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Note: this questions is specifically about charity activity and not social events generally.

I work in a small startup which recently grew to 14 people which apparently seems to be enough for "corporate organised fun" starting to materialise, despite the everything being done remotely because of the pandemic. This includes some charity events where participation is optional though it's explicitly said that they are aiming to have the whole team participate. Due to the size of the company it'd be immediately obvious if someone decides not to participate.

I really detest the idea of corporate fun charity events. I take charity seriously. I try to donate a proportion of my income regularly to causes I spend time researching and which I personally see as a top priority. And most importantly, I want to donate privately, and quietly with the only reason why I'd occasional share my charitable activity being in persuading people closest to me to support similar causes. I really disagree with having "competitions" (not explicitly, but everyone's contributions are visible) of who can get their friends and family to sponsor their "fun" activity for more cash.

I am well aware I might be in the minority there and that this kind of stuff is just a standard package of "office fun" which most people enjoy. So I guess the question there is, would I be committing a social/professional faux pas if I decided to opt out of those kinds of events? Is that being too pernickety or a reasonable request? What if I provided feedback to the HR to make all donations anonymous? If only I decide to donate anonymously it will seem like I have not donated at all and might still have the same social consequences.

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13 Answers 13

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It's called "Mandatory Fun" for a reason.

Now, while the severity of the transgression for avoiding mandatory fun varies from company to company, it is noticed at every organization that has it as part of its culture.

The only thing that really varies is just how many times you can skip out, and what reasons are acceptable.

From the sounds of it, this would be a MAJOR CLM (Career Limiting Move) as it sounds like this is becoming the corporate culture where you are, and you will very quickly get the label of "not a good fit" for the company. Worse, since it's for charitable events, you could get a rep of being unwilling to help that can follow you through your career. Treat it as mandatory, and if it really bothers you that much, you really are a bad fit for the company and should seek employment elsewhere

TLDR: Yes, it would be a faux pas to skip. Regardless, do not EVER speak ill of mandatory fun.

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Unfortunately, this is all going to come down to Corporate Culture

It could easily be that your company looks at it as, "Eh, Kuba isn't big on the charity drives. Not a big deal - it's not like our corporate events have to be hits with every single person."

It could easily be that your company looks at it as, "Uh... Kuba isn't really jiving with our culture here. They do a good job, but... are they someone we want to promote upwards within the company?"

... and we can't answer which of those it would be. It could be that you sitting out wouldn't be any bit of a problem. Or it could be that you'd stick out (in a bad way.) And we don't really know which of those two it would be.

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  • company which is currently 14 people, so one can hope that one voice among 14 can still be heard and considered. – njzk2 Mar 23 at 22:28
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    Promotion upwards in a 14 person company? A company of that size is most likely top-heavy; two founders does it. There is no promotion upwards -- unless the company grows. The hope in every one of those 14 people's minds is that the company will grow. The next step up in company size is 100 or so employees; that's the point when the CEO can no longer recognize every by name or by sight. In that awkward stage between 14 and 100 employees, everyone needs to be more or less on the same page with regard to company culture. – David Hammen Mar 24 at 4:32
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Only you are in a position to judge if this is a good move.

But if I were in your situation when my own company was around that size, I'd have simply had a private conversation with our CEO. Made it clear that I'm happy with the "Team Building" stuff, but making charitable donations and sponsorship a public competition (whether intended or not) is something I'm not comfortable with. And asked them what they suggest I do, given the situation.

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Given your foreshadowing impression of the establishment of a recurrent theme,

"corporate organised fun" starting to materialize

and that in a comment you clarify (the severity of) your antipathy towards participation to be primarily hinging on the (pseudo-)"charitable" nature of the event:

I take charity seriously.
Even if kind of "organised fun" by the company might not appeal to me, [...]
[...] the charity aspect of it on the other hands actively goes against my values.

1. The one-off, short-term solution

TL;DR Call in sick.

Have had a "bad lunch" the day before the event, share how you feel unwell, head home on sick leave in the early afternoon. Make it plausible. Disaster averted.
You get to do this once.

An aside on honesty: Personally, I value honesty above all, in any kind of relationship - be it romantic, a friendship, or with an employer - hence the "white lie" hasn't been recommended lightly.
Your earnest concern gives the impression that you enjoy your current workplace, the current dilemma aside, anyway. You haven't disclosed in how recent a future the event will be held, regardless, your employer has put you in the situation you find yourself in and your time to act is naturally limited. A "cop-out" feels morally justifiable to me. Maybe it'd be too far off your values too, maybe you haven't thought of the easy way out yet.

Caveat:
This advice is only valid under the assumption that the charity aspect is not part of the recurrent theme and that this is the only issue your having with your company.

2. Discreetly make an honest case

[...] the only reason why I'd occasional share my charitable activity being in persuading people closest to me to support similar causes.
I really disagree with having "competitions" (not explicitly, but everyone's contributions are visible) of who can get their friends and family to sponsor their "fun" activity for more cash.

This is a strong argument.
Present it properly, it might stick.

Ask your CEO for a few minutes of their time, make it clear that your issue isn't all that urgent, but that you'd like to speak in private.
How hard it will be to win them over depends on to what degree they also are the driving force behind the apparent manifestation of such activities. Regardless though, it is them you must convince, they are the decisive person in the company.

Explain why (you are concerned) the nature of the event (might) make(s) you uncomfortable.

Do not question occasional corporate outings in general, that battle cannot be won. Also, it would likely be a good idea to keep the disdain for using charity as a vehicle and not taking it as seriously as you do to yourself (not that I don't get it or disagree, it just won't be helpful).

Instead, focus on the monetary aspect and the disclosure of amounts in conjunction with personally identifiable information:

  • The social / cultural aspect, the inevitable "ranking" that will occur: Question whether monetary amount gathered / spent is truly the metric they'd like their employees to compete over and whether that's the corporate culture they'd like to foster.

  • The privacy / data security aspect: Employee data protection laws obviously vary between jurisdictions. Inform yourself about those in yours. Regardless of how strict or not yours are, employers generally tend to take those seriously.

  • Depending on your level of comfort, your personal dilemma: You are occasionally asking social circle to give for certain causes (and have recently done so) and therefore can't possibly ask the same people for this one with a good conscience.

Make clear that you will keep the conversation confidential.
Who knows, you might have a CEO whose mind can be changed.

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Hard to answer, but like all things in life, it seems to be an opportunity. I'm going to take you at face value - that you actually do donate to charity, and you do your research. (Although, to that end, I hope you're trained in accounting practices for charitable companies, because otherwise you're wasting your time. It's pretty much the only thing that matters).

Now, given that you have these concerns, look, I'll be honest with you. Your company is doing this because they care and they want to give back to help their community. This is a weird time to be alive, so it's nice to see a co-ordinated effort to do so.

But you have valid concerns - it's not fun to be seen as being competitive in giving, it ends up making people resent the activity, and it will create tension in the company as people are uncertain how much to give and if it will impact their growth in the company (most likely it will not. It's still a company, they still care about results, but it's awkward).

Raising this to HR/CEO is the best thing to do. But don't stop there! You do research into charitable events - why not express how you donate, and how you think the company could donate it's resources! Why not suggest the company do small pro-bono projects for a worthy charity - possibly one that is tied in to the ecosystem your company exists in?

Why not even offer to spearhead this? It's a leadership task! You'll get noticed!

But even if you don't want to do that - you're still a small company. Raising it to management that this kind of thing doesn't create company bonding (because you're not really working together, you're kind of competing against each other), nor does it facilitate increased communication (because, again, competing). Also, if as you allude it's about getting friends/family involved - it's really a wasted effort, because you're focussing employee networking outside rather than inside the company. Express that you feel awkward with giving publicly, that you're concerned about how to manage the visibility this necessitates, and how it detracts from focussing on work - because now you have another thing to worry about.

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    I agree with this answer in general. Unfortunately, however, these days, speaking out against the corporate stance, even just asking for clarity on the corporate stance, can get one ostracized nearly instantly. coughMonicacough If the OP really disagrees with the "official" charity, he is likely in a no-win scenario: fail to participate (because it violates personal principles) and become "not a team player", bring it to the attention of management and become "not a team player" and "one of them". – FreeMan Mar 23 at 11:58
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    @FreeMan i only talk about disagreeing because the company is so small. The corporate culture is still in its infancy, the leaders of the company - i've been there - are most likely not 100% committed on this direction. They probably want honest feedback, because they're trying to make a culture. It's not yet set in stone. – bharal Mar 23 at 12:18
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    Like I said: I agree with your advice. I was just adding a cautionary statement that unfortunately these days, any dissent can get you labeled. It's up to the OP to know & understand his particular situation to know what the likely outcome of following your suggestion might be. – FreeMan Mar 23 at 12:27
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    "Your company is doing this because they care" how do you know? I don't see anything in the OP's question suggesting that the company is doing anything itself, just pushing employees to do things. – njzk2 Mar 23 at 22:32
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    @bharal ? I don't get it – njzk2 Mar 25 at 22:01
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A possible approach is to be honest, and just take a stand, if that's how you feel.

It might be, unlike how some answers interpret it, that the owners/managers genuinely think everyone'll love it and didn't consider that some might not. The bit about hoping everyone will join in could easily be to drive enthusiasm, not a covert order.

I give to charity already, to the limits of my ability, privately and after research. So, much as I'd like to, I can't participate in an additional charitable event, or I'd have to reduce the amounts I give privately at the moment to offset them.

I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable with that, I have personal beliefs around how I want to give charity, and while its a great idea for many people to encourage them, its not what I feel comfortable with myself.

Sorry, busy that day.

Based on my small company experience, you might get a push or 2 to come along (some pressure that its expected, lets the side down, sets an example etc), but if you don't it'll probably be accepted in the end. That's different from how larger groups might see it. I dont think its so likely you'll be felt to be troublemaking for simply saying a firm but polite excuse not to do a social event. An appeal to some "bigger reason" (such as those above) may help, and could be less easy to push against.

They might want people at their charity social, but they want the work done more, the team they care most about is the work team, and won't want to replace or punish you just for that. When you have a team of that size, it changes things.

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Hard to say, as you have to smell the culture. In some places, people will just be disappointed. In others, it will be considered as treason, and you will be made pay for that.

Therefore, you have to do some internal politics (at least the very basics), befriend the people who are leading this charity, and try to anticipate their reaction.

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    in addition tot he people leading the charity, it can also be worthwhile to get a better impression of how enthusiastic everyone else is about it. Going along with it and really supporting it are two separate things. If enthusiasm isn't that great suggesting an alternative may find support. – Frank Hopkins Mar 23 at 0:08
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just a standard package of "office fun" which most people enjoy

Every human being who has ever lived loathes this sort of idiocy.

Forcing workers to smile! for their supper is the last outrage.

Very unfortunately, "it is their company" and until folks like us own our own company or just work independently, the unfortunate bottom line is you have only two choices:

  1. Leave

  2. Just put up with it

I make NO supercilious remarks like "make the best of it!" or "there's probably some advantage!"

It is an absurd, inhuman, dumpster fire of idiocy.

All you can do is literally "go through the motions" like a robot.

If you do leave the company, FWIW I would politely yet firmly and clearly tell them the reason you are leaving is specifically this idiocy.

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  • I think you're reacting to a bigger issue, which is the nature of work in which we lack any semblance of control over the environment in which we spend half of our waking lives. Depending on your temperament, you might be able to use these moments as opportunities to organize. Some good suggestions in the latter part of this book. – Diagon Mar 24 at 3:01
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    Thank God, upvotes are gaining. Workers rights now! – Fattie Mar 24 at 14:10
  • I upvoted, and I'm sincerely with you @Fattie on this one. However, I don't think it's the "workers rights" issue. In the [supposedly] "workers country" USSR there was A LOT of this, and you couldn't even "leave the company". The problem is that many people in power ("managers") sincerely believe this is a valid way to promote "unity". Just the same thing as many believe that following Dale Carnegie is actually the way to find friends. One can press "rights" and possibly even win, but only tactically. Generally, it's either hypocritical compliance or noble life in dissent... – Zeus Mar 25 at 0:31
  • "Supposedly" is the operative word, @Zeus . Once the Bolsheviks destroyed the worker-controlled Soviets, the "revolution" was over. – Diagon Mar 26 at 3:47
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Not sure it helps you enormously, but a few religions encourage the giving to charity anonymously.

Anyway, it is a bit of a career limiting move. So I think you should try to think about some way you can get involved.

What you can do is basically help be charitable by being in a supportive role.

For instance, if there is a fun run, maybe you're the person at the finishing line taking the photos? Or if it's a bake-off, you're one of the judges. No hounding of friends and family required.

Now, this may go against your principals somewhere, and I can respect that. But a lot of these people may only donate with the "fun" component behind it. Maybe helping them be charitable in their own way is how you can be a team player.

So what I would do is have a conversation with your boss. Explain that while you do like to donate to charity anonymously already, you would like to be a team player and take a supportive role. I would try very hard not be to been to be passing judgement on your fellow employees, but rather just indicating that you like to give to charity differently.

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    If you can honestly cite a religious reason, IMHO you should absolutely do so. Then, if they refuse to accommodate your beliefs, they are discriminating against you and you can follow the relevant process for your country (I'm not familiar with the UK in particular, but I can't imagine UK labor law would be OK with that sort of thing). – Kevin Mar 22 at 18:28
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    "a few religions encourage the giving to charity anonymously." Like Christianity, for instance. I'm pretty sure that Jesus had a few things to say about how to go about charitable donations. – nick012000 Mar 23 at 3:41
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Like most have already said, it's mostly "up to you", however I'll give my perspective (which comes from a place of privilege and seniority )

I'm not clear if this activity is on company time or not. If a company wants the entire team to participate then it should be on company time. In that case I'd do my best to participate.

If it's outside of company time and they don't like it if you don't participate then it becomes real tricky. If my employer judged me negatively for not participating in a situation like this I'd start looking for another job. I have done volunteer work with co-workers (organized by the company) on the weekends but it's the type of work I'd be volunteering for anyway (trail maintenance)

Also if it's outside company time no excuse for not attending should be needed.

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You can opt out if you really want to, but you will probably find that it is not worth the trouble.

Obviously your company likes these events so if you refuse they will treat it as any other kind of bad behavior from the employee, such as being late or missing deadlines. If you do enough things to annoy your employer, there may be consequences such as getting lectured or nagged, being passed up for raises and promotions or even getting fired. I would argue that not working for such a company is in your best interests anyway. If they strongly care about you coming to the events and you strongly want to avoid the events, the job is a poor fit for you. Rest assured that there are plenty of companies out there, big and small, that don't force their employees to attend pointless social functions - even though lots of people will try to convince you their way is the only way.

However, if you are a valued employee, you can easily get away with refusing to go to these events, just like you can get away with being late, missing deadlines, etc. The company doesn't really get anything out of you individually coming to the events, but they get a lot out of you not quitting. So same as being late or missing deadlines it will be overlooked for you.

Of course, there is always a limit to how many things you can get away with. If you want to use your social capital to get out of the charities, that means giving up a pass in some other area where you otherwise could have one. So the question is, is attending the charities the worst thing about the job for you? Are there things other than the charities that you would rather avoid?

If I were you, I would do the events so long as they're on paid company time and do not significantly interfere with my primary work. If they're outside work hours, they amount to unpaid overtime work, which means your effective hourly pay is accordingly lower than what you thought it would be here. If you got this job, you can probably find another job with the same pay and duties, I would go and search for one that doesn't have the charities.

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I've seen this kind of thing organized as more of a networking opportunity for the individuals responsible for the company's participation.

Now if it is done in a way where there is a chance for you to interact with the employees of the other companies participating, that's actually a plus.

If it's organized in a way that each company's employee participation rate functions as a trophy item, but the networking opportunities go only to the organizers, I would have a less positive attitude. (I.e. go if during work hours, skip with personal excuse if not).

Whether you donate to charity (which is great), and if so, which one, is completely orthogonal to this IMO.

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I gather that you don't like the inevitably ostentatious and self-congratulatory nature of those events. Understandable. In a "who can collect the most money for charity" contest, the most popular person from the sales/marketing department is always going to win. But there are a couple angles you can take on this.

One, it's a way for hard-working high-achievers to feel good about taking time off to relax and have fun. Making fun events purposeful is a way to get those people away from their desks.

Two, it's a way to enhance your personal image as well as that of the company. If you feel these events are giving the impression of being insincere, then take that up with leadership (carefully). But consider that there are plenty of big golfing events for rich people that always sponsor some trendy but not particularly impactful charity (breast cancer research). If they can get away with their obviously hypocritical tax-write-off charity events, then your startup can go plant some trees or volunteer at a shelter and it's not going to kill you.

What it boils down to is there is no point to your dogmatic stance. If I were you I would ask myself why I resent the idea of celebrating with my colleagues, and maybe I would consider working somewhere that has a more serious or introvert-friendly culture.

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