my office wants us to chip in to send our CEO’s family on a ski trip

A reader writes:

This morning, I received this email from the second-in-command of my organization.

“Dear [staff], Each year we have done a holiday gift for [CEO] to recognize his leadership of [organization] during the year. Given the very busy holiday season, I’d like to start the ball rolling on the collection early this year in order to present him with his gift by December 18th at our annual retreat day. Please send your contribution to me and I will take care of purchase, etc.

Last year we presented him with a two night stay at [resort] mountain for him and his family to go skiing and they loved it, so why not repeat the appreciated gift?”

Please note that this CEO is the highest paid person in the organization, and I am an hourly, part-time employee being paid less than the industry standard. I am incredulous at the expectation here. The wording of the email implies that the staff has no choice.

I’ve been here for just over a year. Apparently I got in right after this plea for “collection” was made last year.

Your thoughts?

A two-night trip for him and his family?!


A card and some baked goods, sure. But an extravagant gift like a trip? It’s wildly inappropriate to give to your boss (gifts in a workplace should flow downward, not upward), and it’s even more inappropriate for your workplace to pressure you to contribute to it.

Assuming you do not in fact want to fund your boss’s family’s ski vacation, you have three options:

1. Simply ignore the email. It’s possible that the second-in-command won’t ask you directly. If you see additional emails to the group about it, ignore them too. Keep ignoring until/unless she directs asks you, individually, about contributing. At that point, you’d say, “Oh, no thank you,” or “I’m not able to contribute” or “My budget doesn’t allow it” or “On a part-time salary, I really can’t” or whatever version of “no” you’re most comfortable with.

2. Head off any possible follow-ups now by replying back with your answer. This can be one of the wording options above, or if you’re interested in actually speaking out against the idea itself, you could say something more direct. Personally, if I were in your shoes, I might say, “Jane, this is a kind idea, but I’ve always been taught that etiquette prohibits gifts to managers from the people under them, particularly big gifts like this. I wouldn’t want to put (boss) or others in the office in an uncomfortable position. What if we instead encourage people to bring in baked goods to share with the whole office?” And I’d probably hit “reply all” when sending that email, so that other people saw it too and could climb aboard the bandwagon if they wanted to (because I’d bet other people are annoyed too).

3. Align yourself with others who feel the as you do, and all speak up. This requires that you have enough of a rapport with coworkers to be comfortable talking to some of them about it and finding others who think this is a horrible idea, and then all shooting down the idea together. (If you do this, it’s nice to pair it with an alternate suggestion, like the baked-goods-for-all proposition above.)

Personally, I like #2 and #3, but I have tendencies toward rabble-rousing. If you’d rather make this go away as quietly as possible, #1 is a perfectly legitimate choice.

And to everyone else out there: We’re entering the season of lots of these office gift debacles. It might be worth heading off this kind of thing early in your office by sending around my Rules for Office Gift-Giving to your coworkers and suggesting you all pledge to follow them this year. (Unless you are the head of the organization, in which case you can suppress that information and have your family’s ski trip funded by your employees.)

{ 288 comments… read them below }

      1. Jazzy Red*

        He could probably buy a trip for every employee.

        This is just wrong.

        I would go along with suggestion # 2 – reply with Alison’s wording, and hit “reply all” (one of the few times I would ever suggest using reply all).

  1. Cat*

    Are you fracking kidding me? I normally have a pretty high tolerance for workplace solicitations but no. This would make me livid.

  2. Adam V*

    Honestly, this would probably result in me a) searching for a new job and b) replying to all saying “seriously? You underpay me as it is. You also want me to chip in for a *SKI VACATION*?”

    Then I’d pack my stuff in the expectation of being walked out shortly.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      Agreed 100%! My first reaction upon reading this was “Well, that settles it – I’ll never be a mature adult in the workplace, because my reaction to this would be to laugh in his face.” I know it wouldn’t get me anywhere except the door, but I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to stop myself in this situation.

      1. Rose*

        Same here. The answer that popped into my head was to actually treat it as a joke and write back something like
        “Hahaha. Jane, you are too funny. You always make me laugh. :)”

        Actually just treat it as a joke. Because seriously… are you KIDDING ME???? How could he POSSIBLY accept that with a strait face, from people some of whom could probably never afford it, when he probably easily could. Shame one One AND Two.

  3. Mena*

    Shame on First-in-Command for not shutting this down the very first year there was a group gift given. What is this person thinking? I can only imagine that on some level he/she thinks that this gift is deserved.

    1. FiveNine*

      Maybe I’m just a full-blown cynic now, but while reading the post I just kept thinking the whole time that First-in-Command was and always has been behind this idea, pushing Second to do it.

          1. k*

            I’d be tempted to give the second in command an etiquette book, specifically on focused on gift giving protocols.

            1. Editor*

              One of my relatives worked for a couple of companies that operated like this. They were both family companies, and in both cases it would have been someone like a brother-in-law or cousin shaking down the non-family employees to give their relative a nice perk (because the BIL or cousin was grateful to have a job that paid well even though said relative would not have gotten such a job in more competitive circumstances — not because they were unqualified, but because they were underqualified).

              But yes, this has “suck-up” written all over it.

  4. anonymous*

    I keep reading in this blog that the appropriate etiquette is for gifts to flow downward. I have never heard this. Although I have never been asked to contribute to a boss’s vacation either! What is the basis for rules like this and the other office gift rules mentioned? Is this just common knowledge or advice? Office cultures vary, so if a standard is out there we need to know the basis for it. Thanks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I … just searched and can’t find it anywhere.

      I am semi-obsessed with etiquette and have a shelf of nothing but old etiquette books, and I was absolutely sure that this was an established rule, but I’m not finding it documented anywhere, which makes me question whether it’s really is a rule, or whether it’s just a manifestation of the general concepts that etiquette espouses when it comes to relations between managers and employees (that you don’t expect people who you pay and who earn less than you to give you gifts, particularly large ones). Now I’m worried that I’ve been presenting this as a rule, when in fact it’s more just … something that should be a rule. Hmmm. Anyone else?

      1. r*

        I believe it’s a rule for the U.S. federal government, so perhaps that has trickled to other major companies, etc.

      2. aebhel*

        It’s a pretty big thing for Miss Manners, which I think probably makes it established etiquette, if not an official rule. :)

      3. J*

        I actually was wondering the same thing. I think it makes sense in a lot of cases, but I’ve never heard it as part of a formalized rule either.

        I also think there are situations where it’s not entirely inappropriate to chip in for something small for a well-liked supervisor. I’m thinking specifically about a few retail jobs I’ve had where we had a small team or department and a manager that was great, and we usually each pitched in five bucks to give them a restaurant gift card or something. In those situations, the manager usually only made one or two dollars more than we did anyway, so it didn’t feel vastly disproportionate. It seems like the sort of thing that gets more inappropriate the greater the gap between employees and boss, rather than a hard and fast rule for all circumstances.

        The OP’s situation is obviously different though. That’s some crazy nonsense.

        1. doreen*

          It’s probably not a rule specifically because there are so many very different situations. It’s inappropriate in the OPs situation- but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inappropriate for employees to chip in for a retirement gift or for me to send my baseball-fan manager an All-Star game program. ( I went to the game and he lives/works 150 miles away)

      4. Belle*

        I think it’s an unspoken rule, perhaps.
        When I worked for a university, my manager would give me gift cards for my birthday, Christmas, etc. On his birthday, I once gave him a gift card to his favorite coffee shop. I was shocked when he returned it to me the next day and said he didn’t feel comfortable accepting the card, but that I could instead buy him cookies every Friday. lol.

        1. CeeBeeUK*

          That’s a really nice way for him to handle it. I just told someone I’d be paid in chai lattes (it’s something that takes an hour of my time twice a year and I’m too lazy to submit for reimbursement from some nonexistent budget).

      5. k*

        A professor of mine once said that etiquette is about empathy. The idea that someone who is lower in a hierarchy and gets paid less is obligated to give gifts to someone better off and higher up reflects a clear lack of empathy. This might not be true of some kinds of business etiquette — but if you think about it in broader terms, that it’s about being *reasonably considerate* of others’ time and resources and position, seems like that’s the only rule that is needed.

        1. PPK*

          It seems like a great boss, for whom you would like to give a gift, would be the very boss who would be reluctant to take a gift. The boss who you don’t really want to give a gift to has no problem taking gifts — even big gifts — from their underlings.

          1. Felicia*

            Once I was asked to contribute 15$ for a gift for a superior’s birthday, when I made 12$ an hour and didn’t even like that superior. The problem with things like this (other than the outlandish amount – no, 15 dollars is not nothing when it’s more than you make in ann hour) is that often you’re not only asked to contribute – you’re pressured either subtly or not so subtly

      6. E*

        I was told it was etiquette at my first coop job by someone above me in my department (fortunately before the holidays so I had not gotten anyone gifts).

      7. CEMgr*

        Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated), p. 475. Paraphrasing: “Upward gifts needn’t be given, but if they are, they should be tokens at most.”

        1. Joey*

          Upward gifts?! What the hell is that?! Does this mean all upward gifts? What if commissioned salespeople make more than their manager? Is that upward or down? What about my friends/family that make more/less than I do? Is my little brother downward? Since my wife is the boss am I not followin etiquette? Doesn’t that promote a classist society?

          1. Adam V*

            I think the point is that giving gifts to the person you report to can be seen as brown-nosing. Giving a token gift because you don’t want them to be left out is one thing, going all-out over a ski trip is another.

            – salesmen making more than their manager – still “upward”
            – friends/family – not relevant to this discussion
            – wife – give her the biggest gift you can get away with

          2. Schnauz*

            “Doesn’t that promote a classist society?”

            No. I think it is pretty clear in the context of this discussion that “upward” gifts refers to gifts given to a boss or someone in your work organization who has authority over your job. It is simply a descriptor, not a comment on a broader sense of “class” as it relates to wealth, job vs career, etc in America.

            And yes, a gift to the manager of a commissioned salesperson who makes more money than their manager would still be an upward gift. They may not make more money, but they are in a position of authority. If they were unhappy with their gift in some way, they could find ways to legally harrass the employee (changing their territory, how commission is structured, etc) or fire them, so the attendant obligation and job fears are still in play.

          3. Observer*

            This is a discussion of the workplace, not personal relationships.

            In the case of salesperson vs manager, it’s highly unlikely that the salesperson is actually making more than the manager. But, in any case, in most cases, if the manager is really a manager not a glorified admin / scheduler, then the manager IS “above” and should not be given significant gifts.

        2. Anonymous*

          I so agree. My MIL always gets really extravagant gifts for her boss (and then brags about it) and I always have to refrain from “but Ask a Manager says that you’re not supposed to do that!”

      8. Observer*

        I’ve definitely seen this mentioned by Miss Manners.

        It is also a manifestation of the rule (not of etiquette per se, but of appropriate employment behavior) that you don’t solicit payback from your employees and people over whom you have control. In some workplaces, such as many government offices, this is explicit. In others, it’s an unwritten rule – violation of which can get people fired in reasonably run workplaces. (With really low paid employees, this may also wind up violating employment law…)

        This particular “gift” is so over the top inappropriate, that if this were a non-profit (or any organization with outside oversight), I’d bring this to the board. If the board is appropriately functional, things could get interesting quite quickly.

      9. Pseudo Annie Nym*

        Who says that AAM isn’t just the person to establish authoritative workplace etiquette? It IS written–by you! Official etiquette has to start somewhere.

          1. Editor*

            Do it. Seriously. I think the blog gives you the gravitas to do it, and it would be helpful. And I’d be more than happy to edit it for you.

            Moreover, it would be interesting because of all the examples you’ve gathered. The varied situations help people see why the rules you espouse are relevant and necessary.

          2. GonnaBAWriterNGetOut*

            Wow-I thought I was the only one with a thing for etiquette books-love them; the mid century ones are my favorite. Who better than you, Alison, to write such a book? And how fun would it be for all of us to read it? :)

          3. Not So NewReader*

            PLEASE, do that!!! And seriously consider an abbreviated and less expensive version that could be left on people’s desks/work areas.

            1. Pseudo Annie Nym*

              Please also make the chapter titles things like, “Chapter 1) AACKK! DON’T DO THAT!,” “Chapter 2) Your Boss is an Ass,” “Chapter 3) How Not to Be an Ass”

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m actually seriously thinking about this book idea now. I outlined the chapters in a grocery store parking lot today. For instance, there could be a whole chapter on food — potlucks, pushing food on people, criticizing people’s food, food smells, diet talk, being thoughtful to vegetarians, etc.

            1. Pseudo Annie Nym*

              Hooray! Keep at it! If you bang it out before Christmas, it would be the perfect workplace giving gift, rendering every discussion here moot!

            2. Anne*

              I would love this and would definitely buy it. Probably multiple copies – one for me, more as “new job” presents for my friends who are just getting out of college.

            3. Liz*

              I would love to pay to read this. You should definitely work on a proposal and shop this around to publishing companies. Your e-books are so good!

      10. HR Lady*

        As a manager myself, I can say that it has made me extremely uncomfortable in the past when my employees bought me Christmas gifts. I am paid much more than they are, and I know they could have put that money to better use. Moreover, unfortunately the gifts were things I didn’t particularly like, which made me feel even that much worse. (Note to employees: if you feel like you absolutely must give a gift, make it pretty universal, like food/candy, although even that’s not fail-proof.)

        PLEASE don’t feel any pressure to give your boss gifts. (Or, should I say, please don’t give your boss gifts.) A Christmas/holiday card would be lovely. (Make sure you know if she celebrates Christmas before giving a Christmas card. If she doesn’t, I’d go with a New Year’s card.)

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      “Gifts flow down, not up” is my policy, too. It’s because no one should EVER feel like they need to curry favor with the boss in order to keep her job (or advance, or get the good perks) by buying gifts. Whereas it’s fine for an appreciative boss to give a gift — the paycheck does compensate the employee for the work done, but the gift can say, “I *personally*, as your boss, appreciate what you’ve done this year.”

      It’s the feeling of pressure to contribute when gifts flow up instead of down that makes it objectionable. Add on to this that, if there’s pressure *from the top* to give, that’s pressuring someone whose salary is less than yours, probably significantly so, to fund *your* luxuries. That adds to the sting.

      I, as a manager, have always felt uncomfortable when a subordinate has bought me a gift, even a small one, because I don’t want them to feel for a second like they *had* to do that for me.

    3. Mike C.*

      Outside of issues of manners, it can create a sense of impropriety when you consider the power differences between owner/manager and employee. Additionally, it creates a clear conflict of interest.

      Finally, if you want to get really crazy, what happens in a workplace where the employees are paid minimum wage and are pressured to donate to such a gift? Does that make anyone in the legal or HR profession feel really, really uncomfortable?

      1. Mike*

        Yes! It certainly appears to be undue influence. In the military they have a phrase called ‘undue command influence’ to govern situations where leaders are asking their employees for money. This could range from pressure to buy candy bars that the boss’ kid is selling to the situation the OP is in. In any case, whether AAM can find a rule for this or not, its wrong in my book.

      2. Editor*

        The word kickback comes to mind. Calling it a kickback instead of a “gift” helps make the inappropriateness a little clearer.

  5. TL*

    Yes, I would definitely be making dry remarks about being paid below industry standards and then expected to give up some of my paycheck back to the company (wtf?!)

    I really like the idea of rabble-rousing here. That’s just ridiculous. A polite but firm, “No, I just can’t afford that on my current salary” is how I would want to respond.

  6. Jeneen*

    In our office we do group gifts for various things. If someone has a death in the family, or crazy emergency (one woman’s baby was in children’s hospital for months), having babies, admin pros day etc. The assumption is if someone wants to pitch in they can, and if they don’t want to no big deal. There is never a suggested amount either. We take what we got and figure out what we can give.

    In the past the middle managers have all pitched in to get our bosses a gift around the holidays, but we don’t ask the general population and we do it because we really like our bosses, of course it was a reasonable gift like a bottle of wine not a ski trip :)

  7. Rayner*


    Just no.

    Who the F*ck thinks that STAFF should send their BOSS to a ski resort trip?!?!?!?! What in blue blazes….

    No. Push back. This is not just crappy, it’s outrageously crappy.

    Nobody should ever – and I mean ever – have to fund this kind of gift for their boss. It’s inappropriate. It’s unfair. This boss probably makes in one day what the OP earns in a month, and then to expect them to return part of that money as a gift….

    I have not the response to continue that sentence without a significant amount of profanity.

    Also, as a side note, that is NOT the boss you want to be working for if they’re accepting a huge gift like that off the backs of their staff, and merrily skiing off into the sunset with family, while paying BELOW INDUSTRY STANDARD to OP and others.

    Run. Run far away as you can. Do not stop, do not pass go, and do not, whatever you do, give money to the idiot organising this. side note about not resigning until job offer confirmed and in hand, etc.

    Congratulations, OP, I think you may have at least got into the top 10 for 2013: weird and outrageous submissions.

    1. Brittany*

      Why, to recognize the boss’ leadership, of course. As if the corner office and sign on the door isn’t enough.

    1. Clue*

      I never comment but your name is one of my all-time favorite movie quotes. And so incredibly spot-on for this conversation.

  8. Anonymous*

    We have a similar situation here. A fellow co-worker and I were told by the second in command to start thinking of an appropriate retirement gift for the first in command, who will be leaving in about 2 years…and then it was strongly suggested that this should be a trip to Alaska for the 1st and spouse.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Another option for replying (in addition to what I suggested in the above) would be to say something like, “I imagine most of us here are saving up for our own vacations, so we really can’t afford to give one to someone else.”

    2. some1*

      I would take no issue with chipping in for a CEO’s milestone gift (wedding/new baby/retirement) but never for something that extravagant.

      1. Anonymous*

        Retirement is a tiny bit different because the higher up person is withdrawing, at least somewhat, from the power situation over the staff.

      2. The IT Manager*

        I was just thinking I read somewhere – probably on this blog – that one-time, milestone gifts (births, retirements and condolances) were the exception and it is not entirely inappropriate for subordinates to pool money and buy a gift for the boss. But again, I am talking about $5, $10, $20 from a few people so the bosses are certainly not getting vacations.

    3. Yup*

      Please tell the second in command that the traditional retirement gift is a gift from *the company*. The gift is intended to thank the person for their years of service, and therefore logically should be given by the organization who benefited from it, not from frigging bystanders.

      The only gift you personally are obligated to give the retiree is a handshake with your heartiest “best wishes, we’ll miss you so much, thank you for everything you’ve done here.”

      I’m so f’ing livid that they expect you to do this. What a giant steaming pile of nonsense.

  9. Dave*

    At my old company we did stuff like this for the owner and his wife (the office manager). Every year we’d have to chip in close to $200 out of pocket to send them for a weekend away. I’m not a big Christmas spender and normal end up donating more to the food bank and other charities than actually spending on gifts. I always attempted to decline but was shamed into it by some of the other employees who felt that “they deserved it”.

    1. FiveNine*

      I totally empathize. Here’s what’s really sad: While I 100 percent can get worked up behind the scenes, I repeatedly am guilt-tripped into pitching in money for all sorts of really pretty inappropriate situations. One coworker is persistent in sending out emails and bothering people in person for things like going-away gifts or big luncheons for a coworker who started less than a year ago and is now leaving, for example.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            Seriously. GROSS.

            I’d have been tempted to say, “Just tell the owner to reduce all our salaries by $200. At least then it’s a tax-free gift.”

    2. TL*


      That’s insane and more than I could spend on a family member’s gift. (I literally spent 15 minutes talking a merchant significantly down from $200 because I couldn’t afford but I really want to win Christmas this year and it’s a fantastic gift!)

    3. Anonymous*

      Shamed into it? Your fault. Forced into it with threats about your job is one thing, but letting yourself be shamed like that is something you could control if you tried harder.

      1. Anon21*

        What garbage. A person with the power to fire you for any reason or no reason at all “suggests” that it would be great if his employees all chipped in to buy him a vacation and it’s somehow the employees’ fault for going along because they don’t want to be marked down as an ingrate who may need to be let go if budgets get tight? You are absolutely wrong.

      2. FD*

        You’re right. And suggesting it would be very nice if your subordinate slept with you until they agree to do it totally isn’t sexual harassment either.


      3. Zillah*

        -100. A responsible person wouldn’t put an employee in that situation at all, because it’s very uncomfortable and awkward.

      4. Amber*

        If they were “shamed” into it, it’s not too hard to believe that their job would have been at stake if they hadn’t ended up chipping in.

  10. Lily*

    This is so wildly inappropriate! How could the first in command even accept such a gift? Why wouldn’t he/she decline and then discourage this from happening in the future? That’s his/her job as leader!

    1. Dianne*

      Seriously, I have one person reporting to me and I feel guilty that she gave me a $25 Babies R Us gift card when I had a baby, I want her to get pregnant so I can buy her a crib or something.

      1. Wubbie*

        I initially read this as “I want to get her pregnant”, then I read the name of the poster and tried again, lol.

  11. JC*

    Wow, has the the 1st in command got no shame! Last year I was pressured into chipping in for a bottle of wine for our boss (who I didn’t like) and I balked at that, chipping in for a ski trip would make me want to go to the 1st in command and ask them if they realised what was going on and did they really, in all good faith think it was a good idea? Maybe all those 1st in commands and higer ups should make it clear they won’t accept gifts from subordinates and we can put a stop to all this nonsense!

  12. RD*

    If #1 has done so great for the company all year why not set up some kind of bonus for him vs. having all the employees contribute their post-tax income for his ski trip!?

    What do employees get at the holidays? Does the company or #1 give out an annual bonus or special gift? There better be something REALLY nice and at least as nice as what someone is contributing to this boss’s gift.

    1. fposte*

      Seriously. Isn’t his/her salary to “recognize [his/her] leadership of [organization] during the year”?

      If they’re allowing this to happen, they’re not much of a leader.

    2. OP*

      Employees “get” the joy and satisfaction of having had worked for a place so insane that its more than a little embarassing.

      I mean, we get, well, nothing more than our normal paycheck.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    I would do this ONLY to pay him back for the TWO week ski trip he gave ME and mine.
    I think it would be a nice little nod in his direction in that case.


    OP, if it is in keeping with your style- I love the idea about replying to all that Alison mentions. I would look around and see what the consensus is. If most people are groaning under the burden of this expense, then I would have to seriously consider hitting the reply to all.
    If no one else seems to be batting an eye OR if they seem happy about it, then I would follow the other options that Alison mentions that are a little more discrete.

    I have to echo annoymous’ curiosity about where this standard of gifts only flow down and not up came from. I have never heard of it either, except for here. But it does sound like something my parents would say. So I guess it has been around a while.

    It just struck me, OP, how about a counter-suggestion like this: “Gee, a ski vacation is nice and all that. But with so many people struggling in this economy how about if we all make a donation to the local food pantry in the name of Big Boss?”

    1. Dana*

      A donation is such a great idea – especially at this time of the year! That plus some homemade goodies is a lovely gift for the Big Boss (not sure if he’d agree… lol).

    2. Clever Name*

      Great idea! Even better is that whoever pushes back in insisting on sending a likely rich family on a fancy trip instead of donating money to people who don’t have enough food is going to look really, really grinchy

    3. Zillah*

      I love this idea. It would be really difficult to be the guy saying, “But no, your boss deserves a ski trip more than people deserve to eat on Christmas!”

      1. OP*

        This is actually what I initially thought of doing – replying that instead of contributing to the ski vacation, I would donate to the victims of the typhoon in the Phillipines. This would be in a reply only to the 2nd in command.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The beautiful thing here is that even if everyone else goes with the ski trip, you could go ahead with your own plan and let the #2 boss know “A donation has been made to those in the Philippines in the name of the Big Guy.”

          Personally, if someone gave me a gift like that I would be awed. I would think that I was the richest person on earth… out beyond money.

    4. kelly*

      The last paragraph is just brilliant. At most of the grocery stores in my area, they are running food donation drives for various food banks. I gave a bag of groceries at one because although I’m on a budget there are others far worse off than me. The use of food banks is up due to the reduction in food stamps for most recipients and it helps someone get a good meal.

  14. Diet Coke Addict*

    Signing a card and having a cake? All right.

    Sending his family on a two-night ski trip is so wildly outrageous that I can’t even. I work at a tiny company where my only superior is the boss/CEO/owner, and his wife pops in periodically to be the “office manager,” and I’m deeply afraid we’re going to be asked to contribute to a holiday gift for them. Sure, he’s an okay boss, but I make minimum wage at a job with zero opportunity for advancement and he has a huge home, luxury SUV, cottage in Muskoka, and a big boat. Pretty sure he’ll be OK without a giftcard to a local restaurant.

  15. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    The baffling thing to me about this story, and others, is that the boss accepts. I feel like I’d be deeply uncomfortable, and then offer to raffle the trip to a random employee. That bosses think this is OK is such crazy.

    1. KarenT*

      Ditto. The boss accepting it is what is so disturbing. And I can only assume he’s made no effort to make sure it won’t happen again this year.

    2. FD*

      I actually really like the idea of raffling it off if one was in a situation where this happened without your knowledge.

  16. Sourire*

    No words. I honestly have no words I am so appalled by this…

    Merely out of perverse curiosity – OP, do you any idea how much the expected contribution is?

    1. Windchime*

      I just did a little math. A 2-night Ski Trip package at Whistler is $115 per person, per night (Canadian dollars). So for 4 people, that comes to $920 total.

      1. OP*

        I have no idea really. I think I might have been less offended if it said something like “Let’s all chip in $5 and I’ll pick up a little something on behalf of all of us.”

  17. Erica*

    This happens at a MAJOR NY-area hospital I worked at. Luckily, it goes out to the managers/executive team, and not the front-line nurses, etc., but essentially – in this organization, gifts flow up.

    VPs get plane tickets to anywhere in the world, vacations at resorts, vouchers for ritzy spas, etc.

    It’s insane, totally expected and no one sees the absurdity of this. Everyone’s goal is to just reach THAT level.

  18. Toby*

    To the OP, this is absolutely appalling and completely inappropriate.

    Refuse to contribute, and start looking for another job fast.

  19. Anon*

    What the what? Followed closely by no. I do gift up because I really like my boss but it’s a bottle of wine or something like that. My staff gift up to me because we are a really tight knit group. But there’s never any pressure. I always gift down to my staff. This is beyond the pale.

    1. LabRatnomore*

      In my old department it was tradition to chip in $5 for the direct supervisor and another $5 for the department manager. I always hated it and didn’t think it made sence, and it was only $10. My supervisor and I both got moved to a new department, and her new employees never brought the idea up so we didn’t get her anything. I was worried about her reaction because she takes everything to personally. After the holiday I could tell she was dissapointed, as in “my group doesn’t like me as much as the employees from the other group like their supervisors”. But she did make a point to tell those of us that were with her before the move that it wasn’t expected.

  20. Rindle*

    Totally agree with everything above. This is off the charts outrageous. I, too, have a tendency toward rabble rousing. If the OP decides to go the reply all route, I just want to be sure s/he thinks through all the consequences – especially if the tone and content of the response are anything other than credulous.

    The second-in-command will be embarrassed – possibly humiliated. (And deservedly so.) Some (many) others will probably consider OP a folk hero, but some some will probably disagree and take it personally. OP will make enemies. Don’t get me wrong – it will be glorious and for the good of all. But it would likely have significant repercussions for OP’s work with the company.

    That said, OP, if you don’t need the job – I say reply all and blow them up. Good luck!

    1. Elise*

      I think I would even include First-in-Command on my reply all. And probably say something like “I’m sure the company will reward FiC for his/her excellent leadership and he/she wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting such a lavish gift from lower paid employees. Why don’t we do a Coats for Kids drive in his/her honor instead?”

  21. Shawn*

    This could be a whole (related) post, but what IS an appropriate gift to give downward?

    I have one direct report who has done incredibly well this year, even through frustrating times and changing situations. I will of course advocate for an above average merit increase and a small promotion could be in order, but what about as a gift?

    I read on here about the boss who gave the employee a rather large cash payment, and that action was mostly met with outrage/discomfort/unhappiness/etc by commenters (I understand some of that was over HOW it happened, but still). I’m not in position to do something in the thousand dollar range, but I could easily spend $50-100 on something. Is that wrong/too much? Is cash better than some sort of physical gift? Do I have to resort to baked goods?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      I think a gift card pretty much always works. Either somewhere you know they like (Starbucks, etc.) or someplace generic that they can use on anything (Amazon, etc.)

      But… definitely not just for one of several reports.

      1. Shawn*

        To confirm, I only have a total of 1 direct report (I see how it could be read that only have 1 that performed well).

      1. Jessa*

        The problem with restaurants is what if you give one to someone who can’t eat there. For instance I can’t eat spicy food, that leaves out all local Mexican most of local Italian, all local Indian. Make it as generic as you can, either one of those Amex things or something to a store that’s generalised – Kohl’s or something (I hesitate to say Walmart because some people have serious political issues with them.) If you know they have a smart phone you can get them an iTunes or a GooglePlay (depending on their phone,) or Amazon is always good because you can get just about anything there. Unless of course you really know them – the person who brings Panera pastry every week might love a Panera card. The person who always shows up with a Starbucks coffee or drink can use one of theirs.

        My sister is low on money right now and I know she loves Panera on the way to work so I got her one because well getting her something from another store would have ended up being spent on necessities not something joyful for her. If I’d gotten her a Kroger’s Grocery card, she wouldn’t have used it for treats, she’d have bought groceries. Which is an okay thing to do but sometimes you want something that you can JUSTIFY having a treat with.

        1. Zillah*

          Yes. While restaurant gift cards and/or baked goods tend to be a go-to, I actually dread getting those unless they’re from someone who knows me well, because I have a lot of dietary restrictions. Many people who don’t know me don’t know that, and those that do tend not to know how extensive they are and what they include.

          And while I’m an extreme example, I’m hardly the only one. A lot of people are diabetic, vegans, vegetarians, or lactose intolerant, have allergies, or are on a diet.

          Baked goods are fine for an office – people who can’t partake can just choose not to. However, as a gift to one person? I’d avoid it in an office setting or to someone you don’t know well, because you have no way of knowing what their situation is.

      2. Zahra*

        Some malls will do gift cards valid for the whole mall. You can choose where you spend your money and most people can find something they want.

    2. The IT Manager*

      A Christmas present from the boss is not/should not be the same as a bonus. That should come from the company so that pretty much eliminates cash as a gift.

      If you know this employee personally, you could get them something particularly meaningful. If not Christmas themed things are a good go to. In the past gifts I have gotten from bosses include a tin of Christmas cookies, bottle of champagne/wine, gift card to Blockbuster (a while ago), Starbucks, restaurant, etc. I genral I don’t expect them to spend anything more than $20.00 – more likely $10.00 or less.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I think $50 – $100 is too much, but you and I may not be in the same financial class so it might not be too much for you. If you were going to spend $50.00, I’d go for a gift card to a mid-priced resturant. $50.00 would cover most of a dinner for two.

        I wouldn’t go more than that. I may not spend $50 on my brothers this year, not that I can’t afford it, but they can’t really gift back at that level. I think the present should signify that you’re thinking of direct report and appreciate her work. Although gifts in the office should only flow downhill, you do not want to make your report feel endebted.

      2. Anon E Mouse*

        Not to be nit-picky, but “Christamas themed things” are not always a good choice. If the person is not Christian this can cause quite a bit of offense. (For the record, I’m not Christian, and I would *not* be offended by Christmas-themed stuff, but many other people would be.)

    3. Laufey*

      The trick is making sure you give them a card to a place they like. I used to get Starbucks gift cards all the time (“You’re a millennial, you guys love this stuff!”) but the smell of coffee makes me sick. At Walmart and a lot of grocery stores, you can at least purchase other gift cards even if you don’t normally shop at that particular store. Not glamorous, but useful and infinitely more appreciated. VISA gift cards would accomplish the same thing.

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh if you’re going to get a specific place gift card at least be observant enough to see if the person would actually use it. Most people, for instance, who love Starbucks, come in with their goods on a regular basis. I mean it’s kind of the go-to to bring coffee in if you like Starbucks.

        When in doubt generic is better. Now if it’s just some company thing, you get stuck with whatever they buy because they do it in bulk. I know my old company used to do around Christmas 30 buck Honeybaked Ham. I used it to buy their turkey. But the company bought them in bulk probably at a discount and gave them to EVERYONE.

      2. Anonymous*

        I am a coffee loving millennial but I hate Starbucks. Starbucks giftcards are like the default gift people give me but I sell them on ebay so its ok.

        1. Windchime*

          I don’t drink coffee at all but I still like Starbucks. I’m a tea drinker, and they have great hot and iced teas, and probably even hot chocolate. Not that I’m pushing Starbucks, but for years I re-gifted Starbucks cards before I discovered the magic that is Starbuck’s tea.

          1. Jennifer*

            I hate coffee, but there’s at least a few beverages I can drink at Starbucks when other people drag me to a Starbucks.

            Cannot stand Peet’s though–their tea is awful and there’s nothing much else there most of the time.

          2. Eli*

            In the UK at least, Starbucks’ hot chocolate is easily the worst of all the big coffee chains :( Tea isn’t bad though.

    4. Marmite*

      My workplace tends to lean towards one inexpensive slightly personal gift plus a gift card for this kind of thing (and for leaving gifts). The inexpensive gift is usually something like a bag of nice coffee beans (or coffee grounds? I don’t drink coffee so I am clueless on the specifics here) for a known coffee lover, or a book for a known bookworm (me!), scarf for someone who collects scarves, etc.

    5. Rayner*

      As other people have mentioned – gift cards are nice, especially when presented with a nice card with a message that reflects WHY you’re giving the gift as well.

      Also, for example, if you know that your employee has a thing for a particular hobby, such as writing, you could get them a nice notebook and pen or similar related stuff. I’ve gotten that before, because my boss knew that I enjoyed writing but struggled to find notebooks that appeased my dyslexia. She found a beautiful one with yellowish pages and wide ruling with a pen that flowed well. I appreciated that gift a lot.

      Tins of reasonably pricey biscuits or chocolates that you know they’re partial too, nut/other food stuff selections (make sure they are NOT allergic), gift cards, plants… I like plants. Something beautiful but long lived such as succulents that are hard to kill are always nice.

      Best bet for prices – under $30, I’d say, all things considered but it depends on your company culture and where you sit in the hierarchy. For example, at some banks, you’d give more because extravagant giving is acceptable. Smaller stores or offices, you give less pricey gifts to fit with people’s budgets.

      It’s more about the message that you’re sending – “I want to let you know that I appreciate the work you have this year. Here’s a token of my appreciation.” – and also, the way you present it. It’s a gift. No expectation of a return, and no strings attached to anything else. You’re just letting them know how grateful you are, and that’s it.

    6. FD*

      I think a gift card is reasonable. However, whatever you end up deciding, make sure to give her a card. A hand-written card that talks about the things she’s done well and how much you appreciate all she’s done this year.

      Gift cards will get used up, but the warm feeling from a sincere compliment sticks around.

    7. Joey*

      The best cheap gift I ever got from my boss was one of those wood and gold desk name plates. I still have it on my desk to this day.

    8. TL*

      Barnes and Noble gift card would make me ecstatic. :) (Or one to your local bookshop, if they stock na-nas and journals, and other non-book stuff.)

    9. Omne*

      I usually buy food for my direct reports. We have a Christmas lunch at the office and I pay for the food, usually around $200. I also spring for pizza a couple of times a year which only runs $50-$60 a shot. Everyone seems to appreciate it.

      I see while I’m typing that you have one report. Why not a lunch at a decent restaurant of their choice?

    10. Melissa*

      I agree with giftcards. My supervisor one year got our staff giftcards to the local independent bookstore, which I loved because I love independent bookstores and books in general. But it was an especially good gift because we are all students and our university has a deal with the local bookstore, so they sell many of our textbooks.

      I think I would be a bit mortified if my boss spent more than $50 on me unless I knew she was rolling in the dough. I think most people could use a B&N gift card (they sell other things besides books); I always appreciate Starbucks gift cards (but not everyone does apparently), and I agree with the restaurant suggestions. Another suggestion is possibly Target or some other local retailer.

  22. happycat*

    In last job, with a very dysfunctional supervisor, we all gave her a pricey gift. Honestly, we knew she didn’t derserve it. We gave it in self defense. She was very petty, and would and does hold grudges FOREVER.. I know, I know.. it is wrong, but we wanted to stay on her good side.. and no, she has not changed, but luckily she does not supervise people like she used to. She still has a lot of power though, and you never will know WHAT you did to get on her bad side, but once you are there, you stay there.
    Example: I am fundraising for my up coming surgery, donating an organ, she (old supervisor still in power in old office same company) that she saw no need for it, as 60% pay should be good enough. However, she would allow signs to go up on employee boards in lunch rooms.
    Just saying, while this is horribly wrong, and a very bad sign, I doubt they are suggesting a ski trip out of great love and affection for said boss, there must be a back story.
    It is disgusting that 2nd in command asked this, yet after what I have seen I am also wondering what else is going on here.
    and what a scrooge of a boss!

    1. TL*

      I’m confused – did she refuse 100% leave pay in favor of 60% and/or refuse to donate but allowed you to fundraise in the building?
      While I’m not doubting you, that does seem like a reasonable decision to me. (Assuming there’s a precedent of 60% leave pay for medical issues.)

      1. happycat*

        ha, sorry, I was confusing. She said yes to fundraising, but that she did not support the idea herself as I WOULD receive 60% of my pay for the time I am off. Hence, she felt I could make up the 40% on my own.
        I was not asking the company to pay for the 40% difference.
        I have supported her charities, btw, by knitting BAGS of hats for her to hand out to her charity of choice, and, I support a LOT of fundraising efforts, organizing them and putting posters up, I even had all my hair cut off at one fundraiser, for a person who had brain cancer. We raised $3000.00 for that one.

        1. TL*

          Oh, okay. Well, it seems like she’s a giant jerk for saying she doesn’t support you (seriously, wtf?! Just an “I can’t donate right now but I wish you the best of luck!” would’ve been fine) – but she’s not under any obligation to donate, nor does it make her a bad person not to, even given your fairly impressive charitable works.

          And I don’t think it’s contradictory to let someone fundraise while still not donating yourself.

          It seems like an awesome thing you’re doing, though – good luck!

  23. Shawn*

    Oh, and if I were in the OP’s shoes, I would just ignore the email. You are a part-time employee. You most likely don’t have the established reputation and standing to successfully pull off a reply-all confrontation (which is how it would be seen) without seeing negative consequences, and you really have nothing to gain anyway (again, as a part-time employee).

    1. Ruffingit*

      I agree with that. I wouldn’t bother replying to all, I’d just ignore it. Although, I might make some polite, discreet inquiries to see if anyone else is bothered by this. The OP cannot be the only one.

  24. Elizabeth West*

    This is just nuts. Completely nuts. I agree with all the posters who said that the OP should run like the wind. If I ran a company, I would hire her just to get her out of there!

    I can’t think of any time at any place I’ve worked where we’ve ever gifted up. The most I’ve ever seen is passing cards around, and I’ve had to order pie for a former boss’s birthday, but that was company money and he shared it with everyone.

    I did make a point to email my managers on Boss’s Day this year and got lovely replies, but sending them on a trip? NO. EFFING. WAY.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Amen. It’s so ridiculous it just boggles my mind that anyone would think this was acceptable. Especially when someone is working part-time and not making industry standard. UGH.

  25. Ruffingit*

    Just want to add my voice to the chorus of NO FUC**ING WAY is this ever appropriate. Ever. In any workplace. Ever. The first in command is generally making significantly more money than her underlings. There is just no way that anyone should be contributing to such lavish gifts and for a CEO to accept such things is disgusting. The CEO should be mortified to learn that employees are being asked for this and should instead direct that if anyone wishes to gift him with something, they should donate to their favorite charity in his name. It is INSANE to think anyone would accept such a gift from their subordinates. Clearly, this CEO has no shame at all.

  26. Jean*

    This is a no-holds-barred, horrible display of greed, entitlement, and gross insensitivity. Gifts may not flow downward at the OP’s organization, but piggishness-pardon me, swinishness–surely does! Have TPTB at this organization never heard of the Russian Czars? While the so-called lower classes paid taxes, subsisted on little or no wages, shivered, starved, and/or watched their sons get pressed into 25-year terms of service in the Czar’s army, the Russian royalty enjoyed lavish banquets; multiple, vast palaces; and gold- and jewel-encrusted Faberge eggs?!

    Maybe TPTB are they trying to emulate the Wall Street financiers who made millions of dollars from reselling worthless mortgages originally forced upon vulnerable, bamboozled home buyers?! Or various other tacky, grabby, unsympathetic dictators past or present?!

    OP: Start immediately to polish your resume, network like crazy, and work devotedly towards the day when you will EXIT this sick, twisted organization for someplace much more respectful of its worker bees. In the meantime follow whichever advice here best fits your workplace to answer all requests for gift money with a (diplomatic or blunt, private or collective, etc. as appropriate ) “hell, NO!!!”

  27. AnonHR*

    We make a point to have a “thank you” collection for the owners at Christmas… but that is always given to their current pet charity on their behalf. Always. And, voluntary. This year we are also giving a scrapbook of notes/photos just to say thanks for a great year and all the community opportunities we are able to sponsor. But, that’s totally optional and non-monetary.

    I’m pretty sure if one of the high level managers tried to organize a gift like this for the owner, they would find themselves the victim of a scathing response from the owner questioning their judgement. As it should be.

  28. Carrie in Scotland*

    I would be very tempted to rabble-rouse (but then, recently I am always in such a mood) this is something that the local press or something might like to know sort of like “employees on minimum wage pay for boss’s ski trip holiday”. It is just ridiculous in every shape and form.

    1. Jamie*

      You are $1.00 more generous than I.

      Honestly, what kind of boss even accepts a gift like this? I’m at a loss.

      1. A cita*

        Agree. I think the $1 contribution is a statement (when I assume the expectation would be far greater to buy a ski trip). $1 with a big smile and a big, “Ooohhh! Yeah! I’d love to help out with that! Here..let me…..” and then picking out a crumpled one dollar bill from the lint from my pocket and handing it over with aplomb and a preen..and then, “No need to thank me. My pleasure!” Bet I wouldn’t be asked again.

  29. Marmite*

    I just had an e-mail today to say my company is doing it’s Christmas party with families invited and the company owner playing Santa and handing out gifts . It’s a nice idea in principle.

    Here’s the catch, this year I will be the only one with a child under ten. A combination of a whole bunch of people moving on (it tends to happen in waves as we hire in waves) and there not being many parents of small children in the company to begin with means my son will be it for the Santa believing group.

    I am cringing at the amount of attention this is going to put on him. He is a sociable lad, but doesn’t generally like to be centre of attention. I’m also worried that whatever gift boss/Santa gives him will be inappropriately generous because there’s just one kid to buy for.

    Christmas + work = minefield!

    1. A cita*

      Can you just email his Admin or someone else (or him if the company is small enough and you have that kind of relationship) and explain your hesitation about this? I don’t think you have to go through with it if there’s only one kid. And the boss would probably be relieved to forgo it as well given the circumstance.

      1. Marmite*

        Unfortunately, boss loves this kind of thing. He likes to think it makes him look good to his employess (who rarely see him during a normal work week) and shows his generous side. When I realised that my kid would be the only little kid there I mentioned it to my line manager, but she brushed it off, saying x,y, & z ‘s kids will be there. Which is true, but the youngest is 14 and in the past the teenagers have been given gift cards not presented by boss/Santa.

          1. Marmite*

            I think if I attend it probably has to be with kid in tow. He’s not yet three so it’s hard to claim that he’s “busy”! Plus, it’s a workday afternoon/early evening event and my office knows that my son is usually at his nursery school right around the corner so it’s not feasible to say it’s difficult logistically to get him there.

            I am thinking I may just call in “sick” that day, but I do feel bad doing that.

              1. Marmite*

                When my son is sick I usually have to take the day off to take care of him, so same result as me calling in sick. Plus, he can’t lie yet, so he might give the game away next time someone at work saw him and asked him if he was feeling better!

        1. cecilhungry*

          Do you HAVE to bring your son? Maybe set up a sleepover or something for him, and just indicate that he couldn’t make it to the party.

    2. Just solve it*

      “Here’s the catch, this year I will be the only one with a child under ten”

      That’s not a “catch.” It’s just reality.

      “I am cringing at the amount of attention this is going to put on him. ”

      Cringing? Then don’t bring him – explain it’s not a good time for him. Or tell the boss how much you’re looking forward to it but can only stay for a very little while due to the kid needing sleep. Then go, get a “ho ho ho” and leave.

      It’s remarkable the intensity drama we read on this blog about little things. This is not that complicated.

      “I think if I attend it probably has to be with kid in tow. ”

      Then don’t go. This sort of thing is as much a drama-strewn minefield as you let it be. Don’t go.

      “He’s not yet three so it’s hard to claim that he’s “busy”! ”

      No, it’s quite easy – little kids have not much control over their natural sleep/eating needs and you can build his busyness around that – “I have to stay home that night – he’s been a little run down recently and if he’s outside around [time of party] he has a hard time getting to sleep.”


      Sorry to pile on, but if this is as much of a problem as you’re making it out to be, just solve it.

  30. Snowman*

    Similar thing here. We had a manager under the department leader take a collection for the leader’s Christmas present. I am thinking our department leader makes about twice what most of us do.

    One bad thing to me is that the manager collecting the money sends a department leader card with the name of everyone who contributed. No contribution means your name is not on the card. Wouldn’t be as bad if it was just from “all of us”.

    This was done just before annual reviews were to be submitted. Our company prides itself on its integrity program.

  31. Angelina Retta*

    One more for the ‘print thread responses and mail anonymously’ pile. What grossly selfish people.

    1. AMG*

      +1 million. Print and distribute. Highlight key comments on 1st and 2nd’s copies.

      And if you do, that means number 1 and number 2 are reading this: I would like to say that I am embarrassed for you but I can’t be since you are the biggest asshats to ever set foot in an office.

  32. Anonymous*

    AAM – what do you think of the people who talk about getting ready to find a new job based on this? I guess that it’s wise to always be on the lookout for a new job, but it seems to me that running from the workplace due to this is an overreaction, and actually giving the people asking for the gift more power.

    Your thoughts?

    1. A cita*

      Well, given the almost complete lack of jobs out there at the moment (in most industries), “find a new job” is more sentiment than advice.

    2. Loose Seal*

      That was my thought too. If the rest of the year is fine, why not just handle this one thing like Alison suggested. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    3. OP*

      In the interest of full disclosure, this is not an isolated incident. I submitted the question mostly because it was a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being normal and 10 being unbelievably crass and offensive.

      Probably because of things like this happening on a pretty regular basis, the place has extremely high turnover. There are a few people who have been there forever, too (meaning, over 5 years), but (no surprise here!) these few people are part of the upper management team. Directors, mostly, all of whom have people reporting to them.

      The lower than average pay is also probably a contributing factor to the high turnover.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This story just keeps getting worse.
        I think the folks in the Philippines will appreciate that someone cared. Don’t you? ;)

  33. J*

    Be ever so wary of option #2. This has the potential to make you the office pariah, even if everyone else does see things your way. My hunch is that if the second-in-command is clueless enough to send an email like this, he/she is probably the type of person to take offense and bring down anyone who aligns with you.

    1. Editor*

      This is a double-edged sword. There might be outrage about this event, but somewhere, somehow, there will be someone who thinks it is a great idea in their workplace, too. I do think shaming is important, but it sometimes backfires.

      There are all kinds of letters to advice columns about people having birthday parties, anniversary parties, and wedding receptions where the people having the birthday/anniversary/wedding expect the guests to pay for it (sometimes without notice). The advice columnists universally condemn the practice, but there are always those who hear about the practice and don’t listen to the condemnation.

      There’s actually some research related to similar issues — if people hear something enough, they remember it better. So, for instance, if there are a lot of stories saying poison ivy can’t be spread by touching the blisters, it turns out what people remember is that touching the blisters spreads poison ivy, because they’ve heard the false information from the bad sources and heard the false information repeated in the good sources. The correct information isn’t repeated enough to overwhelm the bad information.

      I think a book on work etiquette, however, is a good bet for long-term reform because it’s an authoritative source people can cite, in the way that Snopes works.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        A wise person taught me: There is ALWAYS fall out. First ask yourself “is this the hill to die on?”

        1. Waerloga*

          Sometimes it is. Sometimes you have to say enough.

          I’m fortunate, I’m at end-stage of my career, and I can set the “good” example for my direct reports, as well as deflecting any unwarranted criticism.

          It’s a learning experience for my “minions” as it’s a co-op position in research (which is quite different than the clinical side), and if I can show them how to act “correctly” then hopefully it’ll be learnt. (What would Head Lab Rat do?)

          And yes, I’ve been on that hill before, and yes sometimes it’s a forlorn hope.

          Take care


  34. kmnn*

    Something similar happened at my boyfriend’s former workplace, but the business was actually closed while the husband-wife owners were on their employee-subsidized vacation. Everyone, including the brilliant suck-up who came up with this idea, was a low-wage hourly employee — so they basically paid $50 a pop to go without half of their paycheck! And no, the owners did not think this was inappropriate at all.

    1. Cari*

      There do exists folks who do not identify with the gender binary. It isn’t necessarily concealing anything by referring to someone in a gender neutral way. fposte is spot on though.

  35. LD*

    I found this in a brief search for gift-giving etiquette for the office. It was written by Peggy Post, I believe she is the granddaughter of Emily Post and has written several books on etiquette as well. Her first two rules involve upward giving:

    1. A present for the boss is inappropriate because it can be misread as an attempt to curry favor.

    2. Two exceptions to this rule: the gift is from a group, or the giver has worked with the boss for several years. In either case, the present should not be overly personal or extravagant.

    Both of these are what I’ve always heard. Also, my father was a manager for many years and every year he sent out a message/memo (as far back as the 60’s!) to say that he knew some people might consider giving a gift or taking up a collection for their manager (typically him or even other managers or supervisors in his department). His message always said he appreciated the thought but that employees could use both their time and their money on better things than gifts for their manager. He instilled that expectation in his children, too. In the workplace, gifts do not go up, for many reasons, including, managers may be too easily influenced by such things, employees make less money and shouldn’t be expected to spend it on something he considered to have the potential to be a bribe. (BTW, I still get lots of “love” from people who worked for my dad. They treat me like gold just because of the respect they had for him and how he worked. I really miss that guy.)

  36. anonymous*

    I think sometimes the problem is with the organizer, who is going to be noticed when they hand the boss the big fat gift. They are intentionally gathering from everyone but then personally handing it to the boss.

    1. Joey*

      I think you’re onto something. sort of “here’s a gift from all of us, but I was the one who led the effort.”

  37. Laura*

    I had a boss once that refused all but token gifts. In fact, at the holiday party, he would refuse the raffle prizes if his name came up. He felt that, as a VP, he shouldn’t be the one getting to win airline tickets or a tv (we used to have really nice door prizes). I really respected that (and the quiet way he’d refuse things) about him.

    Say, no, OP. Don’t give in to give your CEO a ski trip!

  38. Allie*

    Speaking of gifting, would it be weird to buy a present for my coworker’s foster kid? I feel bad for him, he only has a couple of pairs of pants.

    1. KellyK*

      I think it depends on your relationship with the coworker, and with the kid. Do you know either of them well enough that you’d normally be doing a gift?

    2. PPK*

      It might be weird as a gift — it might be less weird as a “Hey, I saw these on sale and couldn’t pass up the deal. I was going to donate them, but does Kid need them instead?”

    3. A Bug!*

      I can’t tell you “yes” or “no”. But if you do not know your coworker well enough to know if a gift would be well-received, I would urge you to find somewhere else for your generosity.

      The risk isn’t necessarily that your coworker will think you’re weird or creepy (although that may be a possibility); it’s that your gift will make your coworker feel like a charity case, and I’d imagine that’s not what you’re going for.

      So if you’re not sure, there are likely organizations in your area which could stand to benefit from your generosity. There are places in my area that operate wish list programs; you get a list for a person or a family, you buy stuff that fits it, and drop it off for wrapping and delivery. Some of them have tables in shopping centers to make it a one-stop thing. And then you know, for sure, that the people are getting things that they want and will be grateful to have.

    4. Usually anon*

      Wrap ’em up and leave them on her desk with a note from Santa. If you do this on a Friday afternoon, it will be easier to pull off, because the weekend will give you time to get your game face on.

    1. HR Comicsans*


      verb (used with object) present with as a gift; bestow gifts upon; endow with. present (someone) with a gift: just the thing to gift the newlyweds.

    2. Editor*

      It is much more common in British and Australian English. Americans are only beginning to use gift as a verb, perhaps because they’re hearing it from other sources.

      1. JC*

        Really? I’m British and I’ve never heard anyone use gift as a verb, it sounds really stilted and unnatural to me.

      2. Chocolate Teapot*

        There is also a German verb “schenken” meaning to give presents and Geschenke are gifts of any kind.

      3. SomeAussiePerson*

        To “gift” something is definitely not an Australian term. I’ve only ever heard it used on American websites.

  39. Anon*

    We have this same issue in our company … it’s been a long standing tradition for all of the employees to get the bosses with a fairly nice gift during the holidays. Mind you this was done even when we ourselves were not getting raises for 4 years … finally I somehow got stuck with the task of collecting for the gift and now instead of a nice gift for the bosses, we make a large donation to a charity in their name and present a card to them that says what we’ve done.

    Maybe you could try this instead? I’m with you … I would absolutely not be ok gifting to my bosses, especially something that nice.

    1. AB*

      I wouldn’t be OK even with a donation to charity in the name of the CEO – he/she earns enough money to do his/her own donations.

      I’m perfectly fine with donating to charity, and also would be with giving even contributing money, to, say, a low salary employee that needed help or was retiring and people wanted to show appreciation for. But a member of the senior management? That’s just ridiculous.

      Where I work, we show appreciation for our bosses without involving monetary gifts of any sort.

  40. HR Comicsans*

    Perfectly expected and appropriate… If you work for Tony Soprano.
    Caught an episode just last week where nephew Christopher was voicing similar frustration as the OP.

  41. Kerr*

    And the CEO just…accepted the gift last year?! Knowing how much family ski vacations cost, and what his employees are making? Shame.

  42. ECH*

    Probably many on here would not be interested in doing what I am doing for my three employees this Christmas, but if you have the time and persistence, I think it is a fantastic gift. We are a close department, and I know a number of their friends and/or people they interact with on a regular basis as a result of our profession. I contacted these people and asked them to give me 1-3 sentences about the employee’s good qualities, then collected all the responses and put them in a frame, along with pictures representative of the employee’s hobbies, etc. I cannot wait to give the frames to them and know the sentiments will mean the world to them.

    1. Ruffingit*

      THAT. IS. AWESOME!!!! Seriously, I want to work for you. That’s amazing. So thoughtful and so sweet.

  43. V*

    This reminds me of when I worked at a university and the dean was asked to step down into a tenured, highly paid professorship. A gift drive was done for that, and the dean was presented with a new laptop.

    I ignored the email. :)

  44. Anonymous*

    Is gift giving as much of a problem if it’s reciprocal? My spouse is a manager, and his employees give him a gift, usually a gift certificate, but that’s usually after he hands out small gifts to employees, typically some form of food. The funny thing about the situation is that both the gifts from and the gift to tend to be about the same amount, and less than $100.

  45. OP*

    I have to say that I’m overwhelmed with Alison’s use of my question, with her answer, and with all of the other awesome replies and comments.

    In response to many of you, I’ve been polishing up my resume and submitting it A LOT. As I’ve read here, though, hiring can be a bit of a crap shoot.

    Also, on the comments about the crazy that is this organization I work for, you’re right. It is uncomfortably strange and, at times, unethical. It’s not my first choice; definitely not my dream job.

    So if any of you has an opening, I’m an extremely creative communications and design professional in the Philadelphia region. Hit me up. I’d be happy to send over my resume.

    Hopefully, the two people I wrote in about don’t read this blog. If their behavior is any indication, I’m guessing they don’t. If they do read it, though, I might need to find a new job sooner rather than later ;)

    1. Shelley*

      I figure if the subjects of your post reads AAM, they’d know better than to pull this stunt.

      Good luck on the job hunt, OP!

  46. K.D.*

    I work for a small business, and every year it is suggested that the employees contribute to gifts for the owners as a “thank you” for giving us such a great place to work. I have always thought this was ridiculous, and am glad to hear that others agree.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Seriously, a thank you for a great place to work? As opposed to what, working in a hell hole? “Dear employers, thanks for giving us an awesome workplace instead of refusing to cave like those jerks who don’t follow employment laws, who abuse employees, who make workplace shootings totally understandable.”

      Such BS. A great workplace should be the default, not something you thank someone for. It’s like thanking your spouse for not abusing you. UM…yeah, he/she shouldn’t be doing that anyway.

  47. HR Lady*

    AAM, thank you for posting this (and the link to your gift-giving guide) at this time of year. It’s perfect timing because people are starting to think about holiday gift-giving, and it’s early enough that many people probably haven’t actually spent money on gifts yet. And it’s a reminder to me to let my new staff know not to buy me gifts for the holidays!

  48. Ruffingit*

    The etiquette around gifts and money just needs to be shouted from the rooftops apparently. This is not exactly the same, but it runs along the same line in a way – when I got married, my best friend who was also my maid of honor kept pushing me to do a “dollar dance.” She had done one at her wedding (where I was the maid of honor so I remembered it) and the idea is that people pay $1 to dance with the bride or groom. She and her husband used the dollar dance cash as extra money for their honeymoon.

    I’m sorry, but I think it’s just tacky to ask your wedding guests for money like that. They’ve already come to celebrate your day with you so they’re taking time out of their lives to be with you, they’ve spent money on a gift (most likely), and some have traveled pretty far and are also paying for a hotel. And you want more from them? No, just no.

    Shaking people down for money when they’re already giving to you is just wrong. In the case of employees, they’re already giving their time and expertise to the company in exchange for low wages (in some cases) and you want more from them? No, just no.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      To me, this is like “selling” something. “After the dollar dance, we have some lovely mementos you can purchase as a keepsake remembrance of our special day.”
      I would be too embarrassed to let people see I was that desperate for cash.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed NSNR, it’s totally selling something and reeks of desperation for cash. I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it and I never will. In many cases, guests have already given gifts of cash to the couple (in some cases, quite a large check). And even if they haven’t, to ask more of your guests than just spending the day with you is wrong.

  49. Not So NewReader*

    I was just wondering if the Big Boss has to pay tax on his gift.

    A former employer was giving out cash at the holidays. With the IRS crack down, that cash became checks. It was not considered a bonus. It was called a gift. And we paid taxes on our gifts.


  50. Anonymous*

    So, as a boss, how do you politely ask people to stop giving you gifts? We do a mini-potluck party for our group, and people bring gifts to exchange (as part of the gift giving, I have received gifts from the people that I supervise, like a scented candle, a calendar, some candy, a book etc.). While the gifts are relatively small, I still feel uncomfortable with the upward giving. What would you do to establish a new rule for this holiday season without offending people?

    1. AB*

      I really don’t see any reason for anybody to be offended if you are just perfectly clear with your subordinates. Perhaps using some of AAM’s wording from the 10 rules for holiday gifting could help:

      “As usual, we’ll having our mini-potluck party on X day. Just to ensure we are following work etiquette, please note that if gifts are given, they should be opt-in rather than opt-out, with a low dollar limit, and not flow upward. In other words, no gifts for anyone above you in the hierarchy. You are already giving your managers the best gift: being an excellent employee, so thanks for that.”

  51. marty*

    “Shame on First-in-Command for not shutting this down the very first year there was a group gift given. What is this person thinking? I can only imagine that on some level he/she thinks that this gift is deserved.”

    First-in-Command- as well as the idiot staff who think this is a good idea likely think that First-in-Command is one of those mighty “job creators”, whose asses we are supposed to continually kiss in thankfulness.

  52. PoohBear McGriddles*

    How incredibly inconsiderate! The same damn vacation two years in a row – what the friggin frackin’ hades is that all about? Everyone knows a ski trip should be followed by a trip to the beach.

    Seriously, my inclination would be to hit the “Reply All”, because that’s how I roll. #2 has obviously been smoking more crack than that mayor in Toronto to think that this was a good idea. Still, responding via email like that is likely to place a huge target on the OP’s back. If you do that, better tread lightly.

  53. anon-2*

    I worked in a place once where there was a director who’d have her admin collect “contributions” for the director’s birthday / Christmas gift, etc.

    I just held my nose and refused.

    One place I worked, early on – there were two groups – a computer programming group , and a computer operations group. When someone had a life event (wedding, new baby, etc.) the envelope would be passed.

    Well, sort of. The programmers would pass the envelope into the operations area. But not vice versa.

  54. Mayank*

    This is a very common case of flaw in HR policies. The company I work for prohibits any one to gift any body in office worth more than $50. I think I am lucky to work here.
    I think if I were in this case I wud have directly spoken to the 2nd in command that my financial conditions dont support me to contribute in such types of expensive gifts.

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