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A low-level employee who has worked in my office for several years is leaving soon. This person has explicitly communicated that a very generous gift is expected because a manager who left the company recently received (from that manager's boss) a very generous gift.

Recently, a work friend of the departing employee circulated an email soliciting donations for this person's going-away gift. I am a hard no on contributing to this gift, and I know for a fact that other office members are as well (in terms of "confirmed no", it's a large minority of the office). Reasons for this refusal vary, but the two primary ones are:

1) There is no precedent for this in the office. In the past, gifts are given by the boss of the departing employee (if anyone), not coworkers.

2) This person is a polarizing figure in the office and has been directly involved office conflicts that have left lasting hurt feelings for some. Many of these conflicts have arisen due to serious job performance issues on the part of the person who is departing.

Reason (2) is by far the more relevant issue here for those resisting contribution.

Other possibly relevant context:

  • This person is leaving voluntarily to take another job
  • This person occupies a lower level position in the office and has worked in support of various other office members at times (e.g. providing administrative support), but only one person is this person's "boss" and has acted as his/her manager.
  • Most people in the office do make more money than the person who is departing, but in some cases the amount difference is small. Those that received administrative support from the person departing generally make a fair amount more in salary.
  • In order to meet the demand/request for a "very generous gift" (matching the one referenced), the average contribution would need to be around $20 per person.

My question is whether it is acceptable to ignore this request for contribution, and whether there are any etiquette issues I may be overlooking. Would it be easier to succumb to this peer pressure even if one opposes the idea of giving this person a gift in general? Would a reasonable compromise be to give a very small contribution (e.g. $5)?

Edit: I am a "hard no", but I was asking in greater generality about how one may approach a situation like this where they do not want to contribute but feel some external pressure to do so. Another thing I was asking was whether it was "unwise" to refuse contribution in a situation like this or if it would otherwise be a poor navigation of the workplace to just refuse and be open and public about your refusal.

  • Note that the $20 per person is an overall average assuming everyone contributed exactly the same. If restricted to only the "higher level" people (which happen to include some of those who are hard no's for the reasons I said), the contribution would need double that or more. – user81448 Jan 7 '18 at 5:26
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    What are you actually asking here? Gifts are by nature voluntary and factors that can change that (repeated requests to contribute, someone with management authority over you demanding contributions) aren't present. You don't seem to be asking about the general coworker gift culture but you are proposing a compromise right after saying contributing is a "hard no" for you so I'm quite puzzled here. Are you after a professional way to simply say no? (Which I'd personally suggest doing.) A way to push back publicly against the request to avoid starting a pattern? Something else? – Lilienthal Jan 7 '18 at 8:57
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    This is probably close enough to a duplicate of How do I politely decline contributing to boss's Christmas present? We usually prefer questions that asks how to do something, not what to do, as the trade-offs in the decision of what to do largely comes down to yourself. – Dukeling Jan 7 '18 at 9:53
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    I have approved the edit to this post from an 'anonymous user' because it was obviously the OP. @parting_gift: 1) if you edit your post make sure you are logged in, and 2) it's best to answer a comment with a comment and update your question at the same time without addressing anyone specifically. – Jan Doggen Jan 7 '18 at 10:10
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    Personally, I would just delete the email requesting donations. I would be very surprised if the person doing the soliciting actually chased you down to get an answer, and if they did, just be polite but honest and tell them you won't be contributing. – Steve-O Jan 7 '18 at 22:42
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My understanding of office etiquette is that "explicitly communicating" you want a "very generous" gift when leaving your job is already a breach of etiquette. It's like a person who's having a birthday party telling everyone they need to provide gifts that are at least the cost of everyone else's gifts on their birthdays.

My general approach to such severe breaches of etiquette is that there is no need to uphold standard etiquette in this case (if you consider it is standard to donate to a going-away gift). Etiquette is essentially a set of societal rules telling each of us how to behave appropriately. Once a person has shown they do not believe in abiding by those rules, I don't find it necessary to give them the advantages that fall to those that do abide by the rules.

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I don't see the "peer pressure" to contribute here -- most of your peers are hard against contributing to the gift.

A compromise amount is a bad idea because it sends the signal that you're okay with a random co-worker demanding your money for his purpose.

You could simply ignore this arrant nonsense and get on with your life.

If that path leaves you dissatisfied or yearning for closure, then you should respond to the soliciting email with an explanation of why you will not be contributing and why you think no one else should contribute either. Use the reasons you give in your question, and any others you can think of. Don't hold back. Your tone should probably be at least slightly indignant.

Use the "reply-all" button.

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Who is responsible for organizing the gifts? Go to him/her and talk to him/her about the situation. If you don't like the coworker, then don't make an expensive gift.

If you reply to the email of the friend, then explain that obviously the gift may also depend on the time in the group and how valued the colleague leaving was.

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A leaving present is a present. You contribute exactly as much as you want. It seems that you want to contribute nothing, so that's what you should contribute.

If you are glad that this person leaves, and if that opinion doesn't make you stand out negatively, then that is a good reason to not contribute. If it's not an opinion that you want to announce openly, then you can say something like "I personally never got on with X, and I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I won't contribute".

PS $20 per person (about £15) seems like an awful lot of money for a leaving present.

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