How To Say No To Work Events And Still Be Considered A Team Player

Cocktails at a club

By Sarah Greesonbach

Thanks to a huge push in how employers recruit and retain talented employees, company culture events are on the rise in every workplace. And while some of those events and perks are impressive, we’ve all witnessed a professional development or team-building event that was more eye-roll worthy than Instagram-worthy.
Stuck with an overeager company culture-party planner? Here’s how to opt out of less-than-fun professional development events without being labeled “not a team player”.

Opt out of Work Events carefully

First, the bad news: It’s not possible or professional to cut yourself off from all culture events. Part of being a team player and getting in important bonding time is being available and in attendance for major events, if only every quarter or so. However, that’s no reason you have to block off your calendar to spend time with work people during your personal time. You just have to use your knowledge of your company culture to weigh the necessary frequency of your attendance to these events and fly under the attendance radar.

Here are a few examples:

  • If your company does one big, annoying blow-out every year for a seasonal holiday, it will probably be a big deal if you opt out.
  • If your company does one event every quarter, you probably need to attend one or two of them each year.
  • If your company does one event every month, you can probably attend once every two or three months.
  • If your company does one event every week (think weekly happy hour) you might be stuck tagging along once or twice a month.

Exercise Boundaries

When you’ve identified an appropriate event to skip out on, plan out your excuse in advance. Frankly, you don’t always have to tell people why you can’t make it, but you do need a handy phrase you can trot out to avoid an uncomfortable silence when you opt out of work events.

As Alison Green writes on her popular blog Ask a Manager, it’s really not their business why you can’t make it, you simply can’t make it. And if your “previously scheduled engagement” happens to be meeting your spouse on the couch to watch Stranger Things, so be it.

Practice Early Exit Strategies

Sometimes the problem isn’t frequency so much as longevity (I’m looking at you, holiday party on a weekend). Instead of completely skipping the event, consider just leaving early. Here are a few lines that will help you exit gracefully:

  • Thank you so much for hosting! I wish I could stay, but I’ve got another engagement to head off to.
  • This has been such a great time. I hate to leave early but I promised my [spouse/significant other] I’d be home by 4 p.m.

Network by Following up

Just because you didn’t attend doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the fun after part of the party. Use the event as an excuse to follow up with people individually, such as someone from a different department you usually look forward to seeing. This can spur a deeper connection and conversation despite the fact that you didn’t go to the event–and isn’t that the ultimate purpose of company culture events, anyway?

It’s important to contribute to your company culture (after all, if you’re taking our advice, you should love where you work most days!). But it’s also important to establish and protect your work-life balance. Whenever you find it slipping a little too far toward work events, use these tips to opt out  or at least limit your time commitment.

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