Is it okay to bail on a work team-building activity?
August 28, 2014 4:04 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I need to skip two work team-building activities that are centered around guns and shooting because the idea makes me uncomfortable...

I am the lone female at my job. My co-workers are all older, married men with children, and I am single and child-free. They are nice people, but I always feel like an outsider there, as I don't have much in common with them. I don't go to work expecting to make new friends or anything, but I want to be able to fit it enough to be respected at work.

The team has two "team-building" activities planned: one is a day at a paintball course, and the other is a day at the gun shooting range. I am personally very uncomfortable around guns and around activities that make it seem like guns are fun. I witnessed a shooting where a friend lost a life, and in two other separate incidents I lost a dear friend and a cousin to guns, and I just can't imagine myself spending a day listening to people shoot guns and point guns at each other like it's no big deal. I know myself well enough to know that I would probably be very shaky and full of heavy thoughts and generally weird to be around if I were in that situation.

So, I told my boss and my co-workers that I would not attend the the gun events, but I would join them for the lunch portion of the events. And, it seems that no one really understands my reasoning. They keep telling me that it's just a fun sport thing and they seem to be responding to me as if I am just trying to get a free day off of work or something. It kills me because I already feel unliked at work just because I am so different from my co-workers, and I don't know what to say or do now.

Is it just me, or is this an odd choice of team-building?What would you do in this situation? How can I get my boss to realize that I am not trying to break up the team spirit by not attending? Am I required to attend this because it is during company hours?
posted by waywardgirl to Work & Money (35 answers total)
I can only answer the first two questions: it is not just you, and I would flat-out refuse to participate.
posted by Salamander at 4:09 AM on August 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

(On a side point, you should be respected at work a. as a person, period; b. on how well you do your job; and c. on how well you treat other people. Anytime respect is offered conditional on how you fit in, you know the workplace has problems.)
posted by runincircles at 4:14 AM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't participate.

No need to justify or explain.

If anyone asks, you say politely, "It is a personal matter."

And you also start looking for a new job if you are honestly not respected.
posted by zizzle at 4:16 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tell your boss what you told us, that your experience with guns leaves you uncomfortable around them. Some would argue you shouldn't have to do this, and they have a point, but people don't always act like they should.

Probably should be looking for another job, as the office culture doesn't seem to match your personality. If you feel that leaving won't be easy, work on finding some other way to fit in with the office. You look eating or drinking? Go to lunch with them. Is there some other activity some or most of them do that you might enjoy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:24 AM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do they know that you've witness gun-related violence? Because if they do and they're still insisting, they're jerks and you don't need to do anything except eventually plan to get a new job.

If they don't, maybe pulling your boss aside and saying privately that you don't want this widely known but you witnessed something terrible involving guns, and as a result you would be extremely stressed and unable to participate.

If they don't know about that tragedy, they may see you as a liberal rejecting a fun activity, sort of stick-in-the-mud PC-ing, which is jerky of them, but more of a culture clash.

If you don't feel you want to share the reason, I still think you're making the right choice skipping - it sounds intensely stressful and the emotional cost of weathering the vent, the risk of breaking down - so not worth it, compared to being regarded as the office weirdo for a bit. Be super friendly and apologetic about missing it, and maybe do some extra dull but necessary work on the day of the event instead, and bring in some cookies the next day and ask to see photos of the event and look interested.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:25 AM on August 28, 2014 [19 favorites]

I witnessed a shooting where a friend lost a life, and in two other separate incidents I lost a dear friend and a cousin to guns, and I just can't imagine myself spending a day listening to people shoot guns and point guns at each other like it's no big deal.

That's all you need to tell a rational boss. If he doesn't get it, you need to start looking for a new job. If he gets it, thank him for being understanding and don't worry.
posted by pracowity at 4:29 AM on August 28, 2014 [33 favorites]

I wouldn't want to do this either. Paintball I can at least maybe-kind-of understand (although it requires a level of physical fitness/pain tolerance that seems inappropriate to demand of employees), but the gun shooting range is...I've just never heard of anything like that before.

You are fine. Your boss is wrong. Can't you just stay in the office that day and keep working?
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:42 AM on August 28, 2014

I've participated in "team building paintball" events at several workplaces, including an extremely liberal employer, so I'm afraid my answer to that specific question is that it's not an unusual choice. That said, at said liberal workplace my team wanted to plan an event to go to a riflery range (real rifles), and we were told that HR probably wouldn't allow it.

Setting aside the issue of whether this is a weird activity or not, your reasons for not wanting to participate are completely reasonable. Heck, if you had a friend who died at an ice cream parlor, I would understand if you didn't want to go to an ice cream parlor for a work event. Your boss and team should as well.

It sounds like you are a poor "culture fit" for this workplace, which is a euphemism for being as you are, the only young single woman in an office of older married men. If this job is very important to you, I think you need to start fighting, involve HR, and push the issue of the disrespect you feel. If the job is just a job, just get another one. Don't die on a sad old sexist hill.
posted by telegraph at 4:43 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, mention your specific concern. Also, you probably do have common interests so I'd encourage you to try to find them. It's hard to take the keep-your-head-down approach at a company that likes employees to be closer to each other.
posted by michaelh at 4:52 AM on August 28, 2014

Talk to your boss. Lay out your reasons for not wanting to do these things. Not your reasons for not going. Offer to work on something specific instead -- "I can use the time to work on the Jenkins proposal, so you'll have that on your desk the morning after Paintball Day." That way, your boss knows you're not just trying to get out of work (and with a little luck, will defend you if anyone else grumbles about it).
posted by Etrigan at 5:04 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is it an unusual choice? Not really, I've been to team-building paintball events with my colleagues in England (where obviously people have rather fewer guns).

I've also been on informal, non-work hours trips with colleagues and clients to clay pigeon shooting and hunting.

In both cases I could have easily have gotten away with not doing those things and in both cases it would have had a small but real negative effect on my career.

Unfortunately, socialising with work colleagues outside of a purely professional context has a significant cumulative effect on how you're perceived by them. That's surely unfair, it's surely disproportionately unfair to people who are different in any way from the mainstream culture of the profession, it's also surely true.

That being said, your best bet is to tell your boss that due to your personal experiences, you're not comfortable doing this.
posted by atrazine at 5:07 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I witnessed a shooting where a friend lost a life

This by itself is an absolutely reasonable reason to not want to partake in paintball or actual shooting. If your boss doesn't take this as a good reason for you to not participate, then it's definitely time to start looking for a new job.
posted by Hatashran at 5:11 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I was at Google, my team went to some team-building thing at an indoor pistol range. I think the choice was mostly driven by "corporate says we can go on some team thing, so let's pick something vaguely transgressive, lol."

I wouldn't have thought twice about turning it down if I didn't feel like going.
posted by ryanrs at 5:44 AM on August 28, 2014

The firing range in particular feels outright gross to me. I agree with the people who say that telling your boss about your past experiences should be enough to get any reasonable human being to understand why you don't want to participate in these events, BUT I also think that if you'd rather not share this painful part of your life with any of these people, that is absolutely your prerogative. You do not have to justify why you won't be going to these things.

It doesn't sound like this is the thing that's going to make or break your reputation with these people, so do what feels best to you.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:52 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jesus christ, who suggested these as good team-building exercises?! Look, I enjoy going shooting with my friends but there is no fucking way I think this sort of thing would be appropriate for management to foist on their workers!

Tell your manager you are uncomfortable with this and that it's an inappropriate choice of team-building and that you will not be going. You don't need a good reason, and it doesn't matter. You're not comfortable and you won't be going, end of goddamned discussion.

Team-building that revolves around activies that may cause very real phobias in people -- phobias based on any of a thousand perfectly cromulent reasons -- are not good team-building exercises in any way/shape/form.
posted by barnacles at 5:53 AM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Be super friendly and apologetic about missing it, and maybe do some extra dull but necessary work on the day of the event instead, and bring in some cookies the next day and ask to see photos of the event and look interested.

I think being polite and mildly apologetic ("It's really not my thing, and I'm sorry I won't be able to make it.") is enough. Definitely let your boss know that due to personal experience, you can't go. Whether to flat out tell him that simply you've seen gun-related violence and know that he'd understand is up to you.

Under no circumstances bring in cookies or fake interest.
posted by canine epigram at 6:13 AM on August 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

In addition to all the above: When you don't want to do something that other people are doing, they might feel that you are judging them negatively, or that you feel superior. You shouldn't have to do this, but it might help if you explicitly say that you don't object to their doing the activities, but it's just not for you.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:34 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't go, say its for personal reasons, and wish that the others have a great time and enjoy themselves. That way you can endorse the people without endorsing the activity.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:47 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I believe the other aspects of your question have been answered appropriately. In short, any employer that poses any pushback to a simple statement of "I'm uncomfortable with guns due to previous incidents in my life" is not worth working for. It is absolutely appropriate to decline going to a shooting range.

You also asked this, which I don't believe has been answered:

Am I required to attend this because it is during company hours?

The answer to this is that your employer could conceivably require you to attend the events, since your employer has the right to require you to do any activities that are not illegal and do not discriminate against you in one of the federally recognized/state recognized protected categories. Shooting a gun applies to neither of those cases.

I will again assert that any employer that required you to attend is not worth working for.
posted by saeculorum at 6:49 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go against the tide and suggest that while you can and should demur on the paintball event, going to the firing range might actually be a good idea for you, given your experiences.

I am not a fan of guns either, but given that they are an inevitable part of many western societies (I don't know where you live, I'm in the US, guns are everywhere) I think that the more people who understand how guns work and aren't afraid to get near them, the better.

Paintball is inherently violent and pits you and your coworkers against each other in a way that I can't see being healthy at all for someone who has experienced gun-related trauma.

Going to a firing range and learning some gun safety though? That's learning a skill, and while it's not a skill you'll have much use for, learning is generally not harmful. And you might be surprised at how the guns are treated at a (well run) gun range. People realize that they are dangerous and to be treated with respect. Pointing a gun at somebody (even if you think it is unloaded --> guns are always loaded) is absolutely forbidden. You will probably be given a choice of targets that include simple bullseyes, or robot silhouettes (you don't have to pretend that you're shooting at a person).

All that being said, it's up to you. If you don't think that it would be healthy for you to attend, then don't. Go into the office on the event days and work -- I'd skip the shared lunch if there will be more comments/pressure about you not going out.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:57 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is it just me, or is this an odd choice of team-building?What would you do in this situation? How can I get my boss to realize that I am not trying to break up the team spirit by not attending? Am I required to attend this because it is during company hours?

I think the shooting range is an odd choice, and I'm from Montana and live in Utah where hunting and guns are really common.

I would flat out say "Sorry, I don't like guns, I'll be working after joining you for lunch." Honestly, THAT's the only thing you should have to say to a rational boss. (Although I find paintball really fun and would probably do that. Paintball guns aren't super gun-like to me, though.)

I'd say, "Boss, I'm not trying to break up the team spirit but I don't want to participate in these particular events. Have fun and I'll join you for lunch."

Finally, I guess it depends on your state laws as far as "at-will." I guess they could technically fire you for not attending? But I doubt they would. I would keep working that day just to be safe - unless you can't for some reason, then I'd offer to make the time up. Or if they say you have to go, then go, and hang out without participating.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:27 AM on August 28, 2014

It's fine if you don't want to go, but I do think if it's during work hours you should probably go and do some work at the office. Otherwise people will think you're just bowing out to get free time off. In every company I've worked that has had teambuilding activities during work hours, it was always acceptable (and relatively common) for team members to decline because they had too much actual work to do.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:56 AM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is it just me, or is this an odd choice of team-building? What would you do in this situation?

I live in a pretty gun-friendly state, and yes, it's an odd choice of team building. Especially if they're doing the two most gun-centric recreational things you can possibly do outside of going hunting. It's weird to have so much focus on guns. I think the paintball thing is doubly strange, because that stuff gets weirdly competitive and conducive to grudgemaking.

On preview: Seconding Joan about what to do. Just go to work as normal and enjoy a day of quiet productivity, but do meet them for lunch and enjoy yourself as much as you can then.
posted by mochapickle at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2014

I find these both pretty strange team building activities. I have no particular aversion to guns, but I STILL refuse to play paintball when my friends go because I see the crazy bruises they end up with...I have no interest in being in pain just for fun (and I bruise very easily from regular activities, much less getting shot with a paintgun). I get other people love it, and I would never tell them to stop, but it seems super odd to have something like this as a work event! Aside from your personal situation, one could have ALL SORTS of health issues that would make this an unacceptable activity.

I would decline to go, and explain your reasoning if you are comfortable doing so. I do not think you can just not come into work without taking a vacation day, but I think it's fine to go in and do whatever you would have been doing if this activity were not taking place. Honestly, I would also start looking for a new job immediately, as this place sounds truly awful.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:21 AM on August 28, 2014

Is it just me, or is this an odd choice of team-building?

I work in a mostly male office and we're always taking suggestions for fun stuff to do together as employees. Paintball has been requested several times. I'm proposing that we go to an archery range instead, as more of a thinking man's kill sport. If that's a compromise you'd be comfortable with, try suggesting that? The suggestion would be in addition to explaining to your boss what you find problematic with these activities. It would show that you're not opposed to the idea of the team building sports, but simply that all of the gun-focused "fun" is not ok with you.
posted by phunniemee at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have avoided going on "fun" team-building trips (just because they were unenjoyable, the food was bad, and it took me about four times as long to get to the "fun" as it did to get to work) and I always ended up having to either go in to work (by myself) or take vacation time instead. But it was worth it!
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've stood my ground on these kinds of events (you see what I did there.) I flat out refused to go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee with camping included. I offered to stay in a motel at my own expense and to participate in weenie roasting and s'mores, but there was no way I was going to raft or sleep on the ground. Not happening.

There were grumbles, mostly from the other folks who didn't have the balls to object like I did.

Team building is bullshit, and team building that excludes by the nature of the activity certain members of the team...pointless.

If anyone gives you grief about it, you can say, "It's not my thing. Don't let me spoil your fun." If there's one person who's really razzing you, I'd confide in him, "Joe, I don't tell everyone this, but I witnessed a shooting and one of my good friends died. I'm sure you can understand." He should feel lower than a snakes belly and he can be an advocate.

Next time, bowling. Honestly Paintball? 1994 called, they want their activity back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on August 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

Ugh. Don't do this bullshit. Find a better job.
posted by trip and a half at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Paint ball doesn't seem all that weird to me as a team building exercise. The range thing is complete out of bounds though because you need a license to handle a gun here.

" I think the paintball thing is doubly strange, because that stuff gets weirdly competitive and conducive to grudgemaking."

I've seen a couple of comments in this vein expressed here. Team building paint ball here usually involves Corp A vs Corp B (or vs John's bar mitzvah party) so there isn't any grudge building within the company. It does require a minimum of athleticism and willingness to endure pain though the latter may be its appeal as a team building exercise.
posted by Mitheral at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2014

I have shot guns for fun, voluntarily, and I wouldn't expect anyone to necessarily to enjoy that, regardless of your own horrific personal experience. Frankly, "it's just not my thing, paintball and target practice doesn't work for me," should be enough. Hopefully it's just a lack of empathy on their part and they don't make a big deal out of it any more.
posted by wnissen at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Both of these events as team building seem really odd to me. I was always under the impression that team building involved trying to bring your team closer together so they work together better - not simply give them all something 'fun' to do together.

Paintball seems weird because it involves dishing out real physical harm to the other people you're playing with - which quickly leads to people taking sides, arguments (I hit you! No you didn't!), anger, resentment, etc. - the opposite sort of interaction I'd think you want between your employees. And a firing range seems weird because is discussing gun safety, going deaf, and taking turns shooting (something which not everyone gives an iota of crap about) building up team unity?

FWIW, I'm a guy and I would refuse to participate in either of these, for the reasons listed above - not to mention going into personal levels of comfort or experience with guns (which would further fuel my refusal to participate).

You are not being weird or odd-one-out - don't let your coworkers/employer bully you. You should not be forced to use guns or participate in gun-related activities as a condition of employment. If it's mandatory, I would still refuse, citing your personal experiences. If they continue to push back, I'd get a note from a doc (these events could induce PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.). You shouldn't have to tell your employer why you don't wish to attend these events, but it would probably work to your favor and potentially help future team building events to be more reasonable/inclusive. Also, since the team building events are during work hours, I would make sure to spend some of that time working in the office (yes, even though paintballing and gun ranges means they aren't exactly 'working').
posted by stubbehtail at 10:47 AM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

First of all, you are being totally reasonable. This is a weird group activity for an office. Paintball I could maybe see since it's a team event. But standing around shooting guns at a range is just some crazy old, conservative white guy shit that is fine as a personal hobby, but not as a work event.

Secondly, the thing is these are probably old, conservative white guys who will never be able to empathize with how you feel, or they wouldn't have made a shooting range a work-sanctioned activity to begin with. I find it's easiest to just make up a fake excuse and lie. I know the truth us usually the best policy, but when it comes to work stuff, I find lying can keep personal stuff out of it and keep things professional. You shouldn't have to explain yourself or your personal beliefs, and they won't get it anyway.

I also disagree you need to go to the office alone and do work if you don't attend. They are out playing cowboy or whatever the fuck they are doing. You don't need to sit at the office like the office servant. You don't need to do extra work to "apologize" for not going. You shouldn't have to apologize and you owe them nothing.

I once worked in an office where it was all men, all older, all had been there a really long time. I was the new, young female that somehow got hired. I hated it. And my best friends are often men, but the work dynamic was just too weird. I never really felt respected or like I had been given a chance. I would really suggest you keep looking for new jobs. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye out, and apply to good opportunities you see. This office doesn't sound like a great long-term situation for you.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:27 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, after reading all the responses I'm a little scared to post my personal experience, but here it is.

I confess that in the past I've invited my staff to target/clay shooting after work once or twice; over the years we've also done ropes courses, paintball, rappelling, hiking, picnics, karaoke etc as unofficial coworker outings.

The key word in that previous sentence is that I invited my staff to all of those events - no one was compelled or coerced to attend. More than once I had someone tell me they didn't want to go, and I told them it was completely voluntary and all was well. Not once in years and years of doing these kinds of things has anyone seemed to feel left out because they didn't attend a certain event - there were always other things happening that kept them involved. Just as a point of reference, I'm talking about a fairly diverse staff of about thirty people ranging in age from 21 to 61 and from all sorts of different backgrounds.

The guns portion doesn't really seem to be the issue to me (but I also come from a western red state); the issue is the exclusionary nature of what they are proposing. I understand why you are bothered by the activity, but I think the fact that they are insensitive to your objections is a much bigger problem.
posted by _DB_ at 3:13 PM on August 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

These seem like really odd team-building exercises. And it seems kind of cliquish and high-schoolish to plan two activities that they had to have known would not align with your interests. There are a myriad of other activities that they could have chosen instead that would have been more traditional and inclusive.

So, yes, skip it and don't feel bad about it! You're being reasonable.
posted by Ostara at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

The tried and tested "It won't be possible (for me to attend)" is the ticket here. No excuse needed, no reasons personal or otherwise. Do NOT go for lunch and don't make a deal out of it.

Yes there is an angle at which being indignant and taking a stand about this feels right. If you want to publically take the high ground that's your prerogative, too, but I would not.

If you don't want to have people speculating and bringing it up for ever, just say it's not possible and let it disappear from the collective memory.

(Do tell your boss what you told us; if he or she isn't a terrible person then he or she will do his or her part to deflect any speculation, give the impression to the team that you have a Legitimate Excuse)

Speaking as a young single childfree woman in an industry of old married men. We must pick our battles, accept that sometimes shitty things like this will happen, and play the long game whenever you can tolerate it.
posted by ista at 4:09 AM on August 29, 2014

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