Q. I am writing to you about a recurring problem at the law firm where I work. The problem deals with firm functions, or at least with interoffice memoranda regarding firm functions.
Several memos have been circulated recently about upcoming social functions that have been addressed exclusively to the attorneys, a resident physician, a librarian and a CPA. Memoranda regarding these functions have hit a raw nerve with many secretaries, because our job description is conspicuously absent from the "TO:" section of these memos.
However, memoranda addressed to "All Professional Personnel" are equally offending, because many of us consider ourselves professionals. I suppose we could address each memo separately, but the time involved would be prohibitive. Also, a heading of "Attorneys, etc." is too vague.
I suppose what they're trying to do is to invite the employes who have a certain degree of rank and/or education; however, there are several secretaries who have been around longer than many attorneys and are held in high esteem, and there are several who have college degrees. The secretaries feel they are being treated as second-class employes; the attorneys are upset because they want to have some functions with their peers and they don't understand why we can't see that we're just not at their level.
This is a rather large, prestigious firm, and we have always maintained a friendly, wholesome atmosphere through the years. But this memoranda (or social) problem has strained this a little, and the subject has become a touchy one. I was hoping you could help put things in prospective, suggest guidelines for dividing the ranks, or at least suggest a heading for future memoranda that invites all employes of the firm except the secretaries, without sounding offensive.
A. Miss Manners, and also possibly the Internal Revenue Service, would like to know whether these parties are business or social functions. (If they are excuses to socialize while writing off the expense, Miss Manners doesn't want to know about it, but the IRS probably does.)
For social functions, the rule is that the host may invite whomever he likes and exclude whomever he likes, but whatever criteria he uses, he must pretend it is social compatibility. Thus, he may certainly invite attorneys only, for example, but in order to pretend that it is as individuals rather than as representatives of the profession, he must invite them by their names. Also, he must not flaunt the event before those who are not involved.
On two counts, therefore, your firm's functions are not social events: People are asked by job category, and the invitations are by memoranda passing through the hands of the uninvited, as well as the invited.
In gatherings of a business nature, however loose the structure, there is no insult in asking workers of one category and not another. Some jobs are considered worth more than others, as you have no doubt discovered on pay day.
(But can it be a business function, you ask, when food and drinks are served? Say, does a duck swim?)
What you are really protesting is that the higher-level jobs include functions at which conviviality and potables dominate, while the theme of all activities in which the lower-ranking job holders participate is always hard work.
You have a case there, and Miss Manners wishes you luck with it.