giving the boss a gift “from all of us” … when it isn’t

by Ask a Manager on October 23, 2012

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A reader writes:

We have a very small company, and I am part of the upper management. We typically recognize an employee during our monthly company meetings.

I would like to also recognize our bosses and provide them with a small gift. However, I understand that my coworkers and subordinates may not be financially capable or willing to donate. Would it be wrong of me to present a gift to the boss during our company meeting? I would not present it as this is from ME but this is from ALL OF US. Even if the others don’t know anything about it?

Yes, that’s weird. First, it’s not “from all of us” if no one even knows about it but you, and you may find others think it’s odd that you’re claiming they’re part of something that they’re entirely out of the loop on. (Do not solve this by getting them in the loop; the power dynamics here are such that people won’t be able to freely opt out, and so that’s not a solution.)

Second, your upper management doesn’t need gifts from the company, especially at a meeting where others are forced to sit and observe. That’s going to come across as self-congratulatory (if people believe the managers know about this in advance) or sucking up (if people believe it’s just coming from you).

In general, etiquette dictates that you don’t give gifts to your boss. It also dictates that managers should feel awkward about receiving them.

It’s nice that you want to recognize your managers. Do that by thanking them for whatever you appreciate about them, one-on-one. Skip the gifts and the public announcements.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Chocolate Teapot October 23, 2012 at 1:36 am

In my experience, the only time our Boss was given a gift “from all of us” was when she went on maternity leave (it was a bouquet of flowers).

If a boss had a birthday, then they might bring in cake or croissants, but there was never a demand for the rest of the team to buy a gift.

The only exception, was on St Nicolas day (6th December), where every employee was given a gift, but it was done as more of a fun event.

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Ouette October 23, 2012 at 5:41 am

I think that it depends on the country (culture) and, more importantly, the individuals concerned. Gift-giving has gone out of fashion as people are financially strapped, but I know of one manager and team who give each other small gifts as appropriate and it works very well. This manager is caring about her staff (while still very much comanding respect from them) and it is reciprocated.

In general, however, I would not give my boss a gift.

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jesicka309 October 23, 2012 at 6:47 am

There’s a weird practice at my work to celebrate milestones of the higher ups, while the lower down employees get ignored.
Case 1: Supervisor’s wife has their second child. Hat is passed around for a gift for the family.
Case 2: Manager is getting married. Glasses of champagne all round, plus a present.
Case 3: Entry level employee gets married. Nothing.
It makes you wonder if the time comes that you have a family/get married you will have the same celebration at work. Obviously, the answer is no, and it leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

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BHB October 23, 2012 at 8:44 am

When I was 6 months into my first professional job, I bought my boss a box of chocolates + a card, to thank him for taking a risk in hiring me as a fresh, unqualified trainee. He appreciated the gesture, and shared the chocolates with everyone in the office. He then called me into his office and told me that whilst the gift was appreciated it was in no way necessary, and that the best “gift” I could possibly give him was to work hard, complete all tasks to the best of my ability and take on extra projects and responsibilities as and when the opportunities arose. I think the same would go for most (good) bosses regardless of how high up on the org chart you or your bosses are.

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Dom October 23, 2012 at 9:26 am

I also feel its strange and awkward all around to gift management, although I’ve been in several places where it was done (usually for birthdays/babies, and unfortunately not for everyone so it felt very unequal). Where I’m a little less sure is about gifting a boss/supervisor when you leave an organization. Is it normal/acceptable/expected at that time? Is there a normal range? Is it different for training situations (ie unpaid interns or graduate students after they finish). Gifting in almost all situations feels uncomfortable to me, and I’m glad its not expected in the work place.

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Ask a Manager October 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

No, absolutely not expected when you leave a job, and it will make most managers feel awkward. Write a nice note or take the person to lunch to thank them for whatever you want to thank them for, but no gifts.

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Lanya October 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

When I left my last job (I had been there almost 5 years), I received gifts from the company gift shop from six different people. Some were management and some were on my level. I thought it was a really nice gesture, albiet a little strange. I was certainly not expecting it. I guess they considered the gifts ‘mementos’ of having worked there, but mostly the mementos just remind me of a job I hated and they unfortunately never see the light of day.

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Anon October 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I got a gift for the permanent clerk, our court reporter, and my judge when I finished my federal clerkship (one year position). They also got gifts for me, but the term clerks did not buy gifts for each other. This may be one of those weirdnesses that abound in the legal world (like actually requiring letters of recommendation).

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Just a Reader October 23, 2012 at 9:42 am

Yuck. My former workplace was always throwing parties and collecting money for gifts for higher ups. Two of them were married to each other so it was like they used the office culture to throw themselves a parade every time something happened in their personal life.

I think it’s fair to say that ALL companies would be better served to recognize employees instead of managers; presumably, managers are getting their own rewards through responsibilities and paychecks.

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Blinx October 23, 2012 at 10:12 am

I’m confused. The OP is from upper management. What level “boss” would be recognized? A peer? A subordinate? Or someone even more higher up? I can see someone at a director/VP level recognizing those at management level, but the “all of us” would indicate only those in upper management, NOT their subordinates. Recognition/gifts should flow down, not up.

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Elise October 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I got lost with that too. And it changes too, from “bosses” to “boss”…so not sure if s/he is referring to the CEO or the board or managers of the departments or what?

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Jeanne October 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

I live in France and when I recently left a job (not on great terms), my boss suggested during the exit interview that we have “un pot” which is a champagne and finger food party meant to celebrate just about everything under the sun for me with the rest of the staff. I thought it was weird so I said I’d think about. Then, when I checked with my (French) husband, he informed me that the person being honored is the one who provides the champagne and food for everyone. Needless to say, I was happier than ever that I left that job.

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Min October 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Wow. And here I thought it was weird that in England you’re expected to bring cakes for everyone else in the office on your birthday. That is MUCH worse!

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moe October 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

I agree totally with Alison, but I do want to commend OP for at least thinking about the other employees’ finances and feelings. I think his/her heart is in the right place.

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Jamie October 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

My first thought was I would be incensed if someone gave upper management a gift which was ostensibly from me (as well as others) because I wouldn’t want them to think I didn’t know better.

Any member of upper level management worth their title would be really embarrassed by such a gesture.

Just do your jobs well. Don’t cause any undue problems and perform in such a way that it makes your boss look good and that’s all they want from you.

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class factotum October 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm

The admin in my group gave our boss a card for boss’ day (when did that get invented?) from “all of us.”

Nice of her, I guess, but I didn’t even know it was boss’ day and really, could not have cared less. I suppose she didn’t want her card to stand out and make the rest of us look thoughtless, but I am against that kind of holiday to begin with, so would not have minded being left out.

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Not So NewReader October 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm

If you think the boss is a good boss, take him to one side and simply say “Thanks for being a good boss to me.”

He will remember your words forever. Gifts break, get lost, get stolen, etc. He will carry your words with him for a very long time.

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Lisa October 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I’ve had to both participate in (what felt like forced) boss gift giving and also endure sitting in meetings where the gift giving was done. YUCK! And it’s just a reminder of how much, as a manager, I really don’t care for Boss’s Day. I feel terrible that folks feel forced to get gifts for management. And on the flip side, being a single income family of four and a manager of 10 direct reports, I don’t care to get gifts for everyone and find it very awkward.

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rdb October 28, 2012 at 10:01 am

Boss’s Day was nearly two weeks ago. I’m a new employee at my current position (I celebrate my first month Nov. 8 – *that* new), and I was initially pretty uncomfortable listening to the folks on the other side of my cubicle feting their manager. I hadn’t even known it was Boss’s Day. But on reflection, given my newbie status and the fact that I think my boss would have been pretty embarrassed by it, I’m glad I did nothing in terms of recognition.

I’m a career Administrative/Executive Assistant, and conversely, I am equally embarrassed by gifts, etc. given on Administrative Professionals’ Day. I really wish that one had never been dreamed up, either.

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Sally November 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

In my opinion sending emails and requesting staff to donate monies for buying the boss a gift is a form of bullying. Not everyone feels that same way torwards the boss and should not be made to feel they must participate. You never know if you are offending someone due to their religion regarding gift giving or what their personal financial situation might be. Therefore, sennding an email requesting a designated amount be given is being a bully because if the person chooses not to participate then they are talked about behind their backs. I should be able to give what I can afford or want to give, if I want to give and not what you dictate me to give. Let me celebrate in my own way if that is what I want to do. People are adults and should be respected to make my own decisions. Stop bullying people into doing things your way!

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