A situation like this has been happening.

The most senior (say the dean of a faculty or a manager of a company) of the workplace, kind of likes to receive gifts. When there are new members, she looks for a chance and shows her gifts to some others, appreciating those gifts and those who gave them, in front of those new members. She does it with implications in her gestures towards the new members, as if to encourage them – this I can’t explain further because it’s just something which is happening, and not very explicable.

Most of the time, the new members get motivated to give her gifts themselves too. Especially, as she is the dean, they think it might also positively affect their career. Very rarely, (if the new member is very hard up with money only) they will not do so at once.

So she kind of emotionally drives the members to do something she likes. What is this behavior called? I want to know the word which we can use to describe such behaviour, because I need to explain a similar behaviour to explain something important at the workplace, but I can’t use the above example related to gifts.

I'm new to such behaviours at workplaces. So I don't know whether there is a specific word we can use to identify such behaviour (like for instance the word for "malicious talk about someone who is not present" is "backbiting").

Also, is this type of behaviour common in work places?

  • 9
    I don't think there is an English word specifically for what you describe (beyond maybe "abuse or power") but your example seems clear enough. Why can't you use the example? Sep 6, 2023 at 17:59
  • 8
    A more useful question (to you) would be regarding how to handle this situation, rather than finding a word to describe it (although finding a word to describe it is valid as well)
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:07
  • 1
    Thanks a lot @mattfreake it's because it's regarding gifts. Whenever I start talking about this, the person who I need to talk to is a busy professional, so he's going to misunderstand me. Any other similar examples highlighting this type of driving emotionally? That might also help, then I can use that example instead.
    – Hasini
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:08
  • 11
    I'll confess this seems confusing -- You give an example, that you want a word for, so you can describe a different example, that you don't explicate. (Re: "... I can’t use the above example related to gifts") At the very least, I'm left curious what the actual issue is you want to deal with. But if that can't be shared so be it. Sep 6, 2023 at 22:29
  • 9
    Seems to me this would have been a much better fit at English Language & Usage, than here. The fact that you're looking to describe something happening at the workplace is secondary to the fact that you're looking for a word to describe something.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 7, 2023 at 14:57

10 Answers 10


What is this behavior called?

Words that come to mind (I had to google the English version of some as I thought of them in Spanish):

  • Manipulative: As she is manipulating new recruits into gifting her things.

  • Nepotism: (as per Wikipedia def) "the act of granting an advantage, privilege, or position to relatives or close friends in an occupation or field" - perhaps she is not granting positions to the ones that gift things to her (or perhaps yes?) but if she were to then it would fall into nepotism.

And the one I had to translate from Spanish:

  • Influence peddling: "the practice of using one's influence in government or connections with authorities to obtain favours or preferential treatment for another, usually in return for payment. It is also called traffic of influence or trading in influence"

Also, is this type of behaviour common in work places?

This is a "depends" answer. Knowing if this is common or not also serves no practical purpose for you.

However, based on my experience, it's not rare to find people like this in many industries and contexts, even more frequently in positions of power.

Now, regarding the gifts. If you don't want to do it, then don't. You are not forced to gift her things. Perhaps she is manipulative or know how to influence people, so just don't fall for that and dismiss any thoughts or sense of obligation that you have to gift her something.

If she starts to treat you differently or make your life hard or "take revenge" on you because you haven't gifted her anything, then that would be a very clear signal/red flag that she may not be the best boss you could have.

  • 29
    Manipulative is right on, but this isn't nepotism since these are all new hires and presumably not related to the manager.
    – terdon
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:06
  • 1
    @terdon nepotism extends to "close friends" (as per the definition I got searching and wrote)
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 7, 2023 at 18:04
  • 16
    @DarkCygnus Nepotism more describes the case where the manager is giving preferential treatment to people related/known to her, because she knows them and for no other reason. Expecting gifts in exchange for preferential treatment moves out of "nepotism" terrioritory, and more into "soliciting bribes".
    – Player One
    Sep 8, 2023 at 2:43
  • 8
    @PlayerOne I think "soliciting bribes" is a good answer to this question. Sep 8, 2023 at 3:06
  • 1
    @PLL that's an interesting way of putting it. What I mean is that giving a "this is/isnt common" per se serves no purpose unless coupled with advice on what to do (with or without that knowledge). "Yes this is common"..."no this is not common"... now what? But I like the way you phrase it (yes/no is common, now what? accept or push back as you say)
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 8, 2023 at 19:04

It's usually called 'fishing'.

It is common in some locales to remind employees or inform new ones without outright saying so (which would be wrong) that gifts to superiors are expected and noticed.

Particularly in developing or Third World countries it is almost formalised and quite an important part of a superior's income and status. Therefore, it can be career limiting not to give them gifts.

Outsiders would see such gift giving as bribes. And it is, in their context. But it's tradition as well in other contexts and extends well beyond the workplace with its own important social functionality.

  • 3
    It is manipulative peer pressure inducing bribes. The gifts are bribes, if the givers are expecting to change behavior. Whether it is a tradition to bribe in the context, doesn't change the fact it is a bribe.
    – vinnief
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:00
  • 13
    Don't bring my culture into word definitions. a bribe is a word for a gift that one gives to induce behavioral change. Culture, otoh, determines whether this behavior is wished for or frowned upon. Now If you avoid using that word because it has a negative connotation in your culture, that is your right.
    – vinnief
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:36
  • 9
    @vinnief Even in western cultures, it's not a bribe because a bribe requires a discrete quid pro quo and an explicit agreement. The entire reason corporate and government codes of ethics about accepting gifts, meals, etc. from contractors and the like were created was to regulate behaviors that were not technically bribes but which created inherent conflicts of interest.
    – tbrookside
    Sep 7, 2023 at 11:51
  • 4
    Amusingly enough, the closest translation of the word for this in my culture is 'burden' rather than 'bribe'. We do have a word for bribe and extortion, but neither fit.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 8, 2023 at 0:03
  • 14
    @tbrookside: in my (western) culture, bribery does not require quid pro quo, it is sufficient that the briber has the intention to influence behaviour, the attempt is not required to work. (And since this difficult to prove, legislation sanctions already behaviour that could be read by 3rd parties as an attempt to influence.) This is IMHO off topic here, though, since the described situation is not the subordinate initially giving to influence the boss, but rather the boss soliciting "gifts". That is extortion (a "burden" expression makes a lot of sense for this IMHO) rather than bribery. Sep 8, 2023 at 8:30

IMHO (coming from a culture where the described behaviour is a big no-no)

  • abuse of power for the how to press people into giving, and
  • corruption, more precisely extortion for the personal enrichment aspect of the situation

deserve to be listed in an answer and not just in comments - so, thank you commenters who brought them up already.

Emotional blackmailing ("I won't love you if you don't give me gifts") may be a relevant specific technique of manipulation, though the described situation sounds as if the threat may be more tangible action than "only" affecting emotion.

  • 1
    Corruption reads much to strong for the described behavior to me. It also would imply involvement of the outside world into the process in my understanding, not describing something entirely happening inside a company/institution.
    – nick
    Sep 8, 2023 at 13:45
  • 2
    @nick: in my understanding it does involve outside interests. Namely, the boss' private means are not inside to the company/institution, and they act according to private interests where they are supposed to act in the company/institution's interests. But then in my culture the corruption definition for gifts sometimes starts at surprisingly low value. A gift from a single pupil (or its parents) to its school teacher may have a limit at roughly half an hour at minimum wage (As a side note, a dean of a university faculty or a school would usually be a public official where I am) Sep 8, 2023 at 14:32

In general, using emotions to get people to do something without asking them directly is called manipulating. For example, a boss might talk a lot about how going home right on time is technically ok but doesn't show the kind of drive and commitment that staying late shows. And might praise everyone who stayed late. New hires find out quickly they are expected to stay late. Yet the boss can say "I never asked anyone to stay late or punished anyone for not staying late."

In the case of trying to get people to give personal gifts, this is a bigger issue. A manager who can make people enrich the company by working late for free is generally thought of as helping, even in companies that officially support "work life balance". But enriching yourself, by pushing people to spend their own money on person to person gifts, is usually not allowed and not thought well of.

If the behaviour you want to describe is not a matter of personal enrichment like getting a personal gift, find an example that isn't that -- like working late, coming in early, working at home extra hours, or the like. But whatever the behaviour you want to discuss with another person, I would describe hinting, showing off what others have done and praising them for it, and implying that the new people might want to join in as manipulative or manipulating.

  • 11
    +1 And if the behaviour is about using their position to personally enrich themselves, by hinting at preferment of some sort in the workplace, they might be inviting bribes, which would be a form of corruption. Those a strong terms, though, so don't use them unless the example is really relevant.
    – Saes
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:39
  • Thanks a lot @KateGregory this is very very helpful too :)
    – Hasini
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:50
  • Thanks a lot @Saes this is helpful too. much obliged :)
    – Hasini
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:51
  • The one I need to explain is regarding a personal enrichment..
    – Hasini
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:51

The specific action is "eliciting" gifts.

Other answers have good terms for the overall behavior, approach, and moral implications.

  • 1
    It's "eliciting" when it's successful; it's "soliciting" whether or not it actually works.
    – G_B
    Sep 10, 2023 at 1:51

A descriptive term for this approach would be "quid pro quo", which literally means "this for that" in Latin. You could also say, "a favor for a favor". Quid pro quo will always exist in office politics, but it becomes unethical when the favors are rendered as material things per OP's description, or even as sexual favors.


How about 'patronage' ? It was a term used to describe jobs given out to people with the expectation they would then pay a portion of their pay to their benefactor or donate it to selected candidates. Typically it was political and involved government jobs


To my surprise, no one has yet mentioned unethical as the word to use.

NOTE: Ethical codes vary by region.
As an example: The PMP certification(1) says that bribery (very similar concept to the above situation) is not unethical for the Project Manger if, in the country where the business is being done, bribery is 'common'. (That's paraphrased, but it's what I remember from studying for version 4 of the PMP)
Basically, 'if it is a commonly accepted practice in that country, it is not unethical for the PMP to also engage in that practice' (because your projects there would almost certainly fail).
If the 'boss' comes from a place where bribery is common, unethical is not a good word choice.

I'd use one of these three: (in order of accuracy)
• solicitation
• extortion
• unethical behavior (see Note above)

If you think she'll figure out you're talking about her, I'd recommend:
• manipulation

It is still accurate, and probably will offend her, but at least manipulation doesn't imply a crime has been committed.

(1) The PMP is a "Project Management" certification in the USA and other countries


Perhaps this not quite blatant request is one for tribute.

  • 1
    Tribute, like Danegeld? Sep 7, 2023 at 17:45
  • 1
    Close, more aptly "bossgeld".
    – civitas
    Sep 7, 2023 at 19:10
  • 2
    And of course , "once you have paid him the Danegeld/ You never get rid of the Dane" ... Sep 7, 2023 at 21:07

Something like:

  • subliminal persuasion
  • indirect persuasion
  • subtle persuasion
  • soft persuasion

Although I don't think outright showing gift your juniors have given you is very "subtle". Might as well go

And these are all the gifts that juniors LIKE YOU have given me throught the years WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .