Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
What is your recommendation when you're being pressured at work to contribute to a charity drive that you either don't support or can't afford? What if your manager is the one doing the pressuring?
I've received about five emails in the past two days on the subject, reporting on who has already given and strongly encouraging the rest of us to pitch in. I feel like I'm a big jerk if I don't donate any money.
You are not a cheapskate or a jerk if you don't contribute money to a workplace charity drive.
You are in charge of your own financial decisions, and it's not OK for offices--let alone managers--to pressure you into donating your personal money to anything. That's your money, and you decide how to use it.
That's a principle that people should be sensitive to in any context, but it's especially important at work, because (a) you're a captive audience, and (b) the dynamics of the workplace can create worse types of pressure than if, say, one friend asks another to donate to something.
So, first, to people who are making these requests at work: Stop and think about how you're presenting them. Any request for someone to donate their personal money to something should be fully opt-in, not opt-out--meaning that you can present an opportunity to people to help fund something en masse: send a group email, post something on a bulletin board, whatever is appropriate in your office--but do not stop by people's desks, do not send individual emails to follow up with specific people, and do not report on who gave what. That's too much pressure in a context in which people can't help but wonder if they're expected or obligated to participate.
Next, to the people on the receiving end of these requests and feeling uncomfortable about them: When faced with these requests, it's fine to simply ignore them. If you feel an answer is required, say, "My budget won't allow me to contribute right now." Repeat as needed. Other alternatives: "I already allocated my charity budget for the year." "It's a great cause, but I can't." "No, thank you."
That said, if you're working in a culture where you're convinced opting out will affect you professionally, then you can always donate $5, consider it the price you pay to work at an annoying company, and move on. Sometimes that's the sensible option, even if it's not the stand-on-principle option. In general, though, if more people felt comfortable saying "no, thank you" and more people were willing to accept "no, thank you"--in all contexts, not just this one--the world would be a much improved place.
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