Am I Cheap if I Refuse to Attend Co-Workers’ Birthday Lunches?

Dear Penny,

I work in a relatively small local community service organization in a small building. We have a few co-workers, a manager and a director. On a few occasions, our manager has invited everyone to attend a birthday lunch for one of the three of us.

I love my co-workers, but I live for my lunch hour. We’re hourly, so not only must we forfeit our own time, but we must pay for lunch for ourselves.

I can afford the lunch, but I have other plans for my money (and my time) during that hour. I’d rather contribute $5 for breakroom cake. I feel obligated to attend because it would feel rude to my co-worker to bow out. Am I a sour pickle for not wanting to participate in lunch hour birthday (work) events?


Dear D.,

I agree with you in principle. You should be free to use your unpaid time however you want. Situations like these can get awkward, especially in small offices. These events may technically be optional, but they feel mandatory when your absence would be noticed.

So no, I don’t think you’re being a sour pickle. The question is, will your co-workers and manager think you’re being a sour pickle? They’re the ones you have to deal with on a daily basis . And if you think they’ll think you’re being rude by refusing to attend, you’ll have to decide whether you’re OK with that.

If this were a larger office where these events took place several times a month, setting a limit would be imperative. Regular attendance could take a huge toll on your time and budget. Not attending in that scenario would be easier, of course, because your Absence wouldn’t stand out as much in a bigger workplace.

Your attendance is a lot more noticeable given that you work in a small office. But the bright side is that because you’re a small office, it sounds like you’re only being asked to attend three birthday lunches a year.

You’re clearly worried about hurting a co-worker’s feelings. Might it be…

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