There should be a set of rules and standards that office workers must observe in this situation. And these rules should be exhaustive and absolute.
Actually, what I’m proposing is more like legislation than etiquette. Or maybe even a diktat. Anyway, semantics. Here’s my overview:
Rule 1: If you don’t know the person, pass the envelope on.
There’s no need to feel pressured into contributing money or writing an insincere message to a person you’ve nodded to once or twice in the corridor. You’re not being stingy; you’re just being sensible.
Rule 2: If you don’t like the person, it’s OK to be tactically absent.
Not liking someone is a perfectly good reason to withhold gift money and good wishes. If the objectionable character is in your team and it would be embarrassing to show your disdain in front of others, discreetly absent yourself from the donation and card-signing ceremony.
Rule 3a: “We’re all putting in 10 dollars” is absolute nonsense.
Gift contributions should be like progressive taxes, not like tollways. Rules 1 and 2 should always take precedence, but if people can pay a little bit more they should. The intern shouldn’t feel compelled to put in the same as the GM.
Rule 3b: Spend what you can afford.
There should really be an app featuring a sophisticated algorithm to make the question of “How much should I contribute?” easy to answer. Into your computer or phone you’d (privately) put your annual pay, how much you like your colleague, how long you’ve known them, your work relationship with them, what event they’re celebrating and several other variables. Out would come a dollar amount. There isn’t an app like this, so I’d say spend what you can afford between a dollar and $50. Definitely no round silver coins.
Rule 4: If in doubt, go rogue.
If you begin to question your office gift-buyer’s decision-making (thoughtless? tacky? lacklustre?) or if the whole collectivist nature of the activity offends your libertarian sensibilities, you can always opt out. Saying “I refuse to contribute” would make you a pariah, but saying “Actually, I’ve bought my own small gift” is entirely acceptable – it may even give you a type of individualist cachet.
As I mentioned earlier, ideally this should be a 300-page list of laws and clauses and sub-clauses and addendums, but I have space for only about 400 words.
I hope it suffices until Parliament or some grinning demagogue finishes the full version.
Gift-giving. Pay and conditions. Annual leave. As long as it’s work-related, no subject is out of bounds for Work Therapy. Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org