Does being married to someone with a very prominent position mean that you are required to attend their company’s events?
Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader figure out the etiquette for the spouse of the boss.
I know it’s only October, but I am already trying to figure out the Christmas party situation.
My husband is president of a tech company that has an annual, corporate-type Christmas party–presentations, awards, that sort of thing, and families are invited. I didn’t go last year in my role as president’s wife, and how totally 1950s is that anyway? I didn’t attend because I’m a professional in a different field and have no interest in sitting through a tech party and, more importantly, I had a two-month-old and was still stitched up. Marriage advice aside, I was berated for not attending and making him “look bad.” It didn’t help that he equated my presence to the First Lady appearing at her husband’s functions. Seriously.
My question is this: What exactly is my function? Does it really look bad if the wife of the boss doesn’t attend the annual party? This is all new territory for me; I’m in the medical field and military. I understand custom and ceremony and the importance of military spouses, but my husband never appears at any of my functions, not even promotions. What exactly is the protocol for the wife of a president of a company?
Yeah, this can sometimes be an expectation, to the point that many couples (possibly the majority?) really do consider it obligatory to do for each other.
It’s a norm that I can’t explain or defend. I think it’s super weird. I think it’s inexplicable. But the reality is that it’s often an expectation, especially the higher up you go in your career.
My best attempt at explaining it is that although these are business events, they have a veneer of social event laid on top of them, and the two of you are a social unit. But that doesn’t feel like the full picture of what’s going on. Also, the fact that I’m having such a hard time explaining the reasoning might explain why your husband came up with such weak reasons, too. I think the explanation really just comes down to: It’s Just A Thing You Have To Do.
In any case, though, the fact that it can be an expectation doesn’t mean that people will freak the hell out if you’re not there. “She had a prior commitment” or “she just had a baby” or “she had her own work function tonight” or “she’s under the weather” are all reasonable things to say that will explain your absence.
However, if you can swing it, it’s a nice gesture to your husband to show up, at least some years. I don’t think he should be pressuring you into it if you’ve told him firmly you don’t want to go. And he certainly shouldn’t have berated you for not going when you had a two-month-old at home. But sometimes it’s worth sucking it up for a few hours and attending a spouse’s work function, just to support his career.
This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.
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