My job is nickle and diming me to death

Greetings Evil HR Lady,

I’m having an issue at my job, and I need your advice. I’m a new and just out of school, so I don’t make as much money as the  other administrators in the building. Since I started my job August 2014 I’ve been asked to donate $10 to the for my direct boss’s birthday, $20 for the department head’s birthday, $20 for the director’s surprise party for being voted “employee of the year,” and lastly $10 for a co-worker who received an award. I just met these people in August so they aren’t friends/loved ones, they’re just associates. Not to mention I graduated from grad school May 2013 and I’m just landing a job. I’m digging myself out debt, and every penny I make I’m using it to gain financial freedom. I have voiced this to the other administrators, but their response is, “well can you give $10” or “that’s not a lot of money.” I’m tried of this crap, please advise!!!!!

I wish I could fix this problem once and for all. I have no problem with office collections for various things–many people are happy to give and many people enjoy them. What I have a problem with is other people assuming they have a right to your money.

See, for some people, $20 is not a really big deal, and since it’s not, they should happily donate $20 to the gift fund if they want to give someone a gift. But, these people sometimes forget that $20 is a big deal for other people. And here’s the real kicker–just because you know somebody’s paycheck doesn’t give you insight into their actual financial situation. Someone making $20,000 a year may have a spouse that makes $100,000, while someone else making $40,000 a year may be the sole income for a family, have a mortgage, car payment and student loans. So, even with twice the salary, a $20 gift is a big deal.

I’d like to solve your problem by passive aggressive ways, such as you sending me an email with all their Twitter handles, and then I could tweet this article at them. ” Thought you might need this! Thx, bye!” Hmmm, maybe that’s a service I can start offering. “Hey, this article applies to you!” I’ll be rich!

Ahem, anyway. I’d prefer it if companies would institute policies where for group gifts, they pass around a card for EVERYONE to sign and anyone who wants to throw in $10 can. At the end, the gift is purchased based on the money received and every0ne in the department gets equal credit, regardless of whether or not they donated. “But!” I hear the self-appointed gift coordinators (and sometimes the boss appointed gift coordinators) complaining, “But, then we’d get $2.95 and a stick of old gum for birthday presents!”  That’s right and that should be a clue that maybe we shouldn’t be doing presents in the office. “And what,” they say in collective horror, “do we do if we gather $100 for John’s employee of the year party, and only $30 for Susan’s?” Again, a hint. People don’t want to do this and are only doing it because they are forced to do.

Here’s another thing wrong with the scenario you described above: You keep getting asked to buy presents for your bosses. This is not appropriate and the bosses should be putting a stop to it. Now, I can kind of see that the director being named employee of the year is a big deal if it’s a big company and it’s a real, honest, award. But, again, if the company thinks he’s so awesome, they should spring for a cake. (Chocolate, maybe with raspberry filling, although, really brownies are always a better choice for any part I’m invited to you.)

But, none of this helps you because you aren’t the decision maker and you are new here. So, you need to play some politics. Ask yourself, “What will happen if I don’t contribute?” This is a serious question, because in some cases, you don’t contribute no one will really care, but, in other cases, you run the risk of offending the party coordinator, who happens to have an inexplicable amount of power. She will make your life a living hell.

Most likely things will lie somewhere in the middle and it might work to have a private conversation with the party coordinator. Try this, “Jane, I’m really glad that Heather won this award. However, I am on a strict budget–student loans, you know, and I just don’t have the spare cash for a present. I’d be happy to help decorate or something, but I’m out of cash.” If she tries to pressure you to “pay her later,” the response should be, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

The reality is, people like this might push you for a reason, and even though you have great ones (new to the workforce, student loans, don’t know these people well) you shouldn’t be required to give one. You can channel Miss Manners, “I’m sorry, it won’t be possible.”  “Because it won’t be possible.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

If there’s another newby on staff, you might be able to pull her into this protest with you.

And a note to all bosses and party coordinators: stop this. And if you’re the boss, stop accepting, encouraging or hinting for presents. You GIVE presents as the boss. You should not receive them.

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16 thoughts on “My job is nickle and diming me to death

  1. Like the letter writer I am constantly being hit up for cash. In addition to the items mentioned by the letter writer, or maybe they just haven’t gotten there yet, we are continually hit up for charities. Now I’m all for charities and have volunteered time to them, but when I have constant overlapping solicitations for my hard earned money, which already isn’t enough to overcome several years of being laid off during the recession it really gets me pissed off. Since the company has goals with donation thermometers for some of these its expected that you’ll give and give often.

    Pick a charity or two and I’ll gladly help (and gladly do help). Pummel me with over a hundred per year and I’ll still only do the one or two.

    1. I really dislike United Way drives and the like.

      Although, I will buy Girl Scout cookies. Yum.

  2. This will be driven by one busy-body culprit. Find out who it is and hunt them down.

    Fact is you are paying for their brown-nosing. Find them and play the guilt card. They will never harass you again.

    If that doesn’t work I will tell you the advice someone gave to me when I was a fresh grad but failed to understand until it was too late:

    “If you are young and unhappy – Run! Everyone expects the grad to drop out – but what they don’t expect is for you to find something that works. Also people are more forgiving to grads who change jobs. There are plenty of good jobs out there – you don’t have to take the first one that comes back”

    Sadly this advice is 100% true and I missed the boat on it. I thought you had to stick at your job for a few years before moving on. Even if the job sucked. You don’t, you’re young, people will understand.

    1. I think there is more forgiveness at the beginning of a career–but I do think you need to stick the first job out for at least a year. And absolutely do not, under any circumstances, quit without a new job.

  3. Years ago I was asked to donate $10 to the boss’s Christmas gift. At the time that was a lot of money for me. I said I could donate $5 but couldn’t afford the $10. The lady took my money for the gift. About two days later she came back to me and said that the other people donating $10 didn’t think my name should be on the card for the boss’s gift as I was only donating $5. She gave me back my $5. This was at a Catholic Hospital too. So much for kindness.

  4. Glad you addressed this. It has always been a problem throughout my 37-year career. A couple of employers solved it this way: (1) no gifts over $10; (2) when hired, employees sign an agreement to have 5 cents deducted from each paycheck for a gift & event fund — which is totally optional; and (3) when soliciting money for gifts, an unmarked envelope is passed around for anonymous contributions of any amount. The gift coordinator spends the same amount for everyone, regardless of how much is collected. The extra amount goes into a special account.

    Of course, I agree with you — I think this sort of thing should be kept OUT of the workplace. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been hit up for gift contributions, including weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, etc. (The one exception I supported was a collection for an employee whose house burned down.) At one company, I was a temp making about 60% of what my permanent full-time counterparts made. I was told that the department had a “tradition” of each person being solely responsible for the birthday party (food, decorations, gift, etc.) for the colleague whose birthday immediately followed theirs. That included temps like me. I had just filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy and refused to do it. Not only was I ostracized, the company requested a replacement temp because they thought I was “non-collaborative.” One good thing about the recession is that I think more companies have stopped encouraging this sort of thing.

    1. I worked in a small office – 15 people – where four of us were in sales and got paid bonus. (Nice bonus.) We all contributed 5% of our bonus to the office pool. That money funded all birthday and anniversary celebrations. It also funded a quarterly, offsite dinner or party. One summer, we rented a houseboat and spent the day on the lake. We hired a temp so the receptionist could come. We all really liked each other so nobody minded spending a workday swimming and goofing off instead of being at work.

  5. I once worked at a very small company (6 employees) where a customer gave me a $100 tip. I felt uncomfortable about taking it, since the entire staff had contributed to the work, but the boss was standing right there when she insisted I take it, and he approved. I suggested we use the money for an employee lunch at Christmas, which was just a couple of weeks away. The boss agreed, and told me to give the money to the payroll manager — who happened to be his daughter. She bought about $50 worth of junk food and kept the rest for herself. I should have bought everything myself. Since then, I’m wary of putting money in an envelope that’s passed around, because you never know who has sticky fingers.

  6. This is one of the best benefits of telecommuting. You don’t have to contribute to silly office parties/gifts.

    Several years ago, I adopted a stance of being firm on this issue and I tell those involved in collecting “I have a firm policy of not contributing to office parties or gifts. Nor will I accept any gifts from others.” Then I just repeat as necessary.

    I will freely contribute to charity drives that I am interested in and even buy a bar of candy for someone’s kid but I will not contribute to gifts. And I don’t care if that pisses someone off.

  7. I work at a LARGE university. R1 facility, 50K undergrads. Raises this year were less than 1%. More than 100 administrators making 100K or more. Every year there is a huge charity drive to give back to the university. To contribute part of our very small paychecks to scholarship funds, building funds, employee assistance funds. I find this incredibly offensive, and refuse to donate.

    1. I also work at another Big 10 university and we have a similar holiday charity drive. The donations go to a pool of community organizations. My department’s goal is 100% participation, which won’t be happening this year. I didn’t give last year and won’t be giving this year. I’ve never been fond of “voluntary” workplace giving – it feels too forced. Also, the higher ups are discussing personnel cuts over the next couple years. It’s bad form to expect people to make donations when there is serious discussion of staff reductions.

      I give to organizations that are close to me. Last year, I gave money to the local humane society and this year, the cat and myself are going to give some money and a food donation to them. My mother is in treatment for breast cancer and next year, my family is planning to donate to the local relay for life.

  8. The president of a company I used to work for was heavily involved with the local United Way. He liked to boast that our company had 100% participation in UW by employees. He accomplished this by reviewing the employee donation slips and then contributing $1 for each employee who didn’t opt to participate…

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