A company event is advertised with the words "attending is expected", which I assume means attending is obligatory. There doesn't seem to be anything work-related, but it seems to be a spirit building event of some sorts.

The company has had such events in the past, but they have been only a few hours after work, so I had no problem attending. However, this event is organized in a vacation center couple of hours drive from the city! It would take 2 days, and is planned on what would otherwise be working days.

We are expected to stay in the facility throughout that time. I am absolutely horrified at the thought of attending a social event 48 hours long! I think it is not okay to just stay home on those two days, and I also don't know if I can go to the office and work since nobody would be there. Also, I don't have a car, there's no public transport, and I don't know anybody well enough to ask for a ride.

I want to avoid events like shooting colleagues with paintball guns and doing rope obstacle course high up in the trees. I was hired to do a job, which I do well, and I can do all the socializing needed for the job. I don't want to be there, nobody wants me there, expect for HR because of the rules.

Is it really acceptable to expect employees to attend a non-work-related event that takes days?

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    How is it both 48 hours long and during office hours? Are they providing accommodations, or are you driving back and forth each day, or...? – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 14:02
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    "Attendance is expected" doesn't equal "Attendance is required". If it had been required, they would have written "required". And they can't put "required" because they already know that a number of employees and executives are simply not going to show up to the event. That being said, Google the facilities in question to know what you'll be missing. If you can shoot your colleagues with pressurized paintball guns, or do a ropes obstacle course high up in the trees, I think you should totally go. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 24 '17 at 14:46
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    @Stephan Branczyk Well, the wording translates to "Not required but if you don't come it will affect your performance review in a small way" :) – Juha Untinen Jun 24 '17 at 15:26
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    "I can do all the socializing needed for the job" but "I don't know anybody well enough to ask for a ride". If you have not reached the minimal level of connection to your colleagues needed to ask for a ride to a company event, maybe you are not doing quite enough socializing. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 24 '17 at 17:50
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    I figured since that was not said, that they were comping the stay... – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 22:16
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Is it really acceptable to expect employees to attend a non-work-related event that takes days?

Team building events are serious business.

You have a huge misconception if you think they are not work-related. Look at it this way: why would any company take several dozen employees on a paid "pleasure trip" and also pay them for not doing any "work" during that time? No business would splurge money for fun without expecting anything significant in return.

The business makes substantial gains when employees get along well. Employees collaborate better with coworkers that are easily approachable. Work gets done faster without a bossguy having to gather status and be an intermediary in the communication.

This is even more valuable in case of cross-department collabaration. When people can just walk up to each other without having to go through the usual BS of procedures and approvals from boss and boss's boss, not only does work get done sooner, but it may also opens up new opportunities1.

Conversely, when people socialize to the minimum extent necessary for work, as seems to be your preference, it adds to the company's costs 2, and they may miss opportunities lying right under their nose.

So you might wonder what my lecturing has to do with the company social event. The company organizes such "non-work" events to allow people to lower their guard for a bit, and make them more approachable at work. In a formal office setting, people monkeying around would be perceived as unprofessional, or at least less serious about the job.

I would hesitate to chit-chat with my boss about my "stupid new idea which could potentially save us millions" without doing a thorough study on its feasibility, etc., but if he and I have done stupid fun things together like dancing around a tree wearing straw hats and clown masks3, I may not be so hesitant, and I would even demand that he use his better business acumen to evaluate my idea! In the long run, the company gains. Did I say anything about team building events being serious business?

I can do all the socializing needed for the job. I don't want to be there, nobody wants me there, expect for HR because of the rules.

I too hate doing such stupid things at work, so I can certainly empathise with you. I am sure plenty of your coworkers feel the same way, and even the HR knows this! You can't expect 100% participants to be 100% excited about any event. Nonetheless, you should attend the event and demonstrate at least the bare minimum participation and excitement.

Refusing to attend the event, or even worse, attending the event and not participating at all, will only make you stick out like a sore thumb, which won't do you any good. How I usually deal with such day-long annoyances events is to participate intermittently, that is, participate in one or two activities, then excuse myself for an hour or so, attend another one or two activities, and repeat. That is usually enough for people to notice that I participated, which works well enough for me.

I don't have a car, there's no public transport, and I don't know anybody well enough to ask for a ride.

This one is easy. Just raise this concern with your boss, and ask him what you could do, and do as he says.

If I were the boss in this situation, I would find out how many other employees reporting to me have this issue. (As you might expect, you may not be the only one with this issue.) Then I would either offer them a ride in my car, or "tag them along" with other colleagues who have empty seats in their car, or talk to HR and see if they could arrange for a private bus, or ask HR if the employees could get their cab expenses reimbursed.


Personal anecdotes:

1 I have lost count of the number of times I had a conversation with someone from another department which ended up with one person saying either, "Hey, about that Foo issue you told me about the other day, in my department, we deal with it using the Bar approach, would you like to see if it helps you as well?" or "Hey, it looks like if we can get our Baz tool and your Qux framework to work together, it would save us both a lot of grief. Do you think we should give it a shot?"

2 We once had a guy who spent a whole week figuring out the solution to a problem that he knew a colleague in the next cubicle had already solved just two weeks ago. He did not ask for help because he found that colleague "too bossy", and the manager was also on vacation that whole week, meaning status meetings were mostly not taken seriously.

3 I swear I am exaggerating this only a little bit ... in that there was no tree!

  • Just to be clear to anyone who might be wondering, I did not copy the solution to the transport issue from mxyzplk's answer. I was in the middle of writing my e̶s̶s̶a̶y̶ answer, and didn't pay attention to the update to the other answer. – Masked Man Jun 24 '17 at 19:20
  • Heh no worries, it's not a clever life hack I just came up with, it's the standard answer we all know to do... – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 19:26
  • @mxyzplk I know, but I have seen plenty of instances here where third parties complain about one answer copying an incidental detail from another answer, when that point is not even very important to the answer, and is anyway, something of common knowledge. So I thought it was better to preempt such problems. :) – Masked Man Jun 24 '17 at 19:33
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    All of these activities are thoroughly hateful to me. But damn it, I can't argue against your reasoning for why the company would find them useful. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Jun 26 '17 at 16:46

Yes, of course it is.

You don't think it's "work," but they do, because they understand that having a productive work force is a more sophisticated challenge than just planting butts in seats and having them churn work. You may want to consider that your understanding of what your job is is immature. If "you don't want to be there and no one wants you there," the second there's a one-employee layoff guess who's going to be gone? You.

Would you refuse to go to a 2-day conference for work? Or a 2-day client engagement? Whether you love the activity that's going to happen there or not is not really relevant to whether it's within your job duties.

In general, work requests like this are not atypical and are considered reasonable.

You always have options, but you have to own the impact of those options.

You can go, and maximally appear to be a team player. This is the best option lacking other factors. I don't love everything I'm going to do every day of work, and even if you find doing some recreational activity less personally fun than being chained to your desk... tough. In this circumstance, not going is choosing your own selfish instinct of "I want to do what I think is most fun every hour of the day" over what your company actually wants you to do as part of your work. They pay the check, so in the end their take on it is right.

You can beg off. Depending on the perceived validity of your reason, this will affect your status in the company more or less.

For example, last year my company had its engineering kickoff in Spain, one of our major locations, and everyone was expected to attend. I couldn't, because I'm a single father (in the US) and it was during school. So even though this was an "expected" event, I had to beg off. I made the decision long ago that my kid was more important than my job. However, I took active steps to mitigate the impact of this decision.

  1. I asked if any of the "meeting" parts could be videoconferenced so I could join in. At stuff like this there's usually a bunch of social stuff but a couple all hands presentations where they're delivering information.
  2. I flew out to Spain to spend time with the team there at the very next opportunity (during a school break the kid went to visit her mother, and I flew out immediately).
  3. I expressed regret at not being able to attend and explained the difficulty to my boss and to his boss, not because I "had to" but because it allowed them to understand and have empathy for my decision. I had of course seeded this upon hire by discussing my situation and saying "I'm happy to travel but I can't do it during certain times..."

This also let me open a discussion to see how much they really cared about everyone being there beyond trying to read the tea leaves of whether they said "expected" or "required" or some other single word in an email. More communication is always better. In this case, they understood, it definitely wan't optimal as not participating made me just that small sliver more of an "outsider," but it was mitigated as well as it could be given my values and decision.

Depending on your company, and how you handle it, missing an event like this can be anywhere on the spectrum of "oh, it's unfortunate you couldn't come" to "you're out the door." There's no net positive. Some of that isn't under your control but most of it is. Go when you can, take active steps to minimize the impact if you can't. You can always choose not to, but it will be taken negatively by your organization, implicitly even if it doesn't show up "on a performance review." You're limiting your career by refusing to go mingle for a couple days. If your chosen career path is "feral work-from-home coder" (or whatever it is you do if not coding) that's fine (heck, I have some friends who have taken that route) but you can't fool yourself about it.

For the transportation issue - again, don't read tea leaves. Ask your manager, "Hey, I don't have a car, what's the best way for me to get to the event?" He may say "Oh, I'll give you a ride," or "The company will be getting a van, talk to Person A about getting on it," or something else. Maybe it'll be a chance for him to coach you more effectively than we can here. But you either have to engage with someone to find out, or figure out a solution on your own - you seem to be unhappy with both options, but that's what they are.

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    Again, your definition of "work" is an immature definition that appears to include only churning piece work - not building networks, leadership, collaboration, etc etc. Think - does everyone in your company go to this place for fun on their own all the time? No? Well then it's probably not their most favoritest activity either. But it's beside the point. Working a job - and having a career - is about more than completing tasks. The sooner you learn that the more successful you'll be in the long run. – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 16:46
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    @Boat I am afraid if the guys who make the rules at your company do not agree with your version of what "being a good employee" means, you may have to look for another job which is more in agreement with your preferences. Anyway, he isn't saying "being a good employee is about being funny and firing nerf guns", he is just saying being a good employee is doing what your employer expects you to do ... and if that happens to be "being funny and firing nerf guns", then that's what is important to this employer. – Masked Man Jun 24 '17 at 17:10
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    @mxyzplk Nice answer here. I wish I could deal with situations so effectively, and also write so clearly. Nice idiom I learned today, by the way, "trying to read the tea leaves". I am going to "borrow" it from now on. :-) – Masked Man Jun 24 '17 at 17:14
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    I like this answer a lot. Could you add a suggestion to deal with the lack of transportation issue? I would expect there to be some carpooling going on for an event like this. – Kat Jun 24 '17 at 18:32
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    @Boat and once you own your own company, you get to say how it should be done. But - and this shouldn't be a surprise - companies pay you to do what they want you to do, not what you want to do. – mxyzplk Jun 24 '17 at 19:07

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