5:01 and Done: No One Wants to Schmooze After Work - Kanebridge News
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5:01 and Done: No One Wants to Schmooze After Work

Office happy hours, client dinners and other after-hours work gatherings lose their lustre as more people feel the pull of home

Thu, Sep 14, 2023 9:16amGrey Clock 3 min

Patience for after-hours work socialising is wearing thin.

After an initial burst of post pandemic happy hours, rubber chicken dinners and mandatory office merriment, many employees are adopting a stricter 5:01-and-I’m-done attitude to their work schedules. More U.S. workers say they’re trying to draw thicker lines between work and the rest of life, and that often means clocking out and eschewing invites to socialize with co-workers. Corporate event planners say they’re already facing pushback for fall activities and any work-related functions that take place on weekends.

“The flake-out rate is so much higher at events now,” says Gretchen Goldman, a research director in Takoma Park, Md.

This summer Goldman sent an invite to 100 colleagues for casual after-work drinks at some picnic tables just outside the office as a goodbye party. She was taking a new job with the federal government. Fewer than 10 showed up.

“I guess people are just busy,” she says.

The pandemic altered eating and drinking habits, and pandemic puppies, now fully grown dogs, have to be walked on a schedule. With fewer people back in offices, there are fewer impromptu happy hours and a lack of interest in staying out late with colleagues, some bosses and workers say.

Andy Challenger oversees employees who participate in the fantasy football league at his outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas. When some of them floated the same game plan as prior years—an in-office pizza party that goes past 11 p.m. as everybody drafts their favorite players—the pushback was swift. This season, the pizza arrived at 4:30 p.m. and everyone was finished and out of the office by 6 p.m.

“Normally that would have been the starting time,” he says.

For decades, an unspoken rule of office culture has been that much of work happens outside the 9-to-5 window. Getting ahead often requires being known outside the building and having organisational allies—the type of networking that’s helped by showing up for dinner with the boss and getting relaxed face time with co-workers at happy hours, says Jon Levy, a New York City-based consultant who advises organisations on connection and culture.

Now, even the go-getters are saying no to after-hours schmoozing opportunities.

The thinking is: “That 20th happy hour isn’t going to produce anything better for me,” Levy says.

People are less jazzed about eating out once they are home, and many got pretty good at making dinner during the pandemicsays David Portalatin, food industry adviser at Circana Group, a market research firm.

“When the consumer stretches and builds new muscles, they don’t abandon those behaviours completely,” he says.

In the past year, U.S. consumers had 264 million restaurant dinners after leaving work, which is down 43% from 2019 levels, according to Circana. And reservations are now earlier: In 2023, 26% of after-work restaurant dinners happened before 6 p.m., compared with 21% in 2019.

Barbara Martin hosts bimonthly evening soirees for clients of her marketing firm, Brand Guild. Traditionally, cocktails start flowing around 6:30 p.m. and the mingling could last until 9 o’clock—or beyond. But last Thursday she pulled the start time forward to 5:30 p.m. sharp.

“‘I’d love to come to these if you could do them earlier,’” Martin says she’s heard again and again this summer. “Nobody wants to overbook themselves until 10 p.m. on a weeknight anymore.”

Attitudes don’t appear to be changing as the summer vacation season ends. Kay Ciesla is helping organise an all-staff gathering for 80 people at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Washington, D.C., nonprofit where she works as a governance executive. She is considering an ax-throwing theme, and serving finger foods and cocktails.

“I’m already getting pushback,” she says of spending precious time that bleeds into personal hours on team building. Due to scheduling conflicts the group can’t gather until December. One employee voiced concern that the socialising could turn into a superspreader event ahead of Christmas travel.

Doug Quattrini, an event planner in the Philadelphia area, has already booked six Christmas parties. What’s different this year, he says, is that most are on weekdays, in the office—and end at 8 p.m.

“Nobody wants to take up people’s Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” says Fausto Pifferrer, co-owner of Blue Elephant Catering in Saco, Maine, near Portland, which has booked several office holiday parties for Monday through Thursday.

Younger Americans are drinking less. The share of people between 18 and 34 who said they “ever” drink alcohol has fallen to 62% from 72% two decades ago, according to Gallup data.

Caroline Wong, the chief strategy officer at Cobalt, a cybersecurity company in San Francisco, quit drinking in her early 30s and tries to plan social gatherings sans alcohol. A team off-site next month will be a tour of waterfalls near Portland, Ore. She’s noticed things wrap up earlier when there’s no drinking involved.

“It’s like, ‘You know what, we hung out for 90 minutes. We’re good and I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Wong says. “I think there’s something awesome about that.”


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”