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Employees on tight budgets face challenges

Most businesses without gift-giving guidelines

Before the holiday season rolled around, Jennifer, a 25-year-old account executive, in her first year with

a small corporate travel agency, began to fret.

What was the company’s gift-giving policy, she wondered, and how much should she allocate for the

holiday season? After all, Campbell was on a tight budget, yet wanted to follow proper protocol.

A week after Thanksgiving last year, Bill, a 40-year-old manager and father of three, was approached by

the office administrator to buy a gift for the company owner. While Jones was more than ready to chip

in a few dollars, he was surprised when asked to pony up 100 bucks.

Earlier in the week, Jones had been asked to chip in $50 for the company’s charity, and had drawn the

name of a co-worker, for whom he was expected to give a $25 gift. Even though Jones quickly

calculated that his annual raise didn’t cover the increase in inflation, he handed a check to the office

administrator. Jones never knew what the gift was, and never heard a word of thanks from the reclusive

boss.

Handling sticky situations

“The holidays can create anxiety for office employees, especially when hefty pressure is placed on

them, many of whom are already struggling to meet ordinary demands,” said Danny E. Daniel, EAP

consultant of Behavioral Health Specialists in Ridgeland.

“In this case, Bill was given no choice, and it was an underhanded tactic by a supervisor, which was not

right. At that point, his giving was probably motivated by guilt. One hundred dollars may be chump

change to a large corporation, but individually, it’s a lot. Even though a situation like this is uncommon,

it does occur.”

In Jennifer’s situation, it’s entirely appropriate to ask questions to determine office policy, Daniels said.

“But many times, for some reason, employees who are normally assertive in their jobs are timid when

approaching this topic,” he said.

So much sentiment is tied to the holidays that many times people go beyond their means, often piling up

credit card debt that can take a year to pay off, just in time to start the process all over again, Daniel said.

Taking leave

“I’m sure gift giving at Christmas can really get out of hand in an office,” said Pam Chatham,

Congressional Liaison for Disability Determination Services of the Department of Rehabilitation

Services in Jackson. “My situation is unique as I take leave for the month of December and miss all of

the hoopla associated with the holidays in the office and at home. We will leave Dec. 2 this year and not

return until the 30th when all of the activities are over with. It’s wonderful…absolutely no stress!”

Approximately 220 employees work in the same department as Chatham, where there is no set

gift-giving policy.

“I exchange gifts with three persons that I am especially close to,” she said. “As a matter of fact, one

of the girls brought my Christmas present (early) because she wanted me to enjoy it before I left on my

trip and it is something that I’ve really been wanting for my kitchen. I personally prefer to give

‘happys’ throughout the year. It’s more meaningful to me and to the recipient when you think of them

regardless of the season.”

Swapping gifts

Jean Coppenbarger of BellSouth said gift giving in her office has been handled differently from year to

year.

“Some years, we’ve not exchanged gifts, although some may bring small gifts, such as homemade

candy and cookies, or soaps and candles, to give everyone,” she said. “The boss has said he doesn’t

want us to give him anything. But we got together and bought him a gift certificate for dinner at an

upscale restaurant and then the next year a gift certificate to Edwin Watts. I think he likes the gift

certificate idea. But we’ve recently had some organizational changes so I don’t know what is going to

happen this year.”

Exchanging gifts has often been handled by drawing names or numbers and setting a modest limit,

Coppenbarger said.

“Drawing names is easy and we’ve done that several years,” she said. “One year, when we had only

ladies in the office, we drew numbers. You brought a wrapped gift on the designated day with the

number on it, then everyone took a turn and drew a number out of a basket and opened the

corresponding gift. Of course, if you drew the same number of the gift you wrapped, you took another

turn.”

“Both ways we limited the purchase amount – $10 I think, which was also fun to see what bargains you

could buy under the limit,” she said. “For antique lovers, the purchasers would go to bargain stores

and garage sales to stay under the $10 limit. The bargain hunting stories were enjoyed by the group as

much as the presents. One year, I received a ‘yard art’ piece that my co-worker had bought at a bargain

hunter’s dream sale. I think the retail was about $25!”

Opting for charity

Melinda Laird, spokesperson for Cellular South, said employees often skip exchanging gifts, and

instead donate time or money to community projects.

“With our strong commitment to the communities we serve, our employees prefer to focus efforts

during the holidays on things that help the community,” Laird said. “For example, in Jackson, we are

joining the annual Thanksgiving food drive for Stewpot Community Services and Gateway Rescue

Missions and supporting the Salvation Army stocking stuffers during the rest of the holiday season.”

Like many small businesses, the staff in Daniels’ office is comprised of so few people that there is no

formal policy and procedure for gift giving.

“We will probably purchase gifts for each other – moderately priced, of course,” Daniels said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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