Colleagues' mid-meeting party gossip is awkward for those not invited
Q: I have worked at my employer for 20 years, 10 in my current department, longer than almost everyone. Last week at our department meeting, other staff members chatted about the fun they'd had at a social activity in town the night before. I said it was awkward hearing about this event to which I was not invited. The apparent organizer said she would keep that in mind, and then they continued to talk about it. The boss said nothing. No one else spoke up to say this felt exclusionary. Generally, we get along fine, but I haven't encountered anything like this in my long career. What say you?
A: Generally, workers are free to form their own social affiliations outside of working hours. But even my grade-schoolers have the upbringing not to discuss their birthday parties in front of peers who weren't invited.
If your direct statement about feeling awkward didn't shame them into finding another topic, a cheerful-bordering-on-needy "Oh, that sounds like such fun! I would have loved to join you!" every time they bring up a social outing might accomplish a similar end through nuisance.
The greater etiquette crime, in my view, is that they're needlessly prolonging a work meeting. As soon as the clock turns over, you can break in with, "I'm so sorry to cut you off, but I was hoping we could dive right into [urgent department topic]."
Q: I'm a longtime staffer in academia. I need to know the proper protocol for disclosing my voluntary retirement plans. This being a small school, telling even one person means that word will probably spread rapidly to everyone in my department.
I have a meaningful longtime acquaintance with my direct supervisor, her supervisor and our top boss. I want to tell each of these three, in person, about my retirement plans before they become general knowledge. Who should I tell first? May I ask that each keep our conversation confidential until I can tell the others, or does the information "need" to flow from the first told to those above or below?
A: It may or may not be official protocol, but practicality dictates starting by notifying the people who determine your employment status, top to bottom. In your case, since you're close to all three supervisors, I recommend arranging a short meeting -- in person or via conference call -- so you can let them all know at once. Have a written, dated message ready to email or hand deliver to them and HR. Afterward, as a courtesy, ask if you can share the news with your colleagues, in case your bosses want to make an official announcement themselves.
Even if you hold off telling anyone else, as you note, word may be on the street faster than you expect. If it's true that a lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its boots, gossip will be waiting for them both at the finish line, sipping a beer.
Pro tip: The federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prohibits employers from terminating employees for the purpose of denying them retirement and other benefits due under an employee benefit plan.