I Hate Buying a Christmas Gift for My Boss

The pressure of having to buy the boss a present every year is unfair. Workplace culture must change.

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Can we get out of buying our boss a gift?
Can we get out of buying our boss a gift?

I don’t want to buy another gift for a boss.

Although it is not required, giving a present to the boss has become an expected part of workplace culture. Each year, there is a weird pressure to go along with the tradition of sucking up to the person in charge with a holiday gift. This can take many forms of either going it alone and finding some generic thing like a coffee mug, or giving a bit of cash towards the purchase of a group gift from the team. Either method sucks.

There is no joy in this form of gift giving. If we’re honest, this feels like one of the most superficial acts of the holiday season.

I don’t even hate my boss. As bosses go, he’s low-drama, understanding, and allows me to do my work with a minimum of micro-managing. In general, a good guy. I just don’t want to buy him a present.

Isn’t my hard work and loyalty to success of our team and the company enough? Does he really need a gift card to the local golf range to show I care? Or is that the only way to guarantee a decent annual evaluation?

There were times I felt I had to buy presents for terrible bosses. In general, they were rarely appreciative, with an attitude of expectation rather than gratitude. It felt like paying a portion of a ransom in my own hostage situation.

In fairness, some of you have the equivalent of St. Nick for a boss: great, flawless human beings and you like buying them a gift to show appreciation. Go for it. Knock yourself out.

I have about 10 employees that report to me. For a few years, they would get together and get me a present. I always felt guilty about it. Even though I would reciprocate with a small gift for each of them (because I am not a wealthy boss, just a middle manager with a mortgage and a college-bound kid), I felt like it was a let down for them too. I didn’t want them to spend their hard-earned money on me. It led me to asking my group to not buy anything for me, but to give a gift to someone they know who really needs one.

Maybe it’s me.

Sometimes I think I’m the problem. I’m Elaine on Seinfeld and her negative reaction to office birthday parties. I hate them. I don’t want to sing. I don’t want to eat a sheet cake from Walmart. I don’t even put my birthday on Facebook because I don’t want to feel the obligation of having to wish so many people a happy birthday year after year. It’s not about being a jerk, it’s about the fact that this form of communication and relating to people in forced social situations rings absolutely hollow for me. Sometimes it just feels like we’re throwing money or false sentiments at different situations just to survive or avoid conflict.

Here’s a solution.

I do think it’s important to mark important occasions, but it should be done in a meaningful way that enhances the workplace culture.

One way to do it is to give your team the opportunity to provide community service. Volunteer at a local organization that needs help. It could include attending a blood drive, sorting food at a food bank, or even caring for the animals at a shelter. Something that celebrates the reason for the season makes so much more sense. It builds genuine camaraderie to help others in need.

I did this type of activity with one of my teams a few years ago. We volunteered at a weekly food giveaway at a local church. We hauled boxes of food and sorted it, helped people carry food out to their cars, and had a great morning of being part of a cause that helped the community. When we were done with our shift, we all grabbed lunch at a local diner. Everyone paid for their own meal. Then we went back to work, feeling proud of our service.

It was a feeling that money can’t buy.

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