1 WWYD: Chipping in for the Boss | The Billfold

WWYD: Chipping in for the Boss

In this installment of “What Would You Do?,” coworkers chip in to buy their boss a gift.

I just started a new job in September in an office with six employees and one boss (part of a larger institution). One other woman is my age (early twenties) and started in the spring; the rest have been here for years and years. I’m certainly at the bottom of the rung, income-wise.

Apparently we all chip in to give our boss a Christmas present every year. (I’m hoping we get a bonus, but I don’t know yet.) Everyone else, that I know of, is contributing $100. This is A LOT! I spend about $30 on gifts for family members, and about $50 for my boyfriend!

By the way, my boss probably makes upwards of $1 million a year, which is a big part of why I feel strange making a sacrifice for something that will feel like pocket change to him. He’s also a misogynist (whole ‘nother post). If it makes any difference, my boss buys us lunch (to ensure that we work at our desks), which is pretty sweet.

So: Do I have to contribute $100 as well? I’ll still be able to eat, but will have to cut back on gifts for the people I actually care about and/or doing fun things on the weekends. Is $50 okay? That’s what I’m thinking/hoping. Does anyone think I can get away with (in terms of not pissing off my coworkers and leading to potential gossip with my boss) any less? — E.

When I was in grad school, I was in charge of getting a gift for one of our beloved professors. I ended up choosing a sterling silver necklace from Tiffany’s for $150, and since there were 15 grad students in our class, the split was $10 each. We were all, of course, broke grad students, and I couldn’t imagine asking them for any more than that.

To me, $100 is not an insignificant amount of money. If I couldn’t afford to contribute that amount, I’d quietly approach whomever was collecting the money and ask, “Would it be possible for me to contribute $50? Things are a little tight for me during the holidays, and it’s all I can afford.” This is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask.

The truth is, I’m financially stable enough where it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me to part with $100, so I’d probably contribute that amount and avoid worrying about inciting the ire of my coworkers. It would mean that I would spend less money throughout the week to make up for it, but that’s not a problem for me.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.



33 Comments / Post A Comment

Wow. Just wow.

I suppose I technically *could* afford $100 for a gift for my boss (thankfully we don’t do that kind of thing) but that’s kind of wacky. I definitely think it’s more than acceptable to contribute a lesser amount, and anybody who raises their eyebrows about that is crazy rude.

OhMarie (#299)

@eemusings@twitter Yeah, I am dealing with significantly smaller income disparities but I would still be shocked if someone wanted $100 for a gift for a boss.

I second the wow. Just wow.

I’m in the realm of spending about $50 on my immediate family, about $200 on my boyfriend, and that’s IT. I also could afford to spend $100 on my boss, but there is absolutely no way I ever would.

Do NOT feel bad about offering less. I’d be pretty upset about parting with $50 for my boss, as a matter of fact. But I can see why you feel like you have to give at least that much.

Trish@twitter (#2,870)

I would go even lower than $50, because it’s WEIRD to give an expensive gift to your boss. As I’ve learned from reading http://www.askamanager.org/, gifting should always be to those below you in the org chart, not to those above.

MelNotMissy (#968)

It’s actually against proper business etiquette to “gift up,” i.e. a subordinate giving a gift to her superior. Gifts should flow downward in this context. Your boss should feel uncomfortable about receiving gifts from his staff, especially at that price point, especially at his income level.
Alison Green at Ask A Manager (http://www.askamanager.org) has a few recent posts up about how to deal with gift-giving in the office, including how to handle group gifts to the boss. Hope this helps!

r&rkd (#1,657)

Yes, that’s the biggest problem here. How did this even get started?

Yogi (#2,872)

@MelNotMissy Yes! THIS! It is really weird to get a gift for your boss. Gifting up should be avoided.

sally (#917)

Setting aside WTF a present from the minions to the boss, who is this person telling you, “Welcome to the company, everyone chips in $100″? I would want to hear from a lot more people that this is an actual fun custom in our company.

I agree that $100 for a boss who makes a buttload is completely excessive.

My boss is similarly positioned as the letter writer. He hosted us at a holiday party at his house, and so we all chipped in $15 to get him a nice bottle of scotch as a host present. That to me is a reasonable present. He’s surely not getting us anything.

Lily Rowan (#70)

Yeah, that is BANANAS. I definitely could afford to chip in $100 and even more definitely would never ever do that. If people have a personal relationship with the boss, they could give a personal gift, but I’m really offended by the idea that a Very Nice gift from subordinates is part of the office culture.

kellyography (#250)

Jeez, what $600 present did the rest of the staff decide to get your boss? That seems crazy excessive. I would definitely approach whoever is collecting the money/organizing the gift, and say something like what Mike did in the post. I would even say that I wanted to contribute less.

My boss would never expect (or even accept) a $100 gift from me, and I’m also on a six-person staff and make the least of all of us. Nobody here spends more than $15 or $20 on gifts for anyone else, and I will generally make something for everyone and nobody is ever unappreciative. (This year I made puppy chow and gave them out in mason jars, other years it has been hot chocolate mix or cookies.)

Whoa!!! I always figured $20 or so would be the very maximum that employees would be expected to contribute for something like this. $100!!!!! That’s madness.

EM (#1,012)

That is crazy. Crazy! Mike’s advice is solid. Holidays are so expensive, especially if you have a big family or are traveling anywhere.

I never knew “gifting up” was considered bad form. I’ve done it at several workplaces, but it was always a really modest contribution ($10-20).

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Michelle I’ve “gifted up” for occasions, such as new babies, extended illnesses, etc. But they were always modest gifts, and I also feel like celebrating/sympathizing with a supervisor over a major life event is very different than an expectation that a holiday justifies coercing a huge amount of money out of an employee.

I’m definitely a people pleaser but no way I would pitch $100 for a gift for my boss. Ever. I’d tell the woman $30 and that was the best I could do at this time of year, and then next Christmas, if I was still at the job, I would advocate to get something far less expensive.

probs (#296)

Jesus Christ.

Yeah, per the above commenters, this sounds like a pretty bad office culture. Would not fly in my office! All gifting is strictly voluntary and usually food based.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@stuffisthings “He buys us lunch so we’ll eat at our desks” made me sadlol for sure. Bad office culture.

la_di_da (#1,425)

$100 is ridiculous. $50 is still ridiculous–what are they even getting him, that’s what I’d ask. But also, yes, you’ve only been there a few months just say that I can only do $30 this year (still ridiculous, but whatever). Next year you may have a better lay of the land in terms of why things are that ridiculous. This boss sounds like a diva.

There’s definitely a “gifting” culture in my office, which is awkward but not terrible. I have one boss that usually gifts wine (yay!) and the other gets something that may or may not be slightly pricey but totally perfect for the person in question (why, yes, I did receive wizard chess one year, thank you for asking). As for me, I make baked goods and small something, so $5 cheesy wine stopper and cookies this year for everyone. It works out.

@la_di_da Can we talk about the corrosive influence of using “gift” as a verb? (Don’t worry I did it too.)

Yeah, that’s…wow. I wouldn’t mind chipping in somewhere in the $10-20 range for a gift for my boss, because I like my boss. If I didn’t like my boss or couldn’t contribute even a little, I’d say sorry, but no, with the understanding that my name might not be on the card/my boss might know I hadn’t chipped in/whatever.

Honestly, even if I were in a financial place where I COULD contribute $100 to a boss’s gift, I’d balk at spending more on that than on gifts for my family and friends, and I’ve never spent more than $50 on a single person’s gift.

….what kind of gift is the office buying???

To echo everyone else, yes, I would also absolutely say “I’m sorry, but this is my budget right now, I’d be happy to give $XX amount but I can’t do more”

In an office that size, I’d contribute the full amount if I could. (Yes, even if that meant cutting back on happy hours.) As the newest member of a seven person office, I wouldn’t want to make waves so soon after my arrival – particularly if it might underline my co-workers’ perception that I think the boss is a misogynist.

In larger offices, I’ve always been asked to contribute what I’m comfortable with. Depending on the recipient, that has meant $0-$20 for me and no one’s ever given me a hard time about it.

Sure, I’ve heard that it’s bad etiquette to give gifts to the boss. And I’ll echo the other commenters that $100 is WAY too much. But I think it’s equally important to consider the potential effect on your career and office politics.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

@swampette@twitter Agreed. I hate office gift giving, but as long as it’s not illegal, unethical, or going to cause me serious distress I’m doing whatever I can to at the very least not make waves if not advance in the company. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be incredibly pissed to be giving the $100 up.

@swampette@twitter But what if this is this person’s first job after a stint of unemployment, and she’s already cut back on happy hours? Sometimes, there is literally nothing else left to cut except your groceries, and I’ll be damned if I’m eating rice and beans because I had to buy my 7-figure-earning boss an expensive Christmas present.

After re-reading all the comments on here I apparently became more upset at this than I thought I was….

@polka dots vs stripes True, but the letter writer referred to cutting back on “fun things on the weekends,” not eating a balanced diet. I’d never advocate she spend money on something she actually CAN’T afford, but this is more something she’d just rather not do. I don’t blame her for being resentful, but she’s only been there for three months. Next year she can lead the charge to change this particular tradition, but this year she needs to try not to be the squeaky wheel.

Peon (#2,874)

@swampette@twitter Letter-writer here. I decided to go with $50. Maybe it was semantics, but told me I was expected to give $100, just that that’s how much everyone else had said they would chip in. It’s going toward a gift certificate for my boss’s personal trainer, who he already sees regularly. (Let me tell you about how much weight he can lift!) While I could’ve done $100, I decided $50 was enough to avoid office conversations about it. It seems to be a question of how much you mind rocking the boat—some people here seem willing to give $0, but I wasn’t up for going that far. On the other hand, I don’t feel bad about spending that money that could have gone to my boss’s workouts on an amazing dinner I cooked for my friends.

By the way, I’m sure it doesn’t make him uncomfortable and he enjoys getting “appreciated” by his employees.

Oh, and we also have a Secret Santa among the 6 of us. It has a $20 max.

Peon (#2,874)

@swampette@twitter Oops, word omission. They didn’t tell me I was expected to give that much, but that’s what everyone else gave.

honey cowl (#1,510)

This. Is. ABSURD. How is it possibly okay for an employee to be pressured into buying a gift for a superior??? If anything, things should be going the opposite way. Maybe I have never had a good boss, but I’ve never felt the desire to give a boss a gift. Ever. The only reason I bought my current supervisor a $15 starbucks card for her birthday is because she gave me a birthday present the week before and I felt guilty.

I am so full of rage at this! How is this okay?!

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Lauren After reading through the comments, I am shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that people even give their coworkers Christmas gifts! I am also part of a 7-person office (though it was about double that when I started 2 years ago) and I can’t imagine the awkwardness if we were to give presents like this. Ugh ugh ugh.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Lauren We do an office pollyanna for the 10 people I work with, and that includes the boss. $25 limit, no gag gifts, no stealing once gifts have been chosen. Can you tell I was in charge this year? I don’t mind doing the pollyanna (I got a crock pot!) because we all get along and $25 is okay. But $100 to the boss? No way!

The bigger issue here is how to change a practice like this. It’s hard to change office culture, especially when you’re new, and even more so when it involves the boss. And we have no idea if the boss secretly hates this and is uncomfortable, or loves it and finds it perfectly appropriate.

Next year, maybe you could suggest that everybody give $25-$50 for the boss’ gift (still too much, but progress), and then any amount on top of that can be given to a charity in the boss’ honor. No need to announce to anybody how large the donation is. It’ll ease the financial burden, and it’s damn near impossible for the boss to complain about a charitable donation without looking like Scrooge.

Ellie (#62)

This is psychotic. I wouldn’t have even given $50! If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. The practice is awful, in general, and I would never give more than $10 no matter how much I loved the boss. Per the above, those who think this is ok, read Ask A Manager.

Ab Fab (#2,905)

I realize I am tardy to the party on this, but I feel SO STRONGLY that employees should not gift their bosses. At any amount of money, but def not at $100.

I started in a brand new office this year (so all new team members), and one of my co-workers sent out an email to see if we all wanted to chip in for a gift for our boss. Thanks to the Ask a Manager posts mentioned above, I had no qualms about dashing off a short, polite reply-all bowing out of participation, stating “business etiquette” as the reason. Everyone else besides the original emailer agreed with me, and all were relieve that someone spoke up.

Maybe everyone else on your team also resents spending that much money on the boss!

(PS – SRSLY your boss should be ashamed of himself. He should be giving something TO YOU.)

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