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Dear Heidi: Is it petty of me not to want to contribute to work collections for wedding gifts?

There are often overt and nuanced expectations to build and sustain peer and work family relationships.

Working in an office, either in person or virtually, makes you a member of a specific group, a community of sorts. Each office group/community has a unique culture with expectations. Some are overt, others are nuanced, but all help to keep the group working and producing in harmony.  

Overt expectations like completing projects on-time and budget and even dress codes are clearly understood and obeyed. For instance, everyone realizes that if you do not complete your work, you won’t have your job for long.  

The more nuanced expectations in office cultures, such as participating in the monthly birthday parties, Happy Hours, in person or virtual, Secret Santas, and chipping in for wedding gifts for colleagues, are not always clear. Do you have to participate?  If you don’t, will it shed a poor light on you?  

The decision to participate in the extracurricular activities at work depends on several factors: Do you share the beliefs and customs? Is it legal, ethical, and appropriate? Can you afford to chip in? Will it be fun? Will I be an outcast if I don’t join in? 

If a colleague is getting married and the culture has been for everyone to chip in and purchase a gift and you can afford it, why not participate? Perhaps you don’t care for the colleague, should you still contribute to the wedding gift? Maybe you’re single with no plans to marry, or in a long-time marriage, should you participate? Unless you have strong beliefs to the contrary, respect the culture, and yes, chip in. If you do have a good reason not to participate, be respectful, and politely say, “I hope you understand, I will not be able to participate in the office gift.” You do not need to offer any further explanation, and it is genuinely your prerogative to contribute or not.  

But where possible, do be an active member of the culture. Many of us spend more time with our office communities than we do with our own families. It is common to form appropriate work/friend relationships that can be very helpful to you. Sometimes you lean on them for work projects; other times, they offer support in life projects.  

You may never be the recipient of an office wedding gift, but a piece of birthday cake or a signed card in your honor can be a significant pick-me-up during a low point in your day or life.


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