A reader writes:
I work on a team of 15 people in a large office. My direct manager came to our team about a year ago. She is young and very athletic, into running marathons, snowboarding, hiking, etc. She is also very into team-building activities and making our team feel like a family, which is great! My problem comes into play with our team-building activities. She states she cannot make them mandatory, but that I and one other coworker are the only ones who do not participate. I am not against these activities; I used to enjoy them. But with her, every activity has to be extreme and sporty. There was the 10-mile hike, the 5k run, the rock climbing, the parasailing…I’m sure you get the idea.
I have some health problems and cannot do activities like these. I suggested low impact activities like a board game day or a BBQ in the park, and she shot me down without even putting it to a vote with the rest of the team. Those ideas are not exciting enough.
Each month we have one of these activities and I do not show up, she writes on my monthly review that I was not a team player and refused to participate in team-building activities. I have privately conferred with the one other employee who also doesn’t participate, and the same is done to them. She is a good manager otherwise, but I am quite angry to be getting points taken from my performance review because my body can’t hack a 10k hike or run.
Should I speak to her directly and ask her to leave these out of my reviews? Should I take this to HR? I am hesitant to be the office tattletale because I know upper management does not know these things go on and I am sure that at least half of the activities she’s hosted would be prohibited if HR knew. But I don’t want it to seem like I am “threatening” to tell if I continue to get marked down either. I am thankful for any advice you can give!
Ugh, this is such crap. There’s no reason that you should be getting penalized on a performance review for not participating in athletic activities, assuming that your job is not marathon runner, rock climber, or some other title that will give me nightmares tonight.
In any case … Have you told her directly that you would like to participate but cannot because of health restrictions? If you haven’t, it’s time to be more clear with her. As in: “Jane, I would really like to participate in team-building activities (this is you being a good team player), but I have health restrictions that mean I can’t take part in things like running and rock climbing (this is you presenting Highly Sound Reasoning). I’d like to be able to fully participate (look, it’s you emphasizing you’re a team player again), so would it be possible to plan activities that aren’t based on sports?”
It’s hard to argue that you’re not a team player when you’re directly asking for activities that you can participate in.
And you also need to say something like: “I don’t think that my health restrictions should be a factor in my performance reviews. Can those be revisited?”
The mention of health issues should snap her into consciousness. She should already realize that she’s way over the line for penalizing someone for not participating in physical activities unrelated to the core of their job, but the health factor should make her realize that she’s also messing with legal issues. But if she’s not responsive to that, then at that point I really do think you should go talk to someone in HR, because what your manager is doing isn’t okay and it’s worth having someone in a position of authority intervene and point that out to her.
(To be clear, if you weren’t being penalized in your performance assessments for not participating, I wouldn’t advocate going to HR; I’d just advocate being disgusted with her judgment. But you’re being penalized in a way that matters, and that makes it serious business.)
Also: It’s important to note that you shouldn’t need health issues as a reason not to want to participate in this never-ending barrage of athleticism. Health is a reason that no sane person could argue with, so you might as well as raise it — but this constant bombardment of mandatory non-work-related activities in the guise of team-building is poor judgment on its own, and it raises the question of why this manager is relying so heavily on it. As I’ve written here before, what’s fun for some people is often miserable for others, and mandatory bonding alienates many people — the opposite of what it’s allegedly designed to do. And that’s especially true when the activities are physically grueling ones, which not everyone can or does enjoy.
Add in penalizing people who don’t participate, and you have a real clusterfudge of bad judgment.