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How to Decline a Work Event

Work events are inevitable.  But learning how to professionally decline a work event is one of the most needed skills you can have.  You will need to decline professionally and will need to be able to communicate why you won’t be able to attend.

I remember when I first started my career I would always look forward to after work events.  The free food, drinks, and outings were always a source of excitement for me.  I always made sure to attend every single work event, no matter the time or the day of the week.

However, after being in the industry for some time now and as I get a little bit older, I feel less and less inclined (or enthusiastic) about attending every work event.

But, how do you say no to attending a work event without coming off as rude or unprofessional?

After work events are typically some of the best times to network and build rapport with your colleagues.  It gives you an opportunity to get to know one-another in a less formal setting.

Work outings are a great way to build deeper relationships with your colleagues.  You’ll see a side of them that they may not show at the office. Above all, especially with smaller companies, work outings provide you with a space to interact with more senior members and executives in your company.  This face time is invaluable to assisting you get recognized (and eventually promoted).

Saying No, Professionally

In reality, no-one really expects you to make or attend every after-work event.  This is especially true in companies which have frequent (think weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) work outings.

Saying no does become more challenging when work-outings are few and far between.  If you work at a company that doesn’t host frequent work outings and events, I would definitely recommend trying to attend as many as possible.  The rapport and face time you’ll get will help you in your career and in the workplace.

However, if you’re unable to make a work-event you will want to give notice as-soon-as-possible.

You’ll read online as others espouse trying to excuse your not being able to attend.  I, however, think that is incorrect.  Rather than make excuses, you should be honest that the specific time and date simply doesn’t work for you.

Letting your team and the event organizer know from the get-go that you won’t be able to attend allows you to avoid any awkward or difficult conversations.

But declining the invite should only be your initial step.  To remain professional and polite, you should go out of your way to thank the organizer for setting up the event.

In addition, you should make a point to state to both the organizer of the event and your team that you are looking forward to the next event and will make it a priority to attend. This lets everyone know that you won’t be able to make it for this event, but that you look forward to, and will try your hardest, to make it to the next one.

Excuses to Not Attend A Work Event

We’ve discussed here how to professionally and politely decline a company-event or outing invite.  While we’ve discussed the benefits of attending these events, sometimes you may not be able to for a variety of reasons.  Excuses to not attend work event are generally truthful, however sometimes it’s difficult to explain why you can’t go if you’re put on the spot.

While we would never encourage lying or not telling the truth, we’ve compiled a quick list of some reasons why you may not be able to attend a company-event or outing.

You should use your best discretion when declining a company-event or outing.  These events are invaluable to your overall career and may just help you get recognized by some senior members in the company.

Doctor’s Appointment

 Perhaps the most well-known excuse out there.  A doctor’s appointment is typically difficult to reschedule, and most people won’t want to seem rude by asking what it concerns.  Letting the event organizer know that you have a doctor’s appointment at the same time as the event is an easy way to avoid the outing.

Car Maintenance

 Definitely the second most well-known excuse, car maintenance is something that most of us have to deal with.  Letting everyone know that you have a previously scheduled appointment is an easy way to excuse yourself.

Child Care

 One of the easiest excuses for skipping out on work-events or outings is that you simply do not have anyone reliable that you can call to take care of the kids.  Most people will understand this excuse and won’t ask too many details.

Family Obligations

 Not all of us have kids, but most of us do have family that lives close by.  Letting your colleagues know that you have family obligations that night can make for a great excuse.

Vague Responsibilities

 Maybe the most difficult to utilize, but simply declining and indicating that you have a previous engagement is a good way to approach the situation.  If you’re vague on the obligation, most people won’t push any further.

The Aftermath

Once you’ve professionally and politely declined the invite, you may begin to feel a bit out of the loop.  Your colleagues will, naturally, be discussing the upcoming event and may be excited about it.

Rather than sulk in your decision, you should make a point to engage with them and encourage their excitement.

Listen to your colleagues as they talk and discuss the upcoming event and even offer suggestions on things they can do during and after.  Showing that you’re comfortable with your decision lets your colleagues feel as if they can include you in the discussions.

Once the event has come-and-gone, be sure to ask how it was and be cordial when they speak about the event.  Be engaging in the conversation and ask questions.

By not isolating yourself because of your decision, you make everyone more comfortable.  By being relaxed and engaging with your colleagues, they will be more inclined to share with you the details of the event and what happened.

You need to keep a professional demeanor at all times and that includes being a team-player.  When declining a work-event or outing, you should still show that you care about your colleagues and how their time was.  Professionally declining a work event is the best thing you can do if you are unable to make the event, but make sure that you do so with ample notice and wish that your colleagues and coworkers enjoy their time.

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