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Sometimes some outside companies come to my company to discuss whatever they discuss, and they have huge meetings with lots of swag. As someone who works close to the team that handles these, there is often plenty of leftover swag from the meetings, such as merchandise (t-shirts, water bottles, keychains, lanyards, etc), food, drinks, etc.

The other day I brought a few t-shirts and water bottles back to my family, since it had been nearly 1 week since the meeting with the company was held, but my wife told me it'd be a bad idea to take them, since it would look bad on my part. I had asked my managers before whether or not it was okay to take one (as they handled the meeting) and they said it would be fine.

So I'm not too sure on this. Is it acceptable to take free swag from the office? Is it better to be modest and not take anything?

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    Really depends on the culture of that particular business. Ask manglement -- and yes, if you want to take three, ask if you can take three, not one (or ask what a reasonable number is). – keshlam Nov 11 '14 at 23:49
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    Just making sure I understand this. A company (not yours) brings stuff in to give away; and there is generally left over stuff sitting around somewhere? If that's the case, then I'd find it hard to believe that anyone would care if you took 1 t-shirt or 100. The purpose of a t-shirt is advertisement. If it's in a box then it's a waste of money. – NotMe Nov 11 '14 at 23:53
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    If your wife said so then it's true. That's not sarcasm - I've been married for long enough to know that "yes dear" and "you're right dear" are words to live by ;) That said, from your company's perspective - they'd likely be happy to not have to store a box of someone else's stuff and would be happy to see it disappear. – NotMe Nov 11 '14 at 23:55
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    If those tshirts aren't for the kids of employees, then what are they for? The company has no use for them and they usually look tacky on employees. – RemcoGerlich Nov 12 '14 at 9:53
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    Generally speaking, if you asked your manager and they said it was ok... then you're covered, at least with the company. The wife may be a different story, though. ;-P – Omegacron May 20 '15 at 19:27
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So I'm not too sure on this. Is it acceptable to take free swag from the office? Is it better to be modest and not take anything?

Make sure you check your company policies.

Some companies have very specific policies related to gifts. Smaller companies are more likely to be looser but larger companies may have very specific policies related to receiving free gifts. These may be instituted to avoid bribery/conflicts of interest.

At my company, I would likely not be allowed to receive any of these gifts from outside vendors. We have a relatively low limit on the dollar value of the gifts. Recently someone from an outside company went out for lunch with myself and some coworkers - we are not allowed for them to buy us lunch, for example.

I suggest a conversation with your boss like "hey boss, does Acme Co have a policy regarding gifts? If no one wants these leftovers I'd love to give them to my kids."

You'll get your answer pretty quickly and also make sure your boss at least knows about why you are taking all the free stuff. Both are good.

You could potentially also start a "for the family" pile for others to also do this, then you won't come across as hoarding it all.

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If your managers approved, then it should be fine with the following caveats:

1) If you give (or are perceived to give) favorable treatment to the companies who provide the swag, that could be construed as bribery

2) Many companies have an upper limit on the value of merchandise that can be accepted by employees to avoid the perception of impropriety.

  • A manager may say go ahead and take it, but still think the person is a little greedy/needy. – user8365 Nov 12 '14 at 8:41
  • A small change might fix that: Suggest you handle to hand it out, share with co-workers so that everybody gets something (maybe in the long run "You're on my list for the next round") – Martijn Nov 12 '14 at 10:30
  • Private commerce is far from public service, and I'm pretty sure "bribery" is generally considered to be perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. Otherwise, what's the point of the swag in the first place? Brightening up the days of industry peers? – tjbtech May 5 '17 at 22:53
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It's always better to make a point of asking for permission to take, if in doubt. If I wanted to take more than one, I'll put on my cheesiest smile and ask point-blank "is it OK if I scavenge a few so that I don't look like a cheapskate(*) to friends and family? :)" And make it clear through body language and whatnot that you'll graciously "no" for an answer. In summary, you're not afraid to ask, you're not afraid to take "no" for an answer and you'll say "thank you" either way. It's really not complicated.

Even if the company policy allows you to take it, it always looks better to make a show of courtesy and restraint and ask ... and start looting the town the minute they say "yes" :

(*) friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances all know I am a cheapskate - I just don't want to look like one :)

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You ask "is it ok", which implies ethical considerations.

What you really mean, I think, is "will people look down on me for this", probably in the sense of "being cheap". That depends on the culture of your office, primarily.

Are other people in your office taking stuff home? If so, as long as you're not taking shopping carts of it off, you should be ok.

If people aren't taking it, then ask your manager if he/she minds if you take what ever you plan to take. You indicate you asked about "one tshirt", but you appear to have brought enough for the family. If you're going to bring 3 t-shirts and 2 water bottles back, ask if it is ok to bring 3 t-shirts and 2 water bottles back. Don't ask for "one" and take "many".

If you were only taking one piece, then I don't think you'd even need to ask a manager (but it would be a good idea to do so).

At the end of the day, asking your managers if you can take many t-shirts and water bottles might come across as being a bit cheap, but this is only in my opinion. Note that if many other non-swag related people are taking arm loads of swag back, then I don't think it is an issue at all (because everybody is going to appear cheap).

However, I think your wife might be onto something here. It's not about modesty and ethics and whatnot, it's about the image you're projecting in the office, and how that bears on you. I don't think appearing cheap is a good look.

  • I'm definitely not taking mountains of gear back home with me, it's just a few (one for the kid, one for myself, sometimes one for the wife), and I don't do this very often. – yuritsuki Nov 11 '14 at 23:46
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    @forlornpaperwork is it worth possibly irritating your wife and maybe looking "odd" (cheap is too strong, but i'm not a thesaurus) for swag from random companies? – bharal Nov 11 '14 at 23:48
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    Fair point, angering my significant other isn't worth a few water bottles and such. – yuritsuki Nov 11 '14 at 23:55
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    Hmmm, what is the swag for? Is it not for people to take? I'm looking around my office and I see a magnifying glass, hand sanitizer, a stress ball, pens, a backpack, a coaster, a cozy and a couple of technical books geared towards a specific product. All of which are swag. I never once looked at having any of it as being "cheap", nor has anyone else mentioned anything along those lines. You have to be a real "snob" to think that accepting advertising material that you can actually make use of is being "cheap". In fact, the swag is doing its job, I am reminded of each of those companies. – Dunk Nov 12 '14 at 22:32
  • @Dunk easy Mr McDuck. – bharal Nov 13 '14 at 1:00

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