we gave an expensive goodbye gift and the person didn’t leave

A reader writes:

We have an executive assistant at my company who has been there for five years. She doesn’t make much effort to be social to the rest of us, but the executives she works for have a hard time keeping assistants and seem to get along well with her.

She got a job offer at another company and the salary was too good to turn down. She left on good terms and her main boss, who rarely acknowledged when anyone else in his department left for new pastures, really went all out for a goodbye. A going away party, conference room cake, bar happy hour with the tab picked up, and … a collection taken up for a goodbye gift. Even though she wasn’t that friendly to most of us, we still threw in our $20 each or whatever. The high level executives must have contributed much more than that, because the “department” ended up getting her an extremely nice and extremely expensive designer handbag. (Something they had never done for anyone else.)

As it turned out, she hated the new job and, after one week, called her old boss and asked for her position back. He hadn’t hired a replacement yet and was thrilled to take her back. All good. But … this goodbye present handbag! She returned to her old position and has proceeded to wear the new luxury bag to work every day, and it is making some people crazy.

I’m not sure what she was supposed to do. She had probably already worn the purse to the new job, making it too used to return. But she is walking around work with this VERY expensive handbag as a goodbye present for the job she never left. It has become the office joke now that anytime someone announces they are leaving, it is met with, “Oh sure, just resign, get a purse and oops, just kidding, I’m going to stay after all!”

Most of us don’t really care, but the jokes and comments are flying around the office about it. And some of the employees who contributed were low level, felt pressured to contribute, and are now resentful. I think the executives personally picked up the majority of the cost on this thing (they were excited for her going to a fancy new place and wanted to send her off in style), but they still took up a collection for a goodbye gift when they have never done anything that fancy for anyone else. And then she never really left! What should she have done? Keep the bag? Give the bag back? Wear the bag? Keep the bag but avoid wearing it to work? The rest of us should just accept that it was a gift and hey, things happen?

I think this is less about the assistant keeping a goodbye gift when she ended up coming back and more about the gift practices in your office.

It’s not cool to make people feel pressured into contributing money to gifts — ever, but particularly not when it’s only done for one person. You could argue for an exception when the person leaving occupies a low-level job that most people on staff benefit from, such as a long-time receptionist or cleaner, and where the people chipping in all make comfortable salaries. But that doesn’t sound like the case here; it sounds like the assistant worked for a small group of executives. Those executives could/should have given her a gift themselves if they’d wanted to, but pressuring the whole office to contribute was a misstep. (And $20 would be a lot to chip in for many people!)

Better yet, if the company wants to give goodbye gifts, the company should pay for it (as many companies do).

But it’s not the assistant’s fault that it happened. Ideally she would have recognized that the optics are a little weird (not outrageously weird, but a little weird) and done something to address those. In theory she could have asked if people would like the gift back (an empty offer since, as you point out, the bag couldn’t be returned once used — but it would be a gesture toward “hey, I see the dynamics here”). If she’d written to me, I might have advised her to make a gesture of a different sort, like bringing in baked goods for the office one morning, framed as “thanks for giving me such a nice send-off and then welcoming me back anyway!” She doesn’t have to do anything like that — again, she hasn’t done anything wrong — but it could be smart, especially if she’s picking up on any of the resentment from low-level colleagues who felt pressured to contribute.

But meanwhile, yeah, the rest of you should accept that it was a gift, this stuff happens, it’s not her fault, and there’s no real way to get anyone their money back. You should all let it strengthen your resolve to push back the next time a collection is suggested though — not because this goodbye gift ended up being unneeded, but because it’s a bad practice generally.

{ 469 comments… read them below }

  1. Viki*

    As a general rule, once you give someone a gift it is no longer yours to dictate.

    There was no reason why she should give the bag back. It’s hers, the financing behind it not her fault/problem and as an admin she might not be making a lot of money either.

    There’s a gift giving/$ issue but that’s not the admin’s fault and the people grumbling that she should give the bag back/a money refund need to cool it.

    1. ASW*

      As an executive assistant, she is likely making more than a regular admin. The executive assistant at my job who retired 18 months ago was making almost $100,000 before overtime. And we are a small organization with less than 200 employees. The current executive assistant makes less than that but she’s still making more than I made at my previous job as a manager at a CPA firm.

      1. Witch*

        ………………………………. I’m an EA at a small organization with less than 200 employees and I’m making 45k.

        1. Lorelai*

          Obviously salaries vary based on cost of living, but at my company a mid level EA makes about $110-115k base with a 15% annual bonus target.

          1. Fran Fine*

            I really should have stuck with administrative work – this could have been me! *sigh* lol

            1. On the road again …*

              Probably not. Just like the “real Fran Fine” some admins hit the jackpot and make that kind of money, but certainly not all, or even most. Most employers just don’t value the admin part of life even though they have zero ability to do it themselves.

      2. BigHairNoHeart*

        Possibly, but my understanding is that EA salaries vary quite a bit from one org to the next, so I wouldn’t automatically assume she’s being very well compensated.

        1. not a doctor*

          It also depends on how she was being treated. She might have been well-compensated on paper, but functionally working 20 hours a day.

      3. Goldie*

        How much she was making is completely irrelevant in this situation. She was given a gift, she didn’t ask for it!

        1. GreenDoor*

          Exactly. She might not even have known who all contributed and assumed the gift was strictly from the well-paid execs she reported to. (The OP doesn’t mention a card signed by all who contributed…). She might not even be aware the optics are what they are.

      4. Observer*

        As an executive assistant, she is likely making more than a regular admin

        So? None of this is relevant to the question.

        None of this is the EA’s fault. People are right to be ticked off – but not at the EA. And not because she came back. They should be ticked off because management pressured a lot of people into spending money (that some of them possibly don’t actually have available to spend) for someone who doesn’t really do anything for them and who is probably better paid than them. This is a management problem, not one with the EA (who, it sounds like earns every penny of her salary).

        1. OP*

          Agreed. I don’t think she did anything wrong. I think you nailed it in that the resentment comes from employees feeling pressured to give money for someone who doesn’t interact with them and who makes significantly more than them.

            1. OP*

              I hear you. I will say that everyone is happy that she felt like she could ask for her job back and didn’t stay in a miserable situation. I think that took courage and I also think it was nice to see that they welcomed her back. I think people were just taken back to see they contributed to a gift that cost more than most of our bonuses. But that’s not her fault nor did she ask for this.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                That is definitely the more important takeaway here! I left my company and regretted it, and then was able to return (after 7 months though, not a week) and even before I gave my notice I felt like that was a real possibility because I had seen my company welcome back previous employees a few times in the past. Though the collection for her leaving was probably a mistake, it’s really go to know that the executives are the type of bosses that can be happy for a good employee who finds a better job rather than trying to hold her back!

      5. anonymous73*

        This is irrelevant to the point Viki was making. Her salary does not matter here. She was given a gift for leaving…and then came back. So? The issue here is with people feeling pressured to contribute to a group gift, not how much money the admin makes.

    2. Audrey Puffins*

      This. Gifts need to be given unconditionally, otherwise they’re not gifts. Sure, the optics aren’t great, but she hasn’t done anything wrong. If there’s any resentment in the office, it’s not the EA’s fault and it’s not on her to fix it. Look deeper.

    3. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      Thank you! This is the correct take. The employees that are upset have no one to blame but themselves. They could have and should have politely refused to contribute to the gift fund.

      Also, if the EA’s bosses contributed most of the money (which is almost certainly the case), EA might feel weird about not using the bag in front of them, for fear of appearing ungrateful, especially since they gave her her job back.

      LW and their coworkers need to take this as a lesson for the future, not something to be bitter and angry about now.

      1. MK*

        Actually they do have someone other than themselves to blame: the bosses who decided to do a collection for the gift instead of just getting their own admin a present they paid for*. It’s not so easy to refuse to contribute in these situations, especially when higher ups initiate it.

        * Not that I think they meant badly, they probably thought the git would mean more for the whole department.

        1. Jora Malli*

          Yeah, I think they’re mad at the wrong person.

          The admin didn’t demand that everybody chip in $20 for a goodbye present. She didn’t demand to be given an expensive designer bag. She didn’t expect her new job to be so bad she’d want to leave immediately. And now she’s stuck trying to show gratitude for both the bag AND the reinstated job. The only thing she’s actually done to the other employees is not be very social, which is a way a lot of people choose to be at work.

          And I know that they’re probably only mad at her because they don’t feel safe being mad at the executives, but it’s still not okay that they’re bullying this woman behind her back when she’s done nothing to them. I’d start pushing back if people start trashing her. “Gloria didn’t ask for an expensive present, it’s not her fault that things happened the way they did and it’s not cool for you to talk about her like that.”

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            She may not even realize that lots of people chipped in the $20!
            She may think only the execs paid for it.

          2. Evelyn Carnahan*

            You hit the nail on the head that the people who are upset probably don’t feel safe being angry at the execs, or certainly not making comments about it at work, so they’re taking it out on the admin.

            I think it’s also fair to point out that the admin may also feel awkward having received this pretty lavish going away present and then coming back to her job where she is clearly not liked by many of the staff.

      2. Observer*

        Thank you! This is the correct take. The employees that are upset have no one to blame but themselves. They could have and should have politely refused to contribute to the gift fund.

        That’s also an unfair take. It’s not always easy or even possible to “politely refuse” to “contribute” to the gift fund. The employees have every reasons to be upset – their bosses did something really improper here.

        1. CreepyPaper*

          You can politely refuse by saying ‘sorry it’s not in my budget this month’ and if they push then say ‘sorry, it’s still not in my budget this month’ until they go away. This place wouldn’t have got a penny out of me for the above stated reason. In these times, people can’t just drop £20 on something with no consideration for budget, especially if their wages aren’t great.

          One does not have to pressured into giving or doing anything they don’t want to, or can’t. Even if it’s something like this.

          1. mlem*

            Some (not all) recent grads won’t *know* they don’t really have to. Some (not all) people coming from (or currently in!) toxic work/family situations won’t know. It’s on the managers not to suggest it, and it’s on senior and/or more position-secure colleagues to set the “no thanks” example.

          2. Observer*

            One does not have to pressured into giving or doing anything they don’t want to, or can’t. Even if it’s something like this.

            That’s fine if you have both the knowledge of what is legally acceptable and the ability yo risk your job.

            Not everyone has both of those things.

          1. tessa*

            It’s also politics in many work places, particular if the employee with the designer handbag is a favorite of the execs.

            I don’t know about you, but I have had more than one boss who retaliated on even the most polite decline, to the extent that you knew not to.

            Politics.

            1. OP*

              OP here. Yes. It would have been VERY uncomfortable to say no to these particular executives who were asking based on their roles and personalities and the power dynamics and that they hold the keys to our career tracks. They were also so pleased with themselves planning this “surprise” goodbye for her. I was annoyed at the ask, but not enough to push back. They also picked up the tab for a happy hour for her, so I figured I was at least getting it covered in drinks and food and a night out where I didn’t have to spend anything.

              1. Jax*

                I think you have a great attitude about this! Remembering the open bar tab is a great point, and a great way to remove some of those negative feelings.

                Just looked up Chanel bags and saw that they are $5K. Wow. My “good bag” was $40 on Amazon. Am I living life wrong? :)

        2. Typing All The Time*

          Also, maybe they felt they had to contribute. Some might not feel comfortable about saying no.

      3. myswtghst*

        “Also, if the EA’s bosses contributed most of the money (which is almost certainly the case), EA might feel weird about not using the bag in front of them, for fear of appearing ungrateful, especially since they gave her her job back.”

        Exactly this. Part of me wonders if the EA is carrying the bag specifically to try to show gratitude. It seems like a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, as if she doesn’t carry the bag some of the gift-givers might question it as well.

    4. Miss V*

      I also wonder if the EA even knows it was paid for by everyone. Yes the gift was ‘from the department’, but if I was in her position I could see myself assuming it was really a gift from the executives she supports and everyone else just signed the card or whatever.

      1. Maggie Moo*

        this is the reply I was looking for! Yea she probably has no idea everyone chipped in for it since that has not historically been the practice in the office as the OP said. AS another commenter mentioned she is likely showing she is grateful for the gift to those that gifted it, her bosses.

      2. Willis*

        Yes, this. She also may be thinking along the lines of “I should wear this bag at work to show them how much I appreciate and like their gift.” I don’t think the admin is doing anything weird. This was on the bosses for deviating from their usual festivities or lack their of when people leave and for not just paying for the whole gift on their own.

      3. OP*

        I think at the goodbye party they gave a little speech and said, “This is from all of us!” But given the cost of the item, she would definitely assume that the majority of cost had to have been picked up by the executive she supports. (It was.)

        1. Cascadia*

          Even then though, my department sometimes does gifts and we say “It’s from all of us” but it was all paid for by the company.

    5. OP*

      OP here. I agree with everything that Alison wrote. I think the situation was handled poorly. A few notes – the assistant makes a very good salary. More than most people in the department, which is a huge part of the disparity and resentment. Our company is very top heavy – absurd salaries at the executive level, almost unlivable salaries at lower levels, so salary discontent and jealousy is a big part of this. As well as feeling overworked, underpaid, working long hours when she has set hours, leaves early, is openly online shopping, takes long personal calls in an open layout, etc. But, the reality is that her role is not to produce volumes of work. It is to provide admin support to some difficult personalities, they like her, and they don’t care if she’s on the phone or online shops as long as she gets their stuff done. (I think that’s why she hated the new job – those things weren’t going to be ok!)

      The executives should have pooled together to get a nice gift out of pocket from just them, if they were so inclined and have never taken up a general collection. The executives were also likely clueless that they could have submitted a form for the company to cover a standard goodbye gift. Ironically, she would have likely been the one coordinating a company gift reimbursement if this one wasn’t for her. I suspect that the executives tried to pull together an effort themselves, had no idea that all employees aren’t typically asked to contribute to gifts (usually it is just various, well-compensated execs picking up a tab) and went about it all wrong. I think they are also out of touch of what a big “ask” it is for an employee just trying to get by on these salaries. People felt more pressured than usual to contribute to a gift because they were being asked directly by the very VPs they are trying to impress for promotions.

      1. Mannequin*

        Wow, it sounds like your coworkers really need to stay in their own lane.

        Executive Admins get paid more because their work is HARD. Just because it is not measured in volume does not mean admins do not earn their pay. And most don’t earn near what they’re worth, so GOOD FOR HER if she gets a proper salary. That other people are underpaid or don’t get the same perks because they have *different jobs* isn’t her f’ing problem, it’s just ‘crab in a bucket’ mentality on the part of her coworkers.

        And even if there was some reason she was actually at fault? Mocking her, gossiping, joking behind her back are all WILDLY inappropriate reactions.

        There is literally NOTHING she could have done that would warrant being bullied in return. Your coworkers are nothing but a bunch of Mean Girls, and you should be wary yourself. Anyone who “steps out of line” in their eyes is going to be a victim.

        1. OP*

          I don’t disagree with you. The people who are underpaid are on more “career track” type positions where eventually they will move up into higher earning potential roles.

          The grumbling of, “Well I’m going to announce I’m leaving, get a bag that’s worth more than my bonus, then not leave!” is likely more about personal compensation frustrations than directed at her. No one believes that she accepted another position to get a handbag then changed her mind. There seems to be a positive feeling that she probably did something that felt very hard (asking for her old job back) and good for her not letting what people might think keep her in a new situation she regretted.

          My guess is that she feels awkward about the bag and yes, people should lay off. I feel like I personally would feel weird wearing it to work, but then again, I bet her bosses told her it was a gift and to keep it, so she might also feel awkward for not using it too.

          1. Jora Malli*

            Have you tried responding to those comments by asking for them to stop? Because while their frustration is understandable, they’re taking this way, way too far and probably making their resentment even stronger through this feedback loop.

      2. Observer*

        As well as feeling overworked, underpaid, working long hours when she has set hours, leaves early, is openly online shopping, takes long personal calls in an open layout, etc. But, the reality is that her role is not to produce volumes of work. It is to provide admin support to some difficult personalities, they like her, and they don’t care if she’s on the phone or online shops as long as she gets their stuff done.

        Like I said, she EARNS her salary! I’m not saying that the rest of the staff are being paid appropriately, but getting stuff done for a difficult set of bosses, and doing to the level that she’s clearly managing, is hard work. The fact that she manages to take personal calls and shop on line doesn’t change that.

      3. Coconutty*

        You seem to have a lot of dislike/disdain for this woman you barely know based on your perception of her work. None of you was asked to personally shell out hundreds of dollars for this bag and the hyperfixation on it that has apparently been going on is really bizarre. All of you need to let this go — if you have issues with your own hours or responsibilities, take it up with your team. Someone else enjoying a gift they were given is not a gotcha or personal slight in any way.

    6. OP*

      As far as being not social, she’s not shy and not very friendly or of assistance to others beyond her immediate bosses. Which is fine, but it didn’t inspire generosity or good will to contribute to a goodbye gift.

      I’m glad she had the courage to ask for her job back when she was unhappy, because I’m sure that was not easy, and I’m glad they were gracious about it. I don’t think she did anything wrong or that any of this is her fault. I think it was more about the disparity of how so many people feel undervalued or underpaid, then seeing the extravagant parting gift that they had personally “contributed” to (this ain’t no Coach bag), when she never appears to be doing much work. And isn’t particularly “nice” where that is overlooked. But if the execs are content with the job she is doing, and they appear to be, that’s all that matters. They should have just paid for an expensive gift themselves and given it to her privately. (They made a big show of presenting it at the goodbye party.)

          1. Velocipastor*

            My brain filled in Coach or Michael Kors for “designer handbag” so I am truly gobsmacked right now.

          2. Maggie*

            !!!! I was given a 1500 piece of clothing as a gift as an EA (in fashion industry though!) and was gobsmacked by it – and my boss 100% paid the full wholesale cost. A freaking Chanel bag bought full price is INSANE and I understand the resentment as much as it isn’t her fault

            1. Maggie*

              (As in the clothing I was given cost $1500 retail – my boss definitely didn’t pay that much though)

            2. OP*

              Yep! That’s why there is chatter. I don’t think it would have even been commented on around the office if it had been a Coach or Michael Kors bag.

              1. Maggie*

                Totally fair and understandable… It isn’t her fault though as much and she’s in a no win situation. My boss a) paid for the jacket he gave me himself and it was just from him and b) didn’t publicize the gift (and neither have I) to the rest of the office, I just wear my nice jacket sometimes

          3. Fran Fine*

            Amazing, lol. They sound like my former grandboss turned direct manager. When one of my colleagues went out on maternity leave for her first child, he bought her a couple things from Tiffany’s that were pretty dang expensive. Our then direct manager (his direct report) tried to get the rest of us to chip in and contribute something, like, $40 to this gift, and I declined since I’d only been with the company about two months at that point and had never met her. Instead, I made a small donation to a charity I heard she liked in her name and called it a day.

            When another new hire asked grandboss if she really had to give money towards this gift like our manager said because she couldn’t swing it, he was mortified! Apparently, his intention was to buy her the swanky Tiffany’s stuff and sign the card from all of us (that’s why he told us about the charity she liked so we could donate their in lieu of if we felt so inclined). He paid for these gifts out of his own pocket, and since he makes enough to afford a million dollar home in a beautiful gated community, he should have. The fact that these executives didn’t think to pay for this Chanel bag on their own since they’re clearing way more than everyone else at the company is absurd.

      1. Mannequin*

        “As far as being not social, she’s not shy and not very friendly”

        Absolutely nothing wrong with this

        “or of assistance to others beyond her immediate bosses.”
        Doesn’t sound like that falls under the job duties of an EA, sorry

        “Which is fine, but it didn’t inspire generosity or good will to contribute to a goodbye gift.”
        Which is all y’alls problem, not hers.

        “when she never appears to be doing much work.”
        I’m sorry, what? She’s an EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT. Her job is different than the rest of the office, how TF do they know what she is/isn’t supposed to be doing???

        I’m sorry, but this just sounds like a bunch of petty a-holes attacking someone they don’t like for not being the “correct” level of performatively friendly, and thinking it’s OK to bully her for the boss’s mistakes.

        Your office is full of bees.

        1. SOLX2*

          Yeah I can’t help but side-eye the LW a little at this (full disclosure, I used to be an admin assistant so maybe I’m projecting). But ultimately: either this bugs you, LW, or it doesn’t. And it clearly does since you wrote in about it. But the assistant is not actually at fault here so maybe get off her back a little?

          1. OP*

            Fair question. The extravagance of the gift bugs me, yes. Especially because multiple people have left the company for new jobs and never got anything like that. The $20 itself didn’t really bother me. I found the ask a little annoying because she barely acknowledges us, but I still gave and it’s nothing I was going to lose sleep over. I went to the happy hour, had a good time, signed a card, etc. Her wearing the bag at work doesn’t really bother me, even though it was a goodbye present. They were happy to get her back so it might as well be a re-signing bonus or retention fee. I ultimately think that some bumbling executives thought this was a genius idea to take up a collection for THEIR idea. (When there was no need for any employee collection, HR does pick up the cost for reasonable department goodbye gifts.) Then merged it with a private gift effort that’s not the norm for our department and that’s why it feels off and kind of rubs the wrong way, if that makes sense.

            1. LilyP*

              I bet that the very warm send-off did influence her decision-making process when she thought about coming back…and from her bosses’ perspective they got to keep someone they’re happy with in a hard-to-fill role, so I’m guessing they’d say it was well worth all the fuss

            2. A Wall*

              This, along with all your other clarifying comments, really just keep coming back to the same thing: This EA is becoming the outlet for a whole lot of grievances that have nothing to do with her and are not her fault at all. Everyone needs to get a grip.

        2. Johanna*

          I agree with you.
          Based on how OP described the situation, I feel would have likely been viewed and handled differently by her peers if she had a stronger relationship and was well liked- but none of this is her fault.

          She was given a gift, its hers to use as she see’s fit.

      2. Typing All The Time*

        It might also be good for the execs to look at how overall their employees are doing. Are they happy? What will they do for the next person who leaves?

      3. Observer*

        As far as being not social, she’s not shy and not very friendly or of assistance to others beyond her immediate bosses.

        I can see why it doesn’t feel good. But I suspect that given the issues at work, keeping to herself is one way she manages to keep the stress of this job at a manageable level.

        when she never appears to be doing much work.

        I really think you need to stop thinking that way. The reality is, based on your description, she’s doing good quality work. And she’s doing it under difficult conditions. Just because you don’t see her working long hours or constantly stressing out about doing specific things does not mean that she is not doing much work!

        They should have just paid for an expensive gift themselves and given it to her privately.

        100% I totally agree with that. Which is proof that these guys are not the easiest to work with…

      1. jm*

        agreed. i understand that people feel like she’s gloating by always having the bag with her, but it sounds like she just appreciates the expensive gift and is getting use out of it, which she shouldn’t feel ashamed for doing.

        1. kittymommy*

          She’s also probably trying to be mindful of her bosses here as well. She may not want to offend or invite questions by not using the bag.

          I’m also wondering if she’s even aware that staff contributed to the purchase.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            Good points! If the bosses were so excited to give her the bag, she’ll want to be seen using it. Even if she knows that staff contributed, how could she be expected to know that people felt resentful about their contributions?

          2. Fran Fine*

            She’s also probably trying to be mindful of her bosses here as well. She may not want to offend or invite questions by not using the bag.

            That’s a really good point, and her bosses sound like the type who would in fact notice that kind of thing and would then comment on it.

          3. EvilQueenRegina*

            Yeah, that was my thought. I can see someone thinking of it in terms of “Bosses gave me this lovely bag, I want them to see that I’m getting some use out of it” rather than “Better not show off this bag that was my leaving present and then I came back” – chances are she doesn’t know who gave what towards it. And to be fair, she did leave, and she couldn’t have known at the time that the new job wouldn’t work out. I don’t really feel I can come down hard on this employee here.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I mean my ex fiance’s mother gave me a handbag and I felt obliged to use it whenever we were meeting up despite it not entirely being to my taste. I could imagine if someone gave me a gift at work I would want them to see I appreciated it.

        2. Green great dragon*

          Yeh, I’m coming down on this side too. She doesn’t know anyone was pressured into giving, certainly not at $20, and would likely worry that bringing in a cheaper bag instead would make it seem like she didn’t like or appreciate the gift.

          Management showed bad management, but nothing to be done now.

        3. Starbuck*

          Yes, in some gift-giving cultures/traditions, not using the bag would be a greater slight than “flaunting it” – which is such a loaded and judgmental way to put it!

          If it were me / my family, carrying the bag around all the time would be the highest compliment I could give to the gift givers. And they think it’s insulting! Social norms are wild.

      2. How About That*

        So? Why is that a problem? It didn’t cost her anything and if it will keep down resentment she should do it. She needs to read the room.

        1. sagc*

          Or people could not be asses? Explain what parts of this mean that *she* needs to change her behaviour, rather than the rest of the office just… choosing not to be dicks?

          1. Public Sector Manager*

            Agreed! The employee did, in fact, leave and go to the new job and hated it after the first week. Does it matter if it’s a week, 5 months, or 5 years? No. The rest of the office needs to get over it.

            This is a 90% management problem–gifts flow down, not up or across–so they should have never asked subordinates to contribute to a gift for their executive assistant. And it’s a 10% problem for people who gave and they should have pushed back on giving a gift to a colleague. No one should ever have to part with a portion of their paycheck for a coworker. If they want to, cool. But we’re all adults. People should have said “no.”

            None of that is the executive assistant’s problem.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, I agree that people should have been able to refuse to contribute, but sometimes it’s not so easy. These executives sound vindictive, and refusing might have had repercussions for their jobs. I fully understand why they didn’t want to take that risk.

              The executives were boors for expecting the poorly paid employees to contribute.

          2. Jora Malli*

            Yeah, these coworkers are being really quick to trash talk somebody who literally did nothing to them. It’s not at all okay.

            1. Evelyn Carnahan*

              As someone else pointed out, the staff probably don’t feel safe being angry at (and especially trash-talking) the execs, so they’re taking their anger out on the EA who it is safe to treat that way. I’m also assuming that the EA wasn’t well-liked anyway, making her an easy target for their ire.

            2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

              Yeah, and it seems like they don’t like her because she isn’t as “social” as everyone else, which (1) isn’t uncommon and (2) she might have a good reason for.

              1. OP*

                Poor choice of words on my part. I don’t think it’s as much that she isn’t as “social” as everyone else, but that employees were asked to give a gift for someone else’s assistant who doesn’t assist them or interact with them or socialize with them. Just meaning that a relationship wasn’t there.

            3. Crackerjack*

              But what’s so trash talky about what they’re saying? They’re joking about how they’ll leave for a bag too and then come back. Seems pretty harmless to me. Maybe if it’s been going on for weeks it’s starting to seem a little nasty but otherwise, I’d hardly call this picking on her.

              1. Fran Fine*

                It’s passive aggressive as hell and childish since these are genuine gripes disguised as “jokes.”

        2. Anon all day*

          None of this is her problem, though. While I agree with Alison that some type of gesture/acknowledgment would be smart, I don’t think the answer is pretending that the bag doesn’t exist. That’s just weird.

        3. Kramerica Industries*

          I think this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If she wasn’t using the bag, wouldn’t people be complaining that they wasted money on a gift that she isn’t even using?

          And maybe she IS being mindful of the optics. The optics of her being appreciative of an expensive gift.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            “We spent all that money on a nice bag and she isn’t even using it. Probably sold it on eBay or returned it to the store.”

            1. Caliente*

              Bingo!
              And yep bow probably want to/like to see her using the bag. There was an EA to a VP at my last job and her boss gave her an Apple Watch, while pretty much regifting BS to everyone else in the team. I think he gave me passes to some museum exhibit that he and his kids couldn’t use so maybe I might want to my son. *eyeroll* Anyway, he got excited everyday to see her wear the watch. She in fact told me she felt she had to wear it even though she preferred her old gold one. Apparently he even would ask about it when she didn’t wear it!

            2. AspiringGardener*

              This is 100% how it would have gone, and the commentariat here would have followed suit. She’d be ungrateful and spoiled and written off as a villain (as these things usually go)

        4. Presea*

          The room she’s reading may look very, very different from the room LW is reading. I don’t believe there’s any evidence in the letter itself that the admin is even aware that non-executive staff not only contributed to the gift but were pressured to do so. She also may not be aware that this situation is becoming a joke or an optics issue amongst said non-executive staff. What we know she DOES know for certain is that executive leadership chipped in for this expensive bag before she left.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Yeah, she’s reading the room that includes the people who gave her the job back! She doesn’t work with or for the rest of the office, so office politics-wise she is likely being prudent and taking a calculated risk that it’s more important for her boss to see her with the bag than it is to consider that others in the office who contributed to the bag are miffed.

          2. Lady Blerd*

            I was going to say there’s a chance she’s not aware of who contributed, especially if this company usually doesn’t make a bid deal about someone leaving. She may believe the bag was from her bosses, especially if it’s expensive.

        5. KRM*

          Does she even know that staff was feeling pressured to give? I doubt it. She probably got a card that said “we’ll miss you and we got you this nice parting gift!”. So she’s using it. If the staff is resentful that’s on them, and they need to work at changing the culture. It’s not the EA’s fault!

      3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Also, if it is a good bag, it will probably be longer-lasting than whatever she was using before.

      4. Lizianna*

        Exactly. Also, it’s just a pain to switch purses, so I’d end up not using it most of the time even when not at work.

    1. L-squared*

      I mean, I’m not a designer bag person (I’m a guy who just carries a wallet), but this seems kind of petty to expect. She has this nice thing, and you expect her to not wear it to work because other people are upset? Isn’t it better to expect the coworkers to not be so petty as to make jokes behind her back about it.

      1. How About That*

        These are the other people who paid for that bag! She can of course do what she wants, but actions have consequences.

        That said, in forty years, I’ve never contributed twenty dollars towards anybody’s anything. Ridiculous. Just say no to being strong-armed.

        1. Anon all day*

          Nah. I’ll be the first one here to say “we don’t live in a perfect world/vacuum. We can’t just behave as if we do/ignore real world consequences.” However, in this case, this is ridiculous. Honestly, she should metaphorically say no to being strong-armed and use the damn bag.

        2. sagc*

          If I were forced to give someone a gift, I wouldn’t be mad at the recipient, I’d be mad at the person doing the forcing?

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, but given that the people who were doing that were the executives… It’s only human nature to shift the blame on and direct your resentment at someone who can’t hurt you if you don’t feel safe being angry at the person who caused offence in the first place.

        3. Viki*

          Why should someone not use the bag, she was gifted? It’s not like she personally took the money/pressured people in it.

          These consequences are not hers to bare. She didn’t ask for any of this.

        4. Daniel*

          What kind of consequences do you think she should have to take?

          As others have pointed out, it’s possible that she thought the execs paid for it all. And beyond that, it doesn’t sound like she’s wearing her bag “at” everyone else in the office. She just has a nice bag.

          1. Mr. Shark*

            Exactly. She was gifted the bag, she should be allowed to enjoy it. She may not know that people gave $20 to pitch in for it. Even if they did, why would they be upset that she is using it rather than just letting it sit there doing nothing?
            It seems like people are getting upset at her for something she didn’t do, just because she wasn’t well liked before she left.

          2. KateM*

            Or, she is wearing her nice bag “at” people who gifted it to show that she appreciates it.

        5. Underrated Pear*

          But not wearing the bag would change nothing about the actual problem. People would still be (rightly) mad that they were asked to chip in a whole bunch of money for a gift they didn’t want to give. Leaving the bag at home to collect dust in a closet means that the gift just goes to waste; no one gets their money back and the bad practice hasn’t changed. And a fair number of people would be even more pissed off that she “didn’t appreciate” it.

    2. Smithy*

      While I do get this sentiment, there are also plenty of other “gift irritations” out there around someone being given an expensive gift and then not using it. Such as – we gave her an expensive bag, and she continues to come into the office with something that’s clearly cheap and in poor condition – clearly she didn’t appreciate the gift or the gesture we gave.

      All this being said, to me this is one of many many letters at AAM where management makes a poor or questionable choice around staff acknowledgement and then the people who take the bulk of the heat are the people with the least responsibility. She had a job for 5 years and was well liked by her managers, who made an inequitable choice about how to acknowledge that.

      This reminds me about the letter where a woman’s maternity leave following adoption wasn’t being handled well, and there were technical problematic issues about being contacted while on leave. But then an also legit salt in the wound about her and other more junior staff not getting a either a baby shower or other acknowledgement whereas another more senior staff member had. It’s not great practice, and can either make more serious issues feel worse or set a basis of discord among staff.

      1. All the words*

        “management makes a poor or questionable choice around staff acknowledgement and then the people who take the bulk of the heat are the people with the least responsibility”

        The correct choice is generally to punch up, not down. This office is in full punch down mode. The recipient did nothing wrong. And of course she should use the purse. After all this people want her to appear ungrateful by not using the gift too?

        The staff should stop kicking in $20 for this type of thing. That’s too much and it’s obviously not sitting well with people. “I’m sorry but that’s not in my budget this month.” is a perfectly acceptable response.

        1. Smithy*

          I will start by saying that in general, the team I’m on is good about acknowledging life events. All birthdays, new babies, engagements, new jobs get acknowledged and a gift is included.

          However.

          I started during COVID, and was fully remote and noticed that for all of these it was common to see “to contribute to the gift, you can Venmo xyz person”. At first I felt a subtle need to contribute as a new member of the team, but rather quickly realized that this team was large enough that these requests were coming often, and while I could technically afford perhaps $5 – it was still feeling like a lot. So instead of playing either-or (will give for this person or event/won’t give for that), I was going to stop contributing entirely.

          Sometimes I feel a little petty or miserly, but I’m also senior enough and in a position where I can tell that this isn’t going to negatively impact me. And when I was younger and had less, I got sucked into feeling like these were mandatory demands far more often.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah I think this is where Alison’s “she doesn’t have to do X, but it might be smart to do Y to smooth things over” might apply. She shouldn’t have to not use it at work, but if I were here, I also would probably leave it at home (though I’d also be leaving it at home because I don’t like bringing expensive personal items to work).

      1. Anon all day*

        But, if she doesn’t use it at work, there’s a good possibility she can’t use it at all. I generally only carry purses for work. Also, depending on the type of purse, if it’s a larger one, even if she uses purses outside of the office, she might use smaller ones.

        1. MK*

          Yes, the bag might not be suitable for anything other than the office. If I were to pick a bag as a gift for a coworker, I would choose a “professional” one.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        Smooth what over? What did she do except decide that the other job wasn’t working for her, and come back to her old job? She didn’t solicit for the $20 per person for the purse. She was given a gift, and she should be able to enjoy it and use it. She may have only had an old purse and needed a new one, so why wouldn’t she use it now?

      3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        She’s supposed to smooth over a situation that she has no way to know exists?

      4. Starbuck*

        I still don’t think it’s a good idea to hide it, because *not* using it may appease some but make others mad instead! In the gift giving practices that my family has, visibly using a gift someone gave you is how you show you’re properly grateful. Hiding it away – making people suspect maybe you got rid of it or sold it – would be offensive! Not extremely so, but if I were her I’d be more concerned about what the execs think than the lower level people who are bitter about it.

    4. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Frankly, I rather she use the bag — none of this is on her, it’s on the execs. They’re the ones who should be getting the hairy eyeballs.

    5. Monkey Fracas Jr.*

      Are you sure about that? Her bosses contributed most of the money for this bag. They also gave her her job back. She might feel that not using the bag at work would make her appear ungrateful. I know that’s how I’d feel.

    6. Blueberry*

      I think this is a no-win scenario… unless she was happy and never came back.

      If she didn’t bring in the bag… there would be rumours if there is this much resentment over her using it. People would speculate and may even assume she sold it to pocket the cash spent.

      The problem solely rests on the fact that money was pooled and used to buy an extravagant gift. My own office does this and I just think it is something offices should avoid for this very reason.

      1. allathian*

        My office does this too, but the typical contribution for a gift when someone’s leaving or for a milestone birthday is around 2 or 3 euros per person, not 20. That could still be a lot of money for someone, even someone employed full time, but it doesn’t mean they’ll have to skip lunch that week to afford the gift.

    7. Boof*

      Damned if you do, damned if you don’t; pretty sure it’s also open to criticism to have gotten this mice present then never use it / it “disappears”. She probably thinks she’s showing appreciation for the gift by using it and I think that’s how people should try to frame it

    8. Allonge*

      OK, but, hand on your heart, do you think OP and co (collectively and individually) would feel better about this whole thing if she stopped wearing the bag? At which point would the in-joke die? When would they stop checking what bag she carries? If she has another one and that breaks in a year and she starts wearing the expensive one again, would it come back?

    9. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      To me this just underscores how fraught gifting etiquette can be because I would interpret using the bag at work to be the *more* polite option: that she’s actively signaling to everyone that she uses and appreciates the gift they gave her.

    10. Underrated Pear*

      Yeah, I’m with the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so may as well ‘do'” crowd. It’s possible she has no idea that low-level employees were asked to contribute. It’s also possible that she knows, is uncomfortable about it, and struggled over what to do. NOT wearing the bag would probably also make some people mad (“I chipped in money and she’s never even used the stupid thing!”) so she may as well enjoy the bag.

    11. Emma2*

      I don’t think she needs to do this and am not convinced it would work – if the office is being this gossipy, if she does not use the bag, I imagine some people may start complaining that they expect she sold it and kept the cash.

    1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      Alison nailed it: Please, companies, DON’T arm-twist your helpless employees into contributing towards a present for ANYONE! If the company itself OR the highest-paid executives WANT to give a departing employee a gift which THEY PAID FOR THEMSELVES, then fine. Otherwise, stop extorting money from people who can’t afford to give it!

      Well-to-do people very often seem blithely oblivious to how poorer people have to live. The former too often forget that what is for them a very small sum is half the week’s food budget for others! So this is a word to the six-or-seven-figure set: Not everyone in your company has your income (and thus your discretionary income) and it’s beyond tacky to demand that they impoverish themselves to meet your expectations of a proper gift. Buy that gift yourselves if you like but don’t make your subordinates buy it for you!

      1. AnonInCanada*

        ^^ THIS 100%! ^^ These bosses likely never knew what it’s like to be living paycheque to paycheque, because they likely never experienced it. So when they strong-arm their underlings to chip in to buy something expensive for a co-worker who’s higher up the food chain than them, I can understand the resentment.

        However, this assistant who left and came back likely doesn’t know the circumstances behind how the money was raised for that gift, so what can she do about it? So, bosses, if you want to give an expensive farewell gift to a valuable employee, let the company pay for it!!

    2. WFH is all I Want*

      Agreed! I’ll stick with the company paying $150 for a gift and the company covering the cost of lunch.

      I have had plenty of people trying to get $20 out of me for their favorite co worker’s going away gift. I was making $21/hr ($16 hr after tax) and I told one of these collectors that if I’m going to work an hour and 15 minutes for $20, then I’m going to keep it. I already had to clock out for the ridiculously lengthy and mandatory 90 minute lunch (30 minutes was the norm). Yes I’m bitter about the additional expense this is in lost time for an hourly employee.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        I work at a company with a culture of gift-giving. It’s more symbolic, though, (baked goods, snacks, small things, etc) so I sometimes (against my own instincts/preferences) collect money from staff members with a variety of different salaries. But, that’s because they usually *want* to chip in for a gift, and I am attempting to allow them to do that while reducing their costs.

        So, someone was on mat leave, and I asked people for a donation from $0-$20 for a small gift for the baby, and I made it very very very clear that everyone’s name is going on the card regardless of if they give money. And I made it very very very optional – expressly telling people they shouldn’t contribute if they have any hesitations.

        It’s such a weird needle to thread.

  2. Hills to Die On*

    As someone with a love of designer bags (that I can’t afford to buy) I would probably be annoyed if asked to pitch in for another gift again. And I were the admin, I would hope I would not bring the bag into work.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Eh. These are coworkers she’s not terribly close with – who are talking behind her back! She’s probably much closer to the executives and wearing the bag shows she appreciates the gift. I can’t fault her for that.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        Yup I agree wearing it shows appreciation. I’d be pissed if she ebayed it or gave it to a niece or something!

        1. Allonge*

          Exactly, I don’t think she can win here – it’s just as easy to be angry that she never wears it.

      2. Starbuck*

        Yeah, she’s making the right choice by using the bag they got her. If I were her I’d definitely put more weight on my boss’s opinion than their bitter employee’s thoughts. Not that those employees aren’t justified in feeling wronged – but *she* didn’t wrong them and again you can’t blame her at all for caring more about what her actual bosses think. Who knows if these rude mutterings have even made it to her ears.

    2. Koalafied*

      It’s very possible that she has no idea how the bag was paid for. She may well think her bosses were the only ones who chipped in, or that the company paid for it, since either of those scenarios would be the more typical way of handling a goodbye gift at most companies. Unless the card said, “Please enjoy this purse that everyone in the office pooled our money to buy you,” she may be totally unaware that something like, “Best wishes from all of us at company! Hope you like this!” meant literally “this gift came from all of our wallets” as opposed to “the farewell wishes come from all of us.”

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Unless the going-away card specifically had only my bosses’ names on it, I would assume it was likely that everyone, or at least a lot of people other than my bosses, had chipped in. (But where I work it wouldn’t be a luxury gift, either.)

        1. Green great dragon*

          true, but I might assume others contributed $5 or less, which they were happy to pay

        2. Show Globe*

          I would assume a few people may have chipped in a couple of bucks if they wanted to. I wouldn’t assume that everyone contributed at least $20 because they were pressured to. And if the card said “from everyone” I’d assume that is because it would be rude to highlight who didn’t contribute.

        3. Koalafied*

          Sure, some reasonable people might correctly assume that. Other reasonable people could incorrectly assume otherwise. The point is that cards rarely spell out explicitly who paid for a gift, and it’s a general practice with this kind of thing to let everyone sign a card regardless of whether they chipped in to avoid singling out people who couldn’t afford to contribute. If she additionally never experienced being asked to contribute to a gift before, she doesn’t have any past experience to instruct her, either, so we can’t assume that she knows her coworkers contributed, and that they were not given the option to decline, and that they were asked to contribute such a large amount, and is either “not reading the room” or maliciously “flaunting” the purse.

    3. Moira Rose*

      There’s a question for me of whether it fits into office culture to have an eye-wateringly expensive handbag at the office. If she’s the only one and it’s this weird albatross, then probably the smart thing for her to do is to not use it at work. Or maybe not every day?

      1. JustaTech*

        So, here’s my question about this: does everyone know it’s an expensive handbag? Like, is it one of those bags that the average consumer looks at and goes “dang that’s an expensive bags!”? Or does everyone in the office only know that it’s an expensive bag because the cost was specifically mentioned at the going away party or whatever?
        (I have an expensive designer handbag that was a gift that I use every day, and I would bet that 90% of my coworkers have no idea it’s a designer bag because it doesn’t scream “designer”. Which is why I picked it, I wanted something functional and subtle.)

        If the bag isn’t covered in logos or whatever then it will probably blow over quickest if she just uses it like a normal purse and puts it in her desk or whatever. Looking around my open office the only bag I can see is a coworker’s backpack that’s too big to go in her cabinet.

        But probably the real thing is, does the EA know that this is a big deal with the non-executives? Or does she have no idea who contributed to her gift and that they’re upset about it?

        1. Evelyn Carnahan*

          I have a bag that my mom gave me as a gift years ago, and used it all the time. I had no idea it was designer until someone made a comment about it. Then I looked it up and found out that the bag retailed for more than $400! I never would have guessed. And it turns out my mom found it on the clearance rack at Nordstrom Rack, so it cost much less than retail.

        2. Mannequin*

          About 15 years ago, my best friend was going on an extended overseas vacation, and needed a new functional purse. After weeks of searching, the only one she could find that met her needs was a designer purse that cost $400…on clearance.

          It was obviously a nice purse, but it would NEVER have been obvious to a casual observer how expensive it actually was.

        3. UKDancer*

          Yes I think unless you’re very brand conscious, e.g. if you worked in fashion, you may not even realise if something is designer as opposed to fake, knock off or high street. I’ve no idea whether my colleagues wear designer clothes or use designer bags because it’s not really something I pay attention to and I’m not in a very fashionable industry. I know there are some pretty good fakes out there now so even if I thought something was a designer brand it may be fake or a TK Maxx type second quality thing.

        4. OP*

          It’s a very classic, but very obvious luxury bag that there is no missing! I think she’s aware that all levels of people contributed. I think she probably feels it is an awkward situation.

      2. Rocket*

        If it’s her purse, it’s her purse. She doesn’t need to buy a new one and switch out what bag she takes to work and what she can use at other times just to appease her coworkers. Her coworkers can get over themselves.

  3. Glomarization, Esq.*

    She doesn’t make much effort to be social to the rest of us

    I mean, gently, if the rest of the office is giving her a hard time behind her back about the gift, and there’s an office joke at her expense, I wonder how much of the attitude comes across to her and doesn’t make her want to make much effort to be social to the others.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It sounds like this was the case before she left, and you’re confusing cause with effect.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I think that most of the time when I’m in an office or other group where someone is less social than everybody else, it’s been a two-way street. And even it if it isn’t, I don’t think it’s appropriate or professional for the others in the office to be joking about her behind her back.

      1. L-squared*

        Sure, but is it possible that the rest of these coworkers have never been all that nice to her? We don’t know dynamics, so its not that I don’t believe OP in that she wasn’t social. But maybe there was a reason she wasn’t all that social. And if this is a bunch of people who would make jokes behind her back about something that isn’t her fault, its not out of the realm of possibility that they weren’t all that nice before either.

        1. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          There is an administrative assistant who keeps to herself where I work and I think it’s a combo of she’s shy AND she’s the admin for a very high executive. This means she is privy to a lot of confidential information and it’s easier to keep secrets when you keep to yourself.

          I’m wondering how social were they expecting her to be? What defines social?

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, I have friends who have been EAs and they’ve always said it can be quite difficult to integrate with the rest of the office. You’re often (in terms of physical location and in terms of how your place in the organisation is viewed) seen as somewhat separate from the rest of the team, because you’re on the ‘side’ of the bosses. She might just be trying to do her job and not get involved in office politics (but unfortunately people have decided to make her the target of office politics anyway!)

            1. Fran Fine*

              + 1 to both you and S’s points. I was going to say something similar. I’ve never seen an EA in my decades plus career across various industries yucking it up throughout the day with the rest of the staff. They’re usually too busy for that.

            2. Jax*

              Preach! It’s an awkward role. If this were Downton Abbey, I’m O’Brien. Not fitting in with everyone having fun below stairs, and not a part of the family, either.

          2. Anonymouse*

            The comments about her not being social are really leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I think I get why LW included that – like, it probably stings more that people were pressured into contributing to someone they aren’t! even! friends! with! But she could have been the most popular person on staff and it STILL would have been inappropriate for management to pressure staff to contribute to someone’s gift. It’s the management pressure that’s the problem, not whether the recipient of a nice farewell gift was performatively friendly enough at work to “deserve” a gift or recognition for their work in other people’s minds.

            If she did her job well, which it sounds like she did, it shouldn’t matter whether she made an effort to socialize with her co-workers above and beyond what was necessary for maintaining good work relationships. There are a million legitimate reasons why someone might not socialize much at work, especially people who aren’t on the team they work with, starting with “the nature of her work didn’t create natural opportunities for her to do so” and ending with “because she didn’t want to”.

            1. OP*

              She works only for a few executives without many cross interactions with many of us in the department. So it felt weird in general being asked to contribute to someone else’s assistant’s going away gift who doesn’t interact with the rest of our area. I meant it more like that if in place of that, there was a social relationship outside of the scope of our roles or some kind of personal rapport, there may have been less resentment about giving.

              Honestly, as I read the comments, I think a huge part of the problem was the executives trying to organize a collection effort on their own. They could have easily just done a standard company gift (that policy exists) instead of asking for individual contributions. And if they wanted to give her something more as her bosses, just given the purse from them as a personal thank you.

              1. Fran Fine*

                They could have easily just done a standard company gift (that policy exists) instead of asking for individual contributions.

                This is exactly what they should have done. All of this mess could have been avoided (and they could have saved themselves from having to buy expensive ass Chanel! Lol).

              2. Aitch Arr*

                I haven’t read all the comments yet, admittedly, but is there a mechanism for you (or a group of the less annoyed of you) to give feedback to HR about this?

                Someone needs to know that management fxcked this up.

        2. Hills to Die On*

          Yes, and it’s also possible that she was just rude. Bu Alison has asked us to take the OPs for their words and not speculate outside of that so I am going with the assumption that she is not sociable.

          1. L-squared*

            Sure, we can take her at her word that she wasn’t sociable, but that doesn’t mean other things can’t be true as well.

            Even if she wasn’t sociable, I don’t see what that matters. Bosses decided to solicit contributions to her gift. I’m not seeing what SHE did to elicit the immature reaction from her coworkers.

      2. Prospect Gone Bad*

        A lot of people here have expressed not being social with their coworkers and we’ve all come to the conclusion that it’s OK in many situations. I hope we’re not changing our minds on that! Unless they are mean to people, I think it can be fine in some cases.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I agree. It doesn’t sound like she’s been particularly rude, just doesn’t go out of her way to be social. And I thought we agreed that was okay.

          1. quill*

            Yeah, people are allowed to be office introverts.

            Does this compound people’s resentment at horking up cash for a goodbye gift? Yes, absolutely, they feel they don’t know her well enough. Does it mean she did something wrong? Nope.

            The problem is the horking up cash to gift laterally.

        2. unpleased*

          Seriously. Especially when as an EA her job probably already includes a tremendous amount of labor for her bosses that LW and others can’t see. She’s not just like everybody else in that regard.

      3. Rocket*

        If all her coworkers are willing to talk shit about her behind her back and have an ongoing inside joke about her, chances are they weren’t exactly nice people before this incident.

    2. Ellie*

      I was thinking the same thing. Alternatively, if she handles confidential information from management, she may not feel comfortable being social with colleagues. If a part of her job involves any level of HR, she may be prohibited from socializing with other folks in the office per corporate policy. When I did HR for retail, I had to disclose having dinner at a bar with my sister because an employee approached me to say a quick hello before joining his party. He thought he was being polite while I had to document the entire conversation which amounted to a pleasantry and a menu recommendation. The expectation was that I could not be social or appear to be social with anyone I supervised, which was everyone who worked in the store. The admin might be in a similar situation!

      1. Fran Fine*

        Alternatively, if she handles confidential information from management, she may not feel comfortable being social with colleagues.

        Or she’s just hella busy supporting multiple executives and doesn’t have the time to have idle chats with the rest of the office. Executives are extremely demanding and, from what I’ve seen in my career, run their EA’s ragged.

    3. Trawna*

      I read “unsociable” as “professional”, no more, no less, and LW’s complaints as, let’s go with, unprofessional.

  4. Rusty Shackelford*

    I wouldn’t expect her to stop using the bag at work. That doesn’t solve the issue. I *do* think it would be best if she did what Alison would have advised, and at least address the elephant in the room. “Thanks for welcoming me back and thanks for the lovely gift, rest assured you won’t be asked to do any of that again when I retire” would go a long way.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      But that might not be a check she can write. It does not seem like she solicited the money on her behalf.

      She could say this and the bosses/execs could again pressure/ask people to contribute.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Although I hope that if she makes the announcement in public, people will have at least a little bit more standing to push back. At least to lower the amount to something they can more easily afford, $2 rather than $20…

  5. L-squared*

    I think its unfair to be mad at this person. Its not that she “didn’t” leave, its that she left and quickly came back, which, to me are very different things. If she accepted the bag on Friday, and then was back Monday, I could see how this could seem a bit worse. but she DID start a new job, just realized quickly that it wasn’t right for her. But making snarky “jokes” about her behind her back is pretty crappy of your coworkers. None of this is her fault.

    This is one of those situations where the person to be mad at, the bosses, people don’t want to direct anger to, so they misdirect it to someone who had no real part in this.

    1. Smithy*

      Absolutely this.

      I also think that a lot of people do feel like its petty to say that they feel upset that things like life events are acknowledged unevenly at work. Because it’s very rarely just that Jane who’s been at the company for 15 years on a large team and has a lot of work friends, so her work baby shower came with tons of gifts but Jill who started three months ago and got engaged is upset over just getting cake. It’s usually tied to other issues, and this feels like something silly and difficult to bring up. So anger does often get directed at Jane for making such a big deal about how huge her baby shower was or Jill for being ungrateful for her engagement party.

      I will say, that if you’re ever looking to address this – the best time to flag this is around fiscal year planning with someone who’s actually in a position to properly coordinate this on a team or in an office. So what can be done for life events for everyone? How can that be systematized so that people don’t fall through the cracks just because their manager happens to be on leave or they’re on a very small team? And how can it be budgeted for?

      1. allathian*

        The LW said that they have a system for this kind of thing, it’s just that the execs decided to circumvent it. I doubt a company gifting system would extend to 5K Chanel bags.

    2. Observer*

      This is one of those situations where the person to be mad at, the bosses, people don’t want to direct anger to, so they misdirect it to someone who had no real part in this.

      Exactly!

    3. Mannequin*

      Also, it’s easier for them to be mad at the person they don’t like because they see her as “unsociable” or “not working as much as us”.

      1. allathian*

        EAs are in a difficult position, because due to their jobs they usually have access to confidential information that no other non-executive employees have access to. They can even be banned from socializing with other employees in some companies. Or maybe this EA simply feels that she can’t socialize with the other employees because she knows things about them that would make it uncomfortable for her to do so. I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy listening to my coworkers talk about their summer vacation plans if I knew that half of them were going to be unemployed and probably looking for a new job rather than going on vacation, and being put in a position where I couldn’t even hint that they should be looking for a new job now.

        The “not working as much as us” part is odd, though.

  6. Sparkles McFadden*

    That bag is going to be irritating in perpetuity because it’s a symbol of inequity and management cluelessness. I think it would have been a minor annoyance had it just been that her managers gave her the expensive parting gift no one else got. Since you all had to help pay for the bag, it will be a permanent annoyance. There’s not much you can do unless you have an opportunity to use it as an example to management of how gifts need to be standardized and that employees should never be asked (let alone pressured) to chip in.

    I personally, would make that symbol into a vivid reminder. If you or your coworkers are pressured to go above and beyond in the future, think “Remember that damn handbag.” It’ll give you immediate perspective.

    1. ferrina*

      Yes, and I’ll also add that it’s a symbol that the bosses only see what is convenient to them personally. They had never done a giving away gift for anyone else in the company, regardless of how hard that person worked. Because they weren’t personally affected by that person (maybe they were oblivious to what the person did, or assumed that “that’s just part of their job”). But when someone who’s job it is to be convenient to them (and does well at it) is leaving, that is when they are motivated to take action. Because that is what matters to them- their personal convenience.

  7. Art3mis*

    Just because she’s an executive assistant doesn’t mean she’s not in a low level job pay wise. She could be making $70K a year or she could be making $10/hour. Hard to say. But your problem isn’t with her, it’s with management.

  8. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, I wouldn’t bring that bag to work, either, at least not for a very long time.

    But the problem is the pressure to contribute to something that, yes, should have come from her actual bosses and/or the company. I just gave a little toward a going-away gift for a coworker but a) it was entirely voluntary, 2) she worked for/with all of us, and c) I don’t know what it ended up being–couldn’t go the the send-off cake and punch do–but I guarantee you it wasn’t a luxury handbag. If she showed back up here next week I’d be sorry for her that her new gig hadn’t worked out but glad to have her back with us, not worrying about the $10 or whatever.

    1. Soup of the Day*

      I think it would actually upset me more if I pitched in to buy a designer handbag for someone and then they never used it! She might be going out of her way to bring it to work to show her appreciation. But I agree, I think it’s not really about the bag – it’s about the pressure.

    2. allathian*

      If she didn’t bring the bag to work, many employees would probably be offended that she wasn’t using the bag they helped pay for, and the executives would probably notice. If she needs to choose to be on good terms with the people she actually works for by using the bag, or with resentful employees she barely has any contact with elsewhere in the office, I know which option I’d choose.

  9. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

    If someone leaves on good terms around here, we have cake. Because we like cake and will trot it out whenever.

    1. Not really a Waitress*

      I worked a place where even if we didn’t like you, we had a party. Once a coworker, Betty, was spearing heading the going away for another pee, Wilma, who was not easy to get along with. Betty asked if I thought we should get pizza. I jokingly said “let’s get Moe’s”
      Betty had Moe’s fully cater the going away party. So not only did Wilma leave, but we also got Moe’s. Best. Day. Ever.

      1. quill*

        Some times the toast is less “good luck, we will miss you” and more of “good luck, good riddance.”

    2. Reality.Bites*

      And if they don’t like the new job and return, you can have cake AGAIN. Because you like cake and will trot it out whenever.

    3. Random Bystander*

      Yeah, baked goods are always popular. (We’d also been known to have bagels with various flavored cream cheeses.)

      As far as gift-giving, I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of giving a gift “from the department” when someone leaves/retires. It gets into all kinds of disparities about who is more liked than whom. The best thing my office did (back when we were in the office) was that they would pass around a folder with a large manila envelope inside. Attached to the folder was a list of the names of everyone in the office. So when you got the envelope, you put money in (or not) and crossed your name off, and found someone whose name wasn’t yet crossed off, and so on until it had been around to everyone (and each individual may or may not have contributed). If your name was crossed off, you didn’t get the envelope again. *Then* when all the gift donations were in, the organizer would see how much was there and decide on the gift after that. A much better solution than deciding that Joan ought to get a pretty little tennis bracelet worth $300, so you needed to contribute at least $15 … the person who thinks Joan ought to get a pretty little tennis bracelet because Joan “deserves more” than the company provided gift for someone retiring after 25 years is free to get it … with her own money. While I didn’t dislike Joan, I didn’t like her $15 worth. But generally, what we sent this around for was signing a get well/sympathy card without money involved. Sometimes, there’d be a contribution request in addition, but that was for something like “new baby” or the one time a coworker’s apartment complex burned down (so it wasn’t just co-worker who was in need, but needed stuff faster than insurance would provide a payout and Red Cross was swamped with the 30 displaced families, so getting roofs over heads was happening but not as much immediate ‘some clothes in addition to what you had on your back when you fled the fire’).

      Cake (or other food) is pretty much always well received. Just go to a given store in town that makes sheet cakes, ask for a half white/half chocolate cake with a nice message and done (or whatever needs to be done for other food items).

  10. londonedit*

    I think it’s nice to give a small gift when someone leaves a job, but this all seems to have been handled very badly. No one should be pressured into giving a specific amount (in the places I’ve worked it’s just been a case of ‘there’s an envelope going round the office with a leaving card for Sarah, please feel free to contribute towards her leaving gift if you’d like to’ and then people will chuck a bit of cash in – now it’s an online collection pot but it’s the same principle, it probably usually ends up being about £5 each). And it’s definitely not great if all of a sudden someone is lavished with an expensive leaving gift when that’s never happened before. If the execs wanted to show their particular appreciation then great, they could have clubbed together to buy her the bag, but they shouldn’t have roped everyone else in if it’s not the norm for the office.

    As for her bringing the bag to work…that definitely feels a little off, and if it was me I’d probably have made a mental note not to bring that bag to the office. But people’s reaction to it is definitely being informed by the whole situation where they feel like they were pressured into giving more money than they wanted to a collection that they didn’t feel was inkeeping with the office culture anyway, and that’s why they’re doing the whole ‘look at her flaunting that big expensive bag we all had to buy her when she didn’t even leave’ thing. Ultimately, though, I think it’s just one of those things that people will have to get over – and if the office wants to start doing gifts for everyone who leaves, it needs to be on a much more level playing field. Voluntary contributions, no one’s expected to contribute more than a token amount, everyone gets roughly the same treatment.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I have my doubts that she’s just walking around the office with her purse, gesturing wildly at it, or displaying it on her desk. It’s a purse – you walk in with it, you put it in a drawer, you walk out with it. Maybe you take it to the bathroom if needed. I have a few nicer purses and I don’t make a big show of it but I’m also not going to not use them.

      1. londonedit*

        I never said she was – but that seems to be the perception people have, if they’re making comments about it.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        A lot of designer handbags are designed so that it’s pretty obvious what they are–logo fabric, specific design elements, bright colors, etc. She doesn’t have to be swinging it over her head for it to be conspicuous.

        I’d leave it at home for a couple of months and then start bringing it when the news got old.

      3. ferrina*

        Exactly. I have exactly one designer accessory, which was given to me when I was working a $25k per year job (really tough job too). That accessory is so well made, it has lasted well over a decade and barely shows any wear. If I got a gift of something nice, I almost couldn’t’ afford not to use it.

    2. Bagpuss*

      This is what we do.

      An envelope goes round, there’s typically an e-mail to say “If you haven’t contributed and want to, the envelope will be on x’s desk until 4 pm tomorrow then we’re buying the gift, and then a card would go round separately, so it’s possible to sign the card whether or not you donated, you can donate as much or as little as you want.

      In this case, it seems that the issues are the pressure to give, the fact that she was given unequal treatment and the fact that because she came back, there’s a constant reminder of those actions.

      I think OP *could* push back a bit on people making comments – perhaps to say she feels sorry for the EA being the butt of jokes for something that the execs did, and if she has the ear of any of the execs could let them know that the unequal treatment and the fact that a lot of people, specially more junior / less well paid staff members felt pressured to donate / donate more then they were comfortable with, have caused issues, and to suggest that another time any gift should just be paid for by the company / the execs only. But it isn’t really OP’s responsibility so I’d only do that if there is someone she feels she could speak to who might be willing and able to take it on board.

      I do also agree that the EA is blameless her, and may well not even know that her co-workers contributed.

      1. Everything Bagel*

        That’s what I was wondering about. Does she know that all of the employees contributed to the bag? Did she thank them all for the generous gift? If not, she might think that it just came from her bosses.

    3. Starbuck*

      How is it “off” to bring it in though? The bosses were excited to get her the gift, I’m sure they at least don’t mind to see her using it and might even think it odd if it was never seen. If I were her, I’d care much more about what they think – the people she actually works for – than the other employees, who don’t seem to have liked her much before this anyway.

      Like others have said, she likely has no idea that others felt pressured and who knows if she’s even heard the bitter muttering from staff. Hopefully none of them have been quite so rude as to say any of it to her face!

    4. UKDancer*

      Yes we do the same. There’s an envelope and it goes around and people add in what they think is appropriate. If someone’s been there a long time or is very popular then there’s more put in and if they’re not very popular there’s less. Usually senior people in the company bump it up a bit if it’s not very generous. Most people put in about £2-5 but nobody really keeps track.

      Usually on your last day (at least pre-Covid) the leaving person brought in cake or doughnuts to celebrate. Obviously with working from home that’s not happened so much.

  11. Roxy*

    Maybe she is not aware of how the gift was paid for and is assuming the executives paid for it all.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      *****THIS*****
      Especially because, “this is not the norm. We don’t do this for other people. Etc.”
      she may have no idea, since she’d never been tapped before that everyone’s name on the card wasn’t just a friendly gesture by her boss. Or the card or note or however it was presented was a general, amorphous “from us.”

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I wondered about that, too. Many former (grand)bosses paid for gifts for a team member – birthday, congratulations, farewell – but said it was from the whole team. When some of us offered to chip in, we were told, ‘Thanks, I’ve got this covered but please sign the card.’

      1. moonstone*

        This is how it’s done in my workplace. The higher up managers pay, don’t ask anyone to chip in, just ask people to sign the card. This is what the execs should have done in this letter. Still crappy if they only do it for one person and not others, but don’t ask your employees to contribute!

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      Agreed! I used to work for a manager who would hit people up for money (I never gave and still got promoted in the office), but the card was only signed by the manager, so it looked like a gift from just him. Sketchy, shady AF, but there are managers who will do this. The executive assistance may have no idea who gave.

  12. The Prettiest Curse*

    What exactly do the grumblers expect her to do? Sell the bag and give everyone their money back? I really don’t think there’s much to be done here, other than reforming gift-giving practices so that people don’t feel pressured to donate to future leaving gifts. And maybe make future gifts less fancy, unless executives only want to shell out the big bucks.

    1. UKDancer*

      Indeed. We had one situation where someone left, did a job somewhere else and then came back 3 months later because a more senior job came up in our team. She had been given a nice gift voucher. When she came back she said she’d made a donation for the value of the gift voucher to a fairly well liked charity. I thought this was a good way to deal with the situation. Mind we were pleased to see the person in question back and people hadn’t been forced to contribute to the collection so there was no problem.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        That does assume that the individual has the cash available to make the donation. Very nice thought, but not necessarily possible, depending on the valuation.

  13. Sue*

    What’s weird about this is how extreme the reaction was to her leaving. It’s going to cause even more resentment when the next person leaves, nothing is done and the disparity is on full display. If I had stand with managementould, I’d speak up about that part of it. It’s a morale crusher.

    1. Oh Honey!*

      I agree. The problem is the disparity. I worked somewhere for years where the standard paring gift was cake and Coach purse. I was one of the last people to leave and on my last day I got… nothing. Now, I realize that the people who had carried on this tradition were already gone and this slight was likely nothing personal and more about ushering in a new philosophy towards gift giving. And I wouldn’t have used the handbag anyway. But still, I have to admit I was a little bitter about it. What’s done for one has to be done for all.

      1. Oh Please!*

        Actually- what is done for one does not have to be done for all. Is it a nice philosophy, is it possible management could be reprimanded for uneven recognition – yes.

        But it is not a law that the workplace has to follow, this is not a kindergarten class where everyone gets the same number of cookies for snack time, and acting like everything has to be fair constantly is just setting yourself up for disappointment, sometimes people get more than others for a myriad of reasons, acting like there is some rule about it is just setting people up for disappointment – if celebration equity is super important to you, then do the work yourself in your workplace instead of acting like places are breaking some rule that does not exist.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        This is honestly fascinating to me because I was sitting here thinking the handbag was such a random goodbye gift but that maybe they knew she wanted it or something. Is a “goodbye” purse that common of a thing??

  14. Need More Sunshine*

    Ideally the execs would realize the bad optics here and reimburse everyone what they chipped in, but that’s probably giving them more credit than they deserve…

    But agreed with everyone else here – this isn’t something that can be held against the assistant and I would personally push back on anyone talking bad about her behind her back. She was gifted the purse; she should be able to use it.

    1. Gracely*

      This!

      The issue really should not be with her, but with the execs. They’re the ones that asked for the money and bought the expensive bag. None of that is her fault. Be pissed off at the execs, not her.

    2. Starbuck*

      Yes, if anyone should be making things right monetarily, it’s the execs. I think it’s just easier for the employees to be mad at her because she’s not their actual boss.

  15. Prospect Gone Bad*

    When I made less money I used to see the world differently and get mad about so many things that seemed unfair and felt like I was always being held to a higher standard than people who earned more and they should be the ones being held accountable and I should be cut all sorts of slack because I had no money. Now that I make more I feel like I have a more relaxed view about the world. I don’t want to get into how fair or unfair it is (there are things that are unfair about being the lowest paid in a job, for sure), the point I’m getting to is that management may simply not be aware that $15 or whatever was a huge expense to someone. Remind them. You can’t change the past but it will take pressure off in the future. As sympathetic as I am to people living paycheck to paycheck, if you get too distanced from that point in your life and career, it’s easy to hypothesize it and remember it differently than it actually was.

    As per the purse, be happy she used it, vs. not using it or gifting it to someone else. The fact that she is not social means nothing IMO unless she is also not nice to people.

    1. Jean*

      “Now that I make more I feel like I have a more relaxed view about the world.”

      Wow, really? LOL

      1. Koalafied*

        That rings true for me, too. When I was barely scraping by, I would resent the hell out of a $20 expense that I felt I was strong-armed into footing, especially in a situation like this where then it feels like the recipient of my largesse didn’t even uphold their end of the bargain. There was a time in my life that represented multiple hours of pay.

        Once I started earning a more comfortable salary, I started valuing my time much more highly, so it became “cheaper” to just pay $20 or $50 or even $100 and forget about it, rather than waste any of my time contesting/fighting/stewing/complaining/etc about it. I can definitely see the bigwigs likely earning so much money that to them personally, $20 is a forgettable amount of pocket change, and not realizing that anyone would even still be thinking about it a week later.

        1. quill*

          One of the great joys of having a decent job, as my friends and I finally got them, was no more breaking down 20’s for the pizza bill. No spending 20 minutes with three different people on their phone calculators doing math while one person broke a 20, another broke the resulting 10, and someone with a literal can of change had to split $1 three ways.

        2. Alison2*

          This is absolutely true for me. Now when someone wants to split a bill strangely or dispute a charge I think is fine, I just cover it and honestly forget about it. It used to make me so mad!

    2. HannahS*

      I think Prospect Gone Bad is just explaining something that happens to most people as they make more money, and recognizes that it’s not fair. People are oblivious. I get feeling like, “Well, I’D never ask people to contribute more than $5 to a collection and I’D never pressure anyone to donate at ALL” but it’s so easy forget that $5 is a lot of money to the intern and the simple act of asking them is going to feel like pressure even though *I* am not a powerful figure in my organization….except that I am, to an intern. And that’s true whether you’re pitching in for a baby shower gift for the custodian or a good-bye gift for the EA or pizza Friday.

      1. quill*

        I should dig back out the spreadsheet I made at some point to win an argument, but if you break it down into working time instead of money, if someone else in the office makes $15 an hour, after taxes, they’re being told to give the EA 20 minutes. If someone makes $60 an hour, they’re being asked to give five minutes, the execs might not even be giving a minute at five, ten, or even twenty dollars.

        And when the cheapest fast food meal you can find already costs you 20 minutes of your work, it makes WAY more sense to be angry about the 20 minutes than if the same meal cost you five minutes.

        Essentially the rich have more time as well as money, because they can pay for convenience.

        1. Shan*

          Yeah, sometimes I think back on when I used to rush out after class to work, like, a crappy four hour shift for $7/hr. Now I would *pay* $28 just to have those four hours free, and I’d be able to do so because my time is rewarded so much higher that it was back then.

    3. Alexis Rosay*

      I agree with this. When I was tracking every dollar, I used to get very worked up about a few $$$ difference in how much people chipped in for gas, dinner, or groceries. Now that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, it’s completely different and I can almost always let things like this go. $20 may not feel like a significant amount of money to the managers who proposed this, but it could very well be to their staff.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes – and of course purchasing power changes with inflation mean that even if you remember what it was like you may get the numbers wrong – e.g. you can remember when being asked for $10 would be a big deal because it was a big chunk out of your disposable income, but feel that because $10 is worth less now than it was x years ago, when you were more junior, someone asking for $10 now isn’t being put in that position, or that it isn’t as big a deal, while the reality may be that being asked for $10 is more like you being asked for $5 when you were starting out, even $5 can be significant if you are living on a tight budget – if you are no longer living in that situation you are less attuned to the nuances.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      Yep. I was talking to my boss one day and she mentioned how she has been defaulting to using this new toll road that goes directly from work to her town because it saves so much time to avoid the normal traffic. This toll road has higher prices during rush hour, so I made a joke about how it was just costing $50/day (exaggerated figure – in reality, probably $15/day which is still insane). She then admitted that she had no idea how much she was spending in tolls because she just doesn’t pay attention.

  16. NYC Taxi*

    OP your office needs to lay off this woman. You don’t know whether she knows that employees contributed to the cost of the bag. She may assume that management/the execs she supports/the company paid for it.

    1. not a doctor*

      “Your office needs to lay off this woman.”

      I read this VERY differently from how (I think) you intended it at first…

      1. NYC Taxi*

        I really don’t know what you mean. I’m saying that OP’s office is treating this woman badly for no reason. She did nothing wrong and they need to save their anger for management and the fact that no one pushed back when they were collecting money. Clear now?

        1. londonedit*

          I think not a doctor meant they’d read ‘lay off this woman’ as ‘make this woman redundant’ rather than as ‘stop giving her a hard time’.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          I think not a doctor first read you using the term “lay off” as in terminating her employment? I don’t think they were necessarily disagreeing with what you actually meant.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          They mistakenly read it as you suggesting she be laid off and were joking about that. I removed a long thread of people starting to snipe at each other about linguistics.

  17. Another Ashley*

    The people who are irritated must just simply not like this woman. Because she’s not doing anything wrong. She’s literally just existing and minding her business. And it sounds like they dont even have a reason for not liking her.

    1. londonedit*

      I’m not even sure it’s that – I think she and the bag are just symbols of a more general annoyance and they’re an easy target to latch on to. People are annoyed that someone got a leaving gift and that they were pressured into giving a not-insignificant amount of money to a collection when no one’s ever been given a gift before, and they’d have been annoyed about that anyway, but then not only did that person come back to the job they ‘left’, they came back with the bag everyone felt resentful about chipping in for in the first place. It’s not about this specific person or their specific bag, it’s about people in the office feeling it was ‘unfair’ for her to be given special treatment by the execs, and that’s coming out in these ‘yeah, just threaten to leave and you can have a designer bag too’ comments.

      1. pancakes*

        I doubt that she has a sense of that herself, though. From her perspective it’s probably clear that the rest of the office doesn’t like her, but “I’m probably a symbol or a proxy for other stuff they’re mad about” would be quite a leap to make.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think this is a real life example of “late stage capitalism” memes illustrating how simply those who have create a situation where those who do not have turn against each other.
      Assistant was given a gift. Staff was manipulated into participating. Staff is mad at woman for accepting the gift, not the wealthy people in charge who made the demand.

      1. Jaina Solo*

        Also, I say this not to blame the participants at all b/c I too have participated in/driven gift-giving and regretted it later: do not participate if you don’t want to.

        I think we’re all so used to having to participate when asked, especially by an authority figure, but as functioning adults, we don’t have to. Took me a long time to find my voice for this so I hope others see this letter and Allison’s response and remember to politely decline.

    3. MsClaw*

      Yeah, this whole situations seems super petty. It’s not surprising to me that the admin is not terribly social with these people.

    4. BigHairNoHeart*

      I agree, it just doesn’t seem like she’s done anything worthy of complaint. I suspect the detail about how the purse recipient isn’t very social with a lot of the staff is driving some of this reaction. If it was someone everybody really liked, there might have been some joking around about the situation, but since it’s someone the wider office isn’t that connected to, it’s manifesting in a slightly hostile way.

    5. Prospect Gone Bad*

      “She isn’t social.”

      Well, do you actually want to be social with her? Are you dying to talk to her about something and she keeps snubbing you? Does she cut you off during small talk at the coffee machine? Or is it more about the principle than actually wanting to be social with her?

  18. Pants*

    Well, I mean you could all ask her to let you use the bag for your $20 buy-in, but if it’s the kind of designer bag I’m thinking of, it would really only net you about half-hour with the bag, tops. Best to just see it as a symbol for management’s crappery; keep it on your list of things that will make you move on from that place.

      1. CTT*

        It would have to be used since you usually can’t just get those off the shelf (or someone had a lot of buying power at their local store), which makes me wonder what the etiquette is of gifting a very nice used bag…

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Under 200 people and $20 each… if 150 people got tapped at that level, it’s $3,000. Talk about conspicuous consumption!

      2. I Love Handbags!*

        Me too!

        Although a Birkin, unless it was purchased from a reseller would be impossible. They are quota bags, and you have typically have pre-spend and be willing to wait for months or longer.

        However, I wonder if this is a luxury designer bag (Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc.) that start in the thousands. Or, if this is a more mainstream contemporary designer bag (Coach, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, etc.) that is still pricey, but typically a few hundred dollars.

        It shouldn’t matter. It truly shouldn’t. But, if the assistant is carrying around a 5-10K Chanel bag, then I really understand the frustration from her co-workers. Not, that frustration should be directed towards the assistant. It’s not her fault. But, I get that something of that nature is out of the financial realm of possibility for 99% of people would be difficult to see on a daily basis, especially if you knew that you contributed to that.

        1. JustaTech*

          I’m guessing whatever it is has a bunch of logos on it because at least some of the high end bags aren’t super obvious if you aren’t a bag person.

          (My MIL gave me a Chanel bag a decade ago and maybe 5 people ever have noticed what it was and commented on it. Though most of the people I know aren’t into fashion, and it’s a plain black bag.)

          1. pancakes*

            I wouldn’t necessarily expect people to comment on it. I know what Chanel bags look like and don’t make a point of saying aloud that I’ve clocked one when I see one. Why would I?

            1. JustaTech*

              You know, I don’t know why I would assume people would comment on a bag (except that my MIL clearly expected people to comment on my bag). I usually only comment on people’s bags (or accessories in general) if I think they’re cool or have a nifty design. I wouldn’t comment on a label because it’s not interesting to me.

              Maybe my coworkers have been twittering behind my back for years about my bag? (Unlikely, they generally aren’t that type.)

              The whole situation is weird and clearly the issue is management.

              1. Bee*

                There are some bags that have a cult fashion following but otherwise fly under the radar. When I’m wearing one, I get comments from other people who own the same bag and want to know what season your colorway is from or just want to fangirl/boy over a shared love of the design. It’s definitely not a status thing, more like art appreciation. I would never do that with a purse that has logos or otherwise broadcasts its designer status, though.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        I definitely pictured a Kate Spade or a Louis Vuitton bag. So around $400-$750 depending on the size – which I do consider over-the-top as a good-bye gift. But seeing as apparently a lot of employees gave $20, I’m not quite sure.

        Regardless, it doesn’t actually matter. The lesson here is that the EA can keep wearing the bag and that the executive team sucks.

          1. Fran Fine*

            I’ve only seen Chanel bags at that price point on the secondhand market. (Granted, I don’t go on Chanel’s site and don’t go in the stores, so could be totally off base.) New ones are usually twice that from what I’ve seen.

    1. Anon Anon*

      To me the bag is actually important.

      A Chanel class flap that is 10K when you factor in taxes would be a constant source of irritation for me as well even if I loved the person carrying it. Simply because it’s such an over-the-top gift and something that isn’t likely to be done for other employees who resign on good terms.

      1. MK*

        I doubt they got her a bag that cost thousands. More likely an “affordable luxury” bag, around 500 euros.

        1. Anon Anon*

          Perhaps not Chanel, but even a Louis Vuitton is going to be several thousand dollars now. And, the fact that the OP kept emphasizing that this was a very expensive bag leads me to believe that it’s not the kind of bag that most people are taking to the office with them.

          1. Susie Q*

            But very expensive means different things to different people. My lovely grandmother thinks outlet Kate Spade bags are too much money for example.

            1. UKDancer*

              Also a lot of people in my company have fake bags some of which are quite convincing. Unless you’re an expert it’s hard to tell a real from a good fake or the sort of thing you get at TK Maxx. I mean I probably wouldn’t notice the difference and if it was an allegedly expensive make I’m more likely to think it’s a good fake than a real thousand pound bag.

      2. pancakes*

        What exactly would you expect this woman to do if that turned out to the case? I don’t have the sense that it’s something quite that expensive, but if it was, why would it be a better use of $10k sitting on a closet shelf than it is being carried?

      3. OP*

        Yep, it’s a Chanel bag. She works for men with significant incomes whose wives all likely have a closet full of similar bags. I think it came from a good place of wanting to get her something nice to feel confident and fit in at her “new” job where a bag like that would a norm, and one of the wives told her husband that’s what exactly they needed to get her and picked it out. My guess is that they took up the employee collection before any gift idea was established, one boss was asking his wife for ideas, in the world they live in she said, “Oh she needs a Chanel bag!” and all the bosses covered the rest to purchase it.

  19. Jean*

    The jokes will die down over time, and if they don’t, I’d take it as just another piece of evidence that this is a dysfunctional workplace. OP, do your part to hasten this by not making the joke and not laughing when someone else does.

    This poorly judged and executed gift isn’t the assistant’s fault, and the whole episode needs to be left in the past where it belongs. Also, just say no to any future collection requests of this nature (which probably goes without saying at this point).

  20. not a doctor*

    Am I the only one wondering if she’s carrying the purse because she wants to show appreciation for it? Like when someone gives you a piece of jewelry and you make sure to wear it around them.

    Would it really be better if she never once brought the purse to the office and no one knew what happened to it? Wouldn’t the office gossip chain speculate that she wasn’t grateful, or even that she sold it?

    1. Chestnut Mare*

      That’s what I was thinking. She appreciates the gesture and is showing gratitude for a nice gift.

    2. FalsePositive*

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem like she can win in this scenario, people will be grumpy if they think she isn’t using the nice bag. The real win here is that they have someone no one has to train in a new position.

    3. Nameless in Customer Service*

      Yes, this. If my workplace gave me a designer bag I would use the bag at work to show appreciation for it to the people who gave it to me.

    4. Dont be a dork*

      She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t carry that bag. I feel sorry her, because this has put her in a no win situation.
      OP, be kind to this woman and shut down the snark when you hear it. She has done nothing more evil than disliking her new job and returning to a familiar place.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        +1000

        Makes you wonder about the “less social” nature of the admin, tbh. Less social because….truly less social and not quite fitting in, or less social because either way someone’s going to complain about something, and at least that way she’s minimizing the damage done to her directly?

        1. allathian*

          Or less social because as an EA she’s privy to confidential information that no other non-executive employee has access to?

  21. Trek*

    One major issue is that the executives have set a precedent of providing expensive gifts to people who give their notice. If someone else quits what will they be given? If they are not given anything or it doesn’t compare because people stop contributing or because C suites do not add additional funds it’s going to impact moral and perceptions. Maybe doing this one time isn’t setting a precedent but I still think that people will react when they or someone in their department doesn’t receive anything or receive a much smaller gift after giving notice. HR really should have shut this down but I understand not all HR have that ability when it relates to executives.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Some executives just don’t view things this way. They sometimes think that doing something good for an employee – any employee – is a good thing for the entire group. Which can be true in some cases. I do feel genuinely happy when certain co-workers get a great promotion or a well-deserved raise. But I’ve also had instances where they make a big deal about one person’s birthday – simply because they weren’t traveling that week – and then never do it again. HR doesn’t always know what to do in these cases since it’s pretty random – and may not know in advance.

      And also, it was their assistant. They should absolutely have never asked for contributions to the gift, but they can give a big gift to their best assistant.

  22. Just Me*

    It’s kind of awkward that they gave her a going-away gift that was THAT nice and took up a collection for the gift, but I don’t really think the rest of the team is being fair to this assistant. Being an executive assistant is hard and they often don’t get the recognition they deserve (and may not receive that much compensation for all the crap they have to deal with and how much they do to keep the business running). Maybe other employees don’t receive the same when they leave, but in their whole time at the company they’ve likely been better compensated and potentially more respected. The optics of her wearing the bag are a little weird, but at the same time, you can also think of it as a bonus for the good work she’s done and a thank you for returning. My old job used to give special gifts and awards to our cleaning staff and reception for example every year, which was far and above what the rest of the staff got, in order to recognize their importance to the organization. I think OP and the staff should just let it go.

    1. Just Me*

      Adding that I don’t know what the compensation and org structure looks like at this company and where her positions stacks compared to the other staff. Does she make more than the staff who were struggling to come up with some funds to put toward her going away gift? At my old jobs (small orgs) the executive assistants were compensated very much like the front desk staff, although I recognize this isn’t the case everywhere and sometimes they earn quite a bit more and have some more heft in the org.

    2. Rolly*

      “but in their whole time at the company they’ve likely been better compensated and potentially more respected. ”

      I don’t know how you can know this.

      1. Just Me*

        You can’t, it’s true. I just feel that this poor assistant probably doesn’t make a ton (again, no way to know) and goes through a lot, so why not just let her have the bag and leave it?

  23. Office Lobster DJ*

    Don’t be mad at her, be mad at the bosses! My advice would be to try to pivot the comments when you hear them to assign the bitterness where it belongs, e.g. “Ugh, I know it’s such a sore spot. The bosses didn’t handle the gift collection well. I’m planning to politely sit out the collection next time. Maybe throw in $5, how about you?” or “Yeah, not really her fault. I can’t begrudge her my $10, but the whole situation was kind of messed up.”

    Otherwise, this poor executive assistant is going to undeservedly bear the brunt of everyone’s unhappiness, and I’m getting the vibe she’s not one of the popular kids as it is.

    1. Heidi*

      I’d probably be upset if I had to contribute to Tom Brady’s designer handbag going away gift.

  24. EventPlannerGal*

    The assistant should simply cut the handbag up into small pieces and give each person who contributed a chunk of shredded Prada proportionate to their donation. Divide the child – sorry, handbag – in two!

    I feel like the OP answered their own question – things happen. I feel a bit bad for the assistant that this has gotten to the point of being a giant office joke/drama, really – returning to a job you quit always seems like a bit of an awkward experience, and then on top of that everyone’s mad about a bag that was gifted to her? If it was her writing in then I’d say maybe don’t make that one your everyday work bag for a while, but as is… let it go.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      Yeah, it’s interesting the original question is all about how the EA should be handling this. What is the letter-writer doing? Shutting people down when they talk about the EA? That’s what she should be doing.

  25. ResuMAYDAY*

    I think you’re trying too hard to convince the readers that *you* really don’t care about this – it’s everyone else. You’re getting pulled into uneccesary drama, which is never a good idea, especially since the recipient of this scorn is appreciated and respected by management.
    For the record, she DID leave this job. She turned in her resignation. Her boss accepted her resignation. Those are facts. She even started a new job, which is superfluous but still part of this scenario. She is not the one who created this problem.

    1. OP*

      Soliciting money for gifts is just not the norm in our office which is why it felt off. But it’s dawning on me that the reason is because in any other instance, “she” would have been the one handling a department goodbye gift. She would have told the VPs that there’s a form to submit for employee gifts and that there was no need for them to personally take up a collection. So I’m piecing together that what happened is that they tried to coordinate without her and ended up irking a people by soliciting from people who don’t work directly with her, who make less money than she does, and who felt pressured to give when they had never exchanged two words with her before, and then they blurred it into a personal gift that was over the top. Even then, I think it would have immediately been forgotten, but because she came back and people see it in the office, the extravagance of it is on display. I don’t think she is at fault. I don’t think she flaunts the bag. Alison’s take was very good.

      1. ResuMAYDAY*

        I think you’ve developed a really good perspective on this. Hopefully you can be a positive force with the rest of this staff.

  26. Meow*

    It seems really tacky to wear the bag to work, imo. This seems like an unpopular opinion based on the comments here but personally that’s how I feel. If I received an expensive gift that others hadn’t, I would already feel uncomfortable but would accept since I wouldn’t want to come across as ungrateful as I’m leaving the organization. But, if I came back, I wouldn’t visibly use the item in front of others, knowing that it’s far more expensive than other people have received or will receive when they leave. To me it seems pretty obvious that may cause some resentment or awkwardness with my coworkers and I value having a positive relationship with my coworkers over using a designer bag daily.

    1. Moira Rose*

      I think there’s some level of split-the-baby that actually might work. If she brought the bag in occasionally, not every day, then it might not spark such controversy. (Think like when it matches her outfit, or on days when the office is hosting important clients.) But it’s impossible to know, really.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        But then she has to constantly move items from one bag to another. I personally only use one handbag at a time for this very reason.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Eh. When I worked in an office and carried purses, I changed mine just about every day based on my outfit. Then again, I’m a purse girl (own 55 of them) – if the EA is one, too, she probably wouldn’t mind changing it out from time to time.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I used to change purses a lot, but if I owned like 4 bags from target and one Chanel bag… I’d probably just stick with the really really nice purse every day!

    2. Observer*

      It seems really tacky to wear the bag to work, imo. This seems like an unpopular opinion based on the comments here but personally that’s how I feel.

      No, what the commenters are saying is that it really, really doesn’t matter whether it’s tacky or not. Doing something “tacky” is not a good reason to act like this. And, fundamentally, the worst you can accuse her of is “tackiness”, not any sort of misbehavior, bad faith etc.

      Also, she may not realize how differently she was being treated being treated by her bosses. And she may feel pressured by her bosses to use the bag. They certainly are clueless at best.

      1. Meow*

        Doesn’t matter to who exactly? It matters to the coworkers and it would matter to me so I guess it does in fact matter. :)

      2. Meow*

        Also, I used the word tacky but to be clear, this type of behavior would make me think differently about someone. It’s tacky in a way that I think is very socially inept, awkward and perhaps a bit rude.

    3. Show Globe*

      I think it only seems “obvious” if you know that people were coerced into contributing to the bag. If it was me, I’d assume it was a gift from my direct bosses, and I wouldn’t expect that anyone else was thinking about it one way or another.

      1. Meow*

        Maybe, but there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that the bosses didn’t communicate it was from the whole office. In fact, if that were the case it would be upsetting enough in and of itself that I think OP would’ve mentioned it.

  27. Phony Genius*

    We’ve had occasions where an employee leaves and comes back a few months later. In one case, that employee decided to bring in breakfast for everybody (bagels & juice) because he knew most people contributed to his goodbye party. I think he felt guilty about it, and the best he could do to make up for it was Guilt Bagels.

  28. Anonymous Koala*

    This really is not the EA’s fault. But OP, is there anyone in your office who is close to her or her boss who could give a gentle hint about the way the bag is being perceived? She probably has no idea about all the gossip her bag is causing in the office, and if I were in her shoes I would want to know so I could switch out handbags ASAP.

    1. sagc*

      If you’re going to management, why not just have management tell people to stop being petty gossips?

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        I thought about that, and it would be pretty satisfying, but I also thought it might also draw more attention to the situation and make it a bigger deal than it is. If I were the EA, I’d want the gossip to stop as quietly and quickly as possible.

        1. unpleased*

          The best way for that to happen is for LW to tell gossips to stop gossiping. IME, the least trustworthy person in one of these scenarios is the one who tells the gossipee what’s going on if they aren’t actually close. LW seems to have very little connection to this person. Is she supposed to follow her into the restroom to have a Serious Talk about The Purse while she’s washing her hands and have that go well? Let EA live, and just tell the people who are talking about this to shut it.

        2. pancakes*

          I would be unhappier about working in an office where snide gossip about handbags results in management telling people what they can or can’t wear to work than I would about working in an office where going-away gifts are sometimes inconsistent.

        3. Rocket*

          It’s not about being satisfying, it’s about doing what managers should do – which is shutting down gossip.

      2. Willis*

        Or why not speak up initially when you were asked to donate to the gift? It’s reasonable not to be asked or pressured to fund an employee’s going away gift. It’s reasonable (depending on your role/capital) to point out that doing parties for only a few staff members is demoralizing. It’s not reasonable to ask someone who’s been given a gift to never use it at the office cause some people are resentful.

        1. pancakes*

          Agreed. I also think fully grown adults who know that their own resentful feelings are pointed at the wrong target ought to be able to reel themselves in without management telling them to knock it off.

    2. MsM*

      I feel like getting the bosses involved is going to result in a hard smackdown directed at anyone who’s making an issue out of this. They liked her enough to do this in the first place; they brought her back immediately when they had the opportunity, no questions asked; and they have a rough time finding anyone else who’s willing to work with them. Either she’s more than earned whatever reward anyone wants to give her for putting up with them on a day to day basis, or fixating on the bag is just a distraction from the bigger problem that management sucks. Or both.

    3. Observer*

      Going to the boss because she’s using the bag? I cannot imagine it going well. And, to be honest, if the boss smacked them down, it would be well deserved. At this point you’re in the territory of the people who wanted one employee to be forbidden to drive a nice car to work, to dress “too nicely” (albeit totally office appropriate) and to use bags that were “too expensive”.

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        Oh yeah, going to the boss to complain about the bag is absolutely not a good idea. I was more thinking about discretely letting the EA or someone she has a good relationship with (like the boss) know about the gossip so the situation could be dealt with quietly. But the more I think about it, the more I think that would create unnecessary drama that this office could do without.

    4. Starbuck*

      If anyone’s going to be spoken to about changing their behavior, it should be the mean gossipers, not the person who hasn’t done anything wrong! If I were the EA, I probably wouldn’t bother myself with what these staff think of me anyway if they’re going to be so petty – clearly she’s got the respect of her bosses and that’s what actually matters since that’s who she’s accountable to.

  29. I Love Handbags!*

    The handbag lover in me wants to know the handbag!

    I mean the reality is a gift is a gift. You don’t get to take it back. And as Allison noted, this is more about the gift giving practices than the actual gift. However, while it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, if it’s a true designer bag (e.g., Chanel, Hermes, LV, etc.,), then I do get why her co-workers are frustrated. Simply due to the price points of those bags.

  30. Paper Librarian*

    If I were in this woman’s position, I would think that wearing the bag every day would be a way of showing everyone how much it meant to me. I didn’t re-sell on ebay or hide it in a closet. And if there’s not a lot of communication between her and your group, it might be easier to see her actions as gloating.

  31. I edit everything*

    I know this is off topic, but I’m so intrigued by the word choice of “wearing” a purse. Is this a phrase used more often in Britain, or among the more fashion-forward? How many people using this phrasing regularly?

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, that caught me a little too; I only “wear” a purse if I’m like, carrying a cross-body bag for long periods. It’s not a part of my outfit.

    2. londonedit*

      I’m British and the idea of ‘wearing’ a bag struck me as odd as well. The use of ‘purse’ in US English to mean ‘handbag’ also confuses me (when people talk about putting a laptop in their purse, for example) because in UK English ‘purse’ means the little thing you use for money and credit cards, not a whole handbag.

      1. Plum Jam*

        Funny story: I’m American and my husband is Scottish. I’ve had to learn to change my language around this, because I’d ask him to bring me my purse and find him frustratedly digging around in my handbag saying, “I can’t find it!” because he thought I meant my wallet lmao. Or I’d ask for a cute new “purse” for Christmas, and he’d proudly present me with a new wallet…which is not what I needed. I’ve had to train “handbag” vs “purse” into my head to avoid confusion.

    3. OyHiOh*

      I personally think of “using” a handbag rather than “wearing” it.

      I think the logic flow is handbags are accessories > we “wear” other accessories like scarves, earrings, watches > therefore, “wear” a handbag as an accessory, same as other accessories.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think it’s a fashion-forward thing? If you think of your bag/purse as an accessory rather than a necessity, and if you change it out to match your outfit, you’re more likely to think of it as something you “wear.” At least in my experience.

      1. Koalafied*

        I think this is right. I’m in the “use a purse” linguistic camp myself, but I buy my purses at Bob’s Discount Purse Emporium type places, so…

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’m so far from fashion-forward that I carry a pocketbook. And using that word for it kind of cracks me up because the ones I prefer are huge…big enough to hold my laptop and knitting. No way it’s fitting in a pocket!

        1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

          *High five* I use a wallet when I’m in regular clothes, and I’m a woman. I use a laptop bag for work because I need more stuff for work than fits in a pocket, even if women’s dress pants had pockets. Indiana Jones has a satchel for work; why can’t I?

      1. I edit everything*

        That’s how it feels. I’d probably say “carrying,” but I avoid purses/handbags whenever possible and would never bother to switch between them for anything other than practical purposes.
        Language is funny.

    5. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I’m in the US, and I use both words, wearing and carrying, but I suppose that I might use wearing more often. I am originally from the southern part of the US – maybe it is a regional thing? Also, I am a woman who wears a purse whenever I leave the house, regardless of circumstance, even if I just go on a walk, which my husband thinks is silly and says so — so I have plenty of opportunity to comment on wearing my purse. LOL.

  32. Critical Rolls*

    The wrong person is the butt of these jokes. The admin didn’t pressure anyone to contribute, she didn’t ask for a designer handbag, she probably didn’t even ask for a going-away party. The people who screwed up are the execs, who made low level employees feel pressured, and unevenly applied their own generosity. There is no reasonable action the admin can be asked to take at this point, and she shouldn’t be asked anyway because none of this is her fault.

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      This. The employees are letting the execs play them off against one another.

  33. Dinwar*

    I think there are two reasons to resent this admin assistant:
    1) No one else has gotten such a gift before, and
    2) She came back.

    #1 is a reasonable concern, but SHE isn’t the problem. Management is. It looks like they allowed personal feelings to get in the way of good management. They liked working with this person, despite her not really integrating with the team, and decided to have everyone contribute to a going-away gift, but did so by placing the burden on the rest of the team. Even if they contributed the most, it’s still not good–what they should have done is just gave her the bag themselves. I’ve seen that done a few times–our field management team will collect donations from other members of the management team, but not ask any of the lower-level workers for contributions. Works out pretty well–the person feels appreciated, the lower-level employees don’t feel pressured, and we can get a pretty nice gift.

    Making snide remarks to/about her doesn’t help anyone, and hurts everyone. The ire is justifiable, but rather severely misplaced.

    #2 doesn’t sound as reasonable. She honestly left the company, and the gift was given in good faith. That she hated the other company isn’t really relevant. To consider that in your evaluation of her actions necessarily assumes ether that she took this action to get the goods or that she could see the future. Did the bag play into her decision? Probably, to some extent–it clearly was an indication that she had a fallback position, and likely made her less tolerant of issues than she normally would be–but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence for her acting inappropriately, and that same fallback position was evidenced by the management team’s reaction to her leaving. Leaving a job and realizing you made a mistake is something that happens, and is perfectly reasonable. As for whether she should use the bag, no one’s given a real reason why not. Okay, it’s a sign of the disconnect between management and the rest of the team, but that’s not HER problem. The bad optics argument doesn’t work–if you present that argument to management it will come off as “I don’t want people to see that our team is loyal to each other and wants the best for our people even if it means parting ways”, and if you present it to her it will come off as incredibly petty and frankly childish.

    What to do moving forward? I can see a few options. I think a good option would be to have some sort of going-away party be standard, but with a much smaller gift and totally non-mandatory. Have someone NOT in management be designated the treasurer, set an upper limit, and have the donations be anonymous (or as close as possible). This has the added bonus of showing some junior staff member that you trust them, and being a low-risk way to see how they handle money and a bit of responsibility (if your company allows for such mobility). Alternatively, you can go to the management team and ask them to purchase the gifts moving forward. It’s a bit….El Cid, to be honest, but some group cultures go for that sort of thing. The nuclear option is to simply ban gifts and have the company buy a cake.

  34. Rayray*

    I agree 100% that office gift giving shouldn’t be a thing. I have decided that my absolute max is $5 but generally I will only do $2 towards flowers or birthday treats. I might contribute a little more depending, like when someone had a brother pass away I chipped in for flowers but I don’t think we need to do going away presents for everyone. I also don’t care to contribute much to wedding gifts for someone I barely speak to in passing. Just ignore the pressure and keep your money to yourself.

  35. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Important question because it wasn’t clear to me: Does she know the gift wasn’t fully funded by the office? If she wasn’t told her coworkers contributed to the gift then she may not know there are hurt feelings. If she does know it is a bit awkward, but not using a perfectly good bag would be a waste.

    But no matter the case this isn’t something people should be mad at her about. There’s no reason to believe she told the executives that she wanted this bag and even less reason to think she said all of you had to chip in for it. The bad feelings stem from how differently her resignation was treated compared to others. And that should be taken up with HR. Next time you hear a joke about the bag I would gently remind the people making it of that.

  36. Elsa*

    It’s okay not to like everyone at work, but gossip and talking about people behind their backs is petty and only reflects badly on the gossiper. The $20 is gone no matter what this poor woman does. Live with it with grace.

    1. Rayray*

      +100

      Complaining about the $20 like a Petty Labelle isn’t going to make anything any better.

  37. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I think using the “not very social” against her is completely unfair. In my experience, EA’s are like HR — they really shouldn’t be too social with everyone else because they typically have high-level authority (as an extension of the Executive) and confidential info that they can’t and shouldn’t share, and it sets up a conflict of interest with being “friends”. They can be penalized for being indiscrete, or they are penalized for not sharing what they know with their work “friends”. It’s a very delicate position. It’s best to think of the EA as a member of the Executive Level — if the executives she works for aren’t expected to attend happy hours, or chit chat in the break room, be “friends”, etc. she really shouldn’t either.

  38. Raw Cookie Dough*

    This EA is a bad ass who couldn’t care less about the gossip and stink-eyes. She not only uses this purse, she FLAUNTS it. Your eyerolls are like Mario’s SuperStars, and she’s about to level-up. OP, stay out of her way unless you’re bringing her coffee.

  39. Katherine Vigneras*

    Aside from Alison’s advice, this sounds like a BEC issue as much as a purse issue or a gifting issue. If a beloved rockstar left and came back, would you feel the same way about the purse, or would it be more of a funny thing that happened?

  40. Beany*

    I agree with most of the previous comments that this is really management’s fault, not the EA’s.

    I also think there’s a bit of a BEC situation here. If the rank-and-file liked her a bit more to begin with, they might not feel that using the bag in their sight was such an affront now.

  41. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    When you say “designer” this can be a wide range. A Coach can be purchased for $200 a Gucci for $2000. The brand matters if you want to be this upset over the optics (in my opinion). Also, I personally question WHY this one admin assistant got such a different going away experience. What is the exact nature of her relationship with the executive which is more of what I would be concerned about.

    1. MsM*

      For all that OP doesn’t seem particularly fond of this person on an individual level, at least they don’t seem to question her professionalism. I think we should do the same.

    2. Anon Anon*

      I agree that the brand and the price matters.

      A $200 Coach bag is the type of gift that might be the new standard of going away gifts going forward. A bag costing thousands is likely to not be. But, I don’t ‘think it’s fair to question the relationship that she has with management. I know many EA’s who are more valued by management because they are helping them day-in and day-out. I actually don’t have an issue with the EA getting any sort of high priced going away gift, if the gift had been given in private and was from the management team who she worked with. To me the issue is that it was a potentially very expensive publicly given going away gift, and management got the entire organization to help fund it. To me that is the issue.

    3. sagc*

      Wow, this is definitely not the sort of thing we should be implying about people being written about.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      The OP indicates that she supports more than one executive, and except for one, the genders of all the executives aren’t revealed. 1) executives aren’t always male and 2) being a valued assistant isn’t an indication of having inappropriate relationships

    5. Asenath*

      A close working relationship, possibly? My longest job was in a place where we organized a few low-key things among ourselves, there were (pretty minor) tokens on some occasions from the union and the organization, and some – but not all – of the managers who worked closely and directly with one person gave that person only gifts. No one ever seemed to think that the people who got the bigger gifts were doing anything improper. They simply worked closely with people who gave gifts. The big difference (aside from, and probably connected to, the lack of envy) was that the rank and file did not contribute to said gifts from managers. We had our own little pot for birthday cakes, and collected for resignations or retirements, but both were completely optional and anonymous. If the workers this person assisted wanted to give her a special going-away present, they shouldn’t have put pressure on anyone else to contribute. And once the gift was given, it’s hers to do with what she wants. I don’t go for designer bags myself, but if I was given something like that I’d be more not less likely to carry it to work – both because it’s a useful item, and to show how much I appreciate and use the gift.

    6. Everything Bagel*

      Personally, I think this question is pretty gross. There’s no reason to assume that the woman who got the gift is doing something inappropriate with any of her bosses.

    7. Starbuck*

      Wow, that question is a whole step meaner than the rude gossip the employees are making already! Why on earth would you suggest adding to it? How cruel.

    8. OP*

      Definitely not an inappropriate relationship. They have some very…. unique personalities and before she was hired, they truly struggled to keep an assistant. The turnover was every few months… or in some cases weeks… or days… temps in and out in-between. For years. It really was an issue. When they hired her and she could deal with their personalities and stuck around for several years and finally had stability, they were thrilled. I think they were also genuinely happy for her when she got a new position and going to a very fancy new place where they thought (or at least their wives told them) that type of thing matters. There is zero thought that anything inappropriate influenced this.

      Also, her bosses are the company’s most influential (why employees felt awkward saying no to them on giving) and highest compensated employees (why it was tone deaf for them to take up a collection but why they could do more for her than most managers are personally able to do for their employees). I think they just felt good about being able to do this for their assistant and she does a bunch of personal things for them and their families as well. They just should have kept any personal thank you gift from them separate is what I’m getting from all this.

    9. Michelle*

      Yes, women who get nice things must be sleeping with someone to get it. You are seriously gross.

  42. Anon Anon*

    To me the issue isn’t actually the purse.

    It’s the combination of asking other staff to contribute to a going away gift AND the fact that the going away gift and celebrations were out of the norm with what other staff had experienced.

    I completely understand why the OP and her colleagues are frustrated. However, as Allison noted, it’s not the assistant’s fault. And as others have noted, it may be that she has no idea that other staff were asked to contribute. To me the issue is that the management thought it was appropriate give a very expensive gift when that isn’t the standard for the organization.

  43. Observer*

    The rest of us should just accept that it was a gift and hey, things happen?

    This. 100%

    But also, start giving a good hard look at your company culture and what it would take to get out of there. Because it sounds like leadership is rather problematic.

    On the one hand, they have a hard time keeping Executive Assistants. On the other hand they pressured lower level people who don’t even work with her to give towards her gift – some in amounts that are significant to them? That’s extremely problematic.

    1. Observer*

      Hit post to soon.

      It sounds to me like people are unhappy with the situation and displacing it on the EA rather the leadership. But really, as Alison said, the problem here is not the EA but the executives who handled this so poorly.

      It doesn’t sound like the EA acted in bad faith. I also suspect that keeping to herself is part of how she manages the toxicity of the environment.

  44. Polecat*

    At my last job, somebody left to go to a great new job, she got the usual sendoff cake. And she was back two weeks later. It’s not unheard of. So I don’t think that’s an issue here.

    She didn’t ask anyone to contribute. If you want to be mad at someone, people can be mad at an executive who made them feel pressured or they could be mad at themselves for not having the backbone to do what they wanted to do and say no to contributing.

    I think it’s absurd to expect this woman to use one bag during the week so as not to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities and then she can use her nice bag on the weekends. Does that have to last in perpetuity? Does she need to do this for another five years?

    If this is such a big deal to people in your office, I congratulate them on having so little adversity in our lives That they have the time and energy to devote to this.

    1. Observer*

      If this is such a big deal to people in your office, I congratulate them on having so little adversity in our lives That they have the time and energy to devote to this.

      I think you have it backwards. This reads to me as classic displacement. The leadership sounds rather problematic. And people are letting out their frustration on the EA rather than on the people who are actually responsible for that.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, this. When people complain about things that seem small, often it’s because those small things are the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  45. Gertie*

    I see a version of this in other places where the people who work directly with the higher ups get the parties/gifts etc when others aren’t even acknowledged. And when it’s one of the top people organizing it, of course you’re going to feel pressure to participate. Making it worse is that the gift is so visible and such a egregious symbol of conspicuous consumption. If I had trouble paying my bills and felt like I had to contribute to someone else’s status symbol, I’d be ticked off. And then she came back on top of it.

  46. WellRed*

    I realize some women like to switch up their purses but many of us don’t because it’s a colossal PITA and almost always guarantees you’ll find yourself missing something. At any rate, don’t contribute to gifts if you can’t afford it or plain don’t want to. For the record, I think office going away gifts are weird and the whole party and gift sounds excessive.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes. She got a nice purse she likes and wants to wear it. The implication she shouldn’t be allowed to wear it one specific place (that she spends such a huge amount of time) is absurd to me.

  47. Not Australian*

    Yup. I gave generously to a goodbye gift for someone I thoroughly disliked and was glad to see the back of, and three months later he was back with a double promotion which would have taken him five years to earn otherwise. The whole thing smelled incredibly fishy – the person who had come in to replace him turned out to be leveraging a counter-offer from his former employer, too – and everyone was mega-peeved about it, most of all those of us at the bottom of the totem pole who had contributed in good faith with the reasonable expectation that we would never see the first guy again. More than thirty years later I’m *still* annoyed and resentful, which indicates that this sort of disingenuous double-dealing leaves a *very* bad taste behind it.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Are you suggesting she left her job intending to come back a week later, just so she could get a gift?

      1. Not Australian*

        I don’t believe I said that, did I? I simply reported my own experience with a similar situation and how it had been perceived at the time. YMMV.

        1. BBA*

          Well, “this sort of disingenuous double-dealing” does very much make it sound like you are suggesting that the EA did this nefariously.

        2. Myrin*

          Except for the very bare bones of “person leaves job and receives gift – person returns to job”, I don’t think your situation and the one in the letter seem very similar at all!

        3. Rocket*

          What else were we supposed to gather from your comment where you were relaying a similar experience and called it “extremely fishy” and “disingenuous double-dealing”?

        4. Rusty Shackelford*

          Well, you compared this situation to your colleague’s “disingenuous double dealing.” If you didn’t mean OP’s coworker was doing some disingenuous double dealing, what *did* you mean?

    2. pancakes*

      I don’t think it is at all reasonable to think of goodbye gifts as a way to buy assurance you’ll never see someone again rather than a token of affection!

      1. UKDancer*

        Indeed. In a lot of fields (mine included) it’s a fairly small world and people do tend to move around between similar companies to get experience and progress. So you may see people and then have them leave and then see them again. Unless someone’s retiring I usually expect to see them again at some point.

  48. X*

    The bosses shouldn’t have pressured people to add cash, the assistant did nothing wrong, and the people in the office need to stop being trashy gossips. Direct your annoyance at the execs if you’re going to direct it anywhere.

  49. Emmy Noether*

    Places I’ve worked, collections for gifts have always been anonymous so there’s less pressure. Usually there’s a piggy bank and a card to sign that are passed around and we’re careful to not look how much individual people put in the piggy bank. Then we buy a small gift and put the rest onto a gift card so that it’s not obvious if some people get more than others. Not a perfect system, but it alleviates at least some of the problems.

  50. What She Said*

    First this was really a bad management situation and the EA is being unjustly targeted.

    Second, I think this is a damned if you, damned if you don’t situation. If she is using the bag then she’s “flaunting” it. If she doesn’t use the bag than she is “ungrateful” for such a nice gift. Leave the poor EA out of this drama and direct your anger at the appropriate people, management.

  51. Diane Lockhart*

    A few years ago, I was working at a big law firm that threw its pregnant employees baby showers. The company would pay for a little bit of decor, cupcakes and drinks, and would provide a gift of a very expensive piggy bank. The only trick is someone would have to organize it. A friend of mine (also an attorney) volunteered to organize mine, and I was grateful. I was friendly with many people at the firm, including admin assistants, IT, and other staff, so I asked for the invite to include all those folks. I also gave my friend a link to my baby registry *in case anyone asked*.

    She put the link in the invite. I was mortified because now people making substantially less than me felt obligated to get me a gift. But how do you undo that? Ask her to send an email – Hi, please don’t feel obligated to buy [MyName] anything!? That draws more attention to it.

    I quickly added a bunch of $5 board books to the registry. And later that year I mailed checks (holiday gifts are always cash or check) to most of the non-attorney folks that got me something, even though I was out on maternity leave. I felt so, so bad that paralegals and IT folks thought they had to spend money on me.

    This said not to toot my own horn, but to say that the original contribution request could have been a thoughtless oversight like the one my friend had. This doesn’t take those execs off the hook – it’s still their fault for not considering the financial position of the people who work for them. Another endorsement for never gifting up.

  52. Gnome*

    She… May also have no idea it’s expensive. I mean, I somebody gave me something like that I simply wouldn’t know. I might think it’s very nice, I might think it’s well made (which doesn’t always go with expensive), but I would legitimately have zero clue it was expensive. So I would probably feel like I needed to use it so people would think I appreciated it… With zero idea of the optics from the other end.

    Something to consider. Sure, lots of people do know that stuff, but lots also don’t.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      Good point, people don’t know what other people don’t know. If you’ve ever had someone stumped that you never heard of a TV that was on for 10 years but you missed it even though you watch TV at night, you know it’s easy to miss what seems like basic parts of our culture

    2. quill*

      Especially if it’s not conspicuously branded. Everyone recognizes the coach purses that are printed all over with C’s. Fewer people would recognize one if it was made of leather.

      1. Gnome*

        Guess I’m not part of everyone. Then again, I really couldn’t care less about who makes my purse.

        1. Metadata minion*

          You’re at least in good company in the nobody room! ;-) I keep feeling like I should get a “professional” bag for conferences and interviews and whatnot, but I am inherently the sort of person who carries a backpack that could hold a week’s worth of food and a small goat even if all it has right now is my wallet, and for now I’m in a position to not care if people think I’m “supposed” to be carrying a sleek leather purse or briefcase or whatever.

        2. quill*

          TBH it’s probably a product of my age group making such a fuss about it while I was still in high school and college that I couldn’t avoid knowing what a coach purse looks like than any broader cultural recognition…

          God only knows who made my purse but it’s holding up.

    3. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      This. Do you know how many YEARS it took me to understand why everyone made a big deal about Birkin bags on Gilmore Girls? I was just like, “oh, okay, probably a $500 bag or something”, which to me was and still is outrageous, but a drop in the bucket compared to the actual prices of those bags. Never in my life would I have guessed a bag could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Not everyone knows the ins and outs of the Nice Bag Industry or how much things cost (even on the lower end of nice. Like…I still probably wouldn’t even get close if I was asked to price anything other than fake leather purses from Target).

      1. Gnome*

        Speaking of which, my fake leather purse from Target needs replacement. Probably 7 years old. Probably paid $12 for it.

      2. Mannequin*

        Yeah, a friend of mine bought a nice designer purse that was $400…on clearance…at Nordstrom Rack. I can only guess what it actually RETAILED for. But it’s not a “status symbol” designer or covered in logos, just a really nice, functional cool looking black leather handbag with lots of pockets & compartments.
        It’s obviously a very nice, high quality handbag, but it is in no way obvious that it cost hundreds of dollars, or even that it’s designer.

      3. Koalafied*

        This just reminded me of Moira’s designer handbag on Schitt’s Creek, which had been passed down through the women in her family for generations in case one ever needed to leave her husband, because she’d be able to sell the handbag and live off the money for a short while!

  53. Sunflower*

    I have no advice, but it makes me glad our office don’t contribute to gifts. Individuals or friend groups can give someone a gift on their own but it is not company sponsored. When someone leave, we have a potluck and the company pays for a cake.
    I’ve seen too many people come back to the company within 6 months and I bet this is the reason for the gift giving policy.

  54. Anastasia*

    I think people should stop making those jokes about the bag and the assistant’s return, honestly–it would make me feel pretty bad if I became the running joke of my entire office.

  55. Jaina Solo*

    Amen to what Allison said!

    The HR rep for my last office (global company so local office reps set the tone) did not ask for contributions to company gifts. I got so used to not having to give money at work that it set the tone for me for my next job where some people like to give gifts. I started saying something like “I didn’t budget for that” and offer to create an ecard to contribute instead. It actually helped remove some of the pressure so we now don’t do a lot of monetary contributions but we focus on an ecard or our manager will let the department leadership figure out the cost.

  56. Friendly Comp Manager*

    Am I the only one who doesn’t like the practice of giving going-away gifts, aside from true retirements?

    It is for reasons such as this, hurt feelings, pressure, inconsistencies, etc. There is just too much room to get this wrong.

    1. L-squared*

      I have no problem with them myself, but I think it just has the potential to make people upset. Like, I’m fully ok with someone who was there for 5 years getting “more” than someone there for 6 months. However, its a hard line to draw, unless you have specific dollar amounts

  57. Kiki*

    I really think it’s likely this was a re-gift, a big sale, or someone got a friends-and-family discount. Don’t assume that full price was paid. Also, it could be fake.

  58. emteeva*

    So nobody cares, but people are still talking about it? Sounds like they care. And it’s not her fault. She did, in fact, leave. So what that she came back after a week? The execs liked her/her performance well enough to reward her with a generous going away gift & were obviously more than happy to welcome her back. She did not ask for a gift nor did she pressure anyone into donating money. Quit focusing the blame on her because she is the one benefited from the wonky situation. If people care that much (and they do because they can’t stop complaining about it) approach the appropriate person to establish a policy. And let her enjoy her fancy bag without having to deal with all of the judgey side eye.

  59. Hope*

    This happens at my workplace very often. We have satellite offices around the world and the Managers of those offices work with Confidential Secretaries that are trained in Headquarters and sent out for 3 year assignments and then brought back to HQ. The secretary from my department was selected for an assignment and our department threw a farewell party and we all chipped in for a joint gift (designer jewelry and a glamourous photoshoot with a Very Fancy Photographer for her and her family of 7 children). She took one week vacation to prepare for the move abroad and then was told by HR, the day before her flight, that the assignment was being re-thunk….she still did the photoshoot and we didn’t mind because she is a warm, sweet person. She wears her bracelet everyday and has framed photos on her desk from the shoot.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Which makes me wonder if the EA was a social butterfly would people be gossiping and snarky about this at all?

  60. Holey Hobby*

    I think this would be going down differently if the EA wasn’t so obviously unpopular with the LW and their pals. The letter’s got a lot of “well, she never tried to be our friend but I guess she’s good at her job” and “we don’t really care about it but also everyone in the office is resentful and telling mean jokes behind her back.”

    You don’t like this person; she’s not your friend; she’s not in your work besties group; but management made you give her a gift anyway.

    Yeah, making everyone chip in for a gift is garbage. But the obvious dislike for the EA is probably as much a factor or more. It’s like when the unpopular kid’s parents buy up all of their choco bars, and they get the top fundraiser skateboard that everyone else wanted. It’s unfair that their dad bought 48 boxes, but you also know that kid’s life is going to be hell from now on.

    1. Mannequin*

      It’s not “unfair” for a parent to help an unpopular kid sell candy…it’s unfair that schools & programs make kids sell candy to fund them!

  61. Nancy*

    The EA should do nothing. Everyone should accept that they have no say over a gift once it is given and leave the EA alone.

    LW, you or someone else should bring this to management that people felt pressured to contribute to a gift, because that is not right regardless of whether the person comes back or not. That’s where the fault lies, not with the EA.

    1. Observer*

      No, no one should bring anything to management.

      However, going forward, if management tries to pressure people into giving money for a gift, perhaps you could get together with others to push back. It’s certainly safer than saying no as an individual.

  62. Mannequin*

    100%

    People need to stop just rolling over for the petty abuses of people in power and then calling it “politics”.

    1. MK*

      Oh? And when they get labeled “difficult” or “not a team player” or “bad culture fit” and denied raises and opportunities, what do they need to do then? “Politics” is not an excuse to be cowardly, it’s how the world works. An intern or part-timer or temp who wants a full-time job, someone who depends on the execs for a promotions or growth opportunity, isn’t rolling over because it’s fun, they are trying to make the least worse decisions for themselves.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To add: Please take a break from commenting on this thread today. You’ve submitted several dozen comments on it (some of which will remain in moderation and some of which I’ve removed for being overly aggressive with others) and have been getting heated and hostile toward others. Thank you.

  63. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    The tone of the letter comes across as if A. The assistant had anything to do with people being pressured to contribute to a gift and B. Left specifically to “earn” an expensive gift. She probably feels awkward coming back so soon after leaving, especially if her boss made a big deal about her leaving and ignores others’ departures (I have been the Manager’s Pet before and, while I’m sure some people enjoy that sort of favoritism, for me it was incredibly awkward and affected my relationship with some of my peers negatively. I wouldn’t want to relive that.). I know I’d have debated asking to come back and probably debated wearing the bag, but might have ultimately decided that people probably wouldn’t care. Y’all’s office sounds like my worst nightmare — working there would just confirm that everything my anxiety says is CORRECT.

    Alison’s right: the people at fault here are the managers who pressured others and exhibited blatant favoritism. If you want to be annoyed, focus your annoyance in their direction and get over the assistant making use of a gift that I assumed she was given without input or pressure from HER.

    1. Mannequin*

      “ The tone of the letter comes across as if A. The assistant had anything to do with people being pressured to contribute to a gift and B. Left specifically to “earn” an expensive gift.”

      And even if this bizarre scenario was somehow actually true, it would STILL be inappropriate to respond by mocking & gossiping & making jokes behind her back!

      1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

        Agreed. I was just so surprised that LW kind of implied that someone would actually quit their job just to get a gift and then come back, as if it was all a part of an elaborate scheme. There are all sorts of people in the world and I have certainly been surprised before by what weird lengths some will go to to get things they want, but those situations have been surprising BECAUSE I don’t go around assuming everyone is going to act in that way.

        It seems like LW and the rest of the office just don’t like the EA for whatever reason (what they’ve provided us with seems incredibly petty fwiw; some people don’t want work friends. If their being a lone wolf isn’t affecting your job or theirs, who cares?) and they’re looking for a reason to talk about her unfavorably. If I were her, I’d probably be hurt by the jokes and DEFINITELY would go out of my way at that point to only talk to them when necessary for business. Why waste energy on people who seem to actively dislike me and want to think the worst of me, you know?

        (And if LW thinks the EA hasn’t heard the jokes…honestly, she probably has. If most of the office is participating, it’s not a private joke amongst friends, it’s a spectacle. I highly doubt they’re as slick as they think they are.)

        If they’re actually salty about the EA not being buddies with them, this is the exact recipe for her distance from them to continue and potentially increase.

          1. Anonymouse*

            But they’re still making jokes to that effect. It doesn’t matter whether the people saying these things, in this office, genuinely think this person left a job just to get a fancy gift, or not. Saying this stuff, in your actual workplace, among your co-workers, even as a joke—and it sounds like it’s a pretty angry joke, aimed at her—is harmful.

            It sounds like your workplace has some serious problems with how management interacts with the staff at large. It also sounds like your co-workers are more comfortable targeting this person than criticizing management. Also, honestly, it sounds like you are, too. This whole question is framed as “didn’t she do something wrong, here? Shouldn’t she do something to make this right?” She didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s not on her to make this right.

            (I really don’t want to get bogged down in this but re: those comments about how “she doesn’t LOOK like she’s working, and here’s all the things we’ve seen her do that don’t look like work!” —this is a really bad way of judging someone else’s work. Not every one’s work output looks the same, especially in an office setting. If her actual bosses were so happy with her they welcomed her back after she left for another position, she is probably doing very good work in her actual job! I completely understand if the executive suite’s appreciation for someone you and your co-workers don’t interact with a lot doesn’t fill you with joy or make you happy about forking over your cash to celebrate her (which! They should not have done!). That is more than fair. But…try to remember that a lot of other people’s labor is invisible. Yours, to your management, and it kinda sounds like hers, to you and your peers.)

  64. BlueSwimmer*

    As many commenters have said, it isn’t her fault she was given a nice gift, and using it shows appreciation.

    The executives created the situation and need to do something to symbolically “repay” the contributions and restore people’s faith. Someone needs to let them know that people are upset that they were made to feel that they had to contribute, when there is no precedent for EVERYONE to get such a nice gift when they leave and when the recipient came back to the job a week later. I would suggest a nice catered breakfast spread. They also need to establish a company policy for equitable goodbyes to prevent this from happening again.

  65. Big Glasses*

    This reminds me of something that happened at an old workplace of mine, and I’m wondering how people think that should have been handled.

    The system at this workplace was — when someone was leaving, a card was floating around the office, and people could sign and/or put cash into the envelope for a gift purchase. (Maybe a little social pressure to contribute, but anonymous and nobody could judge how much you contributed etc.) Then, their line manager would buy a gift for the employee using that money and it would be presented on their last day.

    On this occasion, an employee gave notice, a card was started, people gave money and signed it, and then he simply … never left. When people started realising that they had given money and this guy had never left, they would ask questions about it and it sort of generally filtered around the office that he had decided to stay after all. I don’t know whether or not a gift had already been purchased, and if it had, what they did with it. I don’t know what happened to the money otherwise, either. People asked questions but they went unanswered.

    I’m not sure how management should have handled this, but I feel like NOT the way they did. It may be impractical to return everyone’s money, especially since there’s no record of who gave what, but I do feel like if people donate money to a gift and the gift doesn’t end up happening that they are owed some kind of explanation of what happened to the money instead.

    1. Koalafied*

      It may be impractical to return everyone’s money, especially since there’s no record of who gave what, but I do feel like if people donate money to a gift and the gift doesn’t end up happening that they are owed some kind of explanation of what happened to the money instead.

      Yeah, there aren’t any perfect solutions once that happens if nobody knows who gave what. I would think the best thing to do would be to get some kind of token gift for everyone, even if the amount of money will only cover “a pack of Pilot G-2 pens in a color of your choice” or similar by the time it’s divvied up among the whole team.

      Part of me feels like almost anything with an explanation is better than none at all. Even if it’s “we rolled it into the holiday booze budget” or “we bought a bunch of lottery tickets and will split any winnings evenly between all employees” (i.e. problematic uses but at least you know somebody didn’t just pocket it for personal use).

  66. Mannequin*

    OP, the people you work with are nothing but a bunch of bullies. They are using the purse and the abuse by YOUR BOSSES as an excuse to attack someone they already don’t like because she doesn’t do performative friendliness, and because they don’t understand the scope/nature of her work.
    They are being unbelievably petty, and if it was my workplace, I’d be telling ALL of them where to get off.

  67. Anonymous Bear*

    What an uncomfortable situation! Even with Alison’s caveats that the advice she’s giving is ideal but not required. I can’t fathom being in this assistant’s shoes and thinking this long and hard about the potential thoughts and actions of other people who I don’t interact with frequently. I don’t even understand how the EA could think of the optics as ‘weird’ – she left, she came back, the people responsible for okaying that clearly okayed it – everyone else is functionally in the peanut gallery.

  68. Gimme a Break*

    If I’m being honest a lot of the comments here chastising the employees for their reaction is baffling to me. I read this blog daily and I know a lot of the commenters here do as well. Why is everyone so surprised at the reaction from the employees? I think this is an extremely obvious case of MY JOB DOESN’T VALUE MY TIME AND EXPLOITS ME WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT FOR THEM AND THEN THOSE RESPONSIBLE DON’T ACTUALLY GET IN TROUBLE BECAUSE THEY TURN THE EMPLOYEES AGAINST EACHOTHER AS A DISTRACTION.

    And to go back a moment….if you’re all expecting the employees to have the resolve to say no to a boss who pressures them to contribute money, why are you not holding the EA to the same standard? Should she not also have the insight to know that this gift giving looks BAD? If she’s the EA, wouldn’t she know that this is a giving practice that other lower level leaving employees don’t get to enjoy? I’m not actually asking you to answer that question, but it’s very interesting that the ones getting called “bullies” are those on the lower end of the totem poll who don’t get any of the benefits that come with being an EA to high level executives.

    This isn’t a work culture that is cultivated necessarily on purpose, but it’s one that builds over time with incidents like this. There is clearly a mismatch in how employees from differing departments are being treated, and YES I also think the EA and handbag are giant flashing symbols of that inequity. No, it isn’t the EA’s fault that she got a bag she didn’t ask for, but it’s also not completely out of whack for the other employees to be resentful when their job is already cultivating an environment that breeds that resentment.

    1. Gimme a Break*

      Last thing to add. I’m not saying that any of the behavior is A-OKAY, but again it’s striking me as extremely odd that all the hostility is being pointed at the employees who were pretty much forced to give money for something they didn’t really want to contribute to. This also isn’t a great way to get this feedback, but if I were the EA and I were hearing these complaints about me, I would absolutely go to my boss and ask them to 1) address the inequity in how employees are being treated and 2) the “bullying”, in that order.

      1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

        Curious: have you been a similar situation to EA before? Because I was favored by a decidedly unfair manager for a time and I felt extremely stuck. I saw how they were treating my peers and thought it was terrible…but I also needed a job. I felt entirely powerless in that situation. I tried to speak up when I could, but my boss was a bulldozer whose mind couldn’t be changed once it was made up. No one would have been able to tell from the outside that I tried to encourage better treatment of my coworkers because she only did what she wanted to do and didn’t like taking instructions from ANYONE.

        At the time, I was not in a position to put my job on the line and tried to get by the best I could. And, while any bad will my coworkers may have had toward me was understandable on an emotional level, it was also unfair and misplaced. It’s understandable that LW is frustrated, but it’s also really gross that most of an office are taking their frustration out on the person in the situation who doesn’t deserve it at all. It’s incredibly childish. And, frankly, the entire tone of the letter comes across as LW starting out disliking the EA because she doesn’t meet their friendliness quota and trying to find a reason to confirm that they’re right in disliking her. It’s all very middle school and, whether or not it’s understandable, it needs to stop.

        1. Salaried health issues*

          Did you find a new job for higher pay, then ask to come back? It doesn’t sound like the EA minds being the favorite with a $5,000 Chanel bag too much.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            But then what does she do, not carry the $5K bag (or however much it cost) and be ridiculed for being unsocial and ungrateful?

          2. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

            I didn’t, but if I’d left and realized the new job was awful, I’d probably rather deal with the monster I know vs. an equally crappy monster that I’m not familiar with. I don’t know this person obviously, so I don’t know their motivations, but I can absolutely imagine much more charitable motivations and situations than the fanfiction being painted here.

            Anyway, my point in even explaining my situation was specifically addressing the comment saying the EA should be addressing inequity with her bosses. She may be for all anyone knows, and if her bosses suck, it won’t matter.

      2. L-squared*

        I think the issue is, while we can understand being annoyed at your bosses, gossiping about a coworker and shit talking her isn’t the right thing to do. They were “Forced” to do it, but aren’t mad at the people forcing her.

        I can understand that the EA is an easy person to direct the anger toward, while also chiding people for doing it.

    2. Rocket*

      People are responding to one of the coworkers who has a problem with the EA (OP). If management had written in, they’d respond differently.

      Just because management did something crappy, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for all the employees to act crappy towards the EA. And yet they are. So they should stop – including OP if they are partaking in the gossiping and the joke making behind the EA’s back.

    3. moonstone*

      It’s because the angle of criticizing and snarking on the EA is unfair, but also very unhelpful. My armchair psychoanalyzing tells me that the frustration with the EA coming back is a small manifestation of a larger morale issue. Employees feel under appreciated and undervalued by company leaders who clearly exploit them. The employees have every right to be upset, but not at the EA.

      Honestly, this dynamic reminds me of my last workplace. There was clear favoritism (among other things) by bad managers, but sometimes the effects of the favoritism would play out in small, petty ways that would be ridiculous to call out on their own. Also, unlike in this letter, no one actually disliked the favorites. They were lovely people and hard workers, but so was everyone else. It would be hard to complain about favoritism without sounding like you were complaining about your coworkers. It was also not lost on a lot of people that all the favorites were white and the rest were overwhelmingly…not, something we could have gotten into trouble for pointing out.

  69. ResuMAYDAY*

    So many people are commenting on what the EA should/shouldn’t do…but let’s keep in mind she isn’t even the one who wrote in. The OP’s issues are:
    “And then she never really left!” Yes, she actually did.
    “What should she have done?” That’s not your concern, since it seems she isn’t asking you.
    “The rest of us should just accept that it was a gift and hey, things happen?” Yes. Literally yes. If you spend all your energy focused on what others get, you might not even notice when nice things happen to you.
    A designer bag isn’t life-changing. She obviously didn’t return it or sell it on ebay for cash so this is merely a nice, tangible item that won’t really change this EA’s life in any significant way. Anyone wagging their tongues over this are simply being petty.

  70. NormalizeNotGivingAtWork*

    The best thing the reader can do is stop contributing to going away gifts and help normalize not giving. This is work, not a charity or a go-fund me! Yeah, nobody wants to come across as “the coworker that didn’t contribute” but it will give others courage to say no to future requests. I was in a similar situation when Manager had his second child. While I was happy to contribute to a gift card for him and his wife for Baby #1, I thought Baby #2 was excessive. What is he has 5 children? Is filling in for his paternity leave not enough? I also have to give him money? I’m sure people thought I was being bitter but you have to draw the line somewhere. I feel you reader, you were in a no-win situation. Start drawing the line (perhaps only coworkers you are close to?) As to the assistant, there’s nothing she can do. To be honest, it sounds like she’s unaware of what happened, the card was most likely signed “your coworkers” and she assumed it was the execs who paid for the bag.

  71. CatMintCat*

    I had a job once where we paid for our own leaving gifts. As part of the “social club” membership (which was compulsory and paid for tea and coffee, flowers for major life events, flowers for “0” birthdays, and leaving gifts) we paid $20 per year. So, if you left after one year, your leaving gift cost $20. If you lasted ten, it was $200. I was there 11 years and got a very nice ring as my leaving gift. That I had paid for.

  72. Rainer Maria von Trapp*

    Maybe I’m just overly emotional today (it is a day ending in -y, after all), or maybe it’s because my love language is “giving gifts,” but I feel like it’s really sweet, actually! It makes me feel happy that she enjoys this handbag so much and wants to tote it about. It would make me smile to see her come in with it each day because it means she enjoys and values this gift.

  73. L-squared*

    Slightly off topic, but this is a HUGE reason that some people are hesitant to discuss salary at work. Even if it CAN end up better for more people, this shows how when people feel they are being treated unfair, they don’t target that anger at the right person, and end up directing it at people who didn’t do anything wrong. Management is the problem here, but people are treating the other person bad because management did something unfair for her.

    1. moonstone*

      While I think discussing salary should be normalized, no one is obligated to discuss salary with people who would be assholes to them about it.

  74. moonstone*

    The bag and the executive assistant are not the problem here. The company leaders are.

    It’s not fair to judge the EA for receiving and keeping the bag. It’s very possible she didn’t know you all chipped in – she probably thought it was a gift from the executives who she has a good relationship with and wouldn’t mind that she kept it.

    And seconding Alison’s point…the way your company leaders handled this was wrong in so many ways. They shouldn’t have pressured employees to chip in. And it’s rude to only do this for one employee and not others. They are clearly guilty of favoritism and it’s affecting company morale, but I would direct your ire at the people in charge, not the EA.

  75. Virginia Plain*

    It strikes me that, given the deed is done and the gift given (and couldn’t be taken back even if that were the right thing to do, that a lot of drama could be avoided if the Co-worker just didn’t bring that bag into work. Out of sight, out of mind, you know? People would forget eventually. If the coworker didn’t think of this herself then a peer or manager could have a kind quiet word about the optics.
    If I had a designer bag I’d keep it for looking fancy and stylish at weekends or evenings out, not drag it around crowded commuter trains, let the office mouse scamper over it, and try to shove a tin of tomatoes in it on the way home because I’d forgotten my cotton shopper.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      But then she has to constantly move the contents of her purse back and forth which is a pain. Also, as others have pointed out, if she stopped bringing it then you’d likely have people grumbling that she’s NOT using this super expensive gift and therefore must be ungrateful. She can’t win either way because the workers want to be upset about the situation (which they should be, just not directed at her).

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