Office etiquette can be tricky, especially when gifts are involved.
As Mamamia reports, an office Secret Santa exchange took a turn for the worse and bizarre when one gift recipient looked up the price of her gift and contacted the person who sent it.
The giver posted the exchange on Reddit, explaining that his office Secret Santa exchange had a $50 gift limit. That’s where the trouble started. The co-worker who received his gift started by thanking him, writing, “Hey, thanks for the chocolates and blanket! I really appreciate it!”
Not realizing where this was about to go, the giver responded with a comment about how comfortable that type of blanket is, and the recipient added, “I love it!”
If that had been all, etiquette would have been satisfied and no one would have made an alarming faux pas. But the recipient decided to raise the issue of her gift’s price. She wrote:
“So, I know this is kinda awkward … but the spending limit was $50 and I looked online and it seems that the blanket and chocolates only add up to about $30?”
And then she followed up with a request to bring the total up to the maximum:
“Do you think it’s possible you could get me something else? My kids have been spending me up the wazoo!”
From there, the conversation quickly devolves into Miss Manners’ worst nightmare. The giver offers to top off his gift by giving her $20. The recipient counters by asking for a Samsung Galaxy tablet that costs $120, generously offering to take the cash if that’s easier for him.
He points out that this is way over the spending limit. She talks about how she wants to do something nice for her kids at Christmas, adding, “I don’t mean to be abrasive or anything, but you’re an engineer so you make quite a bit more than I do!”
When he declines, saying that, “I also have things I need to pay for, and unfortunately $120 for a co-worker is a bit out my budget,” she is incredulous and then abusive.
First, she points out that he doesn’t have kids and asks, “What else would you spend your money on?” When he doesn’t respond, she calls him, “disgusting.” Finally, she agrees to take the $20 he offered earlier. Which he is no longer willing to consider.
On Reddit, commenters condemned the recipient for looking up the price of the gift, pointing out that complaining about the value of a present is a big no-no. One commenter wrote:
It was unbearably tacky just to look up the value of the gifts she was given to ensure it met an arbitrary standard.
Others pointed out that Secret Santa exchanges should never be about the value or desirability of gifts, and that the real point is participation:
These sorts of things are always a crap-shoot, and the fun is more in the giving than in the receiving. I always walk into them assuming my gift is a sunk cost and I’m grateful for whatever it is that I receive.
The question of whether the giver was in the wrong for picking a present below the limit was a bit more complicated. However, at least one person felt that the $30 gift was acceptable and the recipient missed the point of the $50 guideline:
A spending limit is just that a limit to avoid people feeling like they need to spend to not get embarrassed by spending $40 and everyone else is buying things for $100. It would be shitty to buy them a $5 gift but $30 to me while maybe slightly on the lower end for that limit is no amount that should be questioned or felt inappropriate.
This is what makes office gift-giving such a minefield. When you mix a business relationship with a social activity (like a gift exchange), there’s always room for hurt feelings and mixed signals.
To be honest, I question the $50 limit for an office gift exchange — assuming we’re talking about a mix of employees at different salaries, not an exchange among hedge fund managers.
I don’t even spend $50 on some of my friends and relatives. So I wouldn’t be happy to spend that much on Doug from HR. (Especially if Doug is the guy who keeps taking half a doughnut from the box in the break room and leaving the other half to go stale. Just take the whole doughnut, Doug! People hate it when you do that.)
However, assuming participation is truly voluntary and not go-ahead-and-don’t-participate-but-we’ll-remember-this-at-the-next-evaluation-and-mark-you-down-on-team-building voluntary (see my point about minefields), there’s nothing automatically wrong about setting a $50 limit. That leads to the real sticking point: how close do you have to get to a Secret Santa limit?
My rule, which should be enshrined in the Constitution or enacted by a federal agency, is that the value of the gift needs to be within a 10 to 20 percent range of the limit.
Notice that I say “value,” not price. If you get a great deal and only pay $20 for something worth $60, then you — or rather your giftee — got lucky. But in general, you should stay relatively close to the cap. That doesn’t mean you have to hit it exactly. There’s no need to buy enough Tootsie Rolls to bump your $47.25 up to an even $50. As long as you’re in that 10 to 20 percent buffer zone, you’re fine.
My rule for gift recipients is much simpler: whatever you get, no matter how disappointing, allergen-heavy, awful, or pointless, you say, “Thank you.” That’s all. Save your grumbling for when you get home. Never complain to the gift giver. Don’t look up the price. And don’t gripe to your co-workers.
Doing anything other than being completely gracious is the best way to guarantee that your Secret Santa ends up being the person in charge of your quarterly review. Or someone willing to post your complaints on the internet.