should I get my boss a gift for the holidays?

A reader writes:

I just started a new job and I am working in a team of three. Should I get my boss a gift for the holidays? I would round up the other coworker, but had second thoughts because she is a temp. I don’t want to be gimmicky or a teacher’s pet, but I also think it might be a nice gesture. What would you suggest?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My new coworkers want me to pitch in to buy our manager a gift
  • Should I get my employees gifts?
  • Staying busy during the holidays
  • Can my company refuse to allow spouses to attend the holiday party?

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Me*

    I cannot with people flipping out over not bringing their spouses to work parties anymore, especially ones during work hours.

    1. FiveWheels*

      I’ve never been to a work Christmas party where spouses or any other plus ones were allowed. It’s been strictly employees/owners everywhere I’ve worked – UK, if that’s relevant.

      1. Jen*

        In the heydey of the dot-com economic boom of the late 90s/early00s, I was invited to a party as a sig other and I had to bring my sig other to a party. But this was when everyone had Herman Miller office chairs and margarita machines in the breakrooms. Never since then has it ever occurred and I’m 100% ok with that. In fact, most of my jobs have majorly downgraded the office holiday party due to budget concerns. Adding spouses/dates would double the price.

      2. Melewen*

        Spouses are usually invited to my work holiday party — but I work in an international school, so we don’t have a standard separation between work and social life. Quite often when a new teacher starts, they are new to both the city and country so their social life revolves around work (at least at first). This also means our parties can’t be during work hours.

        So I could understand a momentary “Huh. No spouses? Ok,” but not actual anger over an employee-only shindig — especially during business hours.

      3. AutumnAlmanac*

        UK here, too. I attended a couple of my husband’s work holiday parties, but that was about ten years ago, when he worked for a smallish company (about fifty employees) that was doing quite well, and they encouraged spouses and partners to attend. We had a wonderful time, and almost everyone behaved themselves, despite the open bar. The next year, spouses were “allowed” to attend. I personally took the general hint, didn’t attend that one, and haven’t attended one since. It’s now reached the point where spouses/partners are not invited, and it would weird if one turned up.

        Everywhere I’ve worked, it was usually a case of each department being given a small budget to arrange transport and get a drink each. So each dept went to the pub, bought our own drinks, did secret santa, and had an awesome night letting loose for a while.

      4. GermanCoffeeGirl*

        Germany here, and it’s been the same for me (I’ve primarily worked in large law firms). Spouses/family were maybe invited to the summer party/picnic, but the Christmas parties have always been only employees.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Same. And that goes for invitations to retirement parties (unless it’s the spouse of the retiring person — I think they should get invited if it’s an actual party and not just cake in the conference room), or holiday parties, or business trips, or employee appreciation events…

      1. AutumnAlmanac*

        I’d say it goes double for retirement parties! Who wants to see a bunch of people they don’t even know chuckling and clapping politely at a speech they don’t get? Especially if they’re guzzling vol-au-vents and wine that might otherwise have added a few quid to your retirement gift card.

    3. Ali G*

      I really don’t understand it either! To me, it’s a burden to have to attend my husband’s work gatherings (they do 3-4 per year). It’s nice to be invited, as it isn’t the norm (he isn’t invited to my work functions), but I’d never get mad at not being invited, nor does he.

    4. RNL*

      I don’t mean to be a jerk, but the question “is it legal to invite me to a party without my spouse” makes me reaaaaalllly wonder about someone’s concept of the law.

      1. kittymommy*

        No freaking kidding!! I’m glad I’m not the only one who is baffled by this concept that you can’t do anything without your partner, especially for something during work hours. I was beginning to believe it’s because I’m single (and will stay that way), but WTF??

      2. Parenthetically*

        “Can they really do that?” is such a truly bizarre take on the situation. Why would anyone think spouses would be invited at all, much less that companies would be… like… MANDATED to invite spouses?

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        To be fair, the vast majority of workers I’ve dealt with are very limited in terms of knowledge on laws and regulations. They often mix up “standard practices” with “laws”.

        I’ve had to spend the last 15 years of my life fighting with my father about “no. That’s not against the law. Calm down. Eat a cookie.”

        1. whingedrinking*

          Conversely, I’ve had to deal with employers/managers who got it mistaken the other direction. “No, in this province giving someone a half hour meal break on an eight hour shift isn’t ‘convention’, it’s what we call ‘legally required’. Yes, you *do* have to pay people every two weeks. Etc.”

    5. J.*

      Ours was last night and spouses are welcome but not expected. My husband was like, “Do you really need me there, or can I skip it?” I can’t imagine people demanding to go to someone else’s work holiday party. I barely want to have to make an appearance at my own, and I know these people!

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        Our holiday party is tomorrow. Today two colleagues had a whole “is your husband coming? Mine said he’s not if yours isn’t” conversation. I don’t think any spouses are coming, and our party is in the evening.

    6. Jen S. 2.0*

      I mean, why isn’t your spouse … doing whatever they normally do at 1:30 on a weekday? Why would they be expected to drop their own life to come eat a chicken sandwich with your colleagues? It’d be somewhat more understandable if it were at 8 on a Saturday, but even then, they still don’t have to invite anyone in particular.

      Is it that people have a skewed idea of what kind of party this is? It’s a work event, not a social one. Even if it’s fun, it’s still work.

    7. Lilac36*

      My office has always gifted up. We have teams of 7-10 employees who report to a single manager. All the group employees throw in $10-$15 together and get a group gift. Typically its a gift card to a restaurant for dinner along with a bottle of wine (unless we know the manager doesn’t drink). I’ve never had a problem with this and no one has ever expressed any thoughts that this is unfair. Managers have always bought small-ish gifts for the employees as well ($25 gift cards to coffee shops or restaurants or similar). I think this works because there is a clear delineation about who works for who and its always been kept at a reasonable amount per person. I realize that $10-$15 per person is not reasonable for everyone but given our industry and region in the US, its fair. Its less than a typically lunch in the office cafeteria.

      The only time there was an issue was when the group decided on a gift for one supervisor and a co-worker wanted to contribute to the group gift AND give a separate gift, which was more expensive than the group gift. People were livid.

      1. Someone Else*

        You understand that due to the nature of the relationship when one is gifting up, there is pressure and awkwardness around doing so, such that no one objecting outloud does not at all indicate clearly that no one was uncomfortable with it?

      2. Parenthetically*

        We sometimes gifted up at my former workplace, but we all saw it as a gesture of gratitude for our VERY UNDERPAID and VERY OVERWORKED boss, who literally took pay cuts so we could have raises.

        Outside of that kind of a situation, the pressure on people to give is the problem more than the amount, IMO.

    8. BenAdminGeek*

      I kept re-reading assuming that it was the opposite- that some business was trying to force the spouse to come, and that the employee was objecting. Then I was like… why would there be a law about this?

    9. TrainerGirl*

      I never had a SO during the time when I worked for companies that allowed you to bring someone, so it never mattered to me. I only went to one holiday party, and that was only because the company had Earth, Wind & Fire as the entertainment. Otherwise, I’m a no show. There is a gathering for my group next week, and I start a 2 week on-call period for fed jury duty, so I’ve already said I’m not coming if I have to report that day. Optics are VERY important for my manager, who is bugging me to show up, even if for 10 minutes at the end, since the event starts at 4. I certainly wouldn’t bring my SO to something like that, even if I didn’t have a potential conflict.

  2. Lena Clare*

    Ooo I like it when I think of an answer to the letter and it’s similar to what Alison’s written! It makes me think – hey, I’m getting it right in work :)

  3. Oxford Comma*

    This is making me wonder. I generally make homemade candies for the holidays and everyone gets one and a holiday card (generic holiday card). Should I not be including my boss in that?

    1. Preggers*

      I do this too. I was raised to be a gifter so I feel guilty excluding the boss but am also strongly against gifting up. If I am making treats for everyone I always include the boss. I feel that is different then going out a shopping for a gift.

    2. Sedna*

      I think that’s okay- it’s a gift for the whole office, which happens to include your boss. And it’s not expensive or elaborate.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. There’s a big difference between “I made a gift for everybody in the office, regardless of role” and “let’s get a gift specifically for the boss.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. It’s relatively de minimus, so it seems like there’s no harm in including your boss. It’s similar to bringing cookies to the office.

    3. CAA*

      It is totally fine to give your boss the same thing that you give to all your other coworkers. You don’t have to give gifts at work, but if you do, then a small homemade consumable item is a good thing to give. It’s not too expensive, and it shows that you care enough to take the time to create it.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If it’s the same thing and is an inexpensive gift like a handmade items usually is (i say usually because some crafts are labor intensive, like quilting!!), it’s just fine.

      It’s just picking out your boss and being extravagant that’s unnecessary. They appreciate a nice homemade candle and a card saying “Thank you for being awesome”.

      I bring coffee or donuts to celebrate things throughout the year. Or I support an animal sanctuary, I bought water bottles for everyone. I’m not leaving the boss out, that’s tacky and mean.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Ah eyeballs and brain screwing up reading, candies not candles!

        Treats are for everyone! Even more so yes these go to even the deepest pockets around. It’s a gesture of kindness to all within your workplace.

    5. She who must not be named*

      If you exclude one person from a group gift that is bigger etiquette you’re breaking than “gifts go down, not up.” Particularly because we’re talking about inexpensive home baked items. It’s going to look odd if you exclude your boss only and has the potential to look like a pretty snub, even if that’s totally not your intention.

    6. kittymommy*

      This is what I do. I generally make a box of baked goods for each of them (bosses) and then bring a platter of the same to my co-workers to split. I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought them something.

    7. MLB*

      I agree with the others, I see no issues with what you’re doing. My issue with the whole gift thing is people feeling obligated to purchase gifts or pressured into participating in any gift exchange/group gift. I purchase gifts because I want to, not because I have to. And I don’t automatically expect any in exchange. It would fabulous if everyone felt this way – it would make things far less complicated.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        Okay, thanks everyone. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. They’re small bags of candy and I don’t think they’re extravagant enough to prompt people to reciprocate. I appreciate the feedback.

      2. T. Boone Pickens*

        I’ve learned so much about the office gift giving process from AAM over the years and it’s really caused me to do a total 180 in my thought process. It took me about 3 years to finally get the backbone to stop participating in chipping in money for Boss’ Day gifts and holiday gifts for the boss. I remember when the office manager came around and asked me if I’d like to contribute I politely declined and when prompted explained that I didn’t think it made much sense to buy our boss a present as they made anywhere from 3x-10x as the staff and I thought it was inequitable. The look on the office manager’s face was priceless as it dawned on her that we had been blindly contributing over the years. I knew I made the right decision when I was given a gift card to Dunkin Donuts and when I went to use it discovered that it either had zero money on it or hadn’t been activated. I didn’t have the heart to talk to my boss as it would’ve been a super awkward conversation.

        The only area I struggled with (and still do to some extent) is team based gift giving. I’m in sales/recruiting and I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite well and this always posed a problem for me when it came to the holidays. I’ve always been pretty generous monetarily when it came to gift giving so I never gave it 2nd thought to buy my support staff pretty nice gifts in the $100ish range. I’ve always tried to frame it as a thank you for their hard work over the year and have always made it clear that no reciprocation is expected. I just genuinely like giving gifts. After reading AAM I’m now wondering if I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I need to re-read my 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace and see if I’ve gone astray. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

        1. She Who Must Not Be Named*

          Is your boss unusually petty and immature? Gift cards are known to malfunction, so that seems the more likely explanation unless you have previous experience of his vindictiveness.

          On the other hand, if it really was petty revenge – wow. Can’t imagine the embarrassment of asking Dunkin Donuts for an empty gift card to get back at someone.

          1. T. Boone Pickens*

            No, boss was pretty solid. If I remember correctly boss was in a pretty surly mood for the next week and I didn’t think it was worth bringing up. I ended up being on vacation the week after that and ended up forgetting about it until I found the gift card in my desk 6 months later and laughed about it.

            Haha I agree that would be some next level petty vengeance!

  4. KillItWithFire*

    For LW#4, I would suggest having a long running or low level project to mention when talking to your manager. Or asking specifically if there is something like that you could contribute to.

    1. Kes*

      OP #4 is in month four of a six month position, though – they probably can’t take anything too long running unless it can easily be transferred. In that kind of situation, I’d lean more towards reading articles or doing learning on somewhat relevant topics – for example, learning about more advanced excel skills or something similar that can generally be useful in an office environment even if there isn’t a specific need for it in the specific role at the moment.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, if the manager really can’t think of a project, or can only think of something that won’t fill the time available, I’d work on picking up a skill.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I would suggest OP #4 use the time to get more proficient at a tool set. Especially one used by the company and in demand. There’s usually online courses for these things.
      It helps OPs resume and may lead to a contract extension.

  5. Queen of Cans and Jars*

    #5 – There’s something s0 very satisfying about a short, blunt answer to a question that is full of thinly veiled outrage.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Do you think the question was from a spouse who wanted to attend the party or an employee who didn’t want to attend the party without their spouse?

      1. Queen of Cans and Jars*

        I felt like the employee was outraged that they couldn’t bring their spouse to the work party.

  6. Clisby Williams*

    LW#5 – Of course they can refuse to invite spouses to a during-work-hours party. I’m trying to figure out why in the world they WOULD invite spouses. Or why spouses would want to attend. The chance they they will have super-great food and alcoholic beverages sounds pretty low to me.

    1. kckckc*

      For real. My first reaction when I hear that spouses are not invited to a work holiday party is “oh, thank God!”

      1. Antilles*

        And that goes double for a during-work-hours party where I’d need to burn half a day of PTO to attend anyways.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Spouses have always been invited to our holiday parties because our employer is very generous. But we (at least, my partner and I, and all of the coworkers I know well enough) have never taken that for granted. I suppose certain types of people feel entitled to anything they have been given before, or just think it’s customary and anything else is “not done” (a phrase that irritates me unreasonably).

    3. Chocoholic*

      My husband’s company’s holiday party is super fun and I always look forward to it. I would be super bummed if I wasn’t invited, but I certainly wouldn’t let that bummed feeling go beyond my house. Its an excuse to get dressed up and get my nails done. And now that my kids are old enough to not need a babysitter anymore, it doesn’t even cost us that.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Especially b/c it’s a government employer—they’re likely not able to pay for anything.

  7. Loulou*

    We had a serious case of unwarranted, unfair gifting up in my office the other day… I’m still bristling a little.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Gifting up is one of those things I just don’t understand. At all.

      How can anyone’s logic not be:
      Q: If someone is going to spend money, who should it be?
      A: The person with more money.

      1. Bea*

        My manager and I are a two woman team. We’re friends, we’re an awesome team, and I just happen to report into her. I adore her as a manager and even more so as a person. She never lets me pay for lunch, but I’m definitely buying her a Christmas gift. Nothing extravagant, but something thoughtful and relevant to her personal interests. (She’ll say OMG YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO DO THIS! but she’ll really love the 2 things I picked out for her.) I sure wouldn’t give a gift to my VP, but my senior manager? Definitely.

        Just giving you one anecdotal example of how logic can be different around this issue. One size doesn’t fit all!

        1. WellRed*

          My manager and I are also a two woman team. I get her a bottle of red wine, she gets me a bottle of white wine. Occassionally, she throws in a gift card to local sandwich shop.

        2. [insert witty username here]*

          I used to have a boss like this. She and I are still friends outside of work and have continued to give each other gifts. I have decided my new metric is “would I give this person a gift even if they weren’t my boss?” In her case, yes. My current boss? No. Do I anticipate this situation happening again? Very likely not.

          So I do think there are situations where “gifting up” can happen, but they should be definitely be the exception, not the rule. (not trying to tell YOU this specifically, Bea – just more putting my opinion out there)

      2. TootsNYC*

        I made it very clear to my team that I give them gifts, they don’t give gifts to me.

        And yet one year, my deputy came and said, “I don’t care about what you say. I’m giving you a gift because I like you.”

        And last year the guy who works for me gave me a gift for the first time; it was pretty token-ish (a bag of tiny Snickers, which I buy full-size all the time from the vending machine, so it made me laugh, and a set of dishtowels, so probably $6). We don’t work in quite the same isolated setup, and I have a boss over my head who approves his vacations, etc., so it may feel more like “peers of different rank.”

        1. TootsNYC*

          oh, and I could be OK w/ my team getting together and everybody pitching in $2 to $5 to buy a $35 replacement coffee mug for the one I broke, or something.

          But mostly that would feel OK because I actually do give everyone on my team a nice present ($50 gift card for the full-timers; $10 for the part-timers; and usually something small, like homemade stationery or something that’s under $7).

          If I were not giving them any present at all, or cheaper ones, I’d be uncomfortable.

    2. Beancounter*

      My boss wants to host a baby shower for our CFO’s third child, due 12/31. When I pointed out that gifts flow downward, she said that was an archaic belief. :| My colleague – who doesn’t know understand boundaries and acts cute to avoid repercussions – is pushing it too. *head desk* I’m hoping that we’ll be so swamped they’ll forget until it’s too late and the mother cannot come.

      1. Observer*

        Archaic, huh. Because of course power dynamics and imbalance of power are archaic concepts that no longer exist in the modern world. And no one EVER abuses their power, oh no! /Sarc

      2. Marie*

        Beyond that, baby shower etiquette usually says that asking for gifts for a second or third child is inappropriate because you ought to have those items already. Unless it’s a late in life surprise baby.

  8. Noah*

    I’ve never heard of a “government company,” which makes me think OP5 is from another country. I assume no country requires allowing spouses at parties (because that entire idea is ridiculous), but it’s possible there are some other issues at play here that ought to be considered and that we don’t know about.

    1. Liet-Kinda*

      It’s weirdly awkward language, but Americorps, the Import-Export Bank, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Amtrak, and actually the Post Office (just by way of example, there are more) are all technically “government companies” in the sense that they are legally distinct corporations chartered and owned by the federal government but construed as legally distinct business entities.

    2. Antilles*

      It’s not a common phrasing, but there ARE a number of industries in the US which are partially private and partially government – railroads, energy companies, the Post Office, stuff like that.

      1. Antilles*

        Worth noting though that even within these industries, it can vary on a company by company basis – the energy industry is a good example, because some are government-owned like TVA and some are truly independent, private businesses.

      2. Noah*

        Liet-Kinda’s examples were good. Yours are not. The only railroad that fits this category in the U.S. is Amtrak. The post office is a government agency. Energy companies, some are publicly owned, most are private.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Dude, why so salty? This isn’t necessary. Someone was trying to help you when you started nitpicking language.

        2. Frank Doyle*

          It’s likely that the LW simply wasn’t precise with their language. Why are you getting worked up about this, who cares, it doesn’t affect the response, etc.

    3. Marthooh*

      The phrasing made me think it was someone writing in to see if that whole “holiday party, sorry you’re not invited” story they got from their SO was legit.

  9. Not mysef this time*

    Every year at my company, a big part of the blatantly Christmas party is to give a large gift to the company OWNERS. It’s usually worth hundreds of dollars, and there’s several pointed “you don’t have to BUT give me money” emails each year. The 15+ year staff all act like we should be grateful to work here, and it’s just weird.

    I sat with a tableful of junior employees this year and spent the gift presentation explaining that this is not normal and gifts should flow down. That they should never feel like they have to give money to the bosses.

    I am still mad.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There’s still a large chunk of the workforce who are blindly loyal to their bosses and do view employment as an honor more than a mutually beneficial weighted partnership.

      Especially after a lengthy term of service.

      I worry your bitterness may be off putting to the junior employees. I know I would v find it condescending as someone who has grown fond and close to owners over the years. I fall in the middle of knowing I’m not guaranteed a job and appreciate the opportunity and yet will never crowd source a gift for a boss. Crowd sourcing is for emergencies and disasters.

      1. Not mysef this time*

        We’re all pretty friendly and very aware of the cultural divide between the rest of us and the two dozen or so long haul staff.

        We have very in demand skills and could frankly get jobs in this industry elsewhere very quickly. It’s one of the perks of IT. I expect my employer to treat me fairly and pay me fairly, not ask me for money and not to try to make me grateful that I have a job somewhere. I want my junior staff to know that they are valuable and skilled, and support them when they think something is weird.

        Thankfully, my actual manager is quite good at avoiding this weird faaaaamily stuff. There’s just a cult around the owners that is, in a word, Not Okay.

      2. pancakes*

        I didn’t read that as bitterness at all; I read it as someone taking a good opportunity to instruct junior employees in workplace norms. It isn’t, in my experience, normal for people to be “blindly loyal to their bosses,” nor for gifts to flow up, let alone expensive gifts. I’m past junior employee age, but if I found myself working someplace where that happened, I’d be really glad to know I wasn’t alone in noticing the weirdness.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I think it was really good of Not Myself to explain general workplace norms to the junior employees, since they are newer to the workplace and might think this is normal.

    2. WellRed*

      We used to have an older coworker who passed around the “Christmas Extortion” card and encouraged us all to chip in for the big boss’s gift (with a follow u email nudge) and how we should all be greatful, etc etc etc. Fortunately, he put a stop to it a few years back and she retired. He still gets a token gift presented to him, but either the VP buys it or the company does (I don’t ask or care).

  10. Marthooh*

    OP#2 can push back a little by reminding the coworker that the boss didn’t want a Secret Santa gift. Maybe suggest she would be more comfortable getting a nice card that everyone can sign.

  11. Kat*

    I totally agree with not gifting up – in theory – but in reality I’ve never had the clout to take on office culture on this topic. My current workplace is not too bad, but my team does a secret santa (there’s only 6 of us) and I’ve gotten my grandboss in the drawing both of the two Christmasses I’ve been here. And I’m the lowest ranked person on our team – the only one who doesn’t report directly to her. I can afford it and our workgroup is awesome in just about all other ways so I just go along with it. But I always feel a little bit like Alison would be disappointed it me!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You have to pick your battles. This is one of those things that if you’re suffering (unable to buy food let alone buy a gift for a boss), you don’t need to waste energy beating yourself up about. It’s such a drop in the bucket and very small thing that can do more harm than good in the end.

      Save up for when something else you actually object to more pops up. Then you’re not just the “scrooge” or “downer” in the office. That’s how political capital works, if you have very little, stockpile for when you’re told to pay company expenses and “maybe” they’ll reimburse you next year kind of thing.

      I’m sad that you feel even a twinge of guilt or that you’d disappoint anyone because your job security and work happiness matters more.

    2. MLB*

      I think a secret santa type thing is fine, as long as you want to participate and can afford it. It’s when people feel pressured to do so is when it’s more problematic.

  12. Plebeian Trash*

    I always get my boss a small gift for Christmas (think in the $20 range) but it is just the two of us in a satellite office so I have no other co-workers here. I also get her some nice flowers for her birthday. She does the same for me and it’s just normal for us here. I am well compensated and feel no pressure to do so. In previous jobs though I would never have considered a gift for my boss so I think some of it is the culture where you are.

  13. Pam*

    I will be making jam as my holiday gift to the office- and will include the bosses on that.

    Gifts beyond that will only be for my team.

  14. Yikes Dude*

    My preferred lifehack for “we want to do something nice, but gifts should flow downward” is a lovely card. If people are insistent on chipping in on something, doing a very voluntary $1-5 each towards some kind of treat or booze (or whatever makes sense for your office culture) that can be shared by everyone.

  15. AnotherKate*

    As a boss: don’t buy me things.
    As an employee: I don’t want to buy more things.

    I know the world of federal employment is very different from the private sector and lots of office “rules” ARE actually laws, but I laughed out loud at wondering whether it’s legal not to invite spouses to a party.

  16. Admin in Arkansas*

    My first exposure to office culture was at the university where I still work (different department at the time). I did not know about the “gifts flow down” rule until I was informed by my supervisor when she gasped when I asked what the faculty might appreciate for a gift. I would never have thought to get them gifts, however, the department had a culture of almost every faculty member giving a little something to the admin staff (“little” here is relative – I still think $20 gift cards to Starbucks and $30 iTunes gift cards are quite large gifts to give someone) and I was raised that if someone thinks of you enough to get a gift, its only right to get them something in return (if you are able and “gift” can take many forms).

    I really wish I could have a taken a course in undergrad about power dynamics in the workplace. Or, if I had been financially able to do an internship, maybe I would have learned it there…

  17. GhostWriter*

    At a previous job, me and 9 other teammates would chip in $20 each to get large giftcards for our manager and supervisor at their favorite restaurants. The manager would then get everyone a $10 giftcard for various places and the supervisor would get everyone a $10 giftcard for various places, so it was basically an even exchange of money.

    I was the lowest ranked (and thus lowest earning) person on the team. I was a bit resentful about having to hand over $20 in cash and then getting one $10 giftcard I ended up giving away and one $10 giftcard I had to go out of my way to use. (If I had been exchanging a $10 giftcard with a teammate I wouldn’t have minded, but it’s different to do it with someone who makes much more money than you.)

    1. TardyTardis*

      I know, at old ExJob the supervisors would run candle and Tupperware type parties, and of course we felt *no* pressure to show up and buy stuff, right?

  18. MissDisplaced*

    Some years back, I managed a team of 4 and the culture was to give each report gifts, usually a $20 gift card or the like. While I didn’t begrudge them this personally, it was nevertheless difficult that first year as I hadn’t planned for it, and my finances that year were tough as I’d just bought a house. Plus, I mean isn’t this something the company should do?

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I don’t really want a gift from someone who doesn’t know me at all. Unless it’s money in some form, it’s likely to be a trinket of some kind and who needs more crap in the house? So, no. The company should not give me a gift. But my boss? Who works with me and has probably heard me talk about my cats or Doctor Who? Sure, give me that mug with a cat and a tardis on it. I’ll use it for my coffee and be glad to leave my good mugs at home.

  19. AR*

    I’ve always adhered to the “don’t gift up” rule. So my first year at this company, I didn’t give my boss (the VP of our department) anything. I felt like a jerk because she received so many gifts from people in our department that she needed a dolly to cart them all out to her car! Every year since, I’ve resentfully bought her a gift.

  20. kimonawhim*

    Can I get a Hallelujah for the addition of an X-out button on the Inc. videos!?! It’s a holiday miracle.

  21. Could be Anyone*

    I’m a paralegal, and at my last job, there was a collection of money to buy gifts for our supervising attorneys. I think it was $20 but covered a few people. I was annoyed, but I was pretty new at Christmastime so I kept my grumbling to myself. They also organized a bosses day celebration, so….

    Needless to say, I didn’t work there very long. But now, one of the support staff at my office just sent an e-mail asking for contributions to buy a gift card for our maintenance guy. (Who is a full time employee of the firm with benefits, just like me.) “No pressure.” Then she followed up with a “reminder” e-mail to only the half-dozen people or so who didn’t give her any money yet. You better believe I’m on that list.

    1. Observer*

      Your maintenance guy may be a full time employee with benefits just like you. But, he’s probably not making some ridiculous multiple of your salary. And good maintenance people are worth their weight in gold. So, while I don’t think you have any obligation here, I do think it’s very different than gifting up to a manager.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, unless I’m misunderstanding what “maintenance guy” means in the context of a law firm, facilities staff can often be really overlooked and disrespected institutionally, even if they’re being paid a decent salary.

        Bugging people to give money after they’ve diplomatically opted out is obnoxious, though.

      2. Could be Anyone*

        He’s great and treated well and his salary is on the same level as most support staff here. I believe the firm should (and will!) recognize his efforts but I don’t think the support staff has any reason to do so. Just seems odd to single him out.

  22. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

    Now I’m remembering way back when my dad still worked in law. They (a) had their Christmas party Christmas Eve, (b) you had to attend the Christmas party in order to get your bonus, and (c) you had to give the boss/owner people a gift, at the Christmas party, to which you had to go to get your bonus.

  23. Drago Cucina*

    We’re doing Secret Santa, totally opt-in, organized by someone else, low dollar amount cap. I’m the executive director. I was just reflecting on the carp I’d get if I didn’t participate. I try to quietly remove myself from any competitions, lotteries, etc., with prizes, but sometimes get side eyed if it’s too visible that I’m not participating. If it’s a “Guess how many people will ask for solar eclipse glasses, after the eclipse” I come up with a number that I know will lose, but doesn’t look like I’m throwing the game.

  24. Matt*

    For the last 5 years, my peers (10 of us) have been asked to contribute $30 or so not only for a holiday gift, but for bosses birthday as well. I HATE it – but haven’t pushed back because it appears I’m the only one who has a problem with it. So boss gets a $300+ gift twice a year from us. Boss makes a 6 figure salary, and we know her husband earns substantially more.

    It’s not the dollar amount – $30 isn’t a hardship. It certainly doesn’t feel optional, and we have never received anything from the boss for the holidays or birthdays (except for a holiday dinner, which I assume is paid via bosses expense account). When I have mentioned that gifts should flow downward to my closest peers, the response is “You’re right, but what are you going to do?”.

    Boss should put a stop to it – but boss loves it and apparently isn’t aware that it’s just not cool. This person is no longer my supervisor (but still works here)… I fantasize about sending an anonymous email letting old boss know that it’s a shitty thing to expect, as well as links to the many posts about this here…

  25. Observer*

    #1 – Allison, I think that your answer was right on, but a bit incomplete. In this situation, asking the other employee to contribute is especially gross because she’s a temp. That’s just another layer of nope.

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