I am being invited to a team dinner which I won't be able to attend as I have to go for swimming coaching classes every evening.

I don't know how to decline the invitation and also politely tell them that I am a team player but I have personal issues and cannot attend evening engagements?

  • 7
  • 33
    "I have personal issues" having an existing appointment is not "[having] personal issues", it is just a good reason you can't go. Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 13:35
  • 11
    "I would love to come along but unfortunately I've got swimming coaching classes every evening. Hopefully I can rearrange one in the future to join you all"
    – camden_kid
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 19:48
  • 19
    "personal issues" is a little loaded - you might be more accurate to say "prior engagement"
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 3:32
  • 4
    "Afraid I can't make it."
    – berry120
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 13:08

6 Answers 6


Just say that you have a prior engagement that you can't decline, and that you're unable to accept this invitation.

It won't be taken badly, and won't have an effect on your career progression in this company. It's accepted that event dates or times might not suit everyone.

  • 63
    It doesn't matter that your "prior engagement" is with your own refrigerator. You don't have to tell them that. Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 23:58
  • 41
    "won't have an effect on your career progression in this company" I think this is a bit of a bold claim. Regardless of reason, not attending social events can have a negative impact on career progression. Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 13:37
  • 10
    @GregoryCurrie exactly, I think this is not a problem if it happens once (at least in most cases) but it will likely start hurting if it is a recurring behavior. We are social animals and if you seem unwilling to play your part this is often taken in a negative way.
    – meow
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 16:15
  • 1
    @meow It won't necessarily hurt punitively, but if you compare using the evening for networking and career progression versus staying home, going will always be better for your career unless there are no opportunities or you are inept. Skipping only doesn't hurt if you're looking at penalties rather than opportunity cost. However I would consider leisure time as having high value, as well as not setting the precedent of doing work in your off time. Skipping probably also does not hurt at all compared to attending and just going through the motions.
    – piojo
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 12:59
  • 1
    @piojo I agree, but if you start being labelled as the person that never joins it sets a bad precedent.
    – meow
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 17:15

I've seen a number of questions lately that seem to be almost self-answering, if you follow one simple guideline:

Unless you have a very good reason not to, simply tell the truth with respect and politeness.

This isn't just a guideline for this particular question; it's a good mode of thought going forward.

In this case? Your boss wants to throw together a dinner for the team, but you can't make it because you have swim coaching classes at that time? Then simply say:

"Hi - I want to go, but I can't at that time. I've got swim coaching classes every Friday at 6 PM."

  • 66
    Agree this is generally a good policy, but adding specifics also opens you up to bargaining or people trying to infer their relative importance. You might get follow-ups of "you can miss one week" or "surely the dinner is more important" or things like that. If you give a specific reason, someone may not think it's a "good enough" reason, so sometimes it's better to be vague to avoid having to defend your reasoning. Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 18:39
  • 31
    @NuclearWang - I understand what you're saying, and agree with it to a point. The problem I've got is that it's a stance to take when you're approaching a conversation from an adversarial perspective. (You want X, they want Y; fight!) Most people I know, in the boss' shoes, would simply reply with something like, "Oh - sorry you can't make it." There are people that your advice is needed on... but I'd hesitate to use it as a default choice.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 18:54
  • 23
    In fact, mentioning that you've got a commitment related to a passion or personal interest (coaching swimming) may be a great door-opener to "small talk" that helps form a good personal relationship between you and your boss, which can never hurt. If I had invited my team to an after-hours event and one of my employees said "I can't, I'm going to my swim coaching class" I would probably respond with a smile and ask some follow up questions about their interest in swimming.
    – dwizum
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 21:01
  • 4
    @NuclearWang I don't know that anyone would say that and be serious about it. Especially if you're the coach, or training to be the coach. The clear answer is "Sorry, but if I'm not there, the training doesn't happen for everyone else".
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 0:19
  • 2
    @Graham That's all very well and good if you have a reason that others will consider "legitimate", this one just happens to be one of those. My point is that if you've decided not to go, you don't have to defend your reasoning, whether that's "I'm going to watch TV tonight" or "I'm meeting the Pope" - there's always going to be a grey area where some people will disagree with your prioritization. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 17:23

Usually, team dinners aren't mandatory. They're great for team building but you're not forced to go. You can politely decline explaining that you have other engagements or personal constraints.

But, if you are available another evening or on week-end, you can ask to change the date:

Thanks for the invitation but due to personal constraints, I'm unavailable after work. Can we reschedule on a Saturday evening ?

  • And suddenly all your colleagues hate you, because you've put them in the position of having a work function on a Saturday! Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 17:28

The only time this would be unacceptable is if you knew prior to being a coach that you had this dinner. But if you are already a coach, and this dinner came up, simply say you have prior obligations and cannot make it. If asked, just be honest and say you are a coach for a swim team.

  • 4
    I was tempted to -1, but maybe you just had a bad choice of words... "unacceptable"? I hope you didn't mean that how it sounds, as that is a toxic environment where people can't decline such events. I should be able to say "No, I don't want to go out for dinner. I'm going to make myself a sandwich at home like I usually do. Thanks for the offer though" and even that should be acceptable.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 21:18

I think the answer to this question depends on what line of work you're in and how high in the hierarchy you are, as well as whether you are hoping to get promoted or not. To be clear: if you are an hourly worker, there is typically a low expectation for putting in unpaid hours. You would be completely in your rights to declare all unpaid time yours and act accordingly. However, if you are in a profession, or simply a salaried worker, declaring that your job stops at 5:01 each and every night is short-sighted and likely to lead to (at a minimum) being passed up for promotion in favor of someone who is willing to go the extra mile at least occasionally. So, while I agree that a simple statement of truth like "I have other obligations every night after work" is the best way to get out of a team dinner meeting, if the question behind your question is really "should I do this/can I get away with it," think hard about your work culture as well as your 18 month and 3 year goals.

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text), would you mind editing it into better shape?
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 23:00
  • It also contains controversial (and, in my opinion, incorrect) advice. Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 12:35
  • This answer is ok for a position which is truly salary, but remember that many so-called "salary" positions are actually treated like hourly. If your employer demands that you must do at least 40 hours every week, then you're as good as hourly and might as well cut them off after that. If your employer is fine with you being done after 30-35 hours for the week because you did a great job and are ahead of schedule, then you should be ok with doing 45-50 hours sometimes or with going out for the dinner. Summary: Yes, but just remember that many "salary" jobs are hourly in disguise.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 21:26

Is there a pattern? I tend to end up on multiple team dinners/events in a year (especially counting leaving drinks etc.).

I have missed plenty and at everyone I have attended there are people missing for one reason or another. I can't see an issue with missing one. If you miss all of them I could see it being an issue.

It won't be taken badly. Just say you have a prior engagement or even that you have coaching lessons and that you hope to make the next one.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .