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.

Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. Should I get my boss a gift for the holidays?

I just started a new job and I am working in a team of three. Should I get my boss a gift for the holidays? I would round up the other co-worker, but had second thoughts because she is a temp. I don't want to be gimmicky or a teacher's pet, but I also think it might be a nice gesture. What would you suggest?

Green responds:

Nope. Etiquette says that gifts in a workplace should flow downward, not upward -- meaning that gifts from bosses to employees are fine, but employees shouldn't give gifts to those above them. This rule stems from the power dynamics in the boss/employee relationship, because otherwise people can feel obligated to purchase gifts when they don't want to or can't afford to -- and managers should never benefit from the power dynamic in that way.

2. My new co-workers want me to pitch in to buy our manager a gift

I just started a new job two months ago and so far I'm enjoying it. Another member on my team sent out an email asking for a $5 voluntary contribution to buy our manager a gift. I enjoy working with this team member and she actually spent a significant amount of time training me and getting me well prepared for my job. I also get the feeling that my manager understands that proper office etiquette is to have gifts flow downward. We recently did a secret Santa, and she requested that anyone who drew her name to simply make a donation to any charity.

I'm just wondering how I should approach this? The other co-workers seem to be really into Christmas and probably won't have an issue with it, since we all enjoy working with this particular manager. Also, my finances are in good shape so $5 out of my pocket is not a big deal and I'm not sure if it's worth it to be saying anything since I've only been here for three months.

Green responds:

This is a little more complicated than the first situation above, because you're new and your co-workers are all doing it.

If you didn't want to spend the money, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to say, "Unfortunately my budget won't allow me to chip in." But since you're willing and it's only $5, there's an argument for just going with the flow on this one.

If it were a significant amount of money, I'd be more inclined to encourage you to opt out. And if you'd been there longer, I'd encourage you to steer your co-workers away from gifting upward, but that's not a battle worth expending capital on when you're so new to the job.

3. Should I get my employees gifts?

I'm new to an organization. We do a holiday gift exchange, but do I need to get my direct reports additional gifts as well? The gift exchange max is $30, so it is pretty generous already.

Green responds:

In general, no, managers don't need to get their staff gifts. That said, you might discreetly inquire with other managers about the culture of the office on this; if it's the norm for managers to do something for their staff, you'd want to have that context when making your decision.

But absent some compelling pressure from your particular workplace culture, no. However, you could certainly make a small group gesture, like bringing in baked goods for people to share, as a marker of the season and general expression of good will.

4. Staying busy during the holidays

I'm in month four of a six-month temporary position, working as an assistant for a very large company. Most of my work comes by way of direct requests from managers.

I recently asked my current manager what her expectations are for me during the weeks of Christmas and New Year's, and was instructed to work it out with the other two admins to ensure "that there is coverage."

Because the company employee will use up her remaining vacation time during these weeks, and the other temp has family coming from out of town, I'm resigning myself to being in the office for hours just in case someone needs something (even though no one will be there). However, I am at an utter loss about what to do with myself in the office all that time. During Thanksgiving, I organized files, created manuals, and did everything else I could think of. I would be uncomfortable surfing the internet or reading a book. What else can I do besides stare out the window? How can I ask my manager "How should I spend my time?" and still sound professional?

Green responds:

There's nothing unprofessional about asking that, particularly since temps usually have limited ability to come up with their own autonomous work. I'd just say, "Things were very slow during Thanksgiving, so I organized files and created manuals. Assuming Christmas week will be similar, are there other things that you'd like me to work on?" If she says no, and that you just need to be around in case something comes up, then I'd plan to read (either online or a book). In some cultures, it's totally normal for temps to read a book during downtime, but if you don't think that would fly, no one is likely to object to (or possibly even notice) you reading articles online.

5. Can my company refuse to allow spouses to attend the holiday party?

Can a government company require employees to attend holiday party without spouses? The day will require working from 8 to 12 and then leaving to attend the holiday party. Can they really do that?

Green responds:

Absolutely. First of all, hosts of a party can limit the guest list however they want. Second, this party is during your workday, so it's even more reasonable that it's employees-only.

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Published on: Dec 4, 2018
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