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My boss is visiting his remote team members locally where I work in the United States. In an open environment by our cubes, he asked does anyone want to go out after work for dinner and drinks.

One of my team members has undergone AA counseling in the past and was present when this question was asked. My boss does not know his medical history of problematic drinking.

If I answer Yes to my boss, this may create a peer pressure effect on my team member for which alcohol could endanger his health / welfare due to a relapse. If I answer no , I miss out on a social opportunity to get to know my manager in a social context outside of office environment.

My goals:

  1. To avoid putting peer pressure on my other team member as I am his manager.

  2. To not put my team member in an unsafe / unhealthy environment at a bar where most likely I and my manager will be drinking.

  3. To be able to enjoy social time with my manager.

Edit: I feel this question differs from the suggested duplicate even though I was OP in that question too as this question was asked off the cuff and hence I was caught off guard by my team member being present. The other question was me considering my options rather than a question from my boss. Hence, I want to dodge answering right then and there until I can see my boss 1:1.

Is there a way I can skip answering this uncomfortable question until a more opportune time?

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6 Answers 6

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Is there a way I can skip answering this uncomfortable question until a more opportune time?

I don't think it's necessary to do that - supporting your team member doesn't mean you need to infantilize them or treat them as if they are made of glass. I can virtually guaranteee that your team member has frequent moments in their day-to-day life where they recieve casual invites to social situations where alcohol is a factor, and they will have coping mechanisms and strategies to handle this. If they didn't they wouldn't be suceeding in their recovery (which they presumably are).

Revealing the team member's condition to your boss without their explicit consent is a non-starter, don't even think of going there. It's not your place, and it would stand a good chance of doing irreprable harm to your working relationship with them, and potentially even harm your relationship with your manager. Someone who goes around revealing private medical information about their colleagues where it is not necessary is not someone who should be in a position of responsibility!

So how can you support your team member? Because while you didn't spell that out as an explicit goal that's what:

To avoid putting peer pressure on my other team member as I am his manager.

To not put my team member in an unsafe / unhealthy environment at a bar where most likely I and my manager will be drinking.

Really translate into. Assuming when you respond "yes" to the manager's invite that the team member also says "yes" then you can take them aside at the next convenient time and check that they are really okay with it, and let them know that you're mindful that it might be a difficult situation for them and that if they wanted to duck out after the food portion that you're not going to take any issue with that and will support any pretext they wished to use. If they were comfortable staying the entire time and simply consuming non-alcoholic beverages then you support that - they're not a child and it's not on you to decide what their comfort levels should be.

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  • 3
    In short: Behave as if you know nothing about that member.
    – iBug
    Oct 10, 2023 at 19:16
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    If you as local guide have any option tto choose the location, you can ask the team member for ideas, so they have possibility to chose a comfortable environment. Not each bar triggers equal. Personal trigger can be very different. Oct 10, 2023 at 20:23
  • 12
    If you take that team member aside later, you may also ask if they'd like you to suggest to your boss that said team member act as the designated driver, "in case someone else over-indulges" - or simply relay that they've volunteered. They'd "take one for the team" and have a perfect "excuse" to not drink with, IME, a minimum of pressure or assumptions.
    – minnmass
    Oct 10, 2023 at 20:47
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    @minnmass: That works once. But if the workplace frequently has these outings, then the team member will need a better excuse (or, at the very least, they will need to be willing to say "I don't drink" in front of everyone).
    – Kevin
    Oct 11, 2023 at 0:40
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    @minnmass: The team member can just say they don't drink alcohol. I don't. I can drink alcohol -- I've had the occasional limoncello at the end of the meal when living close to Nice -- but I don't enjoy it. People look at you funny at the beginning, but they get used to you ordering sodas or juices. And if they insist, a firm "No" -- no explanation, just "No" -- usually ends that line of conversation. During team outings especially, I was rarely the only one not drinking alcohol, so it was way less of a problem than with "friends of friends". Oct 11, 2023 at 9:08
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  1. I understand your concern for your colleague. Their sobriety is their responsibility and their private business, not yours, so make sure that you don't answer for them or otherwise disclose their personal information/situation to anyone. Respect and honor their right to privacy.

  2. Having said that, you could simply accept the invitation and be an example to your colleague by not partaking in any alcohol during the outing.

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    Yes. Go there and drink virgin cocktails - the plus side is: they are very delicious and you can drink more of them
    – til_b
    Oct 12, 2023 at 8:05
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Is there a way I can skip answering this uncomfortable question until a more opportune time?

You answer for yourself, and let your team mate member for himself.

Presumably, your team member is an adult and capable of handling his issues on his own.

And whatever you choose to do, it is not your role to disclose your team member's issues to your boss.

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  • If the team member had been able to handle this on their own, they wouln't have joined any AA meetings. You can't assume this. Placing responsibility where it belongs is one thing; using that as an excuse not to offer any help is another. Oct 11, 2023 at 19:54
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    @reinierpost (A) Help should be rendered after being requested, not preemptively (except in extreme/urgent cases). No such request has been mentioned in the Question. (B) Joining AA meetings is someone handling this on their own. Oct 11, 2023 at 23:37
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  1. "Hey, just let me check something on that and I'll get back to you in 5 mins"
  2. Walk back to your desk. If necessary, pretend to look at your calendar/phone for 5 mins.
  3. Message your boss and say "yeah, I'm in".
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  • You might need to explain the reason for pretending to be unsure for 5 minutes.
    – bdsl
    Oct 11, 2023 at 10:33
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    "just needed to check if i had <insert plausible activity> going on but it's next week, all clear"
    – bracco23
    Oct 11, 2023 at 10:42
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    @bdsl "Thought I might have had something else on" Oct 11, 2023 at 10:42
  • @PhilipKendall I mean you should explain it to us, not to the boss.
    – bdsl
    Oct 11, 2023 at 11:03
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    @bdsl Because the question the OP has asked is "Is there a way I can skip answering this uncomfortable question until a more opportune time?". This is that. Oct 11, 2023 at 19:33
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First of all, thanks for being concerned for your reportee - of many other things, this is also what a manager should be doing.

I'd suggest, accept the invite, find out a restaurant / diner where they do not serve alcohol, and mention to your boss that

"I know of a good place, which will be appreciated by all the members for the team dinner. May I suggest we plan the dinner at <insert place here>?"

You'll not miss the social gathering, while keeping your team member safe.

Just to be on the safe side, (or in case, your boss is keen on the "drinking" part) mention to your boss (privately, before the arrangement is done) that not all the members might be comfortable with social drinking, so this place you've suggested does not serve alcohol - no more info than that. They should be able to get the hint.

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  • At least here in german speaking europe, I have not heard of restaurants that do not serve alcohol. So this is not a universal option.
    – kirbby
    Oct 10, 2023 at 7:40
  • @kirbby I thought the question was tagged united-states? Oct 10, 2023 at 9:24
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    Yes you are right, I just wanted to emphasize that it is not possible everywhere :)
    – kirbby
    Oct 10, 2023 at 10:32
  • Even in the United States, a restaurant which would be appropriate for this type of event and does not serve alcohol would seem quite the oddity, wouldn't it? Other than in dry counties, of course...
    – jcaron
    Oct 10, 2023 at 16:15
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    If the boss suggested drinks and dinner, this doesnt seem like a great plan. At very least you probably want to let the boss know in advance that it's an alcohol free place.
    – JMac
    Oct 10, 2023 at 17:54
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The last time I supervised anybody (about two decades ago), I made the following two things very clear:

  1. Participation in after-hours socialization was entirely at the subordinate's discretion, and
  2. Any superior who came to me about a non-participating subordinate would be told that this is my policy for my people.
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  • Why did you stop? We need more supervisors like you, the workplace(s) would be better. Oct 12, 2023 at 15:13
  • That was during my time in the military, which ended 19 years ago. I have avoided supervisory roles since that time.
    – EvilSnack
    Oct 13, 2023 at 23:46

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