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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Not everyone enjoys mandatory gifts

Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

Here’s how we mix work and play in the corporate world:

Top executives get expense accounts and write-offs for any entertaining that has even the most peripheral connection to business, and some that doesn’t. The CEO gets amenities and recreation, such as golf trips in the company airplane, to cushion the stress of the job.

Employees are told that fraternizing with one another is important to the job and demonstrates their ability to work with their colleagues. They are expected to collect money from one another for holiday and personal celebrations, some of which are announced by management and others of which are initiated by employees. This is so ingrained by now that it runs on employee peer pressure to participate.

Miss Manners is not much of a rabble-rouser, and her intent is not to spoil anyone’s fun. Her only hope is to rescue people who are not having fun. Not having heard any complaints from CEOs, she will deal with those she receives from their employees.

There had been employees who disliked the office party back when it was management’s gesture of thanks. If it was held on company time, it at least offered goof-off time in the days before employees had their time wasters right there on their computers. Otherwise, it struck some as compulsory overtime.

At that, they were better off than their colleagues who thought of it as party time in which to let loose, with the added attraction of having one’s supervisors available to listen to their frank opinions.

Today’s office party may feel just as compulsory but is unlikely to be free. Employees may be asked to bring the food, assume host tasks or buy tickets to attend.

Giving presents to employees in place of bonuses never struck Miss Manners as a good idea, as she was suspicious of any boss who knew enough about the employees’ personal tastes to make a good choice.

But for the last few years, Miss Manners has been hearing about a variation of this – employees who are asked to contribute to buying a present for the boss as a “token of appreciation.”

And in place of voluntary exchanges among colleagues who happened to have become friends and an occasional generous baker who brought treats for all, there may be daily food assignments at holiday time and organized present-exchanges, such as the dormitory specialty called Secret Santa.

So just when people are most apt to be short of money and time, what with their own holiday shopping and partying, they are given another whole set of such obligations at work.

Some people love this, and Miss Manners wishes them well. She only asks that they be generous and graceful about freeing those who don’t.

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