The Office Shower As A Business Perk

by admin on March 21, 2013

I work for a relatively mid-sized company of ~100 people, and one of the employees’ wives recently had a baby. Some folks at work decided to throw a baby shower for him and his wife, in the cafe at work over lunch. They sent out the following e-mail (I’ve redacted some information for privacy reasons):

Hi all,

You are cordially invited to a baby shower for:

(Insert co-worker’s name)

Friday @ 11:30 in the cafe

Britney will do the gift shopping. There is an envelope at her desk for money donations (suggestion $5-10).

Since this is a lunch time event, we also request each person bring a food item. Britney has the food list for you to sign up.

Also, please sign the card.

Thank you all. Hope you can join in the celebration.

That e-mail was followed today by two more:

Hi all,

This is a reminder for the (Co-worker’s name) baby shower tomorrow (Friday, 11:30 am).  If you haven’t done so, please go to Britney’s office…Sign the baby card.  Donate gift money.  Sign up for a food item to bring. Let’s wish the to-be-parents well.   Thank you.

And, from another person on the invite list:

Nothing like waiting to last minute….As I myself just donated/signed up.

Over hearing some of the chatter in Britney’s office regarding the ‘lack of involvement’ thus far, I have deemed myself the enforcer of this initiative. Let’s keep this company the family orientated place it once was and support our fellow coworkers. As you can see, not everyone was invited to this. Lets support Coworker and his wife as well as Britney and Regina in taking time out of their busy schedule to coordinate this.

Thanks!

I did not originally notice that not everyone was invited, and after discovering that fact was surprised to see my name on the list at all. I’ve worked here for some time but have really had only passing interactions with Coworker. Am I imagining a little forcefulness here to sign a card/give money? And I’m a little speechless that they’re choosing to hold an exclusive baby shower, in the company cafe, when not everyone was invited to the event.

I’m eager to hear any thoughts you may have. 0314-13

I have been asked this question many times in the past 2 decades and each time I am a little astonished that Human Resources does not seem to have a clear mandate on office parties.

The basic rule is that a company should decide whether celebratory parties such as bridal showers and baby showers are part of the corporate “benefits” for all employees.   In other words, are corporate assets being used to plan and promote a party for an employee?  Assets such as use of the business facility, employee time taken to coordinate the party, use of the email system or inter office mail to invite fellow employees.  If they are, it’s a “perk” that all employees should be given equally.   Limiting the guest list is fine if done logically, like all the employees of a particular department, but randomly inviting most but not all employees is a sure recipe for destruction of morale and resentment when it is realized that some have been excluded from an event that used business resources.   A good manager would have never allowed his staff to deliberately divide his employees into those who rate an invitation and those who do not.    And it should go without saying that if company assets and resources are being used to plan and execute a shower for one employee, the same should be done for ALL employees lest there be a disparity in how employees are treated.

All the above becomes moot however if several employees wish to bless a co-worker with a private party in one of their homes, or at a restaurant and use personal email accounts and personal time to plan, invite and execute the party.    What employees do on their own time is their business and has no bearing on what the corporate policy should be.  But that is not the situation you bring to Ehell’s attention.
I do not believe in coercive invitations which guilt manipulate guests into attending, giving gifts and self catering.   It is no longer an invitation but rather a summons and god forbid if the second email was sent by a supervisor/manager.    One should feel no compunction to accept an invitation to give money to someone they are barely acquainted with.   Particularly if this is a co-worker who you do not socialize with outside of business hours.   If you have never gone to lunch with this co-worker, why would you do so now under the guise of celebrating a profoundly personal life event of a new baby?   All that is required is a hand shake and, “Congratulations on the new baby, Bob!”

This has become more about not offending Britney and Regina, the office coordinators of the baby shower, than it is about blessing the new father.   Both secretaries have bitten off more than they can chew and if this shower is a bust, they look bad and it exposes the perhaps grim reality that maybe the new father isn’t the most beloved employee in the company.  If showers have not been equally distributed to all in employees in the past,  one wonders why two women have taken it upon themselves to plan one.    Office politics being what it is, I would want to be know if there is some ulterior motive.  There is a real danger in not applying the “perk” of celebratory parties to all employees equally.

{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsay March 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I’m with Lisa. HR? I suppose I’m the HR department! I co-own a small gift store of about 16 part-time employees, 2-3 of whom only work one weekend a month. We do a cake or ice cream pie or something for every birthday, and the only 2 babies have been my own. Our manager took up some sort of pool and hosted a shower at her home (all employees and a former coworker were invited) with a lovely card, balloons, and a single baby bag stuffed with all sorts of goodies. It was thoughtful, (I believe) voluntary, and I hope would be repeated if another baby comes for someone else.

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Little Mac March 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Yikes, I can’t blame the OP for bristling at these emails! I also work at an, *ahem*, “family orientated” business. It’s a fairly large corporation, but each department is pretty close-knit and friendly. What we’ve always done for department employees who are retiring, having a baby, getting married, etc. was to first send out an email to EVERYBODY in the department (no picking and choosing), suggesting the idea of celebrating off site at a restaurant or the manager’s house either after our shift or on a weekend. Those who were interested would work together to plan a location, and meals would either be potluck style if it were at a house, or a small cash donation would be made to pay for the party recipient’s meal or gift. Emails were brief and to the point, and if somebody wasn’t interested or able to participate no pressure was put on them to feel otherwise…none of this pushy emails or badgering business. I think it was also helpful to have these parties off-site and removed from the work environment. If your company allows these sort of events, I feel this is the way to do it. I’m fortunate that my coworkers and I have an excellent rappor, and that I work with a well-mannered department!

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lakey March 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Where I worked there was a social committee. And yeah, it was a lot like in the tv show “The Office”. The number of employees was much smaller than for OP’s workplace. There were showers for weddings and babies, farewell parties for people leaving or retiring, flowers for death of a close relative, and on your birthday you brought a treat to share. All of this is fine as long as it is standard and everyone knows what to expect. If enough people feel put upon the policy can be changed. A business with a hundred employees could be a real problem. The collecting for gifts could be a serious burden depending on the number of employees.

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lakey March 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Also, harassing unwilling employees to fork over money doesn’t sound very celebratory to me.

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Kay L March 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I think the problem is twofold. People are not only being asked/told that they must be gfit bearing guests but that they are to host as well!

I think that if someone in an office wants to host a baby shower for someone else they should do that… and bear the responsibility for hosting, I hosted a bridal shower for the fiance of a church employee where we were all volunteers. I paid for all the food, all the decorations and held it in my home. The guest list was extensive and invitations were mailed out. It was a lovely and well attended event with many beautiful gifts going to the young lady.

It was also rather unique apparently because I received many, many inquiries as to what people could bring– a dish to share, cupcakes, etc. It seemed that most people were unfamiliar with a shower they didn’t need to “co host.”

Hosting is a big responsibility and costs money. It seems that some people think that all it requires is sending out emails demanding people bring food.

I think that workplaces should come up with an appropriate form of celebration that does not “tax” people in time or money. Offer something simple like cookies or cupcakes and have people gather or a toast and maybe have a group card. And that’s it! Let the personally expressed good wishes be the celebration, not a particular gift and certainly not a potluck.

A real celebration does not need to be coerced. All one need do is put together a simple opportunity for people to express their congratulations or good wishes and they will rise to the occaision. And it would feel better for all involved. The recipient does not need to feel that it is forecd and people don’t need to be shaken down.

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Anonymous March 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I understand the OP’s pain as I have been invited to a shower for my new boss. I don’t like her. I don’t want to socialize with her. But because I am now her admin, I have to go (and buy her a gift!) or it will be political suicide.

They really need to not have these things in the workplace, IMHO. Uncomfortable feelings all ’round.

In case of the OP, an invitation is not a summons as we often say on this site, and perhaps the organizers missed that. It also struck me that the dad-to-be is one of the organizers as well and that doesn’t sit right w/me either. If I received an invite for a shower for someone I don’t know, don’t socialize with, and asks me to bring food and a gift – I’d say “no” as well, unless it’s a situation like mine.

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Gandalf March 21, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Dear OP,
Not responding to an invitation that asks you to pay money isn’t a faux pas in my book. But I think you should have responded with, “I can’t go because I’ve made a commitment to have lunch with [list of people not invited to the party] that day. And I’ve already picked out something for the parents to be [even if that thing is just a hearty congratulations.]”

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KittyLady March 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I was shocked, when shortly after I started a new job, one of the ladies that worked with me told me that “as I was the secretary for our unit” it was my responsibility to organize a baby shower for one of our coworkers whose wife was pregnant. This rubbed me the wrong way for a variety of reasons…

1) I am NOT a secretary. My job is similar to an administrative assistant, but it is more technical ( a lot of organizing projects and checking calculations).

2) I really dislike both bridal and baby showers. I have never organized one. I have attended a few, but only for people I am really close to.

3) I was not particularly close to this coworker and had never met his wife.

I was rather dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say… so I didn’t say anything at first. I checked with my boss on whether “party planning” was one of my official duties. (It was not). I then just flat out told people that party planning was not something I enjoyed and I would rather not be given the responsiblity. I am not the most assertive person, but I really felt like I needed to make a stand or I would be stuck doing party planning for every birthday, leave-taking, baby birth and wedding in our department.

When I told my husband about this instance he shook his head and joked about how our office was stuck in the 1950s.

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kingsrings March 21, 2013 at 5:39 pm

My first full-time office job, it was an office of about 15 workers. One birthday celebration was held each month for all in that birthday month, and employees were each assigned a month to handle the celebrations. For instance, 2 people were assigned to handle the birthday celebration for the month of March. My next office it was only a few people, so everyone went out to lunch for each birthday on the company’s dime. The next office was problematic in regards to birthdays. We agreed to start celebrating them years after I’d been working there already, but there was a lot of disagreements and fighting about the right way to go about it because my co-workers were acting like big babies. Finally, my boss rightfully put the stop to all birthday celebrations.
I guess there isn’t really any right way to celebrate birthdays and showers in the workplace because someone can always find a problem with how it’s done.

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Marozia March 21, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Only if everybody is invited, then it is acceptable.
Summons’ are not invitations, they are vulgar.
Wish your co-worker ‘congratulations on the new baby’. You are under no obligation to give money especially if you do not interact with co-worker.

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sterling March 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I do think that things are over board and rude in this story but I want to address the idea that HR should be in charge of party planning and pay for it.

I am a state employee. At my office we host birthday parties and showers for everyone and we all pitch in to host. We are not allowed to use any departmental funds for anything. We can’t even buy the department lunch when we have all day training and have to work through lunch.

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Kate March 22, 2013 at 4:28 am

This has caused a few issues in my workplace, too.

My office houses a few staff who work exclusively with corporate stores and a few who work with both corporate and franchise stores. I’m the admin assistant for all staff. Corporate’s policy is to send gift baskets (paid for by the company) to people who are getting married, having a baby or retiring. My old co-worker got married a year ago and absolutely cracked it when he realised he was not technically considered ‘corporate’ and therefore would not be receiving a wedding gift. We were then asked to contribute towards the cost of a gift for him – $25 each. Not a big deal for the bosses, but a fair expense for me on a part-time salary.
I’m getting married in July and I don’t expect a thing! I really don’t think it’s my co-workers’ responsibility to throw me a shower or give me presents.

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The Elf March 22, 2013 at 7:14 am

Sterling, it’s the same for the federal government (unless you work for GSA, apparantly!) You can’t do that sort of thing with taxpayer money, so having a whip-around or a potluck is pretty much the only way to do an office party, unless the boss just out-and-out pays. That’s pricey, so I don’t think a lot of bosses do that!

However, even if HR can’t pay, the idea is still of central organization is still sound. It becomes more fair if one person is in charge of all the “events” and hits every one of the list of kinds of events they will do. Or, to do none at all.

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The Elf March 22, 2013 at 7:21 am

When I was an administrative assistant, one of the admin’s duties was event planning. We had a list of events, plus a weekly staff meeting we bought food for. Let me just say this: I was not a very good admin, and I was the worst at party planning. I tried, but my skills lay elsewhere. Good admins are gold – treasure them! When these events would pop up, I would start to get very anxious about it. Thankfully, my fellow admin excelled at that sort of thing, so we’d trade duties. I’d happily format her documents, and she’d happily throw a baby shower.

The system there was informal but it worked. Whenever somebody had reason to celebrate (not a birthday), a coworker would drop by and mention it to us. We had a stash of cards and menus for catering and a list of what to do for what kind of event, and would plan appropriately. Office gossip being what it is, I don’t think anyone got left out. I hope not!

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The Elf March 22, 2013 at 7:24 am

One final word about asking guests to pay…. Another thing about the federal government is that the employees cannot accept gifts from contractors. But federal and contractors work close together, so it isn’t uncommon for a fed to be invited to a contractor event. To get around the gift thing and keep everything above board, the fed is charged a fee at the door to cover expenses.

It might be rude, but it’s better than being fired for attending a party.

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Flynn Cat March 22, 2013 at 7:33 am

Uh, “orientated” is a word. Oriented is the American (*coughwrongcough*) version.

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Anonymous March 22, 2013 at 8:28 am

@The Elf–If making guests pay/contribute is a necessary evil, then attendance should be absolutely optional.

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Moneyed Out March 22, 2013 at 9:42 am

I wanted to chime in on comment #46 Anonymous- I feel your pain. I work in a company that has 4 buildings/sites in our town. They also have an office in the capital of our state and in another state.
Most of the employees have met or know the owners, but they prefer to keep a low profile. Each year around Christmas, we get several “reminder” emails that corporate is accepting cash donations for the annual Christmas gift to the owners. So you think they buy the owners a present, right? Oh no, no, no. The owners take the cash donations and present them to a local scholarship fund in their name. Sounds like a great, generous thing but I don’t agree. If I wanted to donate to that scholarship, I would. But seeing as how we haven’t had a raise in 6 years, “due to the economy”, it really irritates me that I am expected to donate what little bit of money not spent on bills and necessities to these millionaires so they look good in the eyes of the scholarship folks.

I have the same hard-line feelings about workplace showers/celebrations. If everyone wants to donate a little something and get a cake to celebrate birthdays each month, fine. A little morale building is good. Baby showers and wedding showers is where I draw the line. I have seen too many instances where some people are given lavish showers complete with a sit-down meal and literally hundreds of presents and others get a bowel of chips n’ dip , cake and pack of diapers, or even worse, nothing. That hurts morale. If you are friends with an executive and want to throw them a shower, off-site and off-the-clock, at your expense, go for it. But if you do it on-the-clock and on-site, and expect people to help pay and bring a gift, then I think everyone should be given the same type of shower.

I have been asked to “donate” to every single shower thrown. I usually decline. If I know the person and socialize outside the workplace, I will send them a gift or take them out to lunch or something, but I avoid the workplace shower scene. I have a very straight line sense of right & wrong and when everyone is not treated equally, it really irks me. Just because the girl in the kitchen doesn’t have a high-profile job title doesn’t mean she deserves any less of a shower. If anything, she should get an equal shower because she might really need the items she receives. But that’s just me.

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XH March 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

I don’t think it would be so horrible for OP to sign the card, donate no money, and not attend the party. Signing a card is such a simple thing that it seems kind of insulting to refuse even that small gesture of good cheer.

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Ergala March 22, 2013 at 10:43 am

I hate when not everyone is invited, especially if it’s a small office. At my old job another woman and I were pregnant at the same time and we were due within 2 weeks of each other. Management threw her a shower at work in the backroom where it was just them and her…..I didn’t get a shower at all. My husband worked there too so it was kind of awkward when people asked me if I had a shower as well and I had to say no. Someone did speak up to them and said it was quite unfair to do that, especially since they pulled her off register and made me cover it so she could go back for a private party. I wasn’t on bad terms with management but I later heard that they wrongly assumed my husband and I were well off and didn’t really “need” a shower. Totally wrong in both their assumption and the fact that they thought that was an appropriate train of thought. We were barely scraping by.

At another job they did showers and they went one step further….we all got the card to donate money but only a select few were invited to the catered lunch. So we were all hit up for money to fund this thing but weren’t invited. Figure that one out.

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Barbarian March 22, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I have synthesized a few guidelines from visits to HR websites during the year because of my concerns over this type of thing and learned:

1. Employees should not be asked to contribute to avoid morale problems and the perception of favoritism.
2. As other posters have described, the company should pay for a simple monthly celebration to acknowledge the birthdays, babies, weddings, and other life event for the month with refreshments.
3. The company should send flowers for employee hospitalizations and funerals of their immediate- family-this means all employees and not just certain ones. I worked for one place for 8 yrs and nobody even bothered to spare 15 minutes to select a Dollar Store type get well card when I was at home recuperating from surgery for a week although I did see employee thank-you’s on the bulletin board for flowers and funeral sympathy expressions throughout the year. What a slap in the face after you have gone to numerous wakes, chipped in for gifts and your co-workers and HR manager are so mentally challenged they can’t even do that for you.

3. If employees want something more, it is up to them to organize it off site and off company time. Invitations are fine, but pressuring coworkers to attend or contribute to after hours events is not. If you are in management and you attend these events, you have to attend for all employees or else send a gift and regrets.

I was repeatedly badgered by a coworker last year to RSVP to a website for her baby shower with a gift registry.Invitation included an ultrasound image of the child. I declined once but to keep peace in the office I bought the least expensive baby picture frame I could locate at a crafts store sale and sent it with a card with someone else who went to the shower.That is when I decided enough was enough, and refused to give any more gifts and attend any more events.

I do recall seeing one career advice website column that was horrible-it said that for success on the job, a new employee should keep $20 in cash on hand for these things or coworkers raising funds and expect to spend at least $20 per coworker. I would never want any employee who worked for me to think that if they were to contribute to one of my favorite causes or give me a gif thatt hey would be coerced to do that to keep their job. They have enough pressure as it is with true workplace demands. I respect their spare time and money too much to tolerate a situation like the OP described.

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Kirst March 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I work for a city council. My boss retired last week after nearly 34 years in the same team. No public money was made available to fund any of her workplace farewell, not even to buy a packet of crisps – we funded it ourselves.

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Jenn50 March 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Flynn Cat: Can you cite your source? Because the root word is “0rient”, and the past tense is “Oriented”. Under any English language system I know, the “-ate” is redundant at best, and incorrect. And no, I’m not American.

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Stacey Frith-Smith March 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm

A slightly different view of “oriented” as opposed to “orientated”… http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/11874/oriented-vs-orientated

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Bint March 22, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Jenn50: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientated

I don’t think the American way is wrong, sarcastically or otherwise. I use orientated all the time.

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SS March 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

I worked for a company that would constantly collect money for flowers for weddings or for hospitalizations. I used to donate generously, thinking that it was a nice gesture and knowing that someday I might be on the receiving end and wanted to make sure I was playing fair (both giving as well as receiving). Then when I did get married…. no flowers. And then later I was in the hospital for 4 days. Again no flowers. At that point I stopped donating. I was hurt that no one bothered to do it for me after I had spent several years donating money every few weeks for everyone else.

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SS March 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm

@Jenn50 (and others questioning “orientated”). I took a moment and looked it up on the Oxford dictionary website. That would seem to be more definitive than arguing back and forth over whether something is a word….. http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/orientate?q=orientated

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Michelle C Young March 23, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I haven’t read the comments, yet, so please forgive me if I’m repeating something.

I used to work as a secretary, and was on the party committee. For certain events in employees’ lives, a party was part of our department’s policy, and the committee planned all these official parties. For other events, or for non-employees (temp workers and contractors), the rules were different. We were allowed to have celebrations such as bridal or baby showers for temps or contractors, but they could not be “official.” While an “official” party could take place during regular office hours (usually around 3:00), an unofficial party had to be held during lunch or perhaps after work. Also, while nobody minded using company email to promote an unofficial party, and we could hold it in the break room, our boss made it clear that any such unofficial party could not be advertised by anyone on the party committee, because it would seem to be “official.”

So, if a temp was getting married, they needed a friend to host the bridal shower, at lunchtime, in the break room. Now, we on the party committee generally made sure that there was someone to host such a shower, and we generally showed up to help, but we made certain that none of the communication actually came from US.

The rule pretty much was that if we knew about an impending marriage or baby, and you were in our department, we would have a shower for you, male or female, unless you specifically said you did NOT want one. And everyone in the department, or even in the building, was invited. Flyers were put up, and anyone who showed up was welcome, because people in our department worked with people in lots of other departments, so we never limited the guest list. As for refreshments, we bought a cake, some nuts, and the makings for punch, and if there were a lot of attendees, we handed out small servings, and made it stretch. For smaller parties, everyone got more to eat. We liked to keep it fair.

As for donations – the official parties had a budget, taken from the department kitty of petty cash. Departmental gifts were bought from ANONYMOUS donations, and while everyone was informed about it (ONCE), nobody was ever coerced to give. If the gift amount seemed a bit light when it was time to shop, people on the party committee would often donate a bit extra, to make a good amount, but there was never coercion in our department, and there was always the understanding that some people might not donate to the departmental gift, because they preferred to give their own gift, or not give, at all.

As long as everything was kept on a standard setting (official vs. unofficial and similar budgets), things worked out well. I suppose you could say that our department parties were actual company perks, as our boss certainly looked at them that way. They were good for morale. However, as Admin has pointed out, you have to keep things fairly standard and equal, and above all, maintain transparency on that, so that everyone knows that you are keeping things standard.

I once had someone request that I send out a card and envelope to gather gifts for an employee’s relative, who had graduated. I had to turn her down, because I had never done such a thing for anyone else at the company, it was non-standard, and would cause other employees to ask, “Where’s my graduation gift?”

Since we had an actual committee to deal with these things (also flowers for people in hospital or bereavement), we never had to worry about people missing out. If it were up to only one person, or even two, that could quickly become a problem, if/when that person is the one who should be celebrated. So, I recommend a firm rule, and a minimum of three people in charge of such things. Make it clear what is official, what is unofficial, and what is allowed for both. As long as everything is clear, people will appreciate the perk, and no one will be offended or feel unfairly left out.

OK, off to read the comments now.

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Michelle C Young March 24, 2013 at 12:09 am

As to birthdays and the like – when our department was small, we would have a card go around for each person, and a birthday luncheon each month (the birthday honorees would choose the venue, and the secretary would arrange reservations and car-pooling). The director liked to celebrate such events, as it was a good morale booster. He had arranged things with the management team that they would each donate a set amount to cover the cost of the birthday celebrants, and nobody else in the department was expected to contribute. That tradition was started before I began working there, so I did not witness him making the arrangement, but knowing him, he got their buy-in on the idea at the first. In several years of organizing these luncheons, I never saw one of the managers seem the least bit upset when I had to ask them to donate to the birthday budget, every few months, and none of the lower-level (and lower paid) employees were asked to contribute for birthdays.

When the department grew, and we’d need manager donations every month or so, we changed to email greetings for birthdays, instead of cards, and did away with the birthday luncheon. More people meant more special events, such as bridal showers/baby showers and even retirements, so we were having plenty of celebrations to boost morale, and the luncheons were becoming overkill, as well as a huge hassle to arrange lunch reservations for 50 people in one restaurant. We made sure to make the change at the beginning of the calendar year, so that equality was maintained, and nobody felt slighted that the rule had changed before they enjoyed their birthday lunch and card.

That’s the thing – whether you celebrate or not, as long as you do the same for every member of your department, and make sure that no one feels pressed into donating, it is fine. Also, you have to maintain a balance between morale-boosting celebrations of personal life, and having enough time to actually do your work. And always respect those people who wanted to opt-out of personal celebrations. We had a birthday list, including some blank dates for those who just didn’t want to do that. The point is, we asked *everyone,* and no one was left out.

The whole bit about “not everyone was invited to the office shower” just boggles my mind. I cannot fathom that kind of exclusivity in an environment where success is based on team-work.

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Michelle C Young March 24, 2013 at 12:32 am

Lady – 13 – That spring newsletter and Easter celebration sounds like an HR nightmare.

Office celebrations are a great way to keep people’s spirits up, especially in a high-stress environment. However, you have to be as inclusive as possible, as well as being careful not to over-do it.

Also, I shudder at the comments talking about mandatory involvement. An office party (for whatever reason) should be open to all, with no forced attendance. Plenty of people will want to come, but be unable to attend at that time, due to project deadlines and meetings. Other people won’t want to come. Some people will come, even if they don’t know the person, because it’s a much-needed break, and other will come because they genuinely care about the person. Gifts should be strictly optional, and only for showers. Mandatory parties? Ridiculous!

And these “suggested amounts” just get my goat. I’ve been so poor I was looking for change in a parking lot, just so I could afford to do laundry, and I’ve lived on a $10 a week grocery budget (thank goodness for my stock of flour, so I could bake bread to get by), so I know how hard it can be. Sometimes, all you can manage is to sign the card, and then only if someone else provided the card. That is why all donations should be strictly voluntary and anonymous.

These things are supposed to BOOST morale, not destroy it. If you can’t keep such celebrations positive and inclusive, it is best not to do them, at all.

Birthday, baby, wedding and holiday celebrations are, to my mind, simply convenient reasons to have a morale-boosting celebration. They serve to keep employee spirits up, to give them a chance to unwind a bit, from stressful jobs that can be quite taxing. But if you can’t keep things equitable and positive, then it’s time to ban such events, and look for other ways to boost employee morale. Maybe a “Hump Day” Cookies party, or “Dog Days of August” ice cream social. There doesn’t have to be a specific reason, other than the fact that you’re working with human beings, who need an outlet to cut loose for an hour or two, from time to time, and to feel that their employers recognize them as valuable human beings, and not just cogs in a business machine. It’s all about the humanizing factor, and respect.

All in all, I’m glad I’m out of the office politics, now.

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Michelle C Young March 24, 2013 at 12:43 am

One last comment – I just had to respond to the person who said this baby shower was for some non-employee the people had never met.

In an office environment, if baby showers are held, they ought to be held for males, as well as females (same with bridal showers). Men will become fathers when their wives/girlfriends have a baby, and you are throwing the shower for the parent who is your co-worker, to show your support at this life-changing event. For a wedding, you throw the party for the bride OR the groom, to show support at this life-changing event.

Now, plenty of men will opt-out of a shower, because they don’t feel comfortable with it, and that’s OK, too, so long as it is that person’s choice. In fact, I recall many instances of women declining the celebration. They just wanted to keep things on the down-low, so they asked for no party, no cake, not even a card, and if that’s what they want, that is what should be done.

If your male co-worker is expecting a baby, or getting married, and someone throws them a party, please don’t decline just because you don’t know the female part of the equation. Offer your congratulations to the co-worker you know, and choose to attend/participate, or not, as you wish.

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Michelle C Young March 24, 2013 at 12:58 am

Skyline: “I like what one of the other (much larger) departments we are affiliated with does–once a month, they buy in a large cake and have a 20-minute celebration in the boardroom acknowledging everyone’s milestones that month, from birthdays, to babies, to getting a new degree.”

I have to say, this sounds like a fantastic idea. A monthly get-together, where you can relax for a bit, chat a bit, enjoy a piece of cake, and then go on your way. No pressure, easy to plan, easy to schedule, and absolutely equitable. It gives a boost to morale, while maintaining a good amount of momentum at work, and no one feels put-upon, excluded, or forced. It helps to make people feel appreciated as human beings, while maintaining the idea that this is a workplace, and not a social club.

Really, the more I think about it, the better I like it.

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Angel March 24, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I don’t think these types of “celebrations” aka, forced socialization and officewide shakedowns, have any place in an office or other place of business. I would ignore the emails without a second thought. Especially if I know that not everyone in the office is invited.

I think that what some people fail to recognize or to understand is that coworkers are coworkers, and friends are friends. Unless it is a tiny family business and you have known your coworkers for many years, and have developed a relationship with them outside of the office–there is no need to celebrate milestones with them in the office. And if you are close enough to them, invite them to a bridal/baby shower/birthday party OUTSIDE of the office. This way you can pick and choose who you want there.

Honestly I don’t get why people can’t understand this. And why so many companies hang onto this tradition. Ugh.

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The Elf March 25, 2013 at 9:25 am

Angel, they do it because, if it is done right, parties do boost morale and promote working as a team.

And I say this as someone who is decidedly not a team player, who isn’t much of a partier, and who maintains a work-is-work and fun-is-fun atmosphere. Special events and celebrations make a difference.

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