Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Office Collection

Over the years, I have contributed to many a collection in the office. Whenever the hat is passed for a baby shower, bridal shower, going-away party, charity walk sponsorship, etc., I always pitch in. But until now, I have never been the one responsible for doing the collecting, and I found the experience quite fascinating!

This week I sent out a message about a gift for someone, asking people to chip in if they desired. The person we're collecting for is well-liked, so the donations started rolling in quickly, but I was surprised at some of the amounts. The first few people gave $5 or $10. One of these people was a younger, more junior person, but another $5 contributor was someone quite senior, and I couldn't help thinking she could have afforded to give a lot more! Suddenly I wondered if I'd been going overboard by always giving a $20 bill for these things!
After the first few contributions, other people often gave $20, including some assistants who I know don't make much money, and other people who I've often heard discussing their general tendency to be broke and have credit card debt. There was no rhyme or reason as to who gave more or less, at least not by their probable ability to pay. I think the factor that correlated most to the donation amount was age, but contrary to what you'd think, the younger people were the ones who tended to chip in more.

My conclusion from this was that the younger people in the office have perhaps grown up in a culture that is more inclined to over-spend. They are used to excessiveness in weddings, parties, home sizes, cars, etc. They are used to the idea that everyone spends beyond their means and has credit card debt. They like to live large-- not just in selfish ways, but in generous ways. The older generations are perhaps not quite caught up with inflation, and still remember the days when $5 was a very generous contribution, because most people only gave $1! But also, the older people in the office may just tend to have slightly different values or norms about how money is spent.

Only one person, a guy of about my age who I know must have a six-figure salary (and who used to be the boss of the person who the gift was for), asked "how much are people giving? What's appropriate?" I told him the $5-20 range and he gave $10. Everyone else just handed me money without any question or doubt as to the amount.

How much would you chip in for a co-worker's gift? Have you ever seen how much others tend to give? Does it matter what the occasion is or how popular the recipient is with others in the office?

43 comments:

Dedicated said...

I'm kind of shocked. Maybe it is because - things aren't always as they seem.

Generally, when I was in the same situation, we were given an amount. So everyone would pitch in the same $5 or $10 debating on the situation and the gift.

Twiggers said...

Honestly...I hate these things and choose not to give. If I like the person enough, then I'll give them something myself. I hate feeling obligated to give to these things. Maybe I'm selfish...but I'm not getting married (since I already am), I'm never having a kid, I'll never be bringing in fundraising things, and I would prefer if people didn't celebrate my birthday.

When these things did go around the office, however, the person organizing them was very good. She clearly stated that the average gift was X amount. In addition, there was a piece of paper attached where you checked off that you had seen the envelope....and you had to go up and sign the card afterwards (that way no one could see the card and know whether or not you donated).

Sorry....I just hate this feeling of obligation that these stupid workplace collections have.

Simone S. said...

Lately I've been in the habit of pleading poverty, mostly because it's true, partly because some of the "causes" aren't worthy in my opnion.

I don't believe in giving money towards family deaths...at least beyond a sympathy card. What a waste! Should my parents or sister die I have no problem with my coworkers keeping their money. I'm not a meanie, I just think that a card says a lot more than some huge boquet of flowers that are going to die or be ignored anyway.

I also didn't give to the woman who had her third kid. Again...waste (in so very many ways).

I do give generously to first kids, going away gifts, and hospital stays.

Fortunatley my office has a policy that birthday people should bring in their own cakes/desserts for everyone else. I kind of like that because 1) I don't need to "chip in" for each and every person here (jeez!) and 2) I get to bring what I want instead of depending on the office administrator to pick.

jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity said...

I actually take money out of the hat in situations like this.

Actually I'm only kidding, I think that it's difficult to correlate donation amount and salary or any other factors. People are just raised differently and assign value to different things. For example, I don't really like the idea of engagement gifts but I'll gladly chip in for a party for the happy couple or take them out for a meal.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Twiggers. After being "required" to give $20 for my boss's birthday gift I made a public statement that I do not participate in any gifting at the office. That included Christmas gift exchanges, baby showers, deaths, marriages, etc. Co-workers were initially shocked until I pointed out that the office did not celebrate any other religious holidays and we had Jewish co-workers, birthdays were not celebrated by the boss, not even a spoken Happy Birthday, and because it was a large office of about 50 people divided into 3 sections there was little interaction between most people. For the 4-5 co-workers that I was actually friendly with, I gave cards and the occasional lunch out.

I did make sure that my co-workers knew that I monthly contributed money or items to our local shelter for abused women, those contributions meant alot more to the recipients than a big bouquet of flowers to a co-worker.

Jessica said...

I think these things are mostly based on how you are raised. I'm 24 and I think $20 is a lot for a pooled gift, but I grew up in a rural area where things don't cost as much as New York. In my food service days I seemed to noctice that age doesn't catch up with inflation; be it the percentage of the tip or the average tip. Some people think 12% is the average because that was a lot of money previously. Others leave an average amount when they don't feel like doing math. Three dollars is for people above 50, then 30-50 is about 5. Twenty somethings are completely unpredictable, but also seemed to leave percentage based tips more.

Start-Up said...

I think people are just different. Some of it can probably be due to age, salary, scrooginess, frugality. There are so many different reasons people are financially different. I do agree with your generalization that younger people are more willing to chip in, as long as it's qualified as a generalization.

Personally, I will chip in if it's for somebody I like or work with a lot. But for every random event I will not.

Valerie said...

Our department of about 20 people celebrates birthdays by having a birthday buddy for each of us. At the beginning of each year, we draw names to see whose birthday we get.

When one's birthday week arrives, we celebrate at that week's staff meeting. The buddy is responsible for bringing in refreshments for the meeting, and usually gets a card for the office to sign for the birthday person. It's worth noting that my office actually reimburses up to $25 for each birthday, and that's more than enough for each celebration.

One can opt out of celebrating (that is, being a buddy and having your birthday celebrated). We have one person who is a Jehovah's Witness and does not celebrate such days.

I've only been around here a year, and in that time there were only two collections: one for the birth of a new baby, and one to celebrate our boss's completion of her doctorate. All donations were given to her secretary, and were completely optional and confidential. I don't think it's appropriate to "pass the hat" in public.

Anonymous said...

I used to have this "job" at my old company. I kind of hated it, but I was friendly and upbeat with people - I was one of the only people who ever actually went out and collected. I too was surprised at people. Some (people on my own professional level) handed over a $20 like it was nothing, and then I'd see managers wince to give out even a fiver. Our company suggested $1-$5 if you were a regular level employee, $10 if you were a manager, and $20 if you were that person's manager.
Personally, I would give an amount based on how well I knew the person, and how much I liked them. Also, since I was the one who always did the collections, I knew the amount people usually gave, so I was more generous when it was that person's time to receive a gift if I knew they gave generously as well. Generous to me was $5 or more.
Seriously, some people would pull out $1 or some quarters.

pkzcass said...

I am so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way (same way as twiggers). Fortunately, I work in a small office (only about 40 people) and there are no more kids being born, and everyone is either married or not getting, so no worries there. The only thing I forsee are retirement parties. Deaths are handled by the company (flowers sent, donations made, whatever) and people send individual cards if they wish. At my last place of employment, which was larger, there was a large population of younger workers who were either leaving or getting married or having babies. In those situations, an amount to give was specified, and it was never more than $5. So I think that it depends on the size of the office and the occasion and the gift or whatever. I think a dollar amount should ALWAYS be specified. That way, everyone at least gives a minimum, and for those who are interested in giving more, it's up to them.

In any case, we do a holiday gift exchange but it's purely optional and I've chosen not to participate because I just don't need to spend $20 on some item I'll end up with that I don't need.

Oh, and the birthday thing? I don't make a big stink about my birthday; I'd like to just ignore it. My coworker and I take our boss out to lunch and vice versa during our birthdays, but I don't feel the need to acknowledge everyone else's birthday beyond a simple verbal greeting, since I ask for nothing on my birthday.

Anonymous said...

Always suggest an amount. It eliminates the ambiguity and uncomfortable feeling people may have about donating (especially if they suspect their donation amount will wind up in a public forum). 'Yes' or 'no' is easier to deal with than is an open ended amount.

$10 multiplied by 10 or 12 people...let's see, carry the 1...that buys a pretty nice gift or gift card!

JL said...

This past year, a coworker of mine from headquarters in a city 400 miles away from my location had three big events that I was forced to chip it for. She got married (which no one was invited to), had a baby, and left the company. All three events in one year for someone who left 2 months after her baby shower. I have worked with her 1-2 times, but I hate that feeling of obligation to chip in.

Slinky said...

I'm pretty appalled at the idea of a set amount. You're going to tell me I have to pitch in $10 every time someone I don't know pops out a kid? Why do we need to buy them a $100+ gift (assuming at least ten people, it's more like 30-40 here) I donate only when I know the person, (and actually have cash on me). If I like the person more than that, I'll get my own gift, thanks.

I'm glad we just have an envelope that you check your name and pass onto the next person. Give what you want or don't. I really hate mandatory gift giving (including Christmas)

Anonymous said...

I've started to avoid the lunches for coworkers. I'll go and get a normal lunch, but others will get a 3 course meal. Then, they all want to divide it equally, on the premise that we're paying for the one celebrated coworker. So then why will my extra portion pay for their lunch completely? I've stopped going ... sick of being the only one who will speak up and say it's not fair.

Escape Brooklyn said...

At my last job they'd always take up a collection when someone left. The guy who handled it used to joke that he would "come out ahead" because the gifts he had pre-bought usually cost less than all the money he collected (especially if the departing employee was well-liked). Not sure what he did with the profit...

MEG said...

I think $20 is a ridiculously excessive amount for anybody to give to a gift pot. Even if there are only 5 people giving, that's $100! Assuming you actually know the person and that these pots aren't a weekly or even monthly event in your office, I think $5-$10 is appropraite, depending on your salary level.

I work at a bank in a big city where everybody (even assistants) makes a pretty good amount of money, and no one here would even think of giving more than $10 to something like this, despite the fact that births/weddings are rare in our small office. We just sign cards and have cake for birthdays. Managers usually buy their direct reports Christmas/birthday gifts, but they get to expense that.

No one should feel bad for choosing not to participate either, but those people should be sure not to accept any pot of money if/when they ever get married/have a kid/etc.

SandyVoice said...

I can't comment on office etiquette, having never really worked in an office. But I bet the reason younger people, of whatever salary range, chip in $20, is that they grew up with ATMs, all of which give out $20 bills. So they always have $20 bills in their wallets, and that has come to feel like the basic unit of money. People who grew up before ATMs still think of $1, $5, and $10 bills as real money. I'm only middle aged, but I remember when it was ordinary to have $5 or so in your purse, people carried change to pay for stuff, and it was a big deal to break a $20 bill.

Anonymous said...

We generally only do this for weddings or baby showers (birthdays are cakes and cards, not gifts), and I tend to give $10. Considering that the money is pooled, once you've got 10 people it's $100, which is more than generous.

Anonymous said...

In my NY office we celebrate baby showers and weddings. I've seen amounts from $5 - $200 (from execs). Since the company is small (<50) we celebrate birthday's 12x a year by having a monthly birthday cake and champagne, bought and paid for by the company.

LYNN said...

I think the young people chip out more not only because how they are raise, also because they want/need to be liked, they don't want to offend anyone they might need help in the following career path. When I start working in a new office, I might ask the average amount or give a little more than the average. (Like around $20) In the case of this "secret donation", there are always leaking about who give out what. A senior excecutive doesn't care what others say. But if you are a newcomer and you need that old secretary's help at your work (at least not destroy), you better don't skip her birthday gift!

Middle Class Hick said...

I dont usually give to pots like this. My work is all about taking money from people for things. We tend to have younger staff since we are a smaller company (700). If I like my work mate enough for some event happening, I will take them out to lunch on my own. If not, then I am not obligated to pay anything. I have always thought it was ridiculously stupid to get something for someone having a baby (the point of a shower is for her close friends to get her the things she needs in case they were poor). The same thing goes for a wedding. The purpose of the shower was to help setup the home of the woman (usually kitchen implements) so they can have a good home when they move in together.


As for birthdays, my manager picks them up for the birthday person - and everyone else pays their own way. So that is cool. The last one drives me the most bananas. We used to have casual Friday's (wear jeans to work). Our new CEO says that jeans are not professional and decided to ban them. Great - no problem. Now they have a "if you pay $5 bucks, you can wear jeans to work on Friday" for the cause of the week (Make a wish foundation, hurricane relief, etc.) Again - this would be great if it were voluntary. People were sneaking into work with jeans - and not paying, well HR fired 3 people for that as they were not wearing appropriate work attire (even though it was a jeans day, for pay). And then HR goes around and shakes down those people that did not pay and wear jeans. They ask why you did not wear jeans and pressure you into it. Then they send out lists to managers, of who has/hasn't contributed to the "Friday Jeans" and to try to get 100% participation (on their reviews). Since HR has to manage the list so they can give it to the various charities so that everyone gets their tax deduction credits, they have all the info.


I still don't give .. however I asked HR for a 532 dollar raise and I said I would participate. That is the amount of money it would take for me to break even after payroll and income taxes and 401k allotment to have the 260 dollars after tax to pay $5 a week. They did not take it seriously, so I don't take their weekly nagging seriously :)

3beansalad said...

Interesting topic!!! Honestly, when my co-workers get married/ have a baby/retire etc etc I'm happy for them and happy to contribute. I usually give $15-20. It's too bad this is such an "obligation" for people. Maybe I'm just lucky to have worked with great people.

I feel the same way with wedding. I hear a lot of griping on the Personal Finance boards about how much people have to spend to attend a wedding. Personally, I always have a good time at weddings and am happy to attend.

mOOm said...

I pretty much always used to ask "how much are people giving", "what do you suggest", or "how much do you want to raise".

mOOm said...

PS - the main contribution we had to make were for Christmas gifts for the administrative staff in our small academic department. So it was the professors giving money to the chairman to buy the gifts each year. Half our faculty were Jewish BTW including the chairman and myself...

glenn said...

I'm 40 and between grad school and my current company, the amount donated seems to depend on how well liked someone is.

Dollar amounts are sometimes specified for cake and ice cream, but for getting married, amounts seem to depend on personality. People are unpredictable: I started the collection envelope in grad school with change of $20, and one secretary, chipped in $10 signingd the card, "Good luck, whoever you are!" She was about 30-5. Most grad students where I was were about 25-35 and we raised $300, an unheard of amount. The couple was not amused, saying we were "crazy," but took the gift card anyway (they were French). I later learned that the French keep family and coworkers separate and tend not to discuss their families at work, and questions about families is off limits, and collecting $300, however generous to Americans, violated their boundaries. Perhaps we Americans need some?

At work, I try not to keep track of amounts, but for my sweet, Indian coworker, one worker (50s? 60s?) wrote a $50 check (it cleared, no problem), saying she could only wish the new couple the best.

I usu. give $5; if I really like them, $20 (the Indian girl I gave $20). I consider myself frugal and often think all these 'showers' by coworkers are forced, and try to skate through them quickly.

DiaryofADink said...

I agree with many of the folks before me...

I work in a very large group of coworkers. Because we do shifts I don't even work with half of them or more. They take up collections for EVERYTHING. Weddings, babies, personal life disasters, medical emergencies... they want your money, they want your donations for raffles, they want your time off to share with people...and it's almost on a weekly basis.

Quite frankly, we all work hard and we choose how to spend our time and money. I have an emergency fund which I'll use if I'm having an emergency. As for weddings, if you're invited you give a gift. Otherwise, why do we need to give them more than a card?

I'm definitely low man on the totem pole but even so, I don't like to give to random people for things. I brought small token gifts and cards in to mentors, managers, and people who helped me out early on. I've got less than a handful of people I'm close to and will likely bring them cards for christmas or gifts when their babies are born in the next few years.

I'll occasionally bake or buy a treat to bring in and share for a holiday or "just because" but mandating me to bring something or give something makes it so hard for me to join.

Additionally, I get the feeling a lot of people doing the collecting like to make sure everyone knows how great they are for being the one with the good idea sending out emails so the managers are aware what wonderful team players they area.

I wish the whole practice of solicitation on any level would be banned in the workplace. It puts people in SUCH an awkward position! I feel really bad for people carrying debt and trying to get on decent financial footing when they're constantly hit up and feel compelled to give to someone they don't even interact with on a daily basis.

Laura said...

I've only been at my job for a little over a year, but I've never been asked to contribute money to a pot. If we're giving anyone a gift for something, we expense it and the company pays for it. It's not sneaking it or anything - we have a special expense code for internal gifts, and we just fill in the reason.

I can't imagine ever passing an envelope without a set amount though... when I've collected money with friends for something like this, we determine what we're going to get the person and then divide it up amongst everyone. I did this for a coworker at an internship once too, and it was the same thing. I can't believe the person who said that the guy who buys the gifts collects more than the gift!

Anonymous said...

I am a solo-practitioner in Brooklyn, I have 7 support staff. For B-days, everyone gives $10, and I order in a more expensive lunch (sushi) for the office and put in an extra $50-100. The b-day person usually brings in a cake, and we have wine (left over from Xmas gifts or client gifts). We used to purchase gifts for that amount, but everyone expressed that they preferred the cash, so now its cash, a card and a flowers. Everyone is happy with the arrangement (I think!) because they get to enjoy a leisurely lunch and they know that they wont get stuff with some unwanted gift.

Chad @ Sentient Money said...

I'm a little late to this, but I have to say I HATE donating for gifts in the office. 90% of time it's for someone you stumble across once or twice a month. Why should you be obligated to give? You shouldn't be obligated, but you are, because the person running it is doing a "good" deed...and who gives or doesn't give always gets out.

Plus, the gift is always something useless, that nobody wants. Just more crap for the landfill.

Chad @ Sentient Money said...

After reading a few more posts, I have to add one more thing...

I hate it when people bring in food. About 10% bring it in and give a nice short general announcement, "Food in the kitchen", which is fine. Nothing wrong with that. The other 90% bring it in and practically force feed you. If you don't take it you are viewed as unappreciative or even mean. I didn't ask for it, now stop trying to give me a heart attack with your lard filled cake.

Anonymous said...

Clearly this post struck a chord!

$20 is a lot. We do birth and Xmas collections. I give $5-10 for births, and at Xmas, $10 for the cleaning lady and $20 for support staff such as mail room staff. I've discussed this with some coworkers so know this is not unusual.

We don't do presents for people leaving, just drinks, and if it's someone close to me, I'd take them for lunch out separately.

Shalom said...

Another thought about why the older employees might give less -- maybe they've had more years of being compelled to pitch in on these "voluntary" gifts and they know better just how many of these things they have to contribute to over the course of their working lives. When you have to give a dozen or more times a year, over the course of a career, you probably do get cheaper over time.

We have very few of these things at my work; but we do have the school and scouts fundraisers, where every parent brings in catalogs to sell cookie dough, giftwrap, nuts, and junk. We also have catalogs for "home parties" like Tupperware, that some of our assistants send around to every woman (somehow the men never get those sent to them. hmmm.)

When I first started at this company 7 years ago, I bought something from each fundraiser or catalog that was brought to me, figuring that what comes around, goes around; that eventually I'd be fundraising for my own kid's school. I quit, though, after the year and a half -- I just couldn't keep up with the demand. And I don't even want cookie dough or Tupperware.

And now that my own kids gets the fundraiser catalogues, I don't bring them into work. Instead, I just send a check to the school for 50 bucks -- which is the profit they'd get from my kid selling 10 tubs of cookie dough.

Madame X, that might be an interesting post -- what does everybody do about school fundraisers?

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica- being on a budget, i chip in $5-$10 depending on the person. also these events fall around when we all get paid.

Bitty said...

Traditionally, we don't do birthdays or deaths (One rare exception: a coworker was widowed. Somehow, that's very different from having mom die). We get an email regarding the situation (and actually these are rare events -- we're a group largely past marrying, birthing, etc.) and those who wish to contribute can go see the secretary to do so. Everyone can sign the card.

I usually give $5-10, but if it's for someone dear to me I give more. At least twice I gave $40 -- and an individual gift. But that's because I loved that person so. And it gave me the chance to be generous without taking credit for the generosity. There can be an upside to these things!

Anny said...

At my job we pool for one large gift (or sometimes gift certificate). Everyone contributes the same amount regardless of position or age but its never over $20

Bonnie said...

Our office generally just passes around a card for everyone to sign on birthdays; however, for babies, weddings, goings-away, etc., there's always a collection. I've never given more than $5, and sometimes I've given $1 or nothing. It depends on how much I like the co-worker. I agree with others who posted that I just generally don't like being asked to donate for these things. For one, if I am close enough to the person to want to spend money on them, I would buy them a gift myself.

Anonymous said...

i also can't stand being asked to donate to these sorts of things. Not all co-workers have equally warm and fuzzy feelings about someone, so to ask around for donations really irks me.

Savings Toolbox said...

Personally, my office donations have always been based on what I could afford at the time. It used to bother me that I often couldn't contribute as much as the next person but decided people should be happy I gave anything at all. As a gift recipient, I wouldn't expect anyone to give up their last $5 for any gift or occassion.

There are probably better ways for people to work an in-office gift pool that would eliminate the opporunity for office gossips to share who gave what and take the pressure off those not able to give as much as they would like to due to budget limitations.

Best bet for givers is to give what you can when you can, no matter who the gift is for. If your office tends to do a lot of these pools, consider tucking away a few bucks in your desk each week for just such an occasion.

Katie said...

We are having issues at our office of 13 where some don't want to contribute at all. I was thinking of starting a fund of .50 for each person every pay day .... A sort of rainy day fund? Not sure if this will work. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I find this topic interesting. I always contribute $5-$10 and if I'm really close to the person benefitting I will buy a present. I give based on how I feel about the person.

Anyway I am collecting donations at the office for the first time. I gave some posters to some people letting them know I was doing a sponsored ride. I didn't wanna ask a lot of people but I'm at $320 with lots of pledges. I was surprised by donors. The largest was $50 from a lady I'm really fond of!

Miss Unconventional, The Wicked Bitch said...

I try not to give anything, especially if it is someone I care nothing about.

I have noticed that people in our office who have less money are the people who are the most generous.

I am very cheap, very selfish, and after a while the five dollars here and there add up to a whole lot of stock that I could have bought and made lots of money from.

I always say,"I don't have anything on Me right now, so I will get back with you" and people will just leave Me alone.

Anonymous said...

How much do I leave. Well, it depends. If I like the person $5. I generally despise gift giving things, but I always donate in smaller work environments. I used to donate at a large corporation where I worked, but since no one held any baby showers for me I got mad and just started passing the envelope. One time I had the nerve to count the money before passing it on and there was maybe $7 (with 2 maybe 3 people left to shake down). The party given was huge, so I'm guessing petty cash was used...Oh and most people don't like being hit-up for money.

Anonymous said...

I hate, hate, hate this. Not everybody makes the same money in the office I work in and even if we do, everyone's personal circumstances are different. I can hardly even afford to buy my own family gifts let alone somebody I work with (even my family no longer exchanges gifts because we know the burden and guilt it puts on each other, not to mention we have a huge family).
Our office manager used to just buy a card out of office funds and we would all sign it, why isn't this good enough anymore? Then they started this gift collection crap (not the office managers idea). This lady in the office obviously doesn't have money troubles and whatever the occasion, she puts this gift collection together (thoughtful? sort of, to the people receiving the gift). The one time she got a card and I didn't realize you could only sign the card if you contributed to the gift (at the time, I thought the card was separate just as we had done in the past). She tore a strip off me. "You can't sign the card, you didn't contribute to the gift".

Why do people feel it necessary to buy their co-workers gifts? Half the time they're not even that close and every other time they're busy talking behind your back anyway. And why buy them a gift for leaving? They obviously don't want to stay at the piece of shit job, that's why they're leaving. If I leave this office, it'll be all the gift I need. Why not buy a gift for the poor sucker that's loyal enough to stay?
Half the stuff they buy is nick nack crap anyway.
I hope nobody ever buys me anything at this place. I don't want someone to feel put out for me. A nice congrats or "Happy Birthday" is good enough.