(Closed) Is it ok to invite work colleagues but not their partners?

posted 7 years ago in Etiquette
Post # 47
926 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: November 1999

@andielovesj:  I think what is polite depends on what the people in your circles/community/culture consider polite. I don’t think you can be so black and white about right and wrong on this issue because it does vary across groups of people. That’s why I said it depends on the expectations of her colleagues.  For example, among my friends it would be impolite to turn down a wedding invite, and you say it wouldn’t be amongst yours. Neither is “correct” 

Post # 48
1692 posts
Bumble bee

Formal traditional etiquette has alwayus differentiated between the social domain, in which “the roof is the introduction” such that people you meet under a hostess’s roof automatically become “acquaintances” whom you must greet politely if you run into them in a coffee shop and where gentlemen always stand when a lady enters the room; and the business domain where CEO remains seated when his secretary brings in the mail and you are free not to remember the names of all four hundred fellow-employees who come under the same roof, let alone greet them opn the street. The business domain has its own etiquette rules.

Having a good working relationship with someone eight hours a day, fourty hours a week, fifty weeks out of the year does not make you friends. It makes you colleagues.  Fifty years ago, women did not speak about their “colleagues” because it was still shameful for women to work. Corporations exploited that shame by blurring the lines between social and business events: sending their executive wives to training classes on how to create social opportunities to promote their husband’s career, and using such “business parties” as negotiating venues because of the likelihood that the other party’s guard would be lowered in a social venue. Corporations still blur those lines with “Company Christmas Parties” and “Employee Family Picnics”. Do not fool yourselves: these are still business events. You still cannot afford to relax and drink just a bit to much, and you still need to warn your children not to get into any play-ground tiffs with the senior VP’s little monster. None of these are social considerations: they are business considerations, and frankly rather tawdry. This is the twenty-first century, and we have come a long way, baby: women can have collegial relationships unashamedly, and not pretend they are something else.

Business is perfectly respectable, and collegial relationships are admirable — as long as you do not try to turn them into something they are not. Friendship is also admirable and to be cherished. I have seen the etiquette authors previously named, decrying the cheapening of the word “friendship” by social media like Facebook, and by the confusion of different domains of relationship. Nothing is wrong with having friends that you work with — as long as you keep your personal relationship off the clock, of course. But that means that as a norm, friends will be the people that you see outside of work, occasionally at one anothers’ homes or clubs, and from time to time along with one another’s other friends and family.  You will be acquainted with both members of the “social unit” precisely because your co-worker really is also a friend. A hostess who chooses to invite such a co-worker is really just inviting a friend, and treats the co-worker exactly as she would treat any friend: inviting both the co-worker and his spouse, by an invitation sent to their own home. If the co-worker’s spouse really is a “perfect stranger”, then the relationship does not transcend its collegial nature, and the colleague should not be invited to social events — for, oh, so many good reasons underpinned by traditional proper etiquette.

Which is, I believe, exactly what This Time Round is saying. It sounds a little strange to the ears of younger women less steeped in formality and propriety — which is I think why she marks her opinion as that of an “etiquette snob” — so that readers know it may sound a little strange at first by the norms of internet culture.  But her argument if I understood it was: if a co-worker is a good enough friend to be invited to an event that is utterly in the personal social domain, like your wedding, then treat that co-worker exactly as you would treat a friend. If a co-worker is not a good enough friend for you to know their spouse and their home address, then respect the collegial relationship and keep it in the business domain: do not invite them to your wedding as a second-class guest. hermom  and FutureMrsLAL,  in what way do you feel that Judith Martin or the Post Institute writers would disagree with her advice?




Post # 49
3296 posts
Sugar bee

@Cyri:  With etiquette, there in fact is a correct.  Even in Australia social units are to be invited together.  Though I do understand that you have different societal norms for things like cash bar, and other things.

Under what etiquette category does being upset about declining and invite fall.  I am very interested in this.

Post # 50
926 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: November 1999

Wow look I am really not trying to get into internet forum fights.. 

All I am saying is that what constitutes a “social unit” in your circles may not have the same definition in someone else’s and that other ways of looking at things are still valid.  A social unit may be “colleagues” or “young cousins”.

To answer your last question, what I meant was that I would see it as rude to not attend a wedding just because you don’t want to hang out with strangers, whereas you’ve said that that reason is valid.

Post # 51
1692 posts
Bumble bee

@andielovesj:  Traditional formal etiquette holds that invitations to a wedding are indeed a “command performance” which can be declined only for specific reasons. Acceptable reasons are of course,”due to a prior engagement”, and also “due to illness”, and “as she is unable to travel”. This is why it is a snub to send a hand-written reply that simply reads “Miss Smith / regrets to decline the kind invitation of / Mr and Mrs Jones.” For ever-day social events such a reply is perfectly polite as you do not owe your hostess any explanation, but for once-in-a-lifetime events that can have no repeat, you are supposed to make every effort to attend.

What has eroded that “command performance” nature since the latter half of the twentieth century is partly the mobility of western society, such that “inability to travel” has become ambiguous: people are so wide-flung but also so much more able to travel, that ability to travel has become ambiguous; and also that what constitutes a “wedding” has changed considerably. A legal registration of a de-facto marriage of multiple-years standing with a bridal party comprising primarily the couple’s school-age children, hardly seems like a major life-changing celebration that is worth missing Cats, if the show is going to be in town for only one night. If the “wedding” is the second of two or three wedding events, one held overseas for the bride’s family and one to be held on the east coast for the couple’s college friends, then again — can it really command your attendance? And then commercialization, like the Post Institute’s ruling that all invitations, whether you accept them or not, mandate your sendiong a gift, tend to make invitations seem more like an invoice — and make it seem that you can buy your way out of the obligation to attend.


Post # 52
9950 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: December 2012

TO @aspasia475:  thank you for your kind words… (Reply # 47) and yes that is exactly what I meant.  And once again you and I are on the same page.

@FutureMrsLAL: and @hermom: … YES sometimes I post opinion, and sometimes I post direct quotes… depends on the situation I am posting about (posting Quotes gets tiresome, both for the reader and myself)

BUT… Because you asked… here are but a couple of examples…

From The Post Institute of Etiquette, and the “Emily Post Book of Etiquette”…

Socializing with business associates can provide an opportunity to talk in a relaxed atmosphere, a chance to cement relationships, and a way to get to know clients, employers and employees better.  Being relaxed, however, does not mean that business relationships become intimate or personal or that you can “let your hair down” just because you are outside the office setting. Just as your appearance, behaviour and manners are used in the office as a criteria for your promotability, they are used outside the office, too.  Having too much to drink, being loud, or rude, and even dressing inappropriately can be strikes against you in the eyes of your employers.  And if you are the boss, it should be unnecessary to say that your professional image must be intact no matter what the social situation.

Speaks to the element of Friends vs Colleagues… and “appearances” in a social setting vs a working environment.


There are times when business and social life overlap and it is difficult to know whether to invite business associates.  One such occasion is the wedding of a son or daughter.  Many business executives use the occasion of a large wedding to entertain clients, prospective clients, and business associates.  If you choose to do this (and I would do this only with the approval of your son or daughter even if you are paying for the entire wedding), be careful not to slight anyone by failure to extend an invitation.  Naturally, you would invite business associates who are also friends without having to invite the entire department or your complete client list.  The same guidelines apply to planning your own weddng.

Speaks to the difference again between Friends & Colleagues.  And the element of offending someone by not inviting them (such as a Work Colleague because you didn’t wish to send an Invitation to their Spouce), which is the issue at hand here in this topic.


Since home entertaining merges your business and social lives, you must exert caution in undertaking it.  If, as an upper management executive, you socialize regularly with your staff, you may weaken your position of authority, making it difficult to reprimand or fire someone or to pass over someone for a raise or a promotion.  If, as an employee, you socialize with your boss, you may create resentment among the rest of the staff and be accused of deliberately currying favour.  Home entertainment on a regular basis should be confined to peers or to clients who have become friends.  The occasional home party may include anyone in the office.

Speaks to the difficulties associated with crossing the line between one’s personal life and work life.  If one is in a position of authority (or aspires to be)… then blurring the lines can be more problematic.

There are many other such Quotes from trusted sources… such as this one from Miss Manners

Should you invite your colleagues to a wedding? I’m firmly against it unless they happen to be friends. It’s a personal event. It’s a burden on people who really don’t care about you personally. I may like you perfectly well as a co-worker, but I have never thought enough about you to have any interest in whether you’re happily in love or not.

As aspasia475: has posted above as well… there are RISKS involved with socializing with colleagues … in that they transport what they see of your personal life back to the office environment… never to divide those thoughts again… so you the Bride getting all weepy walking down the aisle (contrary to the stoic “thou shall not cry at the office” rule of etiquette for the business world) … OR one of your Bridesmaids having had too much to drink and having a melt down at the end of the night, calling you a Bridezilla in front of others, OR your College friends (and you) enjoying the drinks & partying and breaking out the “suggestive” moves on the dance floor (and don’t even get me started on the Garter Toss with your Hubby’s whole head up under your dress… never mind the “comments made in gest” about you two doing the naked tango later that night)

YES Weddings are fun times… and great social events.  But they are also a “great reveal” of one’s personal life… not only yourself but your family & friends.  So putting ALL THAT on display can be awkward for outsiders… I mean honestly we read oodles of posts here in WBee where Brides fret about how their two soon to be blended families are so drastically different (My Fiance’s Family are Tea-Totallers… and my family isn’t… infact my cousins are total partiers… however am I gonna deal ?)

In reality… a Bride cannot control what goes on around her, and what other people do on her Wedding Day.  So there is no artful way to “make ammends” or erase such thoughts in a Colleague’s mind once the damage is done.

Hope this helps clarify WHY I personally advise against mixing work with pleasure… IF one isn’t indeed very close friends with the person from work… and as stated if you were indeed close friends, then you’d know the name of your co-workers spouce, and most likely would have had an occasion previously to all socialize together to begin with.


Post # 53
348 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: October 2013

@This Time Round:  You completely missed what we were talking about in your reply. The issue we were pointing out was not whether OP should invite work colleagues and the risky issues involved with that.

What we have an issue with is you citing yourself as an “etiquette snob” and then telling the OP that it’s okay (etiquette wise) to not invite those coworkers’ significant others for the mere reason that they are not close friends. You said in your PP:

“If you are inviting them because they truly are friends (close) then you should invite their Partners / allow them a Plus One.

While I agree that OP is not obligated to invite these co-workers in the first place, this reply indicates that if she was inviting people who are not close friends, then they don’t have to be invited with their partners.  THAT would not be correct etiquette.

Post # 54
9950 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: December 2012

TO @FutureMrsLAL:  huh…

Not sure how you came to that conclusion…

I said if they aren’t close friends then NO ONE should be invited (Colleagues or Spouces)


If they are close friends… then YES she should invite the Colleagues & their Spouces…

If you are inviting them because they truly are friends (close) then you  should invite their Partners / allow them a Plus One.

So it looks like you misread… and you and I have agreed from the get go.


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