Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Perils of Office Gift Giving

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of office gift giving. There are just way too many pitfalls involved. Several years ago, my co-worker and I spent $100 on a gift for an admin who only supported us one day a week. It didn't go over well. She was visibly upset with us. Perhaps because we spent $200 on a gift for the other admin who supported us the other four days of the week, or perhaps because she bought gifts for us, and figured that we should have spent substantially more than she had. After that particular experience, I just threw up my hands in frustration. I shouldn't have listened to my co-worker, who'd been working at the company much longer than I had. Since then, I've basically erred on the side of being overly generous.

But last night, I had to rethink the issue yet again. On my way out the door, I stopped at my boss' office for our semi-regular, end of day chat. We talked about Thanksgiving traditions and holiday parties and other random topics of conversation. And then she kind of caught me off guard with her next question. 'What do you think about giving donations to charitable organizations in each individual team member's name?'

My boss is a great manager as well as a great person. She gives credit where credit is due and really goes to bat for her people. She's also one of the few managers that I know who works a lot harder than the people who report to her. In short, she's part of a dying breed. Every year, around the holidays, she gives each of her staff of 20 a holiday gift, as a sign of appreciation and thanks. I'm guessing that she spends anywhere from $35-$50 per gift. But as my boss would say, 'no good deed goes unpunished.' Two years ago, she inherited another team of employees in a different geographic location. Apparently, those new employees were upset when they got gifts from her last year because they felt pressured to reciprocate in kind. She of course, had minimal expectations, maybe a token gift at most. Long story short, she eventually heard some of the grumbling through the grapevine, and was naturally a bit upset and frustrated that her act of kindness was creating dissension amongst the ranks. So, after talking things over with her admin, she's thinking of taking a different approach this year. Namely, a gift to a local charity in each person's name. But, I suspect that the folks who were upset last year about the gifts are going to be just as upset this year about the donations. So, if you were in my boss' situation, what would you do? Stop giving gifts altogether?

Anyway, it just goes to show that sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. At my old job, if you didn't give a generous gift to your direct reports, you'd be roundly chastised for being stingy.

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