Refusing to go on a company-paid event

The Workplace Asked by Jonh on December 5, 2020

I’ve been with this company for almost two years now, and every now and then, they send all of their devs on an event of their choosing, with all expenses (except food related) paid by them. They have done this two times now, and the probability of doing it again is high, since that there have been some talking on sending the developers again to an event.

The first time they sent devs, to the event A, I refused to go.
I wasn’t even there for a year, wasn’t involved on any of the conversation related to that event, and I had no familiarity with any of my co-workers, so I just said I didn’t wanted to go. Apart from that was in a different country, and I hate travelling long distances (I will talk more about this below).

The second time, was to event B, which was in the same city. Even though it was on a weekend, and I also wasn’t keen on going, I attended that event alongside my co-workers.

Now, there is the chance that they are sending devs to event C, which is in the same country but in a different city, and I already have my mind set: I don’t want to go.

Now the reasons I don’t want to go are:

I am an after-hours college student, studying computer science, and also working on IT. I work a lot of hours (almost as 9.5 hours, with working half my lunch break), and sometimes, as much as 11 hours (with overtime).
This working schedule has already made me quit a lot college subjects, as there was no time to study for exams or time for work assignments (I almost had to work close to 3 AM to deliver said work).

So, it it is reasonable to me that I can use the time off-work to focus on college, and event C is scheduled at the end of the semester, which is the time that I have to deliver the final assignments for college subjects. Around that time I usually focus heavily on college, because I’m paying a lot to be there and I just can’t keep quitting or failing college subjects.

I’m shy, and therefore, I don’t socialize a lot with strangers, and usually feel like an outsider or out of my mind when going to said events. I also feel uncomfortable being in a room with a lot of people, and that only emphasises the fact that I can’t just start conversations with strangers. I also hate traveling long distances because of that, however, I don’t mind moving around my city. I just don’t want to go to another country or city without me feeling comfortable with that. Also this team talks about a lot of gossip (which I’m not interested on hearing it) about our team, and sometimes, about of specific members of the team. I don’t want to be apart of that.

The event is about a tech stack that I’m not interested in, but it’s within the company’s interests. Even if I was keen on going, I would just feel numb and dumb about the event, since I can’t talk much about said stack, and it’s not really in my interests. Also, it’s outside my scope of work, as I was not hired to deal with that tech stack, even though my team leader and senior colleague are trying to get me to work with that. I keep avoiding because it is more responsibility for the same money. I have my work increased, but not my pay check.

I’ve talked to my team leader about a raise, and I’ve been told that it was already approved on budget, but probably would only see that increase early this year. This company pays below market and it’s no news that every job offer will pay more that what I currently earn.

That, alongside the overtime and quitting college subjects, has put me a lot of stress that I eventually started to look for new jobs, or almost quit college for once and for all. So yes, I start working with this tech stack as soon my raise is reflected on my pay check, and my team leader sort of knows about this (I didn’t specifically tackle this issue, I just said that work has made me quit college, and that I’m not interested on starting on said stack, to which he replied that, can’t decrease the amount of work because of college, and eventually I had to get my hands on this stack.

So the questions are:

  • How do I politely decline the going to event C, without getting asked (for the second time) why I’m not going, or to be seen as a stranger to the rest of the team, or I’m I just overreacting.

  • And from a team-leader/manager point-of-view, how would this be seen, for someone that has college, and not interested in this particular tech stack.

EDIT: Thank you all for your replies. What I needed to see was how other people perceived this. I’m actually considering my standing, because of the comments, so thank you!
I believe that, since the event spans during the weekend, it’s fair that at least I get my weekend back during the next working week. During the event I will be attending on company’s name, so I won’t be able to get some of my assigmenfs done.
However this will be a bit of painful negotiation, as they will see college as an excuse, not as something important to me.

Thanks again for the replies, it definitely made me reconsider the position I was taking.

7 Answers

Besides pointing out that it is the end of the semester and you have exams to prepare for, how about choosing an other event and propose to attend that one instead, as a replacement? Of course, if it is covered by the company training budget. Maybe related to your everyday work, or perhaps to that other technology. This might emphasize your will to learn, instead of slacking off the "work". And a gain: your colleagues would have attended the first event by then, and you can go to the second one and miss all the gossips from the coffee breaks.

Answered by Akabelle on December 5, 2020

Yes, you may decline (probably). I'd argue a good boss and company leaves plenty of room for opting out of events. People have lives and should work to live, not live to work. Prior engagements happen all the time, and it isn't the duty of a boss to determine the merit of what you consider more important.

I would, however strongly encourage going or re-evaluating the premise.

Tech is a weird world, where school isn't critical (I've done it all, from networking, PCI/ HIPAA compliance/ auditing, racking servers, desktop support, software architecture, development, etc.). What tech has: Plenty of reasonably intelligent to incredibly smart technology oriented people with and without a degree. A degree means very little in this field most of the time. One of the worst tech people I ever worked at (just bad at tech, and really everything else) had a Masters in MIS. I've worked with another Masters holder who was AMAZING. Most companies have similar experience.

What tech needs, is people who can do the hard part of tech. Learn new technology on their own, or through company support functions. And where many people are going to school so they may get their foot in the door, you are already inside.

More importantly still are soft skills. Teambuilding of any type should be the one thing you never shrug off. Additionally being able to analyze a new stack or technology. Imagine the difference between if 10 years ago you had recommended AngularJs or Azure. Both were release in 2010. With one you'd be in a rough spot, another... Amazing notch in the belt.

I’m shy, and therefore, I don’t socialize a lot with strangers, and usually feel like an outsider

Welcome to being a younger professional! In some ways, this won't ever go away entirely but that's a good thing. If you have aspirations of ever being more than a front-line employee then you will have challenges like this forever. Learning to embrace it, learn new things and expand your social circle can only serve you well. Sticking to what you know will only hold you back.

So in short: Look at it this way:

  1. You have already entered a field people are trying to get into. That's a monumental first step.
  2. These trips don't have immediate concrete outcomes, but they are the type of experiences that will benefit you far more than you give them credit for.
  3. Seeing the forest through the trees, really is harder than it sounds.

Answered by AthomSfere on December 5, 2020

Honestly the majority of your reasons for not wanting to attend are not very good. You have a lot of petty complaints and I wouldn't mention any of them if I were you, nor would I let them stop me from attending. Plenty of people have social anxiety, don't feel like traveling, etc. yet do so anyway.

As an introvert, I sympathize with you, but simply opting out of anything that makes you uncomfortable is not the answer. Learn to embrace it and see it as a learning experience. While it never goes away (in my experience) it does get easier and basic social skills are invaluable, if not necessary, in almost any role.

The one legitimate reason you have is your studies. It would certainly be reasonable to discuss this with someone and see what can be done, though I wouldn't begin the conversation by simply refusing to go.

Answered by aw04 on December 5, 2020

I don't think you can refuse to go. If your employer wants you to go, doing so is part of the work you are assigned to do, so you go.

What you can do, and I think you should, is argue against it, provided you do so in a constructive way. What I'd do is ask your boss for a meeting to discuss this, and in the meeting:

  • explain why going is a burden for you, considering your circumstances
  • explain why you feel the burden is greater than the benefits, not only to you but also to your employer
  • say that you'd really prefer not to go
  • ask what your boss considers the benefits of going, and ask what, if you weren't to go, you could do to compensate

So don't hide your problems with going, but leave the decision up to your boss (where it belongs), and avoid putting it as a negative; be as constructive and loyal as you consider feasible.

Answered by reinierpost on December 5, 2020

You have legitimate reasons for not attending due to your hours, so I would highlight this and point out it is not your preferred learning style. Highlight you are keen to learn the new stack and suggest a learning method that would suit you and explain why. Remember though good software development usually requires 70% talking 30% coding, so its alway worth getting to know your peers.

Answered by andrew on December 5, 2020

I agree with @sf02's answer that you should simply and politely decline to attend based on your previous education commitments.

However, I'd like to take the chance to point out that - apart from the educational/time constraints - I find your general attitude to the issue rather strange, and I suggest you should have a hard look at it.

Your company pays you to do a certain job. If the company/your supervisors tell you to use a tech stack it is well within their power to do so - after all they are paying you for your time and they get to decide how you spend that time, including which technology you should be using to provide value to their business.

  • I do not think it is reasonable for you to demand a pay raise simply because you think that an additional, new technology will mean "your work increased".

  • If the company is even paying you for your education that is a chance many other people would jump on. After all you can broaden your horizons, broaden your profile (and thus raise your value/employability), all on company time and budget. Note that even if you're not directly applying the new tech stack in your everyday work you will still, in the long-term, profit of having a broader and more diversified knowledge base.

  • I understand that you do not want to attend events which make you feel uncomfortable because of the social context. But I invite you to give some though on how you want to tackle this moving forward. What if the next time the event is during normal work hours during the week? You will hardly be able to decline, as it is well within a tech employees responsibility to attend conferences/courses if their employer asks them to. I'd wager you will have a hard time building a long time career in IT without being exposed to such events, so finding a strategy to cope with them that works for you is advisable rather than flat-out refusing to participate.

You are, of course, always within your rights to decline any kind of educational offers from your company or any events which make you feel uncomfortable (at least if during the weekends). This might mean having to quit a job - but even if not, keep in mind that this will not paint you in the best light for this employer, and they might stop seeing you as the long-term investment they see in other tech employees.

Answered by fgysin reinstate Monica on December 5, 2020

How do I politely decline the going to event C, without getting asked (for the second time) why I’m not going,

Politely decline and let the company know that you cannot attend because it interferes with your education.

This is a perfectly legitimate reason for not attending such an event and anyone who sees it as anything other than an employee trying to improve themselves is an unreasonable person. The fact that you cannot make it due to your school obligations has nothing to do with your interest in the particular stack and once again only an unreasonable person would jump to such a conclusion.

Answered by sf02 on December 5, 2020

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