Office Gift Dilemma: Navigating the Politics of Birthday Fundraising

Should co-workers be obligated to contribute to birthday gifts for colleagues earning less?

Office dynamics can be complex, especially when it comes to gift-giving among colleagues. One reader finds themselves caught in a conundrum, as their secretarial colleagues collect money for birthday gifts, excluding higher-earning employees. Feeling unfairly treated, they seek advice on whether to continue participating or put an end to the practice. To shed light on this issue, we turn to etiquette expert Nick Leighton for guidance.

The Unspoken Rules of Office Gifts

According to Leighton, office gift-giving typically follows a hierarchical structure, where gifts are exchanged from higher-ranking employees to their subordinates. It is not customary for employees to contribute to their boss’s gift. The reader’s exclusion from the gift-giving circle, despite being part of a friendly and respectful work environment, raises questions about the fairness of the practice.

Challenging the Norms

While workplace gift exchanges can be a sensitive issue, it is ultimately up to each individual to decide their level of participation. Leighton advises the reader to have an open and direct conversation with their co-workers when approached for contributions. By politely declining future gift exchanges, the reader can assert their boundaries without causing unnecessary conflict. Gift-giving should be a source of joy, not resentment.

A Shift in Dynamics

Leighton emphasizes that when resentment outweighs enjoyment in gift exchanges, it is crucial to initiate change. By breaking the cycle of obligatory contributions, the reader can create a healthier and more equitable work environment. While the initial conversation may be uncomfortable, it is a necessary step towards fostering understanding and respect among colleagues.

The Power of Communication

In situations like these, open communication is key. The reader can also consider discussing the matter with their lawyer colleague to gain a different perspective and potentially find solidarity in their decision. However, it is essential to remember that this is ultimately a personal choice that may not directly impact the colleague.


Navigating the intricacies of office gift-giving can be challenging, especially when it involves unequal contributions based on salary. While traditional norms suggest that gifts should flow from higher-ranking employees to their subordinates, it is important to question these practices and establish boundaries that align with personal values. By engaging in open and respectful communication, the reader can assert their position and create a more inclusive work environment. Ultimately, the decision to continue participating or withdraw from birthday fundraising rests with the individual, as long as it is approached with honesty and consideration for others.






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