I’m new and don’t want to contribute to an office funeral collection

A reader writes:

I just started a new job. It is a small company and owned by a husband and wife. The wife doesn’t do anything in the company (but all the employees do know her). Her mother is very ill and not expected to live out the month.

We all expect the office manager (who ADORES the owners) to put pressure on the employees to contribute to funeral flowers. Given that I am a brand new employee, I don’t deem it appropriate for me to be asked to contribute. However, the office manager is easily offended when anyone, employee or customer, makes any negative comments about this woman.

I need an appropriate negative response when asked to contribute. I also do not believe I should have to give reasons or excuses as to why (i.e., I can’t afford it right now).

Honestly, I’d chip in 5 bucks for this and consider it part of the cost of the new job, like buying business clothes or commuting.

I’m normally pretty gung ho about people’s right to decline to give to office collections for charity, birthdays, showers, and so forth — as well as about the fact that those collections should be opt-in rather than opt-out (i.e., tell people how to contribute if they’d like to, but don’t hit them up individually for money).

However, while you certainly have the right not to contribute, this is a time when I think you should. It’s related to a death in the owners’ family, and the risk of looking cold — to the owners, to the office manager, and/or to your coworkers — for not participating is too high. That’s especially true because you’re new and people don’t know you yet, so every detail they do know about you has more weight. Saving five bucks won’t be worth it if it means that you forever brand yourself in coworkers’ minds as frosty or aloof.

If you’re absolutely determined not to participate, you could say something like, “I don’t know (owner’s wife) yet, but I’d love to sign a card if there is one.” But if at all possible, I’d just bite the bullet here and kick in a few dollars.

Also: This isn’t what you asked about, but be careful about forming judgments about your coworkers while you’re still so new. It sounds like you’ve heard things about the office manager from other employees (she likes the owners an awful lot, she’s easily offended, she will pressure you to give money for flowers for someone who hasn’t died yet, etc.) and are taking what you hear at face value. All of what you’ve heard might be true — but it also might not be. And one of the worst things you can do when you start a new job is to form alliances with people before you really understand the lay of the land.

I’d stand back a bit, assume the best of everyone, and don’t take on other people’s dislikes as your own. Form your opinions for yourself over time — don’t let others form them for you. (After all, for all you know, the people you’re talking to have bad judgment and are rightfully on the verge of being fired for bad work and crappy attitudes. This is the kind of stuff you have no way of knowing right now.)

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    “However, the office manager is easily offended when anyone, employee or customer, makes any negative comments about this woman.” But why are people bitching about a woman who’s not even in the office? This is weird. I would recommend steering clear of people who do that. Honestly, OP, it sounds like you’re hearing from a negative group there, and I’d consider whether their take is really the one you want to share.

    1. some1*

      Even if the Boss’s Wife is a pest who is always hanging out even though she doesn’t work there, and *even* if the Office Manager overly brown-noses the owner and his wife…we are actually talking about a death in the family here.

      Whatever your personal feelings about these people are, collecting money for a funeral bouquet would totally fall under the purview of an Office Manager. The Office Manager is collecting the $ because that’s what is done when someone dies, not to score points.

      1. Jessa*

        This and also what Alison said, if it’s that small a company, you need to really step back and figure this 5 bucks is the cost of doing business. LATER you can decline to contribute. But funerals kind of trump things. This isn’t we all chip in for birthdays, showers, everydarnedthing, and everyone has them and they always happen. Funerals are kind of rare.

        And socially as long as they’re not asking you to kick in scads of money, it really looks bad even if you ALWAYS turn down birthdays, showers, cooky time. People who turn down everything give a couple of bucks when someone dies. This is not the hill you want to die on. Not for a funeral.

      1. Anonymous*

        I think the OP is saying “people make negative comments about the wife, then the office manager takes offense to the negative comments, then the people who made the negative comments are all ‘why’s she so offended?'” and fposte’s response is “why are you hanging out with people who are making negative comments about the wife?”

  2. Laurel*

    Wow. Just cough up some money! This letter-writer seems to be taking a principled stance on his/her right to be an a*#hole. The real question here is why this person is hellbent on taking the fast track to being the most disliked individual in the office.

    1. Jen*

      There was an entire Friends episode about this sort of thing when Ross moved into the new apartment and everyone wanted him to chip in for a gift but he wouldn’t becuase he didn’t know the person and they all turned against him for being a jerk. Primetime TV always has lessons for us, just donate $5 and consider it a friendly co-worker tax.

      1. Daisy*

        As I was reading it I was thinking, ‘This is the most Seinfeld letter AAM has ever answered’. George or Elaine definitely wouldn’t pay.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit*

      I don’t think that’s fair. You can decline to give money (to any cause, be it philanthropic or personal) without being a [glassbowl].

      1. some1*

        Technically, yes, the LW has every right to decline, but Laurel is right that she would be seen as needlessly cheap and cruel (since this is teh owner’s MIL) in most places.

        It would be like if you and I were co-workers & I was driving you to work because your car was in the shop and you refused to kick any money for gas or parking after I asked because I was going to have to pay that money anyway if you weren’t riding with. Technically you’d be correct, but I’d think you were being cheap and mean.

      2. Kou*

        I think funeral flowers are rather different, though. It’s one thing to say you don’t know someone well enough to care about their birthday or baby or whathaveyou, but it’s another to say you’re not familiar enough with someone to care if their mother dies. Sympathy is a lot more universal and it sends a very different message to opt out of it.

        1. Jessa*

          Exactly my point too. Birthday? Anniversary? okay to say no. Funeral makes you look nasty and petty and unsympathetic.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit*

          I agree, and I would definitely give. (“Always go to the funeral.” – one of my life mottos.) But I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that the OP is a jerk – that’s my only point here! :)

        3. Amber*

          Imagine if it was the other way around. You’re brand new to the company and someone in your family dies. No one in the office knows you so they don’t feel obligated to chip in $5 so you get nothing when you come into work after a death. Its just putting salt on a wound. Just chip in the $5 and if money is that tight just eat ramen for a couple days.

    3. Anony1234*

      I’m sorry but that is way harsh especially when you are resorting to name calling. Maybe $5 is a bit much for the OP and I don’t think you his/her finances.

      I personally also don’t get the giving money when someone’s close relative dies. To me it’s tacky.

      1. some1*

        They aren’t going to hand the Owner’s wife a wad of bills; the letter states that they are going to buy flowers. That’s a pretty standard bereavement offering.

        1. Anony1234*

          True. I wrote that response in a rush while on a quick break at work.

          Giving money towards flowers I can see, but I have also actually seen and participated in giving a sympathy card filled with cash. That’s where I don’t see the point. Funerals are costly; when I was younger I overheard my parents talking about it with my grandparents.

          But my main gripe is how the one person totally based the OP.

      2. Del*

        For a situation like this, even if the OP can’t swing $5 (and I know I’ve been in a place where $5 was a lot to just hand off) they should at least offer a dollar or two with a very genuine, “I am so sorry, this is really all I can spare right now.”

        It’s the participation that counts, more than the exact dollar value they offer. But there’s not really a way to wiggle out of this one altogether without coming off very cold.

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        It’s memorial money & the normal purpose is to purchase something to memorialize the deceased. My mother & her siblings used the money they got at my grandmother’s funeral to purchase hymnals for her church that had her name in them. When those hymnals were cycled out of service, we all got one.

      4. SarahBot*

        Tacky or not, when my father died, it was a lifesaver for my mom, who was self-employed and didn’t have PTO or anything else to compensate her while she took time off to grieve for a man she’d been with for the majority of her life.

        Also, funeral arrangements are *expensive*.

      5. Natalie*

        This has come up here before more than once and from what I can tell it’s very common and accepted in some communities – in my experience, primarily manufacturing and skilled trades. I think it might be more common with Americans of Eastern European descent.

        It might seem tacky to you (my family would feel the same way) but within that community you would be thought of as uppity for looking down on the cash collection.

    4. Anonymous*

      And, seriously, contributing is not for the wife, it’s for the owner. Funerals are for the living. You are donating out of respect for your employer (or friend, or coworker, etc.) not because you know/like the spouse.

      1. IronMaiden*

        Sorry, my reply was to Laurel, not the posters above me who show understanding of the difference between a baby shower and a funeral wreath.

  3. LizNYC*

    When I started at NewJob, it was late November, so it was prime time for all the holiday-related stuff (Secret Santa, the office holiday party, donations to the organization this office supports throughout the year). I could have either a) abstained since I was new but I knew I was risking separating myself out even more as the newbie for it or b) diving all in, since was clearly the office culture. I chose b, going so far as to donate to a fund for a coworker whose house had been demolished from a hurricane. No, it wasn’t expected, but I would have felt like a slug if I hadn’t.

    TL;DR: OP, kick in $5, sign the card, and offer your condolences. And do yourself a favor and form your own opinions about people based on YOUR experiences with them, not on hearsay from others.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I was not asked to chip in for any gifts for my first month at my new job… and I actually felt bad! I wanted to contribute to my coworkers’ presents but the person collecting the money said I “couldn’t” before my first paycheck.

      I am a fan of presents in the office, as long as the amounts being asked are not prohibitive… I think it’s a nice gesture and I enjoy making my coworkers happy. Even the ones I don’t particularly like.

      1. Jessa*

        On the other side of this I think that’s a really great policy. They’re presuming (rightly or wrongly but if they’re right it’s a BIG DEAL) that someone who just changed jobs might be broke even if the went from one job to another (paydays not matching up etc.)

        A policy means they don’t have to have a new person embarrass themselves by having to explain you know that job I left to come here well because of the way things happen I’m losing a full week/two weeks pay. Or the pay is very delayed because you pay on a totally different schedule than they do and I’m behind til I get my cheque from you. Or I was unemployed before here and it’s going to be impossible.

        It also means that if the person can’t they don’t have to explain to everyone. Because if Sam doesn’t pitch in then everyone wants to know why. This way they don’t ASK Sam. It makes it socially way easier.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Oh yeah, I think it was very considerate of them. I wasn’t in trouble because my pay dates lined up perfectly and I had money saved up in any case, but it could be helpful for someone who had been unemployed before.

          I got to pitch in my first money yesterday \o/ In a move that will make Alison cringe, it’s for my boss! I was actually thinking yesterday that this place does feel kinda like a family – except not in the “horribly dysfunctional” sense. Most people have worked here for 4-5 years (10+ for my boss) and they genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. I hope it’s not just rose-tinted glasses of my second month of work, because I’d like to stay here for a long while.

  4. ExceptionToTheRule*

    Funerals are not the place to make a stand on this issue. Grief will forever alter people’s opinions of others faster than any other emotion.

    Ask yourself if you want to ALWAYS be the person who couldn’t find $5 for funeral flowers.

    1. Chriam*

      “Grief will forever alter people’s opinions of others faster than any other emotion.”

      I totally agree. This is really not the hill you want to die on, OP. You’re new and this is a pretty serious event. Are you opposed to this because you really can’t afford it, or for more principled reasons? If a minimum donation will put a strain in your budget, I think you’ll just have to share the reason. Otherwise you’re the person who couldn’t even spare a couple bucks for the owner’s grieving wife.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Really great point. Any discussion on grief will point out that the passing of one person can be the end of a relationship between two other people.
        This is the nature of grief.
        And do people remember? OH BOY. They remember the good and the bad for a very long time.

    2. Kat A.*

      “Funerals are not the place to make a stand on this issue. Grief will forever alter people’s opinions of others faster than any other emotion. ”

      This exactly.

      OP, set aside $20 in fives at home in an envelope for when the MIL passes. That way, if the amount requested from each employee is higher than a few dollars, you’re ready. (After all, it’s a small office and nice flower bouquets are expensive.)

      1. tcookson*

        People will forever remember your reaction when things were at their worst

        This. People will always remember how you treated them when they were down, and that goes for kindness, slights, or indifference. I have a neighbor whose reaction to my distress I’ll always remember.

        My son (then two, now thirteen) was missing from the yard, and I was in a panic, going down the street looking for him. One neighbor immediately called the police and started looking for him, and other neighbors stopped everything they were doing to help look.

        One neighbor stopped her car to ask me what was going on, and when I told her my son was missing, she said, “Well, I’d help but I can’t be late to work”. I will never forget that that was her reaction.

        The thing with people in distress is, when recalling the event even years later, the same feelings come back. So whether your reaction is one of kindness or of coldness, it will be felt each time the person recalls the event.

        1. Katie in Ed*

          At risk of exhuming some bad, old memories with further explanation, I’ll just say +1.

          I appreciate hearing others articulate this, though.

  5. kristinyc*

    I agree with Allison here, but just to play devil’s advocate – what if they’re asking for a specific amount, and it’s considerably more than $5? What if they want everyone to donate $50 or $100? Or more?

    OP just started a new job, and that usually involves a few weeks without a paycheck depending on the company’s payroll schedule.

      1. fposte*

        Absolutely. The underlying question here is “Are you a part of us?” You want an answer that says yes. I mean, I understand that the OP has really asked for a way to say “No, I’m not a part of you,” but I don’t think she’s really thought about the cost of that statement. It’s fine to say that such things shouldn’t matter, but it’s naïve to proceed as if they don’t.

        1. Kelly O*

          Absolutely agree with fposte on this one. It’s not about the person who arranged the flowers (which, by the way, is perfectly normal for an office manager to do) it’s about expressing your sympathy on the death of a loved one.

          OP, this one is not about you. It’s not about your coworkers. It’s not about their perceptions of the owner, his wife, his cocker spaniel, the office manager, or what kind of soda is in the vending machine. This is about a family who will soon be grieving the passing of a loved one.

          This is about compassion and general human kindness. If you can, financially, chip in a few dollars and consider it a down payment on trying to help your coworkers see the best in people.

    1. badger_doc*

      I have NEVER seen a workplace that expected people to give more than $5. MAYBE $20 for something extravagant, but never $50 or $100. That’s ridiculous.

      1. Cat*

        I’ve only seen that level of contribution for gifts from professional staff to administrative assistants at the holidays and, in that case, that is another situation where you need to cough it up regardless of whether you like the administrative assistant or not.

      2. some1*

        Most places I have worked it is “If you’d like to donate you can stop by Wakeen’s desk and give him money.”

        When I have done these collections I would say the minimum people choose to give is usually $5, and others choose to give more.

      3. LondonI*

        My workplace usually gives at least £5 ($8) each and usually £10 ($16). But I’ve worked in a number of offices and this is unusual practice.

        I nearly cried when I first started my job because at the time it was an office custom for people to chip in £5 to get a birthday present and I was really low on cash. Plus, everyone’s birthday seemed to be that month! But I didn’t want to make a stand in my first month. Fortunately, the whole thing seems to have fizzled out now.

        OP, I’m afraid I am in agreement with everyone else here – it is only polite to contribute towards the funeral flowers. If you are ‘expected’ to contribute a set amount, say, $20, I think it would be acceptable to say that you can’t afford to give much because your first pay cheque hasn’t come through yet but that you would be able to give $5 instead. I don’t think this situation is on a par with a fundraiser or charity drive or whatever.

        1. Anonymous*

          “I nearly cried when I first started my job because at the time it was an office custom for people to chip in £5 to get a birthday present and I was really low on cash.”

          To AAM – could you please post something to help people learn to simply say “Sorry, I can’t do that now” or “Here’s X’s all I can afford” or “No, thank you.”

          It seems to be a common problem here of people not being able to brush things off or getting upset about stuff that they should not focus much energy on.

      4. Kat A.*

        In my office, we contributed $20 each for funeral flowers b/c there were only a few of us and the bouquet cost $95 before tax and delivery.

    2. thenoiseinspace*

      Must be some dang nice flowers for $50 a person. I mean, unless they’re doing the flowers for the whole funeral or something, I can’t imagine it would be that expensive…

    3. Steve*

      I think being a new employee allows you room to give $5-$10 even if everyone else is chipping in $50. It’s about being compassionate and joining in, even if you say something like “I’m afraid this is all I have right now since things have been really tight while I’m changing jobs and managing a brand new budget.”

  6. Anon*

    This is so not the hill to die on. And you would die on it. For all the reasons stated above. Give $5 and move on.

  7. some1*

    One thing to keep in mind is that I bet this is the kind of thing that probably just gets absorbed by the company if it was anyone else’s mother or MIL. In other words, if God forbid this was one of your parents, the company would almost certainly pay for a bouquet or something, even though you just started working there and probably no one even knows your parents. This is just what is done at workplaces.

    1. badger_doc*

      My former workplace did the same thing for me right after they acquired the company I was working for. My grandma passed away so I missed a couple days of work, but when I got back I had a flower arrangement waiting for me at my home. Very thoughtful and completely unexpected of them, but also something I will never forget. Suck it up OP and chip in $5. You spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week with these people–they deserve more than what you are griping about.

      1. Goofy posture*

        My old employer wouldn’t allow company funds to be spent on flowers for ANY occasion (because they were a large employer and all the birthdays, going aways, etc. were too much). When my mother died, however, and of all my siblings’ and father’s workplaces sent arrangements, and absolutely not a peep from my boss…. not a card or anything – just a verbal “I’m sorry for your loss” to preface a business call…

        … Well, I noticed. And I’m working somewhere else now.

        1. the gold digger*

          My former employer did not send flowers when my dad died – but I was gone for two weeks (his last ten days of life, then the funeral) and they did not charge me PTO for it, even though I had only been working there three months. So even though it was a miserable job in almost every other way, I will always be grateful for the way they treated me at that time.

      2. Layla*

        I had the exact same experience. Even though I’m no longer there, I still remember the office giving me a bouquet and coming to the funeral. I don’t expect most people to go to a funeral but it was nice for them to show their sympathies. I hated everything else about the job, but I did appreciate that.

    2. Natalie*

      Yep, my office pays for funeral flowers out of our general operating budget. It’s, frankly, small change compared to what we spend on every other aspect of our business and it’s a nice gesture.

    3. hospital anon*

      9 years ago I started a new job (in a new town) and 1 month later my husband died suddenly. There were flowers at the funeral from my job, and 2 people from work came to the funeral (and they had to drive an hour to get there). They barely knew me, they certainly didn’t know my husband!
      Sadly that store was bought out, but I still have good memories of my boss and how I was treated by everyone when they barely knew me.
      OP, as someone who has been on the receiving end of the kindness of “strangers” don’t let this be the hill you die on. Start putting some money back now, even if you can just put aside $1 per week.

  8. Yup*

    “…the office manager is easily offended when anyone, employee or customer, makes any negative comments about this woman.”

    Well, in general, making negative comments about the boss’s spouse is a bad idea. It doesn’t matter whether the comments are true or not — making them at all is impolitic. The office manager might be awful in her own right, but I can’t be too hard on her for not being down with those kind of comments.

    If you are asked to contribute for flowers and would rather not, you can politely say, “I’m afraid I can’t right now, but I’d be glad to sign a card or send a note of condolence.” It’s fine if you opt out of the money part but you should plan to convey your condolences in some way since it’s a small family owned business. But my strong advice is, whatever you do, don’t make this about whether you’re new or the office manager is awful or whatever. Just be thoughtful and polite in expressing your condolences in whatever way you deem appropriate, and let the rest go.

  9. Kit M.*

    “We all expect the office manager–” sounds to me like the OP is being told by coworkers, explicitly or not, “Brace yourself for this imposition,” and that’s why the OP feels like it’s worth pushing back. She feels like it will be a popular stance to take.

    So basically, I just want to second the second part of Alison’s advice: OP, it’s really important to form your own opinions, based on your own observations. And I would add that, even if you find that you completely agree with all your coworkers that the office manager is pushy and over-sensitive, it may be best if they don’t know you agree. We all like someone to agree with us when we’re complaining, but in the end, I think most of us would prefer to have a coworker who’s capable of affecting detachment, who doesn’t project resentment, and who doesn’t seem to have personal dislikes affecting their judgment.

    1. Kathryn in Finance*

      This +100. I made this mistake at my last job. My boss was very incompetent and unreliable, and my co-worker (there was only three of us in the department) absolutely hated him. She started bashing him to me almost immediately. Even though I had already started to see the dysfunction myself, commiserating with her made the situation feel so much worse than it actually was. I ended up hating my boss the entire time I worked there (2 years). If I had formed my own opinions and not fed into the complaining/negative atmosphere, I probably would have just accepted that he was a little strange and incompetent and just focused on my job. Alison’s advice is spot on, don’t let other people’s perceptions color your judgment about a situation. And don’t sit around complaining about your boss/co-workers. It doesn’t help and just makes YOU feel worse.

  10. Poster formally known as Jane Doe*

    Honestly, this post makes me cringe. It seems SO anti-team and almost anti-human being! AAM’s advice is spot on.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Me too. It rubbed me the wrong way.

      If the LW had written that she was short on cash and the office manager was asking everyone for a large sum of cash for flowers and wasn’t sure if it was okay to give less, then I’d understand not being sure if that’d make her look uncaring or unsympathetic.

      But I’m in total agreement with the others. Give a small amount for flowers.

    1. Arbynka*

      “I am feeling better” “No. you’re not”. Yep, I thought about it. OP seems so against chipping in for funeral flowers and the woman has not passed away yet. I understand that it is expected but honestly, being already all in arms about OM probably asking is just…sad.

  11. belle*

    OP- God forbid you had a death in your family… would you want your coworkers to pass on donating for flowers for you simply because you’re new?

    1. tesyaa*

      Some people would answer “yes” to this question to save $5. I’m not one of them, but I know some.

    2. Dang*

      This happened to my ex. Her boss didn’t tell anyone else that there was a death in her family and they all assumed she took vacation a few weeks after she started and no one offered condolences. It certainly colored her opinion of her new job and coworkers.

      1. LouG*

        Wait, if I had a death in the family and told my boss that I would need to take a few days off, I don’t think I would hold it against my boss or the workplace if he didn’t tell all of my coworkers that I had a death in the family. Some people may think that’s personal information, and want to grieve privately.

        1. Anonymous*

          I would be really mad if I was in that situation and the boss told the whole office. And coming back to flowers… I hate flowers.

        2. Dang*

          True, I wouldn’t either, but the problem was that her immediate coworkers judged her harshly for taking vacation so soon after she started, thinking she was off on an island somewhere while in reality she was dealing which the death of a parent. Not th best way to start off a new job.

          1. Chinook*

            I had that happen to me when I graduated high school. Prep for the ceremonies took up a lot of classtime and I was the class president, so I missed a few classes. My grandfatherv died 3 days before the ceremony but we as a family decided to hold the funeral after my ceremony (they were in 2 different towns). Come that Monday morning, one of the teacher’s loudly complained about me taking the day off. My classmates then pointed out that I was burying my grandfather that day and it may take a day or two. The 6 foot teacher, they said, shrunk 3 feet in embarrassment.

      2. Lisa*

        My ex, told a boss that his dad died and he took a week off, he was terminated for no-show. The boss told no one and there wasnt any HR people at the retail stores so yeah, he came back to being fired.

  12. Elise*

    If it was a birthday or other happy event, you could decline gracefully and just pass your best wishes to the individual. But, sad events don’t get so much leeway. You don’t need to give more than you can afford, but it is generally expected that you participate in some amount. Same sort of rule for a memorial get together. You don’t need to stay the whole time, but should make an appearance.

  13. KarenT*

    I suspect there is something larger going on here. There is a lot of negativity and assumptions being made in this question to Alison.
    The office manager hasn’t even asked for anything yet–the OP is just assuming that she will. For all the OP knows the office manager will not ask the OP since the OP is new. I’m really surprised at how strongly the OP feels about something that hasn’t happened–“I don’t deem it appropriate.” ?!
    And why is the office manager becoming offended when someone comments negatively on the owner surprising? What’s surprising to me is that the OPs colleagues seem to think it’s okay to speak negatively about the owner.

      1. KarenT*

        Exactly! I can’t imagine hearing that my employer’s mother was dying, and my first thought being, “Oh god what if I have to kick in for flowers!”

        1. mel*

          Ha! Omg I didn’t even realize that none of this has even happened yet. The whole time I was thinking “wow, I would be creeped out to learn that everyone I know is buying my funeral flowers while I’m sitting here, alive.”

    1. RJ*

      “I don’t deem it appropriate for me to be asked to contribute” jumped out at me too. IF they are asked to contribute, it sounds like they’re going to ask everyone. Why would the office manager have to decide who specifically it would be appropriate to ask? “Oh, OP hasn’t worked here very long, so she won’t want to give. Wakeen just took out a mortgage even though he’s about to be laid off, so money will be tight for him. RJ puts all her money into animal rescue, and she never gives to anything else.” Trying to parse all that isn’t the office manager’s problem. She asks. And each person can choose to give or not, but in either case, it’s necessary to respond to the request with grace and kindness.

  14. doreen*

    I totally expected this to be about a large office taking up a collection to give a generous cash gift to someone whose cousin died or something like that. I did not expect it to be a small office collecting for a funeral arrangement for the co-owner’s mother.

    And even if your coworkers would love for you to take a stance against contributing- chances are that they will contribute themselves. The office manager isn’t taking up these collections because everyone refuses to contribute- they may not want to but they do so anyway because they don’t want to run the risk of seeming cold and unfeeling. Doesn’t mean they won’t be happy to let you take all the risk.

  15. noneya*

    I agree with the OP in theory. I don’t think I would like to chip in for something like that, and in general I don’t participate in office charities etc. In this case though, I would chip in and I would make a statement saying I wish I could donate more, but money is tight after transitioning jobs. It is basically a tax, but you have to pay it.

  16. MR*

    Lets not all to beating up the OP about this. She didn’t know how to handle this potentially tricky situation, and she sought out advice. Kudos to the OP for asking for advise instead of guessing and possibly guessing wrong and maybe screwing things up in the long-term.

      1. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

        I agree with that, but at the same time, if I was coming across to people like the OP is coming across to a lot of us, I’d kind of like to know!

        1. K*


          When I read the OP’s letter, her choice of language when describing the owner’s wife as “this woman” and complaints about how the office manager “ADORES” the owners and will not tolerate any negative comments about tje wife jumped out at me. It came off as though the OP’s real objection to giving money is that she doesn’t like the owner’s wife.

  17. HR Competent*

    Great answer AAM and kudos for addressing the non stated issue.

    I recall my ex wife had started a new job in a small satellite sales office and the person she was replacing was adamant to meet off site and give her the “real” story on her co-workers. My given advice was very similar.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      This made me laugh. There was a coworker that after our company merged with a larger one decided to corner 2 partners to give them the “real scoop” on several of us. Well, 3 months later she was fired and we are all still there and getting good feedback.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      This made me laugh. There was a coworker that after our company merged with a larger one decided to corner 2 partners to give them the “real scoop” on several of us. Well, 3 months later she was fired and we are all still there and getting good feedback.

  18. EG*

    Wow, the overwhelming tide of people saying that the OP should just cough up $5. What if the OP has been out of work for a while, or if their finances this week don’t allow for that $5? Yes, for some of us, paycheck to paycheck living is a reality even with a good paying job, and that $5 may not be doable this week. Life happens, and you can express sympathy without giving money. Even if you don’t know the owner’s mother/mother-in-law, you can write a short but sincere note of sympathy and send/give it to the owner.

    1. Natalie*

      There are lots of good suggestions above for how the OP could decline if finances are the issue.

      Note, though, that the OP doesn’t want to give a reason when declining. Reading between the lines, it seems to me that the OP is aware that refusing to give flowers is going to be looked on negatively and is looking for a way to cut that off, but has rejected probably the only socially acceptable option (declining for financial reasons). As folks have mentioned above, we can certainly all do whatever we want, but it’s foolish to pretend that our actions aren’t going to affect people’s opinions of us.

    2. fposte*

      Then you give a buck and say Elizabeth’s line about “I wish it were more.” People will generally understand financial obstacles–what they won’t understand is the failure to participate because of the belief that you shouldn’t have to, and that rather than the financial concern seemed to be the OP’s view.

    3. mel*

      If the OP could just turn out her pockets and hand them lint, why would she be desperately scrambling for an acceptable excuse?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I might be reading the letter wrong, but it didn’t really sound that way to me. It sounded like the OP was annoyed on principle that she’d be asked to give.

  19. Apollo Warbucks*

    I think flowers are a waste of money. I’d much rather make a donation to a charity that was relevant to the deceased person. However do you self a favour and chip in a few bucks, just to keep the peace.

  20. Thorgar*

    This has nothing to do with flowers for someone who hasn’t died yet. The long time staff is setting up the new person as an unwitting harpoon directed at an office manager they resent.

  21. A teacher*

    Not only is this not a hill to die on, but I look at it as a small way to pay it forward. If something happened into family, I would hope that’s coworkers and supervisors would be understanding and show empathy. $5 is such a trivial amount to lose face over and let’s admit the OP is the one that would look bad. Most of us have had coworkers that we don’t care for, I still feel bad for them when a parent/child/aunt/grandparent/dog, etc…dies.

  22. Ann Furthermore*

    I have to agree with everyone else. Throw in $5 and move on. Your sentiments will be appreciated, plus, it’s the compassionate thing to do.

    Also I want to say that Alison’s advice about drawing your own conclusions, rather than basing them on what you hear from others. And that’s a hard thing to do. I had a boss once that I clashed with almost from day one. Now, plenty of that was on me, because very few things in life are totally one-sided, but part of it was that he was given a very one-sided view of the team he was inheriting (that we were all a bunch of whiny slackers) before he ever met any of us. And that’s how he treated us.

  23. Angelina Retta*

    Huh. Unlike the tide of people tripping over themselves to insult the OP, I agree with the thought of not wanting to shell out money for the funeral of a stranger. But even if it sucks, it’s one of the irritating social things that you just have to do even if you would much rather use the money you earned yourself for yourself. Sorry for the extreme reactions you’re getting to this question, and I hope your pay is more than minimum wage, where it would be even more of a hardship.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think people are really tripping over them to insult the OP. Rather, they’re pointing out how this will come across to coworkers and why.

  24. PuppyKat*

    I’m not sure if I’m adding anything new to the conversation. I only read the first 50 comments or so.

    But I’d like to emphasize two things to the OP:
    1) Alison is spot-on when she says that when you’re new, you should do your job, pay attention to what’s going on, and get the lay of the land before forming any alliances. Also, in my experience, it’s the complainers and troublemakers who swoop in on the new person to recruit him/her to their point of view.

    2) I am extremely sympathetic to your quandary because I might be in the same kind of situation. If you can’t afford a cost that isn’t in the budget, no amount of wishing and hoping is going to allow you to come up with the money.

    Right now my husband is out of work (going on four years now) and every cent—and I do literally mean every cent—of my paycheck is allocated to keeping our family going. There’s nothing left over for gifts or donations for anyone. So at a recent office baby shower, I had nothing to give, not even five bucks. But I showed up to support my co-worker and extended my congratulations to her.

    My advice would be to offer to sign a sympathy card and be up-front and matter-of-fact about it: You would like to contribute, but you can’t afford it.

  25. J*

    I’m a long time reader of this blog but this is the first time I’ve ever commented. I agree with the general consensus that the OP needs to contribute at least their condolences paired with a dollar or two, but what really strikes me is the way they said they needed an appropriate negative response and that they didn’t want to offer an excuse. They aren’t even asking “is this right?” or “how should I handle it when I can’t afford it?” They’ve already decided that they aren’t going to contribute, seemingly based solely on principle and want Alison to craft their negative response for them rather than provide an opinion or advice. If this is the way the OP is communicating with their co-workers, they may have already formed their own opinions of the office newbie.

  26. Tara T.*

    You could ask another staff member, “How much do most people usually give?” I worked in one place where most people gave $2 or $3, but there were about 50 employees, so it was plenty.

  27. glennis*

    I’m not really sure why you don’t think it would be appropriate to give because you’re new. You’ve joined the “work family” here; why would you exempt yourself from participating in the family’s practices? What amount of time do you think an employee needs to be on the job before it’s appropriate to offer condolences to the owner of your company (the deceased is a member of his family)?

    If money is really an issue, other commenters here have some good suggestions. But I think it would be a mistake to not offer condolences in a graceful way.

  28. Nancypie*

    If it was your boss’ mother, would you feel differently? Because they may be very close and the boss be bereaved himself. People may be referring to this woman as wife’s mother because they know the wife, but it’s still boss’s mother-in-law. I do recommend contributing, but think of it as Boss’ family member who passes, and not as the mother of a person who doesn’t work there.

  29. Cassie*

    Normally, I would say don’t contribute if you don’t want to – I’m very much against forced participation, even for funerals. However, it’s somewhat different in the OP’s situation because the company is small and owned by the husband-and-wife couple – not participating will likely be noticed and you don’t want to have to dodge a bad rep for the rest of your career there just because of one incident when you first started. (Personally, if I were the office manager there, I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind if the new employee contributed or not)

    Several years ago, my then-boss’s parent died (maybe the mom?). The students and I signed a sympathy card, but as far as I know, no one collected any money – and this is a culture (Asian) where money is collected and given to the family. No flowers or other symbols of sympathy, actual money.

  30. Rayner*


    On the one hand, I can totally understand the value of that five bucks or whatever, thinking of it as a kind of investment to make people think well of you, and to make yourself appear as a team member, rather than cool and kind of aloof. It would be an honest investment for the OP in many ways, but still kind .

    On the other hand, this is why I hate the idea of working for family run businesses. In my view, if someone doesn’t work for a company (either as a volunteer or as a paid person etc), the company doesn’t have to fund raise for them, whether it’s for birthdays, baby showers, or funerals.

    This woman is not someone the OP has worked with, has got to know, or has any interest in knowing. Everybody else knows her as a friend, it appears to me from this letter, rather than anything else. Which makes it kind of… inappropriate to then go and ask for donations (if the OM does. The OP just says ‘expects’) from a place of work.


    I don’t like this as a whole thing because what happened next if it’s the owner’s best friend he knew from school who has nothing to do with the business? What happens if it’s the owner’s aunt who gets cancer or runs a marathon? Should the OP donate then?

    I suppose this is a peril of w0rking in a family business, rather than a non-family one. You get lumped with the good and bad sides, and can’t pick and choose between them.

    I can totally understand the need to do it as a kind of generous guesture but I don’t like the fact that people are saying that funerals and sad events get carte blanche to be fundraised for in the office when the person who they’re for does not work there, did not work there, and has nothing to do with the OP.

    1. some1*

      “In my view, if someone doesn’t work for a company (either as a volunteer or as a paid person etc), the company doesn’t have to fund raise for them, whether it’s for birthdays, baby showers, or funerals.”

      This is the owner’s mother-in-law, though. When my old boss (who I didn’t like, btw)’s father-in-law passed away, I alerted the co-worker in our department who arranged funeral flowers/new baby gifts, etc for employees. And my boss had only been there a few months. No one thought it was inappropriate, and I know my boss and her family appreciated it. This was her father-in-law, her husband’s dad, & her teenage kids’s grandpa.

      1. Rayner*

        When the boss at my mother’s work place lost a parent, there was commiserations, and offers to take over work, relinquish days off etc, so the boss could go and make arrangements etc, and a card was circulated, but no flowers.

        It would been too forward, I think was general consensus, and a card was a) much less obtrusive and b) fair for everybody because there were a lot of long timers, and a few people who were relatively new.

        I’m wondering if in America, flowers at a funeral mean different things from where I am, because I’m just struggling to get this.

        1. Meg*

          I think you’re probably right about that. In the United States flowers are very traditional for funerals (and various other events as well). In fact, there are certain types of flowers that are considered appropriate to give at a funeral, and certain flowers that are considered more appropriate at a wedding, etc.

        2. doreen*

          It’s really only a slight difference- in the US it’s common for coworkers, friends and family of the bereaved (not just those of the deceased) to send flowers/baskets/Mass cards/memorial donations. If my cousin/friend’s mother-in-law died, I would send something even if I never met her. It’s meant as a gesture of support for the coworker/cousin/friend who I do know.

    2. Natalie*

      Even though the boss’s wife doesn’t work for the company, don’t forget that we’re also talking about the boss’s mother-in-law. Hackneyed comedians aside, this is a member of the boss’s family too.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think this is about working for family-run businesses at all! When a close relative dies, it’s normal for that person’s coworkers to send flowers. This is the owner’s mother-in-law.

      1. Rayner*

        Really? I would never dream of sending or organising a collection for flowers for someone’s parents who I never met, never worked with etc, even if they were a coworker’s parents and definitely not the bosses.

        I might sign a card, if there was one going around, or offer to cover work or projects, that kind of thing but offer money for flowers? Mmmmm. Not really. Flowers/baskets are for immediate co-workers, friends, and family to send in my understanding, which would mean that maybe the Office Manager would arrange a collection, but only with those who knew Boss’s Mother in Law personally, rather than everybody in the office.

        But maybe that’s a cultural thing, since I’m not American, and I’m assuming the OP and most everybody here is.

  31. Abby*

    Honestly, this is the mother in law of your boss. You should contribute to flowers. It is the right thing to do. I also agree people shouldn’t feel coerced into giving for things at work and especially purchasing items from a coworker’s child’s fundraiser, but this is different. It is never wrong to do a kindness when a family member dies. This isn’t a random person. It doesn’t matter that you are new.

    I started a job once and the receptionist unexpectedly died. I barely knew her but I contributed. It was the right thing to do. I go to the funeral’s of coworkers’ family members or at least the visitation. it is the right thing to do.

  32. Hortense*

    I worked in a store where the manager took it upon herself to order the most enormous funeral arrangement for the boss’s mother without asking us, then told us we each had to kick in a high amount. I objected as I was not earning much, and was looked at as if I was the grinch of all times. I should have simply paid it without comment. The manager, for her part, should have considered the rest of us before ordering a billion white roses, but she felt very compassionate towards her boss and didn’t think about the cost to us. I say, pay whatever it is and keep quiet.

  33. MJ of the West*

    I happen to think that providing comfort to those in mourning is one of the highest responsibilities we have as part of a society (though this is, admittedly, colored by my religious perspective), regardless of other considerations. Similarly, I think that contributing when a colleague has had a family member pass away really is something you just do.

    And if you actually want to be able to pass on contributing to other collections, doing so now to establish yourself as someone who is willing to give ON OCCASION will provide you with a leg to stand on in the future if you decide to decline in other situations.

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