should we just give money for the holidays, boss drops stress bombs, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. What should we do for the holidays this year?

I’m the boss’s wife. I also, a little bit, work for the company. In addition to the small number of things I do, I’m responsible for the annual holiday party. Every year, we throw a big dinner party where employees invite a significant other and we have a lovely, multi-course dinner and open bar at a nice restaurant. We’ve been to The Palm for surf and turf many times, and there are other menu options so that even those with dietary restrictions have plenty to eat.

Obviously, we’re not doing that this year since we’re in a state that’s not doing so well with COVID-19. Originally I suggested sending dinner boxes (like Harry & David) to everyone. That was rejected by a few employees with whom the owners (one of whom is my husband) spoke. Then I suggested a wine and cheese box. Through a series of developments that weren’t of my doing, the majority of employees voted for getting a gift card for a dinner or a VISA gift card. We’d do a quick Zoom meeting so that the owners could do their usual speeches.

My issue is twofold: First, everyone is getting their annual bonus, so I’m concerned that a VISA gift card is also more of the same and will be used for regular bills. Second, I worry that just giving cash (which is how I see the VISA gift card) won’t make it at all special like the annual holiday party is.

I’m at a loss. On the one hand, I’d like to send something special to every employee and currently have the budget to do so. On the other hand, I’ve been given the employee survey that they just want money (or restaurant gift cards, which is hard to figure out since we’re separated geographically and not everyone has access to the same chain restaurants). I am willing, if I have to, to figure out which chain restaurants are near to each employee.

What should I do? I want to make everyone happy, but I don’t want to just give money since that eliminates the fun that we have every year.

Give money! That’s what the employees have said they want. Yes, it might be used for regular bills. Yes, it will be more of the same on top of bonuses. It’s still what they want. They’ve told you clearly that that’s more valuable to them than any of the other options.

I get that it’s not going to feel special like a party or a fancier gift might. I get that it means there’s no fun celebration this year. That’s still what they’re telling you they prefer.

This is a weird year where lots of things aren’t the same as we’re used to. It’s also a year where many people have significantly more financial pressures, and a year where many people are exhausted and just don’t want the socially distanced version of the usual celebrations. They just want money. Show you respect them by not overruling that. They’ll appreciate it.

You could do the restaurant gift cards so people could get takeout, but it’s going to be more work for you and lots of people don’t like chain restaurants. If you really want to do something in that direction, you could do gift cards from a national restaurant delivery service like Seamless — but truly, they want money. It’s a gift for them, not the company and not you. (And it’s likely to really rankle if they hear that an owner’s wife, who doesn’t even work there full-time, was allowed to overrule that — particularly after someone took the trouble to have them vote.) Give them what they want.

2. Our boss drops stress bombs on us just before time off

My supervisor has a tendency to drop “stress bombs” on me and other team members. By this, I mean that she will send texts to us after hours, on Friday evenings or even just before a short vacation. They tend to run along the lines of some vague dissatisfaction or complaint with our performance with a statement that we need to discuss this whenever we’re both next in the office. Often, these are not legitimate issues — they often turn out to be misunderstandings — but getting a message like this is extremely stressful. Requests to speak on the phone with her then and there are rebuffed, so you’re left to sweat about it for hours or even days. Is there a way we can communicate how upsetting this is and ask that she stop this?

What on earth. In the most charitable reading, the timing is because she’s wrapping up work related to you before the week ends or before you leave for vacation and in doing that realizes she has feedback for you — as opposed to the other reading, which is that something is driving her to interfere with your ability to disconnect from work. Either way, it’s not cool (and even in the charitable reading, she should realize what she’s doing after a time or two).

You could say this: “A few times lately, right before the weekend or before I start a vacation you’ve texted me a concern about my work and when I’ve asked to discuss it, you’ve wanted to wait until I’m back at work — which means I’ve then spent the weekend or my vacation worrying that I’ve made a serious mistake. Once we do talk, it’s often turned out to be fine, but it means my time off becomes stressful. Could I ask you to wait until we’re in the office to raise those things so we can talk about them immediately and I’m not left worrying for days until we can speak?”

I’m curious what else you know about her though. Is she anxious when people are away? Or just a jerk? Historically open to feedback or closed off to it? If you leave more info in the comments, I’ll try to refine this advice.

3. I’m not getting a raise because my boss didn’t do my evaluation in time

I work for an organization that provides raises annually to high performing staff based on their hire date. I am an extremely hard worker and receive high marks on my appraisals (top 3% of the company historically). My boss called today and said that she did not complete my appraisal on time and therefore, due to HR rules, I am not eligible for one of the raises being awarded to staff next month (fall raises). I will be eligible for a raise in a second round 3-4 months from now after she completes my appraisal. This second raise round (spring raise) is designed to provide raises to staff hired later in the year who missed the fall cycle.

I am hurt and upset by this. I feel as though my boss does not care about the impacts of not completing my appraisal on time to me personally. I recognize I already receive a generous salary, will received a raise soon, and would be in the spring round if I had happened been hired at a later date anyway, but this feels like a betrayal.

Am I being overly sensitive or is this something I should be discuss with my boss? If this warrants discussion how would I bring it up?

I think taking it as a betrayal is a bit much, but I’d be upset in your shoes too. That’s real money that you’re missing out on because your boss didn’t get your review done in time. She should be really apologetic about that — and frankly she should be trying to get your raise in the spring to be retroactive until now since it was her mistake. In fact, I’d ask for that. You could say, “Since I’d been scheduled for an assessment in the fall, can I ask that any raise in the spring be made retroactive to now, so that missing the deadline doesn’t mean I lose money?”

4. What’s the best day of the week to start a new job?

What’s the best day of the week to start a new job? I see some chatter about it online, but couldn’t find anything on your website. Monday is the presumptive standard, but I’m seeing great feedback for starting later in the week as well. Does it even matter?

There’s no particular standard. It’s really up to you and your employer. That said, first weeks can be exhausting, and starting on a Tuesday or Wednesday can give you a shorter first week, which can make things a little less intense. But any day of the week is fine.

5. Taking a new job when I want to have kids soon

I’ve been offered a new position within my current organization (large public university). The offer is exciting because a) it gives me a chance to specialize my knowledge in an area, something I think I need on my resume, and b) I’ve been feeling undervalued and burned out in my current job and don’t see this changing. There would be no increase in pay in the new job, so it’s more of a professional development/personal sanity move.

Sounds great so far, right? The problem is that my husband and I have been planning for some time to start a family within the next year. If all goes well, and I take this new job, I’d be going on maternity leave less than a year after starting. I also plan to have more than one child, so this would likely be a reoccurring thing in the first five years or so of this job.

Is this a bad move? Would I be better off just biding my time in my current job and seeking a new job when I’m past my maternity leave phase of life? I don’t want my new boss and coworkers to resent me.

Take the job if you want it! You don’t know how long it will take you to get pregnant or start a family another way, and if women feel obligated to shy away from opportunities during our most likely child-bearing years, we’d be ceding a ton of professional ground. Frankly, even if you were pregnant right now I’d encourage you to take it. It sounds like a great career move.

As for colleagues resenting you — people get pregnant and have babies. It’s part of the deal with hiring humans. If your colleagues are reasonable people, they’re not going to resent you. (Plus, doing the math here, unless you get pregnant in the next couple of months, you’re likely to be on the job for at least a year before you take maternity leave. You’re not going to come in and instantly leave.)

{ 632 comments… read them below }

  1. Deluxe Printer*

    #3: If they aren’t willing to do a retroactive raise, ask for the cash now as a one-time bonus to cover the raise you are missing out on.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      To me it seems more likely that you can get an “out of cycle” slightly late raise than have your next raise be retroactive.

      This is not a betrayal; that is too strong. However if HR doesn’t actually budge on on their policy, it is certain something the boss should have taken great pains to not be late on. The boss should make a case to HR to make an exception because the problem was her lateness and not the employee’s and the employee should not be penalized for the boss’s mistake. (It is possible they don’t budge. It is possible this rule is hard and fast because if it wasn’t many managers would be late and make it difficult for HR to process everyone’s raise on time.)

      This is the boss’s mistake. You want to see her apologizing and trying to make it right. If she’s not, well, that’s a sign that she’s a bad boss.

      1. Lalaroo*

        I worked at a place where managers who didn’t complete performance reviews on time did not receive their own raises, while the employees they reviewed late still got theirs retroactively. I think that’s the best way to do it so as not to punish the employee (who did nothing wrong and performed well enough to deserve a raise) but not allow managers to stop caring about completing reviews on time (because now their personal $$ is on the line).

        1. Gymmie*

          We always just backdate the raise. A few years mine have been like 9 months past due. When I was a newer employee it bothered me more, now it’s not a big deal to me.

    2. Mockingjay*

      You don’t penalize good employees for their manager’s mistake.

      OP3, I would ask your boss to intercede one more time. HR is there to support the company, not rule it. Your manager should be willing to push HR to rectify a problem, especially one that she created. While there are companies that are extremely rigid and rule-bound, most companies should be willing to bend to fix something like this.

      1. Observer*

        You don’t penalize good employees for their manager’s mistake.

        Well, smart companies don’t. Unfortunately, too many companies are not smart about this stuff.

        1. MH*

          Yes, I and a colleague had this happen to us. Our boss apologized but then I learned a slacker in another department got theirs. One whom I did part of their area’s work.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. And if you deserved this raise but didn’t get it due to a paperwork error, you should get assurance in writing that the next round will equal both raises. This will otherwise hold you back salary-wise for a long time, and that would make anyone upset.

      3. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. And if you deserved this raise but didn’t get it due to a paperwork error, you should get assurance in writing that the next round will equal both raises. This will otherwise hold you back salary-wise for a long time, and that would make anyone upset.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        If the boss won’t intercede, I would probably go straight to HR and point out how unfair it is to punish a high-performing employee for their manager’s inability to complete paperwork timely. The manager is a problem, but their policy is also unfair and a good way to lose the employees you may actually want to keep. I’d love to know what employment counsel would think of this policy as well (probably the usual ‘bad practice but not illegal’, but still).

        I do performance evaluations and have for years. If you would *really* like to piss of my HR head, turn them in late and throw off the schedule for reviews, comp decisions, and documentation prep. There is a distributed schedule, there are hard deadlines and reminders, and you will follow them or you, as the manager, are going to get a fairly unpleasant call from both HR and your boss, possibly another department head whose taking has been thrown off by your lateness. My managerial evaluation has a section on handling administrative things – timesheets, evaluations, personnel issues, etc. – because that’s part of my job responsibilities.

        1. SuperDiva*

          Yep. The policy is being applied unfairly, and there’s no reason you should have to sit there quietly while you potentially lose out on money. Go to HR, explain the situation, and see if they’re willing to work with you (or your boss) at all.

    3. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

      I’d also investigate whether getting the later payrise can hit you again down the track. Sometimes the criteria for payrises is “hasn’t had one in X months” – it would suck if this took you out of the running for next year

  2. Jess*

    #1: if you want to make sure the gift of money (which is what I’d prefer too!) still feels special and celebratory, why not make sure each Visa gift card is accompanied by a card from the the owner or manager (depending on how many staff there are and how well the owners know them all) acknowledging their specific contribution or success this year?

    I know there’s a real difference between getting a generic card with a scrawled impersonal signature, and something that clearly shows the higher-up has genuinely taken a few minutes of their time to write something for ME and has noticed something I’ve achieved or contributed this year.

    1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      This x 1,000 (at least!) That personal, thoughtfully written message of appreciation will itself be appreciated just as much as the gift card! So many employees feel underappreciated because they’re never told how much they’re valued and how important they are to their employer.

      Oh, and LW – one final note. DO give the emplyees the money they’ve indicated that they’d prefer and DO NOT try to tell them how to use it! Pressuring someone to use their gift to splurge on luxuries when they really need to pay off medical bills or student loans is a terrible idea. However kindly meant, it suggests that you’re out of touch with the reality of their lives (at the very least.) Do.Not.Be.That.Person!

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        “However kindly meant, it suggests that you’re out of touch with the reality of their lives (at the very least.)”

        I agree 1000%! I actually feel like both this l.w. and the boss mentioned in #3 sounded a bit out of touch with the reality of some people’s lives.

        I understand the desire to do something really special, but don’t kid yourself: that money could be extremely special to the people receiving it. Don’t assume it won’t be special to them just because it might not seem special to you.

        1. Liz*

          Exactly! It might mean being able to pay a bill that has had them stressed out, and worried, and while the LW may not think its anything “special” it may very well be special to them, as they won’t have to worry about it anymore.

          or they may use it to buy something they’ve wanted that may come in handy, or something right now. Its not for the LW to decide; the employees made their preferences known, so she should stick with that.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Think of it this way, OP, you want a dishwasher for Christmas. Your spouse randomly decides, no a dishwasher is not good enough for you and they decide to give you a piece of diamond jewelry.

            The problem is you still want a dishwasher. And you feel that your voice was not heard, your words do not have weight. The diamond jewelry ends up at the back of your dresser drawer UNused. Everytime you see it you think to yourself, “Where’s my dishwasher that I actually wanted?”.

            In this situation here you can see how it can be actually rude to give people something other than what they ask for.

            I don’t think you meant it the way it landed but when you said you did not want them to use it to pay bills, it IS possible that the only way they can pay their bills is to use this money. So basically you have said, “I don’t want you paying your rent or mortgage. I have prioritized homelessness for you.” Now this is not what you meant. You meant well. But this is how you sound to the employees.

            Just as an added thought, it’s good life advice not to tell friends/family how to spend money we gift them for the same reasons. A gift is just that, we give a thing to someone and it becomes theirs to do with as they wish.

            One year my husband’s boss gave us a gift certificate to the boss’ favorite restaurant. It was about $40 in value. This was a while ago, so this would be like getting a $100 certificate today. It was a French restaurant and we were hesitant to try it. We both had substantial diet restrictions to consider. Plus the place was a distance away and it was time consuming to get there and get back. Because my husband worked long hours time was at a premium for us. We never used it. The gift certificate kicked around the house for over a decade and finally I threw it out.

            1. ThatGirl*

              Yep. I regularly ask for specific kitchen stuff for Christmas. I’d be irritated if my husband decided to give me expensive jewelry instead.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                My DH and I have an approach to gifts for each other that works really well for us. We do “hints.” Specifically, when one of us runs across something we would like as a gift, we point it out to the other person and say “hint.”

                For Christmas specifically, we tend to do one practical gift (often kitchen stuff for me), and one or two fun items. Sometimes we get things the other person hasn’t specifically “hinted” for, but the hints are a starting point.

                1. EPLawyer*

                  I put something I really want on my Amazon Wish List. Hubby checks that and chooses something. So I am still surprised because I don’t know what I will get, but it’s something I want. Then we get each other joke gifts from the dollar store. Those are just for fun and don’t matter if its something the other one “wanted” as we both laugh a lot.

                2. Artemesia*

                  We know that kitchen stuff etc is not really a gift — it is part of making the household livable. We sometimes ‘give’ such things at Christmas in order to have presents but ALWAYS there is something that is personal. If you need a dishwasher why is that a ‘gift’, why is it not a joint decision about a household need. The gift can be something inexpensive like a box of great candy or a book knows you will like if the budget doesn’t include money for a dishwasher and a diamond necklace. Obviously to each his own. I just remember the year my father drove over my mother’s dustpan while leaving it in the driveway when he swept something he spilled up. For her next birthday he gave her a really nice dust pan. That was the last time something like that got passed off as a ‘gift’ in our family and it marked my attitude about gifts.

                1. ThatGirl*

                  Well, that’s a whole separate problem. And I mean, I’m not asking for a new toaster – that’s just part of the regular budget. I mean fancy stuff that I would really like but don’t need. (And let’s be clear, husband does also buy me jewelry sometimes.)

                2. Yup, Yup, Nope*

                  My dad regularly gives my mom things he needs. Like the squatty potty and the clothing steamer. She wears scrubs everyday and he wears suits. She has absolutely nothing that needs to be steamed.

                3. AnonEMoose*

                  Yeah, that’s different, and not cool. The kitchen stuff my husband has given me has all been stuff I wanted.

            2. VanLH*

              Not sure I agree with your analogy. My late mother always felt that appliances and other things needed for your home should be regular expenses and never a present. If a new dishwasher is needed just before Christmas you buy the dishwasher and if it means both the spouses get much less expensive presents so be it. Whenever she heard some husband bragging about buying his wife a dishwasher for a present she would shake her head in disgust.

              1. Prairie*

                I see her logic for household with a lot of money, but in my household and many others the dishwasher money is all we have. So we’re happy to pool our present money for something that will make our lives better all year and call it a gift to each other.

              2. micklethwaite*

                Well, that’s a totally valid position to take, but then presumably your mother would never have asked for a dishwasher for Christmas. It’s rather different if someone specifically asks for a dishwasher *as a Christmas present* and the giver unilaterally decides they shouldn’t get it because the giver doesn’t feel good enough about giving it.

              3. Le Sigh*

                Right, but that wasn’t really the point of post. In this analogy, paying the bills with that bonus money = dishwasher (something boring) and whatever LW is hoping to do that feels more special = jewelry.

                The point being no matter how boring it may be to get a dishwasher or to pay bills with that bonus money, it’s what people have said they want or need, when asked. And yeah, it’s just regular household stuff, but it could actually bring the employees some happiness or reduced stress or whatever to use it in a boring way — and I hope it will bring LW some joy knowing that. That reduced stress means a lot and is a real gift when you’re struggling to pay bills, trust me. It’s be a trash year for a lot of people, so just support them how they need it!

                I agree in general household purchases shouldn’t be treated as a gift for the wife — that’s lazy and crappy. But I think appliances can be a gift — my MIL always likes to get me something, and if one year, when asked, I asked her to get a food processor cause I wanted one, that’s a little different than your SO buying it and claiming it counts toward your holiday present.

                1. Works in IT*

                  The year my mother actually listened and I got a KitchenAid stand mixer instead of the usual clothes that I will never wear, I was thrilled. It’s the sort of “luxury” item that, yeah, I can just use my perfectly serviceable hand mixer to accomplish the same purpose, but ahhhhh this does it so much better, and hands free, and it also provides me with the opportunity to add “ice cream maker attachment” “pasta maker attachment” and so on to my wish list each year. I will be quite excited if I gain the ability to make my own pasta this year.

                2. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  I’ve lived in vintage apartments with no dishwasher for my entire adult life. I would be thrilled with a dishwasher!
                  Haha, I’m so accustomed to washing dishes at the end of each day it would take weeks to adjust! :D

                3. Le Sigh*

                  @tidewater, I once changed jobs and cities very quickly and had to find an apartment fast. I really loved these older apartments my friend lived in, so I drove up one weekend, took a quick tour, agreed on a contract and was on my way.

                  It was only on moving day that I realized there was no dishwasher…… (my friend preferred handwashing so barely noticed). I liked that apartment but it was a long two years.

              4. Ook! said the Librarian*

                You’ve expressed a nice sentiment, but that doesn’t always work for people with a budget, tight or otherwise. Yes you mention getting less expensive presents for Christmas, but for some folks that dishwasher money might be all they have with none left over. Depending on your budget, large purchase rises to the level of “present” because there is simply no room for both, so shaking one’s head in disgust is a bit strong of a reaction.

                Also, that dishwasher might truly be a present to someone. We have an incredibly expensive Viking oven/range, which, while a household appliance, was also a present because it a) went so far beyond the basic Sears models as to be obscene, b) was desperately coveted. My husband didn’t want anything else and there wasn’t money left over to buy a separate present either. That stove is special and brings joy on a regular basis which is clearly the criteria of a present regardless of its humble origins in the appliance department.

                1. Code Monkey the SQL*

                  Yes, this!

                  A present can serve all sorts of functions – it doesn’t have to be a “luxury” or “traditional” gift to be a good one.

                  Sometimes, the gift is “you don’t have to do dishes by hand anymore” rather than “earrings” – it’s still a gift.

                2. Artemesia*

                  We just used the money refunded from our European trip that didn’t happen to buy a conduction cooktop — we are just so happy every time we cook now to have it — it is like having a gas stove which we cannot have in our condo. You have complete heat control — several happy dances have occurred in the kitchen lately.

                3. Indigo a la mode*

                  I agree with everything you said, but mostly am here to fangirl about Terry Pratchett references.

                4. Autumnheart*

                  The overall point is to if one wants to get people a gift, get people what THEY want, not something one would like for them to have. A person might really enjoy seeing me open a set of fancy steak knives or a subscription to Scotch of the Month Club, but I don’t want steak knives and don’t drink scotch either. The pleasure of giving a gift is supposed to be about their enjoyment, not the enjoyment of the giver.

              5. AnonEMoose*

                This reminds me of something that happened a few years ago. We needed a new front door for our house, but money was tight. My parents helped us pay for it as part of our Christmas gift from them – we were thrilled.

                My mom was apparently talking with one of her friends and mentioned it, and the friend was saying “but that’s not a gift!” When Mom mentioned it to me, I said “well, I could run out and stick a red bow on it if it would make her feel better – it’s what we wanted and needed!”

                The point being – approaches to gift giving differ, and that’s not a bad thing. For me, the important thing is how the recipient feels about it.

                1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

                  We had a similar thing happen to us several years ago. My husband’s rims on his car were cracked so he needed a new set to drive the car – they were a need. But he really wanted a set that was a little more expensive, so for Christmas I arranged that different parts of the family would each buy him one rim. He got all four rims for Christmas that year. A very practical gift, but one that made him very happy – it meant he wasn’t driving around on the cheapest possible rims, which is what we could afford on our own.

                2. Midwest writer*

                  A few years ago, my in-laws bought us an $800 tiny shower for our tiny downstairs bathroom. And helped my husband install it. It converted our toilet/sink bathroom into a badly needed second shower — our family of 5 needed it! We wanted it! We would have eventually bought it ourselves, but my in-laws asked what we wanted and then helped us do it on an accelerated schedule. I love practical gifts that get used on a regular basis. And every time I use it, I am thankful for the people who helped us get it.

                3. Just Another Zebra*

                  My parents have a system like this with my husband and I. They have helped to pay for 1) part of a front door, 2) new tires on my car, 3) a new mattress, and 4) furniture for our new deck as Christmas gifts. It’s what we wanted, and needed, and it was so appreciated.

              6. NapkinThief*

                I see her perspective; it definitely sounds like a dishwasher would be a poor gift *for your mother*. However, not everyone feels that way, and the point of the present is to make the recipient happy, not to satisfy our own sense of good-gift-giving.

              7. Observer*

                That’s valid – but with 2 caveats. One, when you are talking about appliances that are actually NEEDED or that both spouses benefit equally directly or indirectly or it’s part of someone’s basic work tools. And also, within a household.

                For example:
                My mother buys us a new refrigerator – that’s a gift.
                My Husband buys a new refrigerator – NOT a gift.
                I buy my husband a new computer – not a gift (it’s key to his work, and I’m household IT).
                My husband buys me some piece of gadgetry that I’ve been drooling after but would never buy for myself – that’s a gift.

                1. Gymmie*

                  I felt this way about all gifts from my husband when we were married. He only ever bought me what was on my amazon list, which I could have just bought myself.
                  I kind of feel that way about engagement rings too. Like…please don’t spend a lot, because then we’ll both have more money later!

                2. AnonEMoose*

                  My engagement ring? Cost less than $100. But it’s a pretty ring, I love it, I’ve gotten lots of compliments on it, and I still love wearing it and being married to my DH.

                3. SimplyTheBest*

                  Eh, I think that’s really dependent on home situations. My partner and I each put 50% of our incomes into a joint account. The other 50% are ours to do with as we please. That’s how we’ve decided to live our lives. If we decide that the super fancy dishwasher I want isn’t a priority for our joint account because there are other things we need to spend on, and then my partner uses their own money to buy the fancy dishwasher because they know I want it and it will make me happy, that’s a gift. Doesn’t matter that they’re also going to be using it or that it’s for the household or whatever else.

                  There is no hard and fast rule on this because there is no hard and fast rule on how households divide and spend their income.

              8. Ace in the Hole*

                But a dishwasher isn’t a necessity. We’ve gone 10 years in my house without a working dishwasher. If I got my wife one for the holidays she’d probably be thrilled, since it would mean all of us spend a lot less time doing dishes. Just like if someone got me a new laundry machine for the holidays I’d be ecstatic – how much time I’d save going to the laundromat! We don’t NEED one but it sure would be nice to have an extra couple hours a week to spend on hobbies.

                1. Spicy Tuna*

                  I’ve gone 8 years in my house without a working oven. Would I ever be THRILLED to have a working oven, but as the past 8 years have shown, it’s not a necessity!

              9. Lexica*

                I think it depends on whether both people are truly on board with the purchase. One anniversary, my husband and I bought ourselves a Vitamix blender (which I’d been yearning for since age 10 when I first saw one at the State Fair). We were both enthusiastic and excited about the purchase, so it worked great. If only one of us (or worse, neither of us!) had been enthusiastic, it would have been very different.

                Since it was a mutual present for our thirteenth anniversary, I’ve had the idea in my head for a while to commission a tattoo artist to decorate it by painting traditional flash images of black cats, dice showing snake eyes, etc. Haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I’m thinking that with tattoo shops shut down due to the pandemic, maybe an artist would be interested in picking up some cash for a small job like this…

                1. Lizzo*

                  I got a Vitamix as a graduate school graduation present! I was thrilled–I make a lot of smoothies and was burning out the motors on all the run-of-the-mill Target blenders.

              10. Genuine Risk*

                It’s not up to your mother to decide what constitutes a “gift” for someone else. A dishwasher and many other household appliances can be necessities, or they can be luxuries. Stove and fridge are kinda necessities, but a dishwasher you can live without. So yes getting a dishwasher can be a present because it is a luxury that makes someone’s life better. Hell,I got gravel for the driveway one year as a present! This may sound odd to city dwellers and suburbanites who have never even seen a road that wasn’t paved, but when you live in the country and have to grade and gravel your own private road/driveway it is a HUGE expense and a luxury not to have to slog through the mud.

              11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                This is a personal thing, not to be applied generally. If I tell my partner I want an iron for Christmas, he’ll get me an expensive, sturdy one, that works really well, with all sorts of attachments I never even knew existed, and I will enjoy ironing that much more (NB I only iron my clothes, but I’m happy to show him how it works if he wants to iron his).
                If I were to buy it myself, I’d just get an ordinary thing that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, and would probably not last as much because I’m not the kind to splurge on the most expensive item, I have an economical mindset.
                However, if he got me an iron without me asking for it, he’d get hit over the head with it.

            3. Cedarthea*

              My organization gives sapphire & diamond rings for significant anniversaries. I don’t wear fancy rings, my favorite ring is an old silver spoon.

              Despite knowing my 5 years was coming up, which is for your first ring, and for years saying I don’t want one, just a few minutes ago I sent my ring size and gold preference, because despite much, much rather having the cash, more vacation or literally anything else, I have to perform appreciation for a piece of jewelry that will never be worn unless I have to perform appreciation for it.

              I am dreading the whole thing.

              1. Littorally*

                That seems like a very odd anniversary gift for work! Do you work somewhere like a jeweler where it is in context of the work you do?

              2. A Simple Narwhal*

                It feels weird to me that an organization would give out rings! Rings feel like such a personal piece of jewelry (at least to me – I know it’s not the same for everyone). The rings I wear are specific and precious to me – my wedding rings, a ring my father gave me for 16th birthday, and my class ring that I sometimes swap out for my grandmother’s wedding ring on special occasions. I only have so many fingers and I wouldn’t want to trade one of those out for a company piece of jewelry.

                It also has a weird club-y, secret society feel to it? Maybe I’m overthinking this but precious stone jewelry is weird. Oh and do they do this for both men and women? I’d be super mad if only the women get a ring and the men get like a leather briefcase or something.

                1. Darsynia*

                  Not only that but do the coworkers expect to see the ring on their finger at work? What a weird obligatory gift, in the end.

                2. Forty Years in the Hole*

                  In my govt’s federal service (Not in US) – depending on the department – long service awards start at 15 years of full time employment and are awarded at 25, 35, 45 and 50 years. Each category has a set catalogue of “gifts” the employee can choose from. “Gift” in quotes as this is deemed a taxable benefit, given the potential value of some of the offerings. They include men’s/women’s jewelry, high end luggage, artwork, small kitchen appliances, a sewing/quilt machine (yesss!), pen sets, telescope, small/personal electronics, spa goodies – pretty much a full range of stuff.
                  Retired last year after 36 years…still waiting for my “gift.”

              3. Caroline Bowman*

                That is strange, unless it’s a jewellery or gemstone company?

                However, were it me, I’d wear the thing once or twice and then… sell it. I know.

                But that’s what I’d do.

              4. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

                I would be taking that ring to a pawn shop the day I received it to exchange for cash.

                1. Sacred Ground*

                  I was going to suggest that. If one wants a cash bonus instead of jewelry, at least jewelry can be easily converted to cash.

                2. Clisby*

                  I’d be doing something similar. I don’t wear rings – I’m married and do not have a wedding ring or an engagement ring. I’m def not wearing some cheesy company ring.

            4. Tisiphone*

              So true! Story time, which I hope is useful for the letter writer.

              Many years ago, I was unemployed and struggling to find work. I was already heating my house to the barest minimum – mainly to keep the pipes from freezing – and bundling up inside the way people shouldn’t have to do. I had to choose between heat and groceries that winter. My family gave articles of clothing I don’t wear from a store ten miles away from me. If memory serves, one was a flimsy nightgown.

              The store would only give me a store credit when I returned the items. I needed the money so I could pay my heating bill.

              I took the store credit I would never use, sat in the car, and cried.

        2. Mockingjay*

          “Don’t assume it won’t be special to them just because it might not seem special to you.”

          @Grizabella, this is spot on.

          OP1, I believe you get real satisfaction and pride in putting on a great party each year. It’s something employees and their families to look forward to and enjoy. Maybe you’re experiencing disappointment at not being able to do the annual event for the company that you are invested in emotionally as well as financially. But 2020 has been an awful year for nearly everyone. Give employees what they’ve asked for and take satisfaction in knowing you’ve helped them now, and start planning a blow-out celebration for next year.

          1. Caroline Bowman*

            This completely! I really believe OP1 has genuinely kind and generous intentions and no one can accuse her of not being thoughtful, but in this case, give money as asked. Maybe give approximately 2/3 of what you would have spent per head on a party and keep back 1/3 or some amount against a truly stupendous party at the soonest safe time next year ( summer party? Halloween party?), just keep it back and earmark it for that.

            1. SweetTooth*

              That’s a great idea! My company doesn’t do too much in terms of parties and such, so I really enjoy our holiday event. It’s one day of the year where we stop working at 2pm to go drink with coworkers and still go home early! And it’s a nice thing to get to socialize and relax together. I am sure they would appreciate a replacement event when it’s safe to do so, even if it isn’t as fancy as the annual holiday event!

          2. TardyTardis*

            One year all the people in our group got…a narcissus bulb planting kit. Now, right after Christmas we have the Hellscape we call year end, and we don’t come up for air till the middle of January. The last thing any of us wanted to do was to set up that bulb and water it every day, but the boss because visibly hurt if we put it off till after year end. Arrgh

        3. Observer*

          I actually feel like both this l.w. and the boss mentioned in #3 sounded a bit out of touch with the reality of some people’s lives.

          That’s a bit unfair to OP#1. I do agree that they sound a bit out of touch. But they are in a TOTALLY different league from #3. This description gives #3 waaay too much credit.

        1. Hornswoggler*

          By which I mean, not just that they’re not normally able to do it, but that it is something that will give them some peace of mind and relaxation!

          1. Carlie*

            Me too – there is nothing that compares with the feelings of relief and satisfaction when paying off a bill, especially in times when you’re strapped for cash or worried about the economy in general and trying to minimize liabilities. That is a wonderful present!!!

            And if you still aren’t happy with that thought, think of the fact that some people love giving things even more than receiving them (you seem to be one of those wonderful people, OP) so money would allow those employees to turn around and give it to someone they love who needs it more than they do.

        2. boop the first*

          Yes, I’d also argue that being gifted a dishwasher specifically would be quite a luxury! They are not cheap or necessary!

      2. Queen Esmeralda*

        And people could be helping family and friends that have been economically impacted by the pandemic and that’s why they’d like just cash.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          This is so likely to be the case for at least some recipients, if not all. Anyway, even if it isn’t, maybe they’re saving for a blow-out holiday in a year or two or a really great new TV or something.

          Or they want to send money to their sister who is struggling, or donate it to the local food pantry.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Shoot, paying off more of your student loan, mortgage, car loan, medical bills, etc. than normal IS a luxury spend and a treat. It makes you feel great. Or at least it makes me feel great and definitely better than any free food.

        1. boo bot*

          Yes – years ago I had a family member give me cash for a holiday and make a point of, “I want you to do something special with this, not just spend it on groceries.” He meant well, so I chose to interpret “do something special” as “buy groceries without worrying about whether I’m eating into my rent budget.” It was special! Just not how he envisioned.

          1. NoNeinNyet*

            Yes! When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, just being able to go to the grocery store without having to do math as you shop or stick to the same basics every week so your total is going to be similar every time is a luxury.

            1. Frustrated*

              Maybe a gift card to a popular grocery store would be a welcome gift. People Could choose to use it for a fancy dinner with their families or for regular groceries. I know a lot of businesses give our turkeys for Thanksgiving or Christmas hams. But this way you don’t have to worry about special diets.

        2. Sleepless*

          I once took my end of year bonus and walked across the parking lot to the auto repair shop, where I spent almost the exact amount on a new catalytic converter. My husband’s income is generally pretty thin in December, and having enough money to get my car fixed was a great feeling.

      4. Daisy-dog*

        Yes. Even if this is a company made up entirely of highly compensated employees and the company reimbursed everyone for their college degrees and the company also pays for the best medical plan in existence, people may still struggle to pay bills. It could be bills for family members, they might have had some investment losses, or they could have had a series of unfortunate events with their home and car.

        Though some people may take that card and re-gift it to a grandchild or friend. Which is also fine!

      5. SuperDiva*

        Thank you, this is what I was thinking!! LW, please don’t assume you know the employees’ financial situations. Obviously these people are all still employed, and the company seems to be doing well if they’re getting bonuses, but you have no idea what is going on outside their work lives. I’m in a similar place – lucky to have kept my job, lucky that my company is doing well, on track to get a raise next quarter – but my spouse was laid off due to the pandemic, and our health insurance costs have skyrocketed as a result of switching from his company’s coverage to mine. Just give me the cash! Also, I would honestly resent the “forced cheer” of a celebration this year, when so many people are suffering and the pandemic shows no sign of ending.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Don’t underestimate the power of a good thank you note! We do them for staff appreciation week, and it is by far the thing that people comment positively on the most. Every supervisor writes a personalized note to each member of their staff that includes a specific highlight or strength for that particular person. I thought the supervisors would balk, but even my most curmudgeon-y supervisor (whom I was frankly concerned would refuse to do it) likes the idea and writes very kind notes each year.

        So, yes, personalized thank you and a gift card/cash bonus, and OP#1 is golden.

      7. AlmostGone*

        This, so much. Just give the money. It is far more appreciated than a party.
        I once worked at a place that gave tiny holiday bonuses and threw a very expensive holiday party at a high end hotel. I can guarantee you that EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON would much rather have even half of what their plate cost rather than be required to attend a party. Especially since there was tremendous pressure on the female staff to have a new outfit, get their hair professionally done, etc. — which required outlays of funds far in excess of the tiny bonus. It’s not a gift if it is required and costs you money.

    2. Mid*

      Yes! I came to say the same thing. Wrap it up nicely, add a cute box of chocolates and a personalized note, or something similar. Put effort into the gift cards so it feels like just as much thought is put into them as it was when you planned a party.

    3. Viva*

      Yesss! That’s what I wanted to suggest as well!
      Letterwriter, you can pour all your creativity and thoughts that would’ve went into organizing the dinner into delivering those gift cards. To be honest I’d love to be in your position and think of a way to make this special with all those circumstances right now. It would add a bit of magic to the situation, and I think we all need a bit of magic right now.
      Here are some ideas I had to add to the gift card:
      – Add some chocolate or other beloved food item
      – how about a super fancy holiday-cupcake in a box?
      – a personal note like suggested above (I want to add that this would be absolutely awesome)
      – a hot wine punch spice mix, that can be used with juices as well
      – a small(one pot) hot cocao mix with mini marshmallows
      – a mini mini christmas tree with the gift card being an ornament
      – a personalized gingerbread slice with their name on it

      Ha – I could go on forever. There is so much you can do!

      And I want to add – please don’t see the money as “not special enough” for the holidays. It is a weird time and people will remember that you listenend to them and got them the dinner-replacement they wished for. This makes them feel valued and not taken for granted. It will strengthen your employee satisfaction. And with some creative thinking you can make the gift card something “holiday special” as well.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I love these ideas. LW, put the cash straight onto the payslip, ask no questions about how it’s used, and spend a tiny fraction of the money on a very small gift to go with the personalised card. If people want to use the money to treat themselves to dinner, they will.

      2. Nea*

        I like the idea of “little thinking of you” thing in with the gift card and a letter.

        OP1, if you want to make those a little more special, you could always put the company brand on whatever you add to the cards – or how you package them. Speaking for myself, if I wanted the $ I’d still appreciate it arriving in, say, a company-branded thermos next to a little pack of cocoa mix. Or taped to the top of a mini box of chocolates with the company logo on it. I don’t think it’s particularly expensive to get the company’s initials on m&ms in the company colors, and then tie the gift card to the ribbon around the bag.

        There are a lot of ways to make delivering money still special and “from all us here at Llama World.”

        1. Lilisonna*

          Our house recently got a very inexpensive but thoughtful care package – bubbles, a coloring page, a branded (and super-cute) keychain — and it was awesome.

      3. Ashley*

        I really like the idea of a personalized note from owner / manager and a small token gift with the gift card or a note in the card about the bonus. Don’t over spend on shipping token gift to where it impacts straight up cash amount though. If you can do the token gift with card and cash I would suggest trying to find something that supports a local small business (either where you or they are). So if you are in an area where it would be feasible to do something like pick up two dozen cupcakes from a local bakery and then do a drive by delivery of card, gift card, and cupcake to make it more personal great but almost universally people love just having a little more cash in their pockets.

      4. Observer*

        people will remember that you listenend to them and got them the dinner-replacement they wished for

        This. 1,000x

        People WILL remember that you asked for their input and then LISTENED.

        Conversely, if you insist on ignoring the feedback you have gotten, you WILL have taught your staff that it does not pay to give input because the company will ignore any input they don’t like.

        Do yourself (and your staff) a favor – be their hero.

        They may not fall over themselves to thank you. But they WILL notice and remember.

    4. tamarack and fireweed*

      Exactly.

      #1 is, like, the easiest letter I’ve ever seen on AAM.

      (And the writer-inner is massively underestimating the pleasure employees will get from VISA gift cards. My partner makes a good salary in a software company [me, not so much as a postdoc], and sometimes gets a bonus. Yet we got a warm and fuzzy feeling from getting sent a generous VISA gift card — $100 just for pleasure money! How nice! How thoughtful!)

      1. Liz*

        I couldn’t agree more! I had a several hundred dollar Visa gift card I got from my apt. management company, as a reward for longevity! I had it for about a year, and a few months ago, used it to pay most of the cost of a new laptop! I needed to upgrade anyway, but having that made it easier because it cost me less out of my own money. Was it a fun purchase? not really as I need it for working from home, but mine was 5 years old, and i figured now was the time to upgrade, so if something DID happen to my old one, i wouldn’t be scrambling to replace it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Adding: The LW is massively OVER estimating the significance of a company event. For me (NOT everyone, but for myself) company parties should be on paid time. It’s work for me to attend these things. I am working. While others are saying they are having great fun, I am thinking, “Can I leave now, or should I wait a bit longer?”.

        1. allathian*

          Same here. I guess I’m lucky in that my employer provides the means to organize quite a number of events, but that there’s no pressure to attend these things and they’re always voluntary. I’ve attended a few in my time, but I’ve become a lot more selective about which events I’ll attend and which I’ll skip. I’m happy to attend team dinners, and when our organization celebrated its 200th anniversary a few years ago, it was fun. I got to talk to people I usually only email with.

        2. pbnj*

          Same. And often at these events I’ve thought I wish they would have gotten me a gift card or a holiday ham/turkey due to similar feelings. Also during the holidays I often have so many family functions that I don’t really want to go to yet another huge dinner. And I know people are often busy with religious activities too.

        3. ThatGirl*

          My old team’s Christmas party was a nice lunch at Maggiano’s during the work day, after which we got to leave early.

          My new team, last year, had an afternoon-into-evening shindig with fancy hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer, mixing and mingling. It was nice but I basically only went long enough to be seen by the higher-ups, chat to a few people, and then split as soon as I could.

        4. Not A Girl Boss*

          Agreed. I mean, honestly…. no offense, but why do all bosses seem to think that employees would rather be hanging out with them than be home with their families, not stressing about how they were going to afford the fancy toy their daughter requested or pay to repair the dishwasher?

        5. Cedarthea*

          Absolutely, I am in childcare so our functions can not be on company time, so everyone puts in a full day and we have an evening event. It is the worst day of the year.

          Now we do a Head Office holiday luncheon, which is on a friday, we leave the office around noon and get to go home after, that is much nicer than the company wide function where its full of people I don’t have any interest in socializing with. I always go, perform appreciation, and then head home as soon as is reasonable, and most years I get assigned a job like checking people in, or taking photos, which makes the time go faster.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            I love the way my employer does holiday parties.

            It’s a potluck during the workday. The company orders several pizzas (to be sure there’s at least one entree). Anyone who signs up to cook/bring something is reimbursed for the cost. People come in on their regular lunch break to grab a plate and chat if they like. The boss usually brings cupcakes and clock in/out times for breaks aren’t strictly enforced – a big deal in our line of work.

            Basically nobody pays any money or works any extra hours, but we all get a nice little celebration and a bit less pressure than normal.

            1. r*

              My favorite approach was at a job where I was hourly and the boss would let us stay clocked in. So basically, you would get a couple hours OT in addition to the dinner/drinks. Obviously it’s not much compared to the kinds of bonuses some people get but it made a difference for us to get that time and a half.

        6. CR*

          Absolutely. Of course the boss’ wife think their dinners are super fun, she’s the boss’ wife! I bet everyone is nice to her and she has a great time. She’s not there because she’s forced to be, or because she’s a lowly employee.

        7. Shenandoah*

          Yes. I actually really enjoy my company’s holiday parties, but there is always a moment that I look around at the expensive event and go “Man, they could have just given me $100 and I would have been thrilled.”

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Especially if it’s a fancy shindig at a place where I literally am going to be stuck eating pre-packaged saltines (if those would even be available) at someplace like The Palm (where due to the amount of seafood they serve I’d be totally out of luck due to the severity of my allergies).

            Giving the employees money, especially in this crazy year, is not bad. Echoing what others have said above with regards to a nice hand written card from management/C-suite to make it feel more special. But the employees have spoken and they’d prefer the money – listen to the staff.

        8. Quill*

          I’ve had great company holiday parties, and holiday parties that were endless torture. It 100% depended on the company, with a side of “should I be self conscious about the possibility of dropping half a lasagna in my lap?”

          Personally though, scheduling any sort of company outing during november and december is a crapshoot. People are already overbooked, overspent, and tired.

          1. Artemesia*

            I worked at a university where the Dean had a lavish party at her home for the holidays; in addition to some of the other deans and higher ups she invited Emeritus faculty as well and it was a truly lovely event — great food, and fun to chat with people you don’t see often in other departments and delightful to see old colleagues. It really was a highlight of the year and if people didn’t want to come or had conflicts — no problem. Company parties especially in smaller units can be great. But not this year and thus the little note and visa card will be a lovely alternative. Even if the employees all still have their jobs and incomes, many of them probably have spouses who have lost jobs, or struggling relatives or adult children — it has been a financial emergency for many people.

        9. Perhaps the Grinch*

          OH YES! THIS TIMES 1000!
          The boss, and owner may be positive that their employees love and value these fancy dinners, but that’s partly because the employees can hardly say otherwise. What are they going to do, tell the boss (who is dropping $100 a head or more on this meal) when he stops by their table “I’d FAR rather be at home in my flannel pjs watching the annual Rudolph re-run with my children.” I know the employer is trying to do something nice for their workers to show appreciation, but “forcing” them (in my experience while they are supposedly voluntary not attending gets negative notice) to use their own time to socialize with co-workers is not necessarily a treat, especially near the holiday season when time to relax and be with immediate family is at a premium.

          I know as an introvert who also does not consume alcohol, I may be an outlier, but my co-workers are colleagues, not friends. I certainly have maintain friendly interactions with them, and I don’t dislike them, but I have no urge to spend my non-working hours socializing with them. I have never felt so grateful to an employer as when new management took over my spouse’s employment and the annual party was replaced with a generous ‘turkey card’ which was a gift card to a national grocery chain. No more having to dress up in an uncomfortable outfit I owned only because I had to have something to wear to these periodic fancy dinners the company ‘gifted’ us with, and trying to make conversation with people I don’t know (and in some cases wished I hadn’t been introduced to) and have to be polite to people who make statements that outrage me (political, religious, sexist, racist, just plain bigoted) because I need to bite my tongue and avoid getting my spouse fired, and pretend to be happy to do it. There was one year when we were overwhelmed with debt that the turkey card meant we could actually have a Christmas dinner instead of more of whatever was on the cheapest sale that week. I assure you that was ‘special’ to me!

          As a side note, LW’s confidence that Surf ‘n Turf places like The Palm have “other menu options so that even those with dietary restrictions have plenty to eat” is a bit naive–for example after looking at the online menu for The Palm, a vegan could have a green salad (starter size based on the price and location on the menu), or if someone ordered one of the sharing dishes, they could also have some of whichever of asparagus, brussel sprouts, spinach or mushrooms was ordered. A side salad and a few brussel sprouts seems a bit skimpy to qualify as “plenty to eat” at what is no doubt a long drawn out meal.

          1. r*

            I agree with the bulk of this but irt the ‘other menu options,’ typically when you rent out a venue, you are generally not using the standard menu. Generally, you do a survey of dietary restrictions and then request the restaurant to set up a menu honoring them. So there would be an actual vegan main dish, eg, even though it’s not on the standard menu (also ime the Special Dishes are often nicer because the kitchen only has to make a couple – any time I’m at one of these and my veggie dinner comes out, everyone at my table is jealous).

            That said, cross contamination is much harder to control for, especially depending on the allergies. Peanuts they can probably do. Seafood, almost certainly not. So, there are definitely issues.

        10. Tisiphone*

          I usually give holiday parties a miss. I work the weekend evening that the parties are usually scheduled for. I’ve gotten praise for generously working my regular shift so others could take that night off to attend the party. Not a hardship at all if you don’t want to go.

          Last year we had a great holiday party. It was at the workplace during work hours for most of us – only those who worked extremely early or extremely late – think 3am to noon or midnight to 9am – or not scheduled that day would have to consider coming in during off hours. There was a buffet, drinks of varying types, including holiday-themed beverages and plenty of non-alcoholic offerings. The alcoholic drinks included wine, beer, a co-worker’s home brew special for the event, among other things. There was an hourly drawing. Games were available. I was working and I could participate and dash back to my desk periodically to see if anything urgent had come in that needed my attention. I enjoyed that party and if COVID hadn’t hit, this year’s might have been similar.

        11. A*

          Yup. Not knocking OP at all, because these events clearly mean a lot to them – but I’m willing to bet that even pre-COVID many employees would have preferred the value of that surf & turf meal in gift card form. No matter how fancy the party, it’s still a company event on your employees time. Some people really like those things, but in my experience the majority play the part but behind closed doors feel differently.

        12. Mr. Grumpypants*

          Yes, it’s often the people that enjoy these types of events that end up planning them and assume that they’re SO FUN!!! for everyone. Meanwhile, a good portion of us would really just rather have the afternoon off and a gift card.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I completely agree with this. My organization usually does a nice staff appreciation week with drop-in breakfasts, a nice catered lunch, and some sort of gift (usually something swaggy but useful plus a luxury food item). This year, they mailed everyone a $200 gift card with a nice note of appreciation, which is exactly what people needed. I’m sure some people used it for groceries or some other item LW#1 would consider to not be the intended use, but having the peace of mind to be able to choose to buy yourself groceries probably means more to some people than a fancy Harry & David basket.

        They went a different route for the cancelled summer and holiday celebrations – the money budgeted for those was donated to charities voted on by the entire organization. (And I would not be surprised to see another gift card issuance in December.)

        I’m a fairly frugal person, but I have used company gift cards to buy anything from an overpriced pair of shoes or a FitBit that were entirely wants to groceries and supplies for a kid’s school project. It was nice to be able to make that choice myself.

        1. RaccoonMama*

          Plus using a gift card for the grocery rather than your own money (at least for me) means that maybe I will buy myself something a little bit more pricey/special!

        2. misspiggy*

          That sounds amazing. I feel Alison should interview you to find out how your employer got to be so responsive to staff!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            It has not always been this way. Several years ago, we got a new head of HR and a new c-suite person on the human resource, training side that cleaned up a fairly large mess left by their predecessors. They’re certainly not perfect, but they want it to be a good place to work, actually listen, and want feedback.
            Believe me, there is still plenty of griping across the board and things that could stand improvement! But it’s easier to deal with the problems when you feel you’re being heard and treated fairly.

      4. Tabby*

        @tamarack and fireweed:

        OMG I can’t express how much I love the VISA $100 gift cards. My dogwalking company usually gives me 2 or 3 of those (actually, I think they’re usually american express, but whatever), and I knock myself out getting treats and things can’t ordinarily get during the year — an expensive pair of shoes, clothing item, uber for a week or two… I’m working poor, basically, so 90% of my money goes to bills. In fact, I managed to get a biker jacket I’d wanted FOREVER with one of those. I got it from a thrift store for $35 bucks, when they had it on sale, down from $65 just 2 days before. It had originally been $120! And, considering the thing would cost at least double that in regular retail, I felt very special indeed.

        Seriously, for me, money is the best possible present anyone could ever give me, because I’m very particular about the things I want to get for myself. I don’t tend to like very many things others get for me, because they never really go with what I have already. I know, it’s pretty terrible to say outright that I don’t like the things people pick for me, but historically, people really are terrible at giving me gifts — I’m a weird mix of goth/grunge/punk, so people think huge, gaudy, bejeweled skull jewelry is great, even though they never see me wear that kind of thing as a rule (I prefer it to be a little more subtle).

        So, yeah, again, I hope OP #1 takes this to heart. Sometimes money really IS the most special thing you can do for someone, maybe they have lovely things they want and can’t otherwise buy.

        1. Former Employee*

          I know what you mean and I’m none of the above (not goth/grunge/punk).

          I’m an older retired person now, but I’ve always been a bit quirky in terms of my taste and have only gotten more so as I’ve gotten older. A gift card that’s either generic like VISA or one to a bookstore if it’s going to be more specific, works for me.

      5. ellex42*

        Extra money to do what I want with! So many options!

        Do I splurge on a takeout sushi dinner? Put it on Amazon for books/music (that’s a never-ending wish list), or a treat box from overseas, or that plug in car seat warmer my mother really wants? Honestly, you have no idea what joy it brought me a few weeks ago just to get a new laundry sorter hamper. Or I’ll get that really nice Moen faucet I was looking at for the kitchen sink. Even if I put it on one of the monthly bills, that lowers this month’s budget and lets me breathe a little easier thinking about the car insurance bill coming up.

        You can never, ever go wrong with cash or a non-specific gift card (I despise gift cards for specific stores/restaurants, they’re so restrictive), unless the receiver is one of those people who thinks money is inappropriate as a gift, and those people usually only feel that way about gifts from family/friends.

    5. babblemouth*

      Another way to bring up holiday spirit could be to also do a donation to a charity, maybe getting employees to vote for 3 charities they’d like to support as a group. I sense that you feel like just a cash hand out is crass, but the spirit of the holiday season is generosity, so try to think of more ways you can be generous as a company, and that’s not crass at all :)
      (But don’t do just a donation – give people a nice extra Christmas bonus. You will create even more loyalty that way)

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Sorry, but I loathe that whole “I’m giving to charity on your behalf. Merry Christmas!” thing. It just rubs me wrong, every time. And especially when coming from an employer, it comes across especially tone deaf. Doubly so when you’ve let your employees vote, and they chose money in their own pockets.
        It’s like dangling the money in front of someone, and then yanking it out of their hands. “Look at all this money I *could* give you… yoink! Giving it to someone else instead!”
        And before you think I’m selfish, I donate about 20% of my paycheck to various charities, as well as volunteering my own time. But I do so quietly, privately, and with my own money, not money earmarked for gifts for other people. The only person who knows precisely how much I give is my husband, because we do our finances together.
        Also, I am very particular about the charities I will support. I can guarantee that it’s impossible to pick a charity everyone in a large company will all feel comfortable supporting. And not just due to big, obvious reasons like politics or whatever, but concerns over the way various charities are run, how much of the money actually reaches the supposed cause, priorities and goals of each charitable foundation, etc.
        This sort of thing does nothing to help employee morale, and often has quite the opposite effect. Which rather defeats the purpose of a holiday gift in the first place.
        They want money. Give it to them, and let them decide what to do with it.

          1. another Hero*

            It is when it’s what people have asked for, but these employees have explicitly asked for cash (during a weird time when a lot of people are facing extra expenses)!

            1. micklethwaite*

              Yes, I do this on a personal level for people who I know like it – my dad loves it and has asked me to do it every year. But if I had asked for a bit of extra cash (in this year of all years) and my employer was like “OK sure, not for you though, for these guys over here,” I’d be crushed.

        1. Darsynia*

          A friend of mine came on tough times after the 2008 economic downturn and managed, through careful thrifting and budgeting, to never give that impression that she was struggling at work. The company she was working for did find it difficult to budget for employee gifts and decided to donate to charity to ‘help the needy’ instead of the much-needed end of year bonuses.

          The donation ended up going to a charity that my friend was benefiting from. She said she felt so irritated by the whole situation, because the lack of promotions and bonuses were part of the reason she needed that help (there were other issues including an underwater mortgage), and so to see the company be in her words sanctimonious about helping out ‘the needy’ when they could have just given her some of that money was galling to the extreme.

        2. A*

          Yes. I donate when and where I can to the causes I choose (some of which I wouldn’t be comfortable revealing to my employer).

          Giving to someone else on my behalf, when I don’t actually have full control in terms of deciding if that was the direction I wanted to go in (and the ability to truly donate to any cause without my employer knowing which)… is not a gift. It’s a cop out.

        3. AuroraLight37*

          Yeah, I’ve been giving my dad a check for the small nonprofit he runs for the last few years, because he doesn’t want stuff. But I know him and he’s made it clear this is what he’d prefer. Here, the employees have made it clear they’d prefer money for them, not to Charity X.

        4. Caramel & Cheddar*

          It’s also worth remembering that when a company donates to a charity on your behalf (whether that’s your employer or the grocery store asking you to donate an extra $1 for charity), that company gets the tax breaks of making a large donation and they know that. It’s not always a very altruistic act!

          1. Artemesia*

            A tax break doesn’t mean the company or person didn’t give though. If I give 10K and save 3 K on taxes, I have still given 7K — the tax break argument has always seemed odd to me.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Yes, but it’s the company getting the tax break while the employee gives the money. It’s not the employee getting the tax break. Which is not to discourage giving to charity, of course, but fewer people would need charity if companies paid their share of taxes.

        5. Artemesia*

          A zillion times yes on this. Someone else’s donation to charity is not a gift to me. Sometimes families agree they will all do that instead of gifts — fine. But my company donating to charity when my spouse has lost his job, or my adult kid has had to move home because of job loss, or we have new complicated child care costs etc etc will seem really tone deaf. There will be many employees who have been financially hurt by the pandemic.

          We give a lot to charity and have given earlier or more than usual to a local cultural institution that is struggling as well as Medecins sans frontiers and the ACLU and the local food banks and homeless shelters — but it still makes me feel hostile if someone pretends their donation is a gift to me.

          1. AuroraLight37*

            “But my company donating to charity when my spouse has lost his job, or my adult kid has had to move home because of job loss, or we have new complicated child care costs etc etc will seem really tone deaf.”

            THIS. People who are facing loss of income, or whose family has been impacted by Covid, are probably not going to find “We’re getting a corporate tax break by donating money we could have given you!” pleasing.

      2. Observer*

        Not this year – people have already made it clear what they want.

        Also, for lower paid staff this can be pretty galling. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, but when money is REALLY tight a donation given in your name doesn’t really feel good.

        1. Autumnheart*

          No kidding. “For Christmas this year, we made sure someone else gets to enjoy the turkey dinner instead of you.” Thanks.

      3. NoNeinNyet*

        Definitely no. Give the employees the money. They can donate to a charity of their choosing if they want to and are able to.

    6. dogmom*

      LW1 there are lots of great comments and suggestions in this thread (and below) but I would also suggest that you *not* give gift cards to chain restaurants. For one thing, many people (including me!) intensely dislike chain restaurants and only eat at them as an absolute last resort when there are no other options. And also, so many small businesses are closing due to the pandemic while big companies are thriving — I know in my state, since March a huge number of locally owned restaurants have already closed and even more will likely close in the coming months. I would be unhappy if I got an Applebee’s card (which I would probably never use and just regift) when I’d rather support a locally owned restaurant. Just give the employees cash and skip the restaurant gift cards.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Even if people like chain restaurants what are the chances they’ll like that specific chain restaurant (that you chose based on proximity) enough to want to eat there (more likely, get takeout) as a special holiday treat? Go for the gift card and use one or more of the “make it special” suggestions people have given you, please!

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        There are three Northern Italian restaurants in my town, with roughly equivalent pricing. The one-off independent is superb. The small regional chain is very good. Then there is Olive Garden, which aspires to mediocrity, only intermittently achieving this end. Guess which one has the line out of the door? And guess which one we are given gift cards to?

      3. Alice's Rabbit*

        Yes! Between personal preferences, dietary restrictions, and just plain convenience, there isn’t a single restaurant that will make all the employees happy.
        Just give a Visa giftcard, and a nice, individually addressed Christmas card thanking each employee for their hard work and flexibility during such a tough year.

      4. Quill*

        Yeah, also – people may have dietary reasons not to go to major chain restaurants, or this year hesitate to order from them because of the increased covid risk! (Just because dining rooms are open doesn’t mean they’re safe, gift cards can be hell to redeem on an overtaxed internet ordering site, a variety of other logistics reasons.)

        Put it on a generic gift card. People will spend it on what they need most, or what they want to feel special this year.

        1. Misquoted*

          Yep, all great points. I’ll add that I personally just don’t like getting carry out. The things I tend to order are either made wrong or end up cold or soggy. It’s just not the same as eating at the restaurant, so I don’t tend to do it. With a Visa gift card (or similar), the recipient could certainly choose to get carry out at the restaurant of their choice, but could also use it for anything else that makes life easier or nicer. A personal card with thanks for the hard work and the wish that the employee does something fun and special with the card would be nice, but doesn’t limit the use of the card.

        2. Oryx*

          Yup, I once got a gift card from work to Chick Fil A.

          Not only do I oppose them on a personal level and wouldn’t have used it anyway — I was a vegetarian at the time and the person who gave it to me knew that. I don’t even remember what I did with it.

          1. Former Employee*

            I am am vegetarian and also oppose that chain on principle. If someone gave me a gift card to that restaurant chain I would probably donate it to my local food pantry. The company already has the money so not using does not send any message. Someone might as well get the benefit of food that has been paid for in advance.

      5. dogmom*

        Thanks to everybody for pointing out dietary restrictions! I’m vegan, which means that at most chain restaurants I’ll only be able to get a crappy iceberg lettuce side salad (and maybe a veggie burger if I’m lucky). I also have a shellfish allergy, which rules out something like Red Lobster because of cross-contamination. Seriously, LW, just give cash!

      6. Artemesia*

        This. There are several of our favorite small restaurants that have gone under or may well do. We have stepped up our ordering out in order to support them and hope they can make it through.

    7. Lyudie*

      This is exactly what I was going to suggest. A card thanking them for their flexibility and hard work in a very challenging year would be a really nice gesture, and if it can be personalized like you’re suggesting, that’s even better.

    8. Accounting is fun*

      Just as a note for a gift card idea. I totally think it is an amazing gift to give your people! I love getting them myself. Just remember that it is taxable income for your employees that you will have to put on their W-2 and withhold taxes from on a paycheck. During a pandemic, I would LOVE to receive one of these, but just make sure you do the taxes correctly too. (This is for the U.S. only, IDK about other countries).

    9. Kiki*

      Yes! I think a lot of people are really surprised by how meaningful a kind and appreciative note is. My friends and family consider me to be a great gift-giver. What makes the my gift-giving skills great is that I’m really thoughtful about:
      1) What the recipient has told me they want (even if not directly, “I would like X for Christmas,” throughout the year pointing out things they want or need)
      2) Conveying how much that person means to me, through the gift itself or in a note

      The people in this office have told LW point 1 directly– that’s awesome! They want cash! Make it personal with a note to fulfill point 2.

    10. SyFyGeek*

      This, so much this. I was unpacking boxes last week and found thank you cards from people I used to work for. I know I got money along with it, and I have no idea what I used it for, but finding that card, with the personal note, from 5-ish years ago made me feel good all over again.

    11. Software Engineer*

      I’d be annoyed if I got a gift card to Applebees or a similar restaurant from my employer. There’s a reason that chain restaurants were doing poorly the past few years.

    12. Jellissimo*

      First, I agree that the employees have spoken, but I also understand how OP feels. I recently found that a certain food delivery service (I don’t know if I can say which one) has made available the option for “centralized billing,” if you will, which would sort of accomplish what you are looking for. There are several options for how to do this, but it would allow employees to have the luxurious dining experience you want to provide while having the charge to the company. Perhaps a combination of cash and a luxury dinner would satisfy everyone?

      1. pamela voorhees*

        I know this sounds like a nice compromise but food delivery services don’t always delivery to certain areas (which will turn into “everyone gets a nice dinner except Sam because they live outside of downtown”), and even if they do technically deliver to an area, they can often be wrong, especially if you don’t use them much. (Doordash and Uber Eats have given up on our sprawling, confusing apartment complex and drop stuff off at the front office. Even if it’s at night. And the office is closed.) It’s a wonderful instinct, but I promise you it will turn into a logistical nightmare that leaves someone with no food. Please just give gift cards like employees want.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          “don’t always deliver”, not don’t always delivery — my apologies, should have proofread!

    13. Smithy*

      First amazing suggestion and totally agree. If the point is that this pool of funding is for a “gift” and not a bonus in acknowledgement of hard work, then that reflection can be put into a card or words. Even if the company is too large for personalized messages, working with the owners to create a general or a few department specific “thank you so much during this challenging year” letters to employees would still be thoughtful.

      But – I think this letter remains an important reminder for many of us long-time AAM readers. No matter how common sense it is in on this blog that just about every employee would prefer $25 and/or an extra hour off from work compared to the vast majority of work holiday parties – there remain those adamant about end of year gifts/parties that are important pieces of corporate bonding/team building/ showing recognition. In this case the LW is in a position to make a change and I hope she listens to Alison and reader comments. But for many of us, it’s a good reminder on whether or not pushing back on an end of year party is a good use of our professional time and capital.

    14. Momma Bear*

      Absolutely if they want money, give them money! But do so in a way that is easy to use. I once got a $200 gift card and that was nice and all, but I admittedly did not read the fine print and the card started losing value after not being used for x timeframe due to inactivity, and had an expiration date. I used it on things like gas and groceries, instead of saving it for a bigger purchase. That said, if the card will not be taxed the way a bonus will, even a card that expires is better. Another thing people might appreciate is more PTO or a flex holiday day in lieu of the party.

    15. Keymaster of Gozer*

      If it’s a number of staff that’s feasible, maybe even put the money in handmade/hand finished cards?

      (I’m sewing little cards for everyone this year because I’m in a shockingly bad financial situation but want to still give some kind of gift. I know a stitched card isn’t as good as money or a proper gift)

    16. Umm Hmm*

      Please don’t give Visa gift cards. There is a charge for using them at each transaction that reduces the amount available to spend. They can be finicky at retail registers. Not every place accepts them as payment. Please give them cash in whatever way you usually pay them.

  3. Anon today*

    #1 Give the people money. If on top of that, you want to do something cute and creative, try a virtual cocktail making class with everyone, or a holiday themed book club call. It’s a stressful year and people need money. But you can do something fun too! Don’t let it steal your holiday spirit.

    1. Old Med Tech*

      Agree 100%.
      LW1 think of our current situation as war time. During WWII people made sacrifices and there were rations on various items. Queen Elizabeth made pretty much the same speech earlier this year as she did during the second WW as a princess. People need money. Give them what they want and probably desperately need. You will be a hero. If you do not listen to the employees you will make your husband and the company look tone deaf. Do not be tone deaf.

      1. Tabby*

        Exactly. I remember we did a secret santa type thing at work. I was a bit disappointed that I got a bath set (it was a very nice bath set, with lavender-scented everything; I /like/ this kinda thing for myself) instead of the mug I’d specifically listed as an item on on the ‘wish list’ thingy they made us do. The mug cost less than the bath set.

        Don’t be this person, OP #1. Give the people what they asked for, rather than something you feel is more personal, but is ultimately useless to the ones you’re intending to gift.

        1. Quill*

          Hey, at least you didn’t get a dollar store “desk zen garden” which was a terrible enough gift from the boss that it circulated (with nice add-ins) in the family santa swap for years.

          The year it got bundled with a popcorn popper it was particularly sought after.

          1. JustaTech*

            Ha, the zen garden was so popular folks would fight over who got it when the current keeper left the company. It was one of the very few office “decorations” that survived our remodel.

    2. Anax*

      For something useful and creative – there might be something which the company can do which would directly save/give employees money, but which the employees don’t have the power to set up themselves.

      For instance, my workplace once negotiated with public transit in our city – every bus ride was paid pre-tax, so we paid about $1.20 instead of $2. It was a better rate than we could get individually, and since so many of us rode the bus, it was quite useful.

      If you really want to do something IN ADDITION to money, maybe there’s room for improvement in your FSA, some sort of bulk discount on daycare, company discount on home office or distance learning equipment, better 401k matching, etc. Something which will affect a lot of employees, DIRECTLY give/save them money, and won’t require them to go out and expend a bunch of energy they may not have right now.

      But really, money’s where it’s at. Money matters, it’s still special.

    3. Youth*

      Yeah, my company has been using party budgets to send us all crafts this year. In April, Easter egg kits. In August, bird house kits. This month, caramel apple kits. It’s been super kind of them to send us at-home activities to counteract the major boredom we’ve experienced at time.

      Get them the Visa cards. If you want to make it a little more festive, go my company’s route and also send them the makings of a hot cocoa bar or a gingerbread house kit. You should be be able to buy and ship something like that for $20 or less.

    4. Sleepytime Tea*

      I love this idea! There’s lots of cool virtual events you could put on (Goat-2-Meeting anyone?) and then additionally, give people what is useful to them. Right now so many people are struggling financially, and they don’t want/need random gifts or things like that. They need to pay their rent and electric bills. Trust me, the gift of not having to worry and stress financially, even if you can only impact that a little bit, is a huge gift.

  4. Renee*

    #1 – why does it matter to you how people chose to spend their own money? You don’t get to dictate how people use gifts given to them. I feel like you might be over thinking this? It’s a gift.

    1. Still Here*

      #1 – If you do end up giving cash keep in mind it is probably a taxable benefit. So if you want employees to end up with $100 in their pocket you’ll need to give (e.g.) $120 to cover the taxes.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          One of our directors got in trouble for sending out $10 gift cards without clearance from HR. From the IRS website on de minimis and fringe benefits, emphasis mine: “Cash or cash equivalent items provided by the employer are never excludable from income. An exception applies for occasional meal money or transportation fare to allow an employee to work beyond normal hours. Gift certificates that are redeemable for general merchandise or have a cash equivalent value are not de minimis benefits and are taxable.”

          1. pbnj*

            That’s why my company will “true-up” the employee’s taxes in their paycheck if they got a gift card so the employee doesn’t have to worry about withholding taxes on a gift card, or they will give gift cards to stores/restaurants instead of a generic VISA.

        2. anon73*

          Not true. Any time I’ve gotten money from my company it’s taxed, and the most I’ve gotten is $500.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          I don’t think this is the case. We’re required to submit requests to distribute cash or cash equivalent gifts through HR to ensure they are treated appropriately for tax purposes. My understanding is that there is some sort of accounting/payroll wizardry that pays the taxes on any gift cards approved/issued.

    2. Airy*

      I think it’s like how people want to give things they picked out to charity rather than money – it feels impersonal and uncaring to them, like they didn’t try to think about what the recipient would enjoy, even if the charity would much rather have money so they can buy, say, whatever canned goods they’re short of than receive whatever assortment of canned goods donors choose to give them. It’s not a bad impulse, it’s based on nice feelings and (usually) good gift-giving etiquette, it just needs to be reconsidered in light of practicality. The etiquette that is good when you’re choosing a gift for someone with whom you have a close personal relationship doesn’t apply.

      1. RaccoonMama*

        One story my mom always tells is that when she was growing up one year (sometime in the 1960s) her family ended up on the “Angel Tree” list at church where people could buy presents for her and her siblings (she had 11 siblings). That year for Christmas the boys got fancy skateboards and I think they gave the girls really nice dresses or dolls or something (the skateboards always sticks out to me). Well my grandma ended up being more upset than anything else because while all the presents were nice, they were also super expensive and really fancier than kids needed. She felt if they had just given her the money they spent on those gifts she would have been able to get all her kids a nice present they would’ve liked just as much, plus been able to make a nicer Christmas dinner/pay some extra bills/etc. Plus she would have just preferred an anonymous gift of cash rather than the wealthy people in town making a big fuss about helping her and “all those kids”.

        1. Darsynia*

          My family has done ‘angel tree’ stuff my whole life. From what I understand, they give gifts specifically because they don’t want the parents to use the money for things that aren’t for the kids. Generally the worry of the organizers is that the kids are the ones often getting left out because the parents are spending their money on survival, which is totally reasonable. But if strangers can buy presents specifically for the kids (and IIRC the angel trees we’ve always done have a few personalized choices, individual to the kid the gift is going to), then they can have toys without the guilt that they’ve prevented their parents from buying food/paying the mortgage/etc.

          At the same time, I totally understand your grandmother’s frustration. I am grateful that the angel tree stuff we’ve done as a family now that we’re no longer struggling is more personalized because when I was a kid, we were quite poor and the recipient of some of those gifts–and they weren’t personalized. I was afraid of bikes, and someone gave us this amazing bike that I spent 6+ years feeling guilty about not being able to use. We tried a few times but I just couldn’t get myself to try to learn to ride it. We wanted to re-donate it but my parents were afraid of offending the organization who gifted it to us. It was 100% a wasted present.

          1. RaccoonMama*

            Yes the ones I’ve seen now have more individualization than what my mom talked about getting, which were not at all tailored to specific families.

          2. Artemesia*

            we did Angel Tree when our kids were growing up choosing kids their age who wanted bicycles; our kids helped pick out the bikes and also one or two additional small things for gifts. I always hoped the kids got to keep the bikes — I know some parents try to cash out the gifts.

          1. RaccoonMama*

            Well after that one year she specifically requested not to be on their donation list anymore, so then it wasn’t a concern.

          2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

            I wouldn’t be terribly grateful if someone overrode my wishes and held my family up as an example so that donors could feel better about themselves! Being poor doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to some dignity. (And I say this as someone who loves the “adopt a family” angel tree my own church does every year…I do my best to match the kids’ wishlists as precisely as possible but I wouldn’t be offended if I’d heard that I’d missed the mark.)

            1. Artemesia*

              it doesn’t sound like they missed the mark on the gifts just that the mother preferred money she could spend on necessities rather than toys for the kids.

          3. BuildMeUp*

            Oh, I really dislike this mentality. They shouldn’t have to be grateful for a present they don’t want. Asking for charity doesn’t mean you should give up your preferences, choices, and autonomy.

          4. Le Sigh*

            Alternately, how about realizing that while people can be appreciative of others’ help, needing assistance or being poor doesn’t mean they’re any less human or negate their very real, lived experiences, dignity, feelings, and thoughts?

            There is absolutely a mentality within charitable giving, as if everything’s a Hallmark movie and donors imagine themselves stewards of goodwill here to solve all of these grand problems. It often leads to assumptions about what a food bank really needs, or what a family on public assistance really needs, and people are expected to shut up and be grateful. It’s frankly, arrogant. These issues are far more complex than that, and they know their lives best, so rather than dismissing people for not being grateful enough, take a minute to absorb why someone on the receiving end of this might feel that way.

            1. Artemesia*

              My mother came from a big depression era family and one year after he father had been hospitalized in a car accident they were the needy family. She remembered the experience with shame her whole life and remembered in detail what was in the box. One of the reasons we did Angel Tree was that the family lists the specific things they want.

    3. pancakes*

      Some people who put on lavish holiday parties or dinners for employees, etc., seem more focused on casting themselves in the role of magnanimous local plutocrat than trying to assure everyone participating has a nice time.

    4. Brooks Brothers Stan*

      I found that a lot of the animus of the LW is based in that they want to feel like they’ve done something for their employees in an easily tangible way. The parties they’ve thrown before can mean a lot, not just to the employees but also for the people putting them on. They’re an event, something that is done, something specifically put together that goes above and beyond for the employees. Further, these events are great at forging bonds and providing a ‘story’ for the company over the year.

      Now, that can’t happen this year and the LW is searching for a way to replicate this feeling. I don’t see it coming from them wanting to control how people are spending their money, I see it as more they want to be able to do something that provides the same level of tangible (and intangible) benefits that the dinner provided. Gift cards, while a great idea, are coming off as highly impersonal to them.

      The fact is, the LW wants to do something where the person receiving the gift feels like they’ve been thought of in the specific. Sure, it’s led them to wonky and mildly problematic thinking, but to paraphrase a noted poet, “She a little confused, but she got the spirit.”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The parties they’ve thrown before can mean a lot, not just to the employees but also for the people putting them on.

        I don’t think it was your intention, but that made me think of the Surf & Turf that isn’t getting the business this year.

        1. pancakes*

          If it’s any consolation, The Palm is a chain, so it’s not a locally-owned business they’re avoiding this year.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            It’s not a consolation, unfortunately. Massey’s Pizza is a chain, but when the one near my then-job went out, those people were still unemployed and there was no similar pizza available for lunch. Lose/lose/lose all around.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I would actually disagree that a lot of these events mean a lot to the employees – I think, given the choice, most would take the money versus the party. Not all, but enough. It seems to be deeply important to some people – usually the people involved in a planning committee, but just as many people could not care less and don’t need it replicated in the absence of the ability to host the traditional shindig. (Plenty of letter to Alison describe holiday events fraught with financial cost and political minefields.)

        OP#1 knows what to do. The employees have stated what would be most meaningful to them. If this is truly supposed to be about showing appreciation for them, the best thing she could do is let go of her conception of what she would want and listen to what they do.

    5. Gray Lady*

      I think I understand her impulse, and it’s not trying to “control” people, though it does have that effect. There have been times when money was pretty tight when I actually appreciated a gift card that I couldn’t use on paper towels and toothpaste, but HAD to do or buy something more enjoyable with it. You’re giving people the means and permission to treat themselves, if you give them something that they can’t just use to pay bills.

      That said, for many people, actually being able to pay the bills that need to be paid IS more important than getting an extra treat they couldn’t otherwise have, because they don’t have the wiggle room at all or value the financial security more than they would any treat. And that is what the majority have requested, so that is what they should do.

      1. Penny*

        This is so accurate. The OP should respect their wishes, but I still understand the impulse to be disappointed that they aren’t doing anything fun with the money. The party is supposed to be fun so you would want the replacement to be fun too. I

      2. pamela voorhees*

        I just want to second this. From what I understand, it’s not precisely about control, but more imagining what the employee will spend the money on. A charity saying “please give us funds” doesn’t get as much as a charity saying “we will use these funds for X”, or even better “please give us X.” It’s basically just projecting.

        To put it another way, my aunt likes to give me cash – let’s say $100 – and then pointedly says that it should be used at a salon. That’s nice, I like salons fine, but the $100 will be quickly used up in an hour and last for maybe a month. I’d rather use the $100 to buy a video game, which I can play for 60 hours or more. But my aunt doesn’t know anything about video games, can’t project herself as enjoying that gift, and therefore dislikes me spending it that way. She wants me to be happy, and you want your employees to be happy! It’s a wonderful instinct! But she can’t picture it being used, or how she pictures it being used wouldn’t make her sad if the situations were reversed, and so she gets frustrated.

        If it helps you, when you give out the gift card, imagine them all spending it on having the exact same mini holiday party, but at home with their families — and then give everything out freely, and without restrictions. Don’t put in even gentle stipulations on how they’ll spend it, but just imagine them spending it on mini holiday parties. That might really help.

        1. pamela voorhees*

          How she pictures it being used *would* make her sad. I really need to do a better job of re-reading before I hit post. My apologies again.

  5. Anancy*

    #5 Check and make sure that any leave or benefits would still apply in your first 12 months in this position. I think FMLA would still kick in if it’s the same employer you’ve been employed with, but check before you need it. And yes, take the job!

    1. WS*

      +1, if you’re in Australia, for example, you need to have been with the one employer for a year before parental leave payments are available. I manage a business with a lot of female staff in the 20-40 age bracket, so there’s a lot of pregnancy leave. That’s just business, and it gives us opportunities to train new staff in the maternity leave position, especially as staff tend to go full time to part time before taking time off completely (and the reverse when they come back).

    2. Emma*

      Definitely – and there can be restrictions on the other end too: in the UK, when you come back from maternity leave you have to continue working for the same employer for a year – if you leave voluntarily before the year is up you may have to repay your maternity pay.

      So make sure you check the rules for both the new and the old position as part of making decision!

      1. TechWorker*

        I’m pretty sure this isn’t UK law – is it possible that’s your companies policy on any money they give you above statutory maternity pay? Statutory Maternity Pay you’re entitled to even if you resign at the end of your maternity leave.

        1. micklethwaite*

          Yes, I’ve a feeling companies might be able to do this with any additional maternity benefits they offer, but no one can take your statutory maternity pay off you. Not unless this $%*& government has commited way more evil than I realised since I had my babies.

      2. MK*

        Not true in the UK, at least not as a general rule. (My sister is currently pregnant the UK and wants to change jobs, she specifically researched this).

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      Question about the timing: if you need leave at, say, 11.75 months into a job (new employer) and it would otherwise be covered by FMLA, would a person be eligible for FMLA for that event if they use vacation for a week and are still employed when they hit 12 months? My understanding for a new child is yes, because FMLA can be taken at any time during the child’s first year with the family, but am not sure about other qualifying events and wanted to see if anyone had particular knowledge on this.

      1. Picard*

        FMLA is not paid – its essentially job protection so if you’re leaving the job, there would be no point in FMLA anyway.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          Something must not have been clear in my question- I didn’t ask about leaving a job. I asked about whether, if someone has a child 11.75 months into a job and wants to stay in the job, they will be eligible for FMLA for the new child event a week later.

          1. Frank Doyle*

            Your first post seemed to specifically ask about leaving a job and going to a new job.

            if you need leave at, say, 11.75 months into a job (new employer)

            Did you intend “leave” to mean “go out on maternity leave” rather than quitting that job? So you’re asking, if someone started work on November 1, 2019, and they have their baby October 25, 2020, can they use a week’s vacation to get to November 1 2020, and then use FMLA? (I don’t actually know the answer to your question, just trying to clarify it for someone who does know.) (I would guess that the answer is yes, but I don’t know for certain.)

            1. Pocket Mouse*

              That is correct- need (FMLA) leave, as in need some sort of leave available to take because of reasons. I’m well aware the other scenario makes no sense to ask about.

              Thanks to Just my 2 cents below for the answer!

          2. Just my 2 cents*

            Yes, as long as they were still considered an employee. For instance, if someone worked for an employer for 11 months, they had a baby, and the company provided them with a non-FMLA leave (paid, unpaid, etc. is irrelevant); they would be eligible for FMLA on the date that they hit 12 months of employment.

  6. LizardOfOdds*

    #4 – I suggest asking the recruiter or whoever is having the conversation with you about a start date. I learned the hard way that some companies (especially the big ones) are set up for people to start on a specific day of the week, and if you start on another day of the week that can create all sorts of weird issues.

    Example: I started at one company where everything from systems access to benefits setup was scheduled to automatically run on Mondays. The week I started, that Monday was a holiday and new hires started on Tuesday. It took 6 weeks to resolve the technical issues that were caused by our new logins “not flowing through the systems right” because we started on a Tuesday. When I told my recruiter about all the trouble he said, “yeah, I probably should’ve told you it was a bad idea to start on a day that wasn’t a Monday.” Insert head slap here.

    Anyway, I now ask if there’s a best day to start.

    1. Avasarala*

      Agreed. Check with the company–there may be a training or meeting or event that happens to be your first week and could be a good learning experience to attend.

      All things equivalent, I would prefer Wednesday or Thursday. The first day is usually mostly admin stuff, and then you only have a day or two of getting caught up at your desk. Plus it’s easy to go out that Friday after hours (in non-pandemic times) with everyone you just met. And then you have two full days to rest up–I find the first-impression-making and info-dumping very stressful and really appreciate the time to detox.

    2. Wehaf*

      Sometimes benefits are tied to when you start as well. At my company, benefits kick in on the first day of the month after you start. So if Monday is the 30th and Tuesday is the first, there’s a big financial benefit to starting on Monday.

      1. Carlie*

        The benefits part can be huge – in some states in the US, if you are moving from one state job to another but your last day in one position is Friday and your first day at the new is the following Monday, it counts as two days “unemployed” (Sat/Sun) and wreaks absolute havoc with health insurance and retirement. So transfers, promotions, etc. are timed to the middle of the week to avoid that glitch.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I worked somewhere like that–fortunately, the HR person was looking out for me, and got my boss to change the paperwork so I started on March 31 instead of April 1.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’ve often run into places wanting me to start at the beginning of a pay period. It wasn’t always set in stone, sometimes they would be flexible if I had something scheduled before taking the job, but it was definitely a strong preference

    4. Alexis Rose*

      Second this! Our pay cycle is weird, our pay “weeks” are Thursdays-Wednesdays in two week chunks, which anyone not working inside would NOT know. Best to ask for sure!

      1. Chadbert*

        My work starts people on the first day of the pay period, which is a Monday. Every once in a while, that Monday is a holiday and they won’t pay that holiday because the person didn’t technically start until Tuesday. But if the holiday is the second Monday of the pay period, there is no problem paying the holiday.

    5. Potatoes gonna potate*

      We always started our new remote workers on a Tuesday, Mondays were always very busy with meetings and other catching-up-over-the-weekend stuff. In-office staff would start whatever day they wanted, typically Mondays. I personally like the idea of starting on a Tuesday…..

    6. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. We try to start people on the first day of a new pay period whenever possible. It just makes things easier. That isn’t to say we don’t flex sometimes, but ask if there’s a standard.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      ^ This. Not gonna lie. I have done the happy dance over paying off more of my student loans, mortgage, etc.. Extra money straight up gives me joy

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        I am tragic enough that even finding money, and it doesn’t even have to be a huge amount, lifts my entire mood. I am not living in poverty, not even close, but the thrill of windfall money ”all mine” is definitely a thing!

        1. Darsynia*

          I will NEVER forget finding $50 in a chess set my parents had set aside in a box for probably my whole lifetime. I was like, 9 years old and my mom cried when I handed it to her.

    2. designbot*

      Yeah, not having money to pay the bills whilst going out for a fancy dinner (or having a fancy dinner in, in this case) is not special and festive! It’s actually really really depressing. If people use it to pay their bills, that’s what they needed and the best thing you could provide. The notion of specialness is to satisfy your own expectations, not their wants or needs, and I’d encourage you to let that go.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        Was it just me or did OP seem more put put about this than she perhaps should have? If she hadn’t mentioned going to The Palms for surf and turf, I might not think it, but that alone gave me a ‘those ingrates don’t appreciate all she has done for them’ kind of vibe. I could be reading far too much into it and, OP, if that’s the case, I apologize. But yea.. give them the money. Maybe your employees are well paid but their partner got laid off this year.

    3. Youth*

      It depends on who you are! I don’t like receiving money as gifts at all. It makes me feel like the person couldn’t be bothered to figure out what I’d like.

      Of course, in this situation, the employees specifically requested money.

      1. Bookartist*

        Of course, this is within a business context only. In real life, and personal life, I completely understand; although I have not been miffed when long lost relatives have dropped 50 bucks and a birthday card, I must admit.

  7. nnn*

    #1: If the employees end up using the gift for regular bills, that means that regular bills are a stressor in their lives. This would mean that, in these unprecedented pandemic times, you’re giving them the extraordinarily kind and generous gift of removing a stressor from their lives. It will be a weight off their shoulders, they’ll be able to breathe easier and get a better night’s sleep.

    1. Catherine*

      This! If it’s used for regular bills, that means they needed it for that. Would OP #1 rather send her employees a wine and cheese box to eat in the dark after they can’t pay the electric company?

    2. Avasarala*

      So true. I encourage OP to think about their goals of this gift and how exactly the “problems” identified are impeding those goals. The goals are to make employees happy, and presumably reward and recognize them for their hard work for the company, and foster camaraderie. You have the camaraderie with the Zoom call; the employees have told you that what would make them feel happy and rewarded is money. So who are you to tell them otherwise? It’s not what you would pick, but the gift is not for you.

      I agree that it would look very bad if the employees took the time to fill out and collect a survey on what they wanted, and then were overruled for something else by the boss’s wife because she thinks they should want something else… picture that from the employees’ perspective and it sounds very demoralizing!

    3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Beautifully phrased, and 100% true. We never know what stressors others have in their lives and, if we’re lucky enough to be comfortably off, should never assume that everyone else is as well.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      Came here to say this; logically if they do end up using that money for bills, it therefore frees up other money somewhere down the line that will eventually be used for something fun, so really you’re just providing a delayed treat for them while also enabling them to fund their lives right now.

    5. micklethwaite*

      Yes! An extra bit of cash in my particular pocket would go straight to clearing debt, and my shoulders would have that much less weight on them, and Christmas would be that much happier. Really really.

    6. with a comma after dearest*

      I would also add, LW may also be thinking, “These people are employed at their existing jobs and salaries, and our company is doing well. So they are unaffected by extreme financial need due to COVID and should want to splurge as always.”

      The problem is, you don’t know that. They may have a spouse who was laid off or lost their business. They may have expenses relating to the COVID illness and recuperation of a loved one. They may have extra childcare costs now that schools are closed. Or they may just be extra frugal and want to save money in case prices of necessities skyrocket. There are just so many maybes based on how this year and this virus have thrown everything off.

      It’s easy to assume they are untouched by financial pressures because their jobs are and have been great. Which is wonderful! But there are so many other ways they could be feeling the pressure. I’d go with the gift cards.

      1. Ali G*

        Yes!! The OP is in a position where she doesn’t feel that extra money is “fun” or worthy of a holiday, where you are supposed to get gifts, etc. That’s great for her. But I guarantee there are people that work for her husband who absolutely would see extra money as the BEST EVER. And even if they aren’t financially strapped, the emotional labor that goes along with getting a gift that requires something of you (a gift card to a chain restaurant, a meal to cook at home), is also not something you wan to be putting on people right now.
        OP, your people want money, you have money, given them money!!!

      2. RaccoonMama*

        Don’t forget about student/medical debt, in the US even people with well-paid jobs can have a significant amount of debt.

    7. Spicy Tuna*

      Totally! I am not a “gift” person; I hate getting them. For years, my mother would send me truly awful birthday gifts because I would never give her feedback about what I wanted (because I didn’t want anything!). One year she gave up and sent me a check. When she asked if I treated myself to something nice, I said I used it on bills. At first she was annoyed, but I explained I just had expensive dental work and it was nice to use the birthday check towards that. She finally stopped sending me gifts after that!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My husband’s family and mine have very different cultures around gift-giving. Mine is very direct and list-based; his is not, which results in a lot of clothing items no one will wear and lots of exchanges, returns, and donations. (My MIL, who is delightful and not at all passive-aggressive keeps buying me clothing a size or two beyond my peak weight and in styles popular with the generation ahead of mine. I’ve worn one thing she bought me over the past 15 years – an comfy oversized sweater that I suspect someone else picked out.) It took me a decade to get a wish list out of my spouse so I was buying the right car part for his hobby vehicle, technology gadget, or a book he hadn’t already read. I would always rather give someone something they need or really want rather than what I think they should have.

    8. doreen*

      I’m not saying that the OP shouldn’t give cash – she should. But not because if they use it on bills it means that bills are a stressor in their lives – it’s because that’s how they answered the survey and it’s unlikely that she knows any particular person’s preference. I don’t have any problems paying bills and would actually prefer getting a gift card that allowed me to splurge , but my boss has no way of knowing that.

    9. tangerineRose*

      Yes! What nnn said! If people pay regular bills with the money, that’s fine. I feel like the LW must have always been well off if she doesn’t understand this.

  8. Artemesia*

    #5. Some things are more important than others — having a child you want is one of them. And you don’t know how easy it will be. It took us a couple of years to get our first started and one evening for the second. Organizations usually cope; my daughter was pregnant when she started her last job and she has had great success and promotions there sense. In 5 years you will probably look back and regardless of where you are with the job, see this as a fairly trivial moment compared to your amazing kid.

    1. Percysowner*

      This. I got pregnant at the drop of a hat, then had 4 miscarriages before I had my child. My daughter tried for close to a year before she got pregnant, but had zero problems after that. Wanting to start a family doesn’t mean it will happen the first time out. It can happen immediately, but not always. If you get pregnant right after starting the job, you will have been there 9 months before you take leave. If it takes 3-4 months, then you will be past the one year mark and it won’t be a big deal.

      Good luck and don’t put having a kid on the back burner to not inconvenience people. They will live and cope with handling work with you off for a while.

      1. KateM*

        Even if OP does think they will get pregnant at the drop of the hat, well, even then they’d just need to put having a kid on back burner for three months. Perfect time to start going alcohol-free (both spouses), start taking prenatal vitamins, etc.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Excellent point! Also to research OBs or midwives in her area, birthing classes, and get other details ironed out.

        2. Caroline Bowman*

          I get the point, maybe take a month or two before starting to try, but the instructions on what you should and shouldn’t be doing To Do Gestation Correctly By Law seem a bit much. Obviously these kick in once you are pregnant, where people feel free to dish out lectures on the Evils of Coffee and Wow You’re Really Big, Have *They* Checked for GD, but before a person is even pregnant seems like a step too far.

          1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

            When I was hugely pregnant ten years ago, a stranger in Starbucks said to me “Wow, I hope that’s decaf!” I said “Wow, I hope you’re as familiar with the current ACOG* guidelines about caffeine as I am!”

            *American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Which of course meant nothing to nosy stranger but I hope conveyed I knew more about my pregnancy than she did.

          2. Artemesia*

            I agree that strangers shouldn’t be telling people, pregnant or trying how to live their lives BUT that was all good advice. Some of the most devastating birth defects are caused by something as simple as lack of a vitamin that taking vitamins for the month before you conceive would prevent. The damage occurs so early that following doctors advice once pregnant is too late.

            1. anonarama*

              yeah which is why, at least in the US, many many consumer foods are fortified with folic acid so its actually not much of a problem and we can just continue to let women of reproductive age live their lives.

      2. Blackcat*

        Yep. I got pregnant easily and had a smooth pregnancy with my son. I still *get pregnant* easily, but I haven’t carried another pregnancy past 16 weeks. We had hoped for a 2.5-3 year age gap in part for my career, and if I were to get pregnant again right now, we’d be looking at 4.5 years (we have stopped trying for now).

      3. Observer*

        don’t put having a kid on the back burner to not inconvenience people. They will live and cope with handling work with you off for a while.

        Words to live by!

    2. Anon for this*

      Three years ago, boss suggested that I start positioning myself for a big promotion that typically takes years to achieve. Meanwhile, I was trying for a baby. I was hesitant to start working toward the promotion, thinking I would soon be on maternity leave. Fast forward to now: still no baby, and I’m near the finish line for that promotion. I don’t know if or when the baby will happen, but I’m glad I didn’t put my career on hold.

      1. Kim D.*

        I hope you will achieve both goals sooner rather than later. Sending you lots of positieve vibes and love, one internet stranger to another.

    3. aebhel*

      Yep, this. I was pregnant when I got my current job, and it was fine; there’s a year-long probationary period for my position and they ended up pushing the end of it back because I was out on maternity leave, but otherwise it was a non-issue. I had two kids in the first five years I worked here; it was not a problem at all. I know there are some companies and industries where it would be, but it’s just as likely to be fine.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      True. 2 of my friends were in their 40s and assumed it was going to take some time to get pregnant. Both got pregnant less than a week after starting to try. 3 other friends in their 20s-early 30s took 6 months-2 years for a successful birth. We can plan all we like, but biology will do what it is gonna do

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Document everything you do during maternity to the 9’s. Even if you can’t physically be in the office, you can be invaluable–and everyone will want back the woman who made life easier for those in her absence.

    6. JB*

      #5 Please don’t put the new job on hold waiting for a potential pregnancy, you never know what can happen or how long it will take. We’re on about 2 years of trying with a miscarriage and a molar pregnancy and are still dealing with complications. It will probably be closer to 2.5 years by the time we can even try again and I definitely thought we would have a baby by now.

    7. Momma Bear*

      ABSOLUTELY don’t hold off on a job because you are trying for a kid. You don’t know how long it will take. If you make sure you have a plan for your leave and come back and do well, then it shouldn’t hamper you much at a good organization. Former company had an HR person who had several kids close together. When I left I think she was on #4. She must have kept doing a great job because it was never an issue and she was promoted to the head of the department a few years ago. Don’t let a job define your family size or life plans.

    8. CanuckGal*

      Yup! This was me – I left a job of nearly 8 years and started brand new somewhere else with all the same concerns and stresses about starting a family in the immediate future (I think we were actively trying).

      It took us 1.5 years!

      We had fertility issues so eventually ended up doing IVF. I left my previous job because I needed work/life balance and much less work-related stress, and I am SO glad I did that. I would not have been able to keep up with fertility appointments at my previous job, and I suspect that would have impacted how successful we were with the entire process!

    9. TheLayeredOne*

      Echoing everyone else saying take the job and don’t wait more than a few months to start trying, if it’s just on account of the new job. Of course, be prepared for the possibility that you *will* get pregnant right away, but know that it’s just as likely you won’t. Last year, I put off TTC because I had just started a new job, and since my first pregnancy happened super quickly, I assumed it would be like that again. Nope! It took the better part of a year to conceive. You really just never know.

      1. Rosalind Montague*

        I found out I was pregnant 3 days after interviewing for a job I desperately wanted. I took leave about 6 months into the job, came back, and then stayed another 16 years! It happens in lots of ways. The timing rarely shakes out according to plan and to make everyone happy.

  9. She of Too Many Pets (maybe)*

    1
    I would always, always prefer to get money that I can do something *I* want to do with it. That’s much more ‘special’ than an obligatory evening with coworkers (no matter how much I like them) during an already crammed & stressful part of the year where I have to find clothes, pay for a sitter, etc.

    1. Jen*

      Yes! Thank you! Holiday parties are just obligatory work functions, after hours, and no matter if I like my coworkers, I don’t want to spend Friday night with them after seeing them for 40 hours a week already. I always just say, “put it in my paycheck”.

    2. TechWorker*

      In coronavirus times I agree with Alison’s advice, in non-Coronavirus times, I think it’s totally reasonable for companies to choose to spend money on holiday parties rather than bonuses.

      Obviously there is a limit and it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive party if you can’t afford to pay properly – but if you *can* pay properly I think the parties are reasonable. People who say ‘I don’t want to come can I take money instead’ as has happened a couple of times at my workplace reasonably don’t get the money :p

      That’s not because the company thinks the party is such a good gift no-one should get anything else, it’s because 50% of it is a ‘reward’ (free food + drinks at a nice venue) and 50% of it is about creating a good team atmosphere. Ditto how if the company does a social event on company time people who don’t want to go don’t automatically get that time off for free.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Exactly. The party serves dual purposes of thanking the employees and building camadarie. But a gift basket would do nothing for the latter, so there’s no advantage to it if it’s not what the employees prefer.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, this is it exactly. It can be done well so that most if not all who come have a good time and talk about it afterwards in a good way. Or it can go horribly wrong, if the sense of camaraderie at work is non-existent and people drink too much and spoil the fun for others.

        I definitely prefer downtown venues with easy access to public transit (ours is safe even at night) and where I can leave when I want to. The most painful one I’ve attended was held on a cruise ship (6 hour cruise) and the worst part was that I couldn’t get away when I was all peopled out. When I got home, I decided that for as long as the cruise ship Christmas parties continue, I’m not even going to consider attending. The biggest issue here is that they’re cheap per person in comparison to a 3-course dinner and show, and because the ticket is all-inclusive, people get to drink more than they usually would. Otherwise my employer usually only pays for one aperitif even when they pay for the dinner and show. But this type of party hasn’t really increased camaraderie at work, because it’s always the same people who attend and more than half who don’t. That said, this year the cruise is out of the question.

        I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea to make company celebrations mandatory, especially when they’re held outside normal working hours, but if they’re organized in a way that makes a lot of employees decide that they don’t want to attend, I think the parties should just stop.

      3. iliketoknit*

        I think it’s perfectly reasonable (in non-coronavirus times) for a company to spend the money on a social event rather than bonuses, and I agree that if a company does that, it’s not cool for the employee to say “I don’t want to go, can I have the money instead.” It’s totally fine to wish you could just get the money in your paycheck! but it makes sense that’s not what happens and not to expect that. But I can also just about guarantee that there are people every year who don’t enjoy mandatory socializing after hours and who don’t want to go to a holiday party, no matter how lovely it is (and I’m sure it is!), who will be relieved it’s not happening this year. I’m not saying those people should determine whether there is a party in an ordinary year, but it will be nice that they will get something they particularly value this year.

      4. anon73*

        I would never ask for money instead of attending a holiday party, but I also hate forced socialization. Not everyone enjoys schmoozing with the rest of the company, especially during a particularly busy and stress filled time of year (outside of pandemic times).

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        As someone who hasn’t attended the lovely holiday parties my organization throws in over a decade, I agree with this. You can’t replicate the party experience in someone’s home, and, in current times, the money will go further and produce more happiness than a fancy gift basket.

    3. NYWeasel*

      Yeah, I feel like OP#1 may be conflating the pleasure she gets from organizing a successful social event with how the employees feel about the evening. I’ve had a few pleasurable holiday team dinners (ie 10-15 coworkers, no spouses), but I’ve never had a fancy company holiday party that didn’t feel like a chore to some extent. That said, if the owners had asked me about the parties, I’d express gratitude bc I recognize the kind intentions behind these gatherings. But there’s no world, pandemic or not, where I’d prefer having the dinner vs. getting an equivalent amount of $ that I could use on myself.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I work for the government, so our company events are always employees only. At a former workplace, they had a +1 party that was weirdly specific in that you could only bring your legal spouse or someone you were living with. I was single at the time, and I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have a partner to bring who felt like we were treated as less-than.

      2. anon73*

        This 100%. At my last company, each department would have their own party. My department had about 100 people in it, and I enjoyed hanging out with a large majority of them. Then they changed it to a full company event at a local Dave and Busters. I went the first year, and then found a way to get out of it the following years. It certainly wasn’t fancy, but I hate forced socialization with people I don’t know.

      3. Alica*

        Working for a small company, our holiday party is a three course meal at the local pub with spouses invited (and any random people my boss feels like inviting). It is a lovely evening, but I’d much rather not have to do it! I like my colleagues, but my time is mine.

        Obviously we’ve escaped it this year, but my boss randomly does work events – the problem is they’re all based on things he enjoys. And he also thinks we’ll enjoy them. He would be horrified if he knew how much we all grumble when one comes up. I know I’ll semi enjoy it and it won’t be a horrible time, but there are things I’d much rather be doing. It’s worth going to most just to make him happy, but I will be “busy” every so often!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Parties tend to be a command performance. Don the dressy expensive clothes that I do not have, don my workplace persona even though I am exhausted from my work day, drive 50 miles each way… in the dark… in the snow….and exhausted…. what’s not to love????

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is how I feel about them, but there are plenty of my coworkers who enjoy the event, love an opportunity to dress up, and appreciate the opportunity to socialize with their coworkers and plus-ones. It’s a nice event, even if it’s not to my personal liking, and there is no penalty for my not attending. I’m not going to begrudge someone else their nice evening, if they don’t penalize me for preferring to spend mine with my family.

    5. MicroManagered*

      THIS!

      As I read the letter, I wondered if perhaps the employees secretly wished they could have more money instead of a lavish surf n’ turf party all along (because I would.)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – I’m the person who would be “sick” every surf and turf event. I’m extremely allergic to ALL seafood (not shellfish, all seafood including fish). I would be very not happy to have to go to some fancy event where at best I get to sip water/ginger ale and hope they have pre-packaged saltines….

        Sigh, I’ve been to far too many of these events, and been asked far too many times why I’m not eating/drinking anything alcoholic and looking miserable. Now if it’s at all possible I stall as best as I can on turning in my RSVP or forget to turn it in – and then call off sick the day of the event. When I have no choice, I stay for as short a time as possible.

  10. just a thought*

    1: One thing with venue-specific gift cards is that it’s often hard to spend exactly the amount of money on the gift card and no more, so that you’re either not getting the full value of the gift, or you’re paying more out of pocket for the gift. Even if it’s for something like a set meal for $x, there may be taxes and a tip I need to pay out of pocket. So it’s a really nice thought, but using it might mean I spend money that I didn’t want to.

    Some of the best gift cards I’ve gotten as presents in the past were for large grocery store chains (can be used for fun things, like wine and cheese, or for regular grocery shopping) and gas cards for a nation-wide chain. They aren’t exciting on the surface, but if I can use $50 from a gift card for gas one week, then I have $50 extra for something later, like bills, savings, wine, etc. These giftcards are also great because I can use the entire value of it. $2 left on a grocery card? Great, I’ll buy a candy bar, or buy a $12 bottle of wine instead of a $10 bottle.

    1. Jem One*

      You’ve just reminded me of a gift I received a few years ago from my boss at the time! Another employee had quit unexpectedly and it took three months to hire their replacement. Until the new person was brought on board, I covered their role as well as mine – it was an incredibly stressful time. At the end the owner said she wanted to do something special to say thank you and gave me a £50 gift card for a local massage therapist – which was really nice, except that the cheapest treatment was £70. I still haven’t used the gift card!

      1. Batty Twerp*

        Hubby Twerp and I do seem to consistently get slightly… naf gift cards from our employers. Hubby got one for an experience day of his choosing, to be taken in the next 3 months when there was a freeze on taking vacation days (weekends experiences weren’t an option for reasons that escape my memory – possible travel distance involved). He ended up refitting it to his uncle who had a lovely time!
        I got one of those gift cards that covers multiple retailers, including about 8 that had gone into administration by the time I got the card. I was told by my boss at the time “make sure you buy yourself something nice”, when I hinted that it would likely be used towards Christmas. In the end we stocked up both mine and my parents freezers by spending it at a wholesale food outlet. Because it was what we needed to do at the time (this was last November – our unexpected prudence got us through the first months of Lockdown! I guess that was something nice after all!)

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Ugh, this. If you’re giving gift cards to a retailer or something similar, look at their prices first! I once got a $10 gift card to a retailer whose absolute cheapest item on the entire website was a $15 pot of lipgloss.

        1. Web Crawler*

          That reminds me of the time my grandma gave me a $5 giftcard to a fancy computer store for my birthday.

          I think the candy next to the checkout was the only thing I could get with it.

      3. ThatGirl*

        A few years ago I won a drawing at work and got a Four Seasons Resort gift card. It was pretty generous – I think $275? Except one night at the Four Seasons in Chicago is more than $275! I ended up using it at the spa, but even there it didn’t cover a ton.

        (Personally I would happily use any amount given to me toward a massage, but I do feel like someone specifically trying to gift you a massage should at least cover the amount of a treatment.)

      4. asgard*

        I don’t know… I’d see it was being able to get a £70 massage for £20! still a win, imo. Granted, if you don’t want a massage, or if you don’t have £20 to spare then that’s that. I just think it’s still a gift since you can get an expensive thing for a lot cheaper. Heck you could even regift it.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      When I was a kid, dad’s saying was “green matches everything.” Your employees told you what they need&want. If you ignore that, you’re spending company money on YOUR morale not your employees’ morale.
      Do give preference to groceries with multiple locations if you go the store certificate route. Years ago my husband’s company gave gift certificates to a fancy local grocery store located right near the boss’s house. That was far enough from ours on the opposite side of the office from our house that we had no idea where it was.

  11. Annie*

    #1 – Be sure to check with your CPA on how to properly handle and report payroll taxes any with gift cards. They are generally taxable to the employee, whereas office parties aren’t (in the U.S.).

    1. The Spinning Arrow*

      This is what my org is currently running into. We’d love nothing more than to just send everybody a gift card instead of trying to work out other gift logistics in a pandemic, but from what I’ve been told the staff would be taxed on them so we can’t do that. It’s so annoying that we can’t just say “gift card/bonus for everyone!” and be done.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        You can, you just need to budget in some extra money to cover the taxes on it for them, if you want it to be a true gift. And I don’t know anyone who said no to a bonus because it was taxed. I usually get somewhere on the order of 55-65% of my actual bonus amounts after taxes, but it’s still extra money I didn’t expect to receive.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. My old company gave me a $25 gift card just because. And I paid taxes on that card. Granted it was not much in taxes but it’s important to remember that a small gift gets even smaller after the employee receives it.

    3. HB*

      The issue is whether the company wants to deduct it or not.

      Gifts aren’t taxable income (depends on intent*). But a company can only deduct up to $25 per individual for a business gift (which is actually generous! Basic principle of income tax is if something isn’t income to someone else, it’s not a deduction to you). So in order to take the full deduction, the company reclassifies it as compensation. Bam, company gets to write it off, but now it’s subject to FICA and withholding.

      *If a company were regularly “gifting” the employees significant amounts, and not trying to deduct it (moving the expense to non-deductible expense, or distributions if an S Corp), then the IRS would probably start to question whether it was really a gift or compensation disguised as a gift.

    4. MicroManagered*

      If the company is purchasing the gift card, it’s 100% taxable to the employee, no matter the amount.

    5. another anon*

      I came here to say similar. I work for a large non-profit healthcare org. If I give my teams Visa gift cards, they will be taxed on them and the blowback I’ve gotten from the teams on this was really bad. If the gift cards are to a specific place (the movies, etc) they are viewed as a “gift in kind” or something and not taxed. So I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

      For everyone saying to “give cash”, do you mean that even if it will be taxed like income? My teams really seemed to be bothered by the tax thing but maybe that’s just them…..

      1. Say It Ain't So*

        YES. The first year I was with my current employer, we got gift cards and people were LIVID when they realized they were taxed on it. Some people were so mad over being taxed on it that they refused the gift card (which made no sense to me, since we still got extra money and the ire seemed misplaced – the company’s only doing what the IRS requires). The company has since switched to a series of in-kind gifts, movie theater vouchers, passes to local holiday attractions, etc.

    6. kittymommy*

      This occurred to me as well. While I don’t think the LW considered this in her desire to give an actual gift to the employees, it is something to keep in mind.

  12. Analyst Editor*

    LW5, go ahead and take the job, and try for kids.
    I got pregnant a few months into a new job I started, where I was the only one doing that job. I just made it to qualify for FMLA with my due date.
    I think most people will be supportive, and if not, then the likelihood is that it wasn’t that great a job, so not as big a loss as it seems now.

  13. Tex*

    OP1 – How about a gift card alongside a present of gourmet cookies or a decorative token … maybe something 2020ish to remind them of the weird times you made it through as a company.

  14. EPLawyer*

    LW 1 – you seem really focused on what you think is fun. but this isn’t for you. It’s to reward the employees for their hard work all year. They have told you loud and clear through several tries that they want MONEY as their reward. Listen to them. You want the employees to stick around. Listening to them is going to go a lot further towards that goal then forcing something on them because its what you want. Having happy employees will make the company better in the long run, which will benefit the owners — of which your husband is one.

    1. Mid*

      This is an excellent point! If you want to make things fun, add a cute token with the gift card or something.

      1. Cabbagepants*

        A cute token whose purchase price is not subtracted from the bonus amount. Because really, the token is for you, not the employee, so don’t make the employee pay for it.

    2. Helen J*

      EPLawyer is spot on. You asked and they said money /gift card. This is not about you and your fun- maybe some of them need money to upgrade their internet service or put it towards a better computer for their child who is doing virtual learning.

      If you are so invested in what you consider special and fun, do that with your own circle of family and friends. Many workers are still struggling and cash is what they need .

  15. Scc@rlettNZ*

    OP1 – the staff have clearly stated that their preference is for cash. Why do you get to overrule that just because you think it won’t be ‘fun’? Give them what they want – if their preferences aren’t going to be listened to, then why bother asking in the first place.

  16. SC Mill*

    OP#1: Give money. A loaded Visa or MasterCard that can be used anywhere is the most thoughtful format. Make sure the taxes are covered.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I hate those…first time I got one I saved it to use as vacation mad money, and a stinking monthly service charge had been applied every month so I lost a lot of it.

      1. random thoughts*

        Knowing those things need have monthly fees, use them up as fast as possible and save the same amount (bank or cash) to splurge with later.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. I use them on groceries because that is an easy way to use them quickly. I can then set the equivalent aside and take my time figuring out where I want to use it. But I unload general purpose gift cards as quickly as possible.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          I don’t think the card issuers are allowed to charge fees any more. I’ve been told that it’s now illegal. A couple of years ago, I used a stack of loaded VISA cards for a major purchase, and only the one that was really old (like 5 or 6 years old) had gone down in value do to fees.

      2. SpellingBee*

        Some have fees, and some don’t; you do need to check the fine print when you get it. For those that have fees, I have 2 similar solutions:

        I’ll buy (yet another) gift card for my local grocery store for an equal amount. That way I also don’t end up with the problem of a tiny amount left on the card that I can’t use, because frequently with the prepaid Visa cards or the like, at some retailers you have to use the exact amount and can’t split the payment, or if you can it’s a real hassle. My grocery store cards don’t have fees and I can use up the last penny of it with no problem.

        If I don’t want to do that, I’ll buy myself an Amazon gift card and load it into my account, where it will sit quietly until I want to use it. That only works if you have an Amazon account, of course, but it can be a good way to handle it.

    2. Minnie Mouse*

      Those gift cards are obnoxious. The fees are insane and you can’t exceed the balance at most places and use a separate payment method.

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Just increase their bonus and skip the gift cards. This covers the tax aspect and ensures that all additional $$ go to the employee – not on shipping, monthly fees, or other logistics.
      And the personalized cards, suggested above, would be a perfect complement to the additional cash.

      1. pbnj*

        +1, so much simpler. Or perhaps send it as a separate bonus check, so they can clearly see it. It also saves on activation fees for the cards, so you can use that money for the personalized cards or small gift trinkets. I personally would be delighted to have my holiday bonus autodeposited to my bank account so I don’t have to worry about not losing my gift card.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            (3) It is still extra money, even after taxes.

            I keep maybe 55-65% of my bonuses, post-tax, until tax refunds come around. I will still take the extra cash for my furnace replacement fund, a nice take-out splurge, or the emergency vet bill for the cat with zero sense of what is/is not food.

          2. Littorally*

            +1

            Bonus is bonus. Sure, it’s taxed, like everything else, but I still have more money than I did before.

      2. HMM*

        I agree with you in theory, but honestly, employees won’t actually recognize it as a gift if it gets added to their bonus. They’ll just see “higher bonus” and then expect that higher amount next year and also ask “where’s my gift?”. I know it seems silly, but everytime I’ve tried to do something like this at my org, psychologically it doesn’t have the impact that employees feel like a “true gift” should have. Plus, with gift cards needing to be taxed like the thread above mentioned, it really drives home that this is compensation as opposed to a generous gift.

        Maybe it’s just my org and particular brand of people though.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          No, this is a very valid concern and common experience. I would actually do these as two bonuses – one as the regular, end-of-year bonus (that is based on whatever the normal performance metrics are) and a second special bonus that is clearly noted as a do-it-yourself-holiday-party bonus. Put in a nice note that says that, while you’ll miss celebrating with them this year, this special, one-time bonus is to let them celebrate in whatever way they see fit and will hopefully see them at the holiday party in 2021.

  17. BonzaSonza*

    OP #5 – I had a similar dilemma >10 years ago and now have the ability to share my own hindsight:

    Don’t wait. You don’t know what the future will bring, and you parenthood and career goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

    I was 25 when we first started trying for a baby. Things didn’t quite go to plan and we didn’t have our first baby until I was 29. Surprise baby #2 followed barely 13 months later. I ended up taking 2 years of maternity leave, and my employer paid my parental leave entitlements for both (6 months at half pay). I am so glad I didn’t let any career opportunities pass me by while we were actively trying.
    Baby #3 came in my mid-30s, and I was back to work after barely 3 months. My workplace had to provide private rooms for me to express, but we made it work. My husband became the at-home parent for 2 years before returning to work himself. He absolutely loved it, and I think it’s made him a better father and husband (he was already great, but there’s nothing like experiencing first-hand just how hard it is to be the at-home parent).

    Taking time off has not hurt either of our career developments, though I appreciate that the situation now may be totally different. Also, you shouldn’t assume that you’ll be taking all the childrearing burden. If that’s what the both of you decide is best for your family that’s great, but make sure it’s something that you’ve actively discussed.

    The final thing I wanted to note is that it’s so easy to lose your own identity when you become a mother. I felt like my body, mind and energy were not my own, and my work was the one place where my identity was “BonzaSonza”, not “bub’s mum”. I valued being able to have adult conversations and small achievements. Don’t make any binding decisions about what you do after kids until you’re actually there, because you might find your priorities shifting.

    All the best

    1. 11 weeks pregnant - and yes I know I'll be more tired when the baby comes than I am now, thanks :\*

      Removed this and the derailing thread that followed with personal sniping. Please don’t be combative with other commenters here. – Alison

    2. anonforthis*

      Bonza Sonza, thank you for sharing this sage piece of advice, and for being so open about your journey and emotions.

      I am a nonprofit CEO and had my first two years into my first CEO role (four years after we started trying). My second came 22mos later. I took 12 weeks leave for both kids, and nursed for a full year for each. It’s true some people look down on women taking leave in any job – but don’t let them stop you. I say take the job, and start your family if that is what you want to do. You’ll figure out what makes sense after your kids are born. Good luck!

      And BonzaSonza, I didn’t read your comment as projecting at all.

    3. Paperwhite*

      The final thing I wanted to note is that it’s so easy to lose your own identity when you become a mother.

      FWIW, I’m really glad you mentioned this because I’ve seen this happen to so many of my friends. I make a point to try to counteract it, especially in their first few months.

    4. Code Monkey the SQL*

      Yes, absolutely, all of this.

      Bet on NOTHING with pregnancy/kids. (I know, that’s super vague, but hear me out)

      Some pregnancies happen quickly, some take years, some result in one kid, or multiples, or a miscarriage. Some pregnancies are a mess of HG confusing BP and aches and exhaustion and some of them are the sunlight filtered photos in a field of daisies with your hair floating in the breeze. Sometimes, you have both within the same pregnancy!

      Some babies are adorable little unicorns that you could wear to work and nobody would even know, some of them hate nursing, or sleep, or have medical needs that make work very complicated indeed.

      Make your decisions based on what’s best for you now, and secondarily, what you think will set you up best down the road. And I echo BonzaSonza here that having a Work Identity can be very helpful when parenting gets difficult, because it allows you a place to reframe kid struggles and not let them be your whole day (and vice versa! There have been days when my son’s “Dank u mommy!” has me feeling like a good mom and helped me through a tough workday)

  18. Reluctant Manager*

    I’m a sympathetic to LW 1’s perspective–giving money after money can seem like the marginal benefit is less, plus giving straight cash takes away the benefit to the company that comes from a group shared experience. In any other year, I might also be concerned about precedent of people expecting another chunk of cash. However, this is a year when we’re all focused on the home front and we all have exceptional needs, so all those other concerns are overshadowed by the whole 2020ness of it all.

    1. allathian*

      Maybe it’s just my general misanthropy that’s showing, but I also think that employers overestimate the benefits of shared experiences. For many people it’s just another work assignment that they’re expected to perform, and few feel free to state in any feedback surveys that they wish the company never organized another such event again. Most would, if given the option, probably prefer to get the equivalent in cash. Obviously, some employees absolutely love company events, but I bet many people say they loved an event because it’s politic to do so, even if they only attended out of a sense of obligation.

    2. anon73*

      I’d love to conduct a study to see how many people truly enjoy those parties, because based on what I’ve read over the years, many people hate them (me included). I’m okay with a small group gathering, but when it involves the entire company, no thanks. Schmoozing with people I couldn’t give 2 shits about, during a time of year that is already super busy & stressful is my own personal nightmare. These big fancy parties are usually done so that the big wigs can show off and feel generous and I seriously doubt than many of those below management level have fun.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        Agreed totally. In normal times, going to a bar with my group for a few hours? Usually genuinely fun. Going to a bar with the whole department? An exercise in being “on”.

  19. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – if your goal is to show appreciation for your staff, give them what they value. This year, that’s cash. Trust me, they’ll look back on this year and think, “the management really got it and listened to us”. Doing this will build loyalty and goodwill.

    On the flip side, not listening to the staff after you’ve asked their opinion is going to generate feelings that the management is out of touch or oblivious to the staff’s needs.

    Worse, giving a “luxury” gift that the staff don’t want or need is going to generate annoyance, if not some resentment. Employees will think that they could have better used the money on some requirement (like bills or gifts for the kids, or whatever). And they’re going to think that every time they look at the luxury gift.

    In a year that has no doubt seen many of your employees’ families’ incomes slashed (even if they are working, often their spouse isn’t), and when everyone is stressed and worried about the pandemic, it’s somewhat tone deaf for business owners to forge ahead with gift plans that are more about the owner’s wants than the employees’ needs.

    1. Kim D.*

      Also see the comments on the recent post “my company is issuing new work-from-home standards because we should have the hang of it by now”. If OP#1 gives everyone a wine and cheese box, I would think ‘how nice that this is what you would like to get for the holidays, unlike me, who needs money right now.’

      OP1, I’m not saying that you are unkind in any way, but not listening to the employees, especially in a climate where many people feel unheard (health scares, politics etc) will harm the company twice. People want money and they want to be respected by their employers.

    2. Interviewer*

      I’d bet the entire annual holiday party budget that there are employees who are quietly furious about the amount of company money spent on a fancy dinner, because they could have skipped the night out with their bosses and coworkers and gotten bigger bonuses instead. Make their entire year worth it and give them the money. Maybe they use it to buy presents, and that boosts the economy. Maybe they use it to pay bills or replenish savings. Maybe it helps a family where one partner is out of work. Maybe they use it to buy a llama or a chocolate teapot. SO WHAT. Money is the best way to recognize an employee’s contribution to the company. It’s actually why they’re all showing up at work every day. It’s not the least bit impersonal – it’s professional, and it’s very thoughtful. I guarantee you’ll make them all happy with it.

  20. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #2 The stress bombs. My parents used to do this to me, in school and later when I was working. An important test is coming up – a guarantee that an hysterical drunken tirade is coming. Trying to finish an essay – father in a drunken rage insisting I clean my room. Job interview – mother would go on and on about how ugly I was and how I had to wear makeup. And so on. I finally wised up and did not tell them about anything at school or work. Could the OP maybe ignore any emails or texts after hours on Friday from the boss, and only look at them on Monday. Likewise for emails just before vacation.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      That was kind of my thought. This may backfire if there ever is a real emergency, but since it’s clear she doesn’t really want to talk after hours, more just set up a reminder to chat, can you mute her texts on the weekends? I kind of think that if it is urgent and she doesn’t get a text response she’ll call to follow up? You know her better than I do, though, so if you do sometimes get important things and sometimes these stress bombs this might not be the best idea.

      1. Emma*

        Yeah, this was my thought – make your last job before the leave the office be “block the boss’ number”. If she wants to communicate with you she needs to catch you before you go home, otherwise it won’t happen until next time you’re at work.

        1. asgard*

          I was thinking along similar lines. In fact, I had had written this…

          Often, these are not legitimate issues — they often turn out to be misunderstandings —

          Knowing this it really shouldn’t stress you out anymore, right? I can understand the first couple of times, but now you know it’s never anything big so just shrug to yourself “that’s just Jane being Jane” and move on.

          I really like the idea to mute or ignore any messages from work until your next work day. It’ll make the above even easier.

      2. KateM*

        If there’s a real emergency, then you say “oh, sorry about that… it’s just that she so often sends useless texts after hours that I totally thought it was the same… you know the story of Boy Who Cried Wolf?”
        My husband read an important e-mail a week late because it looked very much like the spam he gets. :S

    2. Someone wonderful*

      I have/had a stress bomber boss too. We are in transition. When I directly asked her to wait to deliver this type of news she flat out said she had no choice in the matter and it was those higher up wanting to prepare us for the news. I was rather unimpressed.

    3. Coffee Bean*

      I am sorry you went through all that with your p Barbara E. And I agree with your suggestion.

  21. Rubes*

    Op 1- please reconsider this planned zoom meeting for the bosses to lecture everyone, or as you called it, give speeches. That’s the kind of tedium you would expect at a dinner party but making it mandatory via zoom, especially in this format where it’s framed as a treat, is tone deaf.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Right there with you. The speeches are the most boring part of the evening. Having a Zoom call after people have worked all day and been on Zoom, then you expect everyone to sign on for a speech from the boss about how great a year it’s been? Not the year for this.

    2. BadWolf*

      If it goes forward, hopefully it is short, midday and ends with “wrap up and take the rest of the day off!” (assuming that’s something your workers can do without it being a big pain).

      Money and extra vacation will get you all the love.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        This. Do a company holiday Zoom lunch at midday, keep speeches to no more than 5ish minutes, and send everyone home early.

        As you said, all the love.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      If you’re bound and determined to do this, OP1, have the speakers record videos that folks can watch at their leisure. I strongly suggest a hard limit of five to ten minutes.

      That’s what my academic department did for last year’s online graduation. Did anybody watch? I dunno. But it let me do what felt like my part of graduation (and I’m a soppy mess, every year — graduation brings all the feels!), so I felt a little better, and I didn’t inflict anything on graduates and their families that they didn’t want.

  22. WFH with Cat*

    LW#1 – I will be honest and a little blunt: I was dumbfounded by your concern that employees might use money to pay “regular bills.” Yes, of course they might do that. Paying bills is why people have jobs. Money from working — including bonuses and cash gifts — is how we keep roofs over our heads, feed ourselves and our families, and pay for all the other stuff we need, like utilities, clothing, pets, hobbies.

    Plus, this year, we are all paying higher prices for food and staples, and added shipping and delivery costs for many essentials. Parents are paying for books, supplies, and tools for home schools, as well as premium prices for in-home child care and tutoring when they can. People working from home are often paying out of pocket for unexpected home office expenses — buying computers, furniture, and supplies, and increasing their Internet use and paying for it. And many people are facing higher expenses overall after taking in family members and friends who couldn’t return to college, or who have lost their jobs and homes, or who simply need more care and protection than they could get living alone in these uncertain times.

    It’s a LOT. So, yes, the employees probably will use cash gifts to pay bills. Or they might stash it away against a future need. Or use it to help someone else who’s up against it financially because of all the crap that 2020 has rained down on us all.

    I get that you are eager to create a special and memorable holiday experience for the employees. Please — don’t let your expectations and assumptions blind you to the sterling opportunity that’s right in front of you: You can show real appreciation for how well the employees are performing, while dealing with significant financial and personal pressures, by giving them exactly what they want and need, right now. They’ve already told you. All you have to do is respect their wishes.

    1. Batgirl*

      Not to mention that people’s partners may be losing their jobs, people may have medical bills…

      1. WFH with Cat*

        Oh, very good point! Yes, and insurance costs are skyrocketing with people being forced into COBRA or having to pay for other plans entirely out of pocket.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Yes! While this letter writer and her husband own the business, and therefore have a vested, personal interest in the company, everyone else there is an employee. They are in it for the money. They aren’t there to have fun or whatever. They are there to earn a paycheck.
      I’m sure many of them enjoy the job, and probably take pride in doing it well. But it’s still a job. So there are really two good ways OP can show her appreciation for all their hard work this year: sincere praise, and money.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I admit I had a hard time getting past the “my concern is that they’ll just spend it on their bills” comment. Why is this a concern? Let them spend it on their bills. What seems to be the problem? Especially, I agree, in a year like this.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Secondarily, this might also be a good opportunity to review bonuses, salaries, and raises. Are the employees struggling more than the owner realizes and is there any option to give raises this year? A Christmas gift is nice, but a raise that will let me pay off my car or breath easier for the foreseeable future is nicer.

  23. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    LW1 – no to the Visa gift card

    Not no to cash or however your normal bonuses are given but no to Visa gift cards specifically. Cash gift cards (unlike others) are allowed to charge monthly fees and to expire so if they forget about the card or misplace it, the money will start to evaporate after a certain amount of time.

    Give them a paper check in a handwritten thank you card instead.

    1. PollyQ*

      That’s not universally true. At least in California, gift cards are not allowed to expire or charge fees. OP should definitely check local laws, though.

      1. Brett*

        California’s law does not cover the visa gift cards. It only covers cards that are locked to a specific merchant.

    2. Jennifer*

      If the money is needed, I highly doubt it’s going to sit around collecting dust and accruing fees for years, especially if it is given in December. I would rather a card than a paper check that I would need to deposit and wait to clear. I realize you can deposit checks from home now, but it is an extra step and kind of annoying when it isn’t what was requested.

    3. whistle*

      I have received plenty of Visa gift cards that did not expire and did not have monthly fees. I got a $300 one this year as a rebate for a new furnace, and I slowly spent it without any hassle.

      There is really no general problem with Visa gift cards; the company just needs to read the fine print before purchasing.

    4. Momma Bear*

      ^^ This happened to me. The card was nice, but I had to spend it down quickly once I realized what was going on.

    5. Observer*

      No. The handwritten check is a pain for staff.

      There are plenty of gift cards that do NOT charge these fees – or they get charged up front to the purchaser of the card. Same for expiration. Some do, others don’t.

    6. Princess Flying Hedgehog*

      A paper check? Personally, I hate going through the process of depositing a check. It’s not that it takes a lot of time, it’s just one more darn chore to do.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      My organization uses gift cards frequently, and none of the ones they’ve given me have had fees or short-term expirations. I just used the last of my $200 staff appreciate week card (from six months ago) to splurge on a nicer headset, and every penny of the value was intact and it doesn’t expire for another five years. It is not merchant-specific, it’s is a cash-based card.

      My biggest complaints with them are that the pre-authorization that is used to test if the card is valid usually means I can’t run the full amount and that some merchants will not allow you to use them if you can’t cover the full amount with the card. I have a pile of AmEx and Visa gift cards with $0.10 to $1 left on them from the validation transactions.

  24. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. As cash has been requested, I think that’s what should be given. My company gives gift vouchers with the December pay, however these can be used in lots of different places, including supermarkets and petrol stations. Personalised notes, as somebody has already suggested, would be a nice idea too.

    1. a sound engineer*

      At this point, it looks bad if cash isn’t given – I know I would think my employer really was out of touch with things if in the middle of the pandemic they asked us what we wanted, we pretty unanimously answered that money would be the most helpful, and then we all got sent Olive Garden gift cards or something.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        “No, you can’t have cash AND we don’t care what you think. Happy holidays!”

  25. AW*

    #5

    I agree with Alison, go for the job if you want. If / when you get pregnant you and your employer can work something out to cover your job.

    I worked in a small team, one of the seniors had 12 month off on maternity leave, then came back 6 months pregnant again. Meaning she was only In the office 2 months before be off again for another year.

    My only problem was knowing she was paid a lot more than me, I was covering a lot of her work which was above my pay grade, and the company refused to look at my pay. None of that was my co workers fault, it did change the way I saw my boss and the company though.

  26. Anonymous Poster*

    LW#5 – Take the job. Sure, people might get grumpy if you get pregnant and take leave for it, but that’s a reflection on them. It is frustrating to hire someone and have them take leave, but that’s life. They’d be in the same boat if someone had an accident and needed short term disability to recover.

    Trying for kids also can take time (or not, depending). Because of that, just make your career moves now and deal with pregnancy, if it happens, when it happens. Most employers also understand that people have kids and will work around it. The grumpy coworkers… well, you’ll have very valuable information about them too.

    Go forth and prosper in your career!

    1. PostalMixup*

      Accommodating pregnancy is just part of business. I interviewed for my current job at 6 months pregnant. I started at 8 months pregnant. I worked for five weeks, and then I was off for 13. My manager didn’t even bat an eye when I told him, and he even specifically told the internal recruiter to find a start date that made sense with my due date. She made sure I started in time to qualify for benefits. My new coworkers even threw me a baby shower!

      I know there are still asshole companies out there. But my experience with motherhood is that many of the horror stories are over-hyped. Best of luck to LW!

  27. TiredMama*

    #1 – I think it is a sign of how people are feeling right now. I imagine many people are burned out and want some control and, well, money is comforting right now.

  28. Lilli*

    #1
    What about sending money, a personalised note and a small box of chocolates or a bottle of wine? If not everyone prefers just getting money, adding a small gift might be a good compromise.

    1. Arvolin*

      Wine to an alcoholic trying to stay dry can cause problems. The chocolates may be unwanted (if I were on a much stricter diet, say), but are unlikely to hurt anyone.

  29. Batgirl*

    OP1, I take your word for it that your holiday parties with speeches really are fun, unlike the majority. Sometimes they can be kind of fun if you’re lucky in your co-workers etc.
    However, nothing compares to your own money, spent on your own loved ones and your own plans. THAT’S fun. Even when spent on bills, you’re still closer to that car, or treat, or vacation than you were without the boost.
    If your gift giving itch is super strong make it small and discreet, like cookies and chocolates. Anything you spend a lot of money on is spending money they could use in better ways. A few words of appreciation are probably the best accompaniment.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is giving me memories of attending my husband’s company Christmas party about 10-12 years ago. The guy who was supposed to give the big Christmas Speech couldn’t go for some reason so someone else pinch-hit and gave The Speech. He was unprepared so somehow instead of saying, “we had a great year and want to recognize everyone” it veered into this rambling disaster that somehow managed to turn into a verbal diatribe about stem cell research. It was, at once, horrifying and hilarious. While cash would have been nicer, you really can’t put a monetary value on this ridiculous memory. So there’s that, I guess.

  30. anone*

    Money and being able to pay your bills is fun, I absolutely promise you and anyone else who isn’t certain about that. It’s really, really, really fun. Also fun is being listened to and believed when someone asks your opinion on something.

    1. Scarlet2*

      Yeah, I’m not sure I understand LW’s dilemma here. They told you what they want, just give them what they want. It’s supposed to be fun for the person who receives the gift, not for the giver.

      1. KateM*

        Ahh… it seems that so many people who say “it is supposed to be fun!” forget that it isn’t supposed to be fun just for them.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        To be blunt, in my experience this seems to be a common upper-middle-class (at least) thing: “fun” needs to be far removed from the day-to-day in order for it to be the right kind of fun. It explains why people get so weird about folks who use vacation for things other than going somewhere on holiday, and other types of leisure policing.

        It’s really unpleasant to the people on the other side of this, to be seen as humorless, unrelatable, and deserving of suspicion because they’re not in a position to prioritize your type of “fun” because they need to address more basic needs. Consider this OP, and check your privilege.

        1. Lexie*

          I think it’s not just about the “fun” but people want to feel like they did something. Throwing a party is more like doing something than mailing gift cards. It’s like when charities have galas, 5Ks, various thons. It’s because people want to say they did something for the charity as opposed to just writing a check. Yet the charity would actually make out better if people just wrote checks because they wouldn’t have to spend money on those events.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          In fairness, people who give gift cards are often accused of not trying hard enough to be thoughtful or creative. I personally love gift cards, but some people really value time and mental effort put into a gift and feel money/cards are impersonal. I suspect the LW here is worried that her employees will feel she just sees them as an anonymous mass if she doesn’t do something more individualized.

          1. Scarlet2*

            That’s personal/intimate relationships though. I don’t think a lot of people would expect their boss to give them a “personalized” gift.

  31. a sound engineer*

    #1 – I get wanting the gifts to be something “special”, rather than going to something mundane like bills. But, with the pandemic, things like that are peoples’ priorities right now. You’ve surveyed the employees and confirmed that cash is what they’d prefer, accept it and add something extra (nice card, small gift like chocolate, etc) if you want to retain the “specialness” feeling. But please don’t give them something that you know is not helpful, it will negatively affect your/the company’s image. (And don’t try to dictate what they spend the money on if you do give them money. I’m sure my relatives meant for the graduation gifts they gave me to go towards savings or something fun, but unfortunately my rent and utilities take precedence right now. It is what it is)

  32. Money money money money*

    OP1: if it helps you rationalize ‘just’ sending cash to employees, Christmas and the holidays are fast approaching…coming out of the holidays with less/no debt or credit card bills because of this gift would be a blessing for many.

  33. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I started a job on a Tuesday and got pregnant that weekend. Although there were some complications about certain maternity benefits etc because I hadn’t reached the qualifying period, everything else was absolutely fine and not a scrap of awkwardness or ill feeling ever came my way. I didn’t need to announce the pregnancy while I was in my probation (ie trial) period.

    I had miscarried shortly before moving jobs (how that was handled by previous employer being a not insignificant factor in leaving) and we felt no guarantee that that pregnancy would be successful. We did not wish to delay trying to get into the qualifying period for enhanced benefits.

    And in the end it worked out well. I was an excellent employee for the eight ish months before maternity leave, and that “rainbow baby” is nearly ten years old.

    During a full and frank discussion with the managing partner, he revealed his family’s own difficulties with fertility and gave his unreserved support and approval. Employers are humans too, and should recognise that your (chosen) family is more important to you long term than your job, even a dream job.

    With a caveat about timing if there’s anything super critical (eg if waiting one month is the difference between medical cover or maternity pay and not) I would advise LW not to worry about clashing plans.

  34. cncx*

    OP 1 give people cash money, don’t make this complicated.

    I’m an American working in Europe, my company gave us a free share and like- one share is the most useless thing in the world to me because of FATCA but i would have absolutely loved the cash amount of the share.

    Your employees said they wanted money, what better way to make them happy than to give them what they want? I agree it doesn’t feel festive to you, but cash money is festive to them.

  35. Albatross*

    One note on the money thing – please don’t give literal cash, like the little green pieces of paper with dead people on them. The company my dad worked for tried that twice, had it leak to the press before employees got home both times, and had employees getting mugged on their way home from the bus stop. Cash bonuses are added to the nearest paycheck now. Use something that can’t be stolen so easily. I do support the idea of a card and/or some candy in addition to the requested cash.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Wow, that seems like a very specific problem to a very specific company and area. I’ve never seen it reported on that a company gave out cash bonuses – why would a media outlet report that?

        1. Lexie*

          In my experience the Christmas bonuses were usually handed out at the Christmas party. So if the media reported the bonuses they could also have reported the party. Also, I’ve seen hotels and other venues that have sign boards they use to announce what events are being held there.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I mean, I’m not saying the scenario is impossible but it seems wildly unlikely to repeat itself in most places.

          2. Jennifer*

            I guess….it just seems like a leap that a mugger would see the sign and just know people would have cash on them leaving the party.

    2. Jennifer*

      If everyone is working from home, I’m pretty sure bonuses aren’t going to be handed to people in cash.

      Why would the press care that a company was giving out cash bonuses? I’m not saying I don’t believe you, just that this situation is really weird and maybe the details you were given were a bit off. Sounds like an inside job if it happened.

  36. Roeslein*

    OP#5 – I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I strongly believe that women should not pass on career opportunity because they are or might become pregnant. I#m very conscious that no one knows the future and unfortunately, infertility and miscarriages happen. On the other hand, you don’t know how well you will be able to perform during pregnancy. I personally found out I was pregnant a few days after accepting my last job. I did quite well for the first three months, but after that I was chronically exhausted (think falling asleep in meetings daily with almost constant headaches and brain fog) and couldn’t perform anywhere near my normal standard. This was an “easy” pregnancy too – no complications whatsoever other than mild anemia. I finally started feeling like myself again in the last two months, and after birth I was fine. But there were about four or five months there that were a complete blur. Unsurprisingly, that job didn’t work out, and because they didn’t know my previous work they thought I was just flaky rather than a normally strong performer with temporary health issues. Then again, plenty of other women perform just fine throughout their pregnancies! But if I decided to have a second child I would definitely want the company to get to know me and my work for at least a year first, just in case this happens again.

  37. CatCat*

    #3, I would be LIVID if I were in your shoes. You trusted your boss to live up to her part of the deal and she breached that trust. You worked hard and are a top performer and your reward is “too bad, so sad, maybe in the spring when I get around to it.” It’s not like there is a freeze on raises generally, it’s an epic screw up that only impacts you.

    I would be unable to trust my boss again. She needs to fix this and not give some lame “due to HR rules” excuse. I agee with talking to your boss about a fix and seeing what, if anything, she’ll commit too. I’d need the fix now, not months from now (I’d have a hard time taking my boss’s word on retroactively, and also what happens if raises are frozen in the future and then you’re waiting a much longer time.)

    Honestly, if there isn’t an actual, immediate fix, I’d be reaching out to HR too for information about the mysterious “HR rules” that make you bear the financial cost of the boss’s screw up. Because that’s just an f’d up policy and I admit, this is a way of cluing in someone else in the organization about the screw up. To me, this seems like a huge mistake and one I’d wonder if my boss were hiding. I’d email something like, “Hey HR, Boss didn’t submit my review by it’s fall due date and is telling me I now won’t be eligible for a raise for several months because of it. Obviously, this is deeply disappointing. She says this is because of company HR rules. Can you give specifics about this policy?”

    I mean, it’s just ridiculous and angering. I’d be looking for a new job if this is not fixed, and actually also looking if the boss is not the one to get it fixed. Huge breach of trust to me.

    1. DirtGirl*

      +1
      My boss can never seem to complete a review on time but he has plenty of time to nap at his desk! My review date is October but my boss just “never got around to it” and now we’re in an indefinite hiring/raise freeze due to covid so who knows what will happen. I certainly don’t expect a raise now but my review was supposed to be 5 months before covid. So OP, be aggressive if you can, while you can, especially if your employer is doing fine and is just using covid as an excuse to not be fair.

    2. doreen*

      This is why I am so happy that my employer counts an overdue evaluation as a “satisfactory” one for across-the- board raises and advancing a step on the salary schedule. My evaluation was due April 1 – haven’t gotten it yet.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      This will be a controversial opinion, but if that really is HRs rules and for some reason there is genuinely no way around it nor to have the raise backdated when it does happen (though I find there’s a way to negotiate around most rules in the right circumstances) I think the manager is morally on the hook to ‘make good’ some of the shortfall to the OP personally if she’s able.

    4. Paris Geller*

      Yeah, I’ve actually been surprised by some comments agreeing that “betrayal” is too strong of a word. . . I don’t think so at all. It is a betrayal of trust, especially considering the OP is a top performer. This would 100% be polishing up my resume and job searching territory for me.

  38. Quandong*

    I would add, if fun is the focus – reconsider the Zoom speeches too. Attending more Zoom meetings may be onerous for many employees.

  39. Diatryma*

    LW1: this is not the year for ‘special’. This is the year for ‘sincere’ and ‘survival’. If you want to plan for special in the future, plan the celebration when it’s safe for everyone to be in the office with no danger of COVID (I’d say after a month of being back) and give money then, too.

    I understand that giving money isn’t as fun as finding what you think is exactly the right gift (in my family, this is expressed via either exactly the right gift or interesting formats of money, but sending each employee fifty two-dollar bills isn’t going to work out for you) but again, not the year.

    LW5: It turns out I was pregnant when I took my current job. It happens. Do not hold yourself back because you think you might have medical leave sometime in the next five years. What if you slip on the ice and break your wrist enough you can’t type? Does that mean a house with a steep driveway prevents you from taking a good job out of misplaced guilt? I hope everything goes easily (and watch out for the driveway).

  40. Shira*

    “I worry that just giving cash (which is how I see the VISA gift card) won’t make it at all special like the annual holiday party is.”

    I think what LW1 is really (subconsciously?) bothered by is that maybe the employees would have preferred cash to the special party every year, i.e. the party isn’t as fun for the employees as it is for her. Which…yeah, probably. Sorry. It’s the cliche of office holiday parties everywhere. It may be hard to come to terms with the fact that what you worked hard on and intended as generosity wasn’t experienced that way. But consider now what the purpose of this exercise is: to have your own fun party-planning/picking out fancy gifts? Or to make the employees happy?

    1. WS*

      maybe the employees would have preferred cash to the special party every year

      Maybe! I’m a super introvert and one year I surveyed everyone to see if they would like a party or equivalent cash bonus and everyone except me and one other person voted for the party!

      1. TechWorker*

        Haha yeah – I think both a) company parties are partly a ‘benefit’ but mostly for the benefit of the company and b) AAM average opinion is not always representative in terms of whether people want to socialise with colleagues…

      2. zandt*

        Eh, I’m super introvert as well, but party in an upscale place that I can’t afford on my own? Definitely count me in!

      3. The blind forest*

        I get where LW1 is coming from. I dislike gift cards as back when I was on a tight budget, I would end up spending the money on sensible things like groceries or bills instead of doing something nice for me. I much preferred being taken out for a nice dinner or given a thoughtful gift that I couldn’t justify splurging on myself. Now that I am financially secure, I appeciate the intent but I find generic gift cards impersonal and half the time, I forget to spend them. FWIW, I really liked your gift suggestions. However, this year is difficult and I hate to say this but gift cards may be the way to go. If you are a smaller business, perhaps let employees nominate their local restaurant they would like a gift card for. It supports local businesses, is still a genuine gift that won’t just go on bills and employees get something they will like. This is a lot of work if you have a large staff though. If you have lots of employees, pick 5 stores with ranging themes eg hardware, kitchen store, gaming store, sports store and a restaurant. Employees nominate the card they want and you can order them all. That way people are spending the money on themselves.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I read a study years ago that put a dollar amount on the cost and the value of certain work benefits. That is, how much extra do you need to be paid to make up for the loss of perks, or how much are you willing to forgo if the working environment is luxury in these particular ways.

      Freebies such as good coffee, fresh fruit, Friday sandwiches (etc) are valued far more highly than their cost. This is particularly true given the economies of scale – it’s cheaper to buy a hundred lunches at once than for a hundred people to buy a lunch each. So if you pitch your perks right, you can spend $50 on something worth $150 to the employee, and in the right jurisdiction it will be tax efficient for both employer and employee.

      Spouse’s company has a part-free, part-heavily subsidised snack bar slash cafe in their physical office. They are currently fully remote. So they’ve arranged for everyone to have a cash stipend to get their own coffee/muffin/bacon butty for the weekly social Zoom. The goodwill this has created is great.

      It may be that LW’s spouse’s employees usually love the holiday party and the participation is enthusiastic and universal. That doesn’t mean that those exact same employees want anything other than cold hard cash this year when the economy is so fragile and fun spending is restricted by local regulations anyway. Maybe when parties are a thing again they’ll all throw themselves into socialising with renewed vigour because the alternative was so drab.

    3. Brightwanderer*

      I don’t think that’s what the OP is “really” bothered by, tbh. I’ve seen this mindset from so many people. It’s the feeling that when you give a gift, you’re giving something special and different and luxurious that the person would not otherwise have had, but if you give them cash it might just get swallowed up in mundane expenses. The two problems with that mindset are a) you’re assuming that the gift you give IS special and wanted to that person, and b) you’re assuming that the “mundane expenses” could be taken care of some other way, and it would be a “waste” to use gift money on them. The first is not a safe assumption unless you are literally buying someone a specific thing they’ve requested. The second is a result of having enough financial privilege that for you, paying those expenses “some other way” is always on the table, which is absolutely not true for plenty of people.

  41. Darcy*

    Send cash this year, or a Visa card, or a Target gift card (who can’t find something for themselves at Target?)

    BUT…..I’d enclose a note saying something along the lines of “We can’t have a holiday party this year but hope you can use the enclosed to celebrate on your own. We’ll go back to partying in style in 2021!”

    BECAUSE….you want to establish that 2020 is an anomaly, and nip in the bud the idea that there will be another cash gift in 2021.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This is a good way of expressing it.

      But surveying the staff again in Q3 2021 could be even better. Maybe they’d rather have a smaller party and a bigger bonus.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Though I know some grumps (including here) may think “But what if someone has nothing to celebrate? What about that?”

    2. Delta Delta*

      Not trying to be “that commenter” but not everyone lives near a Target.

      I received a well-intentioned Macy’s gift card for my wedding. My closest Macy’s was 200 miles away. The gift card was for $25, and the only way to use it was to buy something online. However, $25 doesn’t go very far and didn’t qualify for free shipping. I was basically given a bill for shipping for a store I never frequented so I could use a gift and not waste it.

      1. ThatGirl*

        To be fair, gift cards at Target go a lot farther than gift cards at Macy’s, even if you need to shop online. But you’re right that Target stores, while very common, are not ubiquitous. Presumably whoever was picking out the gift card would know roughly what area their employees live in and whether certain stores were nearby!

        1. WellRed*

          Heheh. The amount of people trying to use Barnes and noble gc when I worked at Borders shows how little effort some people expend on thinking. No b&n in the state and no you can’t use it here.

    3. Lexie*

      Except we don’t know if holiday parties will be a thing in 2021. We don’t know how this is going to play out yet. As much as I hate to say it 2020 may not be an anomaly but the beginning of a new way of doing a lot of things.

    4. Paperwhite*

      I really like this, with the amendment of “Hopefully we’ll be partying in style in 2021!” because, well. *waves vaguely at the current situation* The notes can even be personalized to ameliorate any possible impersonality of cash.

  42. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “I’ve been given the employee survey that they just want money (or restaurant gift cards, which is hard to figure out since we’re separated geographically and not everyone has access to the same chain restaurants).”

    Give money. You have no problem. You know the answer.

  43. Sasha*

    OP#5, I was worried about having my first baby back in 2012, when I had just started my PhD. In the end, he was born in 2017, long after I had finished and taken up a post-doc (combination of miscarriages and other gynae problems). You never know how long things will take. Thank goodness I didn’t delay starting my PhD until after my baby, or I would probably never have done it.

    You cannot put your career on hold in case you get pregnant. Even if you get pregnant the first month of trying, you still have nine months of pregnancy to complete at your new job. You might choose to avoid trying on one specific month (maybe a tax accountant doesn’t want to start maternity leave right before the end of the tax year). But don’t delay for a year or more, just because of your job.

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      Yes, precisely. You do not know how long it will take, and it could take years. It could take years of trying for pregnancy and then years of trying to adopt. (My friend just adopted at 46; I couldn’t be happier for her.)

      I’m two years and one egg retrieval in, myself. You don’t know how long it’s gonna take. No kid yet. No pregnancies yet, even, and no embryos either.

      Glad you got there, Sasha. With the PhD but especially with the kid.

  44. Kate, short for Bob*

    OP 1 – is there a reason you think staff should only have so much extra cash and no more? Are you confident that none of your staff are currently having to support a partner who’s lost their job? Do you really think faking a smile over an industrially processed chicken dinner is better than being able to pay an extra bill that month?

    OP4 – why not ask what the rhythm of the week is like? Will people have more time to onboard you on a Wednesday, or would that be the worst because the WEENUS is due every Thursday?

  45. Reality Check*

    OP 1 it sounds like you are the type that prefers more frivolous gifts. Nothing wrong with that! Money to pay bills is a practical gift. It sounds like everyone is thinking “practical gift” this year. Not as fun or glamorous, but it’s what everyone seems to want, so just go with that.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Even more than that…

      OP1 is the kind of person who believes that practical gifts are not actually gifts. That view is WRONG. If the recipient actually WANTS it, then it IS a gift.

      1. Yup, Yup, Nope*

        Exactly. For Christmas last year my parents paid for 6 months of my sister’s car insurance. Because of some unexpected medical bills, she had to lower her coverage to the most basic liability coverage and as even struggling with that. Had she gotten into an accident while on that plan she would have been without a vehicle since she couldn’t afford to repair or replace the car. She cried she was so happy.

        Sometimes taking care of the practical is the best gift you can give someone.

  46. Minnie Mouse*

    #1: For me work holiday parties make the bosses feel warm and fuzzy while I feel forced to dress up and spend even more time at work. Even when there’s alcohol and food I still have to be on my best behavior, pretend to like the woman who lightly bullies me and avoid all the political talk that inevitably pops up. It’s exhausting. It’s still work to many people. Give them what they have very clearly asked for! Don’t give a wine and cheese box that YOU would like and say, “let them eat cake.” I make “good” money these days and I’m still drowning in student loan debt thanks to all the interest that accrued while I wasn’t and it will be almost impossible for me to catch up. My boss spending thousands on parties and branded swag just hurt.

    1. Yup, Yup, Nope*

      So true. My last couple companies have gone very low-key on the parties (lunch out during the workday paid for by boss/company) but my husband’s company still does a big to do.
      They actually do a pretty good job though. In the past they have rented out the local bowling alley and we got free, unlimited bowling for a couple hours. It was cash bar but many of the managers would buy a round for their teams. Lately they have done a Vegas-style party and brought in a company that both runs the games and has an area set up to teach people how to play. They also have prizes and raffles and cash games. This past year they combined Plinko and Lets Make a Deal and it was seriously fun. I estimate between the cash and prize gifts, its about $10k given straight to the employees. My husband – who is a high level manager – has talked to them about excluding the upper management and the owners/c-suite are now excluded but he is still part of the raffle. The last 2 times he “won” he either took one of the lower level prizes or the cash and either bought his employees a round or had lunch brought in for all 3 shifts.

  47. Anonosaurus*

    LW#1 – I think the biggest issue here is that you are considering an approach which discounts the feedback you asked your employees to give. Being asked for a view, giving it and then finding your view had been ignored is worse than not being asked at all. I get that you want to do something special for your people and you mean well, but I think that if you blow on past their feedback for the sake of making yourself feel more comfortable about handling the holidays (which is a normal human thing to do, you’re not being a terrible person here) you’re actually going to do significant damage to the relationship between the company and the staff. That would be a real shame when you want to do exactly the opposite.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I agree – I think we would be responding slightly differently if in #1 the employers hadn’t explicitly surveyed the employees for their opinions. But now that you’ve asked them, and had an overwhelming consensus, it is important to respect that input.

    2. Observer*

      This.

      All of the discussion about party vs money is nice, but it’s not the most important thing. THE single most important issue for you, #1, is that your staff have been asked what they want and have TOLD you what they want To do anything else at this point would be an extremely bad move and will have knock on effects for years to come.

  48. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Letter #2… [“In the most charitable reading, the timing is because she’s wrapping up work related to you before the week ends or before you leave for vacation and in doing that realizes she has feedback for you … as opposed to the other reading, which is that something is driving her to interfere with your ability to disconnect from work.”]

    I have always believed that “effect equals intent,” so my vote is for the other reading. She does it deliberately so that “you’re left to sweat about it for hours or even days” during your vacation, probably to punish you for using your PTO.

    1. OP2*

      Maybe! I suspect there is some pettiness at play but I also think she perhaps doesn’t realise the extent to which it can mess you up and how long for.

      1. Accounting is fun*

        My boss does the same thing. It is so frustrating. He also likes to call/text ask for a call at 6pm on Sunday night for something that we’ve already discussed during the week. Yesterday is a good illustration. We were all in a mandatory staff meeting for the entire organization at the end of the work day. The president was saying that he wants to make sure that we all unplug at the end of the day, that he is worried about burnout for us, and that we need to step away sometimes from work. At the exact same time, my boss was emailing me and a coworker asking us to do a bunch of work later on that evening. Sigh.

        1. sofar*

          People DM-ing you during meetings are the worst. Like, yes I’m totally catching up on work during this meeting, too, but I really need this “study hall,” why are you adding MORE to my plate.

      2. knitcrazybooknut*

        Hey OP2! You’re being really kind and charitable about how you view this behavior. Sadly, I’ve got a lot of experience in dealing with dysfunctional personalities, and this is classic power and control. It may be unconscious behavior, but it still has one goal: To keep you off balance so you’ll be too busy to assess your situation and decide to go elsewhere. She’s got you focused on pleasing her instead of on yourself. She wants you worrying about work, because that keeps the emotional energy high, and she feeds off of that emotional stress. If you’re gone, you’re not feeding her. She doesn’t like that, so she criticizes you before you leave. She knows you’re worried about her criticism, because you’re trying to call her. This makes her happy, because you’re still a) thinking about work, and b) worried about her opinions.

        I will say that this MAY be unconscious or learned behavior on her part. But that doesn’t make it excusable. Your blocking her number during vacations will work for you for the short-term, but she will probably escalate her attacks. You need to look for a new job starting now. It may not seem bad right now, but this isn’t really solvable, since she’s already demonstrated that she doesn’t care that she stresses you out before your vacation. A good boss will support you in disconnecting from work, and won’t make a mountain out of a molehill just to freak you out.

        I’m not going to diagnose over the internet. I will say that the reddit forum raisedbynarcissists has helped me deal with similar behavior many many times. You can look up “grey rocking” as a possible coping mechanism, or use the time-honored tradition of observing her behavior like a scientist observing an alien race. Clipboards help!

        Again, your reading of this as petty and that she doesn’t realize the impact of what she’s doing is really nice of you. But her continuing to do this despite what you’ve told her demonstrates otherwise.

        1. RC Rascal*

          I agree with this analysis. He worked for a boss who was narcissistic and probably sociopathic & he did this kind of thing. Only when you were back in the office & available to discuss the issue he would refuse to do so.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I know someone who drops stress bombs like this too, but it’s usually driven by her own procrastination/reluctance to have difficult conversations, and complicated by her unhealthy work/life balance. It’s easier for her to give criticism on Friday night and avoid a real two-way conversation. Drop the bomb, duck and run for cover.

    3. TeacherLady*

      I wonder if there’s a third reading – is this boss bad at giving face-to-face feedback? If it gives her anxiety, I can see waiting until the person has left to text/email them as a way of kind of avoiding it/putting it off. And not wanting to do it right away could be because it’s too anxiety inducing to not be in control of the time and place/not have the time she anticipated to wrap her head around it.

      Overstating the severity of the issue could be part and parcel of anxiety.

      Not that this makes it any better. But it might explain why it’s continuing to happen (anxiety-driven habits are hard to recognize and then break).

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      My old boss used to do this every time I went on vacation or had a day off. My old boss was passive-aggressive, new to the organization, and afraid they’d lose their job to me. So the second I was out of the office I’d get similar feedback. If I had to guess, in addition to the sweat factor, my old boss did this so they could get it off their chest and not have to have a face-to-face conversation about it until a week or two later.

      Worst event was when I had made an all-office presentation and everyone in executive management and the board that ran our agency absolutely loved it. They were even talking about it at an executive management retreat a couple of days later. Boss even called me from the retreat to say how impressive the presentation was. Then, 2 weeks later, right before a vacation, the boss gave me a single spaced three page memo for my personnel file documenting all the things with the presentation that my boss thought I did wrong. As for the praise? All verbal and nothing in writing.

      I quit this job less than a year later without another job lined up.

      I still hate this boss with a passion and I left this job back in 2005!

    5. Arvolin*

      Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of asking, when somebody does something puzzling, what she could be thinking or planning if the puzzling thing is in fact the desired effect. I’ve gotten a few insights from that.

  49. Jennifer*

    #1 you sound like a kind person. I get that not being able to socialize this year sucks and you probably were looking forward to it. I think giving the Visa gift card is a good idea. A lot of people are worried about finances. Even if your company is doing well, they may have a spouse at home that was laid off and struggling to find work. So the money on top of the bonus may really be needed.

    I think the idea of a personal note or card accompanying the gift card is a good one.

  50. Agnes*

    It makes me angry that in 2020 women still have to worry about how having a baby will affect their careers and their colleagues’ perceptions of them. Just had to get that off my chest.

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      +1000

      Oh no, I’m making the next generation of tax payers I must withdraw myself from full societal inclusion for the next 5 years. Bleugh.

    2. Marny*

      Yes! That letter infuriated me– not at the OP for wondering and worrying, but for the fact that we still make women feel they have to worry about such things.

  51. OP2*

    Stress bomb dodger here! Thanks for the advice, Alison, always nice to know that I’m not overreacting!
    I actually have a semi-update on this: I did mention this to my boss in a larger discussion we were having and she got very defensive and ended up wanting to drill down into the two most recent episodes of this happening. When we did, her her argument effectively turned into ‘well my boss does it to me’.
    She is an anxious person, I think, and likes being able to see everyone, which feeds into a larger issues we’re having, including with being allowed to continue working from home. Frustratingly, she seems logic proof: much of her arguments devolve into feelings, etc.

    1. allathian*

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry.
      Before the pandemic, when you were working at the office, was she as bad about this, or has become worse now that you’re WFH?

    2. EPLawyer*

      Well that explains it. She knows she won’t SEE you for awhile so that stresses her out. Which causes her to overthink every little thing about your work. Which then causes her to want to reach out about it. But she knows its the weekend/vacation she knows she isn’t supposed to talk work then. So she sends the message and then refuses to invade your off time. Except she already has. Which is the part she is not getting.

      Your only solution is to mute her when you are not in the office. She gets to relieve her anxiety by sending the message, but you never see it so your time off is still unbothered. Then you can check just before you head into work next so you are prepared for a “talk” if necessary.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        She gets to relieve her anxiety by sending the message, but you never see it so your time off is still unbothered.

        … but at this point I’m not sure this approach will work (I tacked on to your comment but I know a lot of others have had similar sentiments so don’t feel I am picking on yours!) because even if OP has got the manager on ‘mute’ or whatever, she still knows that there’s likely a message “out there” (hanging around to be delivered to the phone etc) waiting for her when she gets back.

        I may be projecting as although I haven’t had this specific situation as a ‘pattern’ (but have had it a few times) I’ve had things sprung on me where I went off for a few days vacation thinking everything was normal, then came back to a meeting request for a dressing down by HR or similar. After a few occurrences I felt like (even in the absence of a pre-hoc ‘stress bomb’ as the OP describes) I couldn’t relax while away as I dreaded what I’d be coming back to.

    3. Admin on Duty*

      I agree with others; mute her if you can. I’m wondering if that’s an actual option for you, or are you contractually obligated to be available after hours? If you’re not and there’s nothing pressing that you need to keep your thumb on while you’re away, then there’s no reason to not mute her and put on the Out of Office message when you leave.

      She’s trying to control her environment, and so should you, but, if you can’t for whatever reason, I learned a trick to calm myself down (I’m also a very anxious person) when I was working for someone who did something very similar. Ask yourself these questions whenever you see and read an after hours message from your boss:

      – Have I done anything that would cause the company to collapse over night if this isn’t immediately addressed?
      – Have I done anything that would reasonably cause me to get immediately fired as opposed to a write up at any point recently?
      – Will someone lose their life or their ability to provide for their family if this thing isn’t immediately addressed?
      – Will something literally catch on fire if this isn’t immediately addressed?

      If the answer is no to these questions, as it always was, then I mentally shelved it with my mental reassurances in hand and dealt with it when I returned to work.

      1. OP2*

        Thank you for these :)

        Annoyingly, yes, I am theoretically on call 24/7, but that’s obviously for emergencies, not for random pettiness, which is something she is obviously struggling to grasp.

    4. asgard*

      I posted this elsewhere, but since you know this never amounts to much (aren’t legitimate or are more communication issues rather than a big deal) doesn’t that relieve the stress of it? Can’t you just shrug to yourself and say “well, there’s Jane being Jane again” and go about your day?

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      If she’s anxiously about not seeing you for awhile (weekends, vacations, etc) it may help if you proactively go over things with her before you leave. Check in on Friday morning, offer some status updates, and ask if she needs anything before you leave. Hopefully this may head off some of her anxiety texts.

    6. Shirley Keeldar*

      Sorry to hear that, OP. Sounds like you handled it really well–brought it up, asked for a reasonable thing, got an unreasonable response. Bummer to know that your boss is not reasonable (on this point anyway), but at least you can adjust your expectations going forwards.

      I’m familiar with the anxiety-driven need to send a text or e-mail and how it gives the anxious person a little jolt of control, a feeling that they’ve done something so that anxiety recedes for a moment. That need can be so strong they don’t see or feel how the communication makes the other person feel.

    7. sofar*

      When I read your question and your responses, I had to wonder if you and I are on the same team. Probably not. And I also was poised to dive in with, “Your boss totally has anxiety.”

      My boss is incredibly well meaning (has moved heaven and earth to help me at work) and frequently apologizes for these stress bombs, but she’s anxious and under a lot of pressure — so she can’t help herself. I get messages right at the cusp of the end of the work day and a flurry on Fridays (I’m expecting this week’s batch in a couple hours). And before (or right after) I leave on vacation, I get an avalanche of “Just one more thing, for you to think about so we can discuss when you’re back.” Or, “Starting this doc on XYZ, let me know your ideas when you’re back.” She slacks (I mute) in the middle of the night, too.

      I really do think that she’s anxious about “not being able” to contact us whenever she wants/needs to for a night, a weekend or a week. I also know that she has a lot of end-of-day/Friday meetings with leadership, so she’s probably brimming with stress after hose. And she doesn’t want to have to remember to ping us about something (and have that stress hanging over HER head) all weekend/night/our time off (or until our next 1:1). So she shoots it off and thus checks it off her anxious to-do list.

      If it’s an email, I ignore. If it’s a Slack, I give it a thumbs-up emoji. And then I (try to) move on.

  52. Jennifer*

    #2 can you turn off notifications from her as soon as you log off for the day? If she is sending these after hours and refusing to respond until working hours, then there’s no point in looking at her messages until you’re back at work.

    She seems salty about people taking time off and wants to discourage them from using it.

  53. The blind forest*

    I get where LW1 is coming from. I dislike gift cards as back when I was on a tight budget, I would end up spending the money on sensible things like groceries or bills instead of doing something nice for me. I much preferred being taken out for a nice dinner or given a thoughtful gift that I couldn’t justify splurging on myself. Now that I am financially secure, I appeciate the intent but I find generic gift cards impersonal and half the time, I forget to spend them. FWIW, I really liked your gift suggestions. However, this year is difficult and I hate to say this but gift cards may be the way to go. If you are a smaller business, perhaps let employees nominate their local restaurant they would like a gift card for. It supports local businesses, is still a genuine gift that won’t just go on bills and employees get something they will like. This is a lot of work if you have a large staff though. If you have lots of employees, pick 5 stores with ranging themes eg hardware, kitchen store, gaming store, sports store and a restaurant. Employees nominate the card they want and you can order them all. That way people are spending the money on themselves.

    1. BadWolf*

      If OP really wants to send something gifty — I was thinking of a mini “WFH” office kit (with the giftcard/cash). Like a company branded pen, some name brand post-its, some masks, hand sanitizer. Generally useful things

      1. Llama Groomer Extrodinaire*

        Eh, this is always lame to me. Why do i need more of your company branded swag clogging up my house? A cute mask maybe. But I don’t need more pens with company logos on them. You can add that $5 into the cash you’re sending me.

  54. Hiring Mgr*

    Give the cash… Truthfully, I’m sure many of the employees would prefer that even in a normal year!

  55. The blind forest*

    I wrote a reply and it didn’t post. I get LW1’s dilemma. I don’t like generic gift cards because back when I was on a tight budget, I always felt obliged to spend it on bills or groceries. I much preferred a thoughtful gift or a dinner that I couldn’t justify splurging on myself. Although I am financially secure now, I still am not keen on giftcards, although I appreciate the intent. We have had some great Christmas parties though. However, this is a difficult year and gift cards might be the way to go. If you have a small staff, perhaps get them to each nominate their local restaurant. It supports local businesses, is a lovely gift and won’t just go on bills. This is a lot of work if you have a large staff. In this case, I would nominate 5 stores eg hardware, kitchen store, gaming store, sports store and something else. Employees can nominate which card they want and it will be still spent on themselves.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, I feel the same way. But I think there are some ways to do it well. The OP could provide a list of 3 gifts they could choose from (e.g. fancy gift 1, fancy gift 2, gift card of your choice for $X) – that way the people who’d like a gift could get one, and the people who want a gift card could get one (and the OP doesn’t have to figure out where they’d like to go.)

    2. Lexie*

      But the employees were asked what they want and they said a Visa gift card or a restaurant gift card. At least some of those who said Visa are probably envisioning using it to pay bills or buy groceries. They aren’t thinking of being forced into getting something from a specialty store that they maybe have no desire or use for.

    3. Observer*

      This is a valuable point. But given that staff have explicitly said that they want the gift cards it is not relevant for this situation

      It is, however, a viewpoint that all the people who are saying that cash is “always” the way to go need to take on board. I’m not saying that people should stop giving cash, just that there are other factors at play.

  56. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1 reminds me of the story of the English country widow who, in her old age, was no longer limber enough to trim her own toenails. She was a widow of means, so a servant performed this task. But she also realized that not everyone in the village was as fortunate as she. Their plight weighed heavily on her, so she left a bequest in her will setting up a fund to pay for the trimming of the toenails of her fellow villagers.

  57. Jay*

    I guess I am a career-focused “absent” mother. I’m a doctor. I’ve worked at least 60% time (which for primary care docs is at least 40 hours a week) since my daughter was 8 weeks old. When she was a bit older, I had an unexpected career transition and was at home for nearly a year. It almost wrecked me. I totally felt that I’d lost my identity and my sense of who I was.

    Yes, kids are amazing. Yes, they will change your life in ways you can’t predict at all because it’s different for every parent. And no, not every mother feels guilty about going back to work or regrets not being able to spend more time with her baby. Working full-time outside the home does not mean I don’t love my daughter or that I left her to be raised by strangers (which was a comment repeatedly leveled at me but never – not once – at my husband). When we were waiting for our kid, I would have welcomed any perspective that said “yes, it’s totally fine and even beneficial to love your work and want to return to it after the baby is born.” Instead I had a tidal wave of “you’ll never want to go back to work! You’ll feel guilty for the rest of your life! You’ll never be able to do both jobs well!” We’re nearly 21 years into this now and I can say with confidence that I have done both job very well.

    1. allathian*

      In my country, we have a long maternity and parental leave and most daycares don’t even accept kids younger than 9 months. I was at home for two years with my son, and as much as I loved him then and love him now, by the end of that period I was so ready to go back to work. I treasured just the ability to eat and pee in peace, without someone dependent on me 24/7. But if I’m honest, for the first 6 months I wasn’t fit to drive, so I wouldn’t have been fit to work either. I have almost no coherent memories of my son as a baby, just flashes here and there, so I really treasure all the photos we took of him. But later, I’m 100% sure that I was a better and more patient mom at home because I was able to focus on work during much of the week. It felt like I was reclaiming a part of my identity when I went back to work, although I worked part-time (30 hours) for the first 6 months.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I was a terrible full-time parent. I was a much, much better parent 4 days per week (now evenings, weekends and vacations), partly because I was Much More Sane.

        I did not foresee that. I thought I was going to be the one singing Wheels On The Bus and making cute picnics with bento boxes and doing hand prints and being a school trustee and whatever. Turns out that all of that nearly broke me. Lockdown nearly broke me again.

        1. Jay*

          Seriously. Lockdown with small-to-middle sized children sounds like torture to me. My very independent, lovely-to-have-around kid is coming home 11/9 for more than two months and I’m – not entirely thrilled. I like my empty nest.

    2. aebhel*

      Yep, same. I went back to work full-time after short maternity leaves for both my kids, and I have never once regretted it. My spouse works part-time and is the primary caregiver, but somehow I keep getting comments about how I must regret not being a SAHP.

    3. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

      I’m with you. When I announced my pregnancy to my employer, I was informed that I wouldn’t want to come back to work and I’d want to stay home. Then she laid me off in my second trimester. The only reason I was home with her for 9 months was because we ended up moving just after she was born so I had to find reliable daycare and a job. But I did and never looked back. I was a total wreck at home. Hated every minute of it. Love my daughter dearly but going back to work was the best option. If I could have, I would have returned to work when she was 8 weeks old as well.

      And for what it’s worth, 21 years late: It’s totally fine and even beneficial to love your work and want to return to it after the baby is born. Please stop referring to yourself as a career focused absent mother. You have nothing to apologize for, to feel bad or guilty about. Your mental health and well being is a key part of being a good parent. Your decision to go back to work when you did was the right one.

  58. Beth*

    For pity’s sake. GIVE MONEY. Also give some extra paid time off.

    You’re not doing anyone a favour when you ask them what they want and then decide that you know better. It makes it clear that you aren’t really interested in doing something nice for your employees — what you actually want is to feel good about yourself. That’s not supportive, it’s egocentric.

    And if you REALLY want your employees to know how much you value them, give them all raises, improve your sick leave policies, and get them better health insurance.

        1. Observer*

          Really? Do we have the faintest idea of what kind of wages and benefits the OP’s company provides?

          1. Autumnheart*

            Well, we know that when their employees ask what would be a meaningful gift to them, they said “money”. And people who understand what a difference even a small bonus can make in one’s quality of life typically don’t need it explained to them.

            The only people I’ve ever met who complained that “money isn’t a fun gift, don’t you want a fun gift?” were people who didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. That must be nice, but it’s not the reality for the vast majority of wage-earners. People don’t put fun before money until they’re earning enough to not have to sweat every bill as it comes in.

    1. WellRed*

      To be fair, we don’t know that this company doesn’t have good insurance or generous time off.

  59. Dust Bunny*

    LW1 We got larger-than-expected bonuses right at the time one of my cats incurred a not-insignificant bill at the emergency veterinarian. Trust me: This was the most fun gift I could have gotten. Okay, yes, not technically fun, but not having to worry about how I was going to pay that off? I was dancing in my office.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Isn’t it amazing how cats somehow know exactly how and when to incur ridiculous vet bills? It’s like a hidden super power they have.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I found a kitten at the park this year, which obviously meant the usual bills for fleas, intestinal parasites (both worms and coccidia!), and treatment for an upper respiratory infection.

        But one of my adult cats caught the respiratory infection, only it presented as lethargy and lack of appetite instead of sneezing and scared the bejesus out of me, and the other one started acting weird and depressed for . . . no obvious reason. I think she was mostly sulking because of the kitten. No idea. But she’s a monster at the vet’s so every trip involves sedation and an all-day stay.

        It was a very, very, expensive summer. My parents returned whatever gift they had gotten me and gave me a trip to the animal ER for my birthday instead to help out.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Ugh! Soon they’ll all be displaying their other superpower, which is somehow being best friends and wondering why you were even concerned about them to begin with. Hopefully everyone is fine and healthy!

  60. Yup, Yup, Nope*

    #1
    I worked at a place that did a survey like this and then ignored it. For some it was the latest in a long line of disappointments that further deteriorated morale and for others it was the final straw and they started looking.
    You are not the boss and have exactly ZERO authority to overrule (or even complain about) the results of the survey.
    Yes – this company’s employees have solid jobs and are getting a year end bonus. But what about your employee’s partners or extended family? How many of them have been laid off or taken significant pay cuts? They are telling you they want/need money and it is the height of entitlement and disrespect to say that “they have a salary and bonus so that should be enough”. Put your disappointment aside (which is where I think this truly stems from – your disappointment that you can’t plan the big shindig) and do as requested. As someone who has been to many of these parties…they aren’t as “special” to the employees as you seem to think.

    1. Lkr209*

      Removed. Please don’t use sexist tropes here. You’re welcome to repost it without that. – Alison

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I am convinced that a major motivation for expensive corporate parties is so the boss can play the role of the benevolent patron, with his employees lining up to express their gratitude. Once I figured this out, I realized that I could show up, make sure my immediate supervisor saw me, get in line to make my obeisance, and then sneak out and go home, having performed my assigned part in the production.

  61. Anon For This*

    #1 – Some years ago I worked for an idiot. Idiot Boss (let’s call him IB) had ZERO idea how to manage money. IB had great ideas like “our cash flow is down so let’s hire more employees.” That sort of thing.

    The last winter I worked for IB he went to lunch at a local place that everyone in the company had been to but for some reason he had never visited (it was about 200 yards from our building; not sure how he never made it there but whatever). He was astounded by how good it was and wanted everyone to know. On the same day he complained we had no money, he bought everyone a $100 gift card to that place. We had 15 employees at the time; 15 $100 gift cards could have paid for things he complained he couldn’t pay for, like electricity. Anyway, the place was good but not so good that people were going to go there so frequently as to use up $100 each. Over the course of three years I was able to use it for cups of coffee and muffins when I was in the area.

    I recently ran into a former co-worker who said they received… another gift card. This time to another local business, but this one is more specialized and has more niche products. This time it was $150. The remaining employees secretly joke that IB is going to stop paying them money and just start paying them in useless gift cards.

    so, all this trip down IB memory lane (which, I just realized could both be Idiot Boss and also Irritable Bowel – both probably apply to this guy) to say don’t hem in employees with what YOU want, just give them what THEY want and move on.

  62. PersephoneUnderground*

    LW#1- I understand where you’re coming from. You’re trying to replace a party, and you don’t see this money as earmarked for gifts but for an event (and the usual gifts are already covered by the existing bonuses). Your thought process is totally normal, so please don’t be upset by some of the comments that have oversimplified things a bit. That said, Alison is right. It seems this year what people really want is just to be given a share of the money you would have spent on the event- I know the price of a fancy dinner doesn’t seem like much, but an extra hundred dollars can make a big difference when finances are tight. My favorite suggestion has been to write personalized notes about their specific contributions to go with the money- that sounds lovely, and is the kind of thing I’d keep in my scrapbook for years, especially since it’s part of this unique moment in history.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yeah, I can understand the thinking here that a gift card doesn’t replace the usual party. The benefits of holiday parties can include showing appreciation, increasing engagement, and team building. The gift card or money doesn’t cover all that. So maybe OP #1 can give the gift cards as requested, but also plan a virtual happy hour or some other activity that replaces some of the other benefits of the holiday party. And even if that doesn’t work in this situation, give the money.

    2. LilyP*

      Yep, I think LW 1 is subconsciously applying “friendship” social norms around gifting when it’s fundamentally different in a work context! If you had a group of friends you normally took out to a fancy brunch for galentine’s day but you can’t this year because of COVID, it truly *would* be weird and even rude to send them cash instead. Cash does have a particular taboo in gifts between adult friends: it’s impersonal and implies a transactional relationship where you don’t want one. But work is actually a transactional relationship already! Gifting a friend cash says “I think I can buy your friendship”, gifting an employee cash says “I really appreciate the value of the work I’m already paying you to do and want to give it special recognition.”

  63. First time commenting*

    #5 – Take the job, ESPECIALLY if it’s a sanity move! Not to be dour, but 1 in 4 couples struggle with infertility. It may take longer than you think to build your family. It will make a big difference if you are in a job you enjoy while you’re dealing with the emotions of trying to conceive. I spent an extra two years at an underpaid position because I was convinced that THIS was the month I was going to be pregnant, so why bother starting at a new employer. Don’t be me. :) If you start TTC 3 months after you start, you’ll still have a year under your belt by the time you’re out on maternity. Good luck at the new job and the adventure of family building!

  64. Lkr209*

    Re: the boss’s wife: I’m not *trying* to be unkind here, but she doesn’t sound…particularly in touch with reality. I’m a gift-giver, I get it. You don’t want gifts for special occasions to be generic or “regular”, but especially special, given that they’re for Christmas, but things are different this year. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and she and her husband have no idea how this has affected their employees and their families financially. Even if *their* employees are paid well, their spouses could’ve been laid off, had C19-related medical issues, etc. that could very well be affecting them much more than she’s assuming. Instead of being upset that their families would use these to pay for regular bills, she should be genuinely happy that her and her husband can provide them with straight cash *in order to* pay their bills! Something that, unless she has literally been hiding in a spa cave the past 6 months, should know that the majority of Americans have been struggling to do. Give them the gift cards and be happy you’ll have less employees calling out of work because their electricity was shut off.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Eh, I think she just still wants it to feel special like a gift. And to be honest, when you get gift cards it sometimes doesn’t feel special but more like someone didn’t put any thought into it.

      But I think a Christmas bonus of cash or gift card can be made to still feel special if presented the right way.

      1. Lexie*

        If someone in your personal life who knows you really well gives you a Visa gift card it might seem like a cop out and that they couldn’t be bothered to get you something tailored to you. If they get you a gift card to your favorite store it’s a little more special because they know that you will find something you like but maybe still a little bit of a cop out, that kind of depends.

        However, I don’t expect an employer to be able to identify what would be a special gift to me let alone every single employee in the company. At that point I’m perfectly good with a check or a Visa gift card that I can use as I see fit. I’m never going to be sad or disappointed that my boss handed me cash instead of some object.

    2. anon73*

      Even in “normal” times, the problem with trying to give a “special” gift is that you don’t know everyone’s personal tastes. So even if you try to send a gift instead of money, it’s going to be generic and not special. I love to give gifts as well, and I personalize them for each recipient because I know them well. Unless it’s coming from a boss that knows me well, I’d always rather have the money.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Very much this.

        The very best gift is something the recipient never knew they wanted until the moment the opened the package. This is really hard to do. You have to know the recipient’s tastes very well, and also what they already have. A CD by a band they have never heard of but turn out to love is a good example of this sort of thing. Note that the price of the CD is the least of it. There is, of course, only a vanishingly small chance of a corporate gift being like this.

        So we fall back to the second best sort of gift: Something the recipient knew they wanted, but would not buy for themselves. If anyone is looking to buy something for me, I am partial to Laphroiag. This is much easier, but is still specific to the individual. Some poor lost souls complain that Laphroiag tastes like it was drained from a peat bog, as if that were a bad thing. So even for luxury goods, some will squeal in genuine delight while others will smile blandly while thinking about who they will regift this to. So this too is hard to do well en masse. Note also that the holiday party falls into this category. Some people consider it the highlight of the year. Others wonder how soon they can sneak out.

        The third best kind of gift is something the recipient would probably buy anyway, but what the heck. So when my wife asks me what I want for my birthday, I may think about it and realize that my bathrobe is getting a bit tattered, and due for replacement. Personally I would rather just buy one when I need it, but doing it this way fulfills the proprieties.

        So how does the third best kind of gift apply to corporate gift-giving? The restaurant gift cards are an attempt at this (unless to a very fancy restaurant, in which case they are a stab at the second sort of gift). After all, everyone has to eat. The problem is that not everyone likes the same restaurants.

        This is the beauty of cash. It is something everyone wants. You can sleep easy knowing that the recipient will genuinely like it, and will put it to a use suitable for their situation and tastes. Bravo!

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yes!
          I had (at a previous employer – several thousand employees globally sort of size) a 5-year work anniversary and they had a program for gifts for 5, 10, 15 etc work anniversaries.

          They emailed me a catalogue with the choice of gifts (as you’d expect, the longer the anniversary the more elaborate the gifts you could choose from); the 5-year gifts had a value of about $200 each (this would have been around 15 years ago) but none of them were anything I actually wanted.

          It’s not me being bratty and turning my nose up (I’m not like that, at all) but rather they were just such oddly specific corporate-y things like a crystal ornament with your name on, a specific piece of expensive luggage, a pair of company cufflinks with precious stone embellishments on, and stuff like that. I didn’t really want any of this stuff and would much rather have had the $200 in cash or a gift card for somewhere generic, but did end up choosing something (the luggage) as I didn’t want to be That Guy/Girl that inadvertently makes a ‘statement’ by not participating in the program…

          (… I wonder what happened to that luggage actually? Hmm. I didn’t sell it, I don’t recall giving it away although I give a lot of things away so it’s possible, perhaps it’s in one of the 2 remaining boxes of “miscellaenous and other” that I have moved from place to place with me when I moved?!)

  65. anon73*

    #1 – at first I was going to suggest a gift card to a local business or restaurant until you mentioned that everyone was in a different location. I plan on supporting local businesses this year – Target isn’t going to go out of business because of the pandemic, but I’ve seen far too many local places close their doors already. But 9 times out of 10, people would prefer money. The gesture of a gift is nice, but it’s often generic and quite honestly, unwanted.
    #2 – it seems very unlikely that this is just a coincidence and it sounds like your boss is playing games. I would talk to her with the script Alison suggested. And work on ways to not stress about it. You’ve said that it’s usually a misunderstanding, so assume this and enjoy your time off. Treat her like the boy who cried wolf.
    #3 – it’s not right that you’re missing out on a raise because your boss neglected to do their job. This is definitely a hill to die on IMO. Push back and see what can be done. The company shouldn’t be so rigid, and if they really aren’t able to put the raise into effect sooner than spring, they should make it retroactive.

  66. Silly Goose*

    Regarding the holiday party…

    You think they are special, but have you considered that might not be how the staff feels? Or at least not all of it?

    You say there’s stuff for people with dietary restrictions… There might not be (I cannot eat at 99 percent of restaurants).

    There are also people for whom the holidays are sad times, people who don’t enjoy parties or find work functions draining, people who are deeply religious and find generic secular celebrations off-putting, and people of minority religions who will tell you every ‘holiday’ party comes off as a Christmas party… And is off-putting.

    Alison has documented here all the ways these things can fall flat – or worse. So please take the staff at their word when they say what they most want.

    1. Silly Goose*

      I once went to a holiday lunch where I could only have water and ‘got’ to listen to the CEO talk about his new car for hours. I would rather have been working.

      1. Lexie*

        I have sat through so many lunches where in my head I was going over the all work I had to do (all of which was time sensitive) and how far back this “morale booster” was going to set me.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I can absolutely guarantee that not all staff are delighted by the holiday party, unless it is a very small staff, all of whom happen to belong to that segment of the population that enjoys this sort of thing.

    3. Pink Dahlia*

      I try my absolute best to play along with work events, but at the last department Christmas party they made us play embarrassing games (including “make a Santa suit out of toilet paper”) and absolutely everyone was filming with their smart phones. I never agreed to being the butt of a joke on some rando’s social media feed. The world just assumes it’s acceptable to record everything these days.

    4. LilyP*

      I don’t think these comments are useful. The fact that people would prefer cash over a wine and cheese basket when the normal party is impossible doesn’t imply that they all secretly hated the old parties. I think we can take LW at her word that the holiday parties were enjoyable and thoughtful and not get onto the doom and gloom train about how some holiday parties are miserable.

  67. Ellie May*

    1. Adding to Alison’s comments, perhaps purposely avoid chain restaurant gift cards in favor of VISA. VISA can be used anywhere and for anything, which is what people need right now … use for bills, clothes, food, and any restaurant (and this includes smaller, struggling, owner-operated restaurants at huge risk of closure right now).

    OP’s concern for making these holidays special for employees is very nice. Listen to your employees though – you asked and they told you what is preferred: $$$

  68. Lexie*

    In regards to LW#1 I would go so far as to say that it could be that the employees would prefer cash not just this year but every year. I can’t tell you how many parties and luncheons I have sat through and wondered how much more money I could make or what better use the company could make of the money if they didn’t spend it on these events that either cut into my doing my actual job or take away from my personal time. Especially since the letter sounds like one party is held at a fancy restaurant but then later says that restaurant gift cards would be difficult because of how spread out everyone is geographically. So does that mean that employees are excluded if they don’t live in the same area as the party or are they being majorly inconvenienced by having to travel an extended distance for dinner?

  69. Dwight Schrute*

    Oh my goodness LW1- please just give them money. Even during normal times a holiday party isn’t high on my list of enjoyable things to do and I would almost always prefer a gift card or money so I can spend it on something I will enjoy. With Covid some sort of virtual holiday party honestly just sounds exhausting and not at all fun. I get that you want to do something special but the money is special, especially right now when finances are tight and the world is a hot mess.

  70. MissDisplaced*

    1. What should we do for the holidays this year?
    I have sympathy for you OP. I totally get why you’re trying to do something to “make it still seem special” like the gourmet foodie dinner boxes, or a nice gift basket type of thing. Personally, I’d be happy to receive one of those!

    But it’s going to be hard to make everyone happy on this, and if most people like the idea of a gift card, they obviously still see it as perk or gift instead of money. I don’t know if there is a viable option for you that supports popular local business over a large chain store? We got gift certificates to a local mall, as an example, though it may be tough to please everyone if you do that. Every year in the secret Santa’s I’ve participated in, Wawa gift cards were much sought after in my area because one can buy gas or good hoagies with them. LOL!

      1. MissDisplaced*

        They were an oft “stolen” fought over item in the gift exchanges at my previous company. Turkey Gobbler Time! Summer HoagieFest! Yum! And even though Wawa is a fairly large chain not in danger because of the pandemic, they’re very much still a local business here.

        Hope OP finds a solution that still feels special somehow.
        Maybe do the Visa gift card, but wrap them up in a box or put in a pretty holiday card?

  71. WantonSeedStitch*

    Re: #5 – 100% in agreement with Alison on this! When my current position opened up at my workplace (an internal promotion from my previous position), I was trying to conceive, and had some mixed feelings about whether or not to throw my hat in the ring if it was possible I might have to go on leave before the transition was really settled. I had a chat with my mentor about it, and she advised me to go for it exactly for the reasons Alison mentioned here. I was very glad I made the decision: I got the position, and later got pregnant, and never had any problems with it. My boss was very supportive, and worked with me to figure out how my responsibilities would be handled while I was on leave.

    Definitely make a point of finding out as much as you can as soon as you can about leave policies and processes if you get the job, if the new position is something that might change that for you (as, for example, a change from being an hourly-paid employee to a salaried employee might do, or a change from part to full time). Good luck with the new position AND with starting a family!

  72. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP #1 – The idea that giving cash/gift cards/etc as a gift is impersonal, tacky, lazy, or whatever is actually heavily influenced by your culture AND your place within society. Which means that if the employees of the company are not from the same cultural background, or are from a different layer of society, your values could be distinctly different from what they value, and by extension, like you think your values are better than theirs. In some cultures, giving cash is actually the best gift. In the US, there’s a generational component as well.

    Give the gift cards. Tell yourself, and try to believe it, that it isn’t impersonal or lazy, but it is instead you recognizing that what you deem most important is not necessarily what others do, and you are being respectful by following their values.

  73. Quill*

    #1 – honestly you don’t know your employees well enough to give thoughtful, universally useful and valued gifts. There are too many of them, even if this wasn’t a pandemic year. This year you’re going to have to give them the gift of having more flexibility during the holidays, and that’s more purchasing power and fewer obligations to attend events.

  74. Jane*

    OP #2: yikes, how stressful!

    Here’s what I would do in addition to asking your boss wtf is going on: give everyone in the office a head’s up that you’re reclaiming your time and won’t be reachable by text anymore. You will continue to respond to work emails and calls (within business hours) as normal. Mute text notifications from your boss. When you’re ready to take a vacation again, set your OOO message from 5:00 on Friday until the morning you return. Say in your OOO that you’re not reading emails over this vacation. Basically, just cut the messages off at the pass. Make it so that they can’t reach your before your vacations or long weekends so you don’t have this stress cycle.

    Alternatively, can’t you just call her? Once you receive a stressful text, just immediately call her. “This seems very important since you texted it to me outside of business hours right before my vacation, so I’m calling to see what’s going on?” Return that stress to sender!

    Good luck, OP. I would hate this!

  75. digitalnative-ish*

    For LW 1, could people please stop suggesting wine? That would definitely not be appreciated by everyone for a variety of reasons.

    A card can be enjoyed (or easily ignored) by everyone, so I say go that route if you want to add something.

    1. Not me*

      I hate when people get me wine. Invariably it is dry or not kosher… Yuck. Every time we move my movers walk away with the wine I don’t want to move and can’t drink.

    2. Jay*

      My boss and I used to exchange wine recommendations, so when he gave me a bottle one year, that was great. Without that background? Nope.

      See also: not everyone can eat candy, and please don’t give scented anything unless you are sure it’s something the person wants to have. My husband has terrible allergies and sensitivities and we’re a fragrance-free household (try that with a teenage girl who wants ALL THE HAIR PRODUCTS. It was fun). I can’t even bring scented candles into the house. I can’t use scented lotion or soaps at work because the scent lingers. I can’t have flowers with a fragrance in the house. So please, please, please, give cash or gift cards unless you have enough of a personal relationship to pick out a gift you know the person will welcome.

      My mother was in charge of choosing gifts for my father’s office staff and hospital assistants. She must have bought 20 or 30 gifts every year – always the same for everyone to be fair. It was a ton of work, and I suspect they would have preferred to have the cash.

    3. Lexie*

      I completely agree about the wine. It’s only a good gift you know the person drinks wine and what wine they like.

    4. Quickbeam*

      My company used to hand out wine at holidays. I told HR that they could keep mine, I do not drink alcohol. Apparenlty I was the first eprson in the 106 year history of the company to turn down wine. After that they did offer dried fruit or cider. Because I spoke up.

    5. micklethwaite*

      Yes, as a non-drinker I’m running out of grateful smiles for yet another bottle that will be handed to my neighbour on my way into my house. I do appreciate the thought, but the thought is all I can use. And I’m sober by default rather than by hard effort, it’s easy for me not to drink – a lot of people are not so lucky.

    6. M.*

      Seconding this! My work colleagues got me a bottle of wine as a celebration for my PhD. Which really stung since I am known in my workplace as someone who never drinks. It still stings when I remember it.

  76. HailRobonia*

    My team just finished our busy summer season and our boss sent us boxes of cookies. That may sound fun, but despite being “gourmet” cookies they weren’t that good and mine were all broken during transit. The cookies cost $40 per box. We all would have preferred the $40 cash over some overpriced cookies.

  77. Quickbeam*

    LW#2…I had that boss! Every time I was set to go on vcacation, she’d drop a major project on my desk 10 minutes before I was to leave. Or a rush letter from the Governor (I wrote them, he signed them). Always “extremely urgent”. This was in the time before text.

    What I started doing was scheduling an out of office meeting or remote presentation the same day I was to leave on vacation so I would not be physically at my desk just before vacation. However she kept doing it every single time I was to take a day off until she retired.

    I felt it was a power move to let me know who was the boss. But I share your irritation, it was a huge dissatisfier.

    1. Where is my remote job?*

      My situation is different than yours but it is totally a power play. Agree with your assessment 100%.

    2. OP2*

      They must be related! I’ve been trying to set out firmer guidelines so that has stopped… a little. But the frustration remains.

  78. hmmm*

    OP1 – I love that you are open to ideas. Is there a way you could combine your wish for a celebration and giving the gift cards. If you are in the office maybe order in for lunch and give the gift cards. If you are working remotely can you send a box of chocolates or something with the gift card. I agree with Alison that its a weird year and your employees are telling you what they want. I’d go with the gift card and a little token something.

  79. Thisishalloween*

    Hi op1! Thank you for putting a lot of time and care into thinking about this for the employees. I would recommend the Visa gift cards with an eye out for any tax issues. You have put a tremendous effort into planning previous holiday parties – one of the elements that makes the event satisfying for you is knowing you have picked a restaurant that has options for everyone, regardless of diet or allergen restrictions. That’s freedom, and freedom is fun. Continue that tradition and give employees the freedom and flexibility they’ve asked for in the form of the visa gift card- not worrying about a bill is fun, paying down a debt is fun, buying something for yourself or a family member can be fun. At a time when many companies are not listening to their employees, the specialness of your gift this year will be doing just that. And include an individual, handwritten holiday card if you like, invite the employees to put their regular plus one on the zoom call to say hello.
    But your gift this year is listening to the employees and knowing that you’re getting them exactly what they wanted – a little bit of financial freedom.

  80. Darcy*

    I suspect that the OP derives real pleasure out of gift giving, both at work and in her personal life. A part of being a gift giver is the enjoyment of getting to pick the gift. It absolutely loses something for the giver when the recipient gets to choose what they want. This is not something to berate the OP over……she and her husband (presumably) own the business and get to decide how to express their generosity.

    All that said – this is a weird year and the OP is dealing where a situation where some numbskull in the office decided to survey employees about their preferences. I’d suggest dealing with it as I noted upthread – give cash/gift card this year with a note enclosed expressing thanks and explaining that while the party can’t happen in 2020, it’ll be back in 2021. Without that note, employees WILL start thinking that another cash “gift” will be coming in December 2021. The OP and her husband get to give the gifts they want, not the gifts that employees expect.

    1. Lexie*

      The OP doesn’t own the business. The husband is a part owner and the OP does “a little bit” of work there which includes party planning. So it’s up to the actual owners of the company, not one owner’s spouse, what gifts they give. Since someone went through the effort to survey the employees on what they want that leads me to believe that at least some of the decision makers care about what their employees would like and want to make them happy. The bigger enjoyment of gift giving is seeing the recipient being truly happy with the gift as opposed to mumbling a polite but insincere “thank you” while they mentally add it to the Goodwill pile.

      As for saying that the party will be back in 2021 there’s no way to predict that right now. This social distancing could go on for a long time. The cash gifts could go over so well that the owners decide to cancel future parties and do this instead.

    2. pancakes*

      You don’t see the irony in chastising commenters for “berating” the letter writer and then referring to one of their employees as “some numbskull” in your next paragraph?

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And for what? for asking people what kind of recognition they would want from their employer in a pandemic year. *That* is what made the person a numbskull? I thought it was a thoughtful and considerate thing to do.

        @Darcy: she and her husband (presumably) own the business and get to decide how to express their generosity
        This is an accurate statement. OP and her husband could replace both the holiday party and the gifts with single a Zoom gratitude session where attendees would be reminded to be thankful that they still have a job, and they would still be completely within their rights to do so, as the owners. However, as tone-deaf as some parts of OP’s letter are coming across, I got the impression that she and her husband do value and appreciate the employees (without whom they wouldn’t have a running business), and genuinely want to express their appreciation.

        1. Darcy*

          Surveying the employees about what they wanted would have been a fine idea if the OP had been the one to do it, as a part of her figuring out what to do this year in lieu of a party. But the survey was done without her knowledge, and she’s now left with the consequences. Either she forks over money/gift cards or she comes across as being tone deaf.

          As far as 2021? Of course, no one knows the state of public health in 2021. If we’re all still, God forbid, having to stay away from one another for another 14 months, of course the company will forego a party. The reason for saying that the party will be back in 2021 is to keep the cash gift from becoming an annual expectation, rather than a one time thing.

          1. Scarlet2*

            OP is the wife of *one* of the company’s owners. We don’t even know who exactly did the survey but, based on the letter, it looks like employees talked to company owners. Why on earth would OP be more entitled to decide what the bonus is going to be than the other owners? Also, she doesn’t “fork over the money”, the company does.

            “The reason for saying that the party will be back in 2021 is to keep the cash gift from becoming an annual expectation, rather than a one time thing.”
            Because God forbid people might want actual cash as a recognition for *work*.

            1. Darcy*

              Why on earth would OP be more entitled to decide what the bonus is going to be than the other owners?
              Because she’s in charge of the holiday party. Not bonuses…..the party. Bonuses are budgeted and have nothing to do with the holiday party. She’s been in charge of the party in the past and this year was trying to figure out a way to express appreciation to employees from a distance. I have no idea the extent to which she needs permission from the owners for her decisions. Sounds like in the past, she did all of the planning without assistance but this year got some unsolicited “help” in the form of an employee survey.

              I feel for OP, I really do. Planning the holiday party is generally a no-win proposition. Everyone’s got an opinion – from “I want an open bar and an all-night deejay” to “Just give me the cash”. I’m personally not a big fan of these parties but it’s my employer’s money to spend. I can choose to go or not to go. As long as I’m being paid a fair salary and receive any promised bonuses, I don’t expect a cash Christmas gift on top of it.

              1. Scarlet2*

                And it doesn’t look like the survey was done behind the back of the owners or in a way the owners didn’t approve of. At the end of the day, they’re the ones with actual power over this. And once again, it’s not OP who’s “forking over” the money, so it’s not specifically up to her. It doesn’t matter that normally OP would be organizing the party, since there’s not going to be a party this year.

                It looks like the owners actually care about whether their employees are happy with their bonus, so I don’t see what the problem is. Also, employees might be paid a “fair salary”, it doesn’t mean they’re not financially struggling right now.

  81. Where is my remote job?*

    OP 2, I so understand how you’re feeling! I work in a very small office with the added bonus of family/friendship ties with management. (No boundaries.) The manager would frequently drop these unwelcome bombs on Saturdays or Sundays in our work chat (Facebook.) Stuff that can definitely wait until Monday morning. For example, a message on Sunday morning during this pandemic that we were opening our office back up to the general public for walk in service with no safety precautions in place effective immediately. Talk about ruining a perfectly good Sunday! These little message bombs were always negative things, never anything good. It was happening so often that I finally spoke to a common friend/family member who totally agreed it was unnecessary and must have said something because it hasn’t happened in a while. I would have done it myself but I’m too close to the situation and suffering burnout so I know it would have come across badly.
    No advice for you, just sympathy!

  82. tiny_strawberries*

    Could LW 1 do cash along with inexpensive gifts to employees? I agree that you should go with the employees, but it might be nice to have something silly along with it. My old boss gave me a pair of funny socks once, and while it was definitely wacky I really appreciated it alongside a merit bonus.

  83. Jay*

    LW#2: is she texting you during regular work hours or after you’re done for the day? If the latter, I’d block her as soon as you leave and unblock her just before you go back. Or at the very least mute the conversation. Or get a new number – maybe a Google Voice number – that you can ignore when you’re not working. I bet there are other ways to use technology in your favor. “Sorry! I unplugged over the weekend and didn’t see the message.”

    If it’s during regular working hours when you need to be available, that won’t work, and in either case Alison’s script is excellent, of course.

  84. I'm just here for the cats*

    Letter #3. I work in a university setting too, and this shouldn’t be a problem. People have babies and need time off. Sometimes these are not planned and people become pregnant right after starting a job.

    If fact at my university we had a similar situation. At the end of last year we hired a new member of our team to replace someone who retired. Typically the new person would have started shortly after the other person left. However, the person who was best fit was pregnant and had to take maternity leave at the time they would have started. So their actual start date wasnt until much later. They were upfront about their needs and no one batted an eye.
    Now, I’m not saying you should tell the new place that you’re planning to have a baby. But it’s not “a thing.” Start the new job and continue with your plans to start your family. Good Luck!

  85. Observer*

    #1- It’s holiday time. I’d be willing to bet that there are employees for whom a visa card means that they get to buy gifts for their families. You can’t get more special than that.

    Send a note along with it if you want to make it personal.

    1. Lexie*

      Exactly. OP1 is the spouse of a part owner of the company and works there “a little bit”. OP1 probably doesn’t have any actual decision making power. I’m guessing that in the past OP1 was given a budget for the Christmas party and basically given free reign within certain parameters and expected to apply that to planning an alternate celebration this year but now others are getting involved in what to do.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’m guessing that in the past OP1 was given a budget for the Christmas party

        If that’s true, I’ll bet it also feels like the money went farther at Surf ‘n’ Turf than it does as Visa cards. If Surf ‘n’ Turf worked out to ~$35/employee at a group/party rate, that’s going to feel underwhelming as a gift card or cheque.

  86. Choggy*

    OP #1 First, thank you for being so thoughtful about the best way for your company to provide some holiday cheer to an otherwise gloomy year! While my own company does have a party, it’s not well-attended so I don’t think they will do anything this year.

    My company recognizes years of service, and they used to provide a catalog from which employees could select something (the catalogs were different depending on the years of service). Many times people never selected anything from the catalog because they forgot, or they could not find something they liked, so very frustrating for the recognized employee. In the last few years they have changed this so now we get Visa gift cards which I have to say is soooo much better!

    Please don’t think anything less of giving money to the employees, especially now it might come in so handy for those who are struggling (and you may never know how they used it, but so what?).

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My two old jobs did this starting at 5 years of service. I stayed for 6 years at each, so I got to pick my gifts. One was a decorative clock that only works sporadically, but I admit it looks nice. The other was an ugly vase, that is very heavy, so I suppose could double as exercise equipment? Both items are collecting dust in my basement. These were the best and most practical options out of all presented to us in the catalog. (Pretty sure it was the same catalog at both employers, lol.) I’ll be honest, it never crossed my mind that money could have been an option. It would’ve been lovely! With that said, it’s still more than what I got from my current employer for my 5th (which was absolutely nothing).

      1. Lexie*

        For 5 years at one company I got a really nice fleece jacket with the company logo on it. I wore it a lot. While I worked there. Once I left I didn’t wear it anymore. I think it’s shoved in a closet somewhere.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          My older son got a really nice fleece jacket from his first employer when he started there six years ago. When he moved back in with me, I saw the jacket in a box in the basement, still in its original packaging, and my son was like “yeah I don’t want it, you can have it”. That was 4 years ago and I am sitting in my home office in that jacket typing this :) It is really comfy. It does have a company logo on it, but it’s not any of my past employers, which might be why I don’t mind, I suppose!

  87. Anonya*

    OP #1: Be practical. The people have spoken. Give them money, and stop trying to replicate a traditional event during a chaotic year.

    TBH, my particular group keeps trying to make 2020 happen with virtual events and gift boxes, and I am thoroughly over it. Everyone tired, stressed to the max and trying to keep their heads above water. Nobody is asking for, nor wanting, “special” right now. They want calm and normal and nothing that taxes their already shrinking resources. I am a mere mid-level manager and have pushed back against all these special events, to no avail. The senior leadership team, not surprisingly, thinks they’re GREAT. It’s astoundingly tone deaf, IMO.

  88. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    For the “no raise because I missed a deadline” this is patently absurd. Payroll is constantly making adjustments to pay due to vacation, sick time, docked pay, overtime, promotions, etc. HR’s deadline is surely to get as many people processed as possible, not a “you miss this, no raise for you!”

    It’s unnecessarily punitive and makes no sense.

    I would push back on your boss or call HR directly and inquire. Surely they can give you raise as of the next pay and make it retroactive.

    I had payroll correct an overpayment months after the fact (because they forgot and I followed up and was thanked for my honesty. And it was NOT an easy fix because there was a negotiated COLA raise for which we received lump sums for in the interim but after I had been overpaid; so the old overpayment was removed and then I was paid at the new rate for my job title, and not at the rate I was paid at the time because the COLA raises hadn’t been approved yet when I was paid the first time. Trust me, it all made sense once I put it into a spreadsheet).

    If my payroll can handle that headache, this poor letter writer’s HR and payroll can handle a delayed submittal of a performance review.

  89. Dr of Laboratoria*

    For OP #5 – Take the job! Take the job! Take the job!

    As a personal story, hubby & I started trying when I started my first job after grad school. It took 7 months to get pregnant. So I was in my job over a year before I went on maternity leave.

    As Alison stated, you have no idea how long it will take for you two to achieve pregnancy.

    Go for the career move. :)

  90. Ace in the Hole*

    LW 1, don’t think of it as “it’s not a gift because it will just go to paying bills.” Think of it as “We are giving our employees the gift of relieving financial stress.”

    If your employees get extra cash for the holidays and spend it on bills… presumably, that is what gives them the greatest joy. Think how wonderful a gift it would be to have a bill hanging over your head you’ve been dreading and then find out that someone unexpectedly paid it for you. But it’s not just bills. What about your employee who might use this to pay for a hotel or airfare so they can go visit their parents or child? What about your employee who might use it towards something like a new mattress or kitchen appliances that they’ve been wanting for ages and will improve their quality of life literally every day? What about your employee who has been thinking they’ll have to put down the family pet, but now can afford vet care? The employee who will use it to buy something really special for their kids? Or spend it on supplies for their hobby?

    I don’t think you intend it this way, but your point of view comes across as “holiday gifts should be a frivolous luxury.” But the most cherished gifts are the ones that are not frivolous and often not even luxuries. There have been times in my life when the most wonderful gift someone could have given me was to pay for my bus pass.

  91. Anhaga*

    #1: don’t underestimate how special simply having their expressed desires honored can be for employees. In a working world where employees are routinely treated like disposable cogs that don’t know what’s good for them, getting evidence that your employer–especially the big boss–is hearing what you say can be extremely gratifying. Put the gift cards in a pretty holiday card if you want to make it a little more special.

    #2: I’m curious: OP, is anxiety about your supervisor’s feedback of you pretty normal in your workplace? If so, the problem may be bigger than these intrusions into your off-time. Do you usually feel bad when your supervisor gives you feedback, or just when she does it at these particular times.

    #5: Take the job! Don’t feel guilty about working on starting a family simultaneously. You’ll have plenty of time to become a known quantity even if you get pregnant quickly (which is not always how it goes–it took me a year or so to get pregnant with my first), so unless the university you’re working for is really bureaucratically jerky, it will work out.

  92. Scott M*

    #1 My company has a award program for employees who reach significant milestones in their employment. As I recall it starts at 5 years and then it’s every 5 yrs after that. In addition to a fancy banquet after work hours, employees can pick something out of a catalog to receive as their gift. there can be some fairly expensive items in there once you get up past 5 years. I know I’ve gotten some pretty expensive power tools for my workshop that I really appreciated. those gifts mean more to me than any banquet or personalized letter from department head. So yes I would give the employees the cash they are asking for period that will give them more warm fuzzies than anything else you could do

  93. LCH*

    “the majority of employees voted for getting a gift card for a dinner or a VISA gift card.”

    question answered, the office has spoken.

    1. Jean*

      Right? “I have a problem, I need advice” no you literally don’t. The employees have solved the problem already by telling you explicitly what they want. This is the opposite of a problem. Go do something special for yourself with all the time and effort they saved you.

  94. Ophelia*

    I’ll also chime in on this – I’ve had two kids, all while working at a job I truly enjoy. Without fearmongering, the first year of having a new baby is a huge life change–and that means it can be really helpful for some people to have consistent access to things that were part of their “old” life. I’m sure plenty of parents don’t feel this way, but like BonzaSonza, I was glad to have a place to go back to where my professional identity was still the same. Having the opportunity to put myself in a career that makes me happy before embarking on such a life change is one thing that I found truly valuable down the line, and while it wasn’t part of my initial calculus, if I were to go back and do it all over again, it would be a mark in favor of taking that position.

  95. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP1 thank you for asking the question! We’ve seen quite a few letters here with OPs upset at the plans to buy expensive gifts nobody wants, when they’d rather have extra cash to pay for bills.
    It sounds like you enjoy organising this event and it’s probably enjoyable for a lot of employees. But remember, most of them earn a lot less than your husband so anything that helps to pay bills is welcome. They’ll perhaps have some left over to spend on a better wine than usual for their Christmas dinner and you can be sure they’ll be grateful for it.

  96. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP4 I strongly recommend starting mid-week. Everyone’s grumpy on Mondays and there’ll be an interminable meeting with compulsory attendance where you won’t understand a word of what’s going on.
    Recommendation holds even more for mothers coming back to work after maternity leave, because the baby will appreciate the shorter week too!

  97. Observer*

    What EventPlannerGal said. Also, perhaps exaggerate a bit less.

    Unemployment is higher than it’s been since the great recession. But not CLOSE to half the population.

    Also, there are so many other ways you could have made your point rather than using a sexist insult. Yet instead of backing off, your are doubling down.

  98. Peppercat53*

    LW #1- I would give them the VISA gift cards they are asking for. As others have pointed out you don’t know their financial circumstances or all of their life circumstances right now. I know if I got a restaurant gift card I would feel like my employer was completely out of touch with what is happening in the world right now. I haven’t dined out in a restaurant since March and you couldn’t pay me enough to eat in a restaurant right now regardless of their COVID protocols, distancing, etc. We only order takeout from our local places and even then right now in our small town, the virus is not taken seriously and we are picking and choosing carefully the restaurants we will enter even just to pick something up. Often gift cards expire if they are not at least partially used and that’s likely what would happen for a lot of people who don’t feel safe going out right now- in the US at least we’re probably going to be dealing with the “new normal” well into 2021.

  99. logicbutton*

    LW1: I wonder if you’re resistant to just giving people money because, if you do that, what’s the point of having parties ever? But some people do value the chance to socialize with coworkers in fancy surroundings while being served nice food that they didn’t have to pay for – it’s just that that’s not going to be possible this year. I get why you would want to try to replicate that as much as you can, but really, the things that can be replicated easily aren’t the parts that are most important to them or that make it worthwhile. Honestly, what makes nice restaurants fun isn’t just the food – it’s part food, part atmosphere, and part not having to deal with dishes or leftovers or serving the food at the right temperature, and you’re just not going to get that with takeout.

    I say, give them the money, and if you’re concerned that it would just look like more of the same, include a note that says something like, “An extra gift in lieu of this year’s holiday party. We hope it makes this season special.” No encouragement to use it in any particular way, but they’ll get the spirit in which it’s intended.

  100. knitcrazybooknut*

    Hey OP2! You’re being really kind and charitable about how you view this behavior. Sadly, I’ve got a lot of experience in dealing with dysfunctional personalities, and this is classic power and control. It may be unconscious behavior, but it still has one goal: To keep you off balance so you’ll be too busy to assess your situation and decide to go elsewhere. She’s got you focused on pleasing her instead of on yourself. She wants you worrying about work, because that keeps the emotional energy high, and she feeds off of that emotional stress. If you’re gone, you’re not feeding her. She doesn’t like that, so she criticizes you before you leave. She knows you’re worried about her criticism, because you’re trying to call her. This makes her happy, because you’re still a) thinking about work, and b) worried about her opinions.

    I will say that this MAY be unconscious or learned behavior on her part. But that doesn’t make it excusable. Your blocking her number during vacations will work for you for the short-term, but she will probably escalate her attacks. You need to look for a new job starting now. It may not seem bad right now, but this isn’t really solvable, since she’s already demonstrated that she doesn’t care that she stresses you out before your vacation. A good boss will support you in disconnecting from work, and won’t make a mountain out of a molehill just to freak you out.

    I’m not going to diagnose over the internet. I will say that the reddit forum raisedbynarcissists has helped me deal with similar behavior many many times. You can look up “grey rocking” as a possible coping mechanism, or use the time-honored tradition of observing her behavior like a scientist observing an alien race. Clipboards help!

    Again, your reading of this as petty and that she doesn’t realize the impact of what she’s doing is really nice of you. But her continuing to do this despite what you’ve told her demonstrates otherwise.

  101. moneypenny*

    Letter #1: Gifts aren’t for the giver. The people have told you what they want and so what if they use the money for bills, what’s the difference? They use the normal party for dinner, what’s the difference? Give the people what they want.

  102. Strawberry Red*

    OP #1, please take the advice. Additional money on top of a bonus might not seem special to you, but I guarantee that it will mean the world to your husband’s employees, especially at a time when so many people need it. Maybe they’ll use it to buy Christmas presents for their kids, or take their spouse out to their favorite restaurant, or pay their rent worry-free. To be totally frank, I’ve never been to a holiday party that I liked more than money.

    I can tell that your heart is in the right place with the chain restaurant gift cards, but honestly, I would be pretty annoyed if I voted for money and got an Olive Garden gift card or something.

  103. HungryLawyer*

    OP1, it’s very kind of you to consider making the holidays extra special for your employees. Let’s face it, 2020 has sucked big time for everyone, and we all need extra cheer. That said, your employees have been very upfront about what form they want that holiday cheer to take: money. A lot of other folks have commented on why giving folks extra $ this year to spend however they like (yes, including on bills), is a kindness in itself. I want to add that *you* also benefit from giving VISA gift cards to your employees. You get to be the boss who listens, the boss who cares, and the boss who vastly improves team morale – all by simply giving your team what they asked for! It truly is a win-win for everyone involved.

  104. boop the first*

    #1. Should this conversation even be happening though?
    Op just happens to be married to a boss
    Not an owner or boss (?undetermined?)
    Describes themself as barely even an employee.
    Expects to have say in how employees enjoy rewards
    Surprised that there were developments outside of their doing.

  105. Mamunia*

    For #1, I’m haven’t done any restaurants (or any take-out) during the pandemic. I don’t yet feel safe. If I were given a restaurant gift card, it would just sit in a drawer (and possibly expire before this is all over).

  106. My cat is the employee of the month*

    OP2, I had one of these bosses, too! Her pattern was to schedule a one-on-one late on the day before my vacation started and would drop bombshells on me. Our one-on-ones were very infrequent, and the meetings were so late in the day that there wasn’t a lot of time to actually finish any tasks before everyone left for the day. I think she wanted to punish me for taking time off because she was more ridiculous about it the longer my vacation was. I did not confront her about it because I had made up my mind to leave the position. She was a terrible manager, but she was not the biggest problem at the company. If I had cared more about the position, I would have scheduled a meeting with her myself about a week before my vacation, so we could avoid any last minute crises before my vacation. She didn’t do any of my work while I was out, so we wouldn’t have had to discuss coverage. Good luck!!

  107. Lucy P*

    #1. First of all, thank you for planning the party every year. Not that others don’t work hard, but the admins in our office are often stretched to the max in their duties. The idea of making them plan a party that is supposed to be an employee appreciation thing is…it is what it is. There’s no appreciation for them because they’re still running around behind the scenes trying to coordinate everything with the event staff. Kinda takes the fun out of it.
    As for the gift cards, it that’s what they want, please give it to them. I’m assuming that the bonuses are taxed, whereas the visa gift cards wouldn’t be. That makes a difference.

  108. Gymmie*