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There's a weird practice in some companies to collect funds for birthday presents.

It is usually reasoned with "team building", "good fellowship" and stuff like that. It became almost obligatory, and you have to explain yourself every time why you don't wish to participate. Of course, it ruins my reputation since most of the team participate.

To me, it sounds weird, useless, and even harmful because of many reasons:

  • If I sympathize someone and I want to make a present, I will do it by myself;
  • New team members certainly do not sympathize anyone else since they simply did not have time to grow such sympathy;
  • For people working for a long time, the entire thing looks like a useless rotations of your $20 when you invest it first and then get it back as a birthday present;
  • For my own birthday, I want to get an useful something, while corporate presents are often useless;

In addition to birthdays, similar presents occur on "Men's Day" (a day of establishment of a National Army), when all female colleagues present something to male colleagues, and, correspondingly, "Women's Day".

Considering I'm not a top manager who establishes these rules, what are my best options?

UPDATE At the moment, my approach is that I'm following a fictional religion that prevents me to accept the birthday presents. It is weird as well, but no more than the problem. :)


Related: How can I politely decline a team lunch?

  • 8
    "I only buy gifts for family. If I start giving money to buy gifts for everyone on their birthdays, I wouldn't be able to provide gifts for my family on special occasions." (if you receive resistance) "Do you want to tell my little 6 year old niece why Uncle Bytebuster can't get her the Barbie doll that he promised her for her birthday?" Boom. – Mechaflash Oct 19 '12 at 19:15
  • @Mechaflash, that still won't work if people who do contriubte include people who make less than you do. – HLGEM Oct 19 '12 at 21:34
  • @HLGEM - Not sure I agree. Income is just one piece of the puzzle. Perhaps "Uncle Bytebuster" has a mortgage, a lot of credit card bills, other consumer debt, and child support or alimony bills, medical bills, lawyer bills, etc that others might not have. It's incorrect to assume that just because someone has X coming in that they don't have a significant amount of Y going out. – jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 0:27
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    RE:update. Lying to your colleagues is really not a good way of dealing with this. They are going to think you are much worse for that then declining to contribute. – DJClayworth Oct 20 '12 at 15:50
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    Hi @Dunk, no one really plans on the alimony, child support, or medical bills, while consumer debt may have piled up years ago. That doesn't mean we should continue being bad money managers or that we are bad money managers today. Part of getting out of debt is to become an excellent money manager, and the first step to being good at managing one's money is to know exactly where it's all going, and to create -- and stick to -- a budget. – jmort253 Oct 22 '12 at 23:29
15

One thing you might consider, that no one else has mentioned yet, is to talk to your Human Resources department. Many times companies will have policies in place against solicitation without specific approval, and it's possible that this could fall within that category.

One way to avoid being put on the spot could be to see if HR can enforce this policy by sending out an email that highlights any policy on the matter.

For instance, perhaps HR could insist that the people soliciting money must leave an anonymous donation box in the break room. This gives people who wish to participate an opportunity to do so without exposing those who don't wish to do so, for whatever reason.

So, contact HR and ask if there's a policy on solicitation. In most cases, your conversations with HR should be confidential, so even if there is nothing they can do, this could help you avoid looking like the bad guy.

Of course, one challenge is that people seem to like the idea of the whole exercise seeming like a surprise, despite the fact that many people have become very good at remembering the exact date on which they were born. To solve this problem, break the collecting of money up into monthly cycles.

In January, put the donation box in and announce it's for February birthdays. In February, mark it March. Use the money collected for each month for the birthdays that occur in that month. People know when their birthday is coming, so it can't really be that much of a surprise, especially if this is the culture. ;) And if people stop donating, then the whole birthday buying idea just might die altogether, and you still win! Or rather, you're niece wins and gets her barbie doll, without sending Uncle Bytebuster to the poor house! ;)

  • 1
    Then break it up into monthly cycles. In January, put the donation box in and announce it's for February birthdays. In February, mark it March. Use the money collected for each month for the birthdays that occur in that month. People know when their birthday is coming, so it can't really be that much of a surprise, especially if this is the culture. ;) And if people stop donating, then the whole birthday buying idea just might die altogether, and you still win! Or rather, you're niece wins and gets her barbie doll, without sending Uncle Bytebuster to the poor house! ;) – jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 0:46
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    Oh please! This is the kind of thing that gets people a bad name. Calling HR to ban something that really isn't harming anyone. This is the kind of thing that results in everybody sitting in our undecorated corporate standard cubicles giving officially-sanctioned non-discriminatory greetings to each other no more than twice a day. – DJClayworth Oct 20 '12 at 15:54
  • @DJClayworth - You're being a little melodramatic here. I'm not proposing we burn the flag or move to a dictatorship, but I am proposing that people follow what are very likely existing rules about solicitation in the workplace. Most places I've worked at already have policies about this, and none of them are the horrid oppressive places you're describing. You can still say "hi" or "yo wazzup" or whatever you want to, just don't expect me to give you my hard-earned dollars. Everyone wants our money, but no one's rushing to give us more. – jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 19:23
  • @DJClayworth I accepted this answer because it seemed most constructive. If it's the company's decision to make BD presents, let the company find the budget. If they want us to to spend our money, either write it in the contract or let us the way to opt out. An anonymous box is the way to opt out. – bytebuster Oct 21 '12 at 4:44
17

If this is established custom in a workplace, you can't expect to decline and have no social consequence.

Whatever reason you give for declining to participate, people will see you as an outsider, at least on this specific issue. If you are part of other social activities, it may just be chalked up to a personal quirk of yours.

How you politely decline will depend very much on your relationship with whomever does the collections and with the group that the collections are done for - you could use humour (I already gave at the office/home), you can explain your objections in a polite way (I already bought a present / I really don't know x yet).

It is up to you to judge what approach will work best without marking you out as an outsider.

  • Sometimes, a third option applies: I know the person, but I don't sympathize them to that much to make presents. :) – bytebuster Oct 19 '12 at 19:13
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    @bytebuster - Well, that won't come across very well, which is why I didn't include it as a polite / socially acceptable option. – Oded Oct 19 '12 at 19:13
7

I sympathize with your desire not to participate, as a childless, single woman, I can't tell you how many baby and wedding showers I have been asked to contribute to and I don't even ever get a present in return.

But the truth is, there is no graceful way to decline these things and not look like a jerk. If you have accepted a birthday present already, then you truly are obligated to contribute to others. If you haven't, then you still need to make the contribution or you are likely to be very negatively viewed by your colleagues no matter how politiely you decline and no matter if you refuse a present of your own (which it would be VERY RUDE to do after they bought one). If people who make less than you contribute, then you will especially be perceived as entitled and uppity.

So really, you should just budget a small amount for this and then pay up graciously and graciously accept the present in turn and tell people how nice it was. You could try to change the company culture, but, unless a lot of the others hate the custom too, you still come off as a jerk who thinks he is too good for the rest of us.

  • the problem whit that is as you said you may newer get a present in return making it a uncomfortable situation for yourself. Also this isn't case but people expect you magically know when and for what collect funds. What I mean is newer getting a notice about a collect and still getting social backlash. – kifli Jun 13 '17 at 10:17
4

I think the making excuses is making things worse. Just like if a cashier asks for your phone number or zip code, you don't have to give them any reason for not doing it. Or if your boss asks you to consistently work extra hours, the best reply is "Sorry, I can't," with no reason given. No excuse, nothing to argue with.

So, I would probably say something like "the whole gift thing doesn't work for me." If you're really worried about the social consequences, I agree with user856 that you can time this appropriately to help diminish the impact.

2

I think the best solution is to bring this kind of issue up when no one is going around collection. If you do it at that point it seems like you are being cheap, or even worse you dislike the specific person.
If I would do that I would as my birthday comes up. At that time let everyone know that you do not want a present from the company, and you dislike the idea.

By declining a present yourself, you do not seem cheap, or single any person out as not wanting to contribute to.

If not yourself it would be OK to do it if no one's birthday is nearby. Once someone is making the rounds, it is too late, and you must chip in.

This has worked in my personal life, so I would think it would be the same professionally.

  • 1
    Not sure I agree. There are too many forces at work that try to take away our wealth as it is. If you don't want to be part of the 99% of retirees that live on a small, fixed income, or worse, then you need to get good at saying no today. "It's better to give away billions later than millions now." - Warren Buffett – jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 0:33
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    @jort253 - in a perfect world you'll be rewarded for your accomplishments, but in reality, if you don't get along with others, you will hinder your career. Buffet found enough people who recognized his investment talents dispite his personality short-comings; your supervisors may not be so wise. – user8365 Oct 22 '12 at 17:47

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