do I have to contribute money for a baby shower at work?

A reader writes:

My group director recently emailed the whole department (the department has several groups, and within each group, several teams; I am not this person’s direct report) announcing that another group director was expecting a baby with his partner (who is not an employee of our company). The email proposed a baby shower at work (and was followed up by a meeting request for a two hour block of time for said shower) and mentioned that we should stop by the sender’s office if we’d like to contribute money towards a shower gift. Rather than passing an envelope to take up a collection, the custom here tends to be that one person holds a card for people to come sign and keeps a list of who contributes money, so that the recipient can thank people individually.

I know the father-to-be by sight but do not work for him either directly or indirectly, and have never spoken with him. So my questions are: 1) Is it common to have baby showers at work? Especially when only one of the parents-to-be is an employee? and 2) Do I need to contribute towards a gift? I do not know this person well enough to feel that I should, but it makes me uncomfortable that my group director will know that I did not contribute. I don’t want to be seen as stingy or not a team player, but on the other hand, it’s my money, and there are things I’d rather do with it than buy gear for a stranger’s future kid.

Baby showers aren’t uncommon at work; some offices do them, and some don’t, but it’s not unusual to see them.

However, if you’re not interested in participating, it’s fine not to. If you knew and liked the father-to-be — or simply worked closely with him — there would be an argument for chipping in if you could afford to simply because it’s a warm gesture, but even then you wouldn’t have an obligation to. And in this case, you’ve never even spoken with the guy. So you really have no obligation to participate if you don’t want to.

If your group director is at all reasonable, she won’t hold your lack of participation against you. Some managers are unreasonable, of course, and do inappropriately pressure people to contribute to things like this or will silently consider people “not team players” if they don’t participate — but plenty more are perfectly reasonable. The latter group might offer you the chance to participate but not care one way or the other whether you do. In general, assume you’re dealing with someone reasonable unless you have reason to believe you’re not.

And in this case, it’s not even your manager who’s organizing this, so I wouldn’t give it further thought.

{ 74 comments… read them below }

  1. Andie*

    If it is not in your heart to give a gift don’t do it and don’t feel bad about it. Gifts should be given when they are heartfelt and not out of obligation. Gifts are suppossed to be special.

  2. sara*

    The strange part to me is the 2hr meeting request for a shower. Maybe just for the team that would make sense, or if it were after the regular work day. At least at my workplace, even if I didn’t attend, having a large group of people ‘out’ for a couple hours would cause a lot of delays in my day.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Seriously! I’ve never been to a work shower that lasted more than an hour (and even then, most people leave within half an hour).

      OP, don’t give if you don’t want to!

    2. Today's OP*

      That was the weirder part to me as well! Two hours is quite a long time, even just for the guest of honor to be there and chit chat with other employees stopping in. That made it seem like a bigger deal to me than the typical office get together.

  3. Jamie*

    I hate this kind of thing – but it’s even worse coming from a director. You shouldn’t organize stuff like collecting money (even optional) from those below you on the org chart. Even if your motives are completely pure and you wouldn’t hold it against anyone, it just seems skeevy.

    IMO absolutely no obligation – I wouldn’t do it unless I liked them enough to want to.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Totally agree! These kinds of events should be handled by people who are on the same level as the person who is being celebrated. Otherwise, it creates problems that the OP has defined well – you begin to feel that it will hurt you at work if you don’t participate. And that isn’t fair, especially if you can’t afford it. I know a lot of people on really tight budgets who simply can’t afford to contribute even $5 to a birthday gift at the office or what have you. I know I’ve gone through some really hard down times where every single penny counted.

    2. Jessa*

      I too hate this thing, especially if the person being showered is above the people being asked. A lot of hourly people do not make enough MONEY to constantly be asked to give in.

      At one office however, we had a birthday club. Everyone gave in x bucks per month. And a portion of that was used every month to buy a cake for someone and the rest we did patlatch. That worked out we all knew and if you didn’t participate that was fair, but you didn’t get in the cake and food thing.

  4. jmkenrick*

    We do baby-showers at my office, and often people will chip in 5 dollars for a gift. However, the office is large, and it wouldn’t make sense for everyone to join, so I’ve really only ever seen smallish groups do this. The only two I went to were for coworkers I’ve worked with closely and am friendly with, I skipped all the others. I would say what I’ve done is the rule – nobody goes to all of them, you just help celebrate when you like the person and feel like it.

  5. Mrs Addams*

    No, you shouldn’t contribute if you don’t want to. Frankly, given some places I’ve worked at, I would be grateful for the fact it’s an opt-in situation – you have to go out of your way to give the money/sign the card. Many places I’ve worked tend to do the rounds for a collection, making it an opt-out system which can then get very awkward if you decline them to their face.

    1. Anon*

      Agreed. The OP’s post seems like best-practices to me if a company is going to do this kind of employee-funded gift. I don’t see any obligation to participate.

      1. Today's OP*

        I can see what you mean, but it does also mean that someone is noting exactly how much everyone gives, or doesn’t give. One person walking cube to cube with an envelope would be just as bad, but I think passing a card from cube to cube so that everyone can sign at their leisure and stuff in a few bills if they so desire, without anyone peeking over their shoulder, would be ideal.

        1. littlemoose*

          That is exactly what we do at our office, and it’s great – anonymous if you are contributing or not (I usually chip in a couple bucks, but once in a while I don’t have cash or small bills). And we generally only do this for major illness requiring time off work, a death in a coworker’s immediate family, or a coworker’s retirement. A couple of coworkers have had babies in the last year, and there was no shower or gift collection. I am very OK with that. Because we have a firm rule in the office, it makes things a lot easier.

        2. Anonymous*

          I thought the person was just noting who donated, not how much? If they’re tracking that, I agree it’s higher pressure.

  6. The IT Manager*

    I find this a little odd. In my 16 years experience the five or less baby showers I’ve seen at work have always been for a pregnant woman. Never for a man who’s partner is pregnant. Sexist, maybe, but that’s my experience. FWIW I never planned one of these only been invited to them.

    1. Jamie*

      It’s becoming more common, from what I hear.

      Just an observation, but I temped for 4 months in a place where not one week went by where I wasn’t being hit up to contribute to something. And it started week one – I didn’t know any of these people. There was always a baby, wedding, birthday, anniversary – something event. If I had caved it would have added up to hundreds of dollars even if each donation was small.

      I’ve been at my current place almost 5 years and I haven’t been asked once. All office celebrations are paid for by tptb – on your birthday you get to pick lunch for the office and they bring in a nice cake (or fruit tart if it’s my birthday), retirements a lovely cake, gift from the company and presentations and thank you for service.

      It’s a small gesture that they don’t pass the hat – but I think it’s nice.

      1. -X-*

        You really would have given multiple hundreds of dollars in four months if you’d given for every one? Wow.

        1. Jamie*

          I wouldn’t have – being me – because that’s my money and I like my money.

          But honestly – my second day there I was asked to contribute $20 for some birthday lunch and gift thing for someone in another department. I didn’t know my own bosses name at that point. But absolutely they thought nothing of asking for $10-$20 every week. Huge company – I worked in a department of 3 but they asked everyone for every event.

          This was when I was new to the workforce and I remember the first time it happened going home outraged and bitching to my husband that someone would ask me to contribute “$4 more than I make an hour – GROSS – for someone I don’t even know!”

          When I was new to the workforce I spent a lot of time being outraged. I was kind of naive.

          Although when I left my boss – who was awesome – was two weeks from her wedding so I sent a gift to her and new husband at home. Because I wanted to. I like to think the gifts given because someone genuinely likes you and wishes you well mean a little more than a collection of varying degrees of resentment from people who may or may not be able to pick you out of a line up.

    2. -X-*

      I’m a man. My co-workers offered to do a shower for me when my wife was pregnant.

      1. Judy*

        About 15 years ago, I participated in a baby shower for a cubicle mate, it was only for the 8 of us in the cubicle, and it was a diaper shower (everyone just brought in a package of diapers) his first day back after the 2 weeks he was off. And I think there were cookies.

        We also did some balloons and cookies for when another person got her citizenship.

        I think we liked cookies.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Cookies are always good. :)

          A diaper shower is a good idea. If I see diaper coupons I’ll offer them up as well.

      2. Anonymous*

        I’m also a man. My co-workers threw a surprise baby shower for me when my wife was pregnant. It was a combined baby shower for me and a colleague who was pregnant. I’m a very private person in the workplace, and I absolutely hate surprise parties. So I found this an extremely awkward event and was very happy when it was over. My colleagues wanted to do something nice, and I’m quite sure they didn’t want me to be “left out” if they had a baby shower for my other colleague.

    3. Andrew*

      Could be a same-sex couple with the baby due through either surrogacy or adoption.

    4. Kathryn T.*

      Seven years ago, my husband’s group had a baby shower for him when I was expecting our first child. They are technical writers, and everybody got our baby a kid’s book. It was lovely.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Ooh I love to give books! I would be ecstatic if I had a baby and everyone gave books. That’s wonderful!

        1. Jamie*

          My kids are all grown now (sniff) but when they would out grow stuff I’d pass along everything except certain articles of clothing (because someday I’ll learn to quilt – or, more likely, someday my husband will pay someone to make them into a quilt for me) and their special books.

          I just love the books.

          1. Kathryn T.*

            Imagine my delight when the baby was born and I discovered that I still had Goodnight Moon memorized from when I was a kid!

    5. Kou*

      Same, but I’m all for the idea of dads getting baby showers and paternity leave and all that. I mean, they’re getting a baby too, and I like inclusiveness for dads.

    6. Liz*

      The only baby shower I’ve attended at work was for the expectant father, a guy we’d all worked with for years.

    7. Laura L*

      Some places will do one for the father-to-be.

      I’ve been at my current place of employment for two years and I’ve been to at least two baby showers for fathers-to-be (that I can recall). So, it happens.

  7. khilde*

    Agreed – I don’t think it’s unusual in a lot of places, even if only one parent-to-be is an employee. and in this case I’d also agree that you’re under no obligation. Especially since you don’t work with the person closely.

    That being said, when we had our first child my coworkers arranged a shower at work after the baby was born. My husband and I are both employees of the same organization/department so I suppose that might make a difference. Anyway, we got some small gifts from people that I am not normally in contact with (and I don’t think my husband has tons of interaction with, either) and I was absolutely touched. I didn’t forget for a second that they gave us something – it was a nice gesture.

    However, when one of them had a baby later on, I did feel obligated to give a gift back to her. Which I did and it was something small and practical. So…….sometimes I guess these things get complicated (or I make them that way). Either way, humans are stupid and messy about a lot of social stuff.

  8. -X-*

    The director could perhaps have tried harder to make it clear this is optional, but reading this:

    “we should stop by the sender’s office if we’d like to contribute money towards a shower gift.”

    it is optional. Note the word “if” – this is him offering the opportunity to give, not necessarily pushing for it.

    So if the OP doesn’t want to give – and sounds like she/he doesn’t – the OP shouldn’t. Done.

  9. JR*

    It sounds like they’re going about in in a totally reasonable way, and there doesn’t seem to be any real pushyness towards participating (or maybe there is and I’m missing something). Seems like it will be a non-issue for the OP to just not participate.

  10. some1*

    Weirdly enough, I’ve worked with people who get miffed if they don’t get invited to showers, good-bye lunches, etc. Perhaps this explains why some places invite everyone; they used to invite only certain people and other people felt left out.

    1. A Bug!*

      I don’t think it’s too weird; all sorts of people have all sorts of preferences. There are lots of people who would be happy to have near-strangers attend their own fête, so they have a harder time understanding why they’ve been left out of someone else’s. (Me, I’m kind of like Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon: please, don’t give me a present, as it gives me a sense of obligation toward you that I’d rather not have.)

      Which is why I think it’s preferable, if such things are to be happening in the office, that it’s done with the consent of the guest of honor, that everyone’s welcome to come, and that there’s zero pressure to participate and no repercussions for opting out. Ideally, that the event happens outside work hours as well, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.

  11. PPK*

    Especially if it’s a large area, my guess is that the shower recipient would feel awkward if several people they didn’t know well gave gifts (unless they were the greedy sort). I’m sure they would appreciate, but not expect it.

    And this definitely varies — I know friends who have had work baby showers. If my department tried to throw me or a coworker one…it would be really weird. But then I work with mostly male engineers. Actually, it might be a great shower in that it would be….going to lunch. No candy bar in diaper games.

  12. Catbertismyhero*

    We have never had both spouses working for us at the same time. We have thrown baby and wedding showers for men and women, and for same sex couples. The employee’s department organizes it, and you can contribute and /or show up if you choose, and it is not held against you if you don’t.

    1. Chinook*

      Honestly, if you are going to throw a shower for a same sex couple then you have to be willing to throw one for a dad married to a woman.

  13. Athlum*

    Ugh, this happened to me about a year into my job – the admin assistants took it upon themselves to invite the whole office to a mandatory potluck/baby shower, with gifts, and the recipient was my direct supervisor (who I loved, but who was not hurting for money the way I was at the time.) I’m not fond of the event shower concept in general, even for close friends, and in a work context – no, just no. I wound up scheduling an offsite meeting during the planned time to avoid the whole thing.

  14. Jen*

    We just ran into this at my office and one of the VP’s wanted to send a mass e-mail out to everybody announcing we were ordering lunch for 1.5 hours and holding a baby shower and contribute money if you’d like. I don’t think it’s “skeevy” I actually think people are wanting to be nice and respectful to employees who are planning to go on maternity or paternity leave and also recognize that they are happy for them. Women already have enough guilt and worry with the whole thought of going on maternity leave so I think the company is trying to make a kind gesture to make you feel like they’re happy for you whether you’re going on maternity/paternity – whatever. BUT what we decided b/c nobody was comfortable asking for money – we just decided to have the company buy a gift card and say it’s from everybody and then if people wanted to buy individual gifts on their own, they could but nobody had to reach into their own wallets due to a mass e-mail or pressure.

  15. Ashley*

    We have a culture where if we didn’t hold baby showers, people would be outraged! Ok, maybe outraged is an exaggeration, but people here like parties. The way I handled this for a co-worker recently was by telling everyone “If you would like to contribute to a group gift, please send whatever you are comfortable with. This is absolutely not required or expected, just an option for those that don’t want to shop individually!” It seemed to go over well.

    1. Jess*

      That sounds more pressurey, actually. As if I’m supposed to shop individually if I don’t contribute to the group gift.

  16. Heather*

    Office gifts are my biggest pet peeve. Well one of them anyhow.

    I’ll never forget the company that I worked for that organized a gift for the owner’s birthday each year. We were expected to contribute $10 to it. Uh no.

  17. Juni*

    Our office has a policy requiring that everyone gets invited or the event can’t happen. If your office has the same policy, you can probably get used to/comfortable with simply declining sometimes.

    1. Jamie*

      My third grade teacher has the same policy for passing out valentines. If you didn’t have one for everyone you couldn’t participate.

      In all seriousness, I can see the wisdom in a small office but in larger places “everyone” could be people who you don’t even know.

      1. Lynn*

        At some point, “everyone” has to mean everyone in a department or group or something, because inviting every employee of IBM or GE to a baby shower would be stupid. I still think it’s a good principle that you can’t have events that are pointedly “our group, except for Bob, because we don’t like Bob”, even if it can’t be codified into policy.

  18. anon*

    This could be a great thing, but it sounds like the directors are not handling it well.
    Our organization has less than 20 employees, and we celebrate all similar milestones — weddings, babies — we even had a “shower” for woman who was becoming a grandmother for the first time. It’s a nice break from our everyday hard work, and an opportunity to bring joy to the office for something not work related. I believe it helps to create a culture that is open, honest, and fun — which makes our work better. However, we never ever ever require everyone to chip-in for gifts, and we never know who did chip-in and how much. We simply send an email to everyone (except the gift receiver), indicating the secret location of the “donation envelope” and a deadline to “donate”. That’s it. On the deadline, whomever is in charge of the making the gift purchase uses whatever amount is in the envelope as the budget. And everyone signs the card. It’s always worked out… and as someone who hasn’t, financially, been able to donate to everything, I can tell you it never feels awkward. Of course it takes some acceptance and altruism on the part of everyone — because it means that some people are probably picking up the majority of the tab and not getting recognized for that. But, it just works.
    It’s too bad your company can’t figure out a more anonymous way to handle this.

    1. JPT*

      The office I’m in now does this same thing, and I love it. (Wait, you don’t work with me do you? lol.) There’s no pressure, someone will just say “I’m getting so and so a gift, leave money in the envelope in my mailbox if you want to chip in.” Then a card gets passed around, regardless of who donated. It’s a nice break from someone going around to your office and putting you in an on-the-spot situation where you feel like you have to donate.

    2. -X-*

      anon, are you referring to the OP? The director the OP mentioned is not requiring everyone to chip in.

      1. fposte*

        No, but there is an explicit list of who’s contributed that’s shared with the recipient, which I’m not crazy about and which I think is what anon was referring to.

        1. Anonymous*

          I actually like the approach of names, but not dollar amounts. Then the thanks that the recipient gives are real.

  19. Jill*

    I think it’s also OK to draw your own lines with this stuff. I worked in an office where they not only went desk to desk to solicit donations for co-worker’s issues…but they’d take up collections for someone’s cousin’s neighbor’s fiance who got a hangnail. It was just getting ridiculous.
    I finally made a rule that I’d give $5 for direct co-workers wedding, baby, and immediate family funeral collections and that’s it. I got really good at saying, “No thanks” firmly but politely. And I’d get dirty looks from the envelope shaker but I didn’t care. As a comromise, I *always* brought a dish to pass at pot lucks and brought in treats when I felt like baking just so no one could call me stingy.
    The point is *you* decide when to give – not the envelope shaker standing by your cube.

    1. -X-*

      “The point is *you* decide when to give – not the envelope shaker standing by your cube.”


    2. some1*

      The best set-up for these things was when I worked for a govt dept, so obviously the office didn’t pay for new baby bouquets, etc. We had a fund set up that one person (not a manager) would send out an email as often as needed asking people to contribute. You could contribute or not, you could give whatever amount you wanted. Then the $ was already there for new babies, Get Well, or Bereavement flowers.

  20. Maggie*

    At LastJob there was a baby shower for a team leader whose wife was pregnant. Completely optional to give towards a gift. I gave, really liked the guy and it was my choice.

    At JobBeforeThat I was asked to contribute to a co-workers birthday cake & gift ON MY BIRTHDAY. What did they do for my birthday? Not a thing!

    Office parties & gifts…sometimes they work, sometimes they are a big flop.

    1. some1*

      “At JobBeforeThat I was asked to contribute to a co-workers birthday cake & gift ON MY BIRTHDAY. What did they do for my birthday? Not a thing!”

      As someone who has long since given up on the idea that anyone will make a big deal out of my birthday, especially co-workers, even I think this is hurtful.

  21. Elise*

    This is one of the worries I have with a possible future job (in the interview process). Their website talks a lot about their community atmosphere and how they support causes and things – and it’s not quite clear if the company is providing the support, or if they are expecting employees to pick up the tab.

    I’m okay with saying No in general, but it’s a bit more awkward when you are new to the place and that’s part of the atmosphere.

    In the OP’s situation, hopefully it’s not a big deal and you just don’t need to stop by the desk. It will be a larger issue if they track you down to ask you directly to give (but I don’t think they will do that).

  22. SevenSixOne*

    I have a blanket “just say no” policy for spending money on people I work with– no contributing money for gifts, no contributing money to their (or their kid’s) fundraiser, no buying Avon or Mary Kay or whatever from them, just “Nope, sorry, can’t contribute!”

    Otherwise you get into the “well, you did for Robin last month grumble don’t see what the big deal is huff huff it’s only $5 for god’s sake!!!” weeds, and it’s a bad scene.

  23. The B*

    We pass around a card and an envelope at my job for stuff (retirement, shower, birthday, etc). Everyone is welcome to sign the card. It’s voluntary to stuff a bill inside. You just sign it and pass it on if you don’t want to contribute. Depending on the event, the company might contribute for a gift (if it’s retirement) or if it’s a small thing, then it’s just the stuff gathered from the envelope (birthday cake). But people don’t keep track of who donated or what amounts.

  24. Kou*

    This is pretty benign as far as this goes. They sent a mass email that sounds entirely elective and OP doesn’t even know the people involved, so it seems highly unlikely that anyone would even notice them opting out. I honestly can’t think of how this could be /more/ easy to get out of, especially compared to how porrly some offices handle this.

  25. Sniper*

    To me, it sounds as though the director has a bit too much time on their hands…

  26. Anonymous*

    I don’t participanting unless I know and like the person. However money is tight so knowing you is not enough to open my purse. Our office is small and everyone generally know and can at least tolerate each other. So sometimes its not easy to decide. Often I see the forgotten birthday or special occasion. There is one person in our office who has reaped the benefit of baby shower gifts and birthday cake while admitting she can never afford to contribute to others. Which is fine…but I do get irked a bit when her panhandling team member comes asing. I’m a natural giver but a lot of times I can’t afford to either. And while I don’t mind suporting the baby shower but birthday cake is not a “need”. Im learning to say no.

  27. Cassie*

    We’ve had a few baby showers at my office – I participated when it was my friend who was pregnant with her first kid, but when she was pregnant with her second kid, I opted out. My friend hates these kinds of events, x100 when she’s the featured honoree.

    They also had a baby shower for a guy whose wife was pregnant – I didn’t go to that either. People who don’t know me very well think I’m nice, but the more time you spend with me, you realize that I’m quite cranky, sarcastic, and cynical. I figure I’m doing them a FAVOR by being anti-social.

  28. Caffeine Queen*

    Not a baby shower but I remember one place where I worked that operated on a shoestring budget-case in point, I was more of an intern with a living stipend. One of my coworkers, as a result of not having a lot of resources, voluntarily spent a lot of her own cash on projects-no one pressured her to do so (and people even told her not to) but she did. Well, she was getting frustrated and when, for a particular project, I pointed out how much it would cost, she chewed me out in front of the rest of the team about how she put more in than I did. Bear in mind, she lived with her parents whereas I was paying all my own expenses, as were the rest of us on our team.

    Well, I was quite taken aback, particularly because I barely had cash left over for groceries at the end of each month and I went to our manager, who immediately put a stop to it. Thankfully, since then, I’ve never experienced forced donations.

    It’s not giving if it’s forced.

  29. Nicole*

    Contributing $5 or $10 is not going to hurt anyone. Who cares? They would do the same for you if you were having a baby. Don’t be such a grumpy grouch. Contribute to the new baby and move on. Who cares if you don’t know the person? Have you ever given money to a homeless person? Why do you have to know a person to help. 2 hours for a party at work? What’s the complaint? Sigh… get over it.

  30. Caleb*

    If you can not give then don’t feel bad. A little bit can go a long way though, anybody should be appreciative for people at work to give whatever they can, no matter how big or small.

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