Miss Manners in the workplace?
August 23, 2011 2:35 AM   Subscribe

"I'm sorry boss, but that's simply not possible"?

I love the Miss Manners response "that's simply not possible". I want to find a similar phrase I can use in the workplace, for those occasions where I'm asked or invited to do things that I don't want to do.

For example, one of my colleagues has arranged a Christmas do. Unfortunately, I a] don't want to go and b] really can't afford to shell out cash right now. The company is not paying for this, nor is it happening on company time or premises. It will be entirely funded by the staff. I realise the necessity of social bonding in the workplace and get on reasonably well with all of my colleagues, but I don't really want to spend time (and money I don't have!) on them outside of work. We're work colleagues who work well together. We are not friends. I have old work colleagues who are also friends, but in this job, those two worlds haven't overlapped. C'est la vie. Our manager has gotten involved now, adding weight to the problem by saying that "there mustn't be any exceptions" and glaring at me when she said it.

Another example is working overtime. Generally, I'm available to do it, and 97% of the time, actually do do it when asked. However, there are the odd occasions when I can't do it, maybe because I have a doctor's appointment or have to visit a sick relative or maybe I just want to loaf about on a Tuesday afternoon. My boss, pretty naturally, will ask me to do overtime given that I'm generally available. I have no problem saying "no" and will continue to do that. The problem is that I will invariably get asked "why not?" when I decline the overtime.

In the past, I've tried using "I'm sorry, I'm not available" or "I'm busy that day" or some other vague and inoffensive statement. However, my boss seems to think that unless she gets an actual reason as to why I can't/won't do something, my response isn't valid, so she keeps asking for more details.

And so, here is my actual question: is there a phrase or statement I can say repeatedly that doesn't sound odd but that does convey my inability to do [whatever]? I feel a bit strange just repeating "that's not possible" over and over, and given that this is the workplace I can't pull off the death-stare-raised-eyebrow-don't-say-anything look that generally works well in these kinds of circumstances. I want something polite and inoffensive but also effective.
posted by Solomon to Human Relations (52 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you are getting paid overtime or not but it's not for your boss to know what you do in your time off. next time they ask why you are not available for overtime I suggest you reply with a stern look straight into their eyes and say "I do not wish to discuss this." that's what worked with my overly curious last boss, who most often asked because he was looking for an argument to make me come in or stay longer. do not give them that opening. what you describe suggests lack of respect for your private endeavors. ("is THAT really more important than working overtime?")

I am alarmed by your description of the scene in which people singled you out when stating there mustn't be any exceptions. do you have a history of being the odd person out? why would they instantly look to you? look, it's your right to state you have a prior commitment and won't be attending and they will have to swallow that but this sounds like you really do need to socialize and get on a better footing with them. you might want to think twice about not attending.
posted by krautland at 2:57 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For the Christmas party, you can use a 3 level approach:
Level 1: Just say "I have other plans that night which I can't break". If she persists:
Level 2: "It's a family thing". If she persists:
Level 3: In a quiet voice say "It's a private matter". The quiet voice says to her, don't embarrass me. Surely she won't continue after that.

For the overtime, just say "Sorry, I have an appointment". She will assume it's medical. She won't ask. It could be gross :)
posted by dave99 at 3:05 AM on August 23, 2011 [19 favorites]

Go to the mirror. Look yourself in the eye and practice the following statements:

"I'm sorry. I have a prior commitment which I must keep."


"I'm sorry. I won't be able to attend."


"I won't be able to make that event."

Now, to go practice this myself :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 3:06 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, to avoid repeating "It's just not possible that night / tonight, sorry", you can alternate it with "I'm sorry, I just can't that night / tonight".
posted by dave99 at 3:07 AM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: Always agree with the principle, then come up with some practical reason why you can't do it. People will be so happy that you agree with them in theory that they'll forget the fact that you're not doing it in practice and everybody wins.
posted by joannemullen at 3:29 AM on August 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

for my equivalent of the overtime question, I just say "sorry, I already have other commitments this afternoon" and if pressed go to "I have some personal stuff to attend to". I've never been pushed beyond that but would probably finish with "it's a personal matter that I'd rather not discuss at work".
posted by russm at 3:39 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

actually, I wouldn't say "... that I'd rather not discuss at work", but rather just "it's a personal matter" and give a look along the lines of "I can't believe you're pushing me on this".
posted by russm at 3:42 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

You've had some great responses above for the overtime thing, but I'm afraid that with the Christmas party you'd be best off just sucking it up and going. Think of the cost not as paying for a night out but as the price of staying on good terms with your boss and colleagues. Given the glaring and the pressure, I'd say you can't afford not to go. It's not fair and it's not right, but that's the way it is.
posted by hazyjane at 3:48 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

For any of the overtime you can't do, simply say it's a private matter. If your boss has any decorum and/or professionalism at all, s/he'll let it drop at that.

As to the Christmas party, tell them you have another commitment. If pressed, say it's a family thing.
posted by xingcat at 4:21 AM on August 23, 2011

Go to the party, then submit an expense claim.
posted by tel3path at 4:39 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Anyway, who's looking for a Christmas party commitment in August!? That's pushy!
posted by thinkpiece at 5:17 AM on August 23, 2011 [12 favorites]

I occasionally use "that's my business" (ie. it's none of yours) in response to questions I don't wish to answer.
posted by cogat at 5:27 AM on August 23, 2011

"Sorry, I just won't be able to make it. Family commitments."

Honestly, if the situation is as bad as you describe, you may want to start polishing your resume. You do not fit in there, you're seen as an outlier because you don't ask "how high" when the boss says, "jump."
posted by canine epigram at 5:30 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

"personal reasons"

But you have to pretend you're Billie Piper while you're saying it.
posted by anaelith at 6:11 AM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: I've worked with people as nosy as it sounds like the people Solomon is working with, and unfortunately being polite just doesn't work. My boss like that viewed her staff as her children and felt she was owed any explanations she chose to demand, no matter how personal.

You're going to have to start lying. My recommendation is not to tell dramatic lies - tell lies that make you sound deeply dull. Where people think there is nothing interesting, they don't want to probe.

You will want to keep track of your lies so you don't reuse them too often.
posted by winna at 6:14 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're going to have to start lying.

Just say "I have personal commitments", and stick to that. Your life outside of the office is none of anybody's business but yours.
posted by mhoye at 6:29 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Why not cooperate with your boss as much as possible? Overtime? Boss, I'm usually happy to put in the extra time, but I have a personal matter to attend to. Say it with a positive attitude, because it's true. You could even add Thanks for understanding.

Christmas party? Ask the boss for a few minutes of time. Boss, I know you'd like everyone to participate in the Christmas party, but that's a very busy family time for me, and I honestly feel that it's unfair to require an event that will cost money, and take me away from my family. Say it reasonably, and maybe your boss will actually listen. Once you've explained it to your boss, if the boss keeps giving you crap, document it, and if it becomes a disciplinary issue, you have an excellent rebuttal.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 AM on August 23, 2011 [15 favorites]

I once had a supervisor much like your boss, Solomon. I overheard the following exchange between her and a colleague:

Supervisor: "Can you come in Saturday morning to finish the Cooper project? It has to be ready for demo first thing Monday, as they'll be here to see it."

Colleague: "Sorry, I can't."

Supervisor: "Why not? You could probably be done by noon, if you started at 8 a.m."

Colleague: "Sorry, I really can't."

Supervisor: "What's more important than the Cooper project? If we get their approval Monday, we can expect the OK for production on it next month!"

Colleague: "I have to wash my fish. If I don't, they get sick and die. The last time I had to work Saturday, I didn't get home in time, and I lost a molly, several guppies, and a spotted angel fish, and I'm not going to let that happen again."

Supervisor: "Well, suppose you wash your fish first, and then come in. Or finish the Cooper project Sunday, and I'll check it Sunday evening. Just so long as it's ready Monday morning."

Colleague: "No, I can't. It makes no sense to put clean fish back into a dirty tank. And there is no point washing the fish and cleaning the tank, if the filter isn't disinfected, too. And you never disinfect the filter, without conditioning the water afterward. I just can't see this not taking all weekend, but that's what it takes to be a fish guy, and run a good tank. Sorry."

Our supervisor finally drifted off, but I bet my colleague could have kept up his fish care schtick for hours. Somehow, the Cooper project, as I recall, got done, too, although I suspect it was by the Supervisor. And ever since, whenever I've been picked at for information/personal plans I don't want to share, I've had fish to wash, too.
posted by paulsc at 7:11 AM on August 23, 2011 [60 favorites]

That example is exactly what I was talking about - you use something that you can sustain as an excuse that is not exciting enough to engage their interest.
posted by winna at 7:20 AM on August 23, 2011

Ooh, I hate this problem. I always get a certain stubborn feeling about forced work social events on personal time/money. So I certainly sympathize. I agree with others about just repeating "I'm sorry, I can't", "Sorry, personal matters", etc. But I'm going to throw out one other thing, (that I do sometimes):

Since this is about a Christmas event and it's several months later, you could always agree that it sounds fun and TENTATIVELY agree to be there. Be vague. Say things like "I hope I'll be able to make it, but family plans are still being developed, so I'm not sure..." And then when it gets closer, if you still don't want to go, you can make SURE to have scheduled some family plans, but of course make your regrets and explain it like you had no say in the time/date and that's unfortunately how it worked out.
posted by Eicats at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always smile and say simply "It's personal." If they press - which they almost never do - I keep smiling and say "it's personal."

Part of that is my work persona; I'm always a bit reserved with the folks who outrank me and don't tend to share a lot of actually personal details (vs "we're having some landscaping done," say) so if I say that they have no expectation they're going to hear more.

As far as the christmas party, really, this is about the one culturally required out-of-the-office event. You'd do well for your career and your place in that organization to just view it as an unavoidable expense, a la gas to get to work and proper office clothing. Which isn't to say that you're not well within your rights to beg off but this is pretty much a universal expectation. Sucky that they're going to pressure you to hold up your end without spending a company dime but that's not going to save you from expectations.
posted by phearlez at 7:35 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stick to the truth as far as possible, because excuses come out and make you look like an idiot. You can spin it - I have had to be home for my kids because they needed me after a week of working late, so I couldn't meet a client in the late afternoon and pushed it to the next day, so I explained his exams were coming up, which here is seen as a valid parent-excuse.

People generally don't care why you can't come for a meeting or do something. They want to know why so they can see if you're blowing them off to slack or because you have a 'real' reason that edges out in social/work obligations. They want to see if you care about their needs.

For the Christmas party, I'd gush about what a great idea it is, compliment the person on being smart to be organised this early, and say then say that you can't come because you've promised that time to family/friends you see rarely.

And for overtime, the guy with the fish? I would be really disappointed as an employer in him. It's a stupid excuse. If he said he had a friend coming over to help him do some complicated fish tank transfer, then okay. But cleaning fish = washing hair.

He skips overtime, but he gets labelled as the slacker with lousy excuses. If you don't care about your job, fine. This is all if your boss is asking for reasonable occasional overtime.

I don't care why you can't do overtime, so much as what else you're doing. If you're not pitching in to help because you want to go to the beach with your friends, then I'm disappointed - and so are your colleagues who ended up picking up the slack.

I had a critical overtime deadline last week, and one employee couldn't make it because she had a huge social event that day. She made up the extra time over the next week, which was fair. She was upfront that she couldn't come in, and offered an alternative and reassured me that she would be able to do overtime other times.

Sorry this is so long, but I don't think your boss is that out of line. I want to know why my employees can't deliver the same as other staff. Sick kids, moving house, long planned commitments, fine. Show you can make up in other ways.

Washing fish? Look for another job soon.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Washing fish? Look for another job soon.

Right, because pets are unimportant. Or fish are so far down on the list they might as well not exist. Time to produce offspring so you have a socially-acceptable excuse to not work. If you don't want kids, at least get a dog.

I can agree with "look for another job soon", but so you can find an employer who doesn't judge your personal concerns as invalid.
posted by cardioid at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

When you give someone an answer like, "I'm sorry, I'm not available," you have to expect that they will ask you why. You have to also understand that you're about to get in at least a mild argument with them if they ask you "why?" because the only correct answer you can give that will win you that argument is to do the broken record and repeat, "I'm sorry, I'm not available" to any question they give you in response. This will be a process of two to three questions, which is the amount of time it takes most people to figure out that your only answer in response to their questions is going to be, "I'm sorry, I'm not available."

Don't mistake this for anything other than a verbal fight -- it may be a subtle one, but it is a fight and will have its costs. You have to be willing to accept the social costs that come with it if you want to use an answer like, "I'm sorry, I'm not available," because there is no magical phrase you can use to tell someone to "fuck off" and not have it cost you just a little bit of social currency with them.

Confrontations have their costs, they are usually worth it because if you do them correctly, you only have to do them once.
posted by 517 at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Have you tried something slightly more specific, like, "I've already committed to attend another event" or "I have a family obligation I need to take care of"?

Because it's not reasonable to ask, "Why not?" or to evaluate your uses of your non-work time--it's not your boss's concern whether you need the weekend to attend a wedding or just need a weekend to relax--but clearly she's not reasonable. I wonder if saying something that proactively answers the "Why not?" might go over better.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:11 AM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: I had a critical overtime deadline last week, and one employee couldn't make it because she had a huge social event that day. She made up the extra time over the next week, which was fair. She was upfront that she couldn't come in, and offered an alternative and reassured me that she would be able to do overtime other times.

Sorry, no. If your business operates that it can't get things done without 'critical overtime', your employee is not the problem.

I want to know why my employees can't deliver the same as other staff. Sick kids, moving house, long planned commitments, fine. Show you can make up in other ways.

They can't 'deliver' because they've already put in their salaried paid time and are unwilling to give up their life outside of work for unpaid overtime because projects aren't scoped and planned correctly. They don't need to do penance for not giving that up.
posted by asockpuppet at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2011 [83 favorites]

Viggorlijah's insight into what might be your supervisor's perspective might be of value to the questioner. Other people arguing with it is not.
posted by phearlez at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're brave enough, you could just be honest:

"I'm not available to work overtime because I don't want to."
"I will not be at the Christmas party, and I'm not interested in discussing it."

Depending on your boss, they might take that badly. Remember that this is their problem, it's not yours. Work to live, don't live to work.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:32 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no real magic bullet phrase to get out of work events / overtime, but as others have suggested, a useful approach can be: "I have a prior commitment" or "I have an appointment" with further inquiries followed up if necessary by "It's a personal matter," which can in turn be escalated to "I'd rather not discuss it" if inquiries persist.

But make no mistake: wanting to loaf about on a Tuesday afternoon is not the same thing as being unable or unavailable to work overtime or attend a work-related function. It is being unwilling to do so. Which is fine. I don't blame you at all. But don't fool yourself into thinking that in such cases you're not willfully choosing to prioritize your personal life over your job.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. In fact, it's a hell of a lot healthier than the other way around. Be prepared, however, that your boss (and possibly some of your co-workers) will judge you for this, and judge you negatively. You are not going to be able to change that, and should be prepared for the fact that you are less likely to be considered for promotions, raises, etc. Is that unfair? Possibly and / or probably, but it's one of the sacrifices you need to be prepared to make if you want to prioritize your personal life over your job / career.

Sorry, no. If your business operates that it can't get things done without 'critical overtime', your employee is not the problem [...] They can't 'deliver' because they've already put in their salaried paid time and are unwilling to give up their life outside of work for unpaid overtime because projects aren't scoped and planned correctly. They don't need to do penance for not giving that up.

You have no idea whether the overtime in question is paid or unpaid, and no idea how the business in questions operates, what constraints it may or may not be operating under, or even what industry it's in. You are projecting your frustrations with your own career onto situations about which you know nothing, and your entire comment consists of pointless, irrelevant bitching that utterly fails to answer the question at hand.

posted by dersins at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am sometimes sarcastic to a fault, and at one job where I was required to be pretty ballsy as part of the work, when I had to turn down work-related social invitations, I could get away with saying "Oh, hey thanks, but sorry, I can't. I have better things to do with people I really like." That's neither polite nor inoffensive, but it is more effective at fighting persistent "Awww, come onnnns". I often had to put in overtime to meet my department's deadlines on my salary, and was required to work events - but aside from that, when I had the option, I'd say brightly and truthfully "Wow, that's a great offer - but I need my personal time for other obligations, a healthy social life and all the work I do for charities. You understand." I stayed just |this side of jerkiness, and it worked for me. You sound like a really nice guy, and I remember your question about being helpful by default - sometimes, if others don't sense an edge, they don't know where your boundaries are.

But theora55 has the polite, truthful and firm solution, which usually goes over better, unless you're really secure and sure of how a smart-ass response will be received. But then again, I never got pestered beyond my stock answers. But, in my work world, certain parties were non-negotiable, those being the holiday party and the summer bbq at the boss' house and your Christmas party may be one of these instances.

That said, if you are being approached for overtime frequently enough to require a stock response, I agree with asockpuppet and blue_beetle. The Boss needs a reminder that people need a work/life balance. I'd nicely, but sharply, ask questions that turn it back to the boss to identify if there's an issue, and which clarify your own expectations: "Hey, sorry I can't do overtime every time I'm asked, and I do hate to keep saying no. Should I be planning that my job really is 41 hours a week, not 37?" or "Wow, overtime, again? I'd love to but I'd planned on just my regular work week. Are there scheduling problems?" Or "Thanks for asking me, because sometimes it's nice to have the extra income - but sometimes, I really just need the time. Does this mean we need more staff?". Because if you just know that this is part of the deal, then the resentment doesn't creep in.
posted by peagood at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My stock phrase is "I have other obligations."
Obligations implies that you promised something to somebody and you'll let them down if you don't go. "Not available" doesn't have the implications of that which is why I don't use it any more.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:42 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

My job *cancelled professional exams* and various other study committments in order for me to work overtime, whilst the coworker who just said 'No, I can't' without explation and who laughed off the 'But why?!!?' questions.... well, she got off scott free.

In future I intend on taking the latter approach. I suggest you do too.
posted by Chorus at 9:06 AM on August 23, 2011

Well the overtime, since you comply 97% of the time, you can simply say no, and if pressed admit that you are so overtired from the overtime that you are afraid you won't be able to give 100%.

The Christmas party thing and your bosses glaring at you and demanding "no exceptions!" is problematic - very problematic.

I mean you can go to boss and say, "I can't afford it!" or what if you don't drink, everyone else drinks like a fish and then everyone "splits" the bill. You are screwed. Although it is a social glue thing, I think it is a bit outrageous to demand presence at a party when company isn't paying. Company doesn't have to pay for a Christmas party, but if they don't employees shouldn't feel pressured to attend. I mean if you can't afford it, you can't afford it.

But as others have said, maybe it is time to move on.
posted by xetere at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2011

What a delicious thread. I've always lived to thwart bosses.
As to the original question, "that's simply not possible" begs for further explanation, so I would never use that phrase. The fish-washing story, while fun to read, involves much too much explanation, and you do not owe your boss that. I, too, vote for "I have other obligations" and a laser-stern, sotto voce "that's personal business" if pressed further.

Good work so far in keeping your work and personal life as separate as possible.

@viggorlijah: how about doing your duty to the economy and hiring more workers?
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:11 AM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

From a previous Ask, it sounded like the OP wanted more hours--or did that change?

And using your fish as an excuse sounds cute, but I'd not only stop listening, I'd figure you were having me on. I think Miss Manners' phrase is fine for non-work events and requests, but it's a bit abrupt to use on the job. If S's boss needs him to work overtime (which according to the previous post, Solomon gets paid for and even time-and-a-half) and he prefers not to, it's possible that S's hours get even fewer.

You can decline more hours in a respectful way, but just stone-walling "It's not possible" isn't the way to do it, I think.

Not going to the Christmas party isn't going to hurt you with your boss, but don't be surprised if your colleagues don't want to help you out. Can't you at least make a token appearance and then shove off?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:59 AM on August 23, 2011

The problem with the "I have other obligations" line when they're planning Christmas (! Do they really call it Christmas?!) parties is that probably a lot of what they're doing is planning the date.

I would probably tell my boss that it's a stressful time for me, financially and emotionally, and that a work party will add to that. I would then suggest we do one in January or whenever (and then generally the rest of the staff would thank me for getting them off the hook). Usually the January party never materializes or if it does, it's a lot smaller.

Another way is to say I will come if I can and that that's the best I can commit to at this time. Then I decide in November or December if it's something I can manage.

If it's going to cost more than $50 I just say no and be loud and clear that $50's my max and if they want to blow their children's gift money on booze they can do it without me.

I have been at my job a long long time so I feel secure in it, which helps. Also, my bosses aren't assholes- they're just thoughtless sometimes.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:26 AM on August 23, 2011

I would prefer not to.
posted by nicwolff at 10:43 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the overtime, this is your phrase:

"I have a personal commitment that I cannot reschedule." Follow immediately with "However, I can do it [adjacent days that you can do it] if that will still be helpful."

For the Christmas party, this is your phrase:

"I have a personal commitment that I cannot reschedule." Follow immediately with "However, I want to see the pictures, and I hope you all have a great time!"

Aside from that, ask to sit down with your boss, and let her know that you felt she was singling you out when she said "no exceptions" while looking right at you (don't say "glaring.") Ask her if she has any concerns that she would like to discuss, regarding your participation in unofficial group events and/or your commitment to working overtime hours.

Whether she says yes or no, let her know that you're always happy to work overtime when you are available, and that you really like your coworkers and enjoy spending time with them at work, but you have significant personal commitments that take up a great deal of non-work time, so your availability is limited and the more advance notice she can provide, the more you can work to be available for those times.

Oh, and ultimately: if she presses for details, say "I mean you no disrespect, but these are personal matters that I don't feel comfortable discussing in the workplace. I hope you will understand." And if she does not back off, go to HR.
posted by davejay at 11:36 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention: if there is no set date planned for the Christmas party, and it really is just a matter of you not wanting to go, you're going to have to suck it up and admit that you don't want to go. You can try "I'd like to go, but money's tight this month with the holidays, and I can't contribute to the party costs", but someone might chip in for you. Ultimately if you just don't want to socialize in that way, you're going to need to own it.
posted by davejay at 11:39 AM on August 23, 2011

I would prefer not to.

Yeah, and we all know how that turned out for poor old Bartleby (spoiler - you need to go to that Christmas party).
posted by hazyjane at 12:16 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Honestly, you just need to LIE. Every time. It must be a certain type of practical, unarguable with (unless the person you're dealing with is a real asshole) sort of lie.

1. I have a (preferably medical) appointment. Saying it's medical is even better than "I have an appointment," really, and if it's work they can't ask what you are getting treated for anyway.
2. I need to get something fixed at my house/apartment and I have to be home waiting for the tech at 3 (or whatever)
3. I have to pick up a child.

Basically, something that they can't argue you out of. They want to know if it is a good enough reason for you not to be doing it. Maybe you feel like you shouldn't have to justify shit, but in real life, you do. Clearly you do at this office as well. I wouldn't pick major whoppers like a dying relative, but "I have an appointment" can be anything and usually there is a good reason for it.

Don't say "It won't be possible" and then say nothing else. That is waving a red flag in front of a bull. If they are asking why, they want an answer as to why this isn't possible. It raises a red flag in their heads that you are making up some bullshit. (Seriously, the washing fish guy? Funny joke, but I think the boss probably should have kicked his ass for that one. You just don't say that at work and it comes off as really obnoxious and rude to me.) Don't say you would prefer not to. If you want to loaf off instead of working overtime, sorry, but you've got an appointment you can't bail out of. Don't let them know that you could do it and just don't wanna. Say you can't and why. As viggorlijah pointed out, they are trying to figure out if you're being a jerk and a slacker or just actually can't do it.

As for the holiday party: you are stuck going. Seriously, you are.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:06 PM on August 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

If attending the party is a work duty they should be paying the OP to do it. Some people are implying that the OP is being rude for not going and not spending her wages and free time on something she doesn't want to do. If it's such an important part of doing business the company should pay for it and do it during work hours.

Saying she can't afford it will get coworkers wondering and even possibly asking what the OP spends her money on and open her personal finances up for judgement and discussion.

I don't really see why refusing 3% of all overtime requests constitutes "loafing" or "goofing off" either

The only way the OP should need.to justify spending her own time and money on herself is if, in fact, her time really all belongs to the company and they just let her use some of it for eating, sleeping, and bathing but they are entitled to revoke this privilege at any moment. Ever had to explain to your boss that on doctor's orders you need to have seven hours' sleep each night? Ever had that followed with an escalation in urgent tasks dumped on your desk at 6pm so you don't get away till 11? I have, and justifying why I needed to sleep didn't do a thing to strengthen my case. All it did was reinforce the assumption that all my time belonged to the company.

Of course, there may be a more diplomatic solution than the Broken Record, but I can't think what. It is perfectly polite, however impolitic.
posted by tel3path at 1:58 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree that if attending a party is a work duty the OP should be paid to do it. Nor do I get the point of the off-hours office party. But we don't live in an ideal, reasonable world. The boss has made it clear that it is a requirement in all but official law for them to attend, and they will be in trouble if they don't. That's what we're going on here. Politic seems to be a thing in this office.

Now, I have no idea how much an office party actually costs (do you have to donate to a kitty? pay for large amounts of booze? everyone has to buy each other gifts?), but yeah, s/he can't say they can't afford it. Sad but true.

Refusing 3% of requests isn't really loafing or goofing off, but again, we're dealing with an unreasonable boss here. Justifying why you're saying no will get the OP off the hook a lot faster than saying "I'd like to loaf for once" or "No, that won't be possible." Now, yeah, some places even doctor's notes won't justify shit, but overall, justification will get them off the hook a lot more often than just saying no, no, no without saying why not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:10 PM on August 23, 2011

Some people are implying that the OP is being rude for not going

I don't think anyone is saying it's rude so much as that it will be, in the longterm, bad for the OP's job prospects in the long run. Politically it will be a bad move.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:17 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, okay. Then I'd reiterate my original suggestion to submit an expense claim, but the boss will probably just make her eat it.

FWIW it doesn't surprise me that they're hassling her about this in August. Every year at TarPitCo a core group of people would get really excited about the Christmas party and the first piece of pro-party-attendance doggerel would get emailed in late July. This would be followed by what seemed like weekly emails demanding a tenner for the bus, and a tenner for the cover charge, and would people please specify their menu choices, and another email about another tenner, and oh God. Then when you got to the venue there would be barely enough room to bend your elbow to use your fork and knife, and each diner would be allocated exactly one paper napkin to last the whole evening. I'll say this, though: attendance wasn't compulsory. Just nobody could understand why you didn't want to join in the good time.
posted by tel3path at 3:24 PM on August 23, 2011

It may be that I'm kind of a jerk, but a while back I made a point of saying things around the office like "You know, a guy can always go on vacation -- he just might not be able to come back."

Might not be the best approach for everyone, but it seems to have worked for me. I get a lot less pressure to work unpaid overtime than I used to. Probably smaller raises too, but them's the breaks.
posted by DaveP at 4:19 PM on August 23, 2011

I think we can't give you a specific answer re the OT without knowing more about the OPs job and the specific expectations. Some jobs have specific overtime expectations that aren't optional-they may vary by season or otherwise, but if it's clearly in your job description, then you might need to suck it up and do it. My employees (child protection) all have job descriptions that clearly state occasional overtime will be required (compensated, of course).

I also think you want to be careful, especially in this job market. Getting snarky or playing games aren't great ideas. I'm not saying you have to go to the party or do the OT, just be thoughtful about it-think about what, if anything, it might mean for future prospects. (hey, my employees are all union, so they have clearly defined rights-OP might not be so fortunate).
posted by purenitrous at 9:24 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: And maybe to make yourself feel better, you could mention that you often put in overtime when requested...
"You know me, I'm usually available to pick up overtime, but this time I just can't make it. Is there anything I can do right now to help out?"

The Christmas Party might be a bit harder, only because they really are giving you lots of lead time...I probably wouldn't answer their questions about it until later. "Dec 17? I'll see how that lines up-- I know some family might be visiting in December...but thanks for the info."
posted by calgirl at 9:56 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stop saying 'sorry'. It's an in. It says 'I would really rather be doing what you want me to do rather than what I have to do', and encourages the asker to help you find a way to do exactly that. Just say you're not doing it. Careful use of qualifying phrases can also make you seem less obstructive.

'I'm not available this time.'
'I won't be coming to the Christmas bash this year.'

If people are used to asking you for explanations, you may need to follow up with a curt closer for a while. They'll stop soon enough.

'Why not?'
'I have another engagement. Anyway, see you tomorrow.' Walk away.
'It's not my sort of thing. Anyway, see you tomorrow.' Walk away.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:52 AM on August 24, 2011

I'd add that I work in a fire-at-will country for a company that is in relatively high demand. We recently hired a new staff member to replace one leaving for further studies, and I had over 40 applicants, with 5 really good candidates willing to take an okay salary because of the perks - flexible hours - and the industry, a non-profit in social services. It's expected here that you work hard because you can be replaced, and your job can be outsourced regionally. It sucks as an employee in general, but then again we have near full employment and a national pension system so you also get a lot of mobility switching jobs fairly easily.

In my tiny non-profit, we have critical deadlines every other week and we pull overtime. The work just is that way. There's no money to hire anyone else, because we have to balance funding backoffice positions here against hiring operations staff in Cambodia, and so we spend a lot of time training and managing volunteers instead. I am way more lenient with volunteers, but with paid staff, well, we've got commitments to the job. It's not a position for someone who's clock-watching or focusing on what's in it for them financially.

All that said - my partner is looking into changing jobs to a more stable job where he can refuse overtime and so on in order to balance family/work better. He'll take a pay cut to do that, and probably end up in less interesting work. That's the trade-off.

Christmas parties and other work social events are a way to create forced ties and bonding among staff, even if it is in "we hate the bosses so much for making us waste time doing this". they aren't obligatory legally, but you will get noticed if you don't bother turning up and it will hurt your career.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:27 AM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: I completely forgot to follow up to this! Oh well, I'm only 6 months late.

Regarding the party, it was eventually cancelled. Only the boss, the individual who organised the party and one other person actually wanted to go. The reason people didn't want to do? "It's too expensive for what it is". It was a meal that was going to cost at least six times my hourly rate. Something else was chosen instead that worked out to be less than double my hourly rate. I think even the individual who arranged the original venue realised that it was rather expensive. [I don't know what she was thinking originally, given that we're on the same pay grade.]

Regarding the boss, it would seem that I'm not the only person that she tried to twist the arm of. I spoke to her about what happened, and she explained that there had been lots of pushback already from other individuals. Pretty much everyone else had said WTF to the cost of the meal, but she didn't want to disappoint the arranging individual. She did seem apologetic when I spoke to her.

I don't think she realised that she was being nosy when asking for more details. She did specifically apologise for prying when I mentioned to her that I was rather defensive about my private life and that I like to keep it separate from my work life. I realise that it might just be a me-thing as much as it's a boss-thing.

I explained to my boss again that I was generally happy to do overtime but couldn't guarantee to be available to do nearly 3 times my contracted hours per week. This segued into a conversation about having my contracted hours increased, which she couldn't do. However, I now have more regular, longer shifts, which benefits both my boss and me. We both know when I'm working for sure which makes it easier for us both to plan. Apparently the reason I'm asked to do overtime so much is because nobody else seems to want it, not because of spite or anything like that. I reiterated that it generally wouldn't be a problem, but that working 13 days straight was a little much. She seemed surprised herself at how much I was doing and promised to ensure that it didn't happen again. I'm still doing lots of overtime, but it's with a more willing heart heart now. I feel more comfortable saying when it gets to the point that it's too much. She's also done a lot to help me out when I needed a couple of days off at short notice.

Overall, I think it's worked out for the better. We definitely have a better working relationship now. Thank you all for your advice.
posted by Solomon at 2:04 PM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Great outcome. Thank you for the follow-up.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2012

« Older Seeing Europe, One Weekend Away At A Time   |   trying to automatically click items on a webpage.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.