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The Envelope at Work: Do You Give (In)?

This article was written by in Career and Work. 20 comments.

Perhaps you have seen this. It may take the form of a manila folder containing a list of names on the front and a card and an envelope in side. Some of the names have been crossed off and perhaps even there’s a dollar amount written beside those. The card has is a generic “get well soon” message on the front and is signed by your co-workers, many with just-as-generic wishes like, “Get well soon! Hope to see you back.” The envelope has money contributed by your co-workers, and you’re next on the list.

In the past few months in my office, we’ve had numerous employees on medical leave, baby showers, and other random parties, all which seem to require a donation of some type. This has always been fairly common, but the volume has increase lately. I always participate, but I’m starting to grow weary. If someone chooses to have elective cosmetic surgery, do they still need recovery gifts?

Do you participate in these giving rituals? If you do, are you motivated by guilt at all?

Published or updated August 7, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Julie

I had elective plastic surgery and received recovery gifts, so… yes. :) My general rule is that I only contribute money when it’s a member of my immediate work team – there are lots of parties, and some honorees are more close to me than others – I don’t feel guilt not chipping in for someone who might not even know my name. But I also assess whether I can contribute something that’s not monetary in nature. For example, not long after I started my last job, one of the other designers adopted a baby and went on maternity leave. We held a shower for her, and rather than go in on a bunch of gifts I opted to make something more personalized. A few baby photos were circulating around the office, and thanks to mom’s registry I knew what colors and patterns the nursery would have. So I made a art piece for the room to match the decor that showed off the baby photos – and mom loved it. Sure, it cost me in time what it didn’t cost in money, but I got some enjoyment out of making it – probably more so than I would have just chipping in to the pot.

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avatar jim

We never had an envelope but I would sign the card that went around and separately get a small gift. I think to have a list with people crossing off their name or writing in a dollar amount is tacky.

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avatar ChristianPF

Yep, we had those at work too… I kind of just looked at it as an expense and budgeted for it. It made it a lot easier for those types of situations that I was not fully supportive of…

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avatar Jason H

When I was working in an office we had those and I would sign the card, but that was it. I never really cared to give my hard earned money to a co-worker in the form of some gift. If they had been a friend AND a co-worker I might have done something different. Generally I just don’t care about my co-worker’s private lives.

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avatar plonkee

We have these at work all the time. And we tick our names off so that you don’t get it passed to you twice.

I always sign the card. If it’s someone leaving, getting married or having a baby and I know them, then a put a couple of £ in (say the equivalent of $5 or less). Why not? If I haven’t got any change on me, then I don’t bother.

Someone would have to be pretty sick before I’d contribute money for that.

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avatar Transcendental Success

I don’t find it a big problem to drop in $5 so the office can get them a nice gift. We don’t get those every day or even every week. More like once per month so the expense is not too great. I also write a meaningful sentence in the card and am always pleased if the person comments on it afterwards.

At my office there is no pressure to tick off names or anything. The card just sits on the receptionists desk for a few days. People can sign and/or donate at their discretion. I think that’s a good way to do it. We never gave any gifts for plastic surgery.

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avatar Stephen Ward

I have a simple way of avoiding monetary contribution temptation/peer pressure. I don’t carry cash, period. At work, I never have a single dime on me at any point in time. This prevents me from lending coworkers money for any reason and has the positive side effect of keeping me from buying soda or candy at the vending machines. Perhaps its callous, but I value my family’s financial health over the potential social benefits of hand-outs.

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avatar Matt

Yeah I’ve been a part of those and even helped organize a few. When the situation is valid like a baby shower or an unexpected medical condition then yes I try to throw some money in the pile. But I have never participated out of guilt; if the person is a friend of mine then I’m more likely to donate some money (if I have some) and if not then there is no remorse in just passing the envelope along. Luckily I haven’t seen an envelope go around for anything really silly like elective cosmetic surgery, if I had I would have purposely ignored it.

I’ve always thought passing a card around is a great idea… but the money is a bit tacky (way to use peer pressure to force people to give money when they might not have any)

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avatar hank

I’m in agreeance with everyone else – on REAL occasions, yes I have no problem saying congrats, but diving deeper to find a reason to send one might get out of hand. Ironically, I don’t remember the last time we had one in my department; or maybe they’re just keeping me out of the loop! Either way, I’m alright with it. :)

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avatar Acsmo

I contributed when our admin’s car was stolen with her brand new stroller/car seat for her unborn kid. Everything else? Nope.

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avatar Frugalchick

I was a recipient of one of these envelopes at my last job but I also contributed to going-away gifts and baby showers so I guess it’s a wash. I just think it’s nice to help make someone feel special from time to time, even if it means I’ll have to pack my lunch that day or skimp on something else. Fortunately, the envelope thing wasn’t excessive at my work so it didn’t feel like a burden.

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avatar shadox

I have to admit, I have these things. Luckily, I work for a 30 person company so there aren’t too many of these. Still, our office manager circulates a card for every birthday, every “special” event and there is not a week that goes by where I don’t need to sign somebody’s card with some inane statement. Back in May (which is my birthday month), I asked our office manager to do me a personal favor and pass me over for this great “gift”.

I bet most people just toss their cards when they think no one is looking … :-)

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avatar fathersez

We also used to get this and I never liked it.

I much prefer to do my own thing with the intended receipient if I knew him/her well or do nothing.

And almost everyone of my colleagues disliked this practice.


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avatar Randy

Sure, I would contribute. In many cases, the recipients were my friends; and I’m happy to add to the cause.

While I was in management, I also made it a habit to lead by example by giving generously to charitable organizations. Gifts for underprivileged kids at Christmas? Sure! Care packages for the troops overseas? You bet.

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avatar H Lee D

We have a social committee at work that collects dues annually from people willing to give them, usually about $20. Any cards or gifts are purchased from this fund.

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avatar castocreations

It depends on the reason and the person. Recently a coworker was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Then we found out that she had less than two weeks to live and her husband was having a hard time making ends meet (he didn’t work due to medical reasons). I gave $50. And wish I could have given more. Many folks made food and we delivered it to their house. She died last Friday. :(

For things like baby showers if I know the person or work with them closely I will put together a goody bag or donate a few dollars.

Thankfully our company is so large that these things are pretty localized to immediate groups. And now that I coupon so regularly I have a lot of great items to draw from that I got for free. =D

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avatar UH2L

It’s not necessarily the money. It’s the principle of people having to give without ever receiving (money or thoughts). A single person with no spouse, no kids, no health problems, no special occasions gets nothing. It’s a symptom of a broader issue which I, of course, wrote about a long time ago…


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avatar Laura

I’ve been fortunate where the gifts are optional. I’ve signed cards for co-workers. I have occasionally given gifts, but I did that after work.

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avatar Tara

I’m surprised at the number of people who say they ‘never’ give.

Earlier this year one of the women at my work’s mother died. She lived with her and contributed to the household bills. We knew it was going to be a financial issue for her so we all pitched in some money. Yes we send around the folder for the card, but any money given is given to 1 person, privately. It was very helpful for her in a time of great pain. She still has the card we gave her displayed in her office.

Another woman at work has had a lot of health issues and our work allows sick leave donation so staff don’t have to go out of insurance status during a recovery when they don’t have the accumulated sick time. Around 15 people donated time to this woman so she could use FMLA & stay paid (around here sick leave is paid out when you terminate, so sick leave=money). Some of the people didnt even know her.

We used to get gifts and have a lunch party for everyone who had a birthday in our department. That basically became a wash and we decided this year that we didn’t want to spend money on a gift for someone that they may or may not like. So we each volunteered to bake a cake for someone’s birthday. While it’s less fun, its more affordable this way.

Giving to people, and really caring about them, is a virtue. I can’t even imagine a workplace that is so impersonal that you don’t care for your coworkers. You must dread going there every day.

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avatar David

I stumbled across this today and it hits pretty close to home for me. My co-workers and myself have all collected from time to time for different situations. Recently, I decided to stop contributing.

I myself went in for surgery; was out of work for a week. No-one took a collection for me. Over the past six years, I have contributed well over $300. My new theroy on this topic is, when someone comes around asking for donations, I first consider the cause and person effected. If I dont feel it in my heart, I say no. I then take the $5.00 donation and place in my desk drawer. After my first two weeks, I have $20.00 in my drawer. When I get ill or have an emergency, I have my own fund.

Peace to all and God Bless

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