I would rather you fall on the floor then do a trust fall exercise
March 13, 2013 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Tactful ways to get out of a corporate retreat when company recently spent a great deal of money on you

I'm a business traveler (IT consultant/contractor) and have been with my current company for about 6 months now. There is a corporate retreat coming up that is listed as mandatory that I really, really don't want to go to. How can I get out of this or do I just need to suck it up?

Important points:
1) Travel from my current client site would take all day, eliminating a day of billable hours along with the retreat on Friday/Saturday/Sunday which isn't paid.
2) If I take a flight from home city, it's on my dime unless I use my frequent flyer miles which would wipe them out, still have the problem of no billables half Thursday and all day Friday
3) I travel alot, and while my SO would be with me - we have a new dog and house that I would rather spend the time with. In addition, my cash reserves are low due to this right now and an extra 1500 would be a significant strain on my accounts.
4) Company recently argued for me to attend a training that allows me to be certified in a new application. I asked for this but also proved myself, and it makes them a ton of money as well.
5) This would be the second time in 6 months that I've had to take at least 2 days of no pay due to corporate events.
6) I work significantly more then 40 hours a week, usually about 60-70 including travel. My weekends are my time to relax, I really don't want to drink or do trust falls with people I've met once and won't meet again for another 2 years.
posted by lpcxa0 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Any chance you can invent/create/encourage an urgent client situation that needs your attention onsite for Friday and possibly the weekend?
posted by deludingmyself at 10:29 AM on March 13, 2013

You could come down with the "diplomatic flu." It is the season...
posted by rpfields at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Usually these retreats are for FT employees not contractors. Ask your manager or HR.
posted by Gungho at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

This would be the second time in 6 months that I've had to take at least 2 days of no pay due to corporate events

Well that's not right. If they want you there, you need to be compensated for your time. I would approach it from that angle, or else simply ask if "mandatory" applies to consultants, or just their FT employees- I would have guessed it didn't.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

What? You have 5 more reasons than you need - your very 1st point is all you require. You now need to take that into boss' office and deliver with cool non-negotiable, matter-of-fact determination.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry not to threadsit but its through my actual consulting company
posted by lpcxa0 at 10:32 AM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: Talk to your boss, explain. As a boss this is an easy thing for me to give people a pass on, and really, who schedules mandatory events without pay and then dings you on your billable hours total on top of it ?

1) This is bullshit, get them to count the hours if you end up going, it's not your choice.
2) Also *bullshit*, company event, they should pay.
3) There is no reason this should be on your dime.
4) Your attending training brings a marketable skill to both you and them, it's not even relevant to this.
5) Yeah, you need a better employer or a better understanding with them, or get this stuff as comp time you can add to your formal vacations.
6) You also need some comp time, they don't own you.

I say this as a person in the IT consulting industry who manages a team of a dozen consultants and have been doing this for roughly 15 years. You are on the path to burn out, that many hours and that kind of schedule is unsustainable over many years. IT consulting is a marathon, not a sprint.
posted by iamabot at 10:33 AM on March 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Sorry not to threadsit but its through my actual consulting company

So how does this consulting company work? The consultants at my old consulting company got a salary...is that not the case with you? Do you bill all your hours? If so, they really should cover the hours you go to a retreat. If you're on salary, you need to go to this, because it's considered part of your work.
posted by xingcat at 10:38 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The answer depends on how much you care about what it means that you aren't there vs going.

Not going is often seen as a black mark and can mark you out as not on board. I have seen people's careers stagnate for less.

But if you're not in, or planning to be in, a management position and/or couldn't care less what they think then I think you can have a polite conversation with your manager and tell him/her how much of an inconvenience given that you are working off site and want to see your family.

If it's critical to your career, then you can still have the polite "I would prefer not to go this" conversation with your manager but even if they say you don't need go it still may actually be in your interests to go.

I'd leave the cost issue out of it. It's annoying, but consulting firms often pay well and accept their pound of flesh back and they will see themselves as taking the cost of the hotel, food etc. If you're not paid well, then ignore this.

I'd also leave the billable hours bit out. Not your call and reads like you're telling them how to run their business. They will know people will not bill hours because of travel, preparation etc.

If you don't want to argue the toss with your manager and want the nuclear excuse, invent a health scare for your wife that is sufficiently urgent that you need to be by her side and which has no lasting effects. Twisted ankles work wonders. So does fainting. Or general mentions of scans and tests.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:42 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so confused, how can they force you to forego your fees, spend your own money and time to do this?

It makes no sense. Now if the company was paying your way, paying you a salary, etc, then no-brainer, you're going.

Talk to a manger on site and find out what the dilli-o, cause this doesn't make any sense at all.

This assumes that you're only paid for hours you bill. Is that right? Does that mean that you bill 60 hours a week and are paid for them?

If you don't want to go, just say, "I'm sorry, that won't be possible."

If it were truly mandatory, then they'd be paying.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:47 AM on March 13, 2013

I'm going to ignore the question of how bad it is for your career to weasel out of this. You're an adult, if you don't want to go, here's how to weasel out of it:

Family event. Aunt's milestone birthday dinner or something like that. Don't say wedding, because then there won't be pictures. It would be normal to not take photos at a dinner, though. Don't say you'll be out of town because then you'll have to fear discovery the entire weekend. If you really want to play with fire you can go out all weekend and hope you're only spotted once (then you can say your event was the other day/night). If you want to play it safe, spend Saturday evening relaxing at home to ensure no one sees you out and about.

It's weaselly, but it will work if you're not stupid about it.
posted by telegraph at 10:50 AM on March 13, 2013

This works like no company retreat I'm familiar with. In a normal company, first, your billables don't matter, since presumably you're paid on salary and your company has already accounted for the fact you'll be out that day. Second, it shouldn't be a problem for you to send your company the receipts for the bills incurred getting to and from the retreat so you get reimbursed.
posted by deanc at 10:50 AM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: They can't mandate something and then make you pay for it.

Please don't lie and come up with an excuse. You're an adult and you don't need to do that kind of stuff.

Simple say that you are unable to incur the travel expenses for this retreat, and that it isn't possible for you to lose the billable hours.

If they then offer to let you expense the travel and bill the hours, you go.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 11:00 AM on March 13, 2013 [15 favorites]

Just don't go. I work/plan events for a IT traveling consulting company which has corporate events that are "mandatory". (I'm also a travelling consultant too).

The company pays for them, pays for travel, accepts our billables will be lower (we are paid salaries, bonuses are based on billables). Plus everyone really likes each other and enjoys getting drunk together.

In those cases, we still have about 25% of folks that can't go (sometimes 50%). Excuses include not wanting to travel, "prior engagements", etc. It's not a big deal. Someone might mind, but nobody that really has any authority.
posted by sandmanwv at 11:01 AM on March 13, 2013

your reasons for not wanting to go fall into three categories: you lose billable hours; the retreat impinges on your own time; and you'll have to spend your own $. the company knows you'll be losing billable hours, and presumably others will be as well, so i don't think the company would want to hear this as a reason you won't be going. as for this eating up your own time, i agree it totally sucks. but assuming you value your job, sometimes we have to do things for the good of our career and employer versus for the good of ourselves. as for the money, this is the only valid reason to ask for a pass. one shouldn't be forced to ruin their budget by attending a work event. however it seems that if you travel from your current client site, there are no out-of-pocket expenses.

it sucks, but i'd say if this job is important to you, you should suck it up, go, and while there, try to enjoy yourself. (this comes from someone who works on the billable hour, and is "forced" to attend innummerable non-billable work events and even a weekend retreat each year. i do it to be a good "corporate citizen," which has value to me. YMMV.)

agreed with the others that if you don't go, don't make up an elaborate reason. just tell them that for various reasons, you need to sit this one out.
posted by smokyjoe at 11:07 AM on March 13, 2013

This is nuts. They can't mandate it and not pay.

Two choices:

1 (not ideal) make excuses. Aunt's dinner, faked sickness, whatever. This is sub-optimal because you both have to lie and cover your tracks; AND possibly look bad for not prioritizing this over the dinner, etc.

2. (ideal) tell your manager that the only way you can come is if they pay for all of it, and that you completely understand if this isn't in the budget for contractors.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:33 AM on March 13, 2013

This is the second time in six months you have had to attend mandatory, unpaid two or three day events. You also work around twice a normal work week. This situation is not going to get better on its own - the company has no incentive to change anything. Are you paid salary? Because you should calculate how much you are being paid hourly and decide if it is worth it to you. (And you will probably be out of luck but you can see what your local labour laws have to say about excessive unpaid overtime and mandatory unpaid events). You mentioned "my cash reserves are low" which makes me think this job is not as well compensated as you may have initially thought; having so little free time has real financial consequences (not having the time to cook proper meals, paying for rush dry cleaning etc). That being said, no manager wants to hear "oh, this sucks for me, I don't wanna do it!", no matter how justified.
posted by saucysault at 11:53 AM on March 13, 2013

This is the equivalent of a salaried employee being invited to a weekday, work-hours event, but the employer treating it as unpaid time off. Sounds rather ludicrous, yes?
posted by Doofus Magoo at 11:56 AM on March 13, 2013

I'm not sure what your consulting relationship with this company is like, but as a freelancer I would never even consider going to something like this unless it was all expenses paid plus my normal fees to go. Even then I would probably just say "no thanks" and leave it at that. What does your contract say? I can see how if you are on salary or are more like an employee this might be murky what the expectations are, but my reaction as a contractor is oh hell no.

I find with my clients that easiest way to make everyone happy and protect my sanity is to have very clear boundaries.
posted by bradbane at 12:54 PM on March 13, 2013

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