Home / General / Forced gift giving, employee edition

Forced gift giving, employee edition



The law school that employs me as a tenure-track faculty member has what I hope is a fairly unusual practice: Each year faculty members — I’m unclear whether this includes the non-tenure-track faculty, who are full-time employees but paid quite a bit less than the tenure-track people — are asked to contribute to a holiday gift for the law school’s staff. I understand the ratio of faculty to staff has become roughly 1:1 (this helps explain skyrocketing tuition among other things) so in effect it’s as if each faculty member is buying a holiday gift for a staff member.

Of course this ends up turning into pretty much a straight cash transfer, in the form of a “Christmas bonus” from the faculty to the staff.

I find this practice distasteful, since:

(a) The faculty are employees not employers. If the powers that be want to take some of the money currently being paid to the faculty and pay it to the staff in the form of higher salaries this should be done directly, not through informal social pressure.

(b) The whole thing has an unpleasant and rather absurd air of noblesse oblige, especially since every year the faculty ends up getting a bunch of cap-doffing thank you emails from the staff, which staff members no doubt feel pressured to send because the social dynamics of the situation.

I suspect a bunch of other people on both sides of this awkward transaction feel the same way, but nobody wants to be that guy (or gal) who says so.

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  • moonglum

    Every year at my place of employment the employees pool money to get presents for the managers…every year I refuse…the whole process is very disturbing.

    • Murc

      … seriously?

      Because based purely and solely on what you just said, that isn’t disturbing. I’ve had managers who I felt justified in giving gifts to, and have usually gone in with co-workers.

      Key thing is if its mandated or not.

      • Brandon C.

        We do this too and I’ve never thought anything of it. Its a bit different in my case though because my managers treat us to stuff all the time and save our bacon everyday. I imagine it would be different depending on where you work.

      • Mike F.

        Actually I think the key is what “mandated” means exactly.

        Mandated behavior in the workplace is more often driven by extra legal expectations than by written policy and rules. Indeed most social expectations work that way.
        In my experience much more pressure is applied to people by “expectation” than by anything they’ll find written down in an employee manual.
        The pressure to contribute to the annual United Way campaign is one example.

        • One of my co-workers told me that at his last job, the boss would come to your office with the United Way form and tell you how much you were contributing.

          I have a filter set up on Outlook that dumps all e-mail with “united way” right into the trash folder.

    • Green Caboose

      I was going to post about my brother-in-law’s place which does exactly that. He and the President, who in a bad year get approximatly quadruple what their architects get and in a good year get 15x what they get, enjoy an annual gift from those very same architects.

      Funny, I would have thought it would be the other way ’round. I wonder how traditions like this get started.

    • TribalistMeathead

      My most recent law firm not only did a Staff Appreciation Day, but a Bosses’ Appreciation Day.

    • kc

      I used to be a manager at a place where the employees did that for all of the “bosses.” There were three of us. The staff would get gifts for each of us. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but I would tell them not to do it, and then finally one year, said PLEASE don’t get us gifts. At least, don’t get ME one. Because if I were in their shoes, I sure wouldn’t be doing it!

      The other manager-types just accepted the gifts as tributes that were due them . . .

  • Gareth Wilson

    Sounds like a forced religious observance to me. I doubt they can legally make you do it.

  • Speak Truth

    Aw, C’mon Paul.

    It’s just a redistribution of your paycheck.

    It’s in the interest of “fairness”.

    • Sargon

      Oh for FSM’s sake, is this troll going to be around for a while? I was really hoping they were just a single-issue troll…

      • Murc

        Jennie has been around for a real long time now. It’s like having a badly trained pet.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          Oh, for a rolled-up newspaper…

          • MAJeff

            or a shock-collar.

            • Anyone have a stick?

              • Jeremy

                Real, or metaphorical?

    • UserGoogol

      The problem isn’t so much that it’s redistribution but that it’s a stupid way to redistribute. If the college paid faculty a little less and staff a little more, the net effect would be the same but you wouldn’t have all this silliness. (Note that I am repeating what he already said as reason (a) in his post.)

    • If the powers that be want to take some of the money currently being paid to the faculty and pay it to the staff in the form of higher salaries this should be done directly, not through informal social pressure.

      I know this is just a troll, but there’s a point here.

      Redistribution shouldn’t be a demonstration of noblesse oblige, any more than it should depend on the whims of the nobility.

    • Cody

      Well, this is the kind of wealth distribution you support.

      Most people don’t think the people with less money should be giving it to the wealthy, but alas, Conservative wealth distribution has hit academia.

      • Speak Truth

        Just like a tax hike

        • Depends on the tax hike.

          Making the people you call “moochers” pay federal income tax would be redistribution to richer people. This is the kind of tax increase Republicans like.

          Raising the top rate or the capital gains rate would be redistribution to poorer people. This is the kind of tax increase Democrats like.

          • chris y

            Why are you feeding it, joe?

    • Njorl

      Really? Is that it? Is that what you’re handing in for your trolling homework today?

      I’m sorry, but it’s unacceptable. If you can’t do any better than this pointless dreck, we’re going to have to replace you with a more dedicated troll.

      This site expects trolls that incite anger, or provoke long, passionate responses with links and statistics. Your work has declined from provoking mockery to provoking (if you can call it that) disdain. You might as well be posting, “Consider this thread trolled.”

      Now step it up or get lost.

  • cpinva

    i’m going to guess someone in an admin position came up with this plan, and got it approved as a “win-win” for the school:

    1. it costs the school nothing.

    2. staff & faculty end up being irked at each other, instead of, more appropriately, at the administration.


  • Alan Tomlinson

    I think the word you’re looking for is extortion.


    Alan Tomlinson

  • Murc

    This seems like the sort of thing that’s a holdover from the days when ‘staff’ meant things like ‘the secretaries and cleaning staff’ rather than ‘half the total employees of the university.’

    I’ve worked places where it was policy to club together to get something nice for said cleaning staff and secretaries, because they did stressful and low-paid but vital work.

    But it would be weird to me if, say, all the front-line technicians were banding together to give gifts to all the guys over in human resources.

    • Sherm

      So long as you don’t get the cleaning lady a cashmere sweater off the discount rack.

      • spencer

        What’s this spot?

        • Sherm

          Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frouned upon, you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you peope do that all the time.

  • Richard

    So each staff member ends up getting cash? Is that how it works? And is this in addition to any gifts which a faculty member might give to any individual staff member?

  • Bill Smith

    I worked for a large mfg company. One of the butt lickers would always take up for a gift for the boss of the department. Of course he could not fathom anyone saying no. But they did me included and more after they got over the intimidation. Not to let the moment pass the butt licker then made sure to have all donors SIGN the card INDIVIDUALLY so the boss would know who was naughty and who was nice. BL was all smiles.

  • Cody

    Paul Campos declares war on giving gifts!

    More coverage on Breitbart.com!

  • What scale are we talking about here?

    How many faculty members are donating, and how many staff are receiving?

    Do you even know these people?

    Gift-giving is a social action that happens within the context of a relationship. This sounds like it has all the human connection of Lumberg’s “Happy Birthday” song.

  • I am in favour of a salary trade each December. Top salary traded to bottom and so forth.

  • arguingwithsignposts

    This brings up another thing that gets in my craw: faculty and staff donations to the university. Every year, universities have F&S giving campaigns, so that these employees can “give back” to make their university special. Some organizations look at the percentage of F&S donations as a sign of … something.

    I have always found this distasteful. Yes, I appreciate my place of employment. But why am I being asked to give a portion of my paycheck back as some sign of appreciation?

    Could someone explain this to me?

    • ruviana

      Don’t know about your institution but mine likes to mention it in their U.S. News entry. When I started there people said, “Oh, just even give a dime, it’s all in the percentage of participating employees.” I didn’t and still don’t give anything.

  • B1G school

    R1 university department’s tenured faculty here lean on grad students scrapping over poverty-level stipends to kick into the same kitty for the salaried departmental support staff.

    • spencer

      There were departments at my R1 university that acted like that when I was a grad student.

      Luckily mine was not one of them.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I ran into this at two law firms where I was employed as a paralegal – at one, a junior associate I worked with pretty closely would give me cash each year, and at another, a team of lawyers that I did most of my work for would chip in and give me cash each year.

    In the first instance, I felt like it was noblesse oblige.

    In the second instance, I was just glad to get some cash around the holidays.

  • Eli’s favorite moment is when the cashier at the supermarket asks him to kick in for the charity of the day. Pointing out that the supermarket should kick in if they want to sponsor the charity does not win many laughs, and Ms. Rabett objects when Eli asks to speak to the manager.

    • TribalistMeathead

      To think there was a time when I actually would’ve been too embarrassed to say “no”…

    • Hanspeter

      When the supermarket checkout is collecting for medical research charities, I often feel the urge to tell them to just give me what ever they have collected since they’ll get more bang for the buck that way than filtering it through the charity overhead.

  • Thankfully, my university does not do that. All we got this year was an email from the UC President patting himself on the back for Prop 30 passing, and an email from HR telling us that our checks are going to be getting even smaller in January thanks to the Boehner & Cantor’s Clown Show Congress. Our immediate supervisors will probably let people go home a little early–except for me, because I’m on the late shift. So I’ll be sitting hear bored out of my skull from 5 on, because no one’s going to call the help desk after hours on the Friday before Christmas.

    No, I’m not bitter; why do you ask?

  • TBP

    We get a certain amount of pressure every year to contribute to the United Way or any of a list of charities and arts organizations. They’re all pretty worthy causes, and I do in fact give to some of them, but I prefer to just give directly rather than funnel it through the “official” university program. We used to get pointed reminder emails about “100% participation” and how close we were to it, but I think they finally figured out that this was bothering people and stopped. It’s not like this is the worst thing ever, but it is annoying.

  • kerry

    Curious about the tax implications of this. I assume this is after-tax money you’re contributing? (Or do they just deduct your contribution from your paycheck before you ever see it?) Do the people who receive the bonuses then also get taxed again?

  • Njorl

    That’s one nice thing about working for the federal government. It’s usually illegal for gift giving to take place. When it happens, it’s a pittance, and that’s fine with me.

  • JustMe

    You know, I think this is generally reasonable given the fact that it’s the secretarial and support staff you’re giving a gift/Christmas-bonus to. It’s that the faculty are the core-business and value-generators for the university, and that’s why they’re asked to chip in to the staff who is effectively “overhead.”

    Giving gifts to bosses, though, is ridiculous.

  • chris y

    I have never, in the most dysfunctional of organisations, come across bosses expecting gifts from their employees. Everywhere I’ve ever worked (and checking with my wife, her too), the most there has ever been is a “secret Santa” pool involving everybody as equals, but with a very low cap on how much you can spend.

    Most places I’ve worked there’s also been Christmas dinners out, and in all cases you buy your own food, BUT THE BOSSES BUY THE BOOZE, and they go on buying it as long as it’s wanted.

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