Workplace Doctor: Collection envelope comes around a little too frequently

Whether it is a birthday, the birth of a baby or someone is leaving, the collection envelope seems to travel around the office a little too often for my liking. I work in a large, open-plan office and if I stick in Dh25 each time, there is the potential to spend about Dh300 a month. This seems excessive, particularly when I often don’t know the person in question. So what is the etiquette here? Do I ignore the envelope and pass it on, or give less? AA, Abu Dhabi

AA, your work environment sounds friendly and social, which many people might be envious of. The concept of giving in support of a birth or someone leaving can be a symbol that the culture in your office is open and supportive, with colleagues wanting to show their support for each other’s achievements. I am wondering if it is like this in terms of work- related achievements as well. I am just making an assumption about this, and it could be quite possible that your workplace is not like this at all. However, if it is then many would be jealous of a workplace that engages everyone to contribute to someone else’s success, no matter how small.

That said, I imagine this could get a bit challenging as the informal culture and office etiquette seems to imply that everyone contributes each time, possibly irrelevant in terms of how well they know the person. As we know from our cultural work with organisations, it can be very difficult to go against a cultural norm of what people tend to do to celebrate an achievement. It is like the example of the boss taking everyone out every week for dinner after work, or the team go-karting outing that only the chief executive enjoys.

First, there is the option to completely go against the culture and not to give anything at all, but that will be an explicit defiance and, as a blanket rule, probably would not work in your favour. This is particularly the case if there are colleagues you are closer to, and you wish to mark their accomplishments.

The other option is to think a bit more strategically and plan your budget by considering on average how many celebrations there are a month and work out a budget that you can afford. Even if it is Dh10 or Dh15 each time, at least you have limited it to a set budget and can distribute within that accordingly. From what I know about office etiquette and my own experience, I think people never really question the amount you contribute, just as long as you do. Colleagues typically understand people’s situations, and especially as the cost of living can be high here, they would want you to show your support for others through contributing in a way that works for you.

Finally, this situation and feeling under pressure to part with money may well be on other people’s minds. Someone who has just had a baby may have additional financial challenges, and I am sure although they may be pleased with their gifts, they may still feel a bit stretched if they are also spending up to Dh300 a month. In turn, it may be an idea to think about alternatives instead, such as a cake, a card or a voucher. All it takes is for one person to suggest an alternative, then others come on board. Maybe you will have to wait until it is your birthday to suggest that you would prefer everyone to just contribute towards a cake and get together for a coffee. This is still in tune with a social and friendly office environment, but also helps to limit spending costs, which I am sure others will also be grateful for.

Doctor’s prescription: Good luck trying to reshape the office etiquette.​

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues

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