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I'm currently WFH and I feel a bit embarrassed about how tentative I have been about returning to normal life (which is largely due to my elderly father and girlfriend, whom I both live with, being quite vulnerable to Covid). My supervisor is not keen on me WFH, but she tolerates it for the moment.

The CEO of my company has asked that I provide a talk (along with about a hundred other talks) to... people (it's not quite clear who) in June for a product that I've developed for the company. The product does everything that has been asked, but my direct supervisor doesn't really care about this and secretly wishes that I would work on her personal projects instead. I think my supervisor feels that if I was in the office she could direct me more easily.

The 5 minute talk that I'm supposed to give is seriously inconvenient. I live just outside Reading in the UK and I've been asked to present in Sheffield (3.5 hour drive). I don't drive and all expenses are to be paid for by myself. It's also expected that I'd attend the other 100 talks though they are entirely irrelevant to what I'm working on.

I am quite concerned that not turning up could ultimately cost me my job. My supervisor is already unhappy with me, and though she doesn't care about either the talk or the subject of the talk, my not turning up could provide the impetus to give me the push. More to the point, if I'm prepared to travel for several hours on packed trains and then stay in a conference hall for hours with hundreds of people, that will have significant implications for any WFH that I intend to do from hereon in. I also feel that my self-worth will be down the pan if I do go: I already feel undervalued and trekking half-way across the country to give a short talk of no value will make me feel like crap, and that's even if I don't pick up the virus during the whole thing.

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  • 40
    Have you discussed with your supervisor or any other responsible party about the possibility of giving this talk remotely? That would address many of your concerns, while still allowing you to actually give the talk. Remote streams are very common nowadays, due to both COVID and increased technological familiarity.
    – Cody Gray
    May 8 at 10:22
  • 8
    How much of the above have you previously explained to your supervisor? May 8 at 10:23
  • 18
    So.... what is the actual question.... so far you've given lots of reasons why you want to disobey the people paying you, but whats the end goal you have in mind? Not attending and everyone being happy?
    – Kilisi
    May 8 at 12:01
  • 44
    Have you asked if travel expenses will be repaid? I live and work in the UK and am very surprised a company would expect you to travel from Reading to Sheffield, without owning a car, at your own expense. If they paid for that, would you do it? May 8 at 13:34
  • 7
    @Clipclop Where is your role based? This will usually be stated in your contract. If your role is remote then a UK employer would normally pay reasonable travel expenses if they want you to attend the office. If your role is based in the Sheffield office, then you are expected to live within a commutable distance of that office and pay your own travel expenses. If you've got a contract for an in-person Sheffield-based job, but you want a remote job, then you need to renegotiate your contract.
    – thelem
    May 9 at 11:23

11 Answers 11

38

If it were me, I would push back on it and wouldn't do it. But that's me - the problem you're presenting here is one that we can't answer directly because the answer depends on your own personal values.

To me, I wouldn't drive or spend more than an hour each direction travelling, unpaid for work related business.

Time you're occupied is work time, and I would expect to be paid for it. But I understand that's not always the norm and there's perfectly normal companies that just don't pay for that. It's really up to you whether you accept that or not.

The problem you're presenting though is that you're concerned if you don't present for this talk, you will be fired. However you don't want a job where you're expected to perform this activity - which occupies a ton of your time unpaid, I might add.

It sounds to me that you need to push back on the issue and say it's not something you are willing to do, while also shopping your resume around in case push comes to shove.

In general, unless there's something very significant that's been left out here, this sounds like a very trivial thing for someone to be fired over.

I don't know how things are in the UK, but over here in the US, it's expensive for companies to turn over employees and recruit new ones. To fire someone at most mid-size or larger corps, you have to have a good reason, they have to have been given warnings, and they have to be actively causing a problem far beyond just not being spectacular at their job. There are people at some companies that underperform massively for months or even a year before getting the boot because of how lenient companies are in an effort to ensure they don't get sued for wrongful termination.

All that is to say... if it's unacceptable to you, find a professional way to voice that you're not willing/able to do this. Set boundaries. If you need to, you can reason that you'd rather be working on x project, etc, but you could also just explain that you didn't expect to be travelling this much as part of this job and it's unreasonable for this to suddenly be demanded.

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  • 4
    Just note I don't think it would be legitimate in the scope of my contract to fire me on this issue -but I rather worry about the repercussions making my working relationship with my supervisor untenable.
    – Clipclop
    May 8 at 12:31
  • 15
    It sounds like it’s already untenable. I think either way you probably need to start looking for another job unless you can move to a better group in the company.
    – bob
    May 9 at 2:29
  • 7
    I feel like this answer is missing the fact that the meeting is not in a far away place but in the same city than OP's workplace (which was added in a comment). The fact that OP decided to live more than 3 hours from his workplace is technically 'his' problem and should not prevent him from attending mandatory events.
    – Echox
    May 9 at 12:18
  • 9
    I don't see any comment saying that OP's nominal workplace is the same office as the HQ. Are you just assuming that, or did I miss one?
    – Useless
    May 9 at 14:20
  • 3
    @Flater i think you're making a point of the contract saying wfh permanently vs just saying wfh - if it says wfh when he was hired, and doesn't make mention of it being wfh temporarily, it's reasonable that he would expect it was a permanently remote position. So them suddenly changing the working conditions later is unreasonable if they didn't lay that expectation out earlier on
    – schizoid04
    May 10 at 22:42
79

There is a lot to unpack here and I'm going to try to break it into parts. At the moment you are objecting to

  • preparing and delivering a 5 minute talk on some software you don't sound very proud of and don't appear to believe is important to the company (Even though you've been able to work on it when your supervisor would prefer you do something else.)
  • travelling half a day somewhere and half a day back, out of working hours, in Covid-unsafe conditions.
  • listening to a day's worth of 5 minute talks from your colleagues on topics you know nothing about but are sure are worthless.

You are being asked to engage, to show you care about this company and feel connected to it. You are being offered a chance to show others in the firm (some of whom could be your future peers or supervisors) what good and important work you do. You are being offered a chance to see what else is going on all over the company, things you might in fact want to be part of.

If it wasn't for the dangerous and unpaid travel I would urge you to do this and tell you why it could be so good for you. But the "buy yourself a train ticket or whatever" part of this is weird. Really weird.

If you truly think your job is on the line, try this. Ask (in email, to your supervisor and ccing someone else who cares, like the person you've been interacting with for this project or the person who invited you to speak, pretty much anyone) for the following arrangement: the company will cover your train tickets and two hotel nights. You will travel during the workday the day before the event (if that's a Sunday, you'll get a day off in lieu of your Sunday later), arriving at close of day, spend the night, attend the event the next day, spend another night, and travel home during the workday the next day. (If that's a Saturday, you'll get a day off for it later.) Further, you'll need some freedom to choose uncrowded train times. I know this means a lot of time away from family, and unpaid time sitting around in a hotel watching TV, but that is what happens when you travel on business.

Are they likely to agree to this for a 5 minute talk? No. But if that's what you really need in order to do it, ask for what you need. (Side effect: if they do agree, you'll know they really do value it, and you.) Are they likely to fire you for asking? Possibly, it is a lot to ask and implies you value yourself a lot more than they value you. That's probably true though, and it's why I recommend this only if you think you're likely about to be fired if you don't go. And since they probably won't agree, you can then offer to do it remotely as a backup plan. At no time will you mention that you think the talks are pointless or that you don't want to listen to the other ones, that the project isn't worth presenting on or anything like that. You will adopt a position of "thankyou for the opportunity to demonstrate the great work I did on this project" and you are simply clarifying what is needed for you to be able to do that.

If they can't make your travel feel less unfair and dangerous, and they won't set up a remote talk, then -- and this is advice you'll need other times too -- do not refuse. What you are going to do is decline this lovely opportunity that they have been so nice as to give you. Seriously, I mean it. You think it's great that people can talk about their projects, and you would enjoy hearing about other people's projects, but unfortunately you're just unable to accept that generous offer this year.

I have a client who holds an annual get together. I am not paid for my time if I go to it. Some years, I go. I think it's worth it. Some years, I don't. When I don't, I never refuse, I decline. They don't hold it against me. Your employer may be different. But I think the tension you're feeling from your employer is related more to your reluctance to engage with the firm as a whole than it is to your opinions on travel at the moment. See how much of that you can fix.

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    Good answer - but one point of clarification: I have no problem preparing or presenting. If I was doing it remotely I'd jump at the opportunity (maybe not everyone would be interested but who knows, some might?) but I think engaging with the company is using a different metric. One of the reasons for the "buy yourself a train ticket or whatever" attitude is that the head office is situated in Sheffield, so most attending - certainly the most important people - would have little inconvenience
    – Clipclop
    May 8 at 18:22
  • 13
    So say “I’d love to but it’s unreasonable for me to spend 200 euro on train tickets, reimburse me and I’m in, either a day of travel/present/travel back or a hotel stay to watch the others.” Then wear a mask and be as safe as the situation allows. If they won’t reimburse it’s their decision not to have you attend.
    – mxyzplk
    May 9 at 0:00
  • 12
    It doesn't say anywhere that OP lives 3 hours from the workplace. Head Office is in Sheffield. There could very well be a small office just minutes from OP's home where supervisor and the rest come to work routinely. May 9 at 13:11
  • 7
    This sounds comical to me. Five minutes is hardly enough time to describe anything of any complexity. No questions or discussion, obviously. And if there are 100 other talks to attend, well, 5 minutes x 100 talks = 500 minutes, which is over 8 hours. No one is going to get anything out of this.
    – Mohair
    May 9 at 14:40
  • 4
    This whole situation sounds like "a meeting that could be better as an email". The fact that the company thinks this is useful for "team building" or "being more engaged in the company" is irrelevant. Companies spend lots of time and money doing absolutely useless things like this that do just the opposite. Employers that want me to sit around being bored for even an hour and "need" me to give a 5 minute talk about something "important" really don't care about my time and I'll be looking for a new job. I've flat out refused to do this even in the Army. May 9 at 15:29
11

For me, the sticking point is

all expenses are to be paid for by myself

If you're an employee of the company, this is a hard legal nope. You have a designated place of work in your contract of employment, and all travel on work business to anywhere other than this location must then be covered by the company. If you're driving then your company will have some kind of defined scheme for this; but if you're taking the train, the train fare is automatically an expense you claim back. This is simply non-negotiable. Insisting that you pay for your own travel isn't just morally wrong, it would actually be breaking your contract of employment.

The time taken due to travelling is also automatically work time, the same as if you were sat at your desk. (You don't even need to be doing work on the train for this to count as work time.) This in turn has a knock-on effect on whether it's reasonable to request a hotel for one or both nights, depending on the length of the session and travelling times. As a further point on this too, many companies request that employees travel on trains outside peak times (which are much more expensive), so that's another factor in figuring out when you could/should travel. Check whether your employee handbook says anything about this.

A company with hundreds of employees almost certainly has extensive rules in place for claiming expenses. Read your employee handbook and see what it says.

Who exactly has told you that you can't claim expenses? If it's your direct supervisor, the obvious response is that the CEO has requested your presence. If they're still objecting, you're completely in the right to go to your supervisor's boss (or even as far as the CEO, if the CEO is personally requesting you to attend) and ask them what should happen. And also consider looping in HR if there is still any sticking point. As everyone knows, "HR Is Not Your Friend" - but they're very keen on the company not being open to legal issues from employment law, and compulsory non-recoverable work-related expenses are well up there on the list of Things You Don't Do.

As for this costing you your job - like I said, this is illegal. If they fire you for refusing to do something that they can't legally order you to do (i.e. spend your own money on something work-related), you have a constructive dismissal case so watertight that you could use it to raise the Titanic. HR should be well aware of this. Naturally it doesn't mean they can't find some other pretext to fire you, but if you think the place is that dysfunctional then getting free is probably a good move anyway.

All this is regardless of whether Covid is an issue or not, you'll notice. The rights and wrongs of Covid are actually secondary to whether you're being asked to spend hundreds of pounds of your own money for something work-related.

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  • 6
    I think if you're claiming something as illegal you should have supporting citations.
    – 134121
    May 9 at 18:43
  • 3
    With that said, it sounds like OP just doesn't want to go - making a fuss about the expenses will likely work (ie : company will probably cave and agree to pay) in which case OP would then be in the position of still not wanting to go, but with their employer having made concessions to assuage their hesitancy. Then OP will have to push back again, this time with emphasis on the real reason (ie: they just don't want to go, paid or not). Better to just stick to the actual reason and not give the employer fake excuses to work around.
    – J...
    May 9 at 23:20
  • @134121 I need citations for a company not being allowed to force me to give my own money to the company?
    – Graham
    May 10 at 0:41
  • 1
    @Graham That's not what you are claiming. "You have a designated place of work in your contract of employment, and all travel on work business to anywhere other than this location must then be covered by the company." Presumably, you mean the employer cannot legally require the employee pay his own way and cannot take punitive action against the employee for refusing to come to the conference. This appears an issue of statutory law, but then you later say "it would actually be breaking your contract of employment." Well, I don't know how you know that, but that's now contract/tort law...
    – 134121
    May 10 at 12:20
  • 1
    @Graham I'm not challenging your assumption. I'm challenging your legal claims that follow. You claim they legally cannot fire him for refusing to attend, but cite no law regarding that. And if you mean you expect some provision in his contract disallows this, it's not illegal to fire him, but he could sue.
    – 134121
    May 10 at 14:26
4

Rather than all this hustle and bustle over the travelling, why don't you prepare a nice video recording? Doing it this way would give you opportunity to demonstrate what the software does by way of short video clips, include a few PowerPoint slides to maybe show how the software helps the business, and whatever you can jam in for a final length of five minutes or so.

If you're professionally dressed and don't have 85 cats scurrying around in the background, it might work just as well as if you were actually there. You can send your finished work to the presenters before the event.

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  • 2
    I'm afraid the email specifically stated that video recordings would not be accepted
    – Clipclop
    May 8 at 20:54
  • 1
    If videos are not going to be accepted, maybe you should look for another job. Plenty of offers in my inbox every single day.....
    – boatcoder
    May 10 at 4:37
3

I'm not saying that this is the best option for you, but I'd like to suggest a third alternative that you might not have thought of yet:

Attend, but wear a good protective face mask (FFP2/KN95).

This has the following advantages:

  • You significantly reduce the risk of catching Covid (or any other disease, for that matter).
  • You show that you are willing to do the work you are assigned to do.
  • You also show that you are not willing to compromise on your health.
  • Combining the two previous points, you show that you are willing to constructively find solutions that work for both you and your employer.

(If you are asked why you wear a mask, of if you get any stupid remarks of the "come on, take off that stupid mask" kind, just mention that you have vulnerable people in your household. Unless the other person is extremely rude, that should stop them.)

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    I considered this, but this would make me too much of a social pariah. This isn't a bad suggestion in itself, but I think the boss would be actively hostile to this - first with jokes and then probably more forceful. I would probably ultimately be able "to get away with it" but not before looking like a neurotic clown. Wouldn't be surprised if I got emails suggesting mental services afterwards if I did it.
    – Clipclop
    May 8 at 20:53
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    @Clipclop: Oh my, I'm sorry to hear this. Over here (Austria), FFP2 masks are still mandatory in public transportation as well as in supermarkets, which makes it much more socially acceptable to wear them in other settings as well. There's even an official recommendation to wear them whenever you are inside (except for your own household, of course). I knew that the UK stopped all protection regulations earlier than other countries, but I did not know it was that bad.
    – Heinzi
    May 8 at 21:01
  • 8
    @Clipclop Serious question - why are you still working in this place? This sounds toxic like hell, and you clearly have a very low opinion of your various supervisors. Sometimes it's time to move on.
    – xLeitix
    May 9 at 11:09
  • 5
    Masks are more about you non-spreading than non-catching the virus.
    – mcalex
    May 9 at 12:21
  • 4
    @mcalex: That's why you need an FFP2/KN95 mask. They also work well for protecting yourself.
    – Heinzi
    May 9 at 12:47
1

No offense but this seems like an attempt to rationalise not attending.

Realistically most of these reasons are weak ones.

You pay travelling expenses? Unless you live next door to work you have been getting paid with no travelling expenses the whole time you have been WFH.

You have a reason to be WFH? We all do, but most don't get to.

You might catch COVID? Everyone in the World is in the same situation whenever they go shopping.

You're worried about losing your WFH status and maybe your job? You should be, your work needs you to do something and you don't want to do it.

I would advise you to look at the positives of the experience. You're really in a bit of a corner on this one. In those situations it's best to make something positive out of it, the other direction only leads to frustration and other nastiness that isn't constructive for anyone.

You will get a chance to go somewhere new and network with new people and maybe even impress a few. Take care of your personal safety just as you would going shopping. If your girlfriend drives, then why not get her to drive and have a picnic or something. I'm sure she'd enjoy some time away from your dad. I periodically have to go to another Island to work, I usually take my wife, a bit of time just the two of us even if it's just while travelling is great.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    May 10 at 15:31
  • 2
    Your first reason is wrong. In the UK, even WFH can get travel expenses when asked to go to work at places which are not your contractual place of work, minus the cost/time to get to your contractual place of work. That part of the journey is your own. May 11 at 10:00
1

Another answer suggested that this may be a company culture building ritual. Healthy company culture necessarily includes events like this that build morale and positive relationships. This can't be underestimated; if there's any chance that's what this is, you are going to lose a lot of goodwill if you don't go.

On the other hand, 6 hours of travel, unpaid for both time and expenses, is an excessive request. However, is that a result of your own doing? Do you live that far because your WFH terms have allowed you to move so far away? You can't use that to negotiate in your favor if it's your doing in the first place.

Maybe... you need to change the terms of your employment. If you still require WFH conditions, the situation has changed such that you are now asking, in your employer's opinion, for too much. This is expected; the average opinion at this point is that COVID concerns are not valid reasoning to work from home. An alternative might be to request contractor terms, rather than payroll employee. That has more risk because your independent contacts can simply not be renewed without warning. This is the currency for more freedom over your employment terms; taking on risk is the typical price for more convenience.

All this aside, I'm quite sure there's other issues with your supervisor that you haven't shared. Weigh those out accordingly, or ask another question.

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    For many jobs, there's absolutely no reason necessary for it to not be a remote position while still being a direct hire. Employers wanting to bring people back into the office simply want to justify the cost of the building they still own and maintain, as well as justifying the management they still employ and want to micromanage people into starting early, leaving late, working those extra hours without pay, and otherwise stressing people for no good reason than the upper management's ego trips. May 10 at 15:01
  • 1
    And intentionally demoting oneself to a contractor is usually a bad way to go. It signals to the employer that they are willing to leave at a moment's notice for any reason, while letting the employer fire the employee for nearly anything and everything. Speaking as a contract worker, I'd much rather have the stability of a direct hire than work contracts. Having to find a new job every 6 months due to "end of contract" is a really stressful way to live. May 10 at 15:01
  • @computercarguy Maybe your experiences have fueled your cynicism, but it is thoroughly unjustified by my experience. --- Whether "contractor" is a demotion is entirely opinion based. There's obvious pros and cons, and since the OP clearly wants more freedom and less typical employee expectations, it's a reasonable suggestion that he weigh it out for himself.
    – 134121
    May 11 at 3:08
  • And you say you don't want the employer expectations, but then you say you want the security and protections of an employee. It sounds like you have some expectations from employers that by and large they are unwilling to meet. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
    – 134121
    May 11 at 3:16
  • My experiences over the last 20+ years have definitely "fueled [my] cynicism". When contractors are treated like 2nd or 3rd class citizens because "they won't stick around", and are given menial tasks or are expected to have the same product knowledge as people who have been working there for 5+ years, yeah, those are problems. Not to mention not getting health insurance for the 2 of the 6 months of the contract, having to pay more for the insurance, and that's if they offer it to contractors at all. And don't even think about a 401k. May 11 at 14:57
1

It's absolutely normal that you want to work from home. In the long term, worst case you might have to change your employer, but we are not there.

First is the question of travel expenses. The company has to pay your travel expenses from your normal place of work to Sheffield. The "normal place of work" is likely the last office where you worked. If that was in Sheffield, tough. If it was three hours away from Sheffield, they have to pay your expenses.

Now to me personally working from home is very valuable. My savings are about £500 per month. So if you think that refusing to go endangers your job, and there is no way to convince your supervisor otherwise, and by going to this meeting you can keep working from home for a few more months, then honestly I would go. Even if it costs my own money. Just a good investment.

Also, if your normal place of work is Sheffield (if you said it I missed it), then as soon as your company disallows WFH you have to either move to Sheffield, or find another job anyway. So I'd start looking now. There are plenty of places around where WFH will remain normal, because of all the savings in cost for office space, many people working more efficiently, and so on.

(Just read your comment "in this arbitrary location" - so Sheffield is NOT your normal place of work, and they have to pay for your expenses. That probably makes a difference. )

1

Ultimately it comes down to your personal choice.

  • Your boss wants an employee they can engage with face to face, someone that travels to give presentations, etc.
  • You want a job where you can work 100% remote.

Both of you are entitled to want these things. You can give up your preferences to secure the job, or you can keep pushing and see how far it can go before breaking. Neither option is "wrong" it's just business.

I would suggest writing a (very polite) email stating that you don't feel comfortable traveling and mixing with large crowds, given that your family members are so vulnerable. Don't give too many excuses—that might invite your boss to "solve" them. Just state that this is not something you can do.

0

Feeling comfortable in a given situation is important. However, we develop ourselves when we get out of the comfort zone. Perhaps it's an opportunity to get some new experience or to expand your network of connections.

Also, if you really don't want to engage with people live, perhaps a partial solution would be to record a video for the session, if it's just 5 mins.

All in all, to me it's a matter of perception. Your supervisor may not like you, but they wouldn't put you in the spotlight if they didn't trust your abilities. Your failure is a failure of the company as well, so why not give it a shot?

-1

Holy shit. I am simply astounded by these other responses telling you to suck it up. IMO, almost every sentence you have written about this company is a red flag.

My supervisor is not keen on me WFH but she tolerates it for the moment.

This is a red flag. Your supervisor should at least be understanding of your situation living with two vulnerable people. Empathy for your employees and their physical situations and conditions is and should be the bare minimum for a supervisor.

CEO of my company has asked that I provide a talk to... people (it's not quite clear who)

This is a red flag. Someone asking you to present a talk (it doesn't matter who), should at the very least tell you your audience and give you context of the event so you can properly prepare the talk. A talk given to an audience of clients is going to be different to a talk given to an audience of employees, which again is going to be different to a talk given at say, a tech conference. This sounds like you are being set up to fail.

The product does everything that has been asked, but my direct supervisor doesn't really care about this

This is a huge red flag. The entire point of a supervisor is to assign and manage projects and see them to completion. That you say that you have brought the product assigned to you to completion, but the supervisor doesn't care for it is simply astonishing. Regardless of the personal feelings of the supervisor, if a product is complete, to specification, and on time, it is a success regardless and should be treated as such.

and secretly wishes that I would work on her personal projects instead. I think my supervisor feels that if I was in the office she could direct me more easily.

This is perhaps the most damning line in the entire question. Putting normal workplace politics to the side, an employee should generally not be worried that their supervisor has an ulterior motive outside of "shipping things on time". It sounds like your supervisor disagrees with the objectives that they have been set and the projects they have been assigned to manage, which begs the question of why they are even in that role in the first place. The way you talk about your supervisor is alarming, relations between an employee and a supervisor should at the very least be amicable, and yet this doesn't read as being the case here. The way you talk about the supervisor implies that she's a rogue agent within the company -- she has her own motives, aside from the wishes of the leaders of the company, and wishes you to pursue those instead. This is a massive red flag.

The 5 minute talk that I'm supposed to give is seriously inconvenient. I live just outside Reading in the UK and I've been asked to present in Sheffield (3.5 hour drive). I don't drive and all expenses are to be paid for by myself. It's also expected that I'd attend the other 100 talks though they are entirely irrelevant to what I'm working on.

Let's distill this down: You are being asked to take an unpaid commute to a work function -- other people have correctly pointed this out as illegal and I don't feel I can do that much more justice than any of the other answers have.

Personally, this sounds like a horrible place to work, and I would start a job search immediately

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  • 3
    This answer is a huge red flag. Some companies allow WFH and are happy for people to just be sole productivity machines. Other companies have interest in developing team culture and get people engaged with each other. Clearly, the event we're speaking about is a team-building exercise for everyone at the company to share what they've been working on lately, which falls into the second camp. If you are interested in working for a company where you never speak to your colleagues, that's your prerogative - but it's not an indicator of a bad company.
    – caesay
    May 11 at 10:13
  • 1
    Sorry, but you can't make that assumption because at no point is it clear that the employee here even knows what the function is about. The fact that the audience is unclear makes it pretty clear that it is not a team building function, otherwise that would have been part of the email asking for the talk. The audience being unclear, as mentioned in my answer, seems like a pretty clear cut case of "being set up to fail", because how can you even prepare a talk about something you've built if you don't know the audience you're writing to?!
    – Aster
    May 11 at 10:16
  • 3
    @caesay, a 5 minute talk about a project isn't team building, it's a "dog and pony show" where egos are stroked about the things that are being done, but without the substance of what's going on. Actual team building includes activities that get the whole team involved with the whole team, not having to sit through a series of lectures that no one really cares about. May 11 at 15:07
  • 2
    All I can say is that as both an employer and an employee, I would love the idea of getting everyone together and letting them share what they are working on for a few minutes. Lots of faces at my company who I don't even know what department they are in. All I can say is that an event like this is an amazing ice breaker for developing new relationships with colleagues. In general I would speculate that people who dislike the idea of this event are also the same people who are not interested in learning about or developing personal relationships with colleagues (which is fine, too).
    – caesay
    May 13 at 14:48
  • @caesay that's great! good for you! But if you do ever schedule something like that as an employer, please make sure that it is paid (it's a work function and people are there at the behest of their employer, explicitly so it smooths over work relationships -- that makes it work even if you don't personally think that it is), that travel is covered (especially if you're making people drive 3 hours to and fro), and that the people making the presentations at least know the audience when they make the presentation! That's basically the bare minimum to make this not seem sketchy as hell.
    – Aster
    May 16 at 11:37

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