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I received an invite for an out-of-office activity next Friday afternoon during office hours. I would have to pay for a meal ($30) and the activity (mini-putt, $15). I want to decline because I don't want to spend the money and I do not like the activity, which I had no say in. Officially, nobody is forced to go and the alternative is to stay at work.

I would honestly prefer to work and not get behind in my end-of-the-month tasks instead of going there. However, I fear that it will be perceived very negatively as it really is saying that I prefer working alone at my desk to being with them.

Is there any professional way to decline team-building activities without burning bridges or is it just one of those times where you have to suck it up?

This is different from How to decline participation in team building activities where OP absolutely wanted to decline such activities because he could not bring his girlfriend.

marked as duplicate by Jim G., gnat, Jan Doggen, user8365, IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 19 '14 at 20:22

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  • How can any of us tell you what the consequences will be at your company for this particular activity? It ranges from your boss hating you so much you're fired to nobody noticed you weren't there because they were having such a good time with those who did attend. – user8365 Sep 18 '14 at 13:39
  • @JeffO I don't read this as asking us to predict the consequences. He's asking how to decline given the overlap with working hours. – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '14 at 18:58
  • @AlexP thanks. I realize now that "dinner" doesn't always mean an evening meal, hence my confusion (totally not your fault). I've made a few edits to your question just to highlight the problems you have with going, in hopes that that will help people see that this is not a duplicate. – Monica Cellio Sep 22 '14 at 15:17
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Is there any professional way to decline team-building activities without burning bridges or is it just one of those times where you have to suck it up ?

The activity: everyone is invited for dinner to a restaurant near our office and then they are going to mini-putt. It's going to cost at the very least 30$ at the restaurant and 15$ for the mini-putt out of my pockets. This is actually another reason I don't want to go.

Unfortunately, declining team-building activities is often awkward, even when they are optional.

Your company holds these events because they want to form stronger teams. Opting out can sometimes unintentionally (or intentionally) signal that you aren't willing to help build a stronger team.

But in this particular case, since it's a Friday and dinner is involved, you have a very reasonable way out. Just say something along the lines of "Oh, I'm sorry, but I'll have to decline. I have other dinner reservations for that Friday."

You might also consider your role in the company as a factor before you make your decision. If you are part of management, you may be expected to show leadership by attending. If you are not part of management, your absence may stick out less.

I was recently trying to politely bow out of a company-sponsored (free) activity. My boss privately told me "as part of management, you are expected to be there". So I rearranged my plans and went to the event.

As an aside, I think it's rather odd that a company team-building activity requires you to pay for the dinner and the activity out of your own pocket. To me that signals that the company might think it's somewhat important to build the team, but isn't willing to put it's own money toward doing so - thus it's not really that important. Due to that fact, I suspect you will get less of a negative response to your declining the invitation, than if the event had been at company expense.

It also gives you the possibility of responding with something like "Sorry, I'm trying to save money and would rather not spend the $45 on this activity." It would be hard to argue with that as a response. (But as David K correctly points out - there is a potential downside to this response. The company could choose to cover the cost - then you might be expected to attend.)

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    The downside to giving cost as the reason is that the event organizer could turn around and offer to cover the cost. – David K Sep 18 '14 at 12:55
  • indeed, any "optional" teambuilding activity I've ever seen wasn't really optional. If you didn't participate you'd get a black mark on your next performance review because you're "not part of the team" or some such. And that included if you were on sick leave or vacation in at least one company I was employed at. – jwenting Sep 18 '14 at 13:51
  • @jwenting indeed I've worked places whether it would be impolitic to decline a team-building event. But I've never been expected to pay for the event out of my own pocket at any of those places! – Carson63000 Sep 19 '14 at 2:28
  • @JoeStrazzere I have, I've got black marks for not taking part in things like "team activities" when the meeting was during my vacation, a vacation planned long before that activity was planned. And similar when something was planned during a period I was down with a severe stomach infection. – jwenting Sep 19 '14 at 5:52
  • Do you know for sure that the company wont be picking up the tab? That would be usual for this sort of thing. – TheMathemagician Sep 22 '14 at 15:21
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As long as you do not offend the person and being respectful to the person who invited you, I believe it is ok to say No. Phrase your reply diplomatically like

Dear X,

Thanks for your invite to Y. I really appreciate it. However I would prefer to skip in given my current work priorities. I hope you would understand.

Thanks Alex

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    This could backfire, as it reads like "I'd rather be working alone than spend time with my co-workers". I usually go with "I have a prior commitment later that day which I cannot break (perhaps due to additional drive time/distance), and this activity would prevent me from fulfilling it." – alroc Sep 18 '14 at 12:39
  • What ever we try to say I believe it is the receiver could perceive it the other way. Your reply does signifies the imply thing.we are not in a position to change how it could be perceived.correct me if I'm wrong. – watercooler Sep 18 '14 at 14:35
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There are actually several factors here :

  • What is your relationship with your coworkers?
  • Is everyone except you going?
  • What do you want your relationship with your coworkers to be?

If you're quite friendly with your coworkers, you can just say "Hey, thanks for inviting me, but I'm really not into mini-putt. Plus I have a lot of work right now, so I'm just gonna pass for this one". If not, you may want to find a more formal way to decline the invite. This is if you want to decline.

If you're not particularely interesting in binding with your coworkers outside the office, just don't go. Otherwise, it might be worth sucking it up for this time and accept the invitation. You can mention you aren't really into mini-putt, but want to spend some time with them out of the office, and next time you can propose somthing that suits you better. It's especially true if everyone but you is going. You might get behind in bounding with the rest of the team.

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