I work at a moderate-sized office building (400+) which is part of a larger corporation (150k+). This morning we were given instructions on what to do during today's tornado drill. At the end of the email it said, "Your participation is required but not mandatory."

Does this mean something I don't understand? I don't know this person well and would not want to ask them, mainly because it would indicate that I don't really want to participate if I don't have to.

UPDATE I ended up just following the lead of others on my floor, which was just to continue work (pretty typical for my office). My guess is the person meant to say "requested" not "required".

  • 2
    ask your boss, that's what he/she is for. "Hey boss, I didn't understood what they meant about required but not mandatory. What do you want me to"
    – Hilmar
    Mar 11, 2014 at 16:12
  • 7
    +1 because I now want to implement a bunch of policies that are "required but not mandatory". Anything to make the little people squirm.
    – sea-rob
    Mar 11, 2014 at 17:40
  • 10
    I suggest that participating in a tornado drill is a good idea whether it's required or not. Mar 11, 2014 at 20:06
  • @KeithThompson: unless it's Canada... Mar 12, 2014 at 12:31
  • My guess is the person meant to say "requested" not "required". Or "recommended"? Mar 12, 2014 at 14:18

6 Answers 6


I would suggest that you ask, given that mandatory is a synonym for required, so it appears they've misunderstood one of the words.

If you're worried about seeming like you're trying to get out of it, you could just be fairly light-hearted about it:

"I noticed the email said 'required but not mandatory'. Can you tell me what you meant? I always thought those words meant the same thing!

The intent to get across was "I got your email; I fully intend to go along with it; I just wondered about something that was written in it".

  • 14
    I would only do this if I knew the person well and knew that he had a sense of humor about his own mistakes. The more senior the person who wrote the email and the less well you know him, the riskier this is. Instead ask your direct manager to clarify the meaning.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 11, 2014 at 13:44
  • 1
    My guess is that the writer (wrongly) thought "mandatory" meant "legally required". But asking is the right way to go. Mar 11, 2014 at 13:45
  • 12
    If the email was written by someone senior, ask your boss what it means. Mar 11, 2014 at 13:46
  • It is possible that whoever wrote it just made a mistake, or copied/pasted incorrectly. Above suggestions are good-- but sometimes you will ask them and they'll resend the msg with a correction. Maybe not if it was sent to 150k people though.
    – Miro
    Mar 11, 2014 at 14:29
  • @Miro, it was actually just sent to our building. My initial thought about including the company size was that it might be required that the drill occur, but not necessarily mandatory participation.
    – David K
    Mar 11, 2014 at 16:37

With some employers, mandatory training is training that must be done, so if you are away on the day, then you must book into another day to do it. For example hand washing training for anyone that works in a hospital.

Other training like a fire drill, you must take park in if you are in work on the given day. (It is as much about training other people {e.g the fire wardens}, and testing system that need you to take part so it is effective.)

  • This is what I assumed it meant too, like you should attend if reasonably possible, not if on holiday etc Mar 12, 2014 at 19:54

It means participate in the drill whether you want to or not. It also means the person writing the email does not communicate well. Perhaps he meant it was required if you are there but not if you are not in the office or that managers could decide to excuse some people. In any event, you can't go wrong participating unless your own manager specifically tells you not to participate (due to urgent production problems for instance or unmoveable deadlines).


I think here 'required' means you need to be present in drill. And 'not mandatory' means if any unavaidable reasons happen, you are not bound to be there. Its better to clarify with your boss. Since English is funny language, it is very difficult to figure out what exactly your boss want to say.


I'd go with either:

a) Someone was making a little joke. ("Very little," as Spock would say.)

b) Or they were trying to say that you should consider this something Management really wants everyone to attend (for obvious reasons, for both your sake and theirs), but that they aren't going to take attendance and you aren't going to have to make excuses if you miss it.

The former is more likely, but I've seen the latter occur when a company has a semi-standardized hierarchy of priorities that has slipped into managerial jargon.

In any case, you should attend if at all possible -- as with fire drills and musical rehearsals and athletic practice, it's worth repeating safety instructions until just past the point where you are completely sick of them. So in some sense the intended meaning doesn't matter.


Having had 24 hours on which to consider this, I think the most likely occurrence is bad word choice while attempting to use a common idiom

"requested but not required"

Is a common phrase, and on Google currently shows 7.5 million results

specifically, I believe what happened is that the author, intending to use this idiom, transposed required for requested, and then seeing that required could not then end the phrase, substituted the word mandatory, and any further proof-reads missed the error.

The other alternative shows up with less than 10% of the frequency, at 400,000 hits: "requested but not mandatory"

As to the issue of bringing it to the author's attention, at this point, it's quite unlikely to do you any good. Better safe than sorry: don't.

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