do I have to chip in $100 for a Christmas gift for our boss?

A reader writes:

My coworkers in my department like to give one another gifts for various events and holidays, like birthdays. It is a nice thought, and typically the contributions are small ($5 to pitch in for one gift card), but for Christmas, we all chip in to buy a gift for our boss. It’s a minimum contribution of $40 but often comes out to be $100+ per person, and I am starting to feel a bit resentful.

Is there a way that I can politely decline to contribute to the gift for our boss, or should I cough up the money? My team is small—only five members—so it will be very obvious if I do not partake.

I wasn’t as bothered by it in the past, although I did think it was ridiculous, but right now I am really pinching pennies as I am in a tough spot financially.

Today at Slate, I answered this question and a bunch of other holiday-related questions from readers, including:

  • No one showed up for the company party I planned
  • I’m the head of the office. Can I skip the holiday party?
  • Can I just buy my team a bunch of food and be done with it?
  • Should we have to use vacation time when our office closes early for the holidays?
  • Should I wait to job search until after the holidays?

Head over there to read it.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    Nope, nope, nope. At a former workplace we were pressured to contribute similar amounts to get presents for the owners of the company who were a couple generations into being multi-multi-millionaires.

    I didn’t cough up which some found horrifying and thought telling me my name would be left off the card could get me to the ATM. Yeah, no.

    I wasn’t going to pay to go along, or suck up… I had better things to do with my money.

    1. Retro*

      It’s extra crappy to be collecting money for the owners who you might not have a daily interaction with. Giving a small contribution for a good boss who treats their employees well, that I get even if it’s not proper etiquette to gift up. But contributing for a gift to someone you don’t even know is pretty inconsiderate towards the employees of the company.

      1. Jamie*

        All of those asked to contribute reported directly to the owners or one level down, so we did work closely with them…I just thought it was wildly inappropriate.

        1. Shocked Pikachu*

          Totally inappropriate. I just had a chuckle though, because your post kinda got that Monty Python sketch into my head. Two Italian mafia men : “ Those are some nice tanks you have here, colonel. It would be shame if somebody set fire to them”. But now I see it with “your theme” :” It’s a nice Christmas card we have here, Jamie. It would be shame if somebody left your name off of it …..” :))))))

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yep…. I’d chip in $5 happily, but I only spend $100 on my child. (My husband isn’t into gifts.)

    2. Quill*

      If they want a multiple hundred dollar gift they should talk to their millionaire relatives, $100 is more than I intend to spend, total, for christmas.

      1. Ashloo*

        Exactly. My husband and I don’t do gifts for each other, we have a couple relatives we exchange roughly equal gift cards with (yep, that is as silly as it sounds) and a couple very low cost white elephant exchanges. No way would either of us spend more than the entire season costs on rich bosses!

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I have never had an issue saying no to contributing to gifts at work. I hate fake sentiment or gifting because you feel an obligation to do so. And $100 each? That’s insane and very inappropriate.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        So much this. I’ve always told people I wasn’t chipping in on group gifts when I didn’t want to. For example, my grandboss recently wanted to gift one of my coworkers with an expensive gift from a fine jewelry retailer since she was going to be giving birth to her first child. The cost per person came out to $75 each, and I told them I’d be donating to a charity of her choice in her and her baby’s name – I don’t even spend that kind of money on my own niece, let alone a stranger’s baby. I donated $20 to a charity that provides neonatal care to impoverished mothers in an African country and called it a day (and $20 was even a lot for someone I “knew” all of four months at that point).

        People need to get real about the fact that everyone is not on the same playing field when it comes to finances. If you want to spend hundreds of dollars on people, be my guest, but I’m not.

        1. Former Employee*

          If that’s something your grandboss wanted to do, then he should have done it and not asked others to pay for something that he happened to think was a nifty idea.

          Not to mention that it sounds too much like a “push present” (a term I loathe and normally avoid). When someone has a new baby, especially a first baby, the tradition is to buy something for the baby.

    4. Aquawoman*

      I was horrified by that. I am not a multimillionaire but would be deeply upset by a gift of that size from reports I don’t have to worry about it because I’m a fed and we have rules against that kind of thing, but that is a huge amount of money. I can’t imagine a boss allowing that to continue.

      1. Emily K*

        If I found out a gift collection had happened with junior employees for me, without my knowledge, probably the first thing I would do is buy Amazon e-gift cards for twice the value of the gift I received and immediately send them out to the junior employees, with the hope that by going 2x I would ensure that even if they didn’t all put in the same amount, they all got back at least what they put in.

      2. Junger*

        Then again, that’s probably one of the reasons they’re still multi-millionnaires.
        You can’t really get that amount of money without taking it from others.

        1. Susie Q*

          “Then again, that’s probably one of the reasons they’re still multi-millionnaires.
          You can’t really get that amount of money without taking it from others.”

          That makes absolutely no sense. Money is not a finite resource. Plenty of people earn money without taking from others. *Massive eye roll*

          1. Joaquin Apart*

            $100 from employees for a gift to the owner is taking money from the employees and giving the associated value to the owner. What doesn’t make sense? And if the owners do this with their own staff, I suspect that won’t be the only time they’ve done something similar.

            *Massive sausage roll*

          2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

            > That makes absolutely no sense. Money is not a finite resource.

            The value of money comes from the fact that it is, in fact, finite.

    5. Quickbeam*

      My twin! I put the hammer down on extravagant Boss Day/Birthday/Christmas/ etc gifts for my boss 8 years ago. It still goes on but no one bothers me. I sleep well at night.

    6. Kix*

      I manage a small team and I would be horrified to receive a gift from my team where it was obvious they contributed a large amount of money. Who does that?!

      I don’t encourage gifting up, but our office is very gifting-oriented and I will accept small denomination gift cards ($10 or less) to Starbucks if people feel compelled to give me gifts. Honestly, please use your hard-earned money for yourself.

    7. Lauren MD*

      Can someone please enlighten me on what these people could possibly be buying for their bosses that costs $100s (or even $1000 dollars!!!)? I can’t imagine what I would even buy for a boss that costs so much!

      1. Allonge*

        This, so much. The largest, most expensive corporate gift I have participated in giving was a set of decent but not very fancy headphones to a retiring colleague, for 200 dollars total, from 15 of us combined. I have, maybe once, spent 100 on specific close family members (mostly as I found multiple gifts over the weeks of prep). What on earth.

  2. Anonymouse*

    No. The Big Boss doesn’t need a generous gift from his subordinates, his higher salary is enough for that. If the gift is to express gratitude, I don’t see why a $5-10 contribution for a smaller gift wouldn’t do the trick. Awfully presumptuous, borderline rude, of your coworker re everyone’s spending budget.

      1. Anonymouse*

        I know, right?! I always wonder in amazement the galls of those people who ask for group chip ins like this and then presumes that the set amount is an appropriate/affordable amount. $40 is a lot and even $10 is a lot. I don’t think you’re the only person who feels this way, OP.

    1. irene adler*

      I think I’d donate funds in boss’ name to the local homeless shelter-if I were inclined to get the boss a gift. Boss doesn’t need another trinket-even from me.

      And $100 -per person- for the gift collection? Nope. No way. I’d have to ask why the employees need to provide boss with something so extravagant.

      1. whingedrinking*

        No kidding. Like, what are you buying someone that you need $500 for it, especially for an annual occasion? Most people’s retirement gifts don’t cost that much.

      2. LunaLena*

        The $100 thing sounds suspiciously like a Pieces of Flair competition to me, i.e. everyone is trying so hard to show how much they love the boss that they keep trying to outdo each other’s contributions and go above and beyond the minimum.

        For those who haven’t seen Office Space:
        Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : We need to talk about your flair.
        Joanna : Really? I… I have fifteen pieces on. I, also…
        Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : Well, okay. Fifteen is the minimum, okay?
        Joanna : Okay.
        Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : Now, you know it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or… well, like Brian, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.
        Joanna : Okay. So you… you want me to wear more?
        Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager : Look, we want you to express yourself, okay? Now if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, okay? You do want to express yourself, don’t you?

    2. Renee*

      I was so embarrassed and hugely touched when my previous team bought me a gift card and a huge bunch of flowers when I moved teams. I think it was really nice but completely unnecessary. I think bosses do not need huge gestures and should not expect this. Bosses that gift to direct reports too should stop – puts on pressure to return the favour. I think small but thoughtful gestures are fun. For example for those that want to participate in a morning tea, to bring a plate. But a packet of lollies and put a few on desks. Very cheap and low key stuff can be fun but doesn’t break the bank.

  3. Dagny*

    To Partied Out: if it is stressful for you and you would rather spend time with your spouse and kids than at the office party, did you ever consider that your employees would feel the same way? I loathe “not really mandatory but mandatory” after-hours office parties for this reason: it’s intruding into my own time and is not how I choose to spend my free time.

    Maybe next year, schedule it during the daytime or make a shorter, or more optional, after-work party.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This. At my last company, we always had department holiday parties and they were always a lot of fun. The last few years I worked there, they decided to have a company holiday party at Dave and Buster’s. I went the first year and hated it. I found a reason not to go the next few years after that.

    2. Bawab*

      If you read the question it looks like an engagement team planned this with permission from people above the OP. That means they had nothing to do with a party and a group of people likely under him want it. If the employees don’t want to go they can cancel the party they planned.

      1. Junger*

        Then again, we dont know how many employees want it, if his team specifically wants it, or if the planners are even listening to the employees.

        But with that many people, it’s impossible that everyone is pleased.

        1. Partied Out*

          OP here: Bawab has it right. I had nothing to do with the party planning and would have advocated for an on-site, 12-2 PM catered lunch if I’d been asked. But I’m planning to follow Alison’s advice and put in an appearance for the first hour of the party.

      1. Quill*

        $100 is more of a total budget for me, at least in the days before I’d started buying gifts for my minor cousins on the years I’ll actually be seeing them. (Generally they get books or legos appropriate to their age and interest.) If I’m doing christmas on both sides of the family the dirty santa / white elephant totals up to about $40 and $20 apiece on my parents and brother is about right, especially now that I’ll have to fly with the presents.

          1. Quill*

            I have 10 first cousins (both sides) and between them they have six kids, seven of which are under the age of 18. If I could magically gather all of them together there would be 9 kids (including the two under-18 first cousins) to buy for, even after you kick everyone old enough to vote onto the family dirty santa list…

            Even $8 per kid (Approximate cost of a paperback book, very small board game, plushie, or lego set rounded up) would add up pretty high, though I seldom actually see more than 3 of them for the holidays…

            I think the last time I actually totaled things up I came in at around $130 with presents for 4 kids, dirty santa for both sides of the family, three immediate family members, and a bunch of con trinkets that cost less than $5 for friends.

      2. Ted Mosby*

        I came here to say exactly that. We’re lucky to be doing well financially. I am laid very well. We have savings accounts And 401ks. $100 is our limit.

        Not saying these things to humble brag but just to underscore that this is totally ridiculous and there is no mitigating circumstance that would ever, ever make me want to give this amount to a boss. Just crazy.

          1. Ted Mosby*

            Lmao oh no. Siri also corrected “love you” to “lick you” today. To my mother. I’m having A Day.

          2. Lehigh*

            Lol, glad you pointed this out. I was going along assuming it was some new way to say “I am quite comfortable” that I wasn’t familiar with.

    1. writerson*

      A former job expected this! We had a very cliquish team, in which a couple of long-time employees were friends with the big boss. Every year, they requested $40-$50 from each of her 12 direct reports so they could get her a “nice spa weekend” since “she does so much for us.” I grumbled and contributed the first year, then bowed out the remaining two years I was there.

      In return, the big boss gave each of us a $5 Starbucks gift card.

      1. Quill*

        My mom’s ex boss tended to get twenty of whatever was around at the dollar store and pass them out, which meant that my mom always included it in her white elephant contribution.

        The desk “zen garden” was pretty entertaining (and messy) but my absolute favorite was when a blind distribution of ‘holiday candles’ gave the only explicitly christmas themed one, with Noel written on it in big letters, to the only jewish employee. Everyone else got candles with greenery or snowflakes…

      2. Ted Mosby*

        This is so gross. I’ve worked with good friends and seen them get promoted and it never occurred to me to try to use that to extort money from others at my level. Just nurse.

      3. Diahann Carroll*

        In return, the big boss gave each of us a $5 Starbucks gift card.

        This actually made me laugh out loud. Your ex-boss was an ass. And see what all that brown nosing gets you? Boss couldn’t even be bothered to get a $20 Starbucks card.

      4. Mimi Me*

        My husband worked for his cousin for 4 years. His cousin’s policy was to have everyone buy $50 gift cards for everyone in the office (6 guys) and then donate $100 to his (y’know…the boss!) gift. He justified this demand by saying that this was what he gave them bonus checks for. So it was $350 on office stuff alone…and all of the guys hated it except the boss who got a $600 gift every year. On top of this, we used to spend the holidays with my husband’s boss/cousin so I’d have to buy presents for him and his family to open on Christmas eve. I’d literally spend close to $800 on this man and he gave my husband a bonus check of $500 every year.
        It’s no surprise that when my husband quit, his cousin disowned him. I’d like to say I missed him but my mom raised me not to lie.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It reminds me of the story someone told about how they had to gift a boss a new designer handbag every year as a group. I just cannot even.

      I bought my parents a TV one year and even that was under $500 and my mom ugly cried because she thought it was too much. No, mom it’s not. But doing that for some random person I’m not emotionally connected with since birth, sorry. I’d sooner donate that $100 to the homeless shelter than ever buy a boss that kind of gift unless their house literally burned down.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I donate to assorted gofundmes over the year, so it’s within my character to kick in in crisis. But yeah, I’m the weird outlier on that part!

          But I also gamble that much every so often so meh, that’s usually my threshold when I start thinking about things. “What do I spend on recreation…am I willing to forego said recreation in order for this person?”

          1. Jamie*

            You’re a very kind person. I’ve always reported directly to the owners of the companies…family companies where they were millionaires many times over for generations so if they had a fire they are better equipped to deal with it than any donation I could give. Family businesses are a different world.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Nah, I’m from family businesses background as well but they’re rarely millionaires in my case. Most are working owners, I know exactly what they’re worth, I cut their checks and see their taxes LOL. These are generation owned businesses though, they’re the first generation businesses often created by immigrants, so they’re supporting huge extended families along the way as well.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I wonder if this is my old grandboss. One year for her birthday, she got several dozen roses and a Louis Vuitton purse, from everyone.

      As the youngest and lowest paid full time employee, the person who bought the gift said to me, “Just so you know, today’s Grandboss’s birthday and we got her several dozen roses and a Louis Vuitton purse. I put your name on the card but you don’t have to chip in because you’re low level, but do wish her a happy birthday because she takes this stuff seriously.”

      1. SuperAnon*

        That’s disgusting. “You obviously make next to nothing. A ‘happy birthday’ is all I expect from you.”

        1. Lehigh*

          I mean, it’s better than, “Although I obviously know you make next to nothing, everyone has to give $100.”

        2. fhqwhgads*

          But the boss didn’t say it. The employee in charge of the gift did. So it’s more like “I’m not asking you to chip in because I know that’s bullshit and I’m attempting to protect you from boss’s wrath in the meantime, so here’s how we’re going to convince her you did participate”.

    4. banzo_bean*

      Right? I so want to know what the previous gifts have been because it seems so wild. I’ve never bought a $500 gift before.

    5. Pomona Sprout*

      Yeah, spending that much money on the damned boss is obscene!

      This is definitely one for the “wtf is wrong with people?” files.

  4. Augusta Sugarbean*

    Regarding closing at noon for Christmas Eve and NYE: Is this a new policy or are you new to the office? It occurred to me that it may have been a compromise between staff and management. If staff asked to for half days and management said “okay so long as you use PTO”. I mean it’s still not a great policy but it might be worth asking around about just so you go in with all the facts. No one wants to be the person who got an employee-initiated policy eliminated.

    1. Flyleaf*

      The easiest way around it is to take a sick day rather than a PTO day sometime before the end of the year. That way you have an extra PTO day to use for the mandatory closings. Assuming you get paid for sick days.

      1. That'll happen*

        I’ll do what I usually do, which is just make up the time during that week – I’m in the IT department and there’s always work to be done and my boss will be fine with it. We’re all non-exempt except for the providers and management.

    2. That'll happen*

      Hi! This was my letter. I’ve been at my company for 3 years, and they just enacted the early close/vacation time policy last year. We are a medical practice, and I can tell you that this was not requested by employees. I’m not planning on pushing back as I am job hunting – Alison had to shorten my letter for the column and I said I plan to bring it up in my exit interview.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Good for you – I’d get out, too. That policy’s ridiculous. Here’s hoping you find something much better soon.

    3. yala*

      It seems pretty crummy if this is something suddenly sprung on the employees.

      We tend to lose about a week’s worth of PTO during the Christmas holiday (last year it was 56 hours, this year I think it’s less than 40–hooray!), because while the place we work in is closed for two weeks, the state itself isn’t. But they make this clear to all new hires–in the interviewing process, before anyone even agrees to anything. So it’s not great, but at least it’s not a sudden surprise. (And tbh…I’m mostly ok with it. Having two weeks around Christmas where I know I’m off just feels nice. When I schedule time off, it’s usually because I’m Doing Things–I’d never schedule a whole week or two off to just…stay at home and catch up on stuff like I do during the holiday).

  5. MissBookworm*

    If I buy anyone at work a Christmas gift it’s because I want to and not because I’m being forced too. You should never force people to contribute; that just breeds resentment.

    I buy gifts for my manager and a few of my close coworkers (and my manager always gets gifts for her team). My boss and the rest of my coworkers don’t get anything, though I may bring in candy for the entire office. No one cares (or if they do, that haven’t said anything).

  6. Antilles*

    The office closing PTO thing is super dumb. By charging employees PTO, you’re turning an easy boost to morale into something that ranges somewhere between “neutral” and “slap in the face”.

    1. The Original K.*

      My friend’s office announced right before close of business on Tuesday that it was closing on Wednesday for Thanksgiving, and that made a lot of people angry because they’d taken PTO for Wednesday. My friend took back her PTO day in the system and told her reports to do the same.

    2. we're basically gods*

      As a contractor at last!job, I was paid hourly and had zero PTO, but they *still* went out of their way to make sure I was paid for the holidays when the office was closed.
      The work was boring and the pay was abysmal, but their kindness with paying me for holidays made me feel more than a bit sad about leaving.

    3. That'll happen (OP 4)*

      Yeah, they’ve started nickel and diming us. Last year they also changed the vacation policy – we now have to take it in 1/2 or full day increments. That would’ve been bad enough except they didn’t even announce it. They just updated the vacation request form and then much later updated the handbook. I complained to HR about it, and they told me that managers were supposed to pass the info on. I find that explanation to be ridiculous as they have had no issue sending out all staff emails about this holiday policy.

      1. Swiper*

        Ugh, my employer did this too – down to the not telling anyone. I needed to use some time so I used vacation time to come in two hours late for two weeks. AFTER THAT, which my boss had approved, payroll told me we had this new policy that had been in place for months and they were retroactively deducting an additional two hours for those days even though I’d already worked them (20 more hours total). No amount of arguing would get them to realize how unfair that was, and my supervisor who not only didn’t tell me but approved my non-compliant request wouldn’t take any ownership for it either. I was pissed. I took a lot of reallllly long lunches and left a couple of hours early a lot for “doctor’s appointments” for a couple of months after that. Not my finest professional moment, but goddamn, I was getting that time back one way or another.

        1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

          Now that’s messed up. I’m really sorry your boss didn’t go to bat for you on it. That’s a significant amount of time they made you use despite having worked it. My HR seems to be enacting these policies as a substitution for management – instead of dealing with the trouble employees they are punishing all of us.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        The vacation policy isn’t abnormal – pretty much everywhere I’ve worked has had the policy that PTO is either used in half day (4 hour) increments or full days. If you need to be out for a couple hours for doctor’s appointments or something, salaried folks could go and do so (with management approval of course) without necessarily having to make up the time (I usually did anyway) and hourly employees definitely had to make up the time by the end of the week in which the leave was taken. The only thing your company really did wrong here was not notifying you all in a company-wide email that this change was coming and then in effect.

        And your boss sucks for not only not going to bat for you when payroll tried to deduct your pay, but also for not staying on top of policy changes and communicating them to your team.

        1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

          The issue with this is we have roles that are coverage-based. So for our clinical staff that aren’t doctors/PAs, if they ask for time off they have to get it approved and get coverage for it. Let’s say they request a day off and then end up having to stay late a few days anyway. If they’ve already requested the time and gotten coverage for it, they are required to use vacation time despite having worked the hours. In my understanding it was a reaction to employees taking, say, a Friday off and then working extra during the week so they didn’t need to use vacation time. Instead of dealing with the offenders, they made this a policy for everyone. To me that is poor management. There are definitely positions that are set 8-hour shifts, but a medical assistant can’t just leave if the doctor isn’t done seeing patients for the day, you know? It feels like the company wants us to be flexible but doesn’t necessarily afford the same kind of flexibility back.

    4. zora*

      My company just decided this year for the first time to only give us a 1/2 day of Holiday pay on Christmas Eve, when we used to get both full days off. Which is borderline insulting. 1/2 days are ridiculous either way, employers, just give us a full day or don’t. More and more people live far from family and travel these days, a 1/2 day does absolutely nothing for me.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        And who do they think is actually working during these half days? Come on – it’s not even worth it to open the doors on Christmas Eve for a lot of places because the employees will not be remotely productive.

      2. Emily K*

        Hey, I appreciate an early closure! Granted, at my company it’s never been something that used to be a full day and was rescinded to a half day. It’s usually the Friday before a holiday and meant to be a nice gesture that allows even employees who didn’t take the day off to try to get on the road before the evening rush hour.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yup. My response would be “Are you charging us PTO for Christmas Day?” When they no, then ask how this is different?

        1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

          My argument (and I believe ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss’s as well) is that since the company has decided to close early on what would be a normal workday, employees should be compensated for it just as they would be a holiday where the office is closed.

    6. "We Are"?*

      This is what my university employer is doing. We have to use PTO on December 31 because of how Christmas and New Year’s Day is falling. But campus is closed. No students. No faculty. And “temperature conditions may be less than ideal”. You CAN work, but they specifically said employees are encouraged not to. They don’t want us there. We don’t want to be there. For this honor we get to use a day’s worth of PTO.

      1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

        When I worked at a school, we had a paid shutdown from Christmas through New Year’s Day but this was not taken from our PTO. I’m now looking for work at colleges, and I’m specifically looking for places that do this as I think it’s a nice thing to do and a way to reward employees when compensation might not be able to be as competitive.

  7. mark132*

    People arriving late to parties is a very common thing. Part of the way to fix it, is to simply start on time every time. I’ve actually sometimes started showing up late, because I know if I get there on time I’ll be waiting for everyone else.

    1. Manya*

      A lot of restaurants won’t seat you, even with a reservation, unless your entire party is there. How do you start a dinner party when 99% of the people aren’t there?

      1. mark132*

        I’ve never had them wait for the entire party. Yes if you are the only one of 15, they won’t, but if 10 of 15 people show up reasonably close to time get going and don’t wait. The theory is that eventually people will learn if they are late, they might as well not bother coming or even better actually get there on time.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, I’ve seen incomplete parties seated many times at mid-tier and high-end restaurants.

      2. JM60*

        A lot of company parties at restaurants have the whole place reserved for the evening (or the lunch period). So long as you don’t show up near the end of that period, you’re probably okay.

      3. Ain't Miss Behavin'*

        I think the best solution is to choose a restaurant that has a separate room or rooms set aside for large groups. That way, people can trickle in and out and it doesn’t impact their other customers.

        1. Ain't Miss Behavin'*

          Well, the best solution behind just catering in a meal during the work day, as is mentioned below. That would be my favorite.

  8. EPLawyer*

    Re $100 for the boss — I would laugh so hard I might hurt myself. Please show them Alison’s column.

    Re taking vacation when the office is closed: Nopety nope nope. What if someone doesn’t have the vacation time? If someone is already scheduled off, they took the chance and still lose a vacation day. But the rest of you who were willing to work the whole day should not lose time because the office closed. Nickeling and diming employees on PTO is the fastest way to tank morale.

    Holiday parties are so problematic. Either you plan with a loose start time after work and no one wants to come because of everything else going on. Or else you set a start time and people are late because they are finishing off work before hearing over. But then I believe all holiday parties should be held no later than October 30 to avoid adding stress to the holidays.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      We have that policy where we have to take vacation time when the office is closed. They are normally closed for about a week and a half around the holidays. We don’t take some of the smaller holidays throughout the year to bank our time up. We still have around 2 days where we either have to take vacation or can take the time unpaid. I normally opt for unpaid. It sucks but we get so little vacation throughout the year that I want to save mine because I definitely use it.

      1. Octogonia*

        My buddy doesn’t even get the privilege to opt out for unpaid during the December holidays. They have to set aside PTO during the year to cover those days between Christmas and New Years. This is a company listed in the top 30 of the Fortune list!

        1. Bunny Girl*

          Yeah it makes me really mad. I can’t really afford to take the paycut, but on the other hand, this is the only time of the year they allow us to take unpaid leave. I’m a student and I used my leave throughout the year for trainings, tests, and such for my coursework, so I can’t just throw chunks of it away because they decided to close.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah sadly it’s a common practice. I’ve only had one boss that at least didn’t do this for partial days but for the annual closures, it was “save that PTO for that time or don’t, it’s up to you when you want your money.”

        This is why lots of CBA’s include clauses for closures as well as short shifts/call ins. To get away from this behavior. My dad’s union had it set up that they were paid for their 2 weeks of mandatory closing at fiscal year end. And he still had his standard 3 weeks that he took as he saw fit.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I’m guessing they just don’t get paid if they don’t have PTO banked. Unfortunately.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      The holiday party planner lady sounds irrationally angry. I’m guessing she didn’t specify it was a sit down dinner that started at a certain time. And if it was happening after work, people probably came to the restaurant as they were done for the day.

      1. Antilles*

        I’m not sure I’d go so far as “irrationally angry”. I’d definitely be embarrassed/upset if I went to the trouble of planning a dinner and then had to keep begging the restaurant for “five more minutes”, “can we squeeze another chair in here”, “no really, five more minutes”, etc. And given the way OP talks about this restaurant, it definitely seems like OP really loves this place and was really looking forward to showing the place off…which was definitely the recipe for feeling let down when people showed up late. OP’s response may be a little over the top, but it’s understandable.
        Though yes, it may be OP’s lack of clarity here; or it could just be that the scenario isn’t suitable. Sit-down dinners on a work night are often pretty hard to coordinate since some people have to swing by home to deal with family, some people might get a late conference call, etc.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            EDIT: I see OP has commented with additional clarifying information that it was expected to be a dinner after all! I retract my snark!

      2. Olivia Benson*

        OP here — we have a staff of five people, so with partners/spouses our total came to eight people. It was very clear that it was a sit down dinner, as I’d been asked to change the time of the reservation three times so everyone could arrive on time, which I gladly did.

        To be perfectly honest, I was really angry — but mostly I was angry that no one had the courtesy to call and say that they were going to be late, or offered an explanation as to why they were late when they knew it was a sit down dinner and that we had a reservation that I had adjusted multiple times per their requests.

        Fortunately, party-planning isn’t in my job description so I shouldn’t have to do it again!

        1. Antilles*

          With that additional context that people already knew it was a sit down place with a specific reservation, I revise my opinion from “a little over the top” to “pretty fair, actually”.
          Showing up 90 minutes late to a dinner reservation is straight up absurd. In many (most?) dinner situations, the entire table would have already completely finished their meal, maybe even finished dessert and starting to think about the check. Especially if the late person didn’t have the courtesy to even shoot off a quick text or call when it was apparent they would be late. 5-10 minutes late is understandable – traffic, finding a parking spot, forgot you needed gas, whatever. 90 minutes late is firmly in “you didn’t even *leave* until well after you said you’d be here” territory.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’d go further honestly and say she is the one who messed up. I’ve had a holiday lunch with my team where my boss randomly decided to take us out and treat us, but for an actual holiday party tables at a restaurant with a specific start time is not really an acceptable venue in my opinion.

        To be fair someone should have had to approve her selection and they should have told her to book something more appropriate for casual mingling. But I don’t think this is what her coworkers expected and I don’t think they are the ones at fault.

  9. E*

    For the OP wondering about hiring around the holidays. I applied to a job on December 20th. I had a phone interview and in person interview by January 10. Some places don’t pause at all for the holidays. Or if they do the delays are short.

    1. banzo_bean*

      I’m currently job searching and was job searching about 4 years ago during the holidays. It’s less frustrating that the process moves slower, and more that there are less jobs posted. I still apply- hoping others are distracted by the holidays, but it does make it harder to look.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Agreed — Go ahead and apply. If they ARE interviewing before the new year, great. If they aren’t, it’s the same, in fact better, because now you’ve done your part and just need to wait.

      My department is now down three staff members; we are waiting for HR to approve the job posting and we fully intend to review applications, make our first-cut list (phone interviews), and, if we can manage it, do phone interviews before the U closes for the break. If we can, we will schedule in person interviews for the first or second week of the new year. Because we have to hire ASAP. Anyone who doesn’t apply until January is necessarily going to be farther down the list (we keep reviewing but no guarantee we’ll follow up with later applications once we’re phone and in-person interviewing).

    3. Lucky*

      I went through a 3 month interview process and then one month background check. I finally started the job on December 30th.

      When I came into work on Monday after a nice long weekend, I had full insurance benefits as they had a one month delay before benefits kicked in. It didn’t matter what day of the month you started, just as long it was in the previous month.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      My office is interviewing for people in December. This isn’t exactly usual behavior, but we’re so low staffed….

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’ve been hired such that my first day of work was December 15-ish twice. But this year I’m taking the holidays off from my job search because my brain can’t take it.

    6. corporate engineering layoff woo*

      I’m actively searching and have an interview this week. Seems entirely possible that I’ll have other interviews this month. All depends on who’s available.

    7. Joielle*

      My husband applied for a job a couple of weeks ago, had an interview today, and they want to have someone starting around the first of the year. So yeah, I’d keep applying to any postings that look interesting – it’s possible that the timeline will be delayed, but it also may not be.

  10. Nicki Name*

    “For example, if you’re getting a bunch of cheeses, getting some fruit and fancy dark chocolate for your vegans will make them feel taken care of.”

    Or for the lactose-intolerant people you almost certainly have! Only about 1/3 of humans retain the ability to digest lactose into adulthood.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Many hard cheeses have a low level of lactose that for many that are lactose intolerant will be fine. That is not true for all that are lactose intolerant, some cannot digest the small quanity of lactose found in hard cheeses.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          I know one lactose-intolerant person who avoids processed foods with cheese whose origin he’s not sure of, but enjoys hard cheeses where he knows what sort of cheese they are.

          I know another lactose-intolerant person who takes enzyme pills and is able to eat just about anything with them.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It depends on the severity of the intolerance. All my dairy free friends wouldn’t touch the stuff out of fear of exactly “how much” is “too much”. It’s usually better to be safe than sorry for most people.

        And to assume that someone can have something because of what you know about it is one of the many issues people with dietary restrictions hate the most. Ask, ask, ask. The individual themselves. It doesn’t matter that you’re lactose intolerant and do it or someone else you know is okay with that amount, etc.

        1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          And if truly allergic to dairy, the risk of cross contamination is high. Every time we try a dark chocolate bar that does not list dairy in it has triggered a reaction in my son due to cross contamination. We’ve given up on dark chocolate.

          1. Rose*

            Try kosher chocolate! If it’s labeled parve/pareve, it will definitely not have any milk in it, and the standards for making sure there’s no milk are HIGH. I’ve given kosher dark chocolate to other lactose-intolerant people and they’ve been fine.

            Now, if your son can’t even go near milk (like the guy in this article, who I knew in middle/high school: https://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/10/magazine/the-allergy-prison.html ), that probably isn’t good enough, because anything can get cross-contaminated at that point. But if he just can’t eat it, try kosher! Just make 100% certain it has a parve/pareve label.

            (FYI, kosher chocolate is usually not great chocolate, but it’s still chocolate.)

      3. Dahlia*

        They have lower levels of lactose. Not none. Depends highly on how sensitive you are. Cheese is one of the things that sets mine off the most, personally.

    1. JessaB*

      Also though make sure your chocolates are vegan if you intend them for your vegans on staff, some chocolates are after all made with milk or gelatines.

      Also I’d stick away from anything with a booze centre and anything with nuts of any kind unless they’re in a separate box.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Gifting food is a minefield these days what with all of the allergies. Maybe there needs to be some kind of food free option instead…not that I know what, though.

  11. !*

    $100 dollars for a gift for the boss? Oh, HELL no. Who is spearheading this? Do they just buy a gift and then ask everyone else to pitch in for it? This is so wrong on many different levels. You should absolutely speak up and if anyone gives you the side-eye just ignore them. I really hope your boss does not expect an expensive gift from his staff!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I am kind of dying to know how this happened. Did it start with a $5 chip-in and escalate? Is the person spearheading it a total suck up or just crazy? I spend $100 on my spouse or my kids, but no one to whom I’m not closely related.

      I will also say that I’d absolutely die if I thought my employees were being asked to chip in anything (much less $100 – that is crazytown) for a gift for me – and would put a stop to it, if I got wind of anything like that. Gifts flow downward only. (I have too many employees to spend a lot per person, too.) I am almost positive that there is something in the staff handbook about gift-giving, too.

  12. Jennifer*

    The one about the party where everyone was late – I also think that maybe people just didn’t know it was a sit down dinner. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. I think next time a catered lunch during the workday would be better, if you get stuck planning the party again.

    1. Jamie*

      During the work day is always better, IMO.

      This is my yearly curmudgeonly comment about how much I hate workplace holiday parties after hours. (Btw, can I bring one of my cats as my plus one?)

      1. Jennifer*

        Agreed. It’s unfair to people who have major responsibilities outside of work, and those of us who don’t but just would rather be doing anything else. Like going home to our pets.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly. And I have no plus one these days, which I’m happy about 364 days of the year…but it’s going to be weird. Tried to get my daughter to go with me, but she’s working so I’ll be showing up alone.

          Actually I think I’m coming down with something that will strike the day of the party…achoo.

          1. Bunny Girl*

            I got really sick the day before our office party last year and I keep joking that I’m going to have someone cough in my mouth the week before this one.

      2. Bunny Girl*

        Same. I never go to any off hour parties at my office. I’m sure I’m seen as “not a team player” but I’m like I spend 40 hours a week with you and I have other commitments at home that I need to take care of. Our holiday party is over my lunch hour and I don’t go to that either. I have a dog that needs to be let out and fed. Sorry but not sorry.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, my office does a good job of having events from like 4-6, so you can go during the work day and leave, and also people who want to hang out more can do that. Definitely no plus-ones!

      4. Quickbeam*

        We had our mandatory Christmas party in a snow storm a few years ago…at least one person who blew it off and just went home was fired. Ho Ho Ho! I tried to beg off as a pagan… No dice. “ Think of it as a a solstice gathering!”……

    2. Olivia Benson*

      Original Poster here — we have a very small staff (less than ten people) and we had reservations for a sit down dinner, which I had changed three times to accommodate when people could arrive per their requests, so to have people just not show up on time (or in one case, ninety minutes late) put a huge stress on the restaurant. (They knew it was a sit down dinner because that’s what they had asked for!)

      1. Jamie*

        Oh, yikes. That really does make all the difference in that they knew ahead of time and it was for such a small number. I hope you get out of the planning duties this year with no problem.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Your coworkers are inconsiderate as hell. I don’t blame you for not wanting to plan another party for those people ever again.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, but…it’s at a restaurant. I don’t know of a whole lot of restaurants other than buffets where it’s not a sit down dinner. That seemed to me like a giant “duh?”

      1. Jennifer*

        Well, the OP just clarified that they knew it was a sit down dinner – but more generally I have been to parties in restaurants where a private room was reserved and people kind of filtered in and out.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Re: your last statement. Same. My apartment building’s management company throws an annual Christmas party, and last year’s was held at a very nice Brazilian steakhouse. There were no tables for people to sit, though there were tables for people to lean on while eating the small bites that were served and sitting our cocktails. We had over 100 people cycle in and out of two private rooms that were booked – no chairs, other than the ones at the bar, were in sight.

        2. Joielle*

          Yeah, in this case everyone absolutely knew it was a sit down dinner, and it was definitely rude to not show up within maybe 10 minutes max of the appointed time. But my old job used to have holiday parties at a restaurant where the office would close a bit early, people would wrap up their work, drive to the restaurant, and show up between like 2:30 and 3:30 pm, we’d chat/play games/have snacks/do a silent auction, and then everyone sat down and a plated dinner was served around 5. It worked pretty well (although in later years, the office closed at noon and we went en masse to a restaurant down the street for lunch and got to leave work after that, and that method was easier and generally preferred).

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, outside the OP’s clarification that this specific dinner was known, I have to really disagree with you in general. I’ve been to a lot of company parties at restaurants and none of them have been sit down dinners. Many, many restaurants have rooms you can rent for private parties and then they usually do something like serve drinks at the bar and just have platters of appetizer-type foods set out and people come and go as they please. If I got an invitation to a work party with no details beyond that it was at a restaurant I would 100% assume it was a private room and not a sit-down meal.

  13. Jennifer Strange*

    As someone who is the event planner at my job, I think it’s a much better idea to do what Alison suggested and have food at your office or a venue you’ve rented out. Not only does this allow for people to arrive/leave when they’d like, but you don’t have to worry about your event potentially disrupting other guests (not that you’d necessarily get raucous, but even 20+ people talking at normal volume to each other can get loud). Obviously, this all depends on your budget, but I’m guessing you could do a nice spread at your own office for a reasonable price.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yeah, either OP’s co-workers have historically had ‘drop by whenever’ buffets in a private back room or that’s the only style of event they can manage at such a busy time of year.
      Even if everyone was clear on ‘we’re ordering at 8, for an 8.15 start to the meal so be there at 7.45 to be included in the order’ there’s huge potential for disruption just from one or two people being waylaid in an unforeseen way and possibly about to appear any moment. I’m guessing from the story that OP had no way to contact people (as you would with friends) so it’s actually lucky she didn’t have more hungry diners on her hands.

  14. Summertime*

    Unfortunately and fortunately, I work at a company that requires we take vacation days for Dec 24th to Jan 1st. We get Dec 24,25 and Jan 1st off, but the days inbetween we are required to use our PTO for. It’s both nice and not nice. It’s nice because no one will be at work, period, so there’s no one who might call you during your time off to ask about a file or such and it’s understood that we are all going to wind down by Dec 23rd. You don’t have to worry about the bosses approving your PTO. The downside is that you had to save PTO days up for these required days. This year, we’d have to use 4 days worth of PTO and I only have a total of 15 days. It’s not the worst system, but I do lose the flexibility to take those days earlier in the year and choose to work during late December when things are quiet and I could proabbly catch up on some work that had built up on my plate.

    1. Marny*

      What happens if you don’t have enough PTO left? You just don’t get paid? I think I’d prefer that so that I could have actual control of my time off throughout the year.

      1. Dagny*

        At my office, yes.

        The one issue is that you might prefer to not get paid than to take PTO that you have banked. For various reasons, my marginal tax rate will likely be lower in 2020 than in 2019, and I will need to take some unpaid leave in 2020 (unpaid and/or PTO), so I would prefer to use PTO in 2020 and be unpaid in 2019. We’ll see if I have the flexibility for that.

      2. Jamie*

        At the place I worked that had mandatory time off (about a week over Christmas and another in July) if you didn’t have time on the books exempt people would get paid and non-exempt would not. As they only offered 2 weeks vacation for the first 5 years you had to work that long before you had any PTO you could take outside of shutdowns.

        It was by far the biggest complaint and was never going to change.

        It didn’t affect me and a handful of others who, due to our positions, had to work over shutdown so we could take our time at other times of the year…but the majority was miserable not to even be able to take a long weekend for 5 years.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If they’re going to do that, then the amount of PTO you actually have should be shortened by those days so you can’t run out before Christmas. So essentially they make them paid holidays, but you actually have less PTO to use for the year. There’s no reason to make it so complicated and risk people having to use unpaid time off.

        1. Em*

          But then they’d have to admit that they only give 2 weeks vacation rather than getting to claim the (relatively) more generous 3. And those employers who only give 2 weeks would have to admit it’s really just one . . .

      1. Powercycle*

        Yep. I worked one place where we got paid days off between Christmas and New Years, on top of our 15 vacation days.

      2. CMart*

        That’s how it is at my company, but looking at Summertime’s comment it is effectively the same.

        We all get Dec 24-Jan 1st off as paid holidays. Period. Part of the overall “Holiday Schedule” along with Labor Day and such.

        But we also only get 10 days of paid time off, not 15. So, I get fewer paid days off in general than Summertime probably. The difference is that I feel like “wow! So amazing I get these extra holiday days at the end of the year during shutdown!” and not simmering in resentment that I have to withhold 3 out of my 15 days, meaning I really only get 12 paid days off.

        It’s really all in how it’s presented, I think.

    2. Phony Genius*

      This sort of reminds me of how some factories work. Workers might get 2 weeks of vacation per year. The catch is that the vacation must be taken during the weeks when the factory is closed. (Often, these closures are when they upgrade the equipment.)

      I guess teachers have a similar system where they can only take vacation during school vacations.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, this is at my office too. New employees are going to be forced to work the three days that you have to use vacation for or go unpaid (though I vaguely recall that there might be an option to use vacation days “ahead of time” somehow….not sure how that works though). I refuse to work during those days though because not only is that the only time of year I can be out of the office guilt and workload free, nobody is sending me work because everyone is gone. I think it’s ridiculous that you have to use PTO if the office is closed though.

      1. Jamie*

        Using PTO ahead of time – a lot of software and payroll companies will let PTO/Vacation time go negative and then accrues at normal rate.

    4. Blue Horizon*

      My current employer requires us to use between 10 and 12 DAYS of our personal leave (that’s 50-60% of our total allowance) for this period. If you don’t have enough, they ask you to take unpaid leave. Working during the (around 3 week) period requires special approval from a manager, which you won’t get unless you have enough client work for the period to be at or near 100% billable.

      I hate it, but nearly all employers around here do it. 10-12 days is high but 7-8 is pretty common. It helps that we’re legally entitled to 4 weeks of annual leave here.

  15. BasicWitch*

    I guess I’m a misanthrope, because I almost never buy gifts for coworkers. If there’s an organized and reasonable secret Santa or white elephant then I will, but in the past I had neither the time nor the funds to get every blessed person I know their own gift. I have a big family, close friends, and a partner – that’s more than enough Christmas shopping for me thankyouverymuch. Coworkers get cookies I bring for the whole office to share, that’s it.

    1. Hope*

      Yeah, for coworkers I bring a bag of candy and that’s good enough. Exception being our paid interns–if we’re in charge of an intern around the holidays, standard practice is for their manager to give them a small gift ($10 starbucks card or the equivalent).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve only ever brought edible gifts because they’re so much easier to regift if someone cannot have them for various reasons. Unlike a personalized whatever that takes up space that may or may not be available on the person’s work space or home.

      Or in one case, I did bring my boss a gift but it was because it was a special occasion and it was an inexpensive bottle of wine [less than $20]. But this was a woman who stepped in as defacto boss after her husband was too ill to sign checks anymore and we have a much different relationship than most boss/employee to say the least.

      1. Jamie*

        For the personal stuff you really have to know someone. I had a work friend (actual friend outside of work) and I would always get her a type of Christmas ornament she loved and she’d get me something weird and personal and perfect. One year it was a Hello Kitty doll in KISS makeup which for me was more of a need than a want.

        Totally agree on food for most other people as it’s so easy to regift. A box of Fannie May candy is a great regift (unless you give it to me then it will be devoured by my family.)

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My mom wears a Hello Kitty Kiss t-shirt =X

          One year my reports were within the same generation and within the same interest range for the most part. So I did get Nightmare Before Christmas themed treats because I knew they’d appreciate it [Spoiler, they loved them as expected]. But otherwise it’s just standard treats that are easily shared, cookies, candies, individual sized cakes [without a stupid amount of icing, nobody here likes the over frosted cupcakes, I learned that almost immediately.], etc.

          I do cute things that you can eat whenever possible, I’m a sucker for a theme but put it in my mouth. And the first thing I ask people is “Are you allergic to anything? Do you hate anything in particular?” this is for not just holidays but for you know, company events.

    3. starsaphire*

      Yep. Big plate of cookies. One year I got ambitious and everyone got chocolates, but that was special.

      I really, really like my co-workers and I adore my boss, but they still get cookies.

    4. Shadowbelle*

      I’m not a misanthrope, but I never buy gifts for coworkers. Apart from Dirty Santa, which doesn’t count, since it’s a game.

    5. aebhel*

      S A M E

      I barely have the energy to buy presents for my family and friends–no way am I going all out on coworkers.

      (Fortunately, we just do a couple of optional donation drives around the holidays, so I don’t have to)

  16. fiverx313*

    regarding job searching around the holidays, i’ve actually had very good luck with this. you never know when a position needs to be filled. plus the process goes so slow at many places that if you apply now they might be ready to move on it in january anyway….

    my last company did shut down the week from christmas to new year’s, and they did make everyone use PTO to cover it… but they also gave everyone an extra week of PTO. and you could run out that PTO and take the christmas break unpaid — at least, my boss was okay with that. i’m sure that’s not usual, though.

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    None of my bosses would ever want to a gift. They always delight in bringing in treats or assorted “gifts” for us because they are actually respectful of what their employees contribute, which is often above and beyond. It’s so tacky to accept a FIVE HUNDRED dollar gift from your staff members, that’s the equivalent to the lowest holiday bonuses I’ve seen given out. This isn’t the club, you don’t have to tip everyone out, y’all. Barf.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      If I were a boss, I’d really appreciate a nice card from my staff and would see that as the most they should do. Them buying me a present would be weird and awkward. Gifts should definitely flow downhill, and staff members being expected to pony up a C-note is ridiculous.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have had a few people give me cards with a chocolate bar or something similar token gift. I still have the cards in my keepsakes. I would refuse anything extra, it just isn’t right for either one of us.

        I had to break someone of a habit of giving me chocolate every time they needed a “favor” that was actually a 2 second thing that was really just a part of my job but they were made to feel guilty about it by someone in my position prior. It was a sweet gesture but I could see he was getting flustered after awhile, I was like “I’m not a swear jar! Also I blame the computer not you!” and it sank in.

  18. Ruth (UK)*

    100 dollars is actually more than the sum total of all my Christmas shopping combined for my friends and family… No way I’d spend that much on a gift for a single person let alone add it to a contribution for my boss…

    From reading this site I’ve discovered it seems horribly common for workplaces to have this sort of expectation though… My office is doing a secret santa. I pulled my department manager out of the hat but the gift limit is capped at £5. I’m ok with the gift giving to my boss at this amount in the context of a secret Santa but I’d feel super uncomfortable contributing to a group gift for a boss at any amount let alone 100 dollars!

    1. Jamie*

      Our Secret Santa is $25 which is fine because we all knew that going in, but it makes it harder to come up with something for someone you don’t know when than when it’s a lower limit.

    2. WS*

      Yes, it’s so astonishing that I read it as the LW having to put money towards a $100 gift! I couldn’t imagine having to contribute $100 per person!

  19. SomebodyElse*

    I’m going to be the one to say it… I like after hours holiday work parties. I like seeing my coworkers in a relaxed atmosphere outside of the office.

    That being said, sit down dinners generally are not great for anything past 8 people. You never get hot food, it takes forever, and you can’t easily talk to people. Either catered 1-3 choice options or buffets really do work best. It also helps when you have large groups because people will be coming and going. Some may only want to pop in for a drink and to be seen and others may have things going on that will make them a bit later.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      For me it depends on the people. At my last place, we started with department parties. There were 100-125 people in my department, and while I didn’t socialize with everyone, we all (mostly) got along with each other and had a good time. But when people started leaving, and they switched to company parties at Dave and Buster’s, I found reasons not to go.

      As for the letter, it sounds like the OP didn’t plan well. For holiday parties you either need to rent a room and have a buffet so people can come and go as they please, or you need to make sure people know it’s a sit down dinner and they need to be there at a certain time, but if you have more than 10-15 people that shouldn’t really be an option unless you can afford to rent out an entire restaurant for the evening.

    2. Chili*

      I’m not a particularly social person but I also really like holiday parties! I find it really valuable to have time with coworkers that is completely outside work responsibilities and allows us to connect human-to-human. Granted, I think I’ve also been lucky enough to have had office parties that are really well-done. One job had the holiday party during the day with a full catered meal. People were allowed to skip and keep working if they really didn’t want to attend, but meetings weren’t allowed to be scheduled during that time.

      My current job has after-hours holiday parties at a restaurant/arcade/bowling alley. I really like the way they do it because it is:
      1) Scheduled for late January when most people are done with all the chaos of the holiday season
      2) At a venue with a variety of activities/ areas. People are free to just sit and talk, but if that’s not their jam people can bowl or play video games all night. (The entire venue is rented out and people are given unlimited game passes).
      3) It’s in a transit-friendly area of town. People can get to and from the venue without cars.
      4) It’s not mandatory in any sense. Some people just do not like stuff like this and that’s okay!

    3. Artemesia*

      Our boss’s holiday party catered at her home was a highlight of the year; she also invited retirees who lived in the area and it was fun to see them as well. But no one took roll and so anyone who needed to skip it was not penalized.

    4. Joielle*

      I do too! Although in a lot of offices, I think the planning ends up being more trouble than it’s worth… and you have to be ok with people skipping the party with no reason given, since people might have other commitments they don’t want to share. But personally, I like to go to them and I’ve always had a good time (or at least a slightly awkward time that I can laugh about with my work friends).

  20. alacrity*

    Re: the boss not wanting to go to the holiday party.
    I’m on my office’s engagement committee, and if there is an activity at which no members of our senior leadership team show up believe me it is noticed and not in a good way. It’s consistently commented on, so much so that it is an explicit goal of our committee to get more higher up folks to attend our events. Face time with higher ups, even in a social setting, is valued.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I was once at an event planning meeting where a high muckety muck involved said that Super High Up Person (straight up named) “doesn’t care about employees,” so maybe don’t knock ourselves out trying to get them to participate.

      They all got A Talking To about that one later, I heard, and Super High Up Person did (have to?) attend.

  21. BadWolf*

    I totally understand the party arrival fail employee’s frustration. But I could totally see this happening at my job too if the directions weren’t really clear (and even then, some people will probably end up missing on short notice) that it was a sit down formal meal with a hard start time. And even then, some people get pulled into short notice calls or “on fire” problems where lunch or dinner is less priority.

    If the OP has to do it again, seems like a casual gathering is what is going to work (like a cocktail/apps gathering). Rent a party room instead of a table.

    1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

      Agreed! I’m thinking it was a miscommunication. If I’m told we’re having the holiday party at a restaurant, I’m assuming the company has rented out a room, not simply reserved a table.

      1. Olivia Benson*

        OP here — we have a very small staff. We were 8 people (and that included significant others) so renting a room was out. They all knew it was a sit down dinner; I had actually changed the reservation three times to accommodate everyone’s arrival time.

        1. That'll happen (OP 4)*

          Well that’s terrible! I’m sorry your colleagues were so inconsiderate. Thank you for clarifying!

  22. we're basically gods*

    I would say for Partied Out, showing up for a bit and then leaving early would make me as an employee feel so much better about the fact that I would probably want to do the same thing– you’re setting an example that you value spending time with the team, but also that you understand that people have various other things they need to spend their time on, and that it’s okay to take off to deal with those!

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Agreed! I think it’s important for the boss to be there, and great for the boss to be the first to leave!

    2. Fikly*

      That, and it’s a great balance between showing you care enough to be there, but also giving your employees time to socialize without you hanging over them.

  23. Chili*

    With regards to Embarrassed’s letter about the company party, it is very normal for people to be late for most types of parties, though it is definitely rude to be late to a dinner party. Is there a chance people were confused about the nature of the shindig? Maybe they thought you were renting a private room at the restaurant with buffet-style food rather than a sit-down dinner? In any case, if you were to try the same thing again, I would be very clear about the nature of the party and asking people not to be late.

    As someone who enjoys hosting and planning parties for friends, I want to say that event planning for work is thankless and mildly terrible at best and declining to do it again is probably the right move (if it’s not actually part of your job). Good event planning takes so much skill, effort, and company insight; it bugs me that so many businesses just kind of throw the duties on volunteers or new hires.

    1. Jamie*

      Absolutely! I will take the most frustrating IT problem over having to plan a party all day long. It really is a skill…I’m in awe of people who can do it.

      1. Chili*

        It can be a very disheartening job! No matter how much time and effort you put in, there will always be something that could be improved and people are very quick to point them out… and not at all quick to acknowledge the effort that went into other parts of the planning.

    2. Olivia Benson*

      OP here — we’d discussed the event as a group (our staff is tiny) multiple times and everyone understood it was a sit down dinner. I had changed the time of the reservation more than once upon request so that we could all be there at the same time and not be late to the restaurant.

      THANK GOODNESS event planning is not actually part of my job!

        1. Chili*

          sorry, accidentally submitted.
          *I’m not the most punctual person, but there are certain things one should not be late for and dinner parties and restaurant reservations are definitely on that list

  24. Senor Montoya*

    OP Boss who doesn’t want to go to the office party:
    1. I’ll bet at least some of your employees don’t want to go to the office party after work hours either, but I’ll bet they also feel obligated to go.
    2. Our grand-boss (previously our boss) almost never shows up at our holiday party, nor any other “thank the staff” parties. Most of them are in the office. All of them are during work hours and the office is almost always closed down for the hour or two of the party. We understand that sometimes work emergencies will come up, but every time? Year after year? Everyone notices and everyone comments on it: “Is GB here yet?” “When will GB get here?” “Should we make a plate for GB?” Sometimes the party planner (the office manager) will get a last minute text saying, Be sure to tell everyone how much I appreciate them! (No surprise, that’s met with eye-rolling or a laugh.)

    Don’t be that boss. Show up and show that you appreciate your staff.

    1. Jamie*

      I know you speak the truth and this is a thing, but I have never understood why.

      Why does anyone care who shows up for the party unless they are close personal friends with whom you were planning on hanging out? I’ve never felt appreciated or thanked because a boss showed up at a party. I know I’m an outlier, but I’ve tried to understand this phenomena since I started working and I just don’t get it.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        Because many places have a culture of “How much is this person participating/showing they care but attending?” I agree that this culture can be a burden in many places, but if it does exist, then yeah, it sucks that the boss is saying, “But meeeeeee, I doooont’t wanna attend” and still expecting the employees to be at the party

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Because it’s the boss and it’s an *office* party, not a social party where you only invite people you want to see. Also, for our office, these parties are explicitly called “End of Year Staff Appreciation and Party” etc. Actions, not words — you can tell me you appreciate me, but if you can’t be bothered to show up, well, then I don’t fully believe you. Especially since raises and promotions and other forms of recognition are sparse (public university, at the mercy of the state legislature to some extent).

      3. hbc*

        Some people really like face time with the boss. I think it’s those people who tend to say “Yes sir” and who really internalize the hierarchy–they feel uplifted by getting attention from the head honcho.

        I think most are on the other side of it, where they’re ticked that this mandatory or “oh no it’s completely optional [but your absence will prove you’re not a team player]” event isn’t mandatory for the big bosses. I think it would be an especially bad look for the OP in this case to skip out because their reason is the same reason everyone doesn’t want to be there. Very few people don’t have hectic December weeks where they’d prefer to spend an evening with their families.

        1. Jamie*

          I totally understand being angered by the hypocrisy, IMO these things shouldn’t be mandatory for anyone but if they are the people making the rules should show up.

          I just don’t get why the boss being there would make anyone feel appreciated – but that’s me.

      4. Humble Schoolmarm*

        In my workplace, we may see our Big Boss (the superintendent) once a every year or two. Our every day bosses are very much middle managers and it can be hard to tell what they actually believe about teaching and what they’ve been told to pass on by the powers that be (especially if your principal is new or disinclined to make waves). This can also generate an “Us versus them” mentality between teachers and administrators. Having principals and vice-principals attend the holiday gathering really helps lessen that, especially if they’re willing to admit that some of the stuff we’re doing is ridiculous in a more social setting.

    2. Anon4this*

      Yes there was a manager at my last job who would commit to every staff party and team event but then somehow would get out of it with a family emergency EVERY TIME. I think she attended the first party held after she was hired and then managed to have an emergency at every event thereafter. This was particularly annoying to the other managers and staff since we were required to attend these events and it was a HUGE deal to get out of even one. (i.e.: there was an annual picnic on my mom’s birthday every year…guess how many times I got to celebrate it with her…that’s right NONE. Even after begging and pushing back; they were that rigid and ridiculous about a company picnic.)

      1. Jamie*

        As someone who would go to the work party (during work hours) every year for about 5 minutes before some emergency came up that I needed to deal with at my desk I can’t sit in judgement.

        If she really didn’t want to go (and these things are very stressful for some people for various reasons) it seems she knew how to work the system. As you said being honest about not going wasn’t accepted. Was there damage to her career for this?

        Honestly, I think if you have someone faking emergencies to get out of it and multiple other people who resent that they had to attend then the problem isn’t with her, it’s with holding mandatory “fun” that people see as an obligation.

        1. Anon4this*

          Absolutely agreed, the point of my comment was just that, as a Manager, in particular she was expected to be there and to set a good example for the team, and EVERYONE noticed she wasn’t there. It was always a huge deal about who didn’t attend each event, results included: call outs publicly in team meetings, mentions in one on ones & performance reviews and withholding bonuses/raises/promotions.
          I don’t know all the details of her personal life, who knows, these could have been legit personal emergencies.
          Believe me everyone blamed the company policy for this misery, but the fact that this pattern was occurring with her caused a great deal of resentment among her peers and direct reports, which did hurt her reputation (not to mention frustrated Leadership).

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t go to the office holiday party, and I’d laugh at anyone who suggested I was disengaged or didn’t care about my team. I work a lot of hours and am always on call. I work holidays so my employees can take off work. I just threw my team an appreciation luncheon during work hours that I attended, thanked them en masse and personally, and ensured all 40 of them got a hand-written thank you note from their direct supervisor (so I wrote about 20-25 of them) along with a small gift. This is in addition to formal staff appreciation week that HR runs each spring.

      Our holiday party (thank goodness) is entirely optional, and I don’t personally care if anyone attends or not. It’s always a nice party with good food and music, but it’s also not everyone’s cup of tea. I went when I was younger and childless and had a good time. Now, the time and cost involved in getting a cocktail dress, paying a babysitter (usually $100 for the whole night), and getting my spouse into the city (and then both of us back out – 30-60 minutes from home) is a pain. I do the company picnic instead, when I can bring my kids and not have to dress up.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        You sound like a good manager and, as an employee, I would much rather be shown appreciation your way (and with bonuses!) than by being guilted into attending a party.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Holy moly, you have one of those “dress up” holiday parties. Barf, nobody here would attend if we tried that.

        It’s all company picnic vibe only within a banquet room instead of picnic tables. We don’t do “cocktail attire”. So I cannot blame you at all for opting out.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Twist to this.

      I had one set of bosses who would skip out on holiday party but it was well known it was because they thought that they’d be a “damper” on the event. They figured nobody wanted to relax with their upper level bosses, which in our case, it was true, those bosses sucked =X

      But other than that, yeah at least do the drive by and show everyone you appreciate them. Our owners constantly want to do employee engagements and never stay long because they’re super busy [multiple businesses] but just straight up never even doing a little face time, it makes you look bad to your staff.

      It’s also rude to no-show at a work hours event because you run into worrying someone forgot and is wondering where everyone is. So we purposely will go round everyone up, including the boss since he gets distracted by things easily enough.

  25. Anon4this*

    On the boss not wanting to go to the holiday party.
    Honestly I hate going to office holiday parties as well but would be pretty peeved if the boss got out of attending because they wanted to see their kids before bedtime. Barring specific custody arrangements which make this a rare event or heinous business travelling, the assumption is that you see your family daily. The fact that the boss can’t miss bedtime on just ONE occasion (which the rest of the attending staff is managing to do) comes off as very pretentious and eye-roll inducing. Recommend rethinking this reasoning.

    Plus you need the remember, there are going to be many of your staff members attending solely to put in face-time with the leadership team (not as a special treat they themselves look forward to). If you can’t be bothered to show up, why should they?

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Agreed… this is one of those things that is definitely part of a boss’s job. Just like organizing team building when you hate team building yourself. It’s just something that is done.

      A friend of mine was a part owner in a company, every year they had a big holiday lunch for their employees. All 3 shifts. So the owners (family owned) got to go to 3 different feasts in one day; one at noon, one at 9pm, and the last at around 3 am.

      When I asked her the first year, what she thought about the setup I loved her response… it was something like… These folks come to work every day and make the company who we are. The least we can do is stay up late one night a year to have lunch with everyone and let them know that we appreciate them.

      1. Anon4this*

        I love that response, Bravo to that Boss! It really is just ONE night and its important to keep that in mind. No one is asking the boss to miss multiple family events, just one bedtime a year.

  26. CRM*

    Op1 – I NEED to know what your coworkers are purchasing for your boss that is worth nearly $500! Even if I could afford to spend that much on one present for one person, I honestly have no idea what I get. A new transmission for their car? An espresso machine? 5 months of free daily lattes?? It feels excessive and unnecessary.

    1. Jamie*

      Not the OP, but when I worked at a place that did that the bosses were into wine so they got them each of the two owners a bottle of about $250. (Would have been more if a certain grumpy IT person hadn’t been too selfish to contribute!)

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I’m sorry, the IT person was selfish because they didn’t want to contribute to a inappropriately expensive gift for their boss? Wow, just wow.

  27. Anonymous at a University*

    I snorted out loud at the “Boss doesn’t want to attend the holiday party” question because I deal every day with colleagues who complain loudly when other people don’t show up to even required meetings but then refuse to put in appearances themselves. (Usually for the stupidest reasons. Sorry, if you really do “get a fender bender” every time you’re on your way to a meeting that YOU wanted to discuss something specific at, you are an effin’ careless driver). Either say that the party isn’t mandatory, make it during work hours, or attend. Don’t skip it so you can “see your children”- come on- but still demand the employees attend.

  28. Phony Genius*

    Regarding the boss not attending the party, I was at such a party once. It was just a few months after I started working. The boss indicated that he’d go, but never showed up. I actually asked the boss about it the next day. He told me that he didn’t show up because he doesn’t think the employees would enjoy themselves if the boss was looking. When I followed-up and asked why he indicated that he would go, he said that if he told us that he wasn’t going, most people would probably follow suit and not go. At the time, these answers made sense to me.

  29. Ann Nonymous*

    LW #3: I don’t think that a massive food tower will cost you less than 27 x $10. Also, do you have piggish individuals that will grab the best or most goodies and leave the dregs for others? I’d personally prefer even a $10 gift card than have to fend off the rest of the office for some sort of food treat decided on by you.

    1. Hope*

      Yes, I thought this, too. I’ve read so many stories about offices plagued by just one person, or a group of people, who will swoop on “free food!”, grabbing the ultra-desirable items for themselves, even turning up with sacks to fill up, that I can only see this as a probable disaster, to be remembered for years as the Great Christmas Tree Scramble of 2019.

  30. And I oop*

    I’ve actually had a lot of success applying for jobs in December. I’ve found that the places I apply to are highly motivated to get someone hired and don’t like to stop their process. I think that my strong candidacy along with the short supply of other candidates applying around the holidays has really made me stand out, and I’ve received more interview requests for jobs that I applied for between late November and early January than any other time of year (not by a huge margin, maybe 75% call rate versus a 66% call rate). If you find a job that interests you, go for it!

  31. bubba g*

    Re: expensive gifts for the boss. I commented recently about our new admin who organized/collected $$ for boss’s day and the boss’s birthday (only two weeks apart) and sent several emails about contributing to a gift card for said boss, who doesn’t need a gift card. Since then, she’s tried to do a Halloween event, and Thanksgiving event, and now is on the verge of messing up our traditional December holiday thing by want to do gifts for the “boss.” We usually just contribute money toward buying some holiday food platters and eat/enjoy when we can as we all have different lunch schedules. We don’t do a gift exchange, and as this is in the public education sector, there’s not a budget for holiday parties, bonuses, etc., which is fine.

    I don’t get not getting to know the culture of a place before becoming a self-appointed activity director. Honestly, I think she would be better placed as a cruise director on the Love Boat. I expect any minute to receive an announcement of line dancing lessons on the lido deck. I can only imagine what she has in store for February and Valentine’s Day.

    I’m the only person who doesn’t report to the boss in question, and I told her that people don’t like being pressured to give money at work, but she remains undeterred.

    1. SuperAnon*

      She really needs to get a clue. Hard to understand it when people don’t spend at least a month or so getting the lay of the land before crowning themselves queen.

    2. Antilles*

      Is there any possibility of getting the boss on your side? If he’s generally reasonable and you have a good rapport, it might be possible to carefully ask him his thoughts on this, because he very well might not understand everything that’s going on at lower levels.
      If she sends a mass email about contributing, I might also consider doing a reply-all pointing out that gifts should flow downwards not upwards, really don’t want people to feel pressured, our traditional holiday event is platters for lunch, blah blah blah…which will provide a nice opening for others who were feeling pressured to jump in and also reply-all that they agree.

  32. Thornus*

    I’ve shared this story before, but (and I will just c/p it)

    At an old job, my final Christmas (I knew I was quitting but waiting until after NYD to tell them), the bosses’ son was soliciting everyone for $50 for each boss, so $100 total per person. I said I had to check my finances and ended up only contributing $5 per boss just to have the right to sign the card and to speak up on the breach of social etiquette that gifts should not flow upward and coercive pressure if pressed on it.

    Eventually, I heard the son make comments to one of the bosses that they had a $5 limit on gifts for the family Christmas this weekend which made me think he was using the coworkers to subsidize his gifts to his parents.

    At the party, the bosses were each given personalized gift baskets with blankets, socks, books, wine, spa gift cards, etc in them. There were also cards for each boss. I was never given the card to sign. The son kept going on about how much he thought each boss would like the personalized gifts. Comments like “Well I wanted to get you [ITEM IN BASKET].”

    The only gifts given were from the office workers to the bosses. There were no bonus checks or even Hickory Farm baskets given downward.

  33. googs*

    Geez Louise, I just buy a big bag of sweets, put them in little baggies and hand them out. Everyone else does the same or similar (other little items, like lotion, handmade coasters, hand sanitize, little cheap games or little comfort things for around the office), boss usually gives gift cards. I can’t imagine any of us being comfortable with an expensive gift, esp boss, outside a big occasion (like leaving after years at the company).

  34. 'Tis Me*

    When a manager who had really gone above and beyond supporting me left the company a few years back, I knitted him a Tom Baker Dr Who scarf. He’s a big fan, and it’s something he actually wears (I have him on FB)… He was really touched as he had an inkling of the amount of work that went into it and recognised it as the gesture of appreciation it was intended as. In terms of costs, I think I spent about $10 on the wool. I might have contributed a fiver to the official office present too. I thought that was a pretty big contribution for an office gift! (If I were to work out my hourly rate and charge for my time, that would probably have been about $600 for the knitting? But that was partly because I’d been doing it under a year at that point!)

    Would I give up that much of my free time like that for just anybody? I have small children now (and am cooking a third so usually go to sleep when they do) so what free time? But even if it weren’t a moot point, the answer would be “hahaha no!”

  35. What the What*

    This happened to me as a brand new employee 25 years ago. FIRST DAY on the job my coworkers hit me up for $40 for a boss gift. It was a low paying job and I was broke from my move but I still contributed because I was naive. The boss was out on disability so I hadn’t even worked with him either. He ended up being a turd of a boss (psycho and sexual harassment). I left him with a parting gift during my exit interview.

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