my office canceled baby showers to protect people dealing with infertility

A reader writes:

I have a question for you regarding baby showers in the office. This happened two employers ago, pre-pandemic, and it’s always rubbed me the wrong way but I could never put my finger on why exactly or what could have been done about it (if anything).

My employer made the announcement that baby showers would no longer be company sponsored, on the rationale that some people might be going through infertility and holding baby showers was insensitive to those individuals. I was not high enough in the structure to be part of the decision-making or able to influence any policy changes of this sort. I suspect this was part of a budget-cutting measure but it was framed as being emotionally intelligent.

What they didn’t know, and what I was not willing to volunteer, was that my partner and I had been trying for a baby for years at that point, and had started ART (assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF). We were unable to conceive before my employment ended. While I understand not everyone in my situation might have been able to attend a baby shower with a good frame of mind, as long as the showers didn’t require mandatory attendance then I don’t see why they were terminated across the board. (No one was ever penalized for having a “doctor’s appointment” the afternoon of a shower and needing to leave the office early.) I certainly didn’t want my name used, even anonymously, in this way. I would never have wanted my peers to miss out on this support, especially considering how exhausting and isolating new parenthood is.

In the end, the situation ended up worse than I think the employer understood. Some people threw baby showers for others without the company budget, circulating cards and coordinating gifts, cake, and a decorated conference room break. It just happened without official company coordination, which meant other employees didn’t receive a shower at all or received much less than popular or well-positioned employees. It drove home how uneven and un-family-friendly the employer’s attitude was. And it led to employee resentment and retention issues, exactly what the company stated they were trying to avoid in the first place.

I guess my question to you is, what if anything could have been done differently as an employee, with the understanding that revealing my family’s own medical status in this case would be used against me and therefore off the table?

I think you’re (quite understandably) coming at this as “I’m one of the people they were supposedly trying to protect, and I didn’t need or want this particular type of protection” … but that doesn’t mean no one else did. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that the policy change came in response to requests from other people on staff who did have a harder time with the events than you did.

I can’t say for certain, of course. And maybe it really was just budget-cutting dressed up as an attempt at compassion. But it sounds like they might have heard others were struggling with the showers — and a lot of people struggling with fertility do report workplace showers can be hard on them. In part that’s because they’re more of a captive audience at work; it can be hard to opt out without people asking why, and it’s not a great solution to tell them to just feign a doctor’s appointment and leave early that day for a bunch of reasons (including using possibly-limited sick time, and they could have work they want or need to be there for that day, plus if they do it more than once it might be noticeable).

That’s not to say that offices need to treat people struggling with infertility as delicate flowers or as if they’re all the same, and plenty of people in that situation don’t find baby showers hard. But enough do, and enough have talked about it, that I don’t think it’s wrong for an office to try to be sensitive to that … especially if they’d had feedback about it. I wouldn’t push for this particular policy, but I can imagine a situation where a company would end up there. (It’s also possible the policy stemmed from one horrible incident; it has that feel to me, and might have been an overcorrection if something particularly awful did happen.)

As for whether you could have done anything about it at the time: You certainly could have been a voice in favor of keeping the showers — but doing that without revealing your own struggle means that if the new policy was a response to requests, you’d risk inadvertently hurting and/or isolating any coworkers who did greet the new policy with relief.

{ 341 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    They can also be uncomfortable for people who are having a hard time financially, since you don’t want to look like the stingy person who didn’t want to chip in for a cute baby.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I remember being a temp and getting asked to chip in for an office baby shower I wasn’t invited to for a person I didn’t know.

      I’m not a big fan of ANY personal celebration in the office. It’s never done fairly or in a way that makes everyone satisfied.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Furthering “never done fairly or in a way that makes everyone satisfied”: Shoot, I’ve been invited (as a salaried professional) to chip in for an (after hours) office baby shower for an employee from a completely separate division and location, who I do not know.

        Once upon a time we had a very active “Women of (Company)” social group…but its been ages. I think this leaned into this, about 7 years after said social group appeared to have been disbanded.

      2. Pepper*

        Agreed. Best would be not to have any kind of showers or present-giving or similar in at work or on work time, and just have a monthly birthday cake with the cost picked up by the company. No financial pressures that way and not discrimination / distinction made between those who choose kids/don’t choose kids ; choose to marry (or legally can marry)/ choose not to marry; etc.

      3. But what to call me?*

        At my last job (11-person team who were all reasonably fond of each other and made pretty similar money except for the coordinator), personal celebrations happened when someone had something to celebrate and decided to share the joy by bringing snacks for the team. We also had monthly potlucks to celebrate whatever there was to celebrate that month. People could choose whether or not to contribute to the potlucks, but we had several prolific cooks on the team and plenty of others who were happy to contribute something like a fruit tray or paper plates in return for good food. So I do think enjoyable personal celebrations in the office can be done, just not in the way that those that come up on AAM usually are done.

        What made ours work was 1) a team that lucked out in the no office politics/drama department, 2) events confined to our own team, with the understanding that it wasn’t practical for us to participate in whatever was going on with our boss’s other employees at her main location (nor did we want to, but shh), 3) shared understanding that anyone who brought food for any reason was doing it because they felt like it and therefore no reciprocity was required and no one was obligated to eat anything they didn’t want to eat, and 4) absolutely no gifts of any kind. I can’t remember anyone even bringing up the possibility of gifts. There were cards for a while, but they got kind of tedious after a while so when the person who used to arrange them left we switched to the monthly potlucks.

        (The only downside was what it did to my sugar intake. I was extra appreciative when someone brought in non-desert snacks like that one delicious black bean-based salsa that I should have gotten the recipe for.)

        1. Spurs*

          The black bean salsa might be called “cowboy caviar” if you’re looking for the recipe! I make it for potlucks and it’s always a hit, but I usually just google the name and pick whatever recipe sounds good that day :)

    2. This_is_Todays_Name*

      That reminds of when I used to manage our office’s “Sunshine Fund”. Everyone paid $2 a month and I would order a cake, and buy a card(s) for whoever had Bdays that month and we’d all get cake and ice cream, Yay. But a lot of people would the month after their Bday say, “I don’t want to participate any longer” and stop paying so I ended up either paying out of my pocket or some people wouldn’t have gotten a celebration. Once we got thru one entire 12 month period, I cancelled the program and people were like “What? Why?” And of course it was the same people who decided to stop paying but still wanted to eat cake. Thank goodness I WFH now and all of that nonsense is dispensed with!

      1. I should really pick a name*

        If the company isn’t willing to fund something like that, it’s probably best to just do nothing instead of collecting money.

        1. Nicole Maria*

          Not everyone works at a “company” though, people who work for the government or a non-profit might still want to host some events but their employer isn’t allowed to pay for it.

          1. But what to call me?*

            Yeah, I worked at an educational building that counted as a school insofar as there was never going to be a budget for any kind of celebration but was not actually a school with attending students, so there was no PTA, which was who usually took care of that kind of thing in the school buildings. If we wanted any kind of celebration, which we did, we were on our own. We didn’t do anything major but it was nice to have some socialization-and-snacking time to break up the sometimes stressful, sometimes tedious work.

      2. Cyndi*

        My old job did something like this, where every time someone had a birthday we all Venmoed a few bucks to a team member who really loved doing this stuff and she’d decorate their cubicle and get a cake–but I dropped out right before my birthday! I’d been pretty swamped by actual work and the birthday list had just completely dropped off my mental radar, until the week before my own birthday when I suddenly remembered and realized I’d missed chipping in for three or four other people. I messaged my coworker to apologize and ask to be taken off the list if she hadn’t already; it didn’t seem right to get a cake after that.

        1. kalli*

          It would have been equally ok to send the missed amount! The optics of ‘paying in just before my turn’ were limited to that one team member who also could have reminded you if it was truly an issue, and ‘I was so busy it slipped my mind but I paid in as soon as I remembered’ counters that anyway.

    3. Dawn*

      I mean this with all compassion – I think that you are maybe getting your own struggles with fertility (and I’m very sorry that you had to deal with that! That struggle is very real!) conflated in your mind with the concept of employer-sponsored baby showers, and it might be making this seem of more outsize importance to you than it actually is.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except there is no inherent reason a company needs to be sponsoring baby showers. Zero. They have no fundamental need in the workplace. Millions of workplaces do zero baby showers ever and nobody suffers for the lack of them.

        1. MassMatt*

          I am in this camp. Birthday cards are pretty harmless, but IMO collecting money for birthday parties or having the company fund them is not a good use of time. Baby showers, gender reveals, bachelor parties, etc are getting further and further afield.

          IMO work would be better off sticking to get-well cards and flowers for the ill, condolences and flowers for those that die (and the company should send/pay).

          1. Dawn*

            Yeah I actually agree with everyone about this, not sure why you’re all pushing back against something I never said.

      2. Starbuck*

        I think it’s just weird that the company would be sponsoring baby showers at all? Put that money into your leave bank or whatever. Celebrating people’s fertility in the workplace just seems like a very odd practice that they were probably right to end.

      1. Dahlia*

        Does “company-funded” mean gifts? Because I’d assume it meant, like, the cake and streamers.

    4. Garblesnark*

      Yeah. My work had a baby shower for a coworker recently and passed around the registry. It had $100 sheet sets and a $700 fancy stroller thing listed. (Also some MLM “for baby” products.) It also had none of the things I’d actually buy for someone I don’t know that well on my budget – you know, bottles, spoons, wipes.

      (Weirdly, I suddenly had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon…)

    5. Mo*

      The other issue with baby showers is that it becomes painful when it becomes clear that management is having all the babies, while the support staff isn’t. We can’t afford to buy a house, pay off our student loans, or daycare. Realizing that there’s another class of employees who get to have all of that is painful. It’s not just infertility.

      Also, I had a miscarriage. Having to go to someone else’s baby shower, for someone else whose baby was due right around the time mine was born was incredibly painful. Not everyone knew. Having that baby would have been a financial disaster, but hearing all the excitement over this other baby didn’t help my mental health at all. My marriage didn’t survive and I left the job shortly afterwards.

    6. Garblesnark*

      My work had a baby shower for a coworker recently. The registry had $100 crib sheets and nothing under $80.

      1. Seashell*

        Buying off the registry isn’t a requirement. It’s easy enough to buy a baby outfit or kids’ books.

        1. Zelda*

          The registry sets a tone, though, like “here are the kinds of things we expect from you.” People who choose something an order of magnitude less expensive are made very aware that they are not coming up to expectations. (I’ve been told that “more wipes than you had realized you would need” is ultimately a better gift, but that’s not the message that a pie-in-the-sky registry sends.)

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Most first-time parents don’t have the foggiest idea what they will need. It’s easy to think you want the pretty retro stroller and the pale mauve merino-silk onesies and get caught up in this whole aesthetic picture in your head.

            Then the baby arrives and you realize you actually need a stroller you can push with one hand and fold to fit in the trunk, clothes you can wash on hot five times a week without shrinking them, and pacifiers in every room.

            Registries that are clearly just wishful thinking can be chuckled at privately and ignored.

          2. Liz*

            As someone who had a baby pretty recently… I promise you are overthinking it. I did consciously register for things at a variety of price points, but I expected to get all sorts of things off list, and I don’t know a single parent who didn’t. I think many people register for expensive things in a sort of pie-in-the-sky way, but there are certain things that every parent uses and only a true ass would be ungrateful for. (In which case, you should know they’re a jerk and not worry about their expectations!)

            There are plenty of affordable baby things that even people who ask for expensive crib sheets want and need – many board books cost around 6 dollars, packs of socks are so useful, pacifiers and bottles top out at a pretty low price, etc. No matter how much someone spends on a fanciful baby sweater, they almost certainly use the same brands of these basic things as everyone else.

    7. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. Also, no one threw me a shower when I adopted my rescue dogs, and they required roughly as much equipment and as much in vet bills the first year as having a child.

      I know I sound like the Mayor of No Funnington, and let me assure everyone here that when I am asked to attend and/or contribute to a baby shower at work or any other celebration I do it with what I like to think as convincingly feigned enthusiasm, but if I were personally in charge of policy, I’d do away with baby showers entirely and instead offer as much paid parental leave as the company could afford.

        1. Fanny Price*

          I actually threw myself a kitten shower (not at work). The way I personally reconciled it with the “you can’t host your own shower” rule was that I set a gift limit of $0. The instructions were, “look around your house and find something you would throw away that a kitten would have fun playing with, and bring that.” We got a ball of wadded-up foil, milk jug rings, and a pencil stub with yarn tied to it, for example. It was SO much fun! The point was more to socialize the cats to having people around, but we wore them into the totally exhausted sleep of kittens who have binged on play. Would recommend.

    8. Gingerbread Housekeeper*

      That’s very true, and that’s also why it’s important to make donations anonymous AND untracked; it should be possible for people to give what they choose without anyone knowing who’s given how much. And it’s perfectly possible to buy a great present with very little money! Carefully chosen picture books that are perfect for reading aloud will be cherished for years to come – and won’t be outgrown nearly as fast as baby clothes.

      But as for banning all in-office baby showers because some people there can’t have a baby? Of course it’s sad to have to give up a dream, but “you can’t always get what you want” is more than the chorus of an old song – it’s an indisputable fact of life. Does your inability to get what you want give you carte blanche to put the kibosh on other peoples’ celebration of getting what THEY want? Sorry about that, but the answer is no!

      1. Moonstone*

        I have struggled with infertility and wasn’t able to have kids and it sucks. Distilling it down to a trite “life’s not fair” and “you can’t always get what you want” – while true – feels heartless. No one needs a baby shower either; it’s nice to have but especially unnecessary for work to be involved in providing. Do that on your own time and leave the workplace out of it completely.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        “Does your inability to get what you want give you carte blanche to put the kibosh on other peoples’ celebration of getting what THEY want?”

        I would have more sympathy for this in a family or social setting, not a work setting. A monthly birthday cake for the office sounds great! A baby shower? If one’s coworkers want to throw one, having it at a local lunch spot seems reasonable.

        This gives rise to another question: What about soon-to-be fathers? Do offices that sponsor showers hold them for men, as well?

      3. Kella*

        It’s disingenuous to put the baby shower issue in the category of relative life fairness because *work* is not *life*. A company chooses whether to offer a particular benefit to its employees or not which means by offering baby showers, they are choosing to offer a benefit that by definition excludes everyone who can’t or isn’t going to have children. The unfairness is being created by a choice the employer is making.

        While not everything in the context of work can be perfectly fair (as Alison has discussed regarding in-office perks vs. remote work perks etc.) employers have a responsibility to consider fairness and equity in their decisions, for both ethical and legal reasons. And having work celebrations that are general and for everyone instead of specific to certain demographics is one way to uphold that responsibility.

      4. Mars*

        No one is mentioning people who have lost babies. I have. My husband coworker also had his son die. I don’t like baby showers because it makes me relive trauma. That is much more than “you can’t always get what you want.” Your comment comes off as extremely cruel. No one needs a baby shower. I’m here to work.

        1. Mars*

          1/160 pregnancies result in stillbirth.
          5.6 out of 1000 live births result in infant death. Compassion doesn’t cost anything.

    9. Anax*

      The baby showers to which only women are invited can also be pretty uncomfortable, if you’re trans. Not a hypothetical; I’ve had this happen and it was the reason I outed myself to HR, two employers ago.

      (HR was also the person having the baby, and I didn’t want her to think I didn’t like her as a person – there were only about four female-presenting people in the office, so it would have been VERY obvious.)

      1. so very tired*

        The mandatory baby showers at my old job were hell for me because they were mandatory for women only, and they made me go because I was still not ready to come out and I presented fem then. It felt so ick being forced to perform gender like that.

    10. Star Singer*

      Donations to an office gift should be (A) anonymous and (B) NOT tracked; no one should know who gave how much, or if they gave at all! As for baby shower gifts, they do NOT have to be expensive: picture books which can be read aloud to babies and toddlers can be cherished and enjoyed for years. (I seek out picture books which are intended to lull babies to sleep, on the theory that even the proudest and happiest new parents are desperately short of sleep themselves!)

      But canceling ALL office baby showers because SOME people can’t have babies? Ah, no. Just no! Of course it hard to have to give up a personal dream and to accept that you’ll never achieve it. But “You can’t always get what you want” is more than the chorus of an old song; it’s an inescapable reality. We live in a world in which we’re confronted every day with examples of others having what we long for but simply cannot have; we can’t expect those others to hide or deny what they have and we don’t. Babies are a part of everyday life, not a secret to be hidden away because some people can’t have them.

      1. borealis*

        Seems to me it’s a pretty far step from not having baby showers in the office to hiding the fact that babies happen. And it is not as if all parents-to-be want a baby shower (there’s been threads about that at AAM in the past).

  2. I should really pick a name*

    It feels like a failed policy if they said there wouldn’t be company sponsored showers, but showers still happened in the office anyway.

    Whether or not a shower is company sponsored isn’t going to make a difference to someone who’s bothered by it.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      Yeah, I kinda wish Alison had touched on this and potentially even what could have been a better course of action, to ensure that this didn’t happen. I don’t know how possible that is, but I am surprised that she didn’t address the whole “what they were trying to prevent happened anyway, except somewhat worse” aspect.

      1. Lydia*

        Same. The fact they still happened, and it wasn’t a policy that didn’t allow them during work hours or in the office seems to have been a huge miss by the company and Alison might of should have addressed that.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          I noticed that as well. I wonder if the baby showers given after the policy came down were on the down low. That they didn’t tell anyone higher up that they were still doing them.

          I’m firmly on the no baby showers at work train. Just because I think it forces a cost on to people who might not really be your friends (just work friends) and don’t really want to go baby shopping because it’s shopping but feel forced because they have to.

          If you do need to get a baby shower gift – the Nose Frieda snot sucker is a great gift that people don’t know they need. And receiving blankets – inexpensive ones like from Carter. Those are workhorses.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Yeah, this is how I feel. But at the same time I’m at a loss on how to prevent it (since I think saying no one can celebrate a co-worker in the office would be an over-reach).

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Would it really be an overreach?
        Especially when it gets to the level of decorating conference break rooms?
        Circulating a card feels like a solid middle ground that provides recognition while still being fairly discreet.

        1. L-squared*

          I think so (not who posted it). People have all sorts of life milestones. And if their teammates want to recognize that, I think they should be allowed to.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          True, I agree with decorating break rooms. I was thinking more about bringing gifts/food to celebrate someone.

        3. Rex Libris*

          This. I don’t think it’s exactly an overreach to say that work time and work spaces need to be primarily reserved for work things. Circulating a card, sure. Bringing in some cupcakes, probably okay. Taking over a conference room and having a full-on party? A bit much.

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            But celebrations like this are so commonly accepted in workplaces that it would seem really strange and unreasonable to a lot of people. Would it really be worth the resentment it would cause?

            I don’t think it would be easy to enforce without acting like a headteacher, either.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Hmm, I’ve worked in pretty casual workplaces where anything beyond circulating a card and bringing in cupcakes would have been considered odd for any occasion. There’s a wide spectrum of company cultures, and I feel like “please don’t throw a party for some people but not others” would be acceptable in a fairness sense.

              1. Starbuck*

                Right, and there’s the further difference between a party to celebrate, say, Halloween or a winter holiday or what have you, versus a party to celebrate one specific person. That feels much weirder. We’ve done going-away drinks for folks leaving for example, but that happens after work and off site.

            2. Starbuck*

              Are they really? Having cake in the breakroom is totally normal, but having an actual ~birthday party~ with someone being presented and unwrapping gifts I think is much further outside the norms.

              Same with a baby shower. A cake to celebrate is one thing, but a full on shower event, with gifts? That feels like way too much to be doing at work with coworkers. I think it’s totally reasonable for a company to say, limit celebrations to lunch time and not allow an actual party/event to happen during work hours.

            3. Lydia*

              It’s pretty easy, actually. Policy #5558980-39 Gatherings such as baby showers should not take place during work hours or in workspaces, including break rooms and conference rooms.

              This allows them to go somewhere offsite, maybe during lunch, to have a gathering. Pretty straight forward.

            4. whingedrinking*

              I’m thinking about the workplaces I’ve been in, and honestly, I’m pretty sure if someone had come in with balloons and a cake and commandeered a section of the workplace for a non-administration-sanctioned party, they would have been gently taken aside and told not to do that without asking. And if they did ask, they would probably have been told no.

            5. münchner kindl*

              If we’re not talking about baby showers, but the normal birthday celebrations, the usual method is not the company sponsoring it, but somebody organising it, with a card and collecting small amount money for small gift, and then a cake.

              That’s easier because everybody has a birthday once a year, and celebrating the same way means nobody is left out.

              All other celebrations – weddings, baby showers – are not done on company premises but in private, so avoids hurt feelings.

              1. Princess Sparklepony*

                Present? No. Cake and a card yes. Children don’t work in workplaces and adults don’t need a gift from co-workers because they are a year older. A card is nice.

          2. L-squared*

            I think it really depends on the situation.

            My last job had 2 big conference rooms in the office, along with mutliple other smaller meeting rooms. Both of them needing to be occupied almost never happened. So to be upset that one was being used for a celebration when it otherwise would’ve sat empty just seems like a lot

            1. münchner kindl*

              But it’s not simply the space – it’s the unfairness at inviting some but not others; celebrating some (who are pregnant) but not others; doing a big thing for some people and a small thing for others.

              That’s bad to do at work.

              If you’re privately close friends with some, and thus celebrate privately, the others don’t see it, so they aren’t snubbed by it. If it happens on company property, everybody knows and some will feel snubbed, because they are being snubbed.

          3. Office Lobster DJ*

            This is the line I would draw, too. A card, a personal gift given privately, and cupcakes left in the breakroom all seem fine. Even a few close co-workers taking the person off site for a nice lunch would be in the spirit of the policy, in my opinion. And, of course, the company can’t really control what happens outside of work.

            It’s taking over company space on company time for something the company has otherwise banned that seems like the overreach.

          4. Freya*

            In Australia, there’s potential tax implications for the business around anything that can be classed as entertainment (parties vs staff meetings) – refreshments incidental to staff meetings or training sessions are usually deductible expenses, party refreshments can be classed as entertainment, which is not.

      2. Menace to Sobriety*

        They CAN celebrate if they are friends–just don’t do it during work hours IN THE OFFICE. If you’re close enough to a co-worker that you want to throw or attend their baby shower, it should be done in someone’s home/a restaurant/wherever on a day or evening off. Doing it in the office has always felt icky to me… The only celebrations I’m pretty okay with IN the office are retirments of long term employees and that should be very simple: a card, a cake, maybe a plaque or something…

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          While I don’t disagree that in a perfect world that would be how it worked, it also would feel weird to me to not allow someone to bring a gift to someone, or snacks for their department to share. I don’t think they should be allowed to take over communal spaces for it, but I think the company would be fighting an uphill battle if they tried to completely put a stop to this.

        2. doreen*

          I’m one of those people who really never liked at-work parties that are to celebrate me. So I’m going to ask – as far as people feeling hurt because they didn’t get a party/gifts at all, or because someone else got a nicer one , does having the parties somewhere else eliminate that? I can’t really really see how it would -if someone is organizing a lunch at a restaurant for Melinda’s baby shower , I’ll know about it just the same as if they had it at the office. And I can’t imagine being upset that Melinda got one and I didn’t if Melinda’s was in the office, but just fine as long as hers was at a restaurant.

          1. L-squared*

            Right. This is my thought Doreen. If one person isn’t getting a party at all, and they find out that someone else’s work friends organized one for them right after work at the corner bar, does that really feel any less bad?

            I kind of think that we are really treating adults too much like kids where everything has to be equal so someone doesnt’ get their feelings hurt.

            Sometimes people are more well liked. Its often because they take time to get to know their coworkers (which many on this site seem to be against). So if those same coworkers do something nice for them, its ok if they don’t do the same nice thing for another person who just never makes conversation.

          2. Menace to Sobriety*

            I kinda disagree. If Sue and Jane are known to be good friends, beyond work, I’d have ZERO issue with Sue attending or throwing Jane a shower. And then if Mary gets pregnant, but she’s not close to anyone at work, I’d assume her family and non-work friends would throw one for her and I’d think nothing of it. And if *I* got pregnant (first call the Pope), I am not close enough to anyone I work with that I’d expect a darn thing. So, I think even if I knew someone else DID have a shower outside of work, I’d be unaffected/not offended. People ARE allowed to have friends at work, even if I choose to stay pretty much in my own “civil and polite” lane.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Yeah, I think there’s a big difference between “Mary’s close work friends threw her a party after work” and “Doreen invites everyone to a birthday party during work hours for everyone in the office except Dwayne and Julia, who get snubbed every year”.

              1. Typing All The Time*

                Same. At my first company, a colleague and the company president had the same birth date. Employees also honored the president with a big day celebration while the colleague got ignored. One year, they asked why the colleague didn’t want to join in and that’s how they found out. Granted, they’re two different people but both of their birthdays should matter.

          3. Kindred Spirit*

            Having a party offsite may not eliminate hurt feelings, but it’s less in-your-face than an in-office celebration where it really underscores who gets celebrated and on what scale.

          4. Starbuck*

            I think it’s still much better. I’d far rather not get an invite, or be able to decline an invite, to an event happening off-site and after the work day. A party happening right down the hall? That’s way too much to be doing.

            “I’ll know about it just the same as if they had it at the office.”
            Well no, you won’t, because you won’t have had to witness it. That does actually make a difference.

        3. raktajino*

          Many schools have a policy where a child can pass out birthday invitations at school, but only if they invite their whole class. If they don’t want to invite everyone, they can distribute the invites another way.

          Seems like a similar approach: Nobody’s saying the kid can’t invite classmates, they just have to be respectful and discreet if they’re not going to be 100% inclusive.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      I absolutely agree. The policy should be no baby showers on company time in the office.

      If work friends want to plan and host a party do it (the planning and hosting) outside of work.

      Of course I am a woman who has always been in male-dominated fields so I have only attended one work baby shower in 30+ years. It’s fine. I find work baby showers wierd.

      I mean work b-day parties are just excuses to eat cake and maybe sing happy birthday and take under 15 minutes out of work. A baby shower with presents and such seems like a much larger, time consuming event.

    4. Dorothy Zpornak*

      Sorry, I totally disagree. To know that an individual coworker or a few coworkers made a poor choice that was insensitive and caused pain is frustrating. To know that your employer not only endorsed that act but paid for it, making it possible and indeed promoting that act of insensitivity, and that you are coming to work everyday to support an institution that has that insensitivity to the situation of people like you actually baked into their policy is so, so much worse.

      1. Gemstones*

        Does throwing a baby shower rise to the level of “act of insensitivity,” though? I mean, I understand the company having a policy against them, but I wouldn’t say that companies that DO throw them are insensitive or wrong…

        1. Lydia*

          Agree. Being considerate of people going through infertility is kind, but it’s not automatically insensitive of them to allow baby showers to happen. It’s also not out of the question for a company to ban them from happening during work hours or within the office.

          1. AskJeeves*

            I went to an office-sponsored baby shower for a couple who had been through a grueling infertility journey and were overjoyed to introduce their baby and celebrate together. Was that insensitive to coworkers who might still have been struggling with infertility? I’ve been through it and I say no. I may choose to opt out because of my own sensitivities, but that doesn’t mean holding the event is itself insensitive.

            (And by that logic, companies should never sponsor a celebration of any life milestone. Wedding showers could be hurtful to people who are divorced, widowed, or unhappily single. Etc etc.)

            1. catsoverpeople*

              I have been in the workforce for over 20 years and have never encountered an employer-sponsored wedding shower. Nor do any of them send out “welcome to the work family!!!!” emails for employee weddings the way they do for babies. So, it’s already unequal emphasis on only a certain type of life milestone.

    5. Lacey*

      Yeah. I think the issue isn’t that they canceled them, but the haphazard way they continued on. It should have just been the policy that they weren’t doing it at all, company sponsored or otherwise.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah – I actually think that by the employer continuing to “own” baby showers they actually had a lot more control around what did or didn’t happen.

        If an employer essentially take jurisdiction over all birthdays, engagements-weddings, new babies, bereavements and retirements – then whether you’re on a team of 50 or a team of 3 – everyone will be in position to be acknowledged similarly for those moments. So if after four months, you realize your new hire is getting married on their birthday because they’re pregnant – there’s the standard $15 birthday gift card, combined with two $25 marriage/baby shower gift cards. But if it’s a “pass the hat, sign the generic card” – who knows how a new hire gets acknowledged despite having all of those events at once. While long time employee who has lots of friends gets lots of in-office presents for their cat’s birthday.

        Coworkers who are friends are inevitably going to celebrate each other differently, be that showers or cat birthdays. But that is why if you’re stopping company sponsored baby showers for a reason such as protecting employees (vs budget), that’s why it needs to actually be enforced with that ethos in mind.

        If a team lead requested money to get funding for an entire team to send each other Valentine’s cards as it used to be done in elementary school as a team bonding exercise – and was told no because of a potentially to cross lines around romantic overtures/sexual harassment. Then the team lead going out and buying all those Valentine’s cards for the team to hand out doesn’t help that situation…..

        1. AskJeeves*

          Agreed. It turned baby showers into a popularity contest, which created hurt feelings and resentment. The policy feels like an overreaction, and then the company seems to have washed its hands of the entire issue, rather than seeing the impact of the policy and adjusting accordingly.

    6. mb*

      I came here to say this too. Showers were happening anyway – and then there was an inherent inequality to who received one, and how big of a shower they received, which then created resentment among those who weren’t high on the popularity/visibility list.
      If they were no longer sponsoring showers, they should have also banned them from taking place in the workplace. As in, a card can be passed around, and if someone wants to organize an outside of work shower, then they can do that – just not at work.

    7. münchner kindl*

      YES! They did it wrong by going half-way: still allowing it at the office, but private, so that the different level of popularity was obvious. They should have followed through and forbidden that, too.

      Because what bothers some people – not LW, but others – about baby showers at work is the captive atmosphere, as Alison put it.

      So a group of coworkers who are close friends meeting off-premise would still be okay – nobody else is getting their face rubbed in, or pressured into giving money etc.

    8. JustaTech*

      Last year two people in my (very small) department were pregnant at the same time, me and my peer coworker. Our boss decided to throw us a baby shower, similar to our usual monthly “happy hour” with chips and salsa and drinks, except that he wanted to get some cupcakes and use our department morale budget to pay for it.

      History: in the past individual department have had “baby showers” – usually cupcakes, one time some folks decorated, no circulation of a baby registry or anything. During peak COVID we even threw a virtual baby shower for one coworker (and did not include the coworker who asked to *not* have a baby shower).

      But something happened and first my boss was told “sure” and then he was told “absolutely not!” and that it was “unfair to people who can’t participate” by our VP. At no time did our VP tell us who we were excluding (so we could change to include them) – there are maybe 15 people in the department, so we were baffled.

      So we had the “party” anyway – my boss and I brought in food and my coworker baked a cake and my boss’s wife made quilts for my coworker and I and we were given a Target card each. We didn’t play any “baby shower” games or anything like that, so it was really just a happy hour with cake and a single streamer.

      Is it possible that we were being unkind to someone experiencing infertility? Sure. And if the VP had said that, then we would have approached it differently, though I understand that could also have created a lot of speculation.

      But to just come down like a ton of bricks on a low-key celebration in line with what we’d done in the past just felt dictatorial and made everyone want to push back.

      All of that is a long way of saying that these kinds of things are really going to depend on the dynamics of an individual workplace.

    9. Grim*

      Yeah, that’s what makes it seem like a cost-cutting measure dressed up in the guise of trying to be emotionally sensitive, in my opinion. It still might not be, maybe the people who made this decision just didn’t think it through very well! But allowing workplace baby showers to continue on anyway, just without company funding, doesn’t really do anything much to protect the people who it might hurt, because the baby showers are still happening. I can see how introducing a rule where baby showers aren’t allowed at work at all (so that if someone wants to have a baby shower with their work buddies it has to be held somewhere else outside work hours) might also cause resentment, but I guess at least that way everyone can be equally grumpy together?

  3. Spicy Tuna*

    I once worked for a multinational corporation that didn’t allow people to have photos of their families at their desks because it could make people without families or with strained familial relationships feel badly. Anything is possible!

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      I worked for a nonprofit gym that decided that we could never alter our schedule for holidays, because someone might be offended.

      Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day were off the table, because they might be offensive to immigrants or people who don’t like America. Thanksgiving was off the table, because some people might not have families to celebrate with. Christmas and Easter, people might not celebrate Christmas/Easter or they might not have anyone to celebrate with.

      What ended up happening was that a bunch of angry staff got scheduled to work in an empty building because no members showed up, and members refused to register for our classes because we were holding classes on holidays and they didn’t want to pay for classes they would miss.

      It turns out the one universal truth is that, regardless of nationality or religion or culture, given a day off, people will make plans to enjoy it.

      1. Ssssssssssssssssss*

        That’s interesting. I knew someone that had family to spend holidays with (that he liked, too!) but was annoyed, very much, that his Goodlife gym wouldn’t be open on Xmas day and he really wanted to be able to go work out.

      2. Star Spinner*

        That sounds like a pretzel-twisting way for the company to put a nice PC gloss on their choice to force employees to work on holidays. Well, they get props for being PC as all get-out, but also the grand prize for coming up with a splendid way to demoralize and anger their employees. Nice going – NOT!

        1. Antilles*

          Still strange though. Because even if we ignore the impact on employees, wouldn’t the pure economics dictate that it doesn’t make sense to stay open (paying wages, electricity for lights, etc) if you have zero customers?

      3. H.Regalis*

        Holy cow! That sounds utterly ridiculous.

        I am intrigued by the idea of a non-profit gym though.

        1. Lisa Simpson*

          There’s a number of them! The big national names are YMCA, YJCC, and Salvation Army Kroc Center, but there are often smaller local ones.

      4. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ That is bananas. Scheduling classes over major holidays? Seriously? I work in continuing education and that would be a massive waste of time because no one would sign up for classes on a holiday!

      5. whingedrinking*

        I will say that after my first year of teaching ESL, I made a point of reminding students from non-Western countries that if they didn’t have plans for Christmas, they should make sure they knew what hours their local shops were keeping and plan accordingly. Many Japanese students, for example, would be like, “Oh, no school. Just like last month with Remembrance Day” and get a nasty shock when they have no food in their apartment and the grocery store is firmly closed.

        1. Tau*

          This is such an issue in Germany, where stores are closed on all public holidays and also Sundays. If you’re unlucky you have a 3.5 day run of no grocery shopping over Christmas (assuming the 27th is a Sunday.) I think immigrants here regularly run afoul of that!

    2. Heart&Vine*

      Yeah, I think it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. ANY workplace celebration runs the risk of being exclusionary and/or triggering for someone. Even a pizza party could be seen as thoughtless in some regards! But it also feels wrong to not acknowledge an employee’s good news that’s worth celebrating.

      Personally, I think the best thing a workplace can do is 1. give employees a big heads up that there’s going to be an event involving X celebration on Y date, 2. make it company policy that no employee is ever obligated to attend these events (no excuse required), and 3. try to hold the event offsite (or at least away from where most people are working) so anyone who doesn’t want to attend won’t be so obviously missed.

      So while I think it’s important to be sensitive to peoples’ feelings, I don’t think going scorched earth is really being “emotionally intelligent”. There’s ways of accommodating certain employees while still showing support for others.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        “But it also feels wrong to not acknowledge an employee’s good news that’s worth celebrating.”

        This is the part that rubbed me the wrong way about this company’s approach. No one is having a baby AT someone experiencing infertility. People should absolutely be able to opt out of attending showers (at work or otherwise) if they’re not up to it, but it also seem to be an unkindness to extend that to people who do want to celebrate someone’s good news.

        1. Heart&Vine*

          Exactly. Like, we aren’t going to cancel Mortimer’s retirement party because Beatrice doesn’t think she’ll be able to retire for at least another 15 years and is resentful! Just let everyone, including Beatrice, know they don’t have to go if they don’t want to.

        2. Emikyu*

          As someone who genuinely has a hard time emotionally dealing with baby showers, I agree. I don’t think it would be possible for me to get through a baby shower without crying, and I certainly don’t want to tell the whole office why. But I would feel even weirder and more embarrassed about being the reason people can’t celebrate.

          Just have the shower and make it easy to opt out. As long as I can just not show up without it being A Thing, it’s fine.

        3. StarTrek Nutcase*

          IMO I’d prefer all non-work celebrations be done outside work and totally optional. But also think adults need to accept that they are not the main character in other people’s lives. (And parents teach their children that.)

          We all have things we’re sensitive about to varying degrees, and part of life is learning to be able to be happy for others despite our own unhappiness. And always remember that others’ good things aren’t done AT us. Babies, health, wealth, living parents, etc. are examples.

      2. Sloanicota*

        It’s true that every single celebration runs the risk of someone not feeling celebrated, by it’s nature, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. We don’t generally hold office parties for ordinary things, only things that be definition are worth extra notice because they don’t happen to everyone every day. I’ve celebrated people’s promotions when I wasn’t the one promoted; I never got married but I’ve celebrated hundreds of coworkers weddings; I’ve celebrated people’s retirements even though I may not get to retire; I don’t have kids but I’ve celebrated lots of babies; I’ve never felt that honoring people on their birthday was an insult to everyone who didn’t live to see their birthday this year, although I guess you could decide it was if you wanted.

    3. Justme, The OG*

      I worked in a department where you were allowed two (2) personal pieces of artwork including family photos. I would love for them to see my office now, no fewer than four photos of my kid on my bookshelf and lots of random ones on my desk.

    4. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Lol, people with somehow absolutely no friends, family, or pets aren’t going to feel less bad just because the majority of coworkers have to pretend they’re in the same boat. That policy reads like a parody.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’m especially confused by Labor Day, which is meant to celebrate workers. And all employees are workers, so that is the one day that should be OK, based on their bizarre reasoning.

    5. H3llifIknow*

      I wonder if it’s where I used to work. We mostly hot desked because so many of us had spaces at our client locations, or could WFH. But, people tended to have desks they liked to sit at better than others. I had left a small (4×6) photo of my family and a coffee cup to use when in the office at one. An employee went to management to say they didn’t feel “comfortable” sitting at that open desk because it appeared I had “claimed it as mine.” I actually got called out for it in a Monday staff meeting in front of everyone. Meanwhile the guy next to me had his fave football team paraphernalia all over his cube/desk, some awards, etc… and nothing was ever said about his “ownership of that spot”.

    6. lilsheba*

      Not allowing photos for that reason is the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of. And frankly can we just stop babying people like this? We can’t account for everything that everyone is going through or has gone through. Just have the celebrations for the people that want them and if people want to go, go. And if they don’t, don’t.

  4. Viki*

    OP, this company is truly in a no win situation here. Literature/data supports that most people dealing with infertility are saying work showers cause pain, so they built a policy using the best intentions (the budget cost for a cake/diapers is minimal truly, so the savings unless there’s a shower every week can’t be worth it), but then there are people who are against the policy who are also dealing with infertility, but saying so will open the people to expose more health/medical information than they would want to.

    There’s really no great way to go forward, but I do think the no showers is probably the best way forward. There’s nothing stopping you or others throwing one after work, if you really want that.

    1. H3llifIknow*

      “OP, this company is truly in a no win situation here. Literature/data supports that most people dealing with infertility are saying work showers cause pain, so they built a policy using the best intentions ”

      Curious as to what “literature/data” you’re referencing? Or are you speaking purely anecdotally? I know several women undergoing fertility issues, including family members and unless they’re all Oscar worthy actors, the lot of them are happy for their friends/colleagues who get pregnant. Of course it’s a little bittersweet, and they’re human, but it helps to be emotionally mature and not assume that people are getting pregnant on purpose just to hurt you, of course.

      1. Anon2*

        How do you expect women to show their pain? In throwing tantrums, screaming at co-workers, insulting pregnant family members?
        It seems a little bit strange to me to assume that somebody might not be in pain every time the topic comes up only because they act with common decency.

        1. NotAManager*

          It seems a bit strange to me to assume people ARE constantly masking pain, though. People contain multitudes and grief/frustration isn’t one linear emotion. It’s possible to have good days and bad days to simultaneously experience joy for a friend and sadness for yourself. It’s really, really patronizing to assume people’s emotions for them, to assume what information they can and cannot handle, what gatherings they can and cannot attend. Everyone is different. Everyone’s experience of similar situations are different.

          I’m personally anti-work celebrations of personal milestones of any kind (that includes birthdays, baby showers, celebratory holiday acknowlegment, etc.) BUT I’m also flabbergasted by the amount of people in this comment section who assume everyone who has experienced hardship can’t handle anything.

        2. boof*

          I mean, someone else could be struggling with ANYTHING that is being celebrated. I don’t think the answer is don’t celebrate, or have zero signs of personal situations at work. Mostly it’s about making everything both elective and even handed.

  5. Ellis Bell*

    Maybe this is because I come from an area where baby showers are quite a new import, but I don’t really see what it has to do with work. Surely even if you come from an area were it’s expected, you’d be more likely to have one with friends and family anyway. We had a surprise baby shower for my boss recently… and it was really nice! But I know at least two close colleagues who really struggled. It would have been better to just sign a card, and because Boss was really flagging on her feet by this point of the school year, send her home early with a gift card.

    1. metadata minion*

      There are some offices (mine is one) where they’re very standard any time someone has a baby, unless they specifically request otherwise. Ours tend to be more an excuse for cake than a huge gift-giving thing, though we send around a card and people who are close to the new parent to-be often bring gifts.

      1. UnicornUnicorn*

        Yeah, my office is fully WFH but when we were in person, if someone was getting married or having a baby, we’d have cake in the break room and the company would pay for a small gift (I remember some books for one baby). No one else gave gifts, no collections were taken up. It took five minutes to watch the person open their present and then we collected our cake.

    2. Office Skeptic*

      I agree. I’ve worked in two very different regional cultures in the USA, and workplace baby showers weren’t a thing in either of my workplaces. Those are personal things that have nothing to do with work.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I worked for awhile in an environment that would seem to be very conducive to workplace baby showers (veterinary medicine in a small town. Most of the employees were young women and the general culture was very traditional and family-oriented). We had one office-based baby shower and it was after hours and off-site. Other employees had baby showers, yes, but they weren’t through work.

      2. Starbuck*

        Yes, same here – everywhere I’ve lived/worked, having a baby shower or engagement party or what have you in the office would be pretty unheard of. Maybe it’s a wealthy white collar corporate thing? People who have money to spend on these gifts?

    3. Dread Pirate Rogers*

      The whole concept of office celebrations for personal milestones is so fraught. Which get celebrated and who gets excluded because of not hitting the usual milestones? A wedding and baby aren’t everyone’s major life events. I much prefer when these things are not company sponsored and small, close teams decide how and what to celebrate amongst themselves.

      1. Garblesnark*

        When I got married I was a temp at a place that was not culturally congruous with me. (It was a tractor mechanic company and I am the cityest person you ever met.) They got me a gift bag of things I would hiss at in a home goods.

        It was a sweet gesture, but another time a card would have been better maybe.

    4. Orange_Erin*

      This is what I was thinking and I live/work in an area where baby showers are a normal cultural event. I don’t think they belong at work. If you are close friends with someone at work, it’s likely that person is going to give you a baby gift/congratulations anyway. There’s no reason to involve the whole team/department/company.

      I don’t think we’ve ever really had a baby shower event at my office – but we don’t do anything for birthdays or other events either (other than maybe congratulations in person). Some folks choose to send their marriage and birth announcements to our announcement email, but that is optional.

    5. bamcheeks*

      I’m used to like, ten minutes of chat, cake, card, maybe a present for birthdays which are multiples of ten, leaving the job, wedding, going on mat/pat/adoption leave etc. More than that for anything seems wild to me!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I left for my first maternity leave somewhat abruptly, but for my second the entire office of ~20 people gathered together for a catered cold buffet lunch and to give me a gift (classic children’s book, special edition) and a card. This was mostly because the culture of the office was very much “any excuse to have lunch together and route phone calls to head office for a couple of hours” but it was also very cordial and I have fond memories. There was certainly no grand shower of $$$ registry gifts.

      2. londonedit*

        Yep, same. People going on maternity/parental leave are treated in the same way as someone who’s leaving or getting married of having a birthday – an excuse for a tea break, a cake, a card and a few minutes of chat. I know we don’t really do baby showers here but there definitely wouldn’t be any sort of big present or actual party or anything. Cup of tea and a piece of cake, that’s it.

  6. e271828*

    A work-sponsored or work-condoned baby shower, or even a work-situated unofficial baby shower, seem misplaced to me. Pregnancy and a baby are intimately personal, family events, not work-related milestones. There are work-related effects, of course, but throwing a workplace party for a pregnant employee enmeshes personal life with job in an unhealthy way.

    Employers (sweeping generalization) are always trying to induce workers to identify strongly with the employer, which isn’t in the employee’s best interest. This excessive personalization of the relationship is part of that.

    Not sure I’m expressing this well. Shutting down business for an afternoon of baby shower seems intrusive in a way that, say, a monthly cake with all the month’s birthday-observing parties’ names on it doesn’t.

    1. Kel*

      Also, not everyone is going to have a baby!! My office used to have a ‘marriage’ leave allotment that each person could take when they got married; they realized this was not cool for people who would never get married; so they made it just a one-time leave.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I’m not married, don’t have kids, and can’t afford a house. If my workplace gave out gifts for life milestones some of us would never hit any of them. (My workplace doesn’t do this, though.)

          1. AcademiaIsWeird*

            Retirement parties are directly related to your job. All these other examples are non-work related life events. I don’t think we can compare them.

            1. Rachel*

              I think we can because many people can’t afford to retire and will never be able to quit work. And I mean never.

              So wouldn’t those parties be exclusionary?

              1. Dust Bunny*

                We don’t do retirement parties, either, really. We do like two parties a year that have nothing at all to do with personal status (winter holiday and employee appreciation). Your department might bring snacks or something and you’d get a barrage of send-off emails from everyone else, but that’s about it.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  That said, I think that gets into “workplace commentary on personal finances” territory, which is never appropriate. Where I am, if you leave the job for any reason–retired, took a new job, whatever–you get . . . not really a celebration. If you don’t leave the job, you don’t. Because you didn’t leave. Why you didn’t leave is not our business.

              2. Mill Miker*

                The places I know that would do a retirement party would also do parties for anyone leaving on good terms, be it retirement, resignation, a new fancy job, just moving…

                The idea is less “congratulations on hitting a milestone” and more “We’ve enjoyed working with you, and you’re leaving and well miss you. Thanks for your hard work and this excuse to eat some cake.”

                The people throwing the party are directly affected by it, unlike other life milestone parties.

              3. AcademiaIsWeird*

                Good point, I wasn’t thinking of it that way. I meant more like, if it’s a work sponsored event and work wants to throw retirement parties then at least it’s directly related to your job and not a non work life event (marriage/baby/adoption/etc.).
                But I see from the exclusionary side what you are saying!

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah, everyone has a birthday but not everyone has a baby. My favourite type of company is one who makes sure everyone gets equal treatment, so the best was a company who gave a day off for everyone’s birthday (this could be changed to an “additional leave day” on a randomly generated date if you didn’t celebrate birthdays) and the email which reminded you of your upcoming birthday day off was an ecard that anyone could sign, and usually it was well used. New babies, weddings, and all of that stuff were announced at monthly meetings but it was stressed that it was up to you if you wanted it announced, or to keep it private. It really was a sociable place, the kind were people were actually friends, but socialising at work/a drink after work happened very informally and only when people wanted to.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        I’m not as concerned about equality in this case as equity. I do not plan on having children, but I support paid parental leave. I don’t currently require disability accommodations, but I support accommodations for those who need them. I’m culturally Christian, but I support Jewish and Muslim coworkers taking time off on their holy days without using up their PTO. On the other hand, I expect my employer/coworkers to give me time off and slack after major surgery. For me, it’s about basic respect from the employer that their employees are human beings as well as workers.

        Marriage leave is bizarre, though. That’s not an event I’ve ever thought needs special accommodation, and I’m laughing at the assumption that a marriage is a once-in-a-lifetime event for everyone. Divorce leave actually makes more sense to me.

        1. allathian*

          I’ve heard of places where people get honeymoon leave. It might make sense in an environment where people can rarely take a full week off, much less a month.

        2. nonprofit director*

          Completely with you on all of this. And marriage leave also strikes me as bizarre, as well. Presumably they have vacation time that could be used. And this leave strikes me as so not equitable (I am married, by the way) as to be potentially a legal problem.

    2. Dorothy Zpornak*

      This. Especially when it’s a question of not just having the showers but they employer paying for them. Why should our employers be in the business of endorsing specific life choices or family arrangements? It’s private whether I can have or choose to have children or not, and it’s not up to my employer to decide that I should be celebrated for making what society considers the ‘right’ choice. Plus, even though anyone can technically have a baby shower, they have such strong associations of heteronormativity, since they have traditionally been held for the pregnant mother before the birth. I’ve never heard of a “baby shower” held for anyone who adopted a child. That terminology these days feels really ick. Baby showers at work just seem unwelcoming to multiple groups of people.

      1. Anon for this one*

        When I adopted my son my workplace-at-the-time sent a nice card and a blanket. Frankly I’d have rather had decent parental leave.

      2. Old and Don’t Care*

        My work had post adoption baby showers for adoptive parents, but it’s really something different you’d do before the baby is born and home.

    3. Office Skeptic*

      Absolutely agree. Babies and weddings are personal life events. Companies can support by having good vacation policies, paid parental leave, and a supportive workplace culture. Not celebrations.

    4. bamcheeks*

      It fees very “you don’t get any time outside of work so obviously you have to celebrate your big events at work” to me.

    5. Apple Townes*

      I think you expressed it very well! I’ve worked in offices where birthday celebrations and baby showers were the norm, and I agree that anything beyond circulating a card for people to sign blurs the boundary between work and personal life in a cringe-y way. Not everyone wants the attention. And not everyone wants to perform warmth and enthusiasm toward a colleague they barely know (or worse, dislike).
      Also, baby showers in particular are inherently gendered, which undermines gender equity in the workplace. I don’t think I ever saw one thrown for a male employee whose wife was expecting. And the work of coordinating this kind of “celebration” (especially a baby shower) tends to fall disproportionately on female employees, who may not want to do it — and even if they want to, it’s extra work on their plates and not those of their male colleagues.
      I think if you feel a strong compulsion to organize a baby shower for a pregnant colleague, first ask them if that would be okay, and then schedule it outside of work hours, offsite. And get them to approve the guest list before you send invitations. It will inevitably get talked about in the office at some point, and people who weren’t invited might feel some type of way (which is another good reason to just not do it at all), but I think that’s the *least* problematic approach to take, if you must.

    6. ccsquared*

      Exactly. I don’t mind announcements of such events and will offer congratulations and well-wishes to coworkers I know, but celebrating any sort of personal milestone during the work day seems wholly unnecessary to me. Let me work, get done on time, and go out and celebrate with the people I know genuinely care – which could include a couple of co-workers, but they’d be the ones I have organically gotten close to, not simply people with the same reporting structure.

    7. Hiccup*

      I’ve never worked anywhere that has employer sponsored parties for an individual employee. But we do have little parties/potlucks for any reason-mostly birthdays but also baby showers.
      Lots of people love babies and want to celebrate and buy cute baby things for coworkers. Work can be very dreary and babies are the opposite. And yes I have dealt with infertility and pregnancy loss at work.

  7. Nia*

    If they just didn’t want company baby showers that’s fine and their prerogative. I’d be happy I hate baby showers too. But framing it as something done for employees mental health just reminds me of that letter with the company requiring employees to humor every single request from an employee with OCD.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I disagree. It’s likely that the company is acting on specific complaints from people who have been struggling with infertility or have experienced a miscarriage, and “don’t throw a company-sponsored event that causes several of our employees emotional distress” is very different than “no one can wear stripes or a different number of rings on their left hand as an accommodation for Bob”.

      If a company wants to help new parents, it should make sure it’s paying a living wage, provide excellent health insurance and provide generous parental leave, not throw a party.

    2. Corelle*

      I’m wondering if a person responsible for coordinating them was (or could be) the person with the fertility problems or loss. That would certainly be painful.

      I’ve never worked anywhere with company sponsored baby showers. The only company sponsored celebrations here are related to retirement and work accomplishment recognitions. As a manager, teams I’ve worked on have always had pretty consistent expectations for other celebrations, usually organized by managers with some basic standards to make sure they’re roughly equal (e.g. baby showers always include some kind of snack/dessert, but it could be cupcakes one time and cake another and fancy bakery cookies another time…)

  8. Siege*

    A few employers ago, my department (8 people) had a wedding shower for a member of staff. It was a nice event – we booked a small conference room and had gifts and cake; I don’t even think we decorated. Another person, a few months later, who had a much higher title, received a full-on employer-sanctioned wedding shower that everyone in the organization was invited to, and it was pretty clearly put on as a currying-favor gesture.

    Once, in an office of 6, the admin assistant forgot my birthday, so I didn’t get a birthday card, and what I got instead was a call from her while I was on lunch; she didn’t even manage to get everyone organized to do a late birthday card. Since I was fired from that job a few months later and was a bad fit for the organization (I didn’t like them either but I couldn’t find another job) I’ve always been left wondering whether she really forgot or if it was another way of othering me institutionally. (To be clear, she and I had a good relationship, but I didn’t have a good one with anyone else.)

    It feels like the solution to the problem is to just say that there aren’t to be on-site celebrations and there aren’t to be off-site celebrations with mandatory attendance or company sanction. I don’t have an opinion on whether a baby shower would be hard for someone struggling with infertility, or not hard for someone who’s childless by choice, or whatever, but the evidence of disparate treatment around life events is morale-crushing.

    1. mecha-nora*

      I spent over ten years at a company and got one birthday party (midway through my time there). Other coworkers got part

      1. mecha-nora*

        Parties every year. The owner’s daughter got married and management was leaning on everyone to give her money and also gifts. It was all very uneven, and not a comfortable environment to work in.

        I’d have rather they just do, say, a party once a month for everybody whose birthday is in that month, as an excuse for cake etc. Not singling out individual employees for celebration and leaving others left out.

        1. HalJordan*

          My first employer did “Sunshine Day”, which was a monthly breakfast organized by rotating departments (billed to company budget). Big tables of bagels and fruit, normally, though what it would be depended on the department. There would be an email announcing it on the day of, with the internal headshots of everyone who had a birthday that month and some clipart balloons, and theoretically if it was your birthday month you got to cut in line—although in practice very few people did.

          It was very well-balanced and good for morale, and the company was large enough that there were usually 30-40 birthday people every month, so no one really spent too much time staring at the photos.

      2. This_is_Todays_Name*

        Since I ran the Sunshine Fund, and I was the one to buy the card(s) and cake each month, I only got a party if I organized my own. So I never got one because it felt weird to do it for myself!

    2. Ess Ess*

      I agree with you. I was at a company that had a flower fund and would do all sorts of flowers and celebrations for people getting married or in the hospital. They would come around each month and ask for contributions for the flower fund to be used for these events for the month. Every month, I would give much more than the requested amount because I felt like it was a really nice thing to do for people in the company. There were about 50 of us in total.

      Then when I got married….. crickets. No flowers, nothing. I was relatively new at that point so I thought it was an understandable oversight. Then about a year later, I was in the hospital for a week. Again, no flowers, not even a card. Nothing. I was furious. I’d donated hundreds of dollars in total to that flower fund up to that point. I never gave another nickel to it. I know that other people did receive flowers for their special events.

      Next time I was asked for a donation, I mentioned how hurt I was that they had just ignored my turn. I got all sorts of excuses about “we didn’t know if you’d want any” and some other obvious fake excuses but I pointed out they didn’t even bother with at least a greeting card. I told them never to ask me for money again and my morale never recovered.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I worked in a small office of 17 people. Clara and Alice were besties. Clara didn’t like me so by extension Alice didn’t either.

        Alice was getting married; Clara was having a baby shower. I was invited to neither event even though 16 other people were. That was fine except…

        Alice and Clara separately coordinated “surprise” gifts for the other one’s milestone. Despite hating me, both of them approached me for money for the other one.

        To this day, I have no idea if that was a coordinated gift grab, but it sure as shit felt like one.

      2. Jojo*

        Oh, I feel you on this. I contributed to every collection that came past my desk for almost 20 years, but when my dad died, all I got was a card that was left on my desk. It’s been about 5 years, and it still stings. (I do still donate when someone else has a loss, because I want them to feel some comfort)

    3. Momma Bear*

      I think this is sensible. “It feels like the solution to the problem is to just say that there aren’t to be on-site celebrations and there aren’t to be off-site celebrations with mandatory attendance or company sanction.”

      I did have a surprise at work baby shower, but it was a little awkward because I didn’t have a lot of close work friends and my manager didn’t know who to invite. I appreciated the thought. I’ve attended some work-baby showers (for new dads, too) and I think some of it also comes down to company culture. If the new norm is none of this, then it should be a blanket “no celebrations on site.” The sad truth is popularity contests still happen, they’re just usually retirement parties, baby showers, etc.

    4. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

      Yes. I can speak to the disparate treatments. I’ve always been the “invisible” employee – the one whose birthday gets overlooked, the one who only hears about colleagues’ off-hours excursion when the photographs are being shared, the one whose dietary needs are forgotten, the one whose Secret Santa has clearly had about 30 seconds thought put into it, the one who despite always being there for the team can never count on any reciprocity.

      I remember one job in particular where a popular colleague had three celebrations in close succession: for leaving the department to go on secondment, for getting married, and then for landing a plum job higher up the organization. Each time, colleagues had a whip-round and managed to buy Jane an expensive gift.

      And then I landed the chance of a lifetime to study abroad and announced my imminent departure. On the day I left, the department coordinator showed up but never once even acknowledged my presence. It was left to a colleague to present me with my leaving gift: one of those writing sets with an ink pen, a rollerball pen, and a propelling pencil in a hinged case. I’d previously worked in the stationery trade and knew how cheaply you could get these types of things.

      The employer itself wouldn’t have contributed as we worked in local government. But it does illustrate the type of inequity that can occur when employees are left to organize things for themselves.

  9. Jennifer Strange*

    I think a company choosing not to sponsor showers (or any other celebrations) is the company’s choice, but I do understand your concern that then more popular employees reap the benefit of their co-workers throwing something for them on their own dime while other employees get nothing. One solution would be to suggest the company send a small gift (or gift card) directly to the employee after the baby is born, that way they still get a token of celebration but anyone who doesn’t want to be part of it (for any reason) doesn’t have to be. Obviously if the real reason for cutting this WAS due to costs they probably wouldn’t do it, but it could at least promote some good will to employees.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      They can have the shower after hours, offsite, and presumably mixed with non-work friends and relatives.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I don’t disagree. The problem as the LW has posed it is that folks were having them onsite during work hours. If the organization isn’t going to stop that I think it would be a nice gesture to have a small gift sent to all folks on behalf the company (I’m not talking a car seat or anything, even just a onesie with the company brand or something).

        1. Baunilha*

          I’m laughing at your comment because my employer does send a branded onesie, as well as a couple of baby products in the company color. But it’s sent directly to the employee, and we never had company-sponsored showers. (I’ve actually never worked at places that had them, only unofficial showers after hours thrown by the coworkers)

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Yeah, this is what my company did too (no shower for me, just a lovely gift on behalf of the company). I think it’s a much better way of showing appreciation for a big milestone in someone’s life.

    2. Ashley*

      I do think the company made this worse by letting people throw private showers / gifts at the office and bring disparities to light.
      I guess I should be grateful places I worked where this wasn’t a thing. I had a co-worker I wanted to do something for and I just went out of my way to find her registry and send something direct.
      I love the low key approach of one place where someone texted a picture of the new born and it was emailed out on the company list and it was a day of reply all congratulations and memes.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I learned that one of my coworkers was going to have a baby when they shared a picture of the newborn. Congrats, cute baby, see you after your parental leave!

      2. Smithy*

        I do think the greatest disparity blindness happens when a small team gets large.

        Inevitably larger teams I think are forced to be smarter about life events in the workplace. If it’s a team of 60, that’s already about 5 birthdays a month – and then inevitable life events on top of that. You have to be organized to figure out what to do and how to pay for it.

        Where I’ve found there to be the greatest blind spots are when small teams (around 5 people, maybe a few more) become significantly larger. At that size, not only are you not asking folks for money all the time – if the “pass the hat” hasn’t collected that much money, the team lead is often in a place to make up the difference to ensure relatively equal giving or at least a reasonable floor level. Additionally, if the “whole team” is 5 people or less – doing nicer team meals or taking folks out one on one for special occasions – expensed or not, again requires a smaller budget.

        When a team like that becomes 15 -20 people or more, it can be hard to realize that approach risks leaving folks out or creating cliques. That it’s not amazing for the old timers to be getting a higher amount for their birthdays, and the newbies a significantly lower amount. That the team lead could cover a gift gap 2-3 times a year, but not 10+ times. And those team meals may start to become pizza parties….

    3. catsoverpeople*

      If the popular employees who are all friends with each other throw parties for each other after work, off-site, on their own dime, that’s….completely fine with me! I think that’s how most friendships work and I don’t expect to be included in them just because the friendship might have started on the job.

  10. Kindred Spirit*

    Sounds like the best approach for everyone would be for the company to issue a “no personal celebrations” on the premises policy. That wouldn’t stop coworkers from gathering offsite for a celebratory lunch or Happy Hour. Anyone who doesn’t want to attend can have a “schedule conflict,” and not have to leave the office to avoid scrutiny.

    1. L-squared*

      That just seems like an oddly cold policy to have.

      No celebrating birthdays, or graduations, weddings, or other milestones? Doesn’t sound like a very friendly workplace.

      I’ll probably never get married, but I’ve never had a problem celebrating the upcoming nuptuals of a coworker

      1. Kindred Spirit*

        Hmmm… I see it as more kind than cold. IMO, holding personal celebrations off the premises spares hurt feelings and awkward situations if someone isn’t able to or doesn’t want to contribute to a gift.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve worked at a number of places that don’t have workplace acknowledgements of life events, but it’s never felt cold to me. I think that good benefits and celebrating someone’s work accomplishments go a long way.

        1. anon for this*

          I think unfortunately there’s a difference between not establishing a culture of celebrating personal events in the first place and canceling those celebrations once they’re already occurring. My office just doesn’t do this stuff, and I promise we are warm and friendly and interested in one another’s lives — there are occasional prompts to share something making you happy, and people will talk about big personal news, and we’ll all say congratulations! but that’s it.

          If the parties already exist it’s much more difficult to get rid of them.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Yes, it’s like an office that hasn’t traditionally been dog-friendly. You probably don’t need to make a policy about dogs in the office (although you might in case a new hire really wants dogs and you have some phobic or allergic people in the team) and if you were to make a policy, it wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers. This office is more like the one who bans dogs after a time of being pet-friendly. We’ve seen those letters and they aren’t pretty.

      3. HooDoll*

        This. My new org has a long tradition of celebrations, but it means lots of inequity. I came in, tried to put the kibosh on them and folks got mad.

      4. Ellis Bell*

        It doesn’t necessarily have to affect friendliness, though. You can still extend good wishes, ask about people’s milestones and write a card. I’ve never worked anywhere where the celebration was more than a ‘It’s my birthday, help yourself to cake, it’s in the break room’ and people were still very friendly! The only thing that would change is you’re not having a celebration onsite. I actually don’t think there’s any need to extend it to other types of celebrations and make it a blanket ban though; it’s perfectly reasonable to just say ‘no baby showers, they upset people, take it outside/knock it off’.

  11. Optimus*

    After my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, there was no way I would have been up for dealing with a baby shower at work. And my workplace, while a truly lovely workplace filled with truly lovely people, did not sponsor or officially host such parties at all. Which meant that some people got a whole coordinated meal train when they had babies, or a shower hosted at work, or both. For my second pregnancy, a coworker hosted a shower at her home, and I think everyone from the office was invited, and some came and some didn’t and that’s totally cool. For my third pregnancy, I think I got a card? LOL. When you’re an introvert, you never win the popularity contest. I never got meals or an on-site party. I am not a fan of them, whether official or not.

    1. Optimus*

      I meant to say, some people got the meal train, or a shower at the office, or both, *and many got neither.*

  12. HonorBox*

    I think it seems like a bad situation all the way around here. The company may be trying to protect those who are struggling. I think that’s admirable. I know someone who was going through infertility and she did struggle in situations like this because it felt like she was being “forced” to celebrate something she couldn’t. So there is a kindness aspect to this policy change. That said, if others are going around the new policy and holding showers anyway, it creates an even larger divide potentially. If the company doesn’t want to provide budget, they should probably shut down any showers that are occurring … on site, at least … because now people are picking and choosing who gets celebrated and how much they’re celebrated, and that feels even more yucky than not having celebrations at all.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Agreed. I don’t have a good answer for this (and I suspect there isn’t one). It feels a bit inhuman to issue forth a policy of “No celebrations at work,” but baby showers can be fraught for all the reasons people have mentioned (infertility, being expected to chip in for a gift when you’re broke, etc.), and work makes it different: If it’s a friend or a family member, it’s a lot easy to say, “I have a previous engagement,” but at work, you’re a captive audience.

      However, the way this played out at LW’s work sounds like a mess. People simply threw showers without official company support, it became a weird popularity contest, and increased employee dissatisfaction. I don’t know what a good solution is.

  13. Octhex*

    Setting aside the motivation factor, I have a question about the policy itself:

    Am I off-base in thinking that once there was a policy of “no baby showers” that there should have been *no* baby showers? As in, there should have been pressure from management to stop the informal ones? (Perhaps including instructions to “if you want to give a baby shower, you must do it off-site and not during working hours”.).

    1. Heidi*

      The way I read it was that there used to be some sort of company funding for baby showers, but they decided to get rid of it. So people could still have baby showers, but the company wouldn’t pay for food or decorations or anything. It would be difficult to enforce not having any showers, though. What would they even do? Confiscate the cake and presents?

      1. whingedrinking*

        Find the main organizers, quietly take them aside, and tell them not to do that again. Then send out an email reminding staff that, while they are welcome to do A, B or C (circulate a card, give a personal gift one-on-one, organize a celebration offsite), company policy, which exists to avoid distressing people struggling with infertility, is no in-office baby showers, and that means no X, Y, or Z (decorations, games, big gift drives, whatever).

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        You just have a policy saying “No personal celebrations on company premises”. And then make sure that nobody can book a conference room for a party, at least partly to avoid spills or cake getting ground into the carpet. And maybe for about a year, you ask managers & team leads to keep their eyes & ears open for any plans to have a party in a break room so those can get nipped in the bud.

    2. pwl*

      Totally agree. If there are still baby showers, even if they aren’t company-funded, it’s missing the entire point of the policy (plus demoralizing pregnant staff who don’t get a baby shower, for whatever reason).

    3. Baunilha*

      I agree, for all the reasons pwl. I think the solution would be to ask people not have showers during work hours and on the company premises.

  14. L-squared*

    This one is tough for me.

    I understand the issue of popular employees getting something others aren’t.

    At the same time, I feel like the company was actually trying to do the right thing here. I think it makes total sense to say they will no longer sponsor these events. I also think its really hard to tell a team “don’t celebrate a person’s milestone on your team”. That comes off as too dictatorial to me. And yes, while it may mean that people with more friends, or even on a bigger team, may get something others aren’t, I don’t know that this is something that would ever be totally balanced. If you say that they can’t do it in the office, what is to stop people from doing it after work? would you have a problem with that too?

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah I’m trying to think what a reasonable middle ground would be. A card that everybody passes around, maybe? I might feel a little odd not acknowledging a coworker who’s going through something so massive and leaving on maternity leave for however long …

      1. Stipes*

        I mean, a cake, a card, and congrats feels like a pretty reasonable standard for workplace celebrations of personal life events. You can bring warmth and acknowledgment into the workplace without having your coworkers throw a shower.

        1. L-squared*

          I will say most “showers” I’ve been to at work are essentially that. There is a cake, a card, and usually a gift or 2 that people went in on. It is usually done over lunch.

          Maybe there are a couple of decorations. But in general, its not much different than what you are describing.

      2. Siege*

        If you get the card, and don’t lose a popularity contest in an office of only six people. Like, it should not be possible to lose out in that small an organization, and yet, here I am, having been forgotten/overlooked/ignored on a birthday by my coworkers.

        1. Kindred Spirit*

          Sorry that happened to you. Sounds like it’s a good thing that you are no longer there.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I feel there’s a line between acknowledging a coworker’s big event and having an Event during work time and on workplace property. It’s one thing to pass around a card, maybe bring the person goodies or presents, or arrange a bar outing after work. It’s a whole different matter to set up/decorate a room, bring out a cake, or have Party Events. I don’t think that a workplace can or really should restrict the former on a company wide basis, though it might be appropriate for individual managers to step in and say “maybe cool it a little with the ballons?”. But it would be quite reasonable to have a rule of “no Events on workplace property without specific prior approval”.

  15. Anon this time*

    No baby showers. Please no baby showers. My husband and I went through immense pain with miscarriage and infertility over many years on top of my own pre-existing problems, and having to deal with baby showers would have made a very hard situation even worse.

    It would also have knocked out my benefit to my employer, as an employee, by a whole unnecessary chunk on (and before, and after) those days.

    “Off-site and not during working hours” seconded.

    1. le teacher*

      Agreed. I am currently in the middle of my infertility struggle and am about to start IVF, after multiple rounds of failed “lower tech” treatments. I think it is nice for the company to stop holding baby showers. They are immensely painful for many of us who are struggling.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, I agree, as someone who had secondary infertility but didn’t really struggle with it, except that one time when a coworker left on maternity leave the same week that the baby I miscarried in the first trimester would have been due. I didn’t begrudge my coworker her happiness, but putting on a brave face and wishing my coworker a happy maternity leave was one of the most emotionally difficult things I’ve ever done at work. Afterwards, I cried in the bathroom.

      Our baby showers don’t involve gifts, they’re more like retirement parties with coffee and cake and a card. Also in the sense that long parental leaves are normal in my culture (I took 30 months when our son was born) and some parents decide to switch jobs during their leave and never return.

  16. mango chiffon*

    My organization doesn’t fund “personal” functions like this (birthdays, wedding celebrations, baby showers, etc) because these are not work functions and not related to work being done. Personally, I don’t see an issue with OP’s workplace removing the budget for these celebrations, but I think they can do better with their reasoning. My office also does not provide funding for goodbye celebrations and those are required to be done off site. While self-funded wedding/baby showers still happen at my office, I’d honestly rather not have them in the office at all since then there’s the obligatory participation.

  17. Dorothy Zpornak*

    This. Especially when it’s a question of not just having the showers but they employer paying for them. Why should our employers be in the business of endorsing specific life choices or family arrangements? It’s private whether I can have or choose to have children or not, and it’s not up to my employer to decide that I should be celebrated for making what society considers the ‘right’ choice. Plus, even though anyone can technically have a baby shower, they have such strong associations of heteronormativity, since they have traditionally been held for the pregnant mother before the birth. I’ve never heard of a “baby shower” held for anyone who adopted a child. That terminology these days feels really ick. Baby showers at work just seem unwelcoming to multiple groups of people.

    1. Showers'R'Us*

      My current work did hold a shower for someone who adopted from China. I thought it was such a lovely idea.

      And my husband’s team held a shower for him at work as well, just after baby was born.

    2. Rachel*

      I have been to many showers for adoptive families, often called a Sip n’ See after the baby is in their family.

      I wouldn’t be so sure baby showers are as limiting everywhere as they are to you.

      1. Starbuck*

        I have definitely heard of them for adopting parents, but I’ve never absolutely never heard of them being thrown for men/non-pregnant partners. If it’s a truly social event outside the workplace of course you could easily celebrate the couple or whatever parental arrangement, but in the workplace I really can’t imagine they were throwing it for the non pregnant person with anywhere near the same regularity as for someone who’s pregnant. That alone is a good reason to end it.

    3. Office Skeptic*

      Yeah I find baby showers or wedding showers at work to both be very strange. I’ve never seen them in any workplace where I’ve been employed.

    4. iglwif*

      I’ve been to a number of baby showers for adoptive parents. (Including at least two at work.) People adopting a child need baby / kid stuff, too! It’s less usual when it’s an older child vs a baby or toddler.

      If a workplace is holding baby showers only for people who are actually giving birth (vs people adopting and people whose partners are pregnant), that would definitely feel icky to me. I would also find it icky if my workplace had wedding showers for women getting married but not for anyone else getting married. But if everyone doing those things gets a party, I don’t see how it’s heteronormative.

      And if a workplace celebrates ONLY births and marriages, not birthdays or workiversaries or retirements or anything else, that’s different IMO from celebrating all of it.

    5. Starbuck*

      Yes I also wonder if there were showers happening for just women who worked there and got pregnant, but not men who were expectant fathers. I would absolutely not want to deal with navigating that if I was in management.

  18. Showers'R'Us*

    My only baby shower for my first child WAS the work one. And it was very generous and wonderful. No one else in my family had organized one and I wasn’t about to start asking people to host one to as it never occurred to me. Didn’t have one for my 2nd (and why should I?).

    I think this kind of policy is misplaced, since the end result was there still were showers of varying quality or none at all, easily creating feelings of “Why didn’t MY team do something?” for those who didn’t get one organized; and those who struggle with showers but their team continued to host showers for teammates still struggle. There was no gain or feelings spared at all.

    1. Rachel*

      Right, the issue here is that the company didn’t shut down all personal parties when they stopped throwing the party themselves

  19. Office Skeptic*

    I have never heard of company-sponsored baby showers before and I find them absolutely bizarre. I’m not sure exactly what sponsored mean, but as the OP mentions cost cutting, I assume it means spending money on food, at the very least. Isn’t that already a type of discrimination right there – we will single out a specific demographic of employee (parents) to spend money on celebrating them? Even if they celebrate everyone’s birthdays, parents would still be getting an extra company-sponsored celebration. We don’t single out other demographics to have company-sponsored celebrations.

    Maybe this is a cultural thing, as I work in an office in a big city where not having kids is very normal, so a lot of people would not be getting celebrated, not just those struggling with infertility. At my workplace, people get generous paternal leave and many congratulations if they are having a child, but it would be considered very odd if the company paid for a party for them.

    1. Dulcinea47*

      as a person who’s mostly worked for the state/higher ed, we don’t get company sponsored *anything*. We do have baby showers and other life milestone celebrations, but it’s up to the individual supervisor/manager/ department and it’s usually potluck style for treats/decor/ etc.

      1. nm*

        I’m also in state/higher ed, and the norm for us is that the birthday-haver (or in one case wedding-haver) brings treats if they want to, otherwise we really don’t do anything. In a lot of ways I feel like this is the best way to do it–celebrations are fully in the hands of the person who wants to celebrate.

        Having said that, I’ve never personally seen anyone in my office bring in/do anything to celebrate a baby (unless you count replying “Congratulations” to the email about their parental leave logistics). I don’t think we have an actual policy about it, but maybe our local new/expectant parents are too busy or overwhelmed to care about bringing pastries to work.

    2. Office Skeptic*

      And for the record, I’ve never seen anyone at my company have a non-company sponsored baby shower for work colleagues either. Or at my last company. Or at my company in a different big city. And I have had new parent colleagues at all three locations. Were all three of these work places outside the norm? Celebrating something like this seems like a friends and family thing, not a workplace thing.

    3. Dulcinea47*

      also, I worked in one department for 17 years… we only had two baby showers during that whole time.

    4. iglwif*

      The office I worked in for 20 years had baby showers, wedding showers (for people of all genders), birthday parties (especially for milestone birthdays), work milestone parties, goodbye parties … we really liked cake lol. With the exception of the annual company BBQ, the company paid for absolutely none of this. If it were just baby showers, that would be very weird! But everybody has birthdays and work milestones, and a lot of people don’t mind eating cake at work sometimes.

      I think part of the reason it worked fairly OK most of the time was that we kept things pretty frugal and the culture was such that the department head would look in the money envelope and go, hmm, we’re a bit short, I’ll put in a bunch of money. Like, I would not suggest this kind of collection now, but at that workplace it was very common, very anonymous, and there was this understanding that most people would be putting in a pretty small amount of money. It also helped that a lot of us liked to cook and bake. For most of the time I worked there — though not all of it! — most of us liked each other and enjoyed celebrating each other’s happy events.

      However … this kind of thing absolutely can turn into a popularity contest, and it is 100% the kind of “office housework” that women are frequently warned against becoming responsible for, and there are all kinds of reasons that I would never recommend to an early-career person that sending around an envelope is the way to go.

    5. GivingUpPerks*

      The places I’ve worked that did baby showers bought a nice present for the parents to be – a very nice carseat, stroller, etc. It was a big deal for the parents, especially if they were younger/earlier in their career and not making a ton of money. I see the point and one can argue it’s not fair, but it was one of the more popular perks and many folks counted on one of their more expensive required items being provided for free.

      1. catsoverpeople*

        Seems kinda entitled, to be counting on your expensive child-related items to be provided by your coworkers — because they weren’t provided for free, they were provided by your coworkers. Perhaps some of them were also not making a ton of money, and were still expected or mandated to give that money to someone else to celebrate their life choices?

    6. so very tired*

      I worked at a company that was very working mom-friendly, which was great for setting a standard for time off, benefits, flex hours, etc. But it was a double-edged sword: baby showers at work were MANDATORY for women only, held during office hours, and if you didn’t contribute financially or sign the card it always erupted into drama.

      I don’t like baby showers and I wouldn’t attend one for anything in the world, so I really hated this. I hated that they wouldn’t let me gracefully and politely decline attending, I hated that it was so blatantly gendered that women only were required to go. I have no issues with people organizing their own events at work that are optional to attend.

      So in my case I would be on board for no baby showers at work. But of course my case is pretty far out there.

  20. Dulcinea47*

    This is bonkers to me from every side. Plenty of things happen in workplaces that make people feel bad, but infertility is the only one that counts enough to get things cancelled? A fine example of why social celebrations don’t belong in the workplace.

    1. recovering admissions counselor*

      I understand where you’re coming from, but labelling this as making people “feel bad” comes across as very flippant. Miscarriage and infertility can cause an immense amount of grief in a way that just goes beyond feeling uncomfortable or left out.

    2. musical chairs*

      It’s the captive audience and the typical privacy around this situation that changes the decision making here. It’s not about being overly precious about people’s feelings. Someone dealing with infertility very likely did not tell coworkers they/their partner were pregnant or that there was a loss. And shouldn’t have to! But if they opt out of a personal celebration, they may be in a situation where they need weigh the consequences of potentially divulging difficult personal information in order to explain their absence against compromising professional goodwill with their coworker who could reasonably see not attending the personal celebration as a slight, if they didn’t know why.

      It can also introduce some weirdness about giving gifts to supervisors or others in one’s chain of command. I know I would feel pretty uncomfortable accepting gifts of any price beyond a card from any of the people on my team whose salaries I have a say in.

      Just introduces a lot of unnecessary and fraught stuff into the workplace.

  21. Santiago*

    I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s struggles, but it’s really weird when there isn’t a recognition that accommodation goes both ways. I have serious physical disabilities, and I don’t want to be the wet towel for every event just because I “may be offended.” As a competent and independent adult, I expect to make choices about where and how I spend my time, and do not need every situation and eventuality to include me- as long as 1) I can opt out and 2) there isn’t a pattern of only exclusive events.

    A lot of times corporate inclusion feels like people outside of a community making choices on behalf of people within.

    1. Santiago*

      In before someone interprets “accommodation goes both ways” incorrectly, I mean it is about good faith and greater patterns of inclusion, and removing patterns of exclusion, rather than every individual event being perfectly available to all people at all time.

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    For this to work, no baby showers needs to mean no baby showers. The company sanctioned aspect of it isn’t really relevant since they’re happening anyway, only with worse results.

  23. Delphine*

    I agree with you, LW. If your company’s intention was actually to protect people from painful feelings, they wouldn’t have said, “we’re not sponsoring baby showers anymore.” They would have banned them outright, along with any other celebration that could potentially cause pain or offense. This sounds like a cost-saving (or a**-covering) decision.

  24. Rachel*

    I think it would be helpful to recognize that there is no way to make a universally acceptable policy on celebrating personal milestones at work.

    Somebody will shoot down any suggestion you make. So accept that companies are in an unenviable position of making a choice with inevitable fallout. Regardless of what they choose.

    1. L-squared*

      Right. I just don’t see it going over well in most offices to say “no more celebrating people’s personal milestones in the office. No cake, donuts, anything”.

      I guess maybe for the people (who seem to overpopulate the comment section here) who are very much in the “I come to work to work, and not ever talk to anyone”, they may like it. But most people won’t. I had 0 problem with my friends baby shower (not work sanctioned) that happened at lunch. I had no problem enjoying the cake after someone got married.

      1. Rachel*

        It’s kind of like the day somebody wrote in and said “what is an example of a 100% inclusive team building event?” And the consensus was “there isn’t one.”

        That doesn’t mean you don’t try, of course. You get as close to unanimous as you possibly can. But also it might help if everybody could ease up on expectations a bit.

        1. L-squared*

          I get that. And also, team by team my be different.

          I can easily see a situation where the marketing team is all about these celebrations, but the accounting team chooses not to do it.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I don’t know why there would be any kind of cake ban!? I think there’s a massive difference between “It’s my last day before maternity leave, so I got some doughnuts as a farewell – everyone tuck in, love Lisa” and “Lets celebrate Lisa’s successful pregnancy and shower her with gifts for the baby, also there is cake”. The former one is much less painful to people who’ve just had a miscarriage.

  25. Jessica*

    Just because, as a member of a group that may require accommodation, you personally do not need the accommodation doesn’t mean that you have standing to try to prevent the accommodation for others.

    It seems to me that the only real issue here is the company continuing to allow use of its resources for what should be private events held in people’s homes after ostensibly banning work showers.

    1. Firecat*

      Infertility sucks, I have PCOS induced infertility and miscarriages myself, but I think it’s wrong to try and end company sponsored events just because you don’t personally enjoy them. I also find the walking on eggshells around infertile women assuming we can’t handle our emotions and need special accomodations really sexist.

      Everyone at work is an adult and responsible for managing their own feelings. If I couldn’t handle a shower I skipped it. It can be as simple as running out to get a coffee around the start of the party and then keeping busy to avoid these things. But most of the time I could be happy for the expecting parent even if I was a little sad. Participating in these things are also healing and helps you move on from the trauma of loss.

      Celebrations are an integral part of culture and community. Work is a community that we spend at least 40 hours a week of our lives in. Let’s not cancel everything because there are a few people who dont enjoy them.

      1. Anna*

        I don’t think it’s sexist. My husband was really emotionally affected as was I (I’m female) when we were going through infertility. We both appreciated friends being sympathetic and understanding. We both were jealous of friends with babies.

      2. Gyne*

        Absolutely agree! My value as a woman is not related to my reproductive status. I’m fully capable of celebrating people who achieve things I don’t or can’t achieve. I’m also not someone who is especially close to my blood family, so I had to work really hard to build a chosen family (including- *gasp* people who were or are my coworkers!) This office sounds like the worst kind of toxic – all hostility under the guise of “inclusivity.”

  26. JSC*

    Honestly, stuff like baby showers at work kind of bothers me anyways. It’s too heteronormative. Yes, I KNOW LGBTQ people have kids too, but the cultural fetishization of baby showers comes from a bigger picture where we celebrate certain groups’ life milestones while less normative folks never end up getting showered for the major things in their lives. I’m not sure workplaces should do any kind of milestone celebrations unless it’s something everyone experiences (e.g. birthdays and/or work-related anniversaries).

    1. Office Skeptic*

      Agreed – it’s weird to single out one demographic (parents) and pay to celebrate them.

    2. Frankie Bergstein*

      This this this this this! Why can’t we just have tons of celebrations for WORK related things?

      We won a proposal! Cake.
      We got through a rough season! Cake.
      Retirement! Cake.
      Promotion! Cake.
      5 and 10 year anniversaries! Cake.
      Retreat! Cake.

      I’m detoxing from a dysfunctional workplace that put heteronormative achievements (marriage and babies) above EVERYTHING including the actual work. I completely lost it and haven’t yet found it.

    3. OP*

      We had someone in the office who didn’t want his birthday observed. Does that mean all birthdays would be cancelled even though everyone has one? Putting myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing that I was the reason for The End of Cake.

      Would it not be more respectful to celebrate those who want to be celebrated, consistently yet simply; include all employees of that location/office; publicize when and how that would happen so those who didn’t want to attend could opt out without penalization; and not force a celebration on anyone who didn’t want one?

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this sounds great.

        That said, my office has more than 400 employees, so celebrations tend to be limited to the team or department, for financial reasons if nothing else. My employer pays for 50th and 60th birthday celebrations and retirement parties, and for 30th and 40th workiversaries (which are becoming rarer as staying with the same employer for your whole career becomes less common).

    4. so very tired*

      It’s grossly heteronormative and gendered toward women. Two things that should not be happening in the workplace.

      1. Hiccup*

        But if there are baby showers for partners of those having babies, adoptions & surrogacies isn’t it inclusive?

        1. catsoverpeople*

          Sure, it’s inclusive in the sense that it includes all kinds of parents. It’s still celebrating only one demographic — parents — in the workplace.

  27. iglwif*

    I can see where the company was coming from, but it sounds to me like this policy has made it worse.

    As an infertile person who eventually had an IVF baby, I can absolutely understand how hard it is to go to baby shower after baby shower when you are struggling to conceive or coming to terms with learning you won’t be able to. Totally, totally get that.

    At the same time … it sounds like before everyone got the same company-sponsored baby shower, and now some people get a baby shower put together by co-workers while others don’t, still taking place in the office during work hours, which is definitely not better! It’s no better for the infertile people, who are still right there while the showers are happening, and it’s significantly worse for the people who don’t get a shower but formerly would have. And now individual people are being asked to chip in for cake and gifts, which is also not better.

    I kind of hate the idea of banning all office celebrations, but if you are trying to protect people struggling with infertility from baby showers, I don’t think you can do that without actually banning baby showers from the premises. (For the record, I am with OP in that while I sometimes recused myself from these events, I would have been kind of appalled if someone cancelled theirs because of me. But that’s just me.)

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree that’s a sticking point (having the showers because more individual) – and it doesn’t seem great for morale to have the supervisors being in charge of ensuring there are no forbidden baby showers going on!!

    2. iglwif*

      I forgot one: we also had several “bought a condo” or “moved house” parties.

      I’m starting to think that office was just very, very fond of cake.

      1. OP*

        Given the state of the housing market, banning home purchase celebrations might be one line I can get behind as those would definitely honor one group of employees exclusively.

        1. iglwif*

          Hahahahahahahahahaha yes.

          To clarify, this wasn’t “so-and-so bought a house” every time; mostly it was “so-and-so is moving, that’s stressful, let’s get them some cake.”

  28. Stipes*

    I mean, many offices don’t celebrate baby showers in the first place? I’m actually surprised this is a thing at all.

    In my experience, in-office celebrations of personal matters don’t go beyond a card and/or a cake and people saying “congrats” in the halls, stuff like that. Even decorating the break room is for broader cultural holidays applying to multiple people.

    A shower seems really inappropriate for work! A type of party celebrating a specific person’s specific life milestone, traditionally involving every celebrant buying gifts for that person?

    1. Showers'R'Us*

      It must really depend on the work environment and the industry.

      I’ve been to several baby showers at work, including my own. It’s not A Thing but it’s not uncommon. It was often during lunch time (which meant it was done and dusted in under an hour) with gifts (often a gift card from pooled $$) and we called it a shower but really, it was just celebrating the baby and the mom.

    2. There You Are*

      I’ve also never worked anywhere that baby showers were A Thing. I’m closing in on 60 years old and have worked for over a dozen companies, from Fortune 1 down to literal mom-and-pop.

    3. Aitch Arr*

      It totally depends.

      I’ve worked in tech and tech-adjacent companies for the last 25 years in a major US metro area (from 75 employees up to 60K+) and milestone celebrations were always done. Now, most of the time the employer didn’t pay for the celebration, or if they did it was the manager of a department setting aside a little of their budget for cake/flowers/goodies.

      Pre-panini at my current employer, a card and envelope would be passed around the office. Those who wanted to chip in for a gift could, the only expectation was that you’d sign the card.

      In my own experience, I was thrown a baby shower at a 125 person tech co. (15ish years ago) and a bridal shower at a 2500 person tech-adjacent co. (4 years ago).

      With the smaller company, the company paid for for cake and a baby blanket. Other employees pooled together and bought a car seat. The card was signed by many employees, and obviously I couldn’t (and wouldn’t care to!) ‘take notes’ as to who chipped in and who didn’t.

      At the larger company, the bridal shower did not have any company funding, but it did take place in a small conference room as a brunch. It was potluck and again I didn’t ‘take notes’ as to who gave me a gift, a card, both, or neither. The decorations were some streamers and a ‘bridal sash and tiara’ from the dollar store. There were about 12 people there.

      I recently attended a Zoom baby shower for a colleague. We played party games and read limericks. Some of her closer colleagues bought very generous gifts; they were all delivered to her home. (Her husband was in on it.) The attendees are located across the US and Canada, so frankly it was really nice to still throw one virtually. I haven’t seen some of these folks in years.

      It would have been very out of place in the companies I worked for to have celebrations banned altogether.

    4. Rara Avis*

      I work in education, so we tend to be extremely enthusiastic about babies. Pretty much everyone has a baby shower within their department, paid for by contribution. It’s usually after school, so people don’t have to attend, although most do. This would be a hard profession to be in without being able to find a place of equilibrium regarding infertility etc.
      (I had my own struggles with infertility, and for a long time it looked like I’d have to be satisfied with taking care of other’s people’s children.)

      We have a Sunshine committee that recognizes major life events, both positive and negative (food gift cards for bereavement and medical issues, for instance).

      The employer does thoughtful themed gift baskets for retirements for people who have been here long-term. (More than 10 years, usually.)

  29. CubeFarmer*

    I’m a scrooge because I hate all these types of forced celebrations among co-workers. One of my colleagues wants to have a baby shower for a pregnant colleague “to give us something to look forward to.” I don’t dislike my co-workers, and I can pretend to be social and friendly with them, but I would rather just…not.

  30. DenimChicken*

    I may be an outlier, but I always found office baby showers to be weird and uncomfortable. Even before I went through my own fertility struggle, I’d always just stand in the back with the single dudes until it was over and I could get back to work.

  31. A Simple Narwhal*

    I know it wasn’t OP’s question and it doesn’t really matter since she doesn’t work there anymore, but I’m curious what Alison would recommend about addressing the unequal celebrations. Is there anything that could/should be done?

    I know it’s probably the ultimate first-world problem, but it must be a bit demoralizing to see other people get big parties to celebrate them while you get nothing.

    1. L-squared*

      Everything in the workplace won’t be equal.

      If someone is well liked even if its not at work, chances are people will still want to do something for them like take them for lunch, or go to a bar/restaurant after work. You can’t change the fact hat some people will be more popular in the office than others. most adults should be able to understand that.

      1. allathian*

        I agree up to a point. But the less in-your-face you can be about this, the less resentment it will cause. It’s a lot easier to ignore an event that happens after hours or during lunch offsite than it is to ignore a party going on in the meeting room next door, or worse, to feel pressured to attend an event for someone else that you fear nobody will ever organize for you, especially if it’s a baby shower and you’re dealing with infertility.

        1. catsoverpeople*

          Agreed — if it’s afterhours and offsite, why would I care? If it’s held in the only break room in the building and I want to opt out, but there’s nowhere else for me to eat my lunch, what am I supposed to do, sit in the corner with my leftovers from home and my back to everyone cooing over onesies?

  32. Qwerty*

    No one was ever penalized for having a “doctor’s appointment” the afternoon of a shower and needing to leave the office early

    If this happened often enough for you to notice it as a regular thing, then it sounds like the baby showers were becoming a problem for some.

    And you can’t really say for certain that no one was penalized – it just could have come up in unexpected ways. One that comes to mind is these employees not getting to participate in the bonding experience of regular company events – the same reason we object if a company regularly did adventurous team events that disabled team members couldn’t join in on, or had golfing events for just dudes. Good intentions can still have negative impacts, unfortunately.

    1. OP*

      Meh, someone always missed some event. One person didn’t observe birthdays so missed every birthday cake. Someone would regularly be on calls. One person routinely flexed their hours to be on at 6 am and off by 3 pm. There were urgent and unpredictable client “fires” to put out. Someone had to cover for the receptionist so she could attend. Someone had a “standing medical appointment” (therapy, chemo, whatever) one afternoon a week. Someone was in client meetings, on the convention circuit, on sales rounds… I would have been shocked to see 100% attendance at most office events.

      A key difference is that everyone is invited, there are a mix of events, and opting out is professionally acceptable. If it’s all the men go golfing/hunting/camping for a weekend, and all the women are left out, or if it’s ziplining every year and one person with a physical limitation or phobia of heights is unable to go, those are different situations to me. I’d be open to other perspectives here.

  33. not nice, don't care*

    Not a huge fan of reproduction given the current state of the planet/human species, so I really appreciate that baby showers aren’t a thing at my job. Coworkers do have babies, but as far as I know, baby showers happen away from work and aren’t really talked about at work.

  34. Lacey*

    I think if offices are going to do baby showers, the best way to be sensitive is to make sure they’re very, very optional.

    The year I realized I probably was never going to have kids, was also the year 3 of my coworkers got pregnant. I did not attend their joint shower, no one gave me any crap about it. All is well.

    I lean towards leaving personal stuff out of the work space anyway, so showers for baby or wedding strike me as unnecessary. But I also get the tension of, “Really, we can’t celebrate a good thing just bc not all of us get the good thing?” Even as a person who doesn’t get this specific good thing and isn’t always up for celebrating with other people do.

    1. Anon for this one*

      It’s not just “not getting this good thing”. It’s “being expected to smile and celebrate when you’re brutally reminded of the worst day of your life”.

  35. Sloanicota*

    This is one of those things that has two camps – there’s people here who would vote for no personal acknowledgements at work at all, and people who get really into their work community and want to celebrate everything together. Both sides can be reasonable positions to have, but they always conflict.

  36. atypical*

    The idea of office-funded baby showers is offensive to me. Unless, of course, people with other expensive avocations that are meaningful to them also are treated to parties at which they are showered with gifts.

    1. Stipes*

      Yeah, it’s like, is the team lead going to go around to coworkers and collect housewarming gifts to celebrate someone’s new home?

    2. Ella*

      same. I think this is so weird.. who decided which of the personal milestones gets a company-funded party? I think I would be annoyed by this, no matter my infertility status… and I am very social at work and I like to celebrate with my colleagues in general. But baby showers just seem so.. random? Why babies of all things? Is it the same with birthdays, weddings, moves, …? If yes, that sounds like a lot of informal celebrations instead of working, and also, for everyone who might not be as social at work, like a lot of anxiety..

  37. Brain the Brian*

    My office has never held baby showers. Or wedding showers. Or done anything more than card-and-cake-at-your-desk for birthdays. Other offices do this? I learn something new every day! :D

  38. Anon for this one*

    I’ve been the person dealing with infertility – my wife (we’re both women) had multiple failed IVF cycles, multiple miscarriages, and we both had a lot of heartache. (While I’m a cis woman I have enough gender dysphoria that I never, ever wanted to be pregnant). A baby shower at work would have absolutely wrecked me at the wrong time – that’s when I had to excuse myself for the rest of the day with a sudden “headache” when someone unexpectedly brought their baby in to show off, and blocked people on social media for using an ultrasound as their profile picture. Obviously some people deal with their grief differently, but the OP sounds a little like “I’d be fine with this, so everyone should be”.

    (We’re fine now. Our adopted son is ten and an absolute joy.)

    1. so very tired*

      I’m trans and I have a lot of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia around reproduction/pregnancy/birth stuff, so I’m right there with you. It can get so bad for me that I just have to nope out completely at times. A lot of my dislike of baby showers is based on that (plus how it’s so heavily gendered toward women), so I just don’t participate because I don’t want to bring down the mood for others.

  39. Chocoholic*

    At my current office I think we have a good system for personal milestones like a wedding or a baby. The company puts in a $100 gift card, and we send around a card for people to sign. People can contribute money if they want and we add that on to the $100.

    1. Janne*

      My office has a good system too, but that’s largely thanks to my country’s culture of “the person who celebrates brings cake”. We have cake quite often – last week I brought cake because a big project went live, couple of weeks ago my colleague brought Polish cake because she had visited Poland, and so on. My pregnant colleague brought a big pink cake before she went on maternity leave.

      We have a “lief en leed pot” (joy and sorrow pot?) to which everyone contributes €5 at the beginning of the year and we use it to buy a card/flowers for special occasions – the last couple ones were a 60th birthday (card and flowers), someone who had to have surgery (flowers), and someone who lost a family member (card).

      For work anniversaries (e.g. 5 years on the job, 12.5 years on the job and 25 years) the company buys the cake. :D

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I like the idea of the lief en leed pot, but only, and ONLY, if everyone is acknowledged for those events. And that usually means that someone has to be tasked with it.

        1. Janne*

          Yes, one of my colleagues manages the pot and when she’s off or busy we have another colleague doing it. She considers it a fun task and the colleague who takes over too. It helps that all people in the team bring in occasions that we should do something for – e.g. I sit next to the birthday calendar, another colleague heard about the colleague’s family member passing away and brought up ordering a card, and our manager heard about the surgery so he ordered flowers.

      2. OP*

        Bringing in your own birthday cake was one thing frowned upon, as was throwing your own baby shower, even offsite and after hours. It is seen as sad or a gift grab. Someone else has to give to you so that you do not look like you are asking for pity or gifts for yourself.

        1. Janne*

          Yeah, I think that it only works here because everyone here is used to bringing cake themselves – it’s something we do in the Netherlands. If you google “bringing your own cake Netherlands” there are pages and pages about this weird Dutch custom. We don’t see it as sad. It’s just the way we celebrate.

          1. UKDancer*

            Same everywhere I’ve worked in the UK (and when I worked in Belgium also there). If you want to celebrate you bring something in. This can be for a birthday or if you’ve been away on holiday or even just if you feel like it (one person brings stuff in when his football team does well). The last person who went on maternity leave brought in a cake on her last day in the office.

        2. allathian*

          Yes, it’s one part of the US culture I’m very glad we don’t share, and I expect it to make the resentment worse for those who miss out on birthday celebrations they’d like because nobody wants to organize it for them.

          I hate surprises, even so-called happy ones. I’m very glad that I’ve always been the host of my own birthday parties, because a surprise party would have me turning on my heels and walking away. It’s also one reason why my husband and I decided on a small wedding with only our original family members (and my MIL’s husband) invited, neither of us wanted to deal with stag and hen nights, and not inviting friends meant that there would be none. The other reason was that I was 8 months pregnant when we got married and wanted no extra hassle. My employer found out about my marriage when I returned to work after my maternity leave with a new name (maternity leave starts 30 days before your due date and I had to leave a couple weeks early because I had to lie down for most of the day).

          My employer pays for 50th and 60th birthday celebrations, including a birthday present that the celebrant can pick from a list (for tax reasons) where the cost is limited to 100 euros. This party’s usually hosted by the employee’s manager. For other milestone birthdays, employees can organize their own celebration, usually during the afternoon coffee break. But once the birthday celebrant issues an invite, someone else buys the card and sends it round to be signed. Birthday presents aren’t expected, and asking for them would be seen as a gift grab.

  40. Hedgehug*

    Sorry OP but I’m with the workplace on this one.

    If there are any employees who are expecting a baby who were at the company during baby-shower-era, who no longer get one, then the company should give them a generous gift card to Babies R Us or whatever, since it isn’t fair that Jane in accounting got a baby shower totaling the value of $xxx and John in Sales now doesn’t get one because he missed the window. New employees who weren’t around during baby-shower-era get zip.

  41. There You Are*

    I’m on “Team No Baby Showers in the Workplace”. Also, “Team No Individual Birthday Celebrations in the Workplace”, “Team No Wedding Showers in the Workplace”, and any other individual, personal celebration.

    If the company wants to pay for a cake or other goodies once a month and lump everything together (“This month includes National Nachos Day, a bunch of people’s birthdays, National Scrapple Day, and International Check Your Wipers day,”) then hooray free food.

    But otherwise? Personal celebrations belong in people’s personal lives, not their work lives.

    1. Apple Townes*

      Perfectly said. I’m at work to do my job and collect my paycheck. And lest anyone accuse me of being a miserable grump, I have made friends at work! With whom I do friend things…outside of work! I don’t want to be obligated to sit in a conference room, choke down dry sheet cake and coo at a bunch of baby gifts for a colleague whose personal life is none of my business.

  42. Coin Purse*

    I *hated* baby and wedding showers at work. I felt as if it was bringing overly personal celebrations into the work place plus getting shaken down constantly for gifts. It’s one thing I do not miss in retirement. I found them awkward and although attendance wasn’t mandatory….you sure heard about it if you didn’t show with a gift. And this had nothing to do with infertility, just my opinion that this should be handled outside of work.

    1. Coin Purse*

      Just to add…no retirement party for me! I was lucky to be able to retire on Zoom, out the door with no fuss! I’d been dreading any obligatory event and Covid did me a favor.

  43. B*

    I’m not a baby person at all but I really appreciate how my company did it for two pregnant employees earlier this year. They were due like a week apart and so the company sent an email to rest of us with 1) an invite to an off-site, after-hours baby shower/tea party for them and 2) a request for a book title you’d like to give. The company then bought two copies of every book (one for each baby) and put a little note in there which employee it was from and also covered all the costs of the party. No one was obliged to show up if they didn’t want to and no one had any extra financial burden when it came to a gift.

  44. meadow*

    A no-baby-shower policy is sensitive to people who are struggling with fertility issues, and also sensitive to Jewish parents-to-be. It sounds like the LW had other reasons, beyond the showers, to feel like employees were not being valued as people. My thought on the “what could I have done differently?” question would be not to push back on the decision about the showers themselves, but to use the new policy as an opening to suggest ways the company could deliver on the underlying need of making people feel more valued as human beings in the workplace. I’ve seen this done in varying ways, ranging from social lunches to volunteer days to implementing a 5-min delayed start to meetings, depending on the company culture.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, baby showers always seem weird to me because here in Britain the tradition is (or always used to be, until baby showers started making their way here from across the pond) that you don’t give gifts until the baby arrives. Many people of my parents’ generation, and in fact of my generation (that weird bit no one can agree on between Gen X and Millennial) are really uncomfortable with the idea of buying a gift for a baby before it’s born. Traditionally parents don’t reveal a name or receive gifts until the baby is safely here – then of course people bring gifts when they visit.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, the same tradition’s alive and well in Finland, too. We also have the Baby Box, so parents have at least some of the essentials before the baby’s born. I adored the gender-neutral baby clothes in the box.

        I also didn’t want to know the gender of our baby before he was born and lots of people, including some of my friends, were a bit surprised by that. I think there’s nothing more tacky than a gender-reveal party, and I’m very glad they don’t exist here. My disapproval absolutely does not include gender-reveal parties for trans children as a display of true acceptance of their gender by the family and those celebrating.

  45. Head sheep counter*

    Baby showers fall into that gray space of celebrating life choices and someone’s reproductive capabilities (as well as generally… sex life). Humans are weird. We are so prudish about so many things but… get a group of women together to talk birth… and heavens above… even if I had been maternal… one discussion of birth… would have solved that for me. Its awful. And… not generally work appropriate.

    I love work parties… but wildly prefer that they be about work/seasonal/or occasionally outstanding achievements.

  46. LegoGirl*

    I’ve both been on the infertility side and receiving side of work baby showers. Mine was the last half hour of the day and was optional and organized/paid for by my coworkers who were absolutely insistent I have one. I had been majorly apprehensive about jinxing the pregnancy with a shower and honestly their enthusiasm about it really helped with my anxiety (more importantly it made it so I could relax about the family one a few weeks later). I also completely skipped a work shower for someone due around the same time as the due date for my first pregnancy a couple years earlier and no one commented. It shouldn’t be mandatory to attend but since at work it was mostly cake focused, one of the older men said it was the first one he’d ever been invited to. I’m assuming the guy in my office whose wife had their second baby the week after my shower had been offered one and declined, given the enthusiasm for all excuses to eat cake.

  47. Melissa*

    When I was pregnant, a friend from work threw me a shower. It was after hours and at a restaurant. Everyone from the office was invited but it a was very much opt-in and many coworkers skipped it. I know that creates its own problems (as the LW mentioned, if someone doesn’t have a friend who throws one etc) but it still seems way preferable to me, over having one AT work during work hours.

  48. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder if the internal discussion to quit sponsoring showers sounded a bit like this thread! There’s a lot of reasons to *not* offer company sponsored showers. And for a company already looking to cut costs, this seems like low hanging fruit – especially if they received complaints. I imagine companies who do sponsor things like baby showers are doing it to increase engagement and morale, and if that’s not happening then why do it?

  49. Ink*

    I think implementation is big here. The way they did it, I’d worry about a repeat of the dynamic of the woman with the dog-friendly office and severe dog allergy. The LW didn’t tell anyone at work, but plenty of people do! They tell friends, or it comes up as the reason for a sick day, or a hundred other ways. You don’t need more than one bully to get people ganging up on Susan, personally, because it’s her fault we don’t have baby showers anymore, rather than the generic anonymous employee.

    And it didn’t even work! There were still baby showers! If you have a reason bigger than budget, I think you have to enforce that rule! The stated motivation is perhaps an admirable one, but motivation isn’t worth much when the product of your action is such a disaster.

  50. PlainJane*

    There are a lot of issues here.

    First, does unhappiness always outrank what makes other people happy? It sometimes feels like it does. At what point does this kick in? Showers are probably a reasonable thing to put on the “don’t do it” list; the thing cited above about not allowing family photographs on desks is not. But where is the balancing point? When does the celebration of life in a place where we spend so much of our life take precedence?

    Second, the financial issue of showers in particular is a burden on everyone. I remember one shower at work when I was a lowly part-time temp, and what I could afford was… a bag of cotton balls and some powder. Which was embarrassing (though, I hope, at least useful… to my boss). Rather than singling out baby showers, maybe there should be a general no-gifts policy, or an opt-in policy. I favor no-gifts, myself. Have a party. Have a cake provided by the company. Maybe make a little album for the baby showing what Mommy does at work that makes her so amazing. But maybe not have gift-giving as an expected thing.

    Third, the “the popular kids will get all the parties” thing. Yeah. I don’t see a way around it. It’s always true, isn’t it? It sucks, but that’s social life. It always does. If it’s off work grounds, there’s nothing to be done about it.

    1. JaneDough(not)*

      There are several factors to consider with each unique “Whose feelings are more important?” situation. For ex., if my friend Lucy and I make a movie date and she wants to see a horror movie (a genre that freaks me out), then my aversion trumps her desire to see it, and we find something that’s mutually agreeable.

      But if I’ve made plans with a group of, say, four or more others and if all want to see a particular horror movie, then I graciously bow out and make plans with them in the future, with the proviso that next time I get to nix certain activities (while still being open to their preferences).

      Pain / unhappiness generally carry more weight. Lucy doesn’t suffer, or suffers very little, from not seeing the horror flick (she can see it another time), but I suffer a lot if I have to sit through it.

      In an office of, say, 10 or so people — a large enough group that one or two absences wouldn’t make the gathering sepulchral — I would hope that those who want to throw a low-key baby shower for a colleague (“low-key” is important) could do so, and that those who find the event painful could absent themselves. I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive to those who are in pain, and I’m open to opposing viewpoints.

  51. JaneDough(not)*

    Unless I’m misunderstanding something fundamental, I think that cos. shouldn’t be sponsoring / paying for any event that isn’t an option for everyone — not because some people are in pain due to infertility or singlehood, but because it means the co. is giving a costly perk to some but not to others ( = no perk for those who don’t or can’t have children, or those who don’t or can’t have a wedding). Gifts are a big part of showers, and if the co. is paying for a shower, then the implication is that it’s paying for the gift given to the honoree — and some employees will never be the honoree.

    If a co. is paying for a party, then the party should benefit everyone equally. The cos. I’ve worked for have hosted an annual holiday party for everyone and/or have brought in food for everyone when we’ve had a late night because of a deadline we didn’t choose and couldn’t alter ( = a newsroom needing to stay very very late because of ultra-important breaking news).

    1. PlainJane*

      I may also be misreading–I assumed they were done on company time, not that the company was providing anything other than a space and *maybe* a cake, and the rest was just office sociability (which is sometimes forced sociability), with people in the person’s department supplying the party needs. Could OP clarify the situation?

  52. Lynn*

    If the company wants to cancel baby showers, then the company needs to cancel all personal celebrations in the workplace

      1. ActualTeacher*

        “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.”

  53. Tradd*

    Imagine being a permanent single person in an office where there were many marriages and babies. Always tons of wedding and baby showers. Mostly paid for by the company. When I got a very difficult to get professional certification for my industry – which I had gone for at my manager’s urging and company had mostly paid for – my manager dang near had to force the company to paid for pizza, salad, and soft drinks to celebrate my accomplishment. Others in the company had tried to get this certification and failed (took a year of study and two tries at the exam to pass). Manager told owners that I was about the only employee who had never had a wedding or baby shower and they owed me to celebrate. They paid for lunch and we had a great time.

  54. jen*

    I’ve been in the OP shoes and it is a no win situation. I agree and would be curious what Allison’s take is on how it played out – in a way that sounds like understandably caused more problems. What my office did was had a card people could sign (and for anything celebrating like a wedding or baby an email is sent asking those who want to sign to come to X person’s office to sign) and the company gave a gift card that was given at a staff meeting. Being on both ends that seemed to be a reasonable ground of acknowledgment, cost effective, and brief to minimize the impact on those who it might be difficult for.

  55. Looper*

    I think any company-sponsored baby showers/wedding & engagement parties are inherently inappropriate because they are providing gifts and additional benefits to an exclusive group of employees. Some employees may not want to have kids or get married so would never have a party thrown for them. It makes more sense to celebrate universal milestones, like years of service.

  56. A person*

    I can’t have children but I’ve long made peace with that so I don’t find it particularly painful anymore, but I do find work sponsored baby showers really awkward. I’ve always worked for the same company, but it’s a huge company so baby stuff is location specific. I preferred the way my previous location did it where the admin team was responsible for sending a gift to the new parents after baby was born. My current location does a sort of forced awkward shower at work and it’s just awkward and I don’t know why. I know I’m probably a terrible person for thinking it but I just have no interest in that at work. It would feel weird to do wedding showers at work too. I personally believe those are events that should be planned by family and friends and workplaces need not participate. A congratulatory gift sent to the home with a card signed by the dept is fine, but a spectacle at work feels weird to me.

    As a female who won’t have children I have also experienced the sort of awkward comments that sometimes get made at work showers like “when is it going to be your turn?” So since people can’t be trusted to people maybe it’s best not to have them.

  57. OP*

    OP here, a few points to clarify and elaborate:

    1) There seems to be a cultural divide in offices between celebrating personal milestones and not celebrating any. This culture was definitely one that was moving away from the former and toward the latter. While I understand some people prefer that, and honestly I now do too having seen the impact, it was a change. Someone also hit the nail on the head that it was a small team that grew to a large one. While the company wanted to use the “we’re all a family here” line to extract long hours and commitments as they had with a small team, they seemed willing to cut things that actually celebrated families.
    2) This was a fairly young workforce, so there were maybe more than the average count of people that were going through growing families and infertility. The person coordinating these celebrations at the time they were canceled was not in this group, although I can certainly understand that it might be impossible for someone to work at the company in this role if they were experiencing pregnancy loss and/or infertility.
    3) No one was charged sick time/PTO or asked to bring in a doctor’s note if they missed the shower. Flexing time for the last hour of the day on occasion was something people did for a lot of different reasons. Maybe they had to get their car inspected before the garage closed at 5pm, or had to get a cat to the vet. Yes, someone could theoretically notice a pattern. You would have looked like a jerk for calling someone out about it though, even if it was just a “wow, you sure do miss a lot of these” passing comment.
    4) The company did throw showers for expectant male, same-sex, and adoptive parents, not just heterosexual pregnant women. I also didn’t specify my gender nor my partner’s. Does that change the math for anyone?
    5) “Company sponsored baby shower” in this case meant: use of a conference room for the last hour of the day, cake and punch, a couple of dollar store balloons or streamers, a generous gift card ($150-250 maybe?) to somewhere like Target or Babies R Us, and a greeting card all employees could sign. If it were for a baby other than the first born, the gift card was usually for a meal delivery service instead. Optional contributions from employees were collected but usually very nominal ($5-10 per person with maybe 50% chipping in, mostly from management), and not tallied/compared between employees. Contributing individually was not a requirement to sign the group greeting card. Some people might bring in a board book, onesie, or some other small wrapped gift. Handmade gifts like crocheted blankets occasionally showed up. It was mostly about an afternoon break, eating cake, showing support, and understanding their email would not be checked for a while in the very near future.
    6) When the “company sponsorship” disappeared, there was *more* pressure on employees to contribute gifts and cash to make up the difference. Instead of a gift card, there was more pressure to buy that $500 stroller off the registry as a group. Showers were then more likely to celebrate highly visible employees or those in the management chain, and that often meant “gifting up” for most attendees. All of this is something I object to very strongly and was a clear cultural reversal.
    7) The company is white collar but didn’t have what I would call generous leave benefits. Showers felt like one way to acknowledge and support an employee as there was groundswell toward longer/paid/inclusive parental leave policies. Again, I was not in the room when HR policy changes were being discussed or decided.
    8) The company left people out in other small and thoughtless ways. As some commenters noted, there was a general movement toward a monthly birthday celebration instead of individual ones, for example. Then pizza would be ordered when a birthday celebrant had celiac, or a cake would be ordered with ingredients a birthday person was allergic to. There was more of a, “we can’t please everyone so we won’t try to please anyone” attitude which some commenters agreed with…except pizza parties and cakes still happened, organizers just didn’t care if they were inclusive. And then management was *shocked* when employees were ungrateful about death pizza/allergy cake.
    9) Another commenter also struck a chord with the note that it came off as patronizing, in a way treating employees (likely young women) as delicate and unable to handle difficult or challenging situations. That definitely felt true to me. On the other hand, I can appreciate that it may have been difficult to the point of destabilizing for some employees (of any gender) to deal with this in a workplace setting. I saw a couple of other examples mentioned in the comments of someone showing up with a baby, or someone emailing a photo of their child after the delivery or adoption. I imagine that would also be destabilizing, even more so since a surprise visit or email would be unannounced and therefore unavoidable. There were examples of people not being able to have photos of family at their desks. The line for reasonably expecting people to handle that other people have families is probably somewhere between “no personal photos ever” and “sharing detailed birth stories”. I can appreciate that people land in different places on this.
    10) I do object to the idea that we can’t celebrate anything because not everyone goes through the same experiences, as was brought up in examples of retirement celebrations, non-Christian holiday observations, major professional accomplishments, pet adoption, etc. I think there’s a way to build a culture of respect and inclusion that treats employees as adults, while also considering that some employee is likely going through or has experienced pregnancy loss and/or infertility. My question was regarding if this is where and how the line should be drawn.

        1. Stipes*

          I’m not sure, but my employer should definitely throw me a housewarming party when I buy my first house so my fellow employees can get me some kitchen tools I’m missing.

          To be serious, though: I think the “big workplace” vs “small workplace” thing is really the key here, yeah. I’ve always worked at places with at least 200 employees, so it’s always felt really obvious to me that “friends celebrate my personal life, coworkers are congenial in the breakroom and maybe sign a card.” But it’s easier to see a group of hundreds as only a small step up from acquaintances, than if you see a much smaller group at work every day.

  58. Ginger Cat Lady*

    Generally speaking, I’m not a gifts shower at work person at all.
    The only work “shower” I’ve ever participated in – or wanted to – was a shower for a coworker who had lost everything in a house fire.
    The company gave her a paid week off to deal with the aftermath and then invited her to come at the end of the day Friday (after she’d found a temporary living arrangement, the day before they moved in) and they brought in some food. Someone had asked her for a list of her immediate needs (which were mostly household things like sheets, towels, plates, etc. and pantry staples for the kitchen), and there was an option to contribute to a Visa gift card as well. I don’t know for sure, but I strongly suspect the company (or at least the C Suite) chipped in on that pretty highly.
    No stupid games, No opening gifts in front of everyone, no one tracked who did/didn’t give, just the company coming together to support someone who really needed it.
    That was a good company to work for. I feel like they did it right.

  59. OP*

    A house fire seems like a very clear example of a kind and thoughtful reason for a company to provide extra, individual gifts to one person and not everyone. It doesn’t seem reasonable to set a policy barring all company sponsored personal gifts at work then.

    Presumably you’re not in favor of gifts to people moving after a divorce, or losing a home due to a recently deceased spouse’s income loss. It sounds like you’d object to home gifts for a newlywed. The perspective of some commenters is that if only some people experience an event, then no one receives anything. I don’t think either of us would agree with that, so where is the line, and why? It’s not as easy as people think, and I would argue that drawing the line sharply can come off as cold and alienating in fairly predictable ways.

    1. Coin Purse*

      My 50+ year career as a nurse as my template…there was a lot of pressure to give to every new baby, every marriage. Since the occupation is 90% women, the gender issue was huge. I found the constant stream of events to pay for draining. Honeymoon funds, showers every week. Add on top of that the typical hardship fundraising (parental loss, caregiving) was also present.

      If these have to exist as an aspect of polite society, they need to be far more optional than they were in my career. I once missed a baby shower at work to close on my house…and it came up in my annual review! So it’s no small expectation, at least in my experience.

  60. Clare*

    Soon after my only ever pregnancy ended, a co-worker’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. I made her a pair of fashionable little crochet booties with red soles and left them on his desk. Because there was no pressure, I actually felt quite positively about the whole thing.

    If there had been a baby shower, it would have torn me to shreds. I definitely wouldn’t have gone and I probably wouldn’t have made the booties. If I did, I know it wouldn’t have felt the same. I would have felt angry, guilty about feeling angry, angry about being made to feel guilty etc. Somehow, being able to opt in at a level I felt comfortable with freed me up to want to opt in further.

    Every single person’s experience with this stuff is unique. Everyone will have different and possibly conflicting needs. There’s no secret way to avoid heartache when heartache’s already involved. In my experience, the best we can do is to do our best and be open to changing things as circumstances change. There’s been a lot of thoughtfulness and kindness in these answers, so I can see that part 1 is going well for many workplaces already. I have confidence that part 2 will happen too, as needed. You’re all lovely :)

  61. Luna (the other one)*

    Something our new boss said in one of our meetings: if you’re really committed to inclusion, sometimes it requires sacrifice.

    People feeling emotionally safe at work trumps a party.

  62. cardigarden*

    Okay, so, I get people not liking work baby showers in the sense of “everyone is expected to purchase a gift to contribute”, but what’s so wrong about “we’re having pizza and soda in the break room and while we’re here for the free food, on behalf of your colleagues, congratulations on your forthcoming baby (with a single gift paid for out of the office’s discretionary fund)”?

      1. catsoverpeople*

        Oops, meant to clarify, you’re only celebrating one type of personal milestone, babies, with the office’s discretionary fund.

  63. Dawn*

    I mean this with all compassion – I think that you are maybe getting your own struggles with fertility (and I’m very sorry that you had to deal with that! That struggle is very real!) conflated in your mind with the concept of employer-sponsored baby showers, and it might be making this seem of more outsize importance to you than it actually is.

  64. Turtles All the Way Down*

    I was, coincidentally, believe it or not, on vacation the day my company had a baby shower for a coworker and his wife, whose child was born the same day I was due with the first embryo I miscarried. I have never in my life been so thankful for a coincidence.

  65. YoungTen*

    I respect Alison’s advice but also agree with LW that it was probably not so great for the less popular/less well positioned employees. It reads to be that when the company sponsored them, everything was more leveled but w/o employer support, not everyone got a chance to equally celebrate. Perhaps i resonate cause I’m more quite and back of the house, so I know I’d probably get the short end of the stick in that environment. Just my two cents

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