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I'm currently working in a software company and I am enjoying it so far. Everyone is quite friendly and gets along well together. A lot of times since I have started here my boss has asked me to attend after work activities or events on the weekend with other staff.

I don't mind things such as going out for lunch during work, but I'm not interested in doing things with my boss and co-workers after work or on the weekends. My main reason for this is that I live an hour's drive from work, and sometimes these events don't start until 8 pm or afterwards. This is okay for other staff as they all live within town, but it's too long of a day for myself when I have other things I like to get done in the evening such as going to the gym. It means getting up at 6.30 am, being in work for 8 am and then I'm not home sometimes until after 9 pm that night. I generally want to keep my work life separated from my personal one, also.

So my question is, how can I politely say no to these invitations? I don't like coming across as always turning them down, so I do go to these sometimes, but it's happening at least 3 times a month now and it's just getting a bit much.

  • Welcome back to the site funky. This is a good question, and I'm rather surprised that it hasn't been asked before. I haven't found any questions that this is a duplicate of but there are a few related questions that are still worth reading: My boss wants to do personal activities together. How can I maintain work-life balance without negatively affecting our work relationship? / How can I politely decline a team lunch? – Lilienthal Sep 28 '15 at 19:17
  • Hi @Lilienthal, thanks, I actually read those before I posted, I just wanted to ask my own as those were slightly different. Hope thats okay – funky Sep 28 '15 at 19:38
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    It's perfectly fine @funky, like I said your question is sufficiently different and a good addition to the site. – Lilienthal Sep 28 '15 at 19:43
  • If you're in brazil, you would be in quite the trouble! – Hugo Rocha Sep 29 '15 at 18:22
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    "I am enjoying it so far" seems to mean this is a new job. To add to the good answers, it will probably help if (without you becoming the office bore / nerd / weirdo) other people get to know what it is that you do outside of work. Most people won't have a problem accepting that "that's what turns you on" and that it takes up a significant slice of your free time, even if they have no particular interest in the activity themselves. – alephzero Sep 29 '15 at 18:54
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How can I politely decline my boss's invitation to after work/weekend activities?

Being polite

It sounds like you're already being polite about it. In fact you're attending a few of these events as well.

Do not feel obligated to attend them all. Attending none of them is probably not a good idea either, as you'll miss out on important relationship building aspects that will be good for your career, but if your lifestyle requires skipping most of them, they'll probably miss you, but unless they are or the organization is very unhealthy, they'll not hold it against you.

What to say

Read in the narrative style of Garrison Keillor.

As for specific ideas to communicate, you'll want to tell them how much you'd like to be there ("I'd just love to be there!"), and how much you'll miss being there ("I'm missing out!"), but that you have some very important things scheduled that you can't let go ("I have a personal matter to attend to...").

(end narration)

You'll be able to tell from their response how it is taken, but if you say this with all sincerity (I admit, my examples are a little cliched as I was taking a subtle stab at humor, so be inventive and mix it up), they'll likely take it very well.

Career Impact and Strategy

Meanwhile, you should consider moving closer to work, or fishing for a new job that better suits your lifestyle needs.

There's not much you can do to mitigate actually missing these things. It's probably exhausting to sell them on not being able to do it nearly every time. Make use of your lunch socializing as much as possible, if the matter greatly concerns you. Try to get a few allies who will support your decisions not to attend.

Guess what, you're "that guy." Own it. Accept it. "I've made an executive decision that I have things in my life that are more important than this to me. So I'm going to do them. I regret that I'm missing out on spending time with you, I always enjoy myself when I do, but my mind is made up." It demonstrates an ability to make hard decisions and stick to them. That's a management skill. You may or may not use it elsewhere now or in the future, but I view that as a positive.

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    Thanks Aaron. I actually have said a few times how I have X on tomorrow or I have plans made, but I don't want to get the reputation either of being 'that guy' who always turns down after work events, or the possibility of affecting my relationship with my co-workers. As @Lilienthal said, it's sort of developing a pattern now where it's becoming a regular-ish thing. – funky Sep 28 '15 at 19:48
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    Was going to write something up, but pretty much this plus - if you suggest alternatives it will help people feel like the logistics are the problem, not them. "Hey, I can't make it Friday night, want to go out right after work next week?" or "Hey, sorry I won't be able to make it, you want to do lunch next week sometime?" types of things make people feel less "funky doesn't want to go out with me" and more "funky is trying to find a time that works, too, but... life :(" – enderland Sep 28 '15 at 22:10
  • It seems like a bluff that could backfire. :) – Aaron Hall Sep 29 '15 at 13:50
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    To go with @enderland's suggestion: make it clear that things being so late when you live so far away is a particular issue for you. You can say specifically, "I can't make it to something so late since I live in Farsville, want to go out right after work next week?" – MissMonicaE Oct 28 '16 at 12:38
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The other answers here are good advice, but you can go a step further since it's turning into a pattern and that might be worth addressing. It should be fine to casually bring this up with your boss and explain that you will only occasionally be able to attend these events and activities.

Key points for that conversation are to explain that you enjoy spending time outside work to get to know everyone better but that your long commute and busy personal life mean you won't be able to attend every event. As all these requests come from your boss according to your description, you can also discuss if he should keep asking whenever they're doing something, at which point you can just give a short reply yes or no, or if it makes more sense for you to "invite yourself".

Note that it's up to you how specific you are about your personal life. You'll already be implying that you're busy with other things, whether that's binge watching HBO or reading a book and it's really not anyone's business how you spend your time outside work. That said, some reasons can be convenient excuses for why you have a busy schedule like childcare, familial care or volunteer work and they're a silver bullet for shutting down nosy or unreasonable colleagues that don't accept a vague reason.


Note that it's generally also fine to simply skip out on all the after-hours social events. You may lose out on some of the camaraderie or the undoubtedly hilarious stories about your cowokers but you can make a point of being friendly and sociable at work to avoid coming across as unfriendly. Attitudes to this can vary wildly with office cultures though.

I'll let Alison Green elaborate (#2 at the link):

I don’t think you have to attend these events at all; plenty of people don’t attend after-work social events because they go home to a family, or dogs, or school, or a second job, or simply don’t want to. It is a problem if you keep committing and backing out, yes, so you might want to stop committing to them — and perhaps just say that you can’t generally go because of (fill in the blank).

The bigger issue is that they find you a grump, but that’s something you can tackle at work, without needing to hang out outside of work. Make a deliberate point of being warm and friendly with people — ask about their weekend or their interests, talk about movies or TV with them, share something about your own interests or personal life, and so forth. Be kind and friendly and take a genuine interest in people, and you shouldn’t come across as a grump at all.

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    +1 for "it's really not anyone's business how you spend your time outside work" – Aabglov Sep 29 '15 at 2:04
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    The second paragraph in the quoted text is key here. If you're not going to attend the socialization functions, do what she suggests, even if you, personally, find it crass and boring. Don't want to talk sports, or movies/TV? Doesn't matter. Do so, for a good few minutes. Don't actually watch sports or TV (I don't)? It's fine, get a subscription to Sports Illustrated and TV Guide. Read the sports section headlines. Make a comment about the recent events of the local team, and let the other guys fill in the rest. Remain attentive and soon you'll be golden. – CGCampbell Sep 30 '15 at 18:25
  • "let the other guys fill in the rest. Remain attentive and soon you'll be golden." YES--people generally like to talk about their interests and will appreciate you listening and expressing enthusiasm, even you don't have your own opinion about the Sportstown Ballthrowers. – MissMonicaE Oct 28 '16 at 12:39
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You just did. What you wrote here qualifies perfectly as a polite decline if you freshen it up a bit: "I'd love to you join you for this but unfortunately I can't because my commute is so long. I need to leave her fairly early to get home at a reasonable time so that I can be in good shape for working tomorrow"

  • For some people it doesn't matter what the cost or travel time is as anything is worth it to spend time with other people. – Underverse Jul 7 '18 at 7:39
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There are already several good answers, but I'd add the following:

Many organizations consider it a high priority to have a team that gets along (well). Consequently, team-building activities -- during work hours or after -- are considered fairly important. You've mentioned that everyone seems to get along well ... maybe these after-hours activities are part of the reason why.

So maybe -- assuming you're OK with this -- you could offer a compromise:
"If we want to go out for a beer / to play volleyball / etc., can we make it right after work, at least sometimes? Then I'll still get home at a reasonable time and be rested and ready for work the next day."

This way you demonstrate

  1. that you're not (just) being anti-social
  2. that you're willing to compromise on something your boss considers important.
2

Seems like it's more frustrating that they keep asking you than you turning them down. They probably feel guilty not inviting you, because it would be cutting you out.

Maybe just help them know they shouldn't feel guilty about not asking. How about just telling them that unless the activity is within 30 min from your home, or whatever commute time would be acceptable to you, you can come. But otherwise, they should assume you cannot come and they shouldn't feel bad about not asking you? But, you'd love to see photos...maybe suggest a company Flickr page if they don't already have one, as a way to keep you involved? Just a thought!

1

Suggest other events, that is located near your home. I think you will see that most of your colleagues will agree that the commute is too long.

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If you no longer want to attend these events, and want them to stop inviting you:

I really appreciate you trying to include me in these activities, but I really can't continue to attend them, and when I'm invited I feel like I need to attend for work purposes. I realize that's not the case, but I would appreciate it if you would only invite me to the most important 3-4 events per year.

If you don't mind them inviting you, but also be able to say no without guilt:

Thanks for letting me know, but I can't come this time.

Leave it at that. Don't offer further explanation. If they press you for more information, a simple, "I have other plans, but maybe next time," is perfectly sufficient, even if those plans are merely avoiding driving more than necessary.

Don't feel guilty about saying no, but do recognize that as you turn them down in the second case, they will naturally stop inviting you, and you will miss out on events you might have said yes to. This is simply a consequence of saying no frequently, and isn't a bad thing.

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I'm in a very similar situation. I try to attend from time to time and nobody really cares I don't go always.

There are a few colleagues that NEVER attend these event and still have a good (much better than mine actually) relationship with the others. If you can't go to the team dinners try to make up for it during office hours, e.g. asking a colleague to have a coffee break with you or planning team lunches.

Inevitably someone will make jokes or show surprise the one time you go but that's just part of the game.

  • It is good habit to comment when downvoting, unless someone else already explained the reason. – algiogia Sep 30 '15 at 8:27
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Consider asking if they could do something during lunch if your commute is a problem. I've worked with some people who did not drink, so we made it a point to ask them out for lunch which typically didn't involve alcohol.

Also, coming home late is going to happen in many work situations, so consider picking one day a year and possibly stay at a hotel. You could do it at the beginning of the year or when a new person gets hired so people will remember you are willing to go out once in awhile. You'll probably be one of the last to leave and who knows, you're boss may be so pleased with your willingness to pay money to hang-out, you may get to expense it.

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