How do I tell my boss I can't make it to a work-related social event?
January 29, 2013 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My weekend is overbooked to the tune of family vs. work. Help me figure out how to tell my very difficult boss about this the right way.

My boyfriend and his family made special arrangements for us to meet some of his family out of town this coming weekend. Some of his family is flying in from the opposite side of the country for this. The reservations have all been finalized and everyone is set to go. However, my company also scheduled their big formal dinner for this Saturday night. Obviously, I can't make it due to our family plans out of town, but since my company is so small (only 5 people), my absence would be very conspicuous.

This is a company that I have no future with and has clearly stated that it has no plans for my professional growth (that's a separate topic for another MeFi post). Although it is very nice that the company wants to take us on a nice outing, it is a very pretentious event (we have had a couple dinners like this in the past). My boyfriend, on the other hand, is someone that I do have a future with. He is someone who has made it clear that he wants to marry me someday, and who, along with his family, has been nothing short of wonderful to me.

I'm not sure how to go about telling my boss about all this. He is difficult to approach and is not usually very understanding of his employees' personal lives. I have thought about just going to him today and laying it all out there with 110% honesty. Possible outcomes:
A) Boss says OK. (Not likely, and I would probably become the company black sheep starting next Monday.)
B) Boss realizes the conflict, reschedules the dinner for next weekend, and all is well. (It's slightly more likely that this could happen.)
C) Boss mandates my attendance at said dinner, in which case I end up severely disappointing my boyfriend and his family. By the same token, this is the proverbial "last straw" for a company that has not treated me very well and I start packing my professional bags to look for my next career opportunity.

If I don't say anything to anyone (no one at work has any clue about any of this), the dishonest route would be to call in "sick" the day of the dinner. (If I do this, I could possibly still become the black sheep of the company, anyway, but no one would think much of it if they thought I was sick.) I don't want to take this dishonest route if I don't have to, though.

I obviously want to be professional as well as honor my personal obligations. At this point in my life, I'm finding that I'm sick of trying to make everyone else happy at my own expense. Life is too short and I'd rather tell the company (nicely!) that they can stuff it, but it's not going to be easy. How can I go about this? What should I say to the boss? Have any of you been through something similar before (and if so, how did it turn out)?
posted by chatelaine to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "I'm sorry, I already have out-of-town family plans that have been set for months and cannot be rescheduled." That's it. Leave it up to him to decide what to do with the information, but stick to your guns. And tell him as soon as possible, so it doesn't look like you've been sitting around trying to come up with an excuse to get out of it.
posted by something something at 11:31 AM on January 29, 2013 [44 favorites]

Best answer: Boss mandates my attendance at said dinner

"I'm sorry, that won't be possible on Saturday night given my longstanding travel plans. I would love to attend the next event."

You should already be looking for your next job. If your boss wants to hasten that process that's his loss.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:33 AM on January 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

When did the dinner get planned? If it was just today, then you don't need to explain anything, other than to say "I cannot make it this weekend due to family obligations, can we reschedule? Otherwise I will just have to miss this one." You do not need to spell out what your obligations are, you have plans, and they're scheduling something with only 4 days notice.

If it was any earlier than yesterday, though, then just speaking up now is, well, pretty rude and unprofessional. This is the sort of thing you should have said right when it got planned. I'm not sure how you can deal with it in that case.
posted by brainmouse at 11:33 AM on January 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm afraid you scheduled this dinner for a day that I had solid plans to be out of town. I cannot attend."

Don't make it a negotiation. Make it clear that these are plans that cannot be changed.

If he mandates your attendance, then I would ask him to please reconsider. If he won't, then you'll have to face whatever consequence there is for not attending. Then accelerate your exit out the door to your next position.
posted by inturnaround at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Outcome C should not result in disappointing your boyfriend's family. If you go to the work dinner, you will still be planning on leaving the company. If you are going to do that, spend time with family and deal with the repercussions on Monday.
posted by spec80 at 11:36 AM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree with brainmouse. If the company event was just scheduled in the last day or two, you're absolutely free to say, politely, that you have a conflict that has been planned for a long time and that can't be moved.

If they scheduled the dinner a long time ago, did you say you could go? Did they even ask, or just mandate it? Either way, if it's been planned a while and you have told them/let them think you're coming, then I personally would try to split my time. Go to the company dinner, but leave early. Let them know ahead of time, with apologies, that you can't stay late.

If you're ready to burn this bridge, you can bail completely, but if you're going to be around the company for a while yet (or want to leave on a relatively good note), that seems like a poor move.
posted by pompelmo at 11:43 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd tell your boss I can't make it, but I'd frame it like this:

"Hey, we'll probably need to reschedule the dinner to next Saturday - I won't be in town this weekend." If he presses, say it's a big family thing and you've already bought plane tickets and such.

This has always worked for me. If you say you have plans, then it becomes a question of priority. But if you say you won't be in town, there's nothing there to argue with. As others have noted above, there's less chance of fallout if the news of the company outing is relatively recent. If you've known about it for a while but are only telling them now, that'll be a problem.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:50 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tell your boss you can't attend and then don't go.

You don't have to explain unless you want to. You can express regrets if you like ("I know, it's really sad. I'd love to attend, but it's just not possible") or not. Your boss can't make you attend. He is not going to go to your house and forcibly take you to the restaurant. He can ask you to attend, beg you to attend, and be a real pain in the ass about you attending (none of which, alas, you can do much about), but he can't make you.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure how to go about telling my boss about all this.
Good Lord. Don't. Just say you're sorry, you have a personal conflict. If he pushes, look awkward and say quietly, "I'm sorry. It's personal." Details of any kind give people like this a place to get their claws in to try to scramble up the wall of your resistance.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:02 PM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

CHATELAINE: Good morning, Boss! How was your [evening / enjoyment of televised sporting event / favorite off-hours pastime]?

BOSS: Oh, hello there, Chatelaine! It was [whatever]. How are you doing?

CHATELAINE: I'm ok, but I just realized there's something I need to tell you.


CHATELAINE: I have long standing plans to travel out of town with family on the weekend of our big company dinner, so I won't be able to attend this year. Which is too bad, because I was really looking forward to it.

Whatever your boss says here is pretty much immaterial, as he is highly unlikely to straight up fire you for this, and you sound like you don't much care about winning brownie points with him.

If your boss is able to reschedule the whole event around you, and wants to do that rather than simply accepting that you won't be there, let him, I guess? I hardly think attending a nice dinner on someone else's dime is really that onerous a task.

If it's really true that your boss would try to force you to go to this event despite having uncancellable long-standing travel plans, it's time to find a new job because that is just absolutely fucking bonkers, sorry.
posted by Sara C. at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it was just scheduled, you're fine and can say you have long-standing plans to travel with family. If you've known about this dinner for awhile, you need to start getting sick on Friday and then call in sick Saturday.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:20 PM on January 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I just talked to him. I explained I got my weekends mixed up (I did), and he was actually really cool about it and wants to reschedule so I can be there. Pleasantly surprising, and I'm really relieved now that I spoke with him and it all seems to have worked out. I'm still not planning my future around this company long-term, but at least I feel like they value me here. Thanks MeFites!
posted by chatelaine at 12:25 PM on January 29, 2013 [34 favorites]

« Older The Seven Bridges of K√∂nigsberg in 200 Words or...   |   I need to come up with ideas for daycare visits to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.