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I'm part of small organization and this more or less represents my position in the org structure in my part of the company

Bob(3)/
    Me(1)/
    Alice(2)/
        Sam(1.5)/
            Person1/
            .
            .
        John(1)/
        James(1)/
        Joe(1)/
            Intern-1(0)

Because Alice's team are the devs and I am an internal tools and infra guy I am not in Alice team but report to Bob, but Alice is something like my dotted line boss. She tracks my deliverables and I attend her team's meetings

Recently, our office took part in some holiday activities. One of which was a gift game that has gained popularity in recent years, called "White Elephant". (Think secret santa but as a game - at the end everyone has a gift and you need to send the gift you contribute to the person who won it).

The key difference is that this game was played remotely, and the people that are to exchange gifts are to sort the delivery by themselves.

One of my colleagues was off this week, which also happened to be the last week of an intern he was mentoring. So I was unofficially (asked to by the colleague who was away) to help his intern with any issues while he was away. The intern expressed a desire to participate in the White Elephant game. I told him that as an intern he had no obligation to participate or buy anything, and even if he did I asked to keep it small considering he was just a kid.

However after seeing the 20-40$ gifts others were planning to buy he went ahead bought a 40$ gift. After the game was over another senior colleague of mine, say Sam, decided not actually follow through with the gift he was supposed to buy. The recipient of Sam's gift was supposed to be the intern and of the intern's gift was supposed to be Sam. Sam doesn't seem to care that he's breaking the rules of the game and he just blew off the whole idea without a thought and is going about his day, eventhough he just got a 40$ gift from the intern!

The intern never got his gift and I feel terrible about it, also I don't think it's right what Sam is doing. However how do you even complain about something like this? I don't want to create office drama and I have half a mind to just buy the intern something.

But I'm also worried that doing so would make Sam look bad and he might take offense to it. I am also unsure if I should approach him to make him see why what he did is wrong. I also don't know if I should talk to Alice or Bob about it and risk talking about something that could be construed as silly to someone's manager.

How do I do right by the intern?

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  • I suppose everybody from Alice's team + you + the intern were on the exchange... did everyone of them witness Sam deciding not to follow the game rules? That is, how do you know Sam decided not to give the gift to the intern? Who else saw that? – DarkCygnus Dec 16 '20 at 23:53
  • Also, what happened to Sam's gift... somebody should have received it. The rules of white elefant say that everybody should have a gift by the end... – DarkCygnus Dec 17 '20 at 0:03
  • 2
    Since we played virtually you just upload a pic of what you want to gift and the gifters and giftees are expected to sort out the logistics of how to ship and get the gifts between themselves after the game is played . TL;DR virtual white elephant ends with a promise of a gift. not actual gifts in your hands. If this had been in person white elephant sam could never have done what he did since he would have had to have a gift box, but since this was virtual nobody could see this after the fact. I only know because the intern told me – user87777 Dec 17 '20 at 0:13
  • I see.. so this means that the gifts are not yet shipped or sent, so the intern still has their gift? – DarkCygnus Dec 17 '20 at 0:16
  • the intern promptly shipped his gift after the game, Sam has done nothing and didn't share any details with the intern, never asked for his address and I am 100% sure that Sam does not intend to buy or ship his gift – user87777 Dec 17 '20 at 0:17
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But I'm also worried that doing so would make Sam look bad and he might take offense to it.

The truth is that Sam already made himself look bad by not abiding to the game rules and dynamic in general, and by leaving a intern without a gift while taking the gift from the intern... talk about Christmas spirit huh...

Based on your description of what happened, seems that the intern told you about this personally. Given that you are covering for your coworker who actually supervises the intern, I would suggest that you make him aware of this situation ASAP. This person (Joe?) will then have to decide what to do with this information. If Joe is not available in any way, then you should tell about this to Alice, whom will then decide how to handle this.

I'd also suggest to tell the Intern to give their address to Sam, regardless that they haven't asked for it. If this is not done then Sam will have an excuse for not having sent the gift.

I am also unsure if I should approach him to make him see why what he did is wrong. I also don't know if I should talk to Alice or Bob about it and risk talking about something that could be construed as silly to someone's manager.

Based on the diagram you drew, seems you are not Sam's manager, so technically it's not your job to manage him or to approach him to talk. That should be up to Alice to handle.

Also, I would not suggest escalating this to Bob, unless you are willing to take the consequences (creating "drama", damaging your relationship with Sam, doing Alice's job unsolicited, etc.).

Finally, even though what you intend to do and your reaction to this situation is quite understandable and kind from your part, you are in no obligation to buy the intern a gift... If you want to do it, or you want to buy this intern a coffee or something "in compensation", go for it, you'll surely make this intern's day and perhaps mend Sam's fault.

3
  • Echoing my previous comment - Since we played virtually you just upload a pic of what you want to gift and the gifters and giftees are expected to sort out the logistics of how to ship and get the gifts between themselves after the game is played . TL;DR virtual white elephant ends with a promise of a gift. not actual gifts in your hands. If this had been in person white elephant sam could never have done what he did since he would have had to have a gift box, but since this was virtual nobody could see this after the fact. I only know because the intern told me. we played virtually – user87777 Dec 17 '20 at 0:14
  • 1
    Editing my answer as your new details change the Scenario greatly – DarkCygnus Dec 17 '20 at 0:19
  • @user87777 edited my answer... will clean some comments on your post to keep things tidy – DarkCygnus Dec 17 '20 at 0:27
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Who was in charge of running the exchange?

That person should be responsible for dealing with anyone exploiting another participant.

1
  • The exchange was done remotely, so it was not possible to moderate the exchange in real time nor physically... as per OP's comments – DarkCygnus Dec 17 '20 at 18:34
1

I don't want to create office drama and I have half a mind to just buy the intern something.

Yes. Do this.

But I'm also worried that doing so would make Sam look bad and he might take offense to it.

Sam made himself look bad. If he takes offense it's because he recognizes his poor behavior. He should be embarrassed (and personally I'd be ashamed of myself for such behavior).

1
  • I might even suggest a little white lie, say you exchanged person(s) with Sam. As for the reason, you keep office politics in house, and give an intern a gift. You should keep the issue of the gift in house though. – Donald Dec 17 '20 at 16:38
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The fact that Sam would promise a gift and not follow through is clearly distasteful and, frankly, strange. The point of having a gift exchange should be to build comradery between peers and to have fun, not so much to make off with cool stuff. This is especially true with White Elephant, which according to the link you shared is meant "to entertain party-goers rather than to gain a genuinely valuable or highly sought-after item."

I don't know why Sam would engage in such ridiculous behavior but it's not your place to discipline him or make things right with the intern. I would make Alice aware of the situation if she isn't already and let her handle it. If you really feel obliged to make things right by getting a gift for the intern, wait until next week when the internship is over and then send him whatever you want. Since he'll no longer be an employee of the company, there shouldn't be any office politics or ethical constraints for you to worry about. You'll just be a person buying a gift for an acquaintance.

0

Talk to Sam in private and give him feedback

Even though the game was played in your work environment, several facts suggest that this is a private event: participation was optional, employees bought gifts with their own money, ... As for other non-work problems that happen in a work environment (e.g. somebody ate your lunch), I would handle this on my own. Therefore I explicitly disagree with other answers which suggest to report it to Sam's manager. Only if this behaviour is shown more often and is affecting the office mood, I would take it to the manager. Reporting it could create exactly the drama you want to avoid.

I would talk to Sam one to one and tell him that I got aware that the intern didn't receive any gift from him. First ask if he forgot about it, so he could fix it to avoid the blame. If not, I would make Sam aware that I feel this is unfair and in my opinion he should either return his gift or send the one he promised. If you do this, ensure that he recognizes this as your personal opinion and that you will not bring it up again if he decides to do nothing, especially not at work. Based on the outcome decide if you want to compensate the intern and never bring it up again.

In the end this is Sam's private decision and you can't force him.

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