how to avoid giving gifts at work

That’s right:  how to AVOID giving gifts at work.  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, let me explain.  What happens is that there’s 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.  I like it even less now that I’m a consultant, and anyone with half a brain should be able to realize that I have even less interest than the average employee in participating.  Plus:

  • 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.  And I won’t do it.  I often make a point early on to tell people that I do not participate with any “optional” offerings – gifts, flowers, etc.  I don’t give to the boss’s favorite charity, either, another pet peeve.  Going around soliciting for your daughter’s Girl Scout cookie sales is soliciting, plain and simple.  So is Yankee Candle and anything else the boss brings in and coos about being “fun, you should try it!”  Imagine if I started bringing in sales brochures for my consulting business and handing them out to people in the finance department.

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.  I want to give money to charities of my choice, not to a charity chosen by a coworker who had a great-aunt pass away.

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?

As we know it is always something, whether it be anniversary, birthday, or new born baby gifts.

  • http://www.3stylelife.com/ Barry Wright, III

    I strongly agree with your comment near the end; “I want to give money to charities of my choice,” but had never thought about it in the context of work “gifts'. It doesn't happen often at my workplace, but I've participated in the past (because I, perhaps naively, perhaps selfishly, assume that it will all balance out over the course of time).

  • Out-of-money

    You should try working at a public school, they are all “perky busybodies” here . . . usually they keep pestering you via email for various committees for a yearly total of about $100-150 . . . resistance is futile . . .

  • big-d

    You are not Crazy … I have always thought of this institutionalized compulsory non-expense-able corporate good citizen gestapo. If these people are such good friend then I will buy a card for them. Hell I don't even buy a card for my mother for mother's day. Why should I buy a card for someone on my team I go out to lunch with twice a year and talk to once a month in the restroom washing my hands.

    I think at the end of the day, I just say no. I have people asking me to sponsor them for mission trips to South America, Obama/McCain for President (even thought that was against corporate policy), birthdays, babies, kids graduations, first ballet recital (could not afford the tutu).

    I have a roll of pennies in my desk drawer and if someone does not take the “no” the first time, I roll over, and take one of the pennies from the roll and give it to them. I have told them no, and now you make me make it insulting :)

    Then best part, is it costs me the low low price of 50 cents for about 4 years of fun so far :)

  • Dee

    So true.

    Just recently, we were asked to chip in for a wedding gift for one coworker. Cash. But another coworker who got married two months ago didn't get so much as a card from the office.

    It's strange and I'm sure hurtful to some people when others get a big fuss made over them and others not so much.

    Also, I don't think you're a jerk. It's your money.

  • Ruth

    As another public school teacher, I couldn't agree more with “out of money.” We are supposed to contribute to the social committee which puts on parties I don't attend. Because of the nature of teaching, there are a lot of young women in a school, so lots of showers (wedding and baby). We are required to be a 100% school when it's United Way time, we have retirement gifts, we have funeral remembrances, we have a basket for the school nurse on School Nurse Day, and lunch catered for the office staff on Secretary's Day. It goes on, and on, and on. Actually, “out of money” is probably underestimating the amount we have to give. PLUS, and don't get me started, we have school fundraisers all year. For the really big annual basketball fundraiser, we ARE the fundraiser (half the faculty plays the other half) where we have to pay money to make fools of ourselves so a whole gym full of parents and kids can eat popcorn, drink soda, and laugh at us. The Girl Scouts sell us their cookies, and the Cub Scouts sell us tins of popcorn. We have to buy wrapping paper at Christmas. FORTUNATELY, our salary and our “step increase” has been frozen for three years, and as an extra incentive, we are being furloughed two days to help balance the county budget. So, buy Cutie Suzie a blender for her wedding shower? I don't think so!

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  • bubelah

    I remember back in Russia, if it's your birthday, YOU bring a treat for the whole department to celebrate YOUR birthday if you want. They would make tea and have a cake for the afternoon tea ritual. That's all. No gifts. I don't know how it's done now. When I started to work for an American co. in the US I brought a box of nice chocolates for my b-day and everybody looked at me strange and said that's not how it's done. I felt a little weird, but everybody enjoyed the chocolates and asked what was the occasion and took me out to lunch. I felt like I was trying hard to tell the whole World that it was my b-day, when in reality I thought I was doing what “normal” work environment required. I din't do it since then.

  • freeby50

    Thankfully we don't have this situation at my workplace. There are no 'perky busybody's around here to initiate the gift pools. Closest we get is that when someone retires or passes away we'll all sign a card or send flowers. But its been years since I've been asked to give my $$ for something.

  • nateINTENOG

    I get where you are coming from. I really do. However, it is clear that your “love language” is not gift giving (from your internal observation that you are stigy with gifts for your own family). I was the same way — until I realized that many people feel loved through a gift – if even a pointless one. I think it is a case by case situation – but please stop being so stingy. The more you lighten up, the more people will like and respect you. They will trust you more.

  • http://www.donnafreedman.com Donna Freedman

    I worked at a newspaper for 17 years and there was a lot of gift-giving. But it was handled discreetly. The person doing the collection sent out a room-wide e-mail saying, “I'm collecting for a gift to celebrate so-and-so's new baby/going-away party/successful sex-change operation/whatever. If you want to contribute, see me.”
    Same with walkathons, GS cookies, etc.: The person made it known this was happening and if you wanted to be involved, see him.
    I never felt guilty for not contributing to everything. It was always optional.
    And in tight economic times, you might REALLY be putting someone on the spot by demanding that he or she pony up for a gift. For all you know, that co-worker might be down to $5 until payday.
    It's my feeling that if someone brings in candles or Tupperware to sell, then someone needs to get Human Resources involved and make it a solicitation-free zone.

  • FranticWoman

    I work with mostly women so every week there is a handout in my office. The busybodies actually stand there holding an envelope and write your name on it after you give cash. The intended party knows who gave and who didn't. This practice is costing me several hundreds of dollars a year. And guess what? When my father died and I had surgery guess what I got? Nada. Oh – and if you are marrying the coworker you were cheating on your wife with – after I gave you cash for your first wedding shower – do not come around for more donations – stating you want CASH not gifts. Why don't you ask the first wife for that vase I got them? You took her husband so this shouldn't be a problem.

    I dont mind giving for those I am close to, I'm not crazy selfish. I do get tired that for EVERYTHING I am expected to cough up funds – including “congrats on your husband at a different company retiring” and “I heard your mom is having an outpatient procedure this week, here's a fruit basket.” This week it is “So and so's daughter is getting married so give us cash for a gift.” I dont know the daughter, groom or even the daughter's name and I'm not invited to the wedding so no. Oh, yer right,that makes me selfish and rude!

    A pet peeve of mine as well. Thanks for posting it.

    -FW

  • FranticWoman

    I work with mostly women so every week there is a handout in my office. The busybodies actually stand there holding an envelope and write your name on it after you give cash. The intended party knows who gave and who didn't. This practice is costing me several hundreds of dollars a year. And guess what? When my father died and I had surgery guess what I got? Nada. Oh – and if you are marrying the coworker you were cheating on your wife with – after I gave you cash for your first wedding shower – do not come around for more donations – stating you want CASH not gifts. Why don't you ask the first wife for that vase I got them? You took her husband so this shouldn't be a problem.

    I dont mind giving for those I am close to, I'm not crazy selfish. I do get tired that for EVERYTHING I am expected to cough up funds – including “congrats on your husband at a different company retiring” and “I heard your mom is having an outpatient procedure this week, here's a fruit basket.” This week it is “So and so's daughter is getting married so give us cash for a gift.” I dont know the daughter, groom or even the daughter's name and I'm not invited to the wedding so no. Oh, yer right,that makes me selfish and rude!

    A pet peeve of mine as well. Thanks for posting it.

    -FW

  • couponninja

    I don't blame you in the least.
    I find I will give a little when I can, if I have it. At my work, we do collect when someone has had a hard time, we have had several co-workers over the years had major life issues i.e. fires, severe accidents, etc.
    But I find it hard to give to a retirement fund, a baby fund, a wedding fund, etc. especially since I have worked at my one of my places of employment [a grocery store] for almost ten years and that I MET my husband there. We got married three years ago and while some people did little things for us, the department we both work in as a whole didn't do anything. Not even a card, I am sure I sound horrible but these are people who have gone out of the way for other people's weddings, retirements, etc.
    So since then, I don't really contribute.
    I can say, I am a sucker for school fundraisers, I enjoy supporting a child's education. I might not always buy something, but I will at least look.

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  • Linda

    I talked everyone in my office (admittedly a small one) into giving to a charity every year instead of exchanging x-mas presents. We take turns picking the charity and taking the deduction.

  • skrpune

    Agreed. The latest one where I work was shower gifts for someone who I barely know…repeated solicitation emails, followed with phone calls trying to cajole everyone in my office to take part in a video compilation. If it were someone I knew well, maybe…but for someone in a different department that I've met a few times – sorry, I don't think so. If I know you well and you're my friend, I'm more than happy to give a gift. But if I don't even know your wife's name and just found out she's pregnant, then perhaps it's not appropriate for me to give you a gift!

  • http://www.financialtrajectory.com Patti

    I don't want to feel obligated to return the favor of buying an office gift. I'll pitch in every now and then if I actually like the person and we have a good work relationship. We gave our department's administrative assistant flowers and a card on Administrative Professionals Day in April.

    My birthday was 2 weeks ago and I brought in homemade Thai food for my co-workers. I didn't need a special card or a gift. It was nice and simple. If they wanted to buy me lunch that Friday as a thank you, I'm not going to complain. =)

    I don't like people soliciting me for charities. I'll give only if we're good friends, otherwise I think they just went through their contacts and listed everyone they know.

  • Shelly

    You discussed the “why” of not giving at work, but not the “how to.”

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  • Slinky

    I work with a bunch of guy computer nerds. It's SO nice. There are occasions where an envelope is passed around, but it's very low pressure. Someone gives you the envelope. You can sign the card and/or donate money or do nothing at all. Either way, put your name on the envelope and pass it off to someone whose name isn't on the envelope and you never see it again. Likewise with girl scout cookies or chocolate bars. People will put order sheets or a sign saying they're selling stuff up on their cube and that's it. I've bought a box or two of girl scout cookies and that's about it. :)

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  • tignan

    Help! The Office Busybody sent an email yesterday kicking off the request for participation and ideas for festivities to celebrate our boss's impending nuptials. Our boss is one of the most impersonal people I've ever met – in the 3 years I've worked there he has *never* asked/commented on one personal issue to me. We found out he was engaged from a picture that appeared in his office with a woman with a ring. She came in one day, went into his office, the door was then closed. We were never introduced – no one has met her. So now we're faced with The Busybody revving her engines for who-knows-what elaborate celebration she will plan. I'm sure he is not interested in anything at all. Although I've participated in the past with these types of events, I'm done. I'm with all the other reasons and responders in this thread. I just want to do my job!!! How do I tactfully stay away from the Party, the Gift, the Card? I just want to do my job!!! One last thing…two months ago when it was the boss's birthday, The Busybody circulated a card/envelope. I did not sign/contribute, just passed it on. It made its' way back to my office 3 times since they didn't see my signature. is all hope lost?

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