Feel like a Grinch? How to handle the office gift pool

When it comes to money decisions, it can be hard to figure out the right thing to do. Money is about power, emotion, morality, and security, among other things. So in this space, we gather a few experts to weigh in on a financial quandary.

This week’s question: How do you opt out of your office (holiday, maternity, etc.) gift pool without looking like a jerk? Can you?

Ramona Packham, HR expert and founding partner of RPHR Consulting:“Choosing to opt out can be an awkward and difficult message to deliver. A few appropriate responses may be: ‘Thank you for including me in this, but I have already done something for John/Jane,’ or ‘Thank you for including me, but I am opting out this year.’ Or, you could contribute what you can afford: $1 to $2. In the past, an office I worked in had a gift exchange for the Christmas party. A price limit was set at $10 — it was fun trying to find outrageous gifts for that amount. At the party, you opened a gift or you could steal someone else’s that had already been opened. Inexpensive and fun!”

Robert R. Brown, author of Wealthing Like Rabbits“As with so many other things in life, the best option is to be polite, honest and clear. If appropriate, reach out privately to the recipient of the gift and let them know that your decision was financial, not personal. (This is not a good time to do your Michael Corleone impression.)

Some people prefer to contribute only to certain types of gifts, like maternity, especially when they have been the beneficiary of a similar present themselves. So, when someone at the office announces that she’s expecting, start tossing a toonie into a jar every week until the baby showers begin.

In regards to the annual December gift gorge, get in front of the issue next year by stepping up early and suggesting that the gift pool be replaced by voluntary, anonymous donations to a local shelter or charity. No one looks like a jerk then.”

Karen Cleveland, etiquette expert: “The pressure to bow out of contributing to an office gift can be tempting; but while you prevent a small hit to your wallet, it might hit your reputation. Celebrating milestones together or jointly contributing to a shared cause are important for team building and creating solidarity. And, your colleagues might very well kick in to generously buy you a gift some day. Knowing that, you can relax, take a deep breath and pull out your wallet. If the gift pool is going towards someone that you’ve never met or worked with, you can politely bow out by explaining that you ‘haven’t had the pleasure of working with X, so it wouldn’t feel appropriate contributing to a gift.’”

(Originally in National Post, December 23, 2014)