. This should be addressed with specific information and facts as to what was sub-par. I would present this as general feedback to my own manager.

    Professional concern #2 – One person behaving rudely towards other people. I’d leave this alone because they’re not in your chain of command, but, you could mention this to your boss or grandboss regarding development of soft skills for junior employees in general.

    Everything else described can be classified as personal concerns. Let them all go. I always tried to frame actions that felt like personal slights in a benign way. The bar tab? Maybe they were paying for drinks out of pocket because they didn’t want a bar tab on an expense report (and maybe they were told they wouldn’t be reimbursed for alcohol) and would split it later via Venmo or something. The rental car? Discomfort in squashing in a car with a senior employee…and they probably (reasonably) expected that you would have your own rental car. The shopping? If I were a newer employee, I wouldn’t skip a conference to go shopping. Please remember what it was like to be a junior person and look at everything through that lens.

  82. MH*

    There is nothing to be upset with here.

    I am a senior leader in our industry. I travel with junior employees to conferences often. I always make it a point to invite them out to dinner one night, and then as they go off and do their own thing, if they invite me at all, I decline. It’s too stressful as a junior person to always be “on” when a senior leader is around and they need down time too.

    Reporting this would be petty.

  83. Orange You Glad*

    I realize every industry is different so maybe there are certain norms in LWs field that we are not aware of, but I think the LW should rethink their expectations and their approach at future events with coworkers.

    It’s totally fine to reach out to let them know that you are there. Dinner with colleagues is a perfectly normal thing to do at conferences, especially ones you may not work with every day. If it were me, I would have reached out beforehand with a heads up I’m attending, maybe some conference advice if it’s warranted, and then invite them to a specific dinner event (1 not every night). As the senior person, take the initiative to set up a dinner for the group. But you also can’t be offended if someone has other plans and declines. Also, shopping is not something that I think is a reasonable ask – or one to get upset about. That is a social activity that isn’t a great way to network.

    The feedback about the networking event and their posters seems legitimate. I don’t think you need to formally complain to their manager, but if anyone asks you later how you think they performed at the event, you could mention your concerns about these areas only. These both sound like rookie mistake issues but nothing that they need to be reprimanded over.

  84. Anon for this*

    I just want to point out there is more than one right way to conference! LW has their way and these employees clearly have a different way.

    I am mid-career and started a new role recently. My boss has reprimanded me for not choosing conference activities correctly, not accompanying them to all events, and not committing to 15-hour days of meetings.

    I have my own professional goals in addition to organizational goals in attending conferences. I also am aware of my own physical and mental needs to do my very best work. LOTS of times my best work requires an early night in the hotel with TV, or a beer with former colleagues, or taking a walk by myself. My boss’s goals seem to be socializing with perceived VIPs and getting as much free food and wine as possible. I want to be trusted to do the work I came to do: network and learn in the way that works best for me. As a credentialed professional, I should be offered opportunities, but no one should dictate how I do my work if I’m meeting expectations.

    LW, please let these people do conferences their way and address poor work product as a different issue.

  85. 1-800-BrownCow*

    Just a few thoughts for consideration…

    1. You mention being the most senior position on the team. When I’ve traveled to conferences/trade shows early in my career as entry level or lower level employee, I did not expect at all to be doing stuff outside the conference with a senior staff level person. Often times they have business dinners/meetings for people in senior management, especially with customers or clients, to discuss information that I may not be privy to in my role. And throughout my 20+ year career, upper management does not mingle with lower level employees outside of work unless company sponsored events. Now if you’re traveling together specifically to visit a customer, that was one thing, but general conferences and trade shows, it’s different. To me it sounds like they were being polite by taking you up on the offer to do dinner one night, but likely didn’t want to mingle with an upper manager/sr. staff member throughout the whole trip. There’s a bit of expectation of being on your best behavior when mingling with upper management since they can have some influence on job promotions and project assignments and such. I’d feel like I’d have to be on-game professional the whole time, rather than relaxed with my colleagues I interact with daily and likely know me on a more casual level.

    2. As for the car situation, as a thin, tall person, the last thing I want is to squeeze in a vehicle with 4 other coworkers unless there’s ample room, like 3rd row seating. First off, while I’m fairly thin, I have long legs and I loathe riding in the backseat of smaller vehicles. My legs are so uncomfortable and cramped. And as a female in a male dominant field, I often find the men automatically take the front seats and I’m often stuck in the back. Even when riding in a vehicle with men shorter than me. Recently a former colleague came by my work on his day off and wanted to go to lunch with his former team, me included. And he wanted us all to ride in his brand new jeep, saying there was plenty of room for all 5 of us. My larger coworker sat up front in the passenger seat and myself and 2 other tall, thin male colleagues were in back with me. For the record, I’m the team manager of the rest of the group and it was awkward squeezing in the back seat with the 3 of us trying to not touch each other. I’m just thankful the car ride was only 5 minutes, because I was not the least bit comfortable.

    3. As for speaking over the industry leader, I agree it’s a bit rude, but not a situation I would complain to a manager about. Especially if the colleague didn’t say something inappropriate or way out of line. I’ve come across my fair share of young professionals who’s behavior in situations like that are a bit questionable and I hope as they mature, they’ll learn and improve. One particular situation I remember was for a project we were working on with a customer and there was an issue we’d been trying to work through and resolve for the customer. Since it wasn’t a huge issue, they decided to send a couple of their recent college grad employees to work on the project with us and learn more about what we were doing. We took them out to dinner the one night and our one director (senior management) joined us. During dinner, the one young customer employee mentioned he had a college friend who grew up in the small city where we were having dinner, close to our company site. The employee himself was from a few states away where the customer is located and so employee’s only knowledge of the area was from what his college friend had told him. He proceeded to tell us his college friend had called this small city, the “armpit of ‘the state'” and laughed about how much he agreed with his friend now that he had spent 2 days in the area. While I didn’t grow up anywhere near the city, I actually find it a beautiful and lovely city. And the director that was with us for dinner grew up and currently lived in the suburbs of this same city. We listened to the customer drone on and on about everything terrible he heard about the city and the people who grew up there, it was very cringe-worthy. I couldn’t help to think the whole time he was talking, this is what NOT to do as a professional representative of your company. I don’t know where this employee is now, but I do hope he’s matured and learned to better communicate in professional settings. As for our director, he just brushed it off. But talking about it after the customer employees went back to their location, he did say he thought it was not the most professional thing to say to essentially strangers during a business dinner.

  86. Pretty as a Princess*

    I’ve read lots of these replies and I found the thing with the posters to be really telling. To me it is far more interesting than the dinner or the expense receipts.

    First of all, the LW tossed this in as an aside: these kids should have spent more time with me and also I heard their posters weren’t great.

    Spending some time with this:
    – the reference to one definite objective professional thing about the business of the conference was tossed in by the LW as a complete aside, sort of like “here’s the sprinkles on top!”
    – If the LW is really concerned about professionalism, this would actually be a place to start with some good appropriate feedback.
    – BUT….

    The LW did NOT say “I attended some of their presentations and found them weak/ill-prepared/whatever.” The LW said that *other* people made this comment. Which to me says that the LW did not attend ANY of the sessions for these junior colleagues. My spidey sense says:
    – The LW really seems hurt they did not get the social red carpet, when they themselves did not engage in *professional* interest in the junior staff, which was actually the purpose of the conference! Flip it around and think about the junior people “BigBoss seemed to really want to go to dinner and shopping with us but didn’t come to any of our presentations.”
    – I could give the LW the benefit of the doubt and assume they might be in an org like me: I am a director. If my peer is someone’s grand-boss, then the someone is two levels deep in the organization doing technical work that is far outside of my specialty. I am not familiar with the work or the people and I am at the conference paying attention to OTHER things that are in line with my expertise.
    — but if that’s the case, these are juniors in the org that I absolutely don’t know. I might have checked for their photos on the intranet so I could say hello at the event. I might have written the group beforehand and said hey, if anyone would like to get together, I am happy to host a dinner. But I would not expect the level of constant togetherness and responsiveness this LW seems to expect from people he is so disinterested in (for whatever reason) that they don’t attend the presentation from their junior coworker. I would certainly not be inviting them to *leave the conference to go shopping*. I would be encouraging them to get all they could out of the conference experience.

    So that leaves me with LW has exactly two legitimate pieces of feedback to offer, if they so choose:
    – Junior colleague A was enthusiastic at the mixer about meeting industry leaders, but still needs some mentoring about handling networking conversations
    – “I did not attend any of their presentations, but someone from ABC approached me and indicated they were not quite up to what we would normally offer at this event.”
    – But the LW should ALSO say that the juniors seemed really interested in and engaged about the sessions at the event – because they WERE.

    1. erdybirdy*

      I love this and completely agree! As someone who has been junior at conferences in the last 10 years, there is a major component of being seen by others as being engaged, attending sessions, and generally taking it seriously. Going to presentations to support your friends and teammates is A Thing You Do. Yes, you do need to be polite and accept a dinner and introductions from senior colleagues, but it’s a whole lot more about making an appearance and cosplaying as a professional than being sparkling and calculating about future career impact.

      There is a privilege to being senior at conferences, where you know everyone and have the capital to take off and shop during the afternoon workshops or go to the pub district during the poster presentations (true story!).

    2. AngryOctopus*

      So I’m assuming from how LW phrased it that the posters themselves were fine, but that the staff struggled in some of the presentation of it. But these are apparently all new employees! New employees already expected to give poster presentations at a conference! It’s more than likely that they felt pretty good about aspects A&B of the poster, and less good but had a grasp on C&D. But if someone starts asking about D and then goes down the road into Specialty Subgroup D.1, which the person isn’t familiar with, I can see that person asking walking away thinking to themselves “ugh, that person knew NOTHING about their poster”. It can be hard to say “oh, I’m pretty new to D so I don’t know Nuance D.1, I could have Author L email you if you like” when you’re a junior person. And yes, I’ve been around enough poster presentations to know that there’s ALWAYS a conference supply of “that guy” (gender not actually defined by ‘guy’) who gets way more in depth in some aspect than you’re prepared to go, or asks “why didn’t you do [thing I like to do]??”. It’s a learned skill to deal with them!

    3. Crocodilasaurus*

      “The LW did NOT say “I attended some of their presentations and found them weak/ill-prepared/whatever.” The LW said that *other* people made this comment. Which to me says that the LW did not attend ANY of the sessions for these junior colleagues. ”

      Thank you for pointing that out. A great way for a senior person to support junior/new people is to attend their presentations/poster sessions–and then give feedback *to the people* later on what was great/what needed improvement. I also noticed on this note that the new people *were* supporting their colleague this way–they all went to that person’s presentation.

      I don’t want to be completely harsh to LW. Introducing the new people to the founders of the field was a nice gesture, and I’m sorry that didn’t go well.

    4. Spencer Hastings*

      Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that, but the thing about not attending the poster session is a great point. It’s possible that the LW had something else to do at that time, but in my experience, poster sessions are pretty big and not scheduled opposite a lot of other stuff, precisely so that people can go to them.

    5. Engineery*

      I’m glad someone else with experience in this situation recognizes how *weird* this letter is.

      Unlike you, I’m still in a highly technical role, and I’m experienced enough I can engage at a high level on topics outside my expertise. I feel this gives me a professional obligation to attend sessions by junior engineers and scientists I have connections with, to support and encourage them, as much as my schedule permits. If I have any advice, I provide it to them, not to their superiors! And I can’t imagine offering advice on how to improve a presentation I couldn’t be bothered to attend!

      I’m also side-eying the claim that “other people” complained about a poster presentation. Poster presentations are incredibly low-stakes, and even award winning posters are pretty forgettable IME. I just don’t see how anyone would care enough to say anything unless the poster presentation was not just bad, but bad in a remarkable and entertaining way.

  87. ShroomTaDa*

    They sound like they performed pretty poorly. If you were on good terms with their manager, it would be a no brainer to mention the poster feedback and over talking at meetings. Since you are on good terms with their managers’ manager, I’d still drop a note. But a very short – hey, some feedback on your team. I observed X and Y, and thought it could be helpful for their manager to know. And then let it go.

  88. pally*

    Thought it was lovely that all attended the event where the one’s friend presented. Bet that presenter felt supported!
    Maybe they do know how to conference. Just not the way one might expect.

  89. AnonAcademicLibrarian*

    You sound like you really wanted to help these junior employees and give them an opportunity to meet folks. Your instincts about trying to facilitate networking were kind. What you seem to be missing in all this, OP, is the power imbalance. It’s super hard to remember, when you’re senior, that you are intimidating to those who are newer. When I was new, I would have never sought out someone so senior, because I would have been intimidated by them. I would have never taken up an offer to go shopping, because I wouldn’t want them to think I wasn’t totally engaged in the conference. As someone with a low social battery, I need to rest a lot to get through a conference, but when I was younger I would avoid saying so, because I thought I would be judged negatively by people. Now, the issue with their posters is a real thing and I would look into that, but I’d let the rest go. They’re new. You’re a big scary expert who knows their boss! And while I’m sure you don’t see yourself that way, junior employees might.

  90. The Geek*

    Q. I kept trying to join junior colleagues for social events at a conference, and on the one occasion when they agreed I lectured them about company policy on expenses. After that they didn’t want to socialise with me. What did I do wrong?

    A. Everything.

  91. Young Business*

    I would definitely turn down an invitation to go shopping from a senior colleague, even if the conference programming was on the lighter side. Not to pile on, but it would strike me as an odd ask. Why not gather the group for something more accessible, like a coffee or lunch before or in-between? Or ask which sessions people are attending and offer to meet them afterwards?

    Lots of people want time to themselves to unwind and don’t necessarily want to be “on”, especially with a senior colleague.

    It was good for OP to initiate with “I’d like to get together at some point for dinner, etc.” but it’s sort of an open-ended ask, especially for junior employees who might be shy to assert themselves. A specific invitation with a planned date and time is much easier to agree or disagree on.

    As for poster presentations, it sounds like you’re in academia and these employees were presenting their research? Unless they were legitimately disengaged, it would be a kindness to pass on the feedback and perhaps offer to work with them to improve.

    My partner was in academia and he wasn’t automatically an amazing presenter, he improved over the years with coaching, guidance, and lots of practice. Also, I’m pretty sure that as a junior member of a lab, his supervisor wasn’t clamouring to hang out with him, lol. I think that dynamic is very similar and so no one expects the senior figure to ask for a shopping buddy.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      In my read, I found “I’d like to get together at some point for dinner, etc” to be a read-between-the-lines requirement of socializing with the OP. Further, that the OP not only expected a response but also expected the juniors to choose the Thing and set it up. I’d have feigned not knowing it was meant for me and ignored it as well. And then at dinner, I’d have avoided any opportunity to make prolonged eye contact with OP just to head off any probing. I actually find that perhaps it is the OP who needs a bit of social grace.

      1. Young Business*

        Good point on the read between the lines requirement to socialize! Thank you for articulating that so well.

        I would also be awkward and not respond. Then I would spend my time not understanding why a person senior to me couldn’t just plan and execute if the dinner meant so much to them. And usually if a senior person is going to pick up the bill due to company policy, they will probably choose a place that’s in line with whatever per diem or team budget they have for these types of outings.

    2. Pretty as a Princess*

      “It was good for OP to initiate with “I’d like to get together at some point for dinner, etc.” but it’s sort of an open-ended ask, especially for junior employees who might be shy to assert themselves. A specific invitation with a planned date and time is much easier to agree or disagree on.”

      YES. I have been at my workplace for 20 years in various roles. 10 years ago if the CTO or my grandboss’s peer had said to me “I’d like to get together for dinner at some point” I would not have dared to just text him (so informal and I feel presumes some level of relationship where you are on texting terms) and invite him to dinner. Nor would I have realized he somehow had an expectation that meant I would organize a group dinner and invite him. Invitations don’t flow that way to high level execs. You reply to invitations from the senior person or their admin, because their schedules are usually tightest.

      Now? I work with the CTO and those other high level executives every day. I’m a director. I’ll text the CTO to meet in the hotel bar for a pizza to discuss a talk we attended. I would never have dared to presume to do something like that when I was young and inexperienced. I have relationships with the C-level myself now so it’s an entirely different level of comfort & comms.

      1. Young Business*

        Yes, so well put and thanks for sharing your experience. It’s quite a stretch to believe a group of junior employees are going to feel comfortable enough to text back a senior figure with an invitation.

  92. H.Regalis*

    Being rejected sucks. It hurts. It’s okay in your heart of hearts to think these people are a bunch of stupid jerks and fuck them for not wanting to hang out with you. But don’t use your power at this company to punish people because they didn’t want to hang out with you socially.

  93. JelloStapler*

    They may have been intimidated and wanted to relax outside of the conference itself, and not be on their utmost best formal behavior. Also, they may not have the cash flow to go shopping so they thought of a nice excuse.

    Also, if you are in the habit of pointing out errors or being particular, and if you have an (unfair or not) reputation as such at the company, they may not have wanted to interact very much.

    I don’t always want to be social with people I don’t know well at conferences, especially if I am already drained. There are people at my job that I think highly of but would probably not jump to hang out with during an out-of-town thing.

  94. Juggling Plunger*

    Introvert here. Is it possible that you have very different ideas of what junior employees should be accomplishing at a conference and/or that you’re expecting that everyone just knows how to do it?

    I know that I’m not great at networking and have only been to a small handful of conferences, but I’ve found that extroverted higher ups often expect me to just know how to network all the time, and expect results from this networking that seem – to me – to be magical thinking. I can think of precisely zero instances where my own work has been impacted by connections that I lot a coworker made at a conference. Could the junior people be feeling this as well? If so, maybe your organization should be more intentional about how it approaches sending people to conferences. I know that I’d benefit from something like that.

  95. Dinwar*

    The only actionable things I see in the letter are rudeness and poor poster presentations. For the rudeness, it may be worth coaching the person on how to act around bigwigs. People get nervous and act weird when they meet people like that, and it takes time to learn how to channel that energy into something useful. Regarding the posters, it may be worth pulling the members of the team aside individually and saying “I’ve got some feedback on your poster presentations I’d like to discuss with you.” Let their boss know first.

    And the tab thing is a quick, friendly conversation. “I really appreciate what you were trying to do, but company policy ties my hands in this sort of situation.” It’s an honest error of knowledge, and appears to be based on an attempt to be polite–and thus something that should be easy to correct.

    As for the rest, welcome to management. The nature of hierarchy demands that you be separated from those below and above you in the org chart and thus excluded from their activities, at least to a certain extent. There are any number of letters on this blog that show that doing otherwise can create conflicts of interest–even former associations can create an apparent conflict of interests, as shown by a letter today. And it really doesn’t matter what your personality is: by virtue of being of higher rank than them you have power over their careers, and that makes every interaction with you an interview. I wouldn’t like the idea that me purchasing the wrong thing at a vacationy store, or not purchasing the right thing, would have a negative impact on my job. The stuff I already have to have to do some parts of my job is bad enough… And you can’t honestly say you wouldn’t do that, because you’re already considering doing the equivalent in the letter. To be clear, I’m not saying you’re right, wrong, or indifferent; I’m saying that you yourself illustrate the point, that the attitude in this letter is precisely why people will, quite rationally, be fairly cautious about when they associate with their boss after hours.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, and even with the poster presentations, the LW has absolutely no standing critiquing them because they didn’t attend the presentations and have no first hand knowledge. If they said anything, they’d be repeating rumors.

  96. Hell in a Handbasket*

    I wonder if the answer would have been different if the LW had left out all the stuff about their personal interactions, and focused on (1) rudeness to the founders, and (2) poor poster quality. To me, those pieces do potentially warrant follow-up with their manager. And that seems to be what the LW is saying, at the end. But I think the inclusion of the other stuff is hurting the LW’s case by making it look like a more personal grievance.

    1. blue rose*

      The LW put that other stuff in, so it is relevant inasmuch as the LW needs perspective on the situation. If the LW thinks the personal stuff is on the same level as the rudeness to outside-the-company people and bad poster deliveries, that’s what advice needs to respond to in order to be useful to the LW.

    2. L-squared*

      The problem with the poster is that OP never actually saw it, so she can’t actually give fair criticism, because its 2nd hand.

      I guess the rudeness could be addressed. I don’t know that it needs to be, but could be.

      But you can’t take out all that other stuff, because part of me feels like she wouldn’t be writing in if she already didn’t feel personally snubbed by them.

  97. Lady_Lessa*

    Another thing about when the younger folks were meeting the founders. Did they know whom they were talking to? OR were the founders just introduced as Dr. R, where all of the more experienced people knew that Dr. R. was one of the founders of the area.

    That’s like me talking about P.D.Q. Bach to someone who doesn’t know that it is a pseudonym and a humorous take on classical music.

  98. RedinSC*

    I suspect this has already been said, but LW, if you’re several rungs up the ladder from these folks and you manage staff of your own, they just might not have felt comfortable hanging around “the MAN”. Management that is. A lot of younger staff don’t really know how to socialize with someone who manages people who would manage them. They might have felt that they’d have to be on their best behavior at all times.

  99. Broadway Duchess*

    I’m getting the impression that OP is not necessarily higher on the org chart, just that they’ve been at this company for 8 of their 16 years in the industry. OP describes the employees as new, but that could be new to the company. I get the sense that OP wants to be “the senior” in the room and it’s coming off strangely to people who may not need mentorship.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I’m a people manager several levels higher than them

      They sound pretty definitively higher up.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        I definitively missed that part!

        Still, I’m not quite certain of the hierarchy here. If OP was their manager, I think it wouldve been mentioned. This just seems a bit like looking for a professional way to get validation for hurt feelings.

        I will admit that I’m biased here. My first conference for my current company was a but like this. I had 10 years of experience on one side of the industry (say, Llama grooming vs. Llama accounts) and 4 on another. I was new to the company, but not the industry. I attended with 5 other people who were at various levels in our company. My director pretty much did a morning check-in at the hotel and let us roam freely, but a project manager from a different busineas unit kept trying to mentor me. Like, reminding me to get to registration at a time listed in my conference documents, asking me if I remembered my badge, telling me it what was okay to order at this swanky restaurant. I could understand it if I were 22 but I was 36! And I’d been to the conference before, just with a different company. Two other people commented on the weird attention I was given and it didn’t stop until my director gave a puzzled look when the PM asked me if I knew how to sign up for an afternoon session and told her I’d attended twice before. Later, my director said the PM was new to the role and probably pegged me because the other attendees had worked for the company longer and I was the newbie.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          My biggest question on this one is what’s the LW’s actual connection to the employees. They definitely have a different manager from them, but it’s not clear if they’re even in the same chain of command (I get the impression they aren’t).

          It doesn’t sound to me like the LW actually works with the 4 new hires, so I could see why the new hires might have been a bit confused by why the LW was trying to be so involved, especially if the new hires’ manager didn’t say that the LW would be there in a mentoring role.

  100. Irish Teacher*

    I think the fact that you are “several levels higher than them” is relevant here. They may be uncomfortable around you, feeling that it’s a bit like having the teacher joining them, if that makes sense.

    And if they are all of a similar level, all relatively new and on the same team, then it makes sense that they would feel more comfortable with each other than with you. If all five of you were on the same team and all at the same level of senority, I’d be more likely to see exclusion here, but this seems more like four people who know each other well hanging out and one person who just doesn’t have any of their own team to socialise with.

    Especially given that they are new and you are several levels higher than them. When I start work in a school, I would be quite uncomfortable hanging out with the principal. I know a couple of times, the principal sat at the same table as me or something when I was a new teacher and it was very awkward and I really felt I had to be making a good impression the whole time. I don’t know how the hierarchy of the LW’s company works but when you are new, anybody significantly up the hierarchy is likely seen as somebody who must be impressed and who you can’t be yourself around.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      I would also expect all of them to attend the conference when one of them is presenting. It’s sort of a big deal to present when you are newish and I would think it kind of weird if people who worked closely with them didn’t even show up to support.

      Plus, while you are experienced and know what is worth going to and what isn’t, as newer people, it makes sense that they would be more reluctant to skip anything, thinking it would look bad. But particularly if it was one of them presenting. Not sure if it was one of them or a friend of one of them. Even in the latter case, I still wouldn’t take it personally that the others didn’t decide to join you. It’s far more likely it’s about worrying that they’ll be judged for not attending than because they don’t enjoy your company. If one of them was presenting, I would think it pretty rude if the others didn’t support them by being there.

  101. Sorry, still haven't picked a clever username*

    I do feel some sympathy for LW. It sucks to feel excluded and probably the other employees could have been more gracious in some of the situations. There may well be some clique-ishness involved and that’s unpleasant to be on the receiving end of. That being said, I view the official conference hours as work time that my company has a right to, but my evenings at conferences I see as my own (unless there’s an official conference event in the evening as well, of course). I want to do a little sightseeing, or take a dip in the hotel pool, or bring a book to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I’m not likely to run into colleagues. I definitely do not want to spend my evenings talking about work with a colleague I could talk to in the office literally any time. Let people have their alone time at conferences! It’s our reward for sitting through all the more tedious parts. ;)

  102. GarlicMicrowaver*

    OP seems to be hung up on the fact that they are up in the hierarchy and therefore feels entitled to the junior colleagues’ time and participation. While there was stuff on both sides, none of this is a big deal at all. But maybe some things to think about:
    1. If OP is insistent on inclusive activities during work trips, maybe they should engage the company/department/division/whatever in a poll asking for ideas for a DEI friendly activity.
    2. Definitely get more intel and raise the poster issue. Make sure this isn’t just a pile-on from frustration.
    3. OP: Opportunity for personal growth.

    1. allathian*

      The poster issue is irrelevant because the LW didn’t attend the seminars. Second-hand knowledge doesn’t help here.

      1. GarlicMicrowaver*

        Hence why I said get more intel. Could be relayed as feedback- completely within professional norms. Delivery is key.

  103. Dido*

    OP sounds way too uptight. These sound like junior employees who work together often, so it’s not surprising that they are friends and want to spend their very limited free time at a multi-day conference together and not with a very senior employee they barely know – they’d have to be “on” all the time and not really get a chance to relax. It’s also completely unreasonable to expect that they would drive you along in a sedan that already had 4 other grown adults in it. I used to have to sit in the backseat of a sedan with my two brothers when we were children and even then it was uncomfortable. Were you going to be the one to volunteer squeeze between two coworkers in the backseat?

    1. LJ*

      Yeah the backseat thing… I’m sure everyone involved is a lovely human being, but no one wants to be squished in like that with their coworkers, especially not a much more senior one. It goes along with the illusion that your coworkers don’t have bodily functions and such

  104. Humble Schoolmarm*

    Honestly, LW, I have been there (I’m a slightly awkward introvert so I’ve been there a lot, actually). It’s hard to feel like the odd one out and I think it’s easy to get hypersensitive to this kind of thing if you’ve a) been in similar situations before or b) had to deal with a week of snubs or what feel like snubs. The trouble is, that there’s a range of explanations from the completely understandable, (they had other things on the go, they needed recharge time), to not great, but pretty typical behaviour (they have a pre-existing social connection and prioritized that over networking opportunities), to being jerks (cool kids vibe). Unfortunately, it’s really hard to tease out what’s motivating the behaviour, especially since you are on a higher level, which probably interferes with what you seem to have been looking for, a colleague home base to socialize with.
    What should you do? Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much you can do, even with that “Nobody likes me. Why am I being excluded?” shiver up your back. Reporting them isn’t going to create the connections you wanted and may cost you a bunch of social capital with future attendees if word of your complaints gets uoutp. I think you just need to keep your chin up and maybe see if there’s a friendly peer in your department that can attend next time.

  105. Tommy Girl*

    I’m with the letter writer – I think those new employees were cliquey jerks. The fact that NONE of them responded to her trying to plan something beforehand – very rude. Then excluding her from the car, also very rude.

    In my experience (and it sounds like the LW’s too), when you’re travelling with your coworkers to a conference, you become a unit that looks out for each other with respect to plans, travel arrangements, etc. These new employees weren’t doing that. They were acting that way with each other, and deliberately excluding LW as much as they could get away with. I would definitely tell their manager, and include that their posters were really bad, to the point people were talking about them. Go get ’em LW.

    1. LJ*

      Maybe it’s a cultural thing (one step removed from the stories of sharing hotel rooms on work trips)… I’ve certainly traveled to places with colleagues where everyone got their own rental cars and there was no expectation of sticking together all evening / all the off hours. Rest and catch up on work in the hotel room is a typical “excuse” to step away for the day

    2. Worldwalker*

      We don’t know the gender of the OP.

      The OP did not travel with the junior employees to the conference — the juniors arrived a day later. So they weren’t a unit. And they don’t appear to be on the same team at work, either, so they may not actually have known each other beforehand. (certainly not well … that several levels above thing really gets in the way there) They were acting like that with each other because they *were* a group — the only connection the OP had with them was working for the same company.

      The initial text was just informational … “I’m going to be at the conference for such-and-such days, etc.” If I was the recipient, I would have expected a follow-up with an invitation to dinner. I wouldn’t guess that I was expected to plan an event and invite a high-level manager I probably don’t even know.

      And given that the OP did not actually attend the juniors’ sessions, it’s unclear how bad the posters actually were. “Really bad”? Probably not. Bad enough for someone to mention it to a manager from the same company? Maybe. Or the OP could have been annoyed with them and gone fishing … “did you think anything was wrong with their posters?” … until an obliging person came up with something. It could be any of those, or a variant on them. The fact that the OP went shopping instead of attending their sessions seems to preclude actually knowing.

      1. allathian*

        I think that if the LW had been genuinely interested in mentoring the employees, they would’ve attended the poster presentations. That way they would’ve been able to judge their quality first hand. As it is, any complaints about poster quality are second hand knowledge, and given the poor relationship between the LW and the manager of the junior employees, I doubt it would be worth raising that issue.

        But yeah, the LW lost me when they wanted the juniors to skip some sessions at the conference and go shopping with them instead. I’m imagining them returning from the conference and the manager asking the juniors how it went, and them going “We had a great time doing our presentation and seeing other presentations, networking and spending time together more informally. But it got a bit weird later when LW wanted us to skip a part of the conference to join them on a shopping trip…” I don’t think the manager would necessarily wait to hear anything more before getting upset with the LW…

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Does it really meet the bar for telling their manager though? I would feel the bar for needing to report somebody would be that it caused a work problem or needs to be addressed because it is making the LW or others unhappy at work and is likely to continue in the future (workplace bullying, racism, etc would fall into this category) or there is something that the manager would be annoyed to hear you didn’t tell them if they found out later.

      With the possible exception of the bad posters, which might be a work problem that needs to be addressed, I don’t see why the manager needs to know about the rest.

      Honestly, as the manager, I’d be pleased that my employees attended the conference rather than going shopping and the rest might have me thinking, “oh, that sounds annoying for you” or maybe, “oh, maybe I should have explained the etiquette of conferences in a bit more detail to them,” but I wouldn’t feel, “oh, I’m really glad you told me about that.”

      Telling a manager isn’t about “getting” somebody. It’s about ensuring the manager has the information needed to improve the work results.

  106. Anonosaurus*

    i think you need to ask yourself why you are hurt by this behavior (because I think that’s what underpins all the why didn’t they take up these opportunities stuff). The reality is that junior coworkers generally don’t want to hang out with senior ones even at conferences. I do get this as I’ve been excluded from social invitations at work and it can feel personal. My preference is to be invited but decline (or go along, buy one round, then leave) because they need to be able to complain about senior management and/or get drunk without worrying about their careers and I need to get home, unhook my bra and lie down in a darkened room. it’s just the cycle of life and if you want to pass on your experience, maybe a formal mentoring program is the way to go.

  107. ConferencesArentForShopping*

    If I was at a conference and someone wanted me to skip out on it to go shopping I’d be annoyed and also wonder why that person thought it was a good idea to skip out to go shopping. I might find it strange enough that I’d tell my boss person X was slacking off at the conference. I do expect dinner to be conference-centruc each night, either informally or formally so a dinner invitation one evening would have made sense.

  108. Pajamas on Bananas*

    People are really piling on LW. I actually think it’s problematic for four people to consistently exclude one other person EVERY DAY, regardless of the power dynamic. Inclusion should be the default until an individual proves otherwise. That being said unless it was based on a protected class or there was harassment or hostility, it’s information for your future decisions, not something to report.
    By future decisions I mean: will you travel with them again, and how will you approach after-hours.

    If you will travel with them again you can choose to be busy every day. Otherwise you can follow what others have already advised. Have a concrete plan, and meet to discuss the plan beforehand.

    I agree with some comments that point out all the reasons shopping was a problematic suggestion. Group outings should stick to meals and MAYBE sites.

    1. Worldwalker*

      “Upper management” is not a protected class. Also, they did not travel together — the OP travelled earlier, and they met up at the conference. The only thing they apparently had in common was working for the same company. On that basis alone, the OP expected the juniors, who wanted to attend conference sessions, to accompany them shopping, to plan events and invite them, and, apparently, for one of them to take an Uber so the OP could travel in the car they had rented instead.

    2. Tesuji*

      I think most people are finding it easier to sympathize with the junior employees than with the LW.

      The vibe of “I’m several levels senior to these people (though not actually anyone’s boss), but they refused to cut out of the conference the company sent them to attend to go shopping with me. Should I try to get them in trouble?” has so many red flags that it’s kind of hard to give her the benefit of the doubt.

      I mean, if *this* is the most sympathetic version she can come up with for what happened, I can’t imagine what the peons’ version was.

    3. LJ*

      The LW has the power here. Imagine an alternate universe where their message to the junior coworkers was “I’ll be at the conference on X dates and I’d love to get dinner with all of you and get to know everyone better. Does Wednesday work for everyone?”, then LW picks the venue – an appropriate business restaurant, pays for the right level of food and alcohol for their expenses, and duck out to leave the juniors to have a drink by themselves afterwards. Imagine how much less stress and guesswork that would have been for all involved.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      I think it is very understandable that the LW was hurt by this.

      To be honest, I have sympathy for both groups. It is highly likely the junior employees didn’t really think that the LW would want to be included. Most of the situations sound less like deliberate exclusion and more like what tends to happen at work. They probably thought she was just being nice by asking them to go shopping and didn’t really want them along, plus, they had the conference. Same with paying for the meal. That was almost certainly an “oh, we don’t mind. We don’t expect you to pay for everything,” rather than any kind of snub.

      I do think they made some missteps, not answering her texts, talking over everybody and possibly the posters. I think the LW might have made a misstep too, by inviting them to go shopping during the conference. Even if she knew that day wasn’t important, junior employees might not and if one of them was presenting (not sure if it’s one of the four, a friend of the other three or a friend of one of them from another company), then it could sound a bit rude to them, “ignore your colleague’s presentation and come shopping with me instead.”

      But mostly, it just seems like one of those situations that is a bit awkward for everybody, one person at a very different level than the others. I agree they didn’t handle it the best, but it’s possible they are pretty early in their careers and may still be thinking in terms of her being “the lecturer” rather than part of the group.

      I think a lot of people are responding to the “should I tell their manager?” part which makes it sound like the LW wants to get them in trouble. This probably isn’t the truth. She may well just think that their manager should explain the etiquette of conferences to them so this doesn’t happen again to somebody else, but it is easy to read that way. Especially as she has the power here and probably could mention minor things herself. (Though I know stuff like “you shouldn’t leave me out” could come across a bit awkwardly.)

    5. L-squared*

      I feel like people use the term exclusion far too much. This wasn’t it.

      They went to dinner with her one night. But they aren’t required to hang out with her every night just because that may be what she prefers. One person did respond to her texts.

    6. Boof*

      I mean, the consensus is that LW is senior management and expecting to do so much socializing with junior employees is kind of a lot. LW offered to rub elbows, if junior employees didn’t take the opportunity, shrug and move on as their loss. Trying to “do something” about it is kinda weird. I don’t think a consistent group consensus = pile on, even if it probably feels that way (a few people are harsh, a lot of people are sympathetic but still on side “leave it alone”).

  109. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    Could it be about your seniority? Perhaps they were spending time with each other as peers. It changes the dynamic if a more senior person joins.

    Also, if you’re all doing things like shopping and dinner, it sounds like it could have been a bit of a grey area as to whether you’re working (and expected to put in time with senior colleagues), or not (and therefore just spending time with the people they choose).

  110. Sneaky Squirrel*

    The only thing that I would consider speaking about is the poster deliveries and that message would be more generalized to the person who is responsible for conference planning. “I got some feedback that our company’s poster deliveries weren’t up to par this year”.

    All of the rest, well, maybe they were rude and exclusionary; but I don’t think it’s worth mentioning. If they are all peers on the same team, it could just be that they’re more comfortable with each other and less comfortable with someone who is not in their direct managerial line and more senior with them. The rest could be a sign of inexperience.

  111. WhosThis?*

    Perhaps the junior staff were a bit cagey of spending extra time with you because of this exact reason, in that you might be judging their behavior or actions for and then possibly mull over whether to tell their managers. Not all junior associates or scientists will attend a conference or approach career growth in the Way You See Fit. Further to the posters, that’s more the fault/choice of their own team and manager(s), who would be responsible for reviewing the material. If you werent consulted for pre-review, you should let it go unless someone specifically asks you for feedback. I get that it’s tough but there are bigger worries to be had. You enjoyed a productive and successful conference (and maybe the junior colleagues did too!) and that’s what matters.
    For future events, maybe you could be more specific and helpful to junior colleagues and simply send a message that you’d be happy to take the team out for dinner on X date and time of people are available, and that you’re happy to make introductions to certain people at X mixer event if someone wants it. That way it’s not an ambiguous back and forth and it provides clear opportunity for you to help and appreciate junior colleagues with clear boundaries and expectations.

  112. A million cats walking across a million keyboards*

    “Adding to my uncertainty is that my manager and their manager don’t really get along” – I wonder whether this a contributing factor. If the head of the Llama group doesn’t get along with the head of the Alpaca group, then I can imagine this attitude could percolate down into the ranks. In that kind of environment, if a senior Llama manager wanted to spend time with a bunch of junior Alpaca herders without any Alpaca management present, I could imagine the Alpacans might feel a little uncomfortable.

  113. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    One thing to add for next time – if these conferences are that important and there are junior people going you might want to meet beforehand and discuss some of these things, set expectations, etc.. I’ve done conferences for decades and they’re always more productive when you plan and prep beforehand.

    1. Engineery*

      I agree, and this sort of prep is even more important when you have no pre-existing relationship with the employees, which seems to be the case here. OP could have avoided a lot of trouble by telling the junior employees’ boss they’d like to support the team during the conference, and letting the boss have input into what that support would look like. OP might not have any idea who these employees are, what they do, who they know, what objectives they have during the conference, etc.

      As the boss, I’d absolutely ask OP to meet the team beforehand and offer some feedback on their posters if possible. Not only to get the team comfortable with OP, but to determine if OP is actually capable of mentoring in any useful way, or just wants to show off their status to junior employees.

      That meeting would, perhaps, get OP to understand the junior employees were expected to attend all technical sessions, and that a dinner with OP and only OP would best be scheduled sometime other than during a big conference. (As others have said, the normal thing at OP’s level would be to have dinner with similar high-level colleagues from other companies, and invite trusted junior employees to join.)

  114. Liisa*

    OP, with respect, you seem to be doing what my therapist calls “mind reading”. You are assuming that you know what your staff members are thinking and why they did what they did, and you’re not considering ANY other explanations. You seem to have decided that they’re excluding you, and all your explanations for their behavior support that conclusion. As an exercise, you should consider other possible explanations:
    * They didn’t want to go shopping with you: some people hate shopping as an activity, or they genuinely had other plans
    * They didn’t want to cram you in the car: maybe they thought it would be rude to cram a senior person in the backseat and suggested the alternative arrangement because they wanted to be polite
    and so on and so forth. Learning to do this will benefit you in a lot of areas of your life, not just work.

    But also, from your letter you do also sound like you’re very… particular about how you want things to be done, and like others have said, there are power dynamics involved in this whole setup. Those two things combined? Hanging out with a higher-up who comes across like they’re judging me sounds exhausting in general, let alone after a conference. If you genuinely want to build better relationships with your staff, you need to understand the power dynamics involved in that, and adjust your behavior/expectations accordingly.

  115. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    A particular thought about “going shopping” … a recreational shopping trip might be far more awkward for junior staff to engage in with a higher-up than, say, dinner.

    One, many of the things that one shops for edge into the personal … clothing, decorations for one’s home, gifts for a family member, whatever. Junior employees may feel weird getting that window into a much more senior employee’s life, or giving the senior employee that window into theirs.

    Two, while everyone eats, not everyone enjoys shopping as a recreational activity. And even among those who do, they may enjoy shopping for different things. Who wants to tag along while somebody else looks at consumer electronics if they’d much rather be at an art gallery? Who wants to tag along at a clothing store if that store doesn’t carry anything intended for their gender or size?

    Three, shopping is an activity where any differences in financial means can REALLY get amplified. What lower-paid junior employee wants to tag along and act interested while a senior employee shops for things the junior employee can’t possibly afford?

    1. no-win situation*

      Honestly, I could see my younger self wondering if the invitation to go shopping was a test. “This senior employee is asking me to play skip out on the conference our company is paying for me to attend to go do a non-work related excursion. If I accept, will it be reported back to my boss that I played hooky? If I say no, will I be judged negatively for saying no to senior employee?”

  116. Two Nickels*

    What are the ages of the new employees? If you started in the industry at 22/23, that would make you almost 40. If these people are all early-mid 20’s, it’s not really weird that they wouldn’t want to hang out extensively with a manager 20 years their senior.

    It seems like they made an appropriate effort to include you. I think expecting to be included even further when there is a large age/level/experience gap is actually a bit inappropriate.

  117. lucanus cervus*

    I can genuinely sympathise on both sides here. It sounds like LW had good intentions and felt snubbed by junior colleagues she was trying to help. Of course that stings, and she’s genuinely trying to separate those feelings from her next actions. She’s trying to do things right here. But I can also see that this probably looked really different from the junior colleagues’ point of view, and that LW is reading their response uncharitably.

    LW was expecting to play a mentor role and I don’t think her colleagues were expecting that at all. She’s several rungs above them and it sounds like she works within a totally different chain of command, with tensions between her manager and theirs, so they wouldn’t necessarily expect to be taken under her wing or anything like it. They were probably anticipating civil interaction and otherwise being ignored, as she’d be busy with her own stuff. So honestly, being a bit more open about what she was offering might really have helped here. It’s possible they couldn’t actually tell if she was trying to help, just wanting company, or what. It seems obvious from LW’s side, but if they knew everything LW does, mentoring would be irrelevant.

    I can imagine worrying about getting in trouble with my boss if I’d gone off shopping with a senior person from a ‘rival’ department. I can also imagine being really embarrassed and uncertain if I’d tried to do a nice thing by getting in a round of drinks and then got pulled up on company policy. Were they even planning to expense those?

    Similarly, did they actually know that the industry founder was a big deal? If they’re new to the industry, they might not have had a clue who this person was. It’s rude to talk over the top of anyone, but nerves and/or obliviousness seem a lot more likely than deliberate rudeness.

    LW, if you want to play this kind of role for newbies who welcome it, that’s great – but if you leave too much unspoken, they won’t automatically know what response you’re looking for, and that’s really not personal. You also really need to keep the power dynamics in mind. Socialising with a senior expert is not relaxing, and shopping especially is a bit fraught, especially if there’s significant disparity between salaries. Be specific that as a senior colleague you’d like to help them build their networks and find their feet, and suggest something like a dinner or a coffee yourself, rather than angling to be invited along to existing plans.

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