16

I like doing my job and with COVID I love working from home with meetings via Teams. After COVID, I'm continuing working from home. My productivity is higher than in the office and I often work (because I want) more hours than the contract.

I'm an associate director in this company. Now, the company decided to organize a company day out in a historical palace in the middle of nowhere in order to build the team. Who wants can go to the office and the company rented a bus to transfer all people from the office to the palace. They asked to everybody if they wanted to join the event. I said no because I prefer to work.

So, my boss and the HR called me to, basically, force me to join the event. As you can see from the program, the company meeting is between 10.30 and 13.

  • Arrival and Continental Breakfast (9:30 - 10:30)
  • Company Meeting (10:30 - 13:00)
  • Lunch (13:00 - 14:00)
  • Team building event (14:00 - 17:00)
  • Drinks reception (17:00 - 18:00)
  • BBQ (18:00 - 21:00)
  • Depart (21:00)

In my point of view, this is a social event, not a real company meeting because it is not in the office, there are not clients and there is not a real working agenda (but there are only some plans for team games).

Also, they asked every employee if they want to join saying that the participation is optional. They added that the employees must join the event unless they have a medical reason.

My question is not if it is nice or not to go. I know someone can say attending team building exercise is rather beneficial for the colleagues to bond together. I think each person has to decide what he or she wants to do because they are not regular working hours in the office. Also, if the company asks if a person wants to join or not, the answer could be no. Instead, why do you ask the question?

In conclusion, can a company force/order people to join a social event?

26
  • 26
    Can they force you? No. You could refuse to go, but then you'll have to live with whatever the repercussions are.
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 15:36
  • 116
    "not a real company meeting because it is not in the office" - that isn't any more legitimate than someone thinking you aren't doing "real work" because it is not in the office. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 19:24
  • 27
    You need to clarify something here. You said that you are "associate director in this company". That suggests to me that you are de-facto management. Is that the case?
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 22:16
  • 18
    If you want to have the law without any opinion, you maybe should try at law.SE Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 14:04
  • 14
    Posting the whole seclude in the original format, along with the story, makes you easily identifiable for anyone from your company; especially as the question hit HNQ (Stackexchange's frontpage). If they're on SE they'll likely see this question. You may want to anonymize it more.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 6:22

10 Answers 10

140

I said no because I prefer to work.

Your difficulty here is that "work" is what the company defines it to be, not what you define it to be. For this day, they have defined your first priority to be team building exercises. So it's very difficult to get what you want without creating at least the impression of insubordination, even if you don't refuse a direct instruction.

If you object to the time being taken outside office hours, you could try asking if you can leave at 5pm before the more social aspect of the day. But even that is going to look anti-social. If you had a pressing family or health reason to skip the day, that might be received more favourably, but essentially all you really have is "I don't want to go". And that's a hard sell to management. It's your right to say so, but it will be noted and may be used against you at some point in future.

7
  • 86
    @EnricoRossini If you as a manager skip out on something like this, then it will affect your team .. IMHO that is squarely in the realms of your performance because you are not a worker bee.
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 22:19
  • 58
    @EnricoRossini Going to team-building events (or not) is part of your performance and how you manage. FWIW, as a director who works from home full-time in a different state to most of my team, I find meeting in person occasionally is crucial for maintaining the kind of rapport that helps the team run smoothly.
    – G_B
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 0:42
  • 49
    "this is not related to my work." People who already know each other can work remotely super well together. However, when there is a newcomer, it can be very difficult for that newcomer to come up to speed when he doesn't know everyone. In other words, your attendance is required for their benefit, and the benefit of the company, but not necessarily your benefit. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 2:50
  • 11
    @StephanBranczyk This is important enough that I think it needs to be an answer. I have worked with remote teams for 15 years and interactions only worked well if we had met in person.
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 16:41
  • 1
    @mmmmmm, Feel free to write out that as your own answer. Personally, I do not have enough experience working remote. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 3:48
74

I said no because I prefer to work.

Yikes, that is some serious career-limiting-move energy.

As an associate director I would expect you to be more politically cognizant and realize that you're no longer doing things exclusively for yourself but need to be able to motivationally delegate tasks to others.

An adage I've heard frequently which is applicable to your situation:

Business decisions are made on the golf course, not in the office.

https://www.inc.com/quora/how-million-dollar-deals-really-are-made-on-the-golf-course.html


Per your update, these two statements don't seem fishy to you?

  • I worked in the last 5 years with remoted team without any issues at all
  • Unfortunately, the turnover is high

Why is the turnover high if you're doing everything right? Rhetorical.

If you're so certain that comradery isn't important to a person's attachment to a job then what are you doing to help people make the decision to stay? What policies have you introduced? It's easy to criticize...

And it's easy to leave when you don't feel connected.

The toughest job I've ever left was in my college years (almost 15 years ago) where the pay was $11/hour, atrocious customers, long hours (10am-2am on more than one occasion), but utterly amazing and connected co-workers.

I still think about those people including my supervisors and sincerely hope they are all happy and healthy.

3
  • "Why is the turnover high if you're doing everything right?" Structural issues with the company (and, if this is IT, with the industry as a whole) that he can't do anything about, quite possibly.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 11:56
  • In this day and age things have changed. Many people work remotely anyway, and what's becoming more important than office friendships is the actual work, and the pay. The question author is decisively of the opinion that events of this kind are useless for staff retention and that what really helps are competitive salaries and qualified colleagues. Even though that sounds (without judgement) a bit "aspi" I agree with this very direct attitude. Hell, I don't need a subsidized subway ticket and gym membership and free fruit: Just shove over the dough and I can buy all I want. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 12:17
  • The OP may well be right that events of this kind are useless to improve staff retention, but that doesn't mean improving staff retention is the only possible purpose of the event. It's even possible that the event is completely pointless; businesses have their employees do pointless things all the time for all sorts of silly reasons. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 2:39
33

I'm an associate director in this company.

The higher up you are in the company hierarchy, the more you are seen as a host of the event.

Even if you insist on merely being a guest: you are a role model for those working under your guidance. If the managers are missing just because they would rather do something else, how can the company expect anyone to attend?

The event is part of your job, it is the task the company has given to you. They say it's optional because they can't force you to stay beyond working hours.

I'm not sure about UK etiquette, but in Germany some will travel to/from the location using their own car or public transport instead of the company bus. And some will not stay until the end of the event, for personal reasons. Again, the higher up you are in the hierarchy, the more you are expected to stay.


EDIT:

So, my boss and the HR called me to, basically, force me to join the event.

Your boss has already escalated the matter to HR. This is a step towards being part of the high turnover you've mentioned.

Any reluctance to go, or leaving early, will now be seen with a negative bias. As Michael Harvey says in a comment:

I think that if the OP hopes to stay at the company, he or she should swallow their objections and go to the event with a good grace, participate properly and fully in activities, at least pretend to enjoy it, and make a big noise about 'being glad that they came'. Alternatively, check out some employment lawyers.

4
  • 3
    The transport is also an important point - if the distance was excessive, and the company had NOT provided transport, that might be a reasonable excuse, but not in this case, since transport has been arranged. (All other things being equal.)
    – MikeB
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 12:35
  • 9
    I think that if the OP hopes to stay at the company, he or she should swallow their objections and go to the event with a good grace, participate properly and fully in activities, at least pretend to enjoy it, and make a big noise about 'being glad that they came'. Alternatively, check out some employment lawyers. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 15:29
  • @MichaelHarvey yes. Added your comment to the answer.
    – user24582
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 7:30
  • 1
    I would have thought that the simple answer to the OPs question as posted Can my UK company order me to join a social event? is a straight yes. You are an employee of the company and your boss gives you instructions on how they want you to carry out your employment. It would have to be a fairly unreasonable request for the OP to have any leverage at all. Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 7:53
31

They asked everybody if they wanted to join the event. I said no because I prefer to work.

Building a rapport with colleagues and management is part of work, whether you like it or not. Whether in person or not you are dealing with a set of people from a divergent set of backgrounds. The business is reliant on these employees working together for the business goals. It is in their best interest to get these people to like each other enough (Or at least not hate each other) that the business can operate successfully.

There is unfortunately no work that operates in a social vacuum. You need to be able to a reasonable degree to interact socially with your work environment. Yes in certain fields social skills are more important than others, some industries may be willing to deal with social awkwardness more than others. It also depends on how brilliant you actually are in your job and how much money you generate, but you are going to have to make peace with the fact that all work requires social skills although some more than others.

Luckily for you even if you lack social skills this is something you can practice and get better at. I myself enjoy spending time alone but by sheer willpower can force myself to interact with other people. It was not easy at first but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

Good Luck!

0
24

In conclusion, can a company force/order people to join a social event?

The company may or may not share your opinion that this is a just a social event, rather than an important team-building event. And as an associate director, more may be expected from you than would be expected of other employees.

Since you wrote "my boss and the HR called me to, basically, force me to join the event.", clearly you feel that they forced/ordered you to join the event. But I suspect you are really asking if you must comply or not.

You may be able to get away with ignoring their specific order and deciding not to attend anyway. But it will clearly put you in a bad light. Some companies place a high value on being part of the company culture. You are in a position to know for sure, but obviously they are signaling that your attendance is important to them.

You get to decide if refusing is important enough to you to risk any potential repercussions (written warning, bad feelings, lack of advancement, etc.) or not.

5
  • I got the point but they can’t fire me because I’m not going to social events. Legally, what repercussions do they take? I understand the opinions but what do the law say?
    – Enrico
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 21:05
  • 8
    @EnricoRossini They may not be able to fire you (IANAL), but they probably could demote you fairly easily for not being willing to support the rest of the company's management by not attending.
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 22:21
  • 20
    @EnricoRossini it is not a social event: it is taking place during work hours on a work day. Therefore, the company is completely within its rights to treat it just like any other day when they expect you to do something in exchange for paying you money. This day, they expect you to socialize with your colleagues in exchange for paying you for that working day. I cannot imagine any kind of contract that would allow you to claim that not attending a company event held during working hours is any different to not working any other day and expecting to be paid for it.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 14:38
  • 11
    @EnricoRossini As others have noted, this is not a "Social Event" in the eyes of the law - it is clearly a "Work Event" even if it doesn't involve any of your day-to-day work. The remainder is all a little grey. If you have a good reason for non-attendance, then no, they cannot fire you. If this is a "first offence" then again, they cannot fire you, but if you are "on a final written warning", then it would be quite reasonable for them to fire you, if this is anywhere near as mandatory as it sounds.
    – MikeB
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 12:31
  • 1
    "it is taking place during work hours" it starts at 9:30am and finishes at 9pm. Not sure the work hours you keep, but there's about an extra half a day added in there in my eyes.
    – Phil
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 8:48
14

Based on your update you seem to be misunderstanding a key part of being a manager.

To do my job as a manager, I don't need to see people in person, but I have to show them that I'm knowledgeable and fair. The people that are working with me have to know that if there is a problem, I'm here to solve it or help them to solve it (or mitigate it). I have to challenge my teams to improve the knowledge and don't bore them. Keep them busy and happy.

An important part of being a manager is seeing and interacting with people especially in person when possible. As an employee if I am going to have trust in my managers it is through interactions that I have with them and an event like this can be a very important factor. The message that I get (and I assume others at the company get) from the refusal to attend an event like this is you don't care about getting to know people at the company and working to perform better as a team. It is one thing for a lower level employee to miss these types of events but the optics of higher level employees skipping makes it seem like they don't care about the company or employees.

0
14

As comments and answers have gone on, there is a lot to unpick here.

The question as originally asked:

Can my UK company order me to join a social event?

Yes, of course they can, your UK company can order you to stand on your head for ten minutes if they want to.

In the initial post the question then became:

My UK company ordered me to do something I don't want to do. Do I have to do it?

Your company defines what your work is. As long as it isn't violating any law or is far removed from your normal duties to be considered unreasonable, then what you do in the time they are paying for is up to them. This does mean it is unsafe to ask someone to stand on their head for ten minutes, but it is not unreasonable to ask a manager to attend an event on company time. You don't have to do it, but it's not unreasonable to expect you to.

Then we get:

My UK company ordered me to do something I don't want to do, and I said no. They escalated it. Can they do this?

Obviously yes, they can.

And then...

My UK company ordered me to do something I don't want to do, I said no, they aren't happy. Can they legally fire me?

It's a significant step, as I thought there would be middle ground, but anyway:

No, for this explicitly, they cannot fire you. However it should not be underestimated how much of a career limiting move this is. At best the corporate leadership will identify you as someone they cannot rely on. There is far more to being a manager than getting people to do work. Honestly in my experience, that's the easy part.

The question you've not asked, but maybe you should:

Can they fire me for something else?

And here is the rub. Even in the UK where employee rights are very strong, there is almost always a way to get rid of someone, no matter how petty. As has been mentioned several times in the comments, what you have posted makes it very easy for your company to identify who you are. Further, it is actually rather simple to figure out the company you work for. This could be framed by the company as bringing them in to disrepute, which depending on corporate policy, could qualify as gross misconduct. Even without that, I know of corporately problematic employees who were fired for such things as simple as breaching the corporate internet use policy (reading BBC news on their lunch break on the company machine was considered enough). Failing that, there is always the option to merge your team into another under another manager and make you redundant, which is 100% legal in all cases.

The question should not be "Can they make me do this?", the question should have been "Is this an issue I want to make myself unpopular over?". However with the detail you've posted, it could well now be "Is this something I am willing to lose my job over?".

7
  • 6
    They may not be able to fire you but they can refuse to give you a raise or a promotion. Career stagnation is a real thing.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 9:54
  • "your UK company can order you to stand on your head for ten minutes if they want to" That seems like it might violate health and safety legislation.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 12:00
  • 1
    @nick012000 Absolutely true, and covered in the next point.
    – ThaRobster
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 12:54
  • 1
    @nick012000 Memo to all employees .. Standing on your head is a now part of the mandatory fitness inspired company health and wellbeing plan. (And while I say this in jest, there are employment sectors like the armed forces, that do have fitness based requirements).
    – Peter M
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:41
  • @PeterM We in corporate believe standing on ones head for ten minutes a day increases blood flow to the brain and therefore improves creativity. We're not going to do it though, we're far too important and busy. And I couldn't possibly in this fancy suit
    – ThaRobster
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 7:36
12

I'm like you, I don't like company (social) events at all, I'd rather sit all day behind my desk and do some work. BUT I do see the value of being together physically with other employees.

  1. For some new folks it will be the first time to meet you in person (Like @Stephan Branczyk mentioned in a comment) and it's good for bonding.
  2. You will meet and talk to some other colleagues, you will usually talk to and this might give you new insights in your job or get connected with others that will benefit you in your job.

So instead of viewing this event as bothersome, see this a chance to connect to people new and old colleagues alike. Try to enjoy the time that you are not sitting behind your computer all the time :).

3
  • 10
    This. It is also important how OP's absence will affect others. If I was new to a company and found out that not even my director (associate or not) does not bother to show up at a corporate event, I would think that being social is not valued at the company. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some folks want to like their jobs and co-workers. Others are fine with being "just another cog in the machine". Do you know which kind of people you work with?
    – Hermann
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 14:57
  • 3
    I find these social events are a good excuse to take a break from work and usually have low responsibility
    – qwr
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 4:16
  • 1
    I also don't really see the problem with a free small mini-vacation paid for by the employer. Take a day off eat all the free food enjoy the open bar. Don't worry too much about it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 10:26
4

In my point of view, this is a social event, not a real company meeting because it is not in the office, there are not clients and there is not a real working agenda

From the way this is framed, alongside within the rest of the agenda for the day, I think you're partly right; this doesn't look like it's a Company Meeting from 10:00 to 13:00. It looks far more like it's actually a Company Conference.

A time when the most senior management are going to tell you important information, update you on the company's success (or lack thereof) and future aims, major upcoming policy changes, and then open the floor for any questions.

And if you don't go, you might wind up being the only person who doesn't know, for example, ‘this is what the new CEO looks like, these are our new opening hours, here's the new office location, and these are the mandatory days that you need to be in that office for training and getting issued your upgraded laptops.’

As a manager, you should be attending — even if for no other reason than so that you can discuss the event with your subordinates during the next team-meeting, and disseminate information to any of them who weren't able to attend.

If you don't attend, without a good reason for your absence, and thus can't complete those managerial duties towards your team, then… well, it's probably not enough to get you fired, but it's certainly grounds to demote you.

2
  • Thank you for your comment. Obviously, I'm going, I like meeting people and free meals. As I said, I like to understand if it is correct for a company says it is optional to join but it is mandatory is you are not sick. In my opinion there is a contradiction. So, it is not clear that the company acts like that. If it is mandatory, say it. If I can choose to join or not, I can say no, As simple as that.
    – Enrico
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 16:25
  • It is honestly absurd to suggest that any crucial information would not be circulated afterwards by email. What, if you are sick that day, you get to go to wrong office?
    – Davor
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 13:02
2

Do you wish to remain a manager?

If so, you have to turn up to socal events and often buy the drinks. If not, then it is unlikely your are working in a job that is a good fit for you.

So we then get the hard part:

  • You need a reason for leaving you can give at interviews while looking for new jobs/contacts.
  • You need a good reference from your current employer.

One option is to become a contactor taking contacts you can do from home. Say you doing it for the money thank your current employer when you leave for the great technical experience you got with them.

You must log in to answer this question.

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