Spending Money on Coworkers over the Holidays

by TTMK on November 7, 2013 · 12 comments

gifts for coworkersWhen we go to work, most of us aren’t doing it for free.  No matter how much we enjoy our job, there could probably be any number of things we could otherwise do with our days if money wasn’t an object.  We are there to make money!

If the workplace serves the purpose of providing us with income in exchange for our time and services, it stands to reason that we’re usually not expecting to spend money on work.  Depending on where a person works, that might change up a bit around the holidays.

I’ve had to spend money on coworkers on a few occasions around the holidays.  There were 2 places I’ve worked where this was the case.  The first one was totally cool – it was understood that we would buy a modest gift of up to $25.  This was a totally expected expense.  Then, we would play a game to determine which gift each person got.  The gifts were usually of the alcoholic variety – think wine bottles, whiskey, etc.  This made for a spirited (haha) holiday party, even though we didn’t actually drink anything there.

Another time, there was a hastily organized holiday party that was given to the department.  Apparently, a decision was authorized by someone at a higher level in the organization that the managers would foot the bill for the get-together, which was basically lunch and desserts for the whole group.  It was positioned as a holiday “appreciation” party for the staff.  Keep in mind that in my case, I was technically a manager but didn’t have any direct reports in that role.

After the party, I was approached with this bit of news (paraphrased): “oh, by the way, your share is $78”. 

Each of the other managers had staff, but in my role I didn’t.  Yet, I was expected to chip in.  They were singled out and acknowledged as having organized the party, and given a verbal “thank you” in front of the broader department.

So, what do you do in this case?

I’m glad that we all had a decent time, but it was not fair that I should have to pay for this, given I didn’t have staff and didn’t get acknowledged for it.  However, you just can’t whine about stuff like this at work.  While I would have been justified, I knew that it would make a person in my position seem like some kind of scrooge by complaining in any way about a holiday party.  One’s reputation in workplace is important.

So yes, I did contribute without saying anything about it.

But I still remember the experience.  And now realize that sometimes, over the holidays, you just might have to spend some money at work whether or not you expect to or want to.   If you budget, I suggest factoring in some kind of unexpected holiday expense for work-related gifts.   Consider it a cost of doing business, and just have some fun with it.

My Questions for You

Have you ever spent money on coworkers over the holidays?

If so, is it all purely voluntary or equal? Or, has it been unexpected and/or unequal?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

AverageJoe November 7, 2013 at 7:30 am

That’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t have said anything immediately, but later I would have brought it up (maybe the following October) so that I could proactively head off the charge toward my wallet.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

Yes, I handled it the same way. I was out of there before the next holiday season, so it never came up again!

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Money Beagle November 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

That’s annoying.

Our group does a holiday gift exchange but it’s optional. I used to participate but one year I got stuck with the worst gift ever, they were dipping sauces for bread that were kind of gross, and I saw that the Best By date had passed. They were obviously a re-gift. I don’t know who it was but it soured me so much that I vowed never to participate as long as I’m part of this group on the off chance that I would ever again have to receive one of this persons thoughtless and mediocre gifts.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 10:41 am

Wow, that’s not cool that they regifted expired food. Did you bring it up with the group, or make light of it (with a purpose)? That person was hardly in the holiday spirit!!

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Money Beagle November 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

No, I figured it would make me look petty above anything else. They know what they did.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 8:36 pm

I think that was a smart move. It’s the approach I felt I had to take when pushed into contributing for the department, even if a bit of a different context.

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Michelle November 7, 2013 at 10:35 am

When I was a music teacher, I was expected to participate in a “Secret Santa” even though I was only teaching less than half time. We had to buy three gifts totaling around $50. I was BEYOND mad. I love the holidays and gift giving, but not when it is forced upon me and certainly not when I am forced to give gifts to people I only see for about 10 seconds, two days a week. I ended up just giving Starbucks gift cards while the person giving me gifts gave me socks, hand lotion, and a little figurine of a cat playing the piano… ugh.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 10:36 am

Well, you took the high road and that’s probably the best approach in the long run. As far as the gifts you got, why do some people actually give people socks, lotion, and stupid figurines? I wonder what they’re thinking, and why they think that’s a good use of anyone’s money.

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Michael November 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

Frustrating, but I would have probably done the same as you — chipped in to defray the cost in the name of keeping the peace in the workplace.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 10:32 am

Probably all one could do in those circumstances at that time. An example of why we have to expect the unexpected. That said, it’s something to keep in mind for the next year!

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Little House November 8, 2013 at 8:39 am

I have spent money on coworkers over the holidays. In most cases, it was voluntary, but I keep it low-cost by either giving a gift of food for the day (bagels and coffee), or a home made gift. The school I’m at now looks like it does Secret Santa, so I’ll probably participate.

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TTMK November 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

That seems like a very reasonable and nice way to do it. Particularly given that it was often voluntary as you said.

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