giving gifts in the office

dunder A pet peeve of mine, for a long time, has been the corporate office “pitch in for a gift” routine. If you aren’t a corporate employee, what happens is that there’s usually one perky busybody in every department who decides to buy a flower basket when co-workers gets sick, or a teddy bear when they have a baby, or an item from the registry when someone gets married, or even a little gift for everyone’s birthday. This busybody goes around and asks everyone for a “donation,” knowing full well that for most people refusing is an embarrassing proposition.

I have never liked this business of pitching in.

  • 1. I don’t always like the person for whom the present is being purchased.
  • 2. Sometimes the reason for the gift is trivial – someone is having a birthday? What, are we 12?
  • 3. There is a subtle discrimination – someone who has been around longer, or has a better position, or is simply more popular gets bigger or better gifts.
  • 4. If the busybody is encouraged, soon you are shelling out $10-$20 a week for “voluntary” gifts.

I am also very uncomfortable accepting such gifts, and have often said point-blank that I don’t want any gifts. Maybe I have a distorted view, but to me if I receive a gift I feel an obligation to return it the next time I’m asked to contribute. Then I’m “stuck” as a regular contributor.

Now that I’m a consultant – and technically not “part” of the department – I find it easier to refuse. I am stingy enough with gift-giving for my family and friends (and myself) that I resent any “required” gifts for my co-workers. I know, in a sense, that this just reflects the realities of most people’s lives – that they spend more time with their co-workers than with their friends and families and therefore want to contribute to the morale of their workplace. Yet every time I’m asked to pitch in $10 for a co-worker’s cheese-and-sausage gift basket I see $10 that could buy my son some books, or $10 to add to my nieces’ and nephew’s custodial accounts, or even $10 that Bubelah and I could put towards an occasional evening out. I am selfish that way.

So am I crazy? Do you have people asking you to contribute to “departmental” gifts at the office? Do you participate? Am I just being a jerk?

(photo credit by makelessnoise)

  • Lauren

    I have to agree with the ridiculousness of this. In the past 9 months that I’ve been at my current job, I’ve been asked for at least $60 for two employees only – the managers of our branch. Anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas. They’re the highest paid of the bunch. It’d be one thing if I actually got to be a part of the gift giving – like signing a card, witnessing the exchange, or even knowing what the hell they got – but I never have been. This is in addition to the $40 “social committee” fee we have to pay every 6 months, too.

    I think I need a gift, for putting up with it. Funny, I didn’t even get a card for my birthday.

  • http://earlyretirementextreme.com Early Retirement Extreme

    I don’t think I can recall being subjected to direct pressure tactics. Sometimes somebody gets a card and we all sign it. There are several indirect money drives e.g. corporate sponsored charity, or some random person that I’ve never heard about leaving or having a baby or a birthday or whatever, etc. but these requests usually arrive by – sometimes several – mass emails which can just be ignored. But yes, I am a little bit conflicted by the indirect peer pressure to fit in (“be popular”). For instance, the social group for new employees is all about going out and eating and going to the movies which is something that I don’t particularly enjoy. Instead I just hang out with the hockey players. I do worry how much this hurts me career wise. For instance, many people consider all these departmental eating arrangements mandatory. I suspect these events are mainly driven by a few extroverts and tradition.

  • Mrs Pillars

    At my last job, my small department celebrated birthdays within the team by pitching in $2.00 and ordering an ice cream cake we could all eat that afternoon. If someone skipped paying now and then nobody cared (but we did expect them to help with the ice cream).

    There was a lot of gift-giving on the floor, but it was usually done by circulating a card with an envelope for voluntary donations. Anyone who signed the card was invited to the cake and gift-giving for the recipient. The contribution, if any, was anonymous.

    While I enjoyed the social aspect of the celebrations, I sometimes felt it was a little excessive. If it becomes an obligation, then all the fun goes out of it.

  • http://financefreelancelife.com/ Mrs. Micah

    I think the farthest I’ve seen it go is cards. Well, when I got married, my workplace gave me a card with a cash gift–I’m guessing it was from the staffers and not just the library itself.

  • SavingDiva

    Ugh! I hate this too! I didn’t mind pitching in for a little something for my boss when he received a huge grant (which is a big deal and pays my salary)…but we were expected to pitch in $20 for a 80gb iPod for a guy….and then $10 for a digital camera for someone else….I try to avoid it, but it’s hard. I usually just make cupcakes for birthdays (like I’m 12).

  • rambkowalczyk

    If you are working for a corporation, I would expect that there are or should be corporate policies regarding solicitation. I would think the manager would have to give approval for such a thing, even if only a verbal ok.

    Also it wouldn’t look good for management if only some employees got birthday gifts and not others so one would think that for the sake of equality, that this shouldn’t be done for some unless it is done for all.

    At the last place I worked for we were asked to give $2 a week to cover such things. The success of such a venture ultimately depends on the person in charge of the money. I only worked there for about 6 months but I didn’t begrudge the two bucks a week.

  • http://www.guinness416.com guinness416

    Maybe it’s down to the construction environment but I’ve never really done this anywhere I’ve worked. I can see hat it would be annoying. On the odd occasion we do baby gifts etc they’re paid for by the company, which given that they’re “teambuilding” ideas it seems to me is the way it should be, right? What we do have a lot of is gambling – the lotto, NFL pools, march madness, etc etc but that’s fairly easy to beg out of (and I love gambling and sport so I’m usually in).

  • http://www.rather-be-shopping.com Kyle

    Totally agree with you. And yes it makes me fell like a cheap skate if I refuse to donate. Sucks all the way around. And no you are not selfish in thinking of other ways you would like to use YOUR money. Although, I do like the cupcakes idea!

  • http://www.dollarfrugal.com Brooke (Dollar Frugal)

    I HATE office gifts. They always approach you in front of a group of people and ask loudly. It’s uncomfortable!

  • http://thegoodlifeonabudget.blogspot.com/ JvW

    I am not a big fan of office gifts, especially since it always seems to be for the same people – the managers. Just last week we gave our manager a gift card to Starbucks at our Christmas party. He softened the blow, however, by saying he’ll be using it to buy us all coffees one day.

  • http://wealthisgood.blogspot.com Meg

    In the department where I used to work they finally did away with all gift giving for birthdays. They had been doing group gifts for evern employee for years, as it was a small tight knit group, but as the department grew it became too much, too often. Plus, the salary discrepancy in that place was large, and people who made more resented the obligation to contribute more–many times those who made the least wouldn’t contribute or would only put in $2, but the problem was most of the gifts were for those employees, as there were more of them.

    In my new department no one takes up donations for anything, and I love it! I don’t want crappy random gifts, and I don’t want to give them either.

  • http://investing911.blogspot.com Investing911

    I often think the busybody that is collecting the money takes in more than they pay out for the gift!

  • http://www.thickenmywallet.com thickenmywallet

    I tend to find the bigger the organization, the more “pressure” is exerted. I have worked for big and small and, in a small office, everyone is friends so nothing seems forced.

    I agree with Four Pillars- I am annoyed when someone picks a charity for me at work and thinks it is more important to promote that cause than any other. We all have our pet charitable causes; why is someone picking one for me?

  • http://paradigmshifted.org/ deepali

    I can’t imagine the crazy logistics where I work for this kind of thing. Usually, there’s a cake for a birthday (or even better, a cake for the birthdays in a given month). There’s also a card to sign. But no obligatory gift-giving… I’ve only ever contributed to a going-away present for someone I worked with every day for several years, and once I went to a baby shower held at work. I’ve never felt like anything was required, but I’m also kind of dense to things like that. No guilt complex for me. :)

  • http://www.moneysmartsblog.com/ FourPillars

    Man, this post says it all!

    We don’t go as far as bdays but we always do a gift ceremony thing for people who are having babies and leaving the company. I don’t mind it so much but in my office the card is always put into an inter-office envelope and if someone decides that your dept knows the person well enough then all your names get put on the envelope and you have to cross it off. Very annoying, especially if you barely know/hate the person.

    I’ve only ever not done it a couple of times when a) I really didn’t like the person and b) there was a woman who I didn’t like was having her 9th baby (approximately) and I just didn’t have it in me to donate any money or write something on the card.

    I will say however in my office that the $$ amount is totally voluntary.

    Another thing that annoys me is that we have management driven “charity” draws where the admins will go around and ask you to buy tickets – pretty hard to say no.

    Mike

    p.s. – for the record – Mrs. Pillars and I used to work at the same company.

  • http://www.paperchase1.blogspot.com paperchase

    No I don’t think you are crazy for feeling that way. I worked in a large department where there are many employees. It seemed like you’re giving a few bucks here and there everyday for crap. We all need more meaningless junk, like we need a hold in the head.

    The times where it ticked me off was when my peers decided to buy our boss a gift. It was never usually cheap. The problem was that she tap danced on my nerves everyday. So why the hell would I want to give her the money that I have to beg for every time annual review came around?
    Not to mention that the company had some agreement with a large charity to rustle up support every year from the employees. Contributing was mandatory for the management team. I didn’t appreciate being coerced into donating my money or time to a charity that I didn’t choose. Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest…

  • Bubelah

    I hated it so much when I used to work. One time, I remember, a woman from another department approached me to tell me that she is collecting money for so-and-so’s baby shower right in front of my then boss. First of all, the girl was not from my department, second of all, all the interaction I had with the future mother-to-be were not pleasant. I just shrugged it off and said “oh, nice” and didn’t run for my wallet. The “busybody” was “following up” with me via phone and e-mails about donation. I still can’t believe it. I started avoiding her in the hallways.
    Thankfully my dept. was not so big and all the cakes came out of the departm. budget.

  • aeko

    Also really gets me when you are asked to lug food into the office for the potluck. so now you are juggling your briefcase, your shoulder bag, and the food container. Across the parking lot@ up the elevator.

  • Live from the Belly of the Beast

    I used to work in an office where the *busybody* would actually go buy the gift for the random person upstairs and demand my “share” afterwards. At my current work I’m annoyed by baby showers and wedding gifts. Not that I want more junk, but really, these people didn’t know me when I got married, and I’m not going to have kids so it’s a little lopsided.

  • http://fathersez.wordpress.com fathersez

    I agree, this is a real pain.

    A couple of times, I have paid and then deliberately missed the “celebrations”.

    I have already made of my mind to say no the next time and just be the office leper.

  • Laudy

    I completely agree with Belly of the Beast. So you’re getting married- Big deal. You’re having ANOTHER baby- Big deal. I am so tired of “celebrating” the decisions (of which have little consequence to me) and lives of people I barely know. I work hard to support ME!! And exactly why are “upper-management” the ones who benefit the most?

  • http://www.bripblap.com Steve (Brip Blap)

    I’m glad to see I wasn’t alone on this one. I am still driven nuts – even as a consultant – on this one. I was hit up for a Christmas gift for the head of my department recently. I refused – and I told the busybody in advance not to invite me to the painful gift-giving ceremony. However, they did – publicly – and I had to again refuse.

    I guess it all comes back to this – nobody at work is worth my money in the long run compared to my Little Buddy. How can I take from him and give to them? I can’t! I know it makes me appear cheap and mean, but I just can’t do it….

  • JB

    This bothers me too. Also, at my workplace it’s selective, if someone is willing to organize a gift or luncheon for a person who’s leaving, having a birthday, etc. When I was a new employee I would say ‘no’ nicely, but then I honestly thought it may give me a bad impression to my co-workers, as not being a ‘team player’. By participating in the office exchanges, I feel ‘included’ and privy to inside watercooler info, that’s just me.

  • http://livingoffdividends.com/2007/11/11/why-low-interest-rates-are-bad-for-you/ Living Off Dividends

    those bastards!
    i’ve always gotten emails,which I promptly delete.

    I did cough up 20 bucks for a co-workers wife who was walking for 3 days for breast-cancer. I was really pissed when I didn’t get a receipt for my taxes!

  • Laudy

    I was asked to donate $35 for a Christmas gift for my boss. My husband and I are working like crazy to pay off student loans and personal debt. I didn’t even spend $35 on my 4 year old for Christmas!!

  • Live from the Belly of the Beast

    Laudy- how do you handle that? My co-workers don’t know about the credit crisis we’re in so I can’t say no-thanks on that basis.

  • http://www.bripblap.com Steve (Brip Blap)

    23 JB { 01.24.08 at 1:03 am } This bothers me too. Also, at my workplace it’s selective, if someone is willing to organize a gift or luncheon for a person who’s leaving, having a birthday, etc. When I was a new employee I would say ‘no’ nicely, but then I honestly thought it may give me a bad impression to my co-workers, as not being a ‘team player’. By participating in the office exchanges, I feel ‘included’ and privy to inside watercooler info, that’s just me.

    24 Living Off Dividends { 01.24.08 at 1:00 pm } those bastards!
    i’ve always gotten emails,which I promptly delete.

    I did cough up 20 bucks for a co-workers wife who was walking for 3 days for breast-cancer. I was really pissed when I didn’t get a receipt for my taxes!

    25 Laudy { 01.24.08 at 3:59 pm } I was asked to donate $35 for a Christmas gift for my boss. My husband and I are working like crazy to pay off student loans and personal debt. I didn’t even spend $35 on my 4 year old for Christmas!!

    26 Live from the Belly of the Beast { 01.25.08 at 8:22 am } Laudy- how do you handle that? My co-workers don’t know about the credit crisis we’re in so I can’t say no-thanks on that basis.

    @JB: That’s really the problem, isn’t it? If it was truly optional and voluntary you could just say hey, I don’t feel like participating. But there’s a subtle and firm pressure to ‘be part of the crew’ in every office. Some offices are worse than others. One place where I worked had such an intricate and set-in-stone “who-eats-lunch-with-who” structure that it was infuriating. So you’re right – if you chip in and you feel it makes it a better place to work for you, then do it. It’s just unfortunate that anyone feels they have to give money to feel ‘part of the in-crowd,’ isn’t it?

    @LOD: Yeah, I always felt like a creep asking for receipts for things like that, but really – why should I feel like a creep?

    @Laudy: In that case, you’re stuck. It’s hard to go around announcing to people that you’re trying to pay down debts so you can’t afford to contribute. People will grumble. “Hey, times are tough everywhere, and Laudy’s just being cheap,” etc. It’s unfair that – again – a “gift” requires pressure. Like LFTBOTB says, if your co-workers don’t know, how can you beg off?

    I’ll throw out a simple-to-say but hard-to-do solution: just say “no thanks.” What else can you do? Just say money’s tight. I know it’s hard, because people are embarrassed to talk about money, but it’s YOUR money and YOUR future. Long after the job is in the past, the choices you made – about how to fritter away money on gifts you didn’t want to buy for people you didn’t stay in touch with – will still be with you.

  • jane Doe

    well my take on it is, I have worked there for 17 years and given for every wedding/baby shower/funeral as well as attended the functions and I am about to be married in a week and 2 people at this whole place have given me a gift. Pisses me off, sorry. I will NEVER again give to anyone for any such occasions.

  • supersabby

    At my office we have a set of office busybodies that coordinate birthday lunches and showers for their friends in the department–I’ve always pitched in with my “donation” but I recently got married and although I previously attended three other people’s showers and asked to donate $20 each time, I wasn’t given one. I invited a few of my co-workers who did give a gift (1 attended the wedding, 2 people didn’t attend but still gave a gift).

    One of the women I work with is having a surprise shower next week, and we’ve been asked to donate $20 yet again. I guess I wouldn’t hesitate if I was getting reciprocal treatment, but recently when I had to pay for my own lunch on my birthday even though I always pitch in for my co-workers–I was really upset. I really hate having to do the mandatory donation in general–its awkward and when its not done for everyone it can be really hurtful.

    I’m not sure what I should do now–I don’t want to look like the office jerk/cheapskate, but I also want to stop gift giving to people who don’t feel obligated to the sort for me. A friend of mine in a different department told me to call in sick, and another told me just to tell the busybody that I already bought another gift intended for the mom-to-be. Any advice??

    • http://www.bripblap.com Steve (Brip Blap)

      @supersabby: Well, I’ll put it this way – if I contributed, contributed, contributed, and then when it was my turn got nothing, I think I would drop out of the contribution chain, personally. As a consultant I’ve always been very hard-hearted – I don’t contribute anything, ever, for any reason. I think if you give sometimes and don’t other times, it’s tough to defend. I just politely decline every single time I’m asked. If asked why, I usually point out that I have enough expenses for gifts and whatnot in my personal life without adding office contributions. People usually don’t push too much.

      I would give one other piece of advice – don’t call in sick, don’t say you bought another gift. The next time there’s another mother-to-be you’ll have to dance around this again. Just get it over with – say that you just don’t want to contribute. But unless you are firm and simply say ‘no’ you will endlessly be making up excuses and squirming out of it. Set the pattern and eventually people will leave you alone.

  • R. Smith

    I agree with all of the above. It is especially bad in small, private companies (about 100 employees) in an office environment. We have our “office busybody”, who happens to be in HR, and the email goes out about a dinner or lunch for whatever occasion (usually bridal/baby/engagement) and then the line at the bottom about where to contribute for the gift. (The company foots the bill for the food) I have been at this company 1 year and have received said emails at least 10 times. This doesn’t include buying the girl scout cookies, donating to the walk-a-thon, buying frozen pizzas, etc. I come to work to MAKE money, not give it away. I’ll donate to people I know well, but if I gave $10 to every occasion, or bought an item from every fund raiser, I’d have spent well over $300 in the past year. They should have a no solicitation policy, and just get a cake for each occasion!

  • chad

    There was a nurse at the office like that. Pretty soon, it had gotten so that people didn't trust her. They felt as though she was trying to”buy people's friendships.” She also made it appear that the gifts were only from her, it was annoying to say the least. She would also spend the most on the people that she liked or were Docotrs. Her reputation for her lack of genuinuity eventually got her dismissed from the office which I think stemmed from here. I don't think you are being a jerk, I think you are being smart. Sometimes just a nice gesture such as, “hey happy birthday, have a good one,” with genuine wishes is much more value to the person than a hey, here's a gift, now you are obligated to me in some way!

  • Christmas Wreaths

    hat they spend more time with their co-workers than with their friends and families and therefore want to contribute to the morale of their workplace

  • katy

    You are right! ITA and amen.

  • katy

    You are right! ITA and amen.

  • http://www.budgetinginthefunstuff.com/ Crystal @ BFS

    I hated that part of cubicle work. I made $35,500 a year and felt like I was getting hit up for all of it annually. After about a year of being hassled, I politely but firmly opted out. I said I rather not participate or be included in the money roundups in the future.

  • http://www.lifecover.ca Gary

    Some people have way too much time on their hands. I understand they’re trying to be nice but seriously… why do we need to do this? I think some people are just looking for a reason to go shopping. By them a cake and be done with it… even that can get a little much if you’ve got a big (both in size and weight) office. Maybe people could bring in healthier snacks for birthdays.