I recently started a lunch club between my coworkers and myself in which they suggest a dish and pay for the groceries and I prepare the dish. My boss has noticed the food that I am bringing in and has mentioned it a couple times, even joining us after we finished eating during the last lunch (my boss doesn’t usually join us for lunch). She doesn’t know the arrangement between my co-workers and me so it looks like I am personally excluding her. My co-workers and I would like to eat lunch together without my boss; but I don’t want my boss to feel excluded. How do I handle this situation?
B. D., St Louis, MO
Excluding anyone, even a boss, is a quick way to create hard feelings in a workplace environment. That’s why behaviors like whispering or not speaking a common language can cause such difficulty, even if they are meant to be helpful. Lunch is one of the few times when workers can get to know each other and help create a more relaxed, pleasant work environment.
I can appreciate your desire not to have your boss share lunch everyday. In your situation, doing nothing is obviously awkward so it’s best to be up front and talk to your boss. The real question is: What do you say? “Ms. Smith, some of the workers pitch in to have a lunch which I prepare each Wednesday, but we don’t want you joining us. So would you mind staying away?” Completely excluding your boss from your lunches seems a bit harsh to me.
A more friendly solution would be to include your boss some of the time. Besides, it’s an opportunity to get to know her better and build the relationship between her and all of you in the lunch group. You invite her in a way that clearly indicates her joining you only some of the time: “Ms. Smith, it was nice that you joined us at lunch the other day. I know you’ve noticed I bring in lunch on Wednesdays. Some of my colleagues and I discuss possible menus. They pay for the groceries, and I prepare the lunch. It’s a great opportunity for us to get together and get to know each other better. Perhaps, you might care to join us once in a while? Let me know ahead of time and we’ll count you in.” When she does join you, she should share in the cost of the groceries. So when she lets you know she will be eating with you, that’s the moment to let her know what you expect the per person cost of lunch to be so she can pitch in.
If you find she is joining you for lunch too often, you may have to cut back on the lunches or plan to eat them out of the office.
By the way, please be careful about excluding other colleagues as well. Setting up small cliques can cause hard feelings among your co-workers. That’s something no workplace should encourage.