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My company wants to hold its first ever social event over the weekend at someone's house. At first I accepted the invitation, although I wasn't at all into it, but then I learned that all the costs for this event will be split over all attendees. It's not like a 5$-10$ thing, this would be equivalent to one or two days' work for me. I'm also budgeting and taking care of my ill Mom, so every penny counts. I'm not a cheap person, but this expense is a lot for me. So, I declined the event.

I expect people (including my manager) will be asking me why I declined. I don't want to lie and say "I have another thing scheduled". I want to make it known that I don't like to be forced to attend and also pay for it. However, I would like to say that in a professional way. I love my job and do many things free of charge, just because I want my company to be a leader in our field.

How should I respond if asked about this? How can I professionally convey that I don't want to pay for social events?

  • 2
    OP, could you add your location (country/state) if you don't mind sharing that info? – Lilienthal Apr 6 '18 at 13:42
  • Is this "the company" as in general management inviting all of you to the social event, or "the company" as in the people working there deciding to have a social event? – Michael Schumacher Apr 6 '18 at 14:19
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    @Hilmar I'm not in the US. The $ equivalent of 1 day of work where I live is about 80$. It is a whole day event plus they are doing some activities that need money. – Haitham Apr 6 '18 at 20:38
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    @DoritoStyle my manager is the one who proposed the idea as a "team building" thing. He hasn't contacted me yet. – Haitham Apr 6 '18 at 20:44
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    @Haitham thanks, it may help to edit the question to change "company" to "manager" in the first line, that clears things up slightly. I'm still not 100% sure he would ask but it's a more reasonable assumption if it's "his" event. – user30031 Apr 6 '18 at 20:49

11 Answers 11

199

Be honest about it.

Just state that you didn't realize that there was a significant personal cost involved with this event and that you've not budgeted for it.

You can bet that other employees will also decline when they learn that they have to pay to attend a company social event, and they won't be happy about the fact.

  • 72
    *"Be honest about it" but focus on the budget issue and don't let them gossip and/or dig around your personal finance, it is none of their business. If mishandled, you can pass off as "cheap", and this is not the intent. But this might be a good question for the IPS stack. – Mindwin Apr 6 '18 at 15:02
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    Additionally, if management have responses like this from several people they will realise this is an issue and may organise events differently in the future. But they won't know if everyone suffers in silence. – Daniel Apr 6 '18 at 16:03
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    From experience, people get very vocal about having to spend their own money for things like this - there’s bound to be a fair bit of backlash against the organisers. – user44108 Apr 6 '18 at 17:05
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    I'd even leave out the "haven't budgeted for it" part, as that gives the impression that you're hard up. (Even if true, you probably don't want people thinking that.) Just say that whatever enjoyment you'd get just isn't worth the cost. It's like inviting me to (pay for) say an expensive wine tasting: sure, I can afford it, but I can't really tell the difference between them and the stuff I get in a cardboard box at the supermarket - and when I can, I generally like the box stuff better :-) – jamesqf Apr 6 '18 at 19:35
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    A potential issue I see with this answer is that it sounds like OP doesn't actually want to go. Particularly if it's a smaller company, they might take steps to remove the stated objection - 'Oh, it's okay, you can just come after dinner is served. Don't worry about the money, just come out...' or similar. If you are willing to do, if the cost was reduced or removed, then it's great. But if they make special accommodations and you don't go it will be perceived as far more rude than if you just didn't go. – Rob P. Apr 7 '18 at 15:48
41

Any activity that you have to pay for, or takes place outside of normal work hours is by definition optional. When it falls into both categories, the organizers should realize the many will decide not to go.

In your question you give two valid reasons: It is out of your budget, and your ill Mom takes up your free time. Don't talk about being forced to attend, this is not the time to talk about that.

The biggest issue about declining is the fact that it is only a few days away, and some of those costs may be locked in, and the share of everybody may have been announced. By deciding now to cancel, the locked in costs have to be covered by somebody.

You have to determine who you should communicate this to, and the best way to approach them. Is it by email, phone, or was there a electronic invitation? Also your approach you use is determine by did originally say yes, or were you a maybe.

The approach is to be polite, and apologize. Explain that you will not be able to spare the time this weekend, and that it is outside your budget. Apologize again. Remember the person you are talking to may not be the one who made the decision regarding costs, their only role may have been to process the RSVPs.

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    "is by definition optional" it should be, but isn't. In the US it's perfectly legal for an employer to mandate attendance at events outside work hours and even charge people for it. – Lilienthal Apr 6 '18 at 13:42
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    @Lilienthal I'm pretty sure that's not true. For hourly ('non-exempt' [from overtime laws]) employees, a required event would be something for which they would need to be paid. For salaried ('exempt') employees tho, they probably could be required to attend an event, but not necessarily require to pay to do so (e.g. because of potential employment contracts or whatnot). – Kenny Evitt Apr 6 '18 at 14:28
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    @Lilienthal - Please link to that law. – Donald Apr 6 '18 at 15:02
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    @KennyEvitt I didn't say they wouldn't be required to pay people for it (if non-exempt), that's an entirely different topic. I'm merely stating the simple fact that in the US an employer can ask an employee to do pretty much anything that isn't explicitly illegal or covered by employment laws forbidding it (e.g. OSHA). That's what you get when you have no or minimal employee protection laws. And that's why I can't link to "that law" because no law is required to make this sort of thing possible. It's the absence of a law prohibiting it that means an employer can do this. The employee can quit. – Lilienthal Apr 6 '18 at 15:35
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    dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs22.pdf#page=2 "Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time only if four criteria are met, namely: it is outside normal hours, it is voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed. " – user30031 Apr 6 '18 at 21:02
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Any point in time at which you learn some new material fact about the event, is a new point at which it's legit to decline. So if they announced the event six months ago, but told you only a few days in advance that it'd cost (a lot!!) then that's a point in which you can certainly decide to decline.

I agree with the above answers, that you should politely make it clear that it's about the money, and not make up some sick-aunt excuse. If they push back that they committed resources based on your earlier positive response, then the answer should be along the lines of "Sorry to hear that, Boss, but I only learned yesterday that there would be a cost, and it's just not something that's in my budget right now."

It is deeply manipulative of this workplace to set you and your co-workers up like this, and you have every right to be offended: you are the victim here, not them (assuming you've told us the full story). In fact as you discuss it with them, consider using phrases like "I understand your difficult position" and "I'm sad to hear that" instead of "sorry".

You may need to start making long-term plans about your commitment to this outfit.

7

You could literally say because the cost is too high.

If they press, you can continue "well, it's over an entire day's worth of my pay".

The key here is that the problem is with the event, not with you. Your budget/finances are NOT the problem, so you need to prevent people from suggesting that the problem is on your end.

If they really press (which would be rude, but you never know), you can elaborate by pointing out that a day's worth of work would be a high cost to pay even if you made $1,000,000/day, but if they keep pressing on this point, you might have to show some disgust at their questions and move on.

6

I am retired. I encountered similar situations many times throughout my career life. Besides the expense, I am an introvert person. When the social event could cost me close to one day salary or more, I usually said

Sorry, I cannot afford to it unless I am getting a good pay raise.

Half joking and half serious.

It worked in most cases. One of the few times it failed was because the boss said "Okay, I'll give you a good raise".

I never got pay raise from him because he was promoted to another division a few months later and unable to do PIP with me.

  • Sometimes humor is processed by people that don't (or can't) take things in the manner they were intended. I'd rephrase your comment for the broader audience of the humor-impaired "Sorry, I cannot afford it unless the company is willing to cover the expense." – Edwin Buck Aug 29 '18 at 15:53
3

I'm from Germany and we sometimes have a concept that I think is relevant here (unfortunately I don't know the translation, and I expect it to be highly idiomatic - @everyone please help).

The Betriebsschwein (Schwein = pig = here bad colleague) or Arsch vom Dienst (literally: asshole-on-duty).

The idea here is to have someone taking the role of the bad guy who breaks the social harmony in order to put an example. In situations like the one you describe, the Betriebsschwein does this and takes the shame in order to make sure that people in a weaker position - who may not dare to ask for what is actually their right - do get the possibility to execute their rights without the social strain of seeing (or fearing) their weakness exposed.*

Now, it seems to me that your company right now needs such a Betriebsschwein who points out that the proposed contributions are far outside the sensible range (for many?/some? employees) and that therefore he/she will not participate (to state an example).

Whether this role is one you can take in the present situation, is something you can decide only for yourself:

  • Is your standing in the firm good enough to warrant this?
    (My personal experience is that I gained respect by both peers and supervisors by taking such positions. It is important, though, to do this from a position of personal integrity, and not become the troublemaker who just seeks an occasion)

  • It's always difficult to do this exactly for those who need it most (i.e. are in those weak positions). This is known, and it is perfectly fine to analyse the personal situation and find that right now is not the occasion where you can do anything.

  • Practically speaking: it is easiest to take this role for someone who doesn't have the problem in question (but does recognize it).
    This may be you in the sense that due to your budgeting, you may actually be much less hard up than many of your colleagues.

  • The Betriebsschwein is a strong position that is defending the weak. Knowing and pointing this out mentally and emotionally makes it considerably easier for the Betriebsschwein (after all, this is a conflict situation, where the Betriebsschwein goes for fight instead of flight).

    E.g. by saying: this is too much, and it is very inconsiderate. How, for example, is someone with low wages (e.g., a janitor, secretary, ...) or someone who has to feed a large family going to manage this in a financially healthy way? And really, anyone here could be in such a situation without us knowing this - you never know (and it's none of our business) whom people have to support.

    Over here (as you know, Germans are rude blunt and outspoken), I personally would maybe go as far as saying that "certainly everyone is entitled to use their own money as they like - but only [insert culturally just acceptable term for bad guy here] make/tempt others who should keep inside a tight budget to spend."**

  • People give varying advise here about whether it is wise to mention your budgeting, or whether this will start gossip about your financial position. Of course, also in this respect it is much easier to not care if the budgeting already got you into a financially healthy position.

    • Take an honest estimate of your finances (as you are budgeting I'm sure you know this) and compare your position with relevant statistical data. You may be surprised to find that your budgeting already got you ahead of your average peer (do not forget to take into account your age).
    • Depending on your current financial position, your history and age, at some point you'll hopefully reach the position where you can say: "I know this, I've been there.". Even if you decide that you are not yet in the position to take the Betriebsschwein role, at that point it should become easy to do so (unless you meanwhile forget how it was).
  • You don't need to always be the Betriebsschwein. But it does become easier with experience ;-), and as this is labeled 'company-culture' once this is established as a role, others may be taking this role in other situations.


* We also use the same term for a different type of situation: E.g. I once met a bus driver who did scout-group-like holiday camp tours. They'd sometimes give a ride to, say, a colleague's kid till some place along the route and that kid was told to be the Betriebsschwein: When that kid was about to get off, they'd enact misbehaviour were apparently "thrown out". The bus driver said this works miracles with adolescents that are used to not having to face any really hard consequences...

** And as we are talking here about the management of a business: I'd expect businessmen to be able to keep finances in a healthy shape. This includes personal finances. (I know there are more than enough counter examples - but this is about the role model.) And I expect a manager to be able to apply this to their employees in the sense that they should not unnecessarily hinder their employee's possibilities and actually responsibilities in this respect.
If someone's work is worth only a low wage to the company that's one thing. But then invading their presumably already strained finances by demanding a social event contribution of several working hours (not even to speak of days) is a completely different category.

2

Yes, be honest. Also, be polite and professional. However, I think it best that you talk about the expense, and avoid mentioning your budget.

Although you seem ambivalent about attending otherwise, it seems you want to make it clear that the main reason you're not going is the cost is simply too high. If you mention that it's not in your budget, it may make you look bad (for not budgeting better), and they might even say that you should put a little more away so that you can afford the next event.

Thus I recommend saying something along the lines of:

Sorry, but the cost is too much for me.

Generally, I would recommend that you leave it at that. Hopefully, an answer like this will get your boss to consider picking up (more of) the expenses for any future social activities. That's even more likely if several people make similar statements.

The one risk with the above recommendation is that management might decide to cover the expenses, or maybe your boss would pay your share. If you would still want to avoid the event even if that happens, then I suggest that you talk about taking care of your Mom first, especially if it is already known that you do that. If that's the case, an answer like the following would probably be better.

As you know, I need to help my Mom out quite often, and she needs help that day. However, even if I weren't already committed to helping her, I wouldn't be able to go, unfortunately, because the cost is too much for me.

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    I agree with this. Saying you didn't budget for it, means that in the future, if they give you more notice you'd likely go, which probably isn't true. – WetlabStudent Apr 7 '18 at 0:02
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This is just my personal take on this. I haven't been working for very long at all (Aged 18, working 8-9 months).

Putting it straight forward: You do not have to worry about declining a social event. You are not required to attend any social events. Sure it's sad to see you won't come but it's not like you'll be seen as a bad person and you won't have your pay docked the next morning.

For what to reply with, you did say:

At first I accepted the invitation (although I wasn't at all into it)

So it would be acceptable to say something like

I didn't feel like going to the event because it isn't my thing / cup of tea / analogy to say you don't like it as much as other things

If it was pricing alone which put you off you can reply with something like:

I haven't budgeted properly for the event so I didn't want to pay.

And from my own knowledge and if I said something like that, I wouldn't be frowned upon in the working environment.

I'm also sure that these sort of questions aren't linked to the work environment at all. They won't effect work and they won't effect relationships. As I see from other answers, politeness is also key. My final "full" response from looking at other answers would be something like:

I'm sorry about not coming to the social event this weekend but I couldn't afford to go because I didn't realise it had a cost and I didn't budget for it.

First answer here. Feedback is great. I hope my response helps at all in this case.

  • 3
    Putting it straight forward: You do not have to worry about declining a social event. That's not always true; I've been working a long time and I can definitely say that in some companies "joining in" on the social side is very important to one's career. Fortunately I'm not in that situation now but I have been in the past. – Spratty Apr 6 '18 at 13:22
  • Ah... Guess it depends on the company then. It can be understandable that joining in with a social event can boost your own image too but it's rather do you take that image along with you inside work. I think I got lucky but thanks for the heads up – L_Church Apr 6 '18 at 13:25
  • Not just for social events. For all kinds of contributions that employees go around asking for money, just decline if you don't feel like contributing. I've lost a lot of money to unnecessary contributions. Not because the contribution went for a waste, but because these 'collectors' were rude and took the contribution for granted. It's never worth it. nrecursions.blogspot.in/2015/12/… – Nav Apr 6 '18 at 14:48
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    @Nav It depends on what they're asking for and how much. Declining a few bucks for a going-away present for a popular employee might make you look like a scrooge. On the other hand, you shouldn't feel obligated to buy someone's kid's Girl Scout cookies. – Barmar Apr 6 '18 at 19:02
  • I didn't go to the company Christmas party one year, and shortly after was moved to a team on a project that was far more onerous than the project I'd been working on. I'm not saying the two are necessarily connected, but it got me thinking. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Apr 9 '18 at 11:31
1

Be honest, but consider the easy way out

It may be very simple:

If you now ensure that you have other obligations on that day, you can mention them when people ask whether you may join.

Unless they really dig, or focus on the causality, you can avoid awkwardness without a single lie.


If this does not help, you still do not need to lie. You can then still decide to tell the full (more personal) story, or simply not answer their questions.

Alternately: displace the focus

What I would personally do in your situation is not to say that my finances cannot not support the event, but that they should not. It can be as simple as:

I believe company events should be sponsored (more).

That way you do get the point across that your reason is purely financial, but may reduce the (potentially undesirable) impact on your own image.

Note that this response does invite people to challenge your response. So consider in advance what arguments you want to use, and think of how far you want to go in a discussion. Note that the fact that you make this statement (and the arguments that you use to support it) will likely impact your image in a way as well.

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    I disagree with your alternative suggestion. That looks like you're refusing to attend a social event because you think it's more important to make a political point ("Events should be arranged in this particular way") than to socialize with your colleagues. I think that has a terrible impact on your image. And suppose there's another event in the future that costs twice as much but the company covers half the cost so the amount the employees have to pay is the same as they're paying for this event. The asker still can't afford to go, even though their political request has been met. – David Richerby Apr 6 '18 at 13:44
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    @DavidRicherby Perhaps it depends on the culture, but where I am from it is indeed very common that employers cover (all) the costs of social event which are organized by the company. (For something like a ski trip a contribution is of course more common) Thus I would definitely make a point out of it, not in the least because this is the companies first attempt and they will be most sensitive to feedback. -- If there is a future event which is sponsored, but still not sponsored enough, the argument still holds. – Dennis Jaheruddin Apr 6 '18 at 14:20
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    Of course there's an expectation that company events be paid for, or at least subsidized, but that doesn't override what I said. If you say "I'm not going because it should be subsidized more" this will be interpreted as you saying that your protest is more important than socializing with your colleagues. If you say you can't go, you can't go. If you don't say you can't go, it sounds like you could go, but you've decided not to. – David Richerby Apr 6 '18 at 15:09
  • @DavidRicherby Again an interesing cultural/personal point. It is indeed a choice whether you would rather depict your self as being too poor for an event, or as someone who chooses not to go. -- I did try to address this by mentioning the image, but have updated the answer to mention it a bit more explicitly. – Dennis Jaheruddin Apr 6 '18 at 15:13
  • @DavidRicherby you make the assumption that anything seeming political should be avoid, but I retort that office politics are unavoidable, and when it affects your income then there is very little reason to abstain. Sure, it might affect your image, but any person that judges you negatively for being reasonably financially prudent is not to be regarded IMO. – user30031 Apr 6 '18 at 20:43
0

"I have a conflict." Having had multiple experiences of the same or similar, this has ALWAYS worked for me.

  • Less is best. - A person of few words rarely struggles to honor integrity.
  • Mind YOUR mind. - What others assume of you, what you say, or what you do is none of your business.

If pressed,... redirect by asking a question or finding something in their question or comment with which to agree.

  • Actual Example 1 - COWORKER: A schedule conflict, you mean? ME: Why do you ask? COWORKER: Just wondered. ME: Oh, okay. (pause) So, did you see the game last night? That last inning was intense!

  • Actual Example 2 - BOSS: Well, I'm sorry to see you backed out. Team-building is important. ME: I absolutely agree! I hope to not have a conflict next time. Maybe we could do a potluck, watch the game together... something laid back like that. (pause) Hope the event goes well. Good chatting with you. Better get back to work. BOSS: Yes, do that. We'll miss you. ME: Thanks.

0

Be honest. One reason that I don't believe has been touched upon is this:

There might have been discussions about whether going with a more expensive event, and asking employees to pick up the costs, would force workers to decline and be excluded. The fact is, it is the cost that is making you decline. Let them know that. Perhaps in the future they will opt for smaller, simpler, less expensive but more inclusive events when planning.

A simple -

Unfortunately, the cost-sharing is out of my budget range for a social event like this.

should suffice. If they want to pry further and find out what your personal "squeal point" is, financially, simply state that this is personal information, as well as situational, and you decline to share it.

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