Beyond Bravo

How To Turn Down a Boss Who Wants To Socialize Outside the Office

What if happy hour with the manager isn't that much fun?

Seeing your boss at work is more than enough for some employees. But what if you’re caught in a situation where your boss wants to continue the workday into happy hour—and is constantly suggesting ideas for the team to socialize outside the office?

No one wants to hang out longer than necessary when you have to constantly watch what you say. We’d al rather be home with our families, or alone in front of the TV with a bottle of wine. Some people have a long commute, and the extra hours make their day even harder. 

So, what are you expected to do? Can you regularly turn your boss down? Workplace expert Alison Green says that managers really need to pick up on the signs when their employees aren’t into extracurricular activities. 

“It’s really the same thing as any social invitation,” Alison explains. “If you keep making social overtures to someone who keeps turning you down, you’re supposed to get that message after a couple of times trying. Throw in the power dynamic when it’s a manager doing the asking, and it’s really inappropriate to keep pushing.”

Alison says that managers often use the excuse that hanging outside of work can benefit the group as a whole and that it can benefit the workplace, but she disagrees. 

“There are lots of ways to make your team more cohesive that have nothing to do with bowling or happy hours, such as doing actual work together in the course of your normal jobs and ensuring you have a functional, healthy work culture,” she says. “But even if she’s convinced that you need this kind of team bonding experience, there’s still no excuse for pressuring people to do it in the evenings. If it’s important enough to her to pressure people, it’s important enough to do it during the day, as part of your normal work hours. (And suddenly bowling seems less important, I’d bet!)”

It’s not reasonable to ask people to give up their evenings for activities meant to benefit their employer, says Alison, unless it’s truly 100 percent optional, you’re paid for the time, or it’s part of a job where it’s understood upfront that that’s part of the work.

How do you politely turn down these invites?

“One option is ‘sorry, I have plans I can’t break’ or ‘I have commitments most evenings after work,’” she says. “Another option though, would be to address it more broadly and say something like,’“I’ve noticed you’ve made a few suggestions like this. I think a lot of us have long commutes and other commitments after work and just don’t really want to extend our work days like that.’ Or even — if you have the right kind of relationship with her and a comfort with bluntness — something like this: ‘I think most of us want to keep work at work and not have social events outside of the office. Thanks for offering to put it together though!’”

Just keep turning things down, Alison says. 

“If she starts acting like there are penalties for doing that, then you’ll have to decide how strongly you feel about not going … but if it gets to that point, you’ll definitely want to have made her aware that not everyone is clamoring for the opportunity to play bingo with their coworkers.”

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