Office holiday gifting
When I started as an AUL at McMaster, I took on about 25 direct and indirect reports in the units that fall under my role on the organizational chart. I had been there about ten months when the first holiday season rolled around. Not surprisingly, a few of my reports gave me holiday gifts, for which I was quite grateful. It soon occurred to me, however, that in my administrative role, this presented me with multiple conundrums.
First, there’s the practical issue of making sure that any gift giving I engaged in be fair and equitable. If I only exchanged gifts with those who had initiated it with me, then it may look like I’m singling people out and ignoring others, even if discreetly done. If instead I choose to give everyone a gift, then those who hadn’t given me anything may feel obligated to reciprocate, even if I said it’s not necessary. (Nevermind the fact that I can barely shop for my children, let alone 25 people, but that’s a personal issue.) Not reciprocating, however, with the kind individuals who had given me a gift also seemed a poor solution.
The other issue this presented was that were I to respond with gifts to all, I would be making the assumption that at the end of December we are all celebrating the same holiday and that that holiday is an occasion for gift giving. Even in the small sample of 25-30 people in my areas, that just isn’t the case. As an atheist Unitarian, I’m already sensitized to the practice of saying “merry Christmas” in work settings where we stress that we want to be inclusive and diverse.
When this first happened, I spoke about it with my wife, who suggested what I have found to be a sensible and workable solution. She suggested that I make a donation to a charity in honour of the people who work for me, and then share that with them along with holiday greetings (that avoid Christianized formulations) and my sincere thanks for their work over the year. Having just done this for the fifth time, I like to think it has gone over well with many of the people who report to me, although it may still perplex a few of them. I try to pick a charity that does broadly good work related to basic social justice issues, and have mixed it up in terms of local versus global. I confess that part of what I’m trying to do is raise awareness for some of these charities, as well as to encourage others to consider replacing gift-giving with charitable giving.
Is this a sensible way to address the issue this time of year presents? Have others found a better way?