I’m being pressured to contribute to gifts for resigning coworkers — and it’s increasingly obnoxious

A reader writes:

Recently, two of my colleagues both gave their month-long notices; they are moving on to new positions in the community after five and six years here, respectively. After the news was announced, our boss threw a small party during lunch hours that we all attended. Our organization ordered food and a cake, and we all said nice things about our colleagues and signed photo books for them. They were also presented with gifts – each received a religious item with an engraved plaque.

It has now been a week since the party and my colleagues and I have received three separate emails from our boss’s secretary – each one firmer than the next, asking us to contribute towards the cost of these gifts:

Email 1: “Dear Staff — We have bought our colleagues two beautiful goodbye gifts. If you would like to contribute toward their gifts, please bring me whatever amount you would like to donate. Thank you.”

Email 2: “Dear Staff — It is completely voluntary, but if you are able to contribute toward the gifts for Jane and Fergus, it would be most appreciated. If you are going to participate, please bring your contribution to me. The amount is up to you. Thank you.”

Email 3: “Dear Staff – I haven’t heard from you regarding the gifts we bought for Jane and Fergus. Boss is paying out of her own pocket whatever isn’t contributed by the staff. With the cost of the engraved plaques, the cost is $200. We don’t want the entire burden to be on Boss. Please try to contribute something – anything will be helpful.”

The first email was sent to the whole staff – but the second and third emails were sent to just a handful of us – the ones who did not contribute — and not via bcc. Like a public shaming!

How do I handle this and what do I say to this woman? I firmly believe it is not my place to have to pay for a gift on behalf of my company. These were not my employees, I was not their manager, they were my colleagues and I enjoyed working with them and getting to know them – but it was not my decision to give them gifts and I do not believe I should have to contribute. I didn’t choose the gifts, they are not what I would have chosen if I did (I actually took my colleagues out to lunch separately to say goodbye), and I find the whole thing really upsetting.

I am typically a very generous person but this has just rubbed me the wrong way and made me very resentful towards my company. At the end of the day, we are employees of a nonprofit and none of us are rolling in money.

Oh, this is obnoxious on so many levels — the ones you named, but also the claim at first that it’s “completely voluntary,” followed by making it quite clear in the next email that the meaning of “completely voluntary” is not the one that any reasonable person is familiar with.

You have a few options here:

* You can continue to ignore her. After all, she told you this was completely voluntary, so let’s take her at her word. If she approaches you directly and individually, you can say, “This is voluntary like you said in your email, right?”

* You can email her back right now and say, “I’m not able to contribute and wanted to let you know so that you can cross me off the list.”

* You can explain to her why this is so problematic: “You earlier said this was voluntary, but these emails are becoming increasingly high-pressure. I’m concerned that we’re being pressured to help pay for this after the fact, without any input into the gifts or their cost or whether we wanted to spend our money this way. I think it’s lovely if the organization wants to recognize departing employees, but none of us signed on to pay for those items and may not have room in our budgets for this.”

* You can send the above email and also include your boss on it. It’s possible she doesn’t know that this high-pressure collection is being done in her name.

* You can enlist other coworkers in speaking up as a group, which is often particularly effective because it makes it hard to ignore that people — plural — are irked about this. (And hey, you know exactly who to approach, thanks to your coworker’s third email singling out the non-payers.)

And really, once and for all: People, get your hands out of your coworkers’ wallets! Their money does not belong to you.

{ 304 comments… read them below }

  1. Bee Eye LL*

    Maybe you can chip in $5 just to get them off your back.

    My wife is currently dealing with this at her hospital job. Two of her co-workers are having kids, but those people work different shifts and my wife barely knows them. They only see each other like once every couple months at staff meetings or training sessions. Still, the department managers are trying to get everyone to chip in for a baby shower, food, presents, etc. My wife doesn’t want to do it and she’s not the only one. We’re not talking $5 each, either – more like $30-40 to buy all kinds of food and decorations and high dollar cakes from a local bakery.

    1. Anna No Mouse*

      $30-$40 each? That’s crazy! I could see up to $10, with people giving more if they want, but more than that is really obnoxious.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        YES! The supervisors are wanting to throw a full blown baby shower with catered food and the like. It’s nuts.

        1. OhNo*

          Wait – a FULL baby shower? Like a “bring a gift for the expectant parent” kind of baby shower? If that’s the case, I really hope your wife can push back on this. $30+ is a ridiculous amount to ask for in contributions for a work event, and if they’re expected to give a gift on top of that… yikes.

            1. Liane*

              Except that one of the rules of shower etiquette is that showers AREN’T supposed to be given by family members. ;)
              Although that rule seems to be honored mostly in the breach.

              1. Grapey*

                I’ve never seen this rule followed in any of the showers I’ve attended – most of them were done by the person’s sister or mother. My MIL offered to throw a wedding shower for me but I declined one altogether.

              2. BananaPants*

                I’ve seen that rule followed for bridal showers but not often for baby showers.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            Not a work story, but my godchild, at 19, decided to throw her mom a baby shower (mom had a late in life baby), and decided that she would invite 10 people, and asked the 4 who were closest to her mom to pay for it. She sent out an e-mail stating the cost of the shower, and basically invoiced us. None of us responded, so she sent an e-mail to all of the invitees and then divided the cost by 10. When no one responded to that e-mail, she started calling. I explained to her that she could not “host” a baby shower, and then ask the guests to pay for it. I ended up sending a gift and not attending. I really don’t understand people who come up with these ideas and then expect others to foot the bill.

            1. Ruffingit*

              In her defense, she may not have realized this was not OK as she was 19 and likely not able to foot the cost herself. I’m glad you explained to her why this is very poor etiquette.

        2. Donna*

          I don’t think I’ve even been to a catered baby shower. It sounds like somebody’s relatives are in the catering business.

          1. Blurgle*

            They’re very common in some circles. Another of the advice blogs had someone surprised with a baby shower so posh that all the other attendees were wearing designer clothing – the expectant mother was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and looked (in her own words) a ‘hot mess’.

      2. Lauren*

        We once had to give $50 each for owner’s 50th birthday. I hated the guy, but didn’t really have a choice. But a month later was xmas – $35 for a xmas gift – i finally saw the office manager walk by me, and owner wasn’t around – so i called out to her in front of others and said – “i can’t really swing $35 this time after the $50 bday gift, but i can give $10” – handed it to her, suddenly other people were giving only $5 to get out of it with less money. After others popped out cash – I called out – last call for bosses’ xmas gift! It killed the emails immediately and got people to “get away with” giving less or none. I hate gifting up.

    2. Rat in the Sugar*

      I would bristle at that just from principle; I mean, they didn’t even ask OP beforehand and it sounds like a gift she wouldn’t have contributed to even if they had! I don’t think she should pay at all. If boss wanted to get a gift, that’s on boss.

      1. Sadsack*

        I’m with you. Giving even a small amount now just teaches the admin and possibly the boss that this tactic works. If people balk and refuse to contribute, maybe they’ll handle future gifts differently.

      2. Green*

        Yeah, I only recommend doing the “eh, just give $5” if it’s the boss who is nagging you to contribute.

    3. INTP*

      I kind of wonder if the people who already contributed did just that (give $5 to get the boss/secretary off their backs). That would explain why they initially called it a voluntary thing, maybe assuming a few people would give $50, and now they’re trying to shame every last employee into contributing.

      Granted my background is in the private sector where companies are able to pay for gifts and parties if they choose for that to be a priority, but I bristle at even being asked for $5. If a gesture isn’t worth the company’s money, why should it be worth the coworkers’ personal money? $30-40 would make me rage.

      1. A Non*

        “If a gesture isn’t worth the company’s money, why should it be worth the coworkers’ personal money?”

        A very good point. If the company thinks it’s important, they should budget for it, not try to take it out of their employee’s pockets.

      2. Ad Astra*

        My office is sort of close-knit so people actually do contribute significant sums of money for their coworkers’ baby/wedding showers, but that goes onto a giftcard. It’s not for a potentially off-putting religious plaque, and the money’s collected before the gift. (And the company does put, like, $50 toward cake and stuff.)

        1. Judy*

          Collecting beforehand is how I’ve always seen it done. A former group usually did baby gifts, and would send around a card & envelope. The organizer would then find something to buy with the money, or just get a gift card.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Yeah, that’s so standard, I’m finding any other way incomprehensible – you see how much you have to spend, then you spend it!

            (I’m also the kind of person who will offer to do the collection for the people I’m close to, and ask them if there’s anything specific they’d like, or if they’d like a surprise, because I want it to be meaningful, even if it’s just a gift worth a fiver)

        2. INTP*

          That’s fine as long as it’s 100% voluntary. One email letting everyone know how to contribute, no specified amounts for contribution, and only the people collecting the money ever knows who contributed what.

          But if you’re approaching everyone in the office for a specific amount of money, even if it’s $5, I disagree with that.

        3. Loose Seal*

          I was assuming/hoping the organization is a religious one and that the plaques would be welcome. If not, then wow.

        4. Jadelyn*

          It being BEFORE the gift-giving is the crucial element here, to me. If you ask upfront, “do we want to do X and everyone chip in?” then that gives people a chance to think through their finances and be upfront about what they can and can’t (or don’t want to) do. But to buy an expensive gift, then basically try to invoice everyone for it after the fact once the deed is done and there’s no changing it is sketchy as hell, imo.

    4. AFT123*

      Ugh that is so lame, and honestly, I would feel pretty awful if I were the recipient of the party/gifts. It often seems like the people who decide to throw parties and give gifts are doing so more out of a selfish motivation, doesn’t it? They want to feel like they’re doing something really nice, want to feel the appreciation, and maybe never even think to consult with the other people involved first. I know I have fallen into this mind set without even realizing it, and I shudder to think of how I made other people feel, especially the recipient.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        I don’t work there and only hear what my wife tells me about things, but it seems to me like there is a major line being crossed between supervisor/employee relations. I think they may be too close personally and using the workplace as a means to throw a big party for their friend. Just a hunch.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        This is why I don’t really like parties in the workplace. I hate parties thrown for me and there’ve been times at work where I’ve said not to celebrate my birthday or my leaving the company, and people go ahead and celebrate it and I feel so awkward. I hate receiving gifts or attention for things like that.

        I know it’s, like you said, genuinely well meant, but I don’t really want coworkers to spend money on a goodbye gift. A card or email is nice enough. I like the way my current company does it, by asking the person retiring/leaving if they want to celebrate. Most people say no or do a “going out for drinks, come if you want” type of thing, which made me realize I’m not alone in not wanting a party thrown for me at work!

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        We have someone like that here. Not sure if it’s selfish reasons per se, but she seems to just love running out to get cards, cakes, flowers, and gifts whenever there’s any occasion. The difference is, she says pitch in or don’t and means it. She knows not all of us have the discretionary budget she does. But at the same time, I feel bad if I don’t contribute.

        1. Petronella*

          People like that would rather go shopping and plan parties than do their work.

          1. Adonday Veeah*

            I think this is a bit harsh. We have someone like that at my company, but she does it on her lunch hour and breaks, and she does her work just fine.

            1. Cactus*

              THANK you. I was this person, at a previous company, and I loved it. But for the most part, all of the planning and buying was done when I was not at work. It’s not a “shirking responsibility” thing.

          2. the gold digger*

            Who wouldn’t rather go shopping and plan parties than work? I love planning parties. I don’t really like going to them, but I love figuring out the food and trying new recipes.

          3. Anna*

            Duh. Much like I would rather do crafting all day than work. And I love what I do. So not really a scorching criticism.

      4. The Butcher of Luverne*

        Or they want to be assured that what goes around will come around — to them.

    5. Murphy*

      No way I’d be chipping in anything to get her off my back. That just sets the precedent that it’s ok to do this and that it’ll happen in the future.

      The b!tch in me would want to contribute exactly $0.05 to the cause to prove a point, but that’s not cool so I’d go for an email back to everyone who was on the distribution list saying no.

        1. KimmieSue*

          AMA’s note is perfectly worded. I’d copy it and reply-all to the last email and hit send.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            The only thing I might add is the fact that she already treated the two coworkers to lunch.

      1. Florida*

        I think if you give $5 to reward her shaming tactics, you have sort of given up your right to complain when she does it again. In many ways, we teach people how to treat us.

      2. all aboard the anon train*


        It just means the next time someone will say you chipped in last time, so why not this time.

      3. JustALurker*

        Exactly!! I have $0 in my budget to contribute to a gift I wasn’t consulted about!

      4. Emilia Bedelia*

        My personal fantasy of me as badass office diva would be to stroll up to the admin, tell her exactly what I think of forced office gift giving, then very seriously place 2 shiny pennies in her hand and say”… Just my 2 cents.”

        But there’s a good reason that’s a fantasy…

        1. Murphy*

          I thought about pennies, but Canada doesn’t have pennies anymore, so a nickle is the lowest I could go.

          And I realize it’s wildly aggressive and not cool so I’d never do it, but yes, in my head…

      5. Wheezy Weasel*

        If I think I can get away with it, I reply as the only thing in the body of those emails.

    6. Florida*

      I would not recommend paying $5 just to get then off your back. If you can and want to donate, then do so. But don’t do it to be left alone. This is rewarding bad behavior.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        The OP did say the company bought food and cake, which is why I was thinking five bucks would at least show you put in for the stuff you ate. But I see your point, too. It’s not really a “gift” to the outgoing employee if it ends up becoming a penalty to everyone else.

        1. Florida*

          The company bought the food and cake because the company should buy the food and cake. The individual employees should not buy it. These were employees of the company, not OP.
          There are a lot of people who would do as you suggested, pay $5, because they would rather do that than to have to deal with the guilt of not participating or telling the collector that I’m not paying or whatever the uncomfortable situation is. If you want to do that (You, in the collective sense, not you personally), then that is fine, but then don’t be surprised if Madam Collector is back next week because it’s United Way time or someone is having an anniversary or it’s Boss’s Day or whatever else there is.
          Generally speaking, the things that get rewarded get repeated. If you reward Madam Collector for strong arming you, then you have taught her that that is the best way to get what she wants from you.

          1. OP Here!*

            Just making sure you saw my reply down below – I did not contribute :)

            I know for a fact people will be leaving/retiring in the future, and I do not want to set a precedent!

            1. Florida*

              I didn’t see it. Thanks for mentioning it up here. Glad you didn’t contribute!

    7. Vicki*

      Even $5 is extortionate. And agreeing to $5 now will make it much more difficult to not agree to another $5 next time, and the time after that.

      Smile and say “No”.

    8. Total Rando*

      As a currently pregnant woman who hopes that her coworkers want to celebrate her, I would be SO UNCOMFORTABLE with a group of people pitching in $30-40 each after receiving pressure from their managers. Especially coworkers that see each other as rarely as you describe.

      1. BananaPants*

        For our first baby, enough of my coworkers pitched in that we got $150 in gift cards to Babies R Us. Given that there were over 100 coworkers at the time, my guess it that it was more like 20-30 people each pitching in $5-10. Everyone got to sign the card regardless of whether they chipped in or not – as it should be! I was very touched that my colleagues gave us such a generous gift. With our second baby, just the group and my boss pitched in for a $50 gift card – which was unexpected but appreciated.

        I would have been so very uncomfortable if anyone had been pressured to give anything, much less $30-40. I’ve gone to baby showers for good friends where I spent $30 on the entire gift!

    9. TootsNYC*

      That’s especially stupid because that $30 could be a baby present in an of itself!

      1. Chinook*

        “$30 could be a baby present in an of itself”

        Heck, I have done up wonderful baby gift baskets for less than that for family members. There isn’t a coworker I know well enough that I would think to give that much too!

    10. Wendy Darling*

      I’ve told this story before, but one of my coworkers at my old job took it upon herself to get someone a really expensive wedding gift (I think it was $400+) “from the team” without consulting the team, and then sent us invoices for $75 each. I don’t know what everyone else did, but me and at least one other coworker gave her $20 and called it a day. I suspect she ended up paying $200-300 out of pocket herself.

      1. Sketchee*

        That’s really silly. I can get that paying $20 in that it’s what you might have contributed if she asked. And leaves it up to her if she wants to have the uncomfortable conversation.

        I often buy gifts for friends and I’ll write “from: friends”. So it’s a group gift from all of us. That way no one feels left out if they didn’t bring a gift, which many of us are often unable to do for financial reasons. I don’t ask for or except donations and we all sign the card.

        I’m not rolling in dough either and they’re definitely not $400 gifts. My mom would do this when I was a kid and it was always really nice, I thought.

    11. The Butcher of Luverne*

      Completely inappropriate for the workplace. Not to mention unbalanced for those who never have children while at that job.

      How about you all throw me a housewarming party at the office because I’m moving?

      1. Murphy*

        Eh, I don’t think baby showers per se are inappropriate. We’ve had celebrations for people who are having babies (and weddings and new jobs and new houses) at work and no one complains. But giving is optional and many people just sign a card (depends on the person, but I often just sign the card and don’t toss money into the envelope (which is how we do it to keep it totally anonymous on who contributes what). Plus, when there is a gift it’s usually something reasonable like a bottle of wine or whatnot.

        1. Lucy*

          But how do you know that “no one complains”? They might not be complaining out loud, but smiling and nodding while internally raging? It’s a thing. A real thing.

          1. Lynne*

            Yes, I’m definitely smiling and nodding while internally…not raging, but annoyed. I throw in a $20-25 gift or gift card for wedding or baby showers, and this sort of thing only comes up once every year or two in my workplace, so I consider it the cost of keeping the peace and not making waves. That plus $25 a year to the general gift fund, which pays for things like cards, and flowers when someone is seriously sick, and gifts when someone leaves – I’m not nearly as annoyed by that, as it prevents people from asking around for money when stuff like that comes up, as I’m sure they otherwise would.

            But showers at work? Really? What’s the purpose of that except to rope in people who aren’t actually your friends outside of work, and shake them down for presents? I can afford to just write the shower gifts off, so I do – but if we’re not friends, I don’t see why I should be expected to contribute to your wedding I’m not invited to, or to your new baby. Those are *your* life choices and have nothing to do with me. I really hate the way our society encourages people to ask for charity handouts when they have certain types of life events. I have better uses for my charity dollars, like actual charity organizations who are actually in need of something more important than the fancy salt shaker you put on your registry on a whim.

            (I might feel more laissez-faire about this if shower gifts here were anonymous group gifts and more genuinely optional, as it sounds like they are at Murphy’s workplace. But even with a low-pressure approach, I think showers at work are both inappropriate and selfish, unless the recipient is in actual genuine need of charity, which has not been the case in my experience so far.)

            (But I smile and nod, because the intangible cost of fighting this custom would be much higher than its monetary cost to me. Also rather like tilting at windmills, I think.)

            1. Grapey*

              “rope in people who aren’t actually your friends outside of work, and shake them down for presents?”

              In my experience, every work shower was planned and paid for by someone’s work-friend, not the person themselves. (And they have all been thankfully truly voluntary!) Also in my experience, only very close work-friends/hosts seem to get gifts for the honoree whereas everyone else goes to eat cake and socialize.

              But I come from a company that seems rare in how well they treat employees/each other, so YMMV.

            2. BananaPants*

              The way they’ve worked in my office for weddings and babies has been that the honoree’s manager contacts everyone but the honoree to let them know that a card and an envelope for 100% voluntary contributions to a gift card will be available on an admin’s desk for several days. Anybody can sign the card, and for the gift card people might chip in $1, $5, or nothing at all. At the end of the week the admin goes and gets a gift card with the money. Neither the manager or the recipient knows who donated to the gift and how much. It’s very no-pressure and I don’t mind it at all. In several cases where longtime coworkers/work friends became parents I quietly gave them an additional gift on my own after the baby arrived in addition to tossing in $5 towards the big organization-wide gift card.

              For weddings and births/adoptions the company pays for a nice floral arrangement to be sent to the employee’s home (this is also done for bereavements) and for new babies a company logo gift is given to the family as well.

    12. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Ugh. My mom was an RN in a hospital, and this sounds very similar to the wedding/baby extortion that she had to put up with. $30+ for 3-5 (or more) events per year, sometimes with a pot-luck dish thrown in to boot, adds up!

      Then there was the middle-school drama like going all out with gifts and cake and a pot-luck for one person’s wedding/baby/retirement and then bupkis for someone else’s celebration. For the record, Mom got bupkis for her retirement.

      I liked what they did at a former job. An interoffice envelope was passed around with a card to sign and you could contribute (or not) whatever amount anonymously and then the organizer would buy the gift(s).

    13. JessaB*

      “Just chip in $5,” makes a bad precedent. First it presumes that everyone has $5 at the moment in question, second it sets the precedent that everyone should just do this instead of pushing back and saying NO.

    14. Jen S. 2.0*

      They need to plan a very different kind of party if what they are planning requires a $40 contribution from attendees. You cannot afford your party if your guests have to pay for it.

  2. LBK*

    Ugh, something similar happened to me recently for my coworker’s 20th work anniversary. We had planned a lunch with him at a relatively pricey place and then another coworker suggested we also each chip in $20 to get him a gift card – none of which was paid for or reimbursed by the company. I went to the lunch but I didn’t contribute to the gift card, which I’m sure made me look like an asshole since I think I’m the only one who didn’t but frankly, he doesn’t work for me! It’s not my responsibility to thank him for working for someone else, especially if that means paying a total of $50 out of my pocket for the whole celebration when combined with how much lunch cost me.

    All this to say, I totally understand how you feel, OP, and I agree you’re not under any obligation to contribute. You can tell that woman to stuff it (in Alison’s much more diplomatic terms, of course).

    1. Cleopatra Jones*

      While I wouldn’t ever work for a small family business, my husband’s company (a small family owned business) does it right (IMO) when celebrating milestone work anniversaries.
      They hosted a party at a swanky restaurant for all employees including their spouses/SO and picked up the entire tab (even when one co-worker decided to order a bottle of Dom Perignon for her table ::eye roll::). It was pretty nice! They had an open bar & appetizers before the meal and a pretty nice meal (prime rib or chicken) with dessert. I felt so fancy :-)

      In general, I think his employer is an exemplary small family business though.

      1. Rater Z*

        I spent nine years at a small company where the two owners had been friends for 40 years — they met in junior high back around 1940. The biggest the company ever was, to my knowledge, was 13-15 people so the owners were more like co-workers to us. They were doing the same work we were and sitting in the same room. For the company’s 30th anniversary, we took them out to dinner. I didn’t pay for the dinner because my wife baked the cake and it looked great as she duplicated the company logo on the cake. We also donated at Christmas to give the owners and their wives a dinner at different restaurants but we got bonuses as well. I would never have thought not to give for them, but it was a different time 40 years ago and they did a lot for me and put up with a lot from me they didn’t have to.

    2. BananaPants*

      My employer pays for milestone service anniversaries. We have a lot of long-tenure folks who spend all or most of a career there, so 20th or 30th service anniversaries are not at all unusual. Every 5 years is a milestone and the company gives you a gift (you select from a catalog; the gifts get nicer/higher in value as you get up in years). For celebrations, at 10 years it’s usually a cake for your work group to share. At 15 the employee can choose a modestly-priced restaurant lunch for a certain number of coworkers, and at 20, 25, etc. it steps up each time in terms of what the company will pay for.

      Retirement or goodbye parties are privately-arranged by coworkers of the retiree, and guests do chip in to pay for those. You know that up-front when you’re invited, though, and if you don’t go you obviously don’t have to chip in anything.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    This is so completely backwards. First off, retirement gifts are paid for by the company. For voluntary employee collections you usually collect money ahead of time. Then buy a gift that reflects the value of what you collected. But what the secretary bus doing is buying the gift and essentially “billing” the employees.
    I would go to the secretary and tell her that you provided your own gift to the departing employees (you took them out). Tell her you are not obligated to finance other people’s gifts, especially when you had no input into the cost.
    I’d also talk to your manager before you talk to the secretary and let her know about your own private gift. Let her know about the public shaming too. Yes, he manager probably did get the emails but managers get so many emails she may have missed the subtle bullying. That’s exactly what public shaming is, BTW b

    1. The IT Manager*

      I work for the government. Retirement and going away gifts are paid for by bosses, co-workers, and subordinates, not by the government. You understand why – tax dollars and all – but I disagree with your blanket statement “retirement gifts are paid for by the company.” That may be your experience but it’s not everyone’s.

      1. Ell like L*

        Obviously there are exceptions. So yeah, #notallworkplaces. But the point is that it shouldn’t be the burden of the staff to fund this kind of thing, even in the government. Period.

        1. calonkat*

          There is a group of volunteers in my government agency who keep track of a private (no public money) fund for such expenses. They do fundraisers and accept donations to cover the costs of retirements/gifts, but there is never any “person X is retiring, you should donate”. And yeah, it is the burden of the staff to fund. The joys of government work :)

        2. CMT*

          That’s just not feasible, though. We have a pool of money to buy *condolence* cards in this government office.

          1. INTP*

            I think if the employer doesn’t fund these things, then it shouldn’t be expected to have them at all. If volunteers want to pull something together, then fine – but if no one volunteers, then maybe people don’t get birthday cards or retirement parties. It’s not the end of the world.

            1. CMT*

              Sure, and I think that’s the way it is in most offices. I have a good enough relationship with my coworkers that I do want to chip in to buy things like condolence cards and going away pizza. But I understand that it has to be “the burden of the staff to fund this kind of thing” due to the nature of the workplace. I’d rather chip in occasionally than not have anything like this at all.

              1. JB*

                Eh, it depends on who you mean by “staff.” when I worked for a government agency, the people at the top paid for that stuff out of their own pockets. They didn’t expect the rest of us to pay for things like retirement gifts. We often would take up a collection for a separate gift, but that was separate and totally optional.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        That’s true. But the money is usually collected ahead of time. And in this case the OP provided her own separate gift.

      3. Bee Eye LL*

        I work for the gov, too. Some of the higher ups still buy flowers because nobody will challenge them on it, but generally any kind of retirement gifts come out of somebody’s pocket.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      Agree about the process. A colleague organized several celebrations for other coworkers, and he and one or two other select people chose the gift, and then “recommended” a donation amount to accommodate. That drove me nuts. When I organize, I do what you suggest – collect VOLUNTARY contributions (saying if you want to contribute, please do so by XYZ date so we can plan) and then pick a gift/s accordingly with the amount of money available. That way no one feels guilted to give more than they want (if at all).

    3. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You’re supposed to buy the gift after you collect the money. Don’t bill me for something I didn’t agree to pay for.

    4. Willis*

      Plus these people aren’t even retiring from the company, just taking new jobs after having worked there a few years! I would be a lot more inclined to chip in for a retirement gift for someone that I’d worked with a long time than for these plaques. (And honestly, what are people really going to do with $200 plaques from a place they worked for relatively briefly?) But, either way, this sounds like it was a company decision and therefore a company expense.

      1. Sparrow*

        Is there anyone out there who would actually be excited about a plaque? I’m genuinely curious. It just feels like an absurd waste of money to me.

    5. Dangerously Cheezy*

      Retirement gifts are not usually paid by a company when they cannot legally use it for a deduction. I know there are certain rules regarding the value and how long the employee has been with the company to determine if it is tax deductible or if it is just a ‘waste’ of money. In these cases (unless decisions aren’t all profit driven) it is usually the staff that funds the gift or the manager uses a discretionary fund to pay for it.

      It really isn’t fair to pressure people into contributing when the conversation didn’t occur before the manager went out and bought the gift.

  4. Pokebunny*

    People, get your hands out of your coworkers’ wallets! Their money does not belong to you.

    Oh, how I wish some “friends” and family of mine would get this in their thick heads.

  5. Prismatic Professional*

    I’m a big fan of CaptainAwkward’s broken record (“No.” It is a full sentence and doesn’t need explanation). I have also recently used AAM’s “My budget allows me to contribute $5.” My team has been awesome.

    Also, ask to be removed from the list. “My budget does not allow me to contribute. Please remove me from this list.” Sent only to the assistant (not reply all!). It sucks that you’re having to deal with this. :-/

    1. A Signer*

      I know that reply all is really annoying, but in this instance it could be helpful depending on how forward you are. By letting the other people who are being hounded see that someone is standing up and saying no, it might remove some of the pressure from them and make them feel more comfortable saying no as well. YMMV and it’s not for every workplace/person, but it’s an option.

      1. Viktoria*

        Yes, this might be one instance where I’d use Reply All, because I’d be so annoyed! And I’d want to encourage other people to say no if they don’t want to contribute.

        I might also amend the reply to: “My understanding is that contributing was voluntary. I am not able to contribute, please take me off this list. Thanks, Viktoria.”

        Becuase, again… annoyed.

        1. Dangerously Cheezy*

          I’d be tempted to not just reply all but include all those in the original email as well to ask “Did I miss the meeting where we all agreed to pitch in?”

      2. LBK*

        Yes, I could totally see the first reply all setting off a waterfall of other responses, because no one wants to be the first one but they’re probably all thinking the same thing.

        1. OP Here!*

          OP again – so I actually have spoken to several of my coworkers about this – including people who DID contribute originally, and people who, like me, refused to do so.

          The people who contributed thought it was annoying but didn’t really mind doing so. The ones who, like me, did not – all thought that the emails were harassing and annoying. We were particularly upset by the “public shaming” part of it – ie, when the secretary didn’t use BCC.

    2. INTP*

      The problem with citing your personal budget is that in my experience, it makes people start to scrutinize all your visible spending and decide that you’re lying about your budget and you just didn’t want to spend on their thing. This is true whether it’s “She says she can’t even spend $10 for the gift but she has gone out for lunch three times this month!” or “She said she couldn’t afford to attend my destination wedding but then she went on vacation by herself!” (the latter being something I have actually heard someone complain about). If your goal is to just get someone to stop badgering you, it totally works – I just wouldn’t recommend it as the white lie to choose when you are trying to salvage someone’s opinion of you.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s my experience. If you buy yourself lunch, they’ll call you out on that. It’s tacky and rude on their behalf, but that’s what happens.

      2. Dangerously Cheezy*

        My favourite response to my “it isn’t in my budget” excuse for not putting $25 towards their kids fundraiser was them asking me “are you telling me you have no credit cards?”… I then got a tad bit rude and just ended it with “I just don’t want to give you my money”

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Somebody really had the gall to ask you that? I don’t know that I’d be able to respond in a way that wouldn’t get me some kind of disciplinary action.

      3. Windchime*

        But that’s the thing about budgets. Maybe I’ve budgeted for those three lunches out. I didn’t budget for a contribution to a gift for a coworker that I barely know.

        Saying it’s not in my budget is different from saying I can’t afford it. “It’s not in my budget” could mean any number of things, including “I can’t afford it” and “I don’t want to spend money on this thing”.

      4. Sketchee*

        INTP, I like that mentiioning my budget sets me up to continue to enforce my boundaries. If someone said any of these things, I’d shut it down so fast. The example quotes aren’t expressions about me or my character. If someone seems to think they know better about where I spend my money, the problem is not me and I’m sure not going to pretend it is. =)

  6. Myrin*

    Oooh, I really love the phrasing in (of? I can’t preposition correctly right now) the third point – Alison, you really do have a way with words!

  7. INTP*

    This should be a lesson to the boss not to pay out of her pocket for gifts before asking for contributions unless she’s okay with covering the whole cost. You don’t get to decide other people’s financial priorities for them (this is a soapbox I could get on for all kinds of situations). I kind of hope the people who DID contribute only threw in $5 to get everyone off their backs so it’s an expensive lesson, too.

    1. BadPlanning*

      And who know if the boss even cares if anyone pays them back — the admin could just be badgering people thinking the boss shouldn’t cover it.

      1. INTP*

        That’s true. Or the admin could be covering her own butt in some way, if she said “Oh, I’ll be able to collect $200 for you, no problem!” or something.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          Ooh, I just got a flashback to the boss who kept the money from an office collection for herself. No reason to think that’s the case here, but dang would it be juicy if it were.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Yeah, I’m picturing a shady admin taking up such a collection without even telling the boss, then just pocketing the money. Probably not what’s happening…but not inconceivable.

            1. The Other Beebs*

              Wasn’t there a letter about a coworker who did just that some time ago?

    2. TootsNYC*

      BadPlanning has a point–boss may be OK w/ covering this, and the secretary just feels really bad about it. Or not.

      1. INTP*

        In retrospect that seems likely – and the secretary is either acting out of fierce loyalty to boss, a personal belief that people should always contribute to gifts, a need to CYA about what she estimated the contributions would be or her suggestion of gifts, etc. In either case I think CCing the boss on a response would be a good idea – it serves to say “We know this is your dirty work” if she’s behind it or “FYI, this is happening” if she’s not.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I find it so interesting that many people are assuming that the admin is doing this without the boss’ knowledge. I am an executive assistant and have had more than one cheapo boss who would have told me to send that email, and then would have made me follow up a few times. The boss who was the worst about this was super-rich and lived in a huge apartment on Park Ave. It was so embarrassing when she’d make me go around trying to get money from people. She bought in fancy cookies once and then asked me to get people to chip in later. I decided to “make a point” and told her that I wasn’t comfortable asking people for money when they assumed it was just free cookies, got my wallet out and handed her $20. I thought she’d be mortified but she took the money!

          1. Anna*

            I feel like the tone of the secretary’s email lends itself to being their idea to get contributions. I mean, if I were getting pressure to collect money on behalf of my boss, I would make that clear in the most non-accusatory way possible. “Boss Person would really appreciate if you could contribute any amount to the cost of the gifts to Jane and Fergus. Please feel free to drop off your contribution with me!” It doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a third party.

          2. Lowercase holly*

            People at my old job would bring in treats from wherever they vacationed. I cannot imagine anyone going around charging for it. That isn’t how it works!

    3. Dangerously Cheezy*

      I would imagine that the boss may have paid out of her own pocket assuming that she’d be reimbursed from the company and made a comment to the secretary that she was upset that she was out the cash or that it would’ve been a good idea to ask around for donations.

      I don’t trust a lot of things that come from secretaries when the boss is not clearly CC’d on the email… for all anyone knows the secretary is going to go to the boss and say “Here is my donation towards the retirement gift”

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Wait, but why don’t you trust things that come from assistants if the boss isn’t cc’d? I’m an EA and never cc my boss unless it’s something she is involved in. It would annoy her if I clogged up her inbox with unnecessary emails. Are assistants inherently less trustworthy in your eyes than your other coworkers?

  8. CJ*

    I’m wondering if “Oh, I already took them to lunch for their gift!” would get any traction. (I’m fond of “I’m sorry, no.” in general.)

    1. Eric*

      I’d be tempted to ask the assistant for a cut of the proceeds to help pay for that lunch. :)

    2. INTP*

      That sounds good to me. It points out that you contributed something, at least – I’m not a fan of “My budget doesn’t allow me to contribute anything” just because in my experience, when you cite budgetary reasons for not spending something, people start to scrutinize your spending and view all your discretionary spending as proof that you could afford it and you were lying. This says “Well, I budgeted a reasonable amount but I already spent it” instead, so the secretary can’t look at your $11 salads at lunch and deem you a liar. If you really wanted to make a point you could throw in, “I wish you had asked us for money before deciding to spend so much so I could warn you that I planned to do my own thing!”

    3. Lissa*

      Yes, this is what I would do. Sort of a version of “I give at the office” I guess. :) “I prefer to do individual rather than group gifts, so I did my own thing” or whatever. In general I really dislike group gifts; they always feel at least a little pressurey, in my experience. There are ways to do it so they don’t, like an impersonal ahead-of-time email asking if anybody wanted to do a group gift would be fine…but that’s almost never what happens.

  9. TootsNYC*

    Boss makes more money than you, and boss picked the plaques. Boss presumably also has an expense account (though a gift like this might not be expensable). Boss can figure out how to cope with the expense.

    We used to get going-away presents for our resigning teammates, at my old job.
    For almost all of them, the gift amount was totally voluntary–I know, bcs I sent out the emails (two: One saying I was collecting, and what we thought we’d get for her, but soliciting other ideas; and the second saying, “Tomorrow’s the last day to contribute. If you’re already contributed, ignore this email.”) All emails went to everybody; only *I* kept track of who gave what (only in case someone worried about where the money went), and I kept it totally secret.

    I was also in on the confidential conversations about what to get, how much it would cost, and what did we predict other people would give, so we would know whether us organizers/shoppers were going to be able to cover any shortfall. High-level people gave more, and sometimes the top manager would say, “let me know what the gap is; I’ll make it all up,” knowing that they’d be OK w/ whatever the amount was; people close to the person leaving gave more. Some people gave $5, or $1, or nothing. It was all good.

    Then someone else organized one of these and didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the gift she chose was really expensive even by our standards, and she ended up having to pay for most of it, and I believe it *was* a budget problem for her. She was kind of mad, saying that other people should have put in more money, she was going to have to cover the expense since she’d bought the present. I mildly said, “It’s hard to do this, when you pick the present before you collect the money, but those were pretty expensive earrings.”
    I was particularly annoyed bcs I’d suggested she estimate contributions before she chose the present, and she was so gung-ho about the choice of gift (it was a great pick for this particular person).

    1. Madison Rayne*

      I had a boss that couldn’t manage his money well, made more then me and always broke. And every potluck he’d go for the cheapest item. New bosses understand they make more, they can cover the more expensive items, ie meats…etc.

      1. Artemesia*

        Wow. We had admins who loved to organize a couple of pot lucks every year — those of us who were paid the big bucks always brought things like a ham, a bucket of fried chicken or other main dish item and left the salads and desserts for those making less. You can do a credible dessert for a couple of bucks. It always worked out because those who could knew to provide the more expensive choices.

  10. burnout*

    “I am unable to contribute so take me off the list.”

    That is all that needs saying.

    1. Petronella*

      “I am unable to contribute so take me off the list.”
      I would use this, I would Reply-All, and Iwould cc the boss. This is ridiculous.

  11. The IT Manager*

    The one thing I will disagree with is that it’s public shaming. The only people who know you didn’t contribute are others who didn’t contribute so I think you have allies instead of people who are judging your for not contributing.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      But the names shouldn’t have been there for everyone else on the email to see. A bcc email would have been more appropriate.

      1. fposte*

        Maybe, but I think it backfired, and I like that–people who thought they were the only one not contributing now know that several people aren’t. So I think a bcc: email would have been strategically superior, but I like the unintended consequences here.

        1. Willis*

          Yeah, plus if OP replies-all with a firm no, I bet some others will jump on that bandwagon!

    2. A Non*

      It was probably intended as semi-public shaming. But you’re right, it would actually have been more effective if the list had been blind CC’d.

    3. Lissa*

      I thought that too! I’d be like “sweet, now I know who else I can complain to about this!”

  12. Katie F*

    If you weren’t asked beforehand, were given no chance to be involved in the choosing/creatino of the gifts, and didn’t even know about them beforehand… I can’t see how you should be forced into this. I’d just ignore the e-mail and move on.

  13. anoooooon*

    My last company loved to celebrate baby showers/wedding showers/someone bought a house parties. I didn’t have the budget to contribute to gifts for people’s outside of work milestones, so I always said “no, it’s not in my budget”. Or if someone passed around a card, I would just sign my name and not include any money. I have issues with celebrating non-work related milestones in the office, but I’d still use the same “it’s not in my budget” line for a retirement party.

    I’m grateful my current company doesn’t celebrate anything and if someone leaves the company, people take them out to lunch because they want to. I’d be livid if my boss bought an expensive gift and then expected me to chip in – and I’d also feel uncomfortable if it was a religious gift (I don’t know if that bothers you, OP, but I’d be wary of being told to contribute money towards something religious).

    Just tell the secretary that you don’t have the budget to chip in. If she responds with something like, “Even $5 will help!” reiterate that you do not have the budget to contribute. Eventually (and hopefully) she’ll get it.

    1. OhNo*

      I 100% agree about the religious gift issue that you brought up. Honestly, even if I had been willing to contribute to start with, the fact that they bought a religious gift probably would have killed that for me. I don’t care if they’re super religious, or if the boss is, or the rest of the office, or even the whole company. Religious gifts in the workplace are still weird.

    2. neverjaunty*

      And that’s the correct way to handle this – everybody gets to sign the card, if they don’t contribute then that’s their business.

    3. Laura*

      The religious gift thing made me feel weird too, even though I’m religious. I assume either OP works for a religious nonprofit, and/or the boss knows those two people are religious. Either way, I don’t think those would be appropriate gifts.

    4. ali*

      The religious gift bothered me too. I would not contribute a dime to that even if I was wealthy. If this company/organization is a religious-based one, there’s definitely more leeway, but that wasn’t mentioned.

      I would at least hope boss knows about the retirees’ religious preferences and the gift follow theirs and not boss’. But if this is a non-religious organization, you can’t ask people to contribute to a gift that may or may not be their religion.

    5. Amy G. Golly*

      …and now I’ve learned I need to be angling for a “someone bought a house party!” (Hey, as someone with no plans to marry or reproduce, they’d be getting off light!)

      My old library had a very large staff, and it was potlucks ahoy! for every happy occasion. (I’d most certainly rather fork over $5-10 than go through the hassle of preparing and transporting a dish to pass!) There were sympathy cards and flowers for not-so-happy events. On top of the parties and flowers were the charity requests: individual co-workers, as well as library-sponsored events.

      The only thing that made all of that bearable was that the requests were truly voluntary. No one ever put pressure on me to contribute, or made me feel bad if I didn’t. And they always made sure I had a chance to sign whatever card was going around whether I put in to the hat or not!

      1. anoooooon*

        I admit I’m still a bit bitter that my previous company went to such lengths to celebrate babies/weddings/houses, but when I finished my PhD, my manager awkwardly said, “I wish we could celebrate that, but I don’t think we can get away with it because it’s not in the same category”, which kind of indicates that they only wanted to celebrate traditional middle class heteronormative life events. The only thing the company bought was pizza/cake/sandwiches/etc on the boss’s company card.

        What made it worse was that they had a party for someone who adopted a dog, but finishing a PhD program wasn’t worthy enough, I guess. I don’t know, I think if you’re going to celebrate big life events for some people, you should acknowledge that other people’s life events might not be the traditional marriage/baby/house celebrations. Saying they’re not worthy enough to celebrate when you’re celebrating every other type of outside of work event is a big slap in the face.

        /end rant oops sorry

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          What? Huh? They celebrated a new house, and a DOG(?!) but not a Phf*ckingD?!

        2. ZSD*

          Wow, I can’t believe they came out and said that. When I got my PhD, I didn’t get a party like people getting married or having kids did, but my co-workers did surprise me by decorating my office, so at least I felt nicely recognized. Nobody specifically said, “Congratulations on your achievement that isn’t quite as party-worthy as procreating.”

          1. anoooooon*

            Yeah. It’s not that I wanted a party, but the lack of acknowledgement because it wasn’t a child/marriage/house stung. It felt like my manager was saying my PhD wasn’t as important as other life events.

        3. Tuxedo Cat*

          That’s awful. A PhD might actually be relevant to your job and it’s a once in a lifetime thing.

        4. Sparrow*

          Whaaaat. I’m pretty outraged on your behalf that getting a dog was seen as an achievement more worthy of celebration! I feel like people who say that kind of thing have no idea what completing a PhD entails (and I totally second your rant, obviously)

        5. One of the Sarahs*

          I’m so sorry to hear that, and I know how crap it feels in that kind of environment.

          (To be annoying, I have the opposite, I’m super-happy to say. I’ve been with my partner for a long time, so when Civil Partnerships (the precursor to gay marriage, and something a lot of my heterosexual friends wish they could do) came in, we just ran down to the registry office to do it, without a big party or anything. This was just before Xmas, I was so, so touched when I came back, and my boss had got a collection* up for me and gave me a card and gift. I never expected it, and it meant so much!)

          (* in all the offices I’ve worked in, collections are the “pass the card and money envelope round” ones where participation is truly voluntary, so maybe that’s the British avoid-embarrassment-at all-costs” mentality!)

        6. Amy G. Golly*

          Dude, a PhD is way more impressive than the condo I’m buying! I’m not actually expecting a party from my coworkers, but it sounds like you totally should have gotten one!

      2. Almond Milk Latte*

        When I used to run potlucks, I’d always give people the option to either bring something, or chip in a few bucks for pizzas (or do nothing at all, because I have way better things to do than police crockpots.) It worked well because there’s always someone who’d prefer to eat pizza and there’s always someone who prefers to not cook.

      3. Willis*

        One of my friends worked somewhere that threw a coworker a “new apartment” party…and collected money to buy the guy a new TV! (I think she passed on both ;))

  14. Mental Health Day*

    I would probably just continue to ignore the secretary’s emails. Just to see how far she would take it. But, that’s just the kind of son of a bitch I am. I don’t recommend this approach for general use.

    As tempting as it might be to just chip in $5 to get them off your back, I don’t think this is the best approach either. I can understand why others have suggested it, but to me, only giving a token amount invites even more scorn and judgement. (“What is SHE doing with that large latte? She only gave FIVE DOLLARS to so and so!”…etc.)

    Simply saying, “No. I’ve already privately given So and So a retirement gift and was not aware that the other gift purchase was being made” seems the better option to me. At the very least, it makes it really clear that they really shouldn’t go spend other peoples’ money first and then try to collect later. In addition, they can’t later say that you didn’t contribute to so and so’s retirement (and, thus, aren’t a team player and are probably a sociopath as well).

    1. Ell like L*

      I like this wording. It avoids the negative perception of not contributing or caring about the coworkers, and (as you said) reinforces the idea that they can’t ask you after the fact to pay for something.

    2. Tomato Frog*

      I was coming here to suggest the exact message contained in your second paragraph.

    3. Ad Astra*

      No, I think ignoring the emails is a pretty reasonable way to go. You just have to have a contingency plan if she decides to call or show up at your desk.

    4. Chickaletta*

      I would simply ignore the emails and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that approach either. It’s not rude– there’s no question mark or request for RSVP in the secretary’s emails after all. They’ll stop coming eventually and the effort it takes to delete is less than the effort of typing up a response.

  15. Mickey Q*

    I have a problem with them receiving a religious item, unless this is a religious organization.

    1. Ell like L*

      That’s certainly the thing I wouldn’t want to pay for (I wouldn’t pay for ANY gift in this scenario, but the religious nature would make it even more uncomfortable and less likely that I would chip in just to shut everyone up).
      That being said, I wouldn’t make a big deal of the issue in this situation either. Just declining to contribute is enough.

    2. OhNo*

      Same. Even if it is a religious organization, I would probably still be uncomfortable with it. Just because someone works there doesn’t necessarily mean that they share the same exact ideals and beliefs as the organization.

    3. Karo*

      I think it depends – I am stridently non-religious, but if that’s a big part of the departing person’s personality and they’ve, I don’t know, lamented about how cheap their plaque with John 3:16 on it is, I can see replacing it with a nicer one.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I think it’s an odd choice, even for a coworker you know is religious. It just seems sort of… private. I’d feel similarly about giving someone a political gift, even if they made their political leanings clear. Or a gay pride-themed gift, even if they were an enthusiastic advocate for LGBT rights. There might be some contexts where this kind of thing would make sense, but I can’t think of any.

      What’s wrong with something golf-themed or outdoorsy or glittery or whatever other thing reminds you of this person?

      1. Karo*

        There are some people, though, where that is what reminds me of them. For instance, I have a co-worker where all I know is that he is incapable of doing his job, used to be a youth pastor, is vaguely misogynistic and racist, and loves Jesus. If I were in a position where I had to buy him a gift for whatever reason, I would buy him a Jesus one because my other options would be…well, horrendous.

        On the other hand, my close work-friend that also loves Jesus would get something glittery and Disney because I know her really well and know that that’s what she would want.

        1. Lissa*

          I know this isn’t where you were going with the horrendous other options, but now I’m imagining an “incapable of doing his job” themed gift…

          1. Karo*

            I’ve been considering this and I think I would get him a book on how to take criticism, how to stay organized, and how to not be a jerk to the people you rely on in order to get your job done because it makes people not like you and not want to help you when you really desperately need it because they know they won’t get the same consideration or courtesy from you.

  16. Snarkus Aurelius*

    At my government job, I worked with two women who were best friends with each other.  One was having a baby and one was getting married.  Without the other’s knowledge, they each did a collection of gift cards, gifts, and desserts for the other’s milestone.  This was done at the same time!  I thought it was gross, especially given that I was one of three people (out of 15) who wasn’t invited to the wedding or baby shower.

    I wouldn’t have gone anyway because I wasn’t friends with either one of them, but the whole thing smacked of coordinated panhandling, especially because some staff made half of these women’s annual salaries.

    When I hit my milestones, I asked that employees who make less than I do NOT be asked to contribute.  At the same job, I had a coworker, who made $100,000 and left that job to make $110,000, getting multiple gift cards and other presents from all staff — the majority of who made 30% of his annual salary — without an ounce of shame or wonder as to how a staff assistant could contribute to such things.  I put my foot down when it came to my stuff.

    Gross, people!

    1. Mental Health Day*

      Yes, exactly.

      How quickly people forget that an extra $20 is worth a lot more to somebody making an entry-level/part-time salary than somebody who’s salary is over $100K per year.

      1. TootsNYC*

        That’s why, when my old office ever coordinated “life event” parties, those of us planning pointed out, “Some people won’t want to give anything, and some will be able to only give very little.”

        Since I did the coordinating, people would ask me, “what are people giving,” and I’d say, “Anywhere from $5 up. I know that some department-head types are giving $20 or $40, and some of her closer coworkers are giving that too. You should give whatever fits your budget and your sense of closeness, and you shouldn’t second-guess yourself. Give what you’re cheerful to give.”

    2. Scotty Smalls*

      I got married recently and my boss bought me a really nice gift and had it mailed directly to my home. I didnt invite any of my coworkers to the wedding so i didnt expect them to do anything. My team is remote and I had a small wedding. It was a really nice gesture from my boss and I wrote a detailed thank you note.

      One of my team members tried to organize a Boss’ Day gift for our manager last year and I shut it down pretty quickly. I didnt have it in my budget to give and I know others did either. Its a made up holiday anyway and my best gift to my boss is doing a good job.

  17. Whip*

    I would really love it if you gave her an envelope with two $1 bills inside (one for the one gift and one for the other). There, now you’ve contributed.

    Obviously this is not the most prudent course of action, but it would be fun.

  18. Minion*

    Wow, that is obnoxious. What struck me was that the gift was religious in nature. While I wouldn’t have any issue with the boss, personally, giving the colleagues a religious gift, I think it’s very wrong to try to get the coworkers to contribute to something like that. What if OP were Muslim and the gift was an engraved bible? Or Atheist or Wiccan or any number of people who might not be comfortable with contributing to something that was religious in nature.
    And the public shaming technique!!! Good grief there are so many things wrong with this!
    Don’t let them pressure you into contributing, OP. You don’t owe them anything at all in this.

    1. sunny-dee*

      The religious thing is not a big deal, depending. The employees have been there long enough, the boss would surely know if they had any kind of conflict. Also, “religious themed” could be something like an engraved Bible (you know, super religious) or it could be a pretty decorative cross to hang on the wall — which is super common as a decorating item here (Texas) and tons of non-religious people have them up.

      1. jhhj*

        I’m going to gently push back on the idea that a cross hanging on the wall is anything but religious. You don’t have to be very religious to want one, sure, but I bet that if you ask, you’re not going to find a lot of Muslims/Jews/Sikhs/atheists with them.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I’ll push back on your pushback and point out that cross imagery is used a lot in goth aesthetics without being a religious item.

          That said, still probably not the best thing at work.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            There are always exceptions, but the point is that it would be incredibly inappropriate for many people, and that a cross is inherently a religious symbol, even if some people are comfortable using it in ways that don’t feel religious to them.

            One of the problesm with saying “oh, they’re not really a religious item” is that it leads to people giving me and other Jews and people over other religions crosses as gifts and not realizing how really inappropriate — and frankly, to some of us, offensive — that is.

            1. sunny-dee*

              All I was saying is that (presumably / hopefully) the boss knew the people well enough to know whether that would be inappropriate or not.

              1. jhhj*

                Given that the place was a religious non-profit, sure, I don’t have issues with the gifts being religious-themed. But a decorative cross to hang on your wall as a gift is super-religious, just like a Bible.

              1. the gold digger*

                The line in “Big Love,” when Nicolette and Bill tour the Catholic school where they are going to enroll their son(s?) has stuck with me. I am Catholic but had never thought of it like this – she shudders when she sees all the crosses and crucifixes and says, “It’s like having electric chairs everywhere.”

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Which is exactly why the LDS churches don’t have crosses anywhere.

                  But as TootsNYC says so well below, it is “theologically absolutely the extreme, deeply felt core of the Christian faith.”

          2. esra*

            There’s actually some controversy around goth fashion basically appropriating religious iconography (not just crosses, ankhs and pagan symbols as well). I don’t think that’s a very good example. They’re still religious symbols, even if they’ve been co-opted and worn by someone who isn’t necessarily religious.

            1. Kelly L.*

              And you don’t necessarily know if any given goth might actually be Christian, or Pagan, or whatever. I’ve known lots of goths who were honest-to-gods actual Pagans. Their pentagrams might have been more ornate than if they weren’t goth, but they did really mean it.

          3. Student*

            I cannot fathom anyone saying with a straight face that a cross is a non-religious decoration. Your retort about “goths” reflects, at best, a misunderstanding of the roots, origins, and practice of the ~1990s music subculture, who were deliberately appropriating religious symbols for their connection to mysticism, religion, and death. It completely neglects the huge role that religion played in (1) historical Gothic architecture (2) relatively modern Gothic literature and film. The ~1990s goths were not wearing crosses nor ankhs because they thought they looked pretty, they wore them because they were religious symbols related closely to very specific things, such as death. Yeah, I’m sure many of them were not wearing crosses from the same motivations as a Catholic priest does, but the core principle for wearing one was just as tightly tied to its religious symbolism.

          4. Laura*

            Of course it’s religious when used in goth aesthetics! Why would you think it isn’t?

      2. Chocolate lover*

        I’m sure every place is different, but no one I know in MA uses crosses as decorations unless they’re religious.

        I agree that the departing employees have been there long enough that religious preferences or lack thereof are probably generally known. I’m guessing OP would have been more specific if the religious nature of the gift was problematic (it would be for me.)

        1. RS*

          As I learned when I moved to CO, MA’s cultural norms do not prevail in many parts of the country. I miss it every day.

      3. animaniactoo*

        I would be willing to bet heavily that what you really mean is that plenty of non-*observant* people put them up – but that just about all of those people come from a Christian background.

        1. MayravB*

          Very true. So often people who will say that they’re not religious, just secular, but fail to realize that “just secular” looks very different in North America than anywhere that Christianity is not the largest religion.

      4. Lindsay J*

        Uh, I live in Texas and I don’t know of any non-religious people who have a decorative cross up. And if I did see one in some one’s home, my immediate assumption would be that they were religious and belonged to some Christian denomination.

      5. anoooooon*

        Not necessarily. I have no idea what religion most of my coworkers practice, or if any of them aren’t religious. It’s definitely not something I discuss with my boss.

        As someone who isn’t Christian, I’d be offended and uncomfortable with someone giving me a cross and saying it’s a non-religious decoration. It’s easy for someone from a dominant religion to say their iconography is commonly used as non-religious decorations without realizing that gifting that to someone not in their religion can be very awkward.

      6. TootsNYC*

        A cross is just about the most religious symbol I can think of! It’s theologically absolutely the extreme, deeply felt core of the Christian faith.

      7. Snarkus Aurelius*

        As an atheist, the intent behind it doesn’t matter. That’s a religious symbol with religious connotations and heritage. There’s no way I’d ever contribute towards that, regardless if it’s a decoration or not.

    2. Francis J. Dillon*

      Well.. I’m pagan and I bought my dad a Bible for his 50th. I think if the gift receivers were into that sort of thing it’s be okay to contribute – if you wanted to, though. Otherwise, yeah. I’d probably just ignore it or say, “Sorry! Have to pay off my student loans, haha.” or something.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      A gift of a religious item is like a gift of soap — you want to be reeeeeeally sure that the recipient will like it and will not instead take the potential negative implications! And even then, you probably shouldn’t be giving it to anyone at your workplace.

    4. ali*

      as an atheist, no way would I put in any money toward a religious gift (of any religion) for anyone. and if I were gifted one, especially a “goth cross” or some-such, I’d be offended. that stuff belongs at home and not at work.

      *unless this is a religion-based organization, of course.

      1. OP Here!*

        Hi all – OP again. Just making sure you saw my comment – this IS a religious nonprofit, and everyone who works in our small office follows our religion. One of the colleagues who retired is a member of the clergy.

        I would have had NO problem pointing out how offensive/strange a religious gift would be, if I didn’t know that they were in fact, religious! :)

  19. sunny-dee*

    This is actually one really nice thing about my company (and it doesn’t help the OP at all, so bummer). We have a rewards system; every employees has, like, 150 “points” that they can give to coworkers. The points are essentially dollars, and employees can store them up and redeem them for gift certificates (there are, like, 150 stores) or in prepaid cards.

    What’s nice, is that employees can pool points or managers can get approval for points to give people for major life events. So, unless you’re close with someone and just want to give them something, there’s no need to contribute money for babies and weddings and retirements — it can all be arranged through the rewards system.

    1. Ell like L*

      Idk. Maybe this works in practice but this seems like elementary school to me. I gave my second grade students points for good behavior/helping each other/putting in extra effort when I tutored.

      I don’t want points as an adult. I want positive feedback and consideration for raises and promotions when the appropriate time comes.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Um, gifts are infantilizing? The “points” are essentially money. We’re given, like, $125 a quarter in order to take care of things like baby gifts or to say thank you when someone steps outside their normal role. It seems like a perk, not an insult.

        1. Amy*

          If they’re “essentially” money, why not just give you money?

          I’m not saying it’s an insult, but it seems pretty pointless. If you can exchange it for real money, why not just give people real money in the first place. Then they can use it for whatever they want, including co-workers’ presents. And if it’s intended solely to cover donations to presents/gifts for colleagues, why not just have the company pay for those out of pocket anyway?

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I would say it’s because they want co-workers to see ways to show appreciation to other co-workers, rather than it just coming from the company. If they just gave them money, most people would keep it themselves. The company could just pay for it, but providing money to give to co-workers can generate some goodwill in those receiving it from the company and from the co-worker.

            1. Anonophone*

              We have this and I find I get more joy out of being able to publicly nominate someone for a good job. It’s especially nice when their boss may not otherwise know about or value their contribution to my work.

      1. Some Sort of Mangement consultant*

        OP hasn’t replied when I posted!
        But I saw it now and then it’s all fine. No more bells ;)

  20. Mental Health Day*

    Side question. Who in the hell wants a plaque anyway?

    I suppose I can understand giving something like that to a person with very high salary (where you really can’t give them something with enough monetary value to make any significant impact).

    I only raise the issue because in the past I’ve been shocked at how much was spent on, what seemed to me, a grotesquely overpriced piece of plastic/wood. Wouldn’t it be much more thoughtful to give the person something they can actually use and enjoy in the near-term, rather than something that will most likely be thrown out the next time they move or clean out their attic?

    But then again, maybe it’s just me…

      1. OP Here!*

        I agree – which is a main part of the reason why I didn’t want to contribute to the gift! I wouldn’t have personally wanted this gift, and I wouldn’t have chosen it to give to my colleagues. As my gift to them, I took them out to lunch and we had a lovely time – I thought that was just as nice…

      2. The Butcher of Luverne*

        Give me a piece of paper with the same message you would’ve put on a plaque, save $200 and call it a day.

        1. Calliope*

          Give me a piece of paper with the same message you would’ve put on a plaque, *and pass along that $200 to me* and call it a day.

          I mean, if they’re going to spend it….

    1. Ell like L*

      I agree with you. I have a couple of plaques from various things that I don’t want to throw away because Achievement! and Memories! but… realistically they sit in a box that I don’t actually have room for in my apartment anyways.

      I look at them every time I move and briefly enjoy them, debate whether to throw them out, and inevitably stick them back in the box to deal with later.

    2. animaniactoo*

      I have a “Happy 10th Anniversary” thingie acting as an occasional paperweight on my desk. I’d feel kind of obligated to take it home if I left this company, but I have no idea what I’d do with it.

      On the other hand, my dad’s retirement plaque is fabulous. If for no other reason than he was a typesetter in previous profession, and was widely known to be huge on well-formatted text and proofreading in the one he retired from after. And his plaque has a glaring typo (his name is misspelled). We laughed about that irony a lot at his retirement party.

      1. Red*

        I once won a spelling bee, many many moons ago when I was a wee tiny Red, and my prize was a dictionary embossed with a misspelled version of my name.

    3. Laura*

      It could be a really nice plaque. I received one from my college job– “Employee of the Year” when there were 40 other student workers they could have chosen. It is still a huge deal to me.

      That said, I don’t think plaques are usually that meaningful, but I can see them being more common as gifts in the nonprofit world.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think that the symbolism you personally attach to that award is what makes that plaque so meaningful. I have a marble pen holder w/ my college’s crest on the front that I prize; it was given to me when I was editor of the yearbook. I value it ONLY because of my pride in that effort–and also because I simply and deliberately chose to. “I will value this.”

        So it’s a crapshoot (as all gifts are, of course). But I think the odds of success are VERY low with a plaque.

    4. Murphy*

      Yeah, I hate that kind of bric-a-brac and would be thinking “great, now I have to store this piece of crap” which is incredibly ungenerous of me, I know, but it’s just not something I like. Give me $25 to Starbucks and we’re cool.

    5. KimmieSue*

      I recently received a going away gift from former co-workers. Bought at a craft store and each of them signed it with different colored markers. Some wrote funny sayings. I’d be surprised if it cost more than $15, but I absolutely TREASURE it! A plaque would not do anything for me but take up space (who throws those out once engraved)? This mug is now a sentimental priceless artifact.

    6. Chinook*

      Me too. I take pride in convincing one boss to stop giving “we will miss you” plaques for leaving employees and, instead, buying framed local art pieces (which are plentiful and cheap due to it being a tourist town). I pointed out that they can at least be hung somewhere without looking tacky (or sold or given away if not suitable) and if it is of a local scene, may even be a nice reminder of where the employee once lived.

      Happily, I was employee number 3 to receive a piece of art when I left.

    7. Ellie H.*

      As above it depends on how meaningful it is to you. I have a plaque (actually two – a framed award certificate and a wooden plaque with a gavel on it, not exactly sure what the significance of that is but w/e) for my award from the Graduate Student Council for staff member being particularly helpful/supportive of grad students. My work in that job and their recognition is SO meaningful to me and so I really value having the plaque.

  21. animaniactoo*

    “Unfortunately, I was not consulted about this beforehand when I might have addressed it or been in a different position then. As I had no knowledge of or input into a group gift that was expected to be paid for by us, I personally did something for each of these co-workers; and my budget does not cover contributing to this additional gift as well. I have not responded to say this previously because my understanding of a voluntary request is that if you are not planning to contribute, no response is necessary. However, since this is the 3rd request, I hope this clears up any confusion.”

    1. Karo*

      I love this. Explains all the reasons why this is ridiculous and in a very polite tone.

    2. PollyQ*

      I love this — perfectly polite, but with that touch of Miss Manners frost that should (hopefully) leave the collection agency, er, admin, feeling a bit ashamed.

    3. TempestuousTeapot*

      Beautifully put! My snarky side is still tempted to hit reply all and send that, but with a religious npo and the exiting person a member of the clergy it seems already all the factors have been conflated. I think the admin is somehow connecting thanking for service to a tithe.

  22. MiouMiou*

    This happened to me. I worked at a law firm where one of the bookkeepers became engaged to one of the attorneys. The head bookkeeper came around and “requested” $50 from each of us towards a shower gift. I was not friendly with the woman that got engaged, I was a single mom, and $50 was way out of my budget, and (way of out line for a shower gift, imo) The head bookkeeper came around with a card for everyone to sign, but because I did not contribute to the gift, I was not permitted to sign the card. At the shower, held in the conference room at the law firm, the head bookkeeper proceeded to explain to the assembled group, that some names were not on the card because we had not chipped in for the gift. Public humiliation.

    Part two of this story. Six months or so later, it was time for the wedding. This time, the bookkeeper came around and requested another $50 from everyone to contribute towards a wedding gift. Again I declined to contribute. Everyone else gave. The talk of the office after the wedding was that, surprisingly, or not, none of the staff, other than the attorneys, had been invited to the wedding. So although we were good enough to solicit money from, we were not good enough to even be invited to the wedding.

    1. Minion*

      For some reason I’m picturing the wedding in progress – the minister speaks the line your head bookkeeper had been waiting for, “If anyone knows of any reason why this couple should not be joined in marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
      Head Bookkeeper: “Ahem, er, excuse me. I don’t know any reason they can’t be married, but I would just like to take this opportunity to read a list of the names of those who refused to contribute to a wedding gift for the bride from the office.”
      Yeah…I know most people don’t actually have that line in there any more as it’s pretty antiquated, but it still makes me giggle to picture it.

    2. Laura*

      The lack of tact and respect in this story is absolutely amazing. I’m sure you have other fun stories from your time there!

    3. Ama*

      $50! It was only recently that I could afford to spend more than that on wedding gifts for my own relatives.

      1. KR*

        I spent 50$ on my cousins wedding gift- not including the money spent on being a bridesmaid and the priceless babysitting we all contributed for her 4 year old . It covered her cake squarley and took an expense off of her and she loved it. Money well spent.

    4. Loose Seal*

      Wait! People give a shower AND a wedding gift? Isn’t that double-dipping? If that’s the rule, I’m glad I found out about it now after all friends are wed.

  23. OP Here!*

    Hi all! OP here. Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

    You have made me feel good about my decision – I did NOT contribute, not because I didn’t like my coworkers – I truly did! – but because I do not want to set a precedent here. Our office is small and we have still managed to have four or five people leave or retire in the past year – each time, I have taken my coworker to lunch as my “parting gift.” Strangely – this is the first time we have been asked to contribute to the gifts.

    I guess I am also irked because we DO have a budget for discretionary spending – ie, if a donor hosts an event for us, we send them a lovely bouquet of flowers the next day, or when we celebrate birthdays, a cake is ordered from the budget, and we all enjoy it together. I simply do not understand why these gifts cannot or did not come from that same budget.

    As for the religious item – this is actually a religious nonprofit, and both of the colleagues are followers of our religion (actually, everyone in this office is). One is actually a member of the clergy, so there wasn’t an issue with giving them the religious item – although rest assured, it STILL isn’t an item I personally would want, even though I also am a member of our religion! :)

    Hope that info helps :)

    1. ali*

      glad to hear that it is a religious org, that makes me feel a lot better about the content of the gifts.
      but there’s a discretionary fund? I would be irked by that too.

      Good for you for going with your gut and standing by it.

    2. Ad Astra*

      The religious item does feel less bothersome with that context, but everything else you’re telling us here is confirming my inkling that you are right and they are wrong on this. Your gesture of taking people out to lunch is really nice. I bet a lot of people would prefer that to a religious item (it sounds like an expensive trinket or something decorative rather than directly useful, but maybe I’m projecting).

      1. OP Here!*

        If I am being perfectly honest – I had a strong feeling I was right. It just made me feel good to have it validated by Alison and by this comments section… which remains, in my opinion, the most pleasant, helpful, well-mannered comment section on the internet!

  24. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    This is nitpicky, but I wanted to point it out because I think there are different norms for different situations: I don’t see any indication that these employees are retiring. It sounds like they have been at the organization for a relatively short time (5 and 6 years; not their whole career) and “are moving on to new positions in the community,” not retiring.

    While the pressure and emails would be obnoxious either way, they seem especially egregious in this circumstance. I don’t think there’s a norm around giving (expensive) gifts to employees who are moving on to other jobs, while there is a norm around celebrating retirement with a party/gift/speech/etc.

    1. baseballfan*

      I had this thought as well. Retiring? Unless they started at the company at 60 and are now 65 and leaving the workforce, it’s not retiring.

      Even in that case, it’s odd to have a “retirement” part for someone who has worked there a relatively short period of time. I think of retirement parties as more for career people at the same place.

    2. SilverBee*

      Yeah, the post title confused me too. Retirement doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this situation. They’re just leaving.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Huh. You are right! Somehow this got in my head as retirement gifts, but you’re absolutely right that nothing in the letter says that! I’ve changed the title of the post to reflect that.

        1. OP Here!*

          I think I originally chose the word “retiring” but you’re right, that’s not entirely accurate – one of the colleagues is retiring from nonprofit life and will be working on his own company going forward. The other colleague is leaving for a different nonprofit, so she is not retiring.

  25. Oryx*

    Ugh. This happened at my old job. I worked at a small college with a very, very underprivileged demographic and every November we did a Thanksgiving dinner for them. Full on, turkey, potatoes, veggies, etc. It was paid for by the school although staff were “encouraged” to donate and by “encourage” I mean hounded until we gave money and then, if you’re me, and only gave $2 because I don’t carry cash, are only semi-jokingly told that’s not enough.

    So happy to not be working there any more.

    1. Queen Anne of Cleves*

      uh…I see your situation as slightly different. The situation OP describes wasn’t charity. I get not wanting to be hounded if that is indeed what they do and we all should feel free to give or not and to the causes that matter to us…but somehow I see this as not quite the same. Those people are able to enjoy a meal on a special holiday that they might not otherwise get to enjoy. I probably wouldn’t grumble too much about being asked to contribute…but I can see that the argument could be made that the situation is similar.

      1. LBK*

        Whether it’s for a good cause or not, it’s still really crappy to force people to donate money.

      2. Oryx*

        When my co-workers presume to know my finances and assume I can give more and hound me for it, it’s an issue regardless of the cause. Charity or not, going to such great lengths to get money from people isn’t the right way to go about it.

      3. baseballfan*

        Harassing people to give to charity is just obnoxious and wrong, regardless of how worthy the cause.

        Everyone has different priorities when it comes to giving, and it’s not someone else’s business to judge or opine on them or tell them to give elsewhere.

        I can’t tell you how crazy it made me years ago when the office managing partner at my accounting firm sent an email telling us that if we didn’t donate to United Way, we didn’t care about those less fortunate than ourselves. I feel very confident in saying that I’d put my charitable gifts as a percent of income up against any partner, any day. I don’t support UW for my own reasons but I give plenty to other worthy causes.

  26. Fifty and Forward*

    I love workplace situations like this where they pretend something is voluntary when it is in reality viewed as mandatory. 5 bucks for food and cake, well maybe. But 20 or 30 bucks towards a religious gift or plaque? No freakin way! Offends my sensibilities in several ways.

    I have no problem doing the one word “UNSUBSCRIBE” reply to these kind of emails. It usually gets the point across.

    1. Maureen P.*

      Ha ha – That’s a rad response. The next time my boss sends me an e-mail with a request I don’t like, I’ll just reply “UNSUBSCRIBE”.

      Or maybe that would would work better when replying to e-mails from my husband? Tee hee!

      1. Fifty and Forward*

        You make a good point. Rule number one of surviving both office life and marriage is “pick your battles”.

    2. Laura*

      I sincerely wish that I could use your response to the woman who regularly sends out “treat” emails. She sends them to over 100 people each time and can get very passive-aggressive if people haven’t been reaching out to participate.

  27. Aunt Vixen*

    I know the OP has been back with an update already, which is great. I think my own reaction would have been to carry on ignoring the e-mails from the boss’s assistant – and then if she did come after me individually (in e-mail or in person) with an actual direct question, I’d say “Oh – I didn’t reply because you said we only had to let you know if we were going to be contributing.” Which I guess is similar to Alison’s suggestion as well.

  28. Ad Astra*

    I work in one of those offices that throws somewhat elaborate baby/wedding showers and even that only involves a total of two emails requesting donations. For goodbyes, we just schedule a drinks after work, and maybe a lunch. A gift in that situation only seems appropriate if the company is buying it to thank someone for their years of service.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, my org throws big baby/wedding showers, retirement parties, goodbye parties, etc. Food, drinks, cake, party decoration, card, and gift card is always covered by the org. There is an assumption that participants will bring a gift for showers, but attendance is 100% voluntary and I’ve never seen or heard any judgement for folks not attending.

    2. TootsNYC*

      At my old company, even birthdays were sort of splashy, but it involved the crafty people decorating the table, and then the company buying some food. So, lots of visual fuss, but not expense.

      People who were close to the guest of honor might give their own gift. And for people who didn’t want to do that, there was an *opportunity* to contribute to a group gift which was usually larger (because 15 people giving $5 = $75, and that’s pretty much a Pack ‘n’ Play).

  29. Canton*

    The bosses secretary should just skip being “polite” and send an email saying: “hey. where’s your voluntary contribution? Please provide by end of day. Thx.”

    1. Canton*

      If I were the OP, I’d just respond as AAM has suggested before: “sorry, it’s not in my budget.”

      I wonder what the boss would do if the contrubtions totaled more than she actually paid for the gifts.

      1. TootsNYC*

        someone upstream mentioned that if you bring up budget, then you sort of open the door to people making judgments about your coffee-buying habits or arguing about how much money you have.

        I might go with, “I’m not contributing–thanks anyway.”

        1. animaniactoo*

          And if they bring up your coffee buying habits, you say “Yes, that’s a small luxury I’ve budgeted for myself. I watch my budget very carefully in order to be able to have that.”

          1. Sarah*

            And if someone goes, “What, [coworkers] going away isn’t even worth a week of coffees to you?” there’s always, “The budget for their going-away gifts already went towards taking them both out to lunch, so I didn’t budget for anything further on that score.”

  30. steeped in anonymtea*

    A RELIGIOUS gift????!! No, I don’t give RELIGIOUS gifts. Not that I care if someone wants to contribute to a religious gift, that is totally up to them. But count me out, especially if I was not asked until after the fact!

  31. Chaordic One*

    I’ve worked in places where everyone had to make the same contribution and it really bothered me that someone who only made $10.00 an hour was expected to contribute as much as someone who had a salary in the six figures.

    One Christmas the office busy body (the CEO’s personal secretary) decided that “we” would adopt a needy family, which was O.K. in theory. But again, a lot of the people who worked for our organization didn’t make very much money and were probably worse off than the family we ended up adopting.

    1. KLP*

      An office I worked in did this at Christmas every year. We provided the adopted family with gifts for all the members of the family and also the “fixings” for their holiday meal, to include a gift card so they could purchase the ham/turkey/whatever main dish they wanted. We put all of the items on pieces of paper and hung them on a small tree in the office. People were free to look at the items and pick one or more that were within their budget. Any gifts or food items not claimed by the staff were purchased by the company. People could also just contribute money (even just a dollar or $5) towards the gift card. There was no pressure and there was no accounting for who did or did not contribute. All of the staff signed the Christmas card to the family. Every year the staff would ask when we were getting the family and list of what was needed. I think because it was low pressure it was more of a team building project. Someone could bring a can of beans from their pantry if that was all they could afford and it was all greatly accepted and appreciated by the company and the family.

  32. nonegiven*

    Dear Boss’s secretary:
    Your demands for “voluntary” contributions are becoming increasingly obnoxious. It is not my place to pay for gifts on behalf of the company. Please, remove me from this mailing list.
    Thank you,

  33. FiveByFive*

    “You earlier said this was voluntary, but these emails are becoming increasingly high-pressure. I’m concerned that we’re being pressured to help pay for this after the fact, without any input into the gifts or their cost or whether we wanted to spend our money this way. I think it’s lovely if the organization wants to recognize departing employees, but none of us signed on to pay for those items and may not have room in our budgets for this.”

    Behold the awesomeness here. This is why Alison is Alison. This is scathing without being scathing. Unsparing without being unsparing. On-point with deadly precision.

    We’re all lucky Alison uses her powers for good and helps us with management issues. Imagine her as an assassin or a ninja. :)

  34. Chocolate Teapot*

    I just looked at a currency converter website and USD 35 is 30 euros!

    Sorry, but that’s my weekly lunchtime shopping budget.

  35. Lionheart*

    I think it is 100% up to management to organise and contribute to thank you gifts. If employees WANT to contribute something, that is up to them. As a mid-level manager I always buy my staff small gifts for special occasions, but I don’t expect them to contribute to gifts for their coworkers.
    That said, at my company, management were notoriously stingy and didn’t really do anything to acknowledge births, bereavements, or departures, so a group of us decided to take this on ourselves. Each financial year, we give every employee an envelope with a suggested donation written on the front (we have three “tiers” for donation amounts. It’s not much – the average staff member is asked to pay $20 for the year).
    I just wait for the envelopes to come back to me, and put them in a biscuit tin. Most staff return the envelopes and most staff donate the suggested amount. I don’t keep records of who paid what, I don’t send any follow up reminders or any other pressure. I think most people are happy to contribute to something that increases staff morale, and relieved to know that they won’t be asked to donate more throughout the year! One year we ran out of money after a record number of new babies. We just sent another email out and explained, and received loads more donations. It doesn’t take much and it’s very much appreciated by the staff.

    1. Lionheart*

      I should add that I DO keep accurate records of what we buy. No one has ever asked, but we do account for every penny.

  36. Amber*

    I would go with #3 and #4:

    “* You can explain to her why this is so problematic: “You earlier said this was voluntary, but these emails are becoming increasingly high-pressure. I’m concerned that we’re being pressured to help pay for this after the fact, without any input into the gifts or their cost or whether we wanted to spend our money this way. I think it’s lovely if the organization wants to recognize departing employees, but none of us signed on to pay for those items and may not have room in our budgets for this.”

    * You can send the above email and also include your boss on it. It’s possible she doesn’t know that this high-pressure collection is being done in her name.”

  37. IT without me*

    Hi there,

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one dealing with this sort of issues…
    I just returned from maternity leave to my IT company, a small 5 person company. However, my boss owns another 3 companies so the staff of all of his companies is sharing one office building as of this year. Anyway, on the first day back, I was asked to contribute toward another one of his employee’s birthday whom I just had met for the first time ever (of course, if you don’t chip in, you don’t sign the card but we’re all gonna have a fancy cake round about together *uhh). So I wasn’t too happy even those were only $5 but I gave in. My boss only chipped in $4 as I saw on the note- don’t let me tel lyou how I felt about that one… Now his co-workers bought an amazon gift card with that cash ‘from the company’. Two days later my boss’s intern quit her internship and put in her 1-week-notice. Now I’m asked again to chip in. Sorry, I’m normally the first person to hand out some thank you cards, small but meaningful gifts, or flowers or a bottle of wine but this is a complete stranger to me. I feel uncomfortable, I mean we’re an open office environment, meaning whatever one asks ten others hear and see. I find it ridiculous, especially if I consider that since I’ve worked there, it’s been nearly 5 years, I’ve never received even a birthday card, or more than a chocolate bar from my boss for Easter and x-mas (no bonuses or such have ever been paid) and same goes to all of his old employees. Now another of my boss’s employees is about to have her baby and they want to buy her some fancy rocker… I mean c’mon, isn’t that just too much to be asked for? We all have studied but we’re paid barely more than minimum wage and half of us, including myself are part-time workers with family on their own. I still don’t know what I’ll do ..

    Last week my husband returned home and told me that again of the “old folks” is leaving and they want to buy some crazy athlete’s bike for him ( about 5 employees leave each year for retirement). This guy worked there for 30 years, no question he did his job but my husband barely knows him. Now $1000 devided by 20 employees- are they insane?! I said this can’t be true, our society isn’t willing to throw in a dime to a homeless person but can pay big cash toward someone who’s getting old fashioned amazingly high retirement, who has oldtimers, diverse cars, several houses, land, crazy insurance policies, goes on vacation all the time to fancy islands and such? I am not a jealous person but I do feel this is so unnaccessary- I think a nice framed picture of the team with maybe a nice bottle of wine would do just as good.

    But that’s not even where the story ends- one day my daughter was invited to her friend’s 10th birthday. She had no special wishes, so I anticipated to get a free movie pass gift basket with candy and co, some fancy nail polish kit and a tiny jewelery box to create her own bracelets and such. I thought I was being quite generous since many kids as it turned out brought her a T-Shirt or a book and some candy. Later that day my daughter said she heard the parents complaining, how one can think that a movie pass can be a sufficient present… okay, I was… let’s call it mad. It surely dind’t amke me too happy that my daughter wanted to invite her as well to her birthday . To make a point to this, on my daughter’s birthday, the girl handed her a $30 gift certificate, glitter machine, books and some new board game. Is it me or is this just so far off of what’s normal? I must say I felt truly uncomfortable letting my daughter keep all of this, not to mention how the other kids must have felt, who couldn’t afford such expensive gifts (surely hers totaled $75)…

    1. ElCee*

      Re. your husband’s org, that’s been my experience with a recent spate of retirements at my nonprofit. The retirees are all great and will be missed, but 1) no one hired at their level now will ever reach their salaries because of general pay-band tightening and 2) they still have grandfathered retirement accounts that are much better than those of any current employees. For a couple of them, they’re retiring from their retirement job and receive a federal pension! In any case, their finances are their business, but at 1/3 their salary, I do not contribute. Luckily my org doesn’t pressure anyone to give, so I sign a card and feel no guilt.

  38. boop*

    ugh I’m so glad my workplace doesn’t do much of this anymore. It was usually just one manager anyway who thought it would be nice to get someone a gift, and hella convenient to hit minimum wage employees up to pay for it. Plus, the recipients were always the manager’s personal friends (or boss). Now there are plenty of other ways to be demoralized on a daily basis, and it doesn’t cost me squat.

  39. John*

    I just went through this. A coworker of mine is getting married. She has spent 80-90% of her worktime in the past four months on wedding planning. A month ago, another coworker sends out an email fora celebration. This struck me as odd as we’ve had plenty of other coworkers who have married and had children and we don’t celebrate those milestones. This gentleman has a bit of a crush on this woman so I believe that is why he decided to do so. He noted in the email that donations were welcome. He sent two follow up emails. I decided that since I am not friends with this coworker, I have no desire to contribute to a gift. Besides, picking up on the workload while she prints out her wedding programs is more than enough of a gift from me.

    This morning while I am concentrating, coworker organizing comes right up from behind and whispers loudly into my ear “Do you have anything for Kelly?” and I responded “No, I’m not doing that” without even turning around.

    If you want to get a gift, fine. But don’t try and rope everyone else into it.

    1. Veronica*

      I find this whole mass coworker milestone celebration over the top and intrusive. When at work I am very helpful and friendly but am a more private person personally. Unlike a couple of women at my office, I don’t rapid fire personal questions at people. So when the office blabbermouth/Regina George sends an office email about donations for 2 coworkers weddings and now a coworkers wife who is expecting in a month-keep in mind my coworker didn’t tell a single person his wife was even pregnant for 8mo now, apparently he did this on their prev pregnancy also. To me that says he prefers his privacy and prob also doesn’t want blabbermouth talking about him like she does our officemate in another bldg claiming she was too old to be having twins and the husband had a drug problem, OMG WTF!
      I just don’t think it’s appropriate for ppl to initiate these collections, esp for those of us who don’t plan on marriage/children but are expected to give to all those who do. I will gladly sign cards and go to company paid lunches on company time but will not feel bad for not doing more.

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