I've been working for my boss for almost six years. During the early years while in a recession, we worked as a two man company which makes me the longest tenured hired employee at our company that currently employs eight people. We hired a guy back in June who had been fired from one of our competitors and in his first week announced that he had found out that he had knocked up his girlfriend and had decided to surprise her with a marriage proposal and a house. His girlfriend said yes to both. Now the baby is coming in a couple months and this guy has invited the whole office to the baby shower. I plan on not going to the shower and not giving a gift. For as long as I've been working we've not done office parties or gifts for birthdays or babies and people generally mind their own businesses. Also, this same guy sent out invitations for a house warming party a few months ago that I didn't attend or give a gift for. I'm not friends with the guy because I find his all around stupidity tiresome and frustrating. I anticipate another invitation later this year for his wedding which I will also ignore.
Is there proper office etiquette on how many times you can solicit gifts from your coworkers? Is that okay?
First of all, you're being a little generous with yourself if you're anticipating an invitation to the wedding of a person you openly despise. Getting on the guest list for a wedding is not the same thing as getting on the guest list for a house party. Weddings are involved and inviting people to them is expensive. Weddings are when people stop being polite and start getting real. If by some miracle you are invited to this wedding, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go, because the person getting married is obviously a living saint who operates on a more serene plane of existence than do we humans, and the wedding will probably feature some pretty cool celebrity appearances (I'm thinking Virgin Mary? Jeanne D'Arc?) for that reason.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way:
Here is a table illustrating our discordant narratives of this guy's life. Your version is on the left. Mine is on the right.
- This guy "got fired" from one of your competitors.
- He "found out that he had knocked up his girlfriend."
- Since she was knocked up, he asked her to marry him
- Since then he's been demanding gifts left and right.
- He's stupid.
- Your company hired an experienced new employee
- Surprise! He and his girlfriend are expecting a baby
- It wasn't planned but they're thrilled to build a new life together. Wedding!
- He's hosted a few parties and taken care to invite everyone—even the grouch.
- You're mean.
I highly doubt your coworker is playing the long con for presents. There are more cost-effective ways of acquiring clear vases and coasters than hosting parties and hoping people happen to bring them. For example: shoplifting. Also: purchasing.
Based on your email, you seem like the kind of person who corners a coworker in his office and asks him to make good on that binder clip he "borrowed" last week; who leaves your light off on Halloween to discourage "grift-or-treaters," because "if you feed them once, they'll come back next year, palms outstretched for the candy dole"; the kind of person who, if the baby were stillborn, would ask for your gift back.
I don't believe the Cratchits are inviting you to housewarmings and baby showers because they are eager for your gifts, and certainly not for your company. I believe they are doing it because they are polite.
Because when you work in an office with eight people and invite all of them but one to your parties, that person could feel left out.
So as you sit, hunched over your figures, scratching your quill onto parchment late into the night, I ask that you remember two things: one, that it is customary in the Western world to celebrate births, marriages, and even new homes with social gatherings. Two, that it's unlikely these celebrations will become recurring affairs.
Do you suspect that's why this guy was let go from his previous employer? Because he bled the company dry by soliciting a constant stream of baby clothes and wine racks?
I promise that you will not be invited to any future birthdays of the child you hate ("One more mewling mouth to feed...born in the backroom of a public house, no doubt...will end up a ward of the state in three months' time—look at the father. Anyway, how was your weekend, Janet?"), nor will you be called upon to commemorate the family's two week anniversary of living in their house with a costly gift.
If for some reason you are invited to the wedding, you are under no obligation to attend. You are under no obligation to socialize with your coworkers outside of the office ever, if you don't want to—and, hoo boy, it sounds like you don't.
However, planning to "ignore" the invitation completely is not okay. What's the rationale there? "An RSVP from me in the self-addressed stamped envelope you provided is more of a gift than you deserve"?
If you get an invite, say you'll be unable to attend and give them your regrets.
It's the best present you can give them.
Frequently, after a day of work where I am surrounded by endless chatter, I am surrounded by as many as 4 or 5 different loud cell phone conversations on the No. 31 bus in Manhattan. I don't want to hear the details of a doctor's appointment, the office politics, the fact that he finally called nor the dreaded "I'm on the bus. I'll be there in 5 minutes."
During these stressful situations, I read my book out loud. Or, in the alternative, I comment on the conversation closest to me. Yes, people do get very annoyed but they do shut up. Is that ok?
Thatz not okay.
Is there some quality in the human voice that induces stress in you? If so, my advice would be to take steps to block that out, rather than adding to the din with your own ranting and raving.
It sucks when people are loud and obnoxious on public transportation (and studies have even found that it's harder to tune out half a conversation than it is a natural back-and-forth), but that's part of the trade-off for getting a ride across town for $2.
The difference between what they're doing and what you're doing is that you are being obnoxious to them. And not just to them; to everyone. (And why is "I'm on the bus. I'll be there in 5 minutes" so dreaded? That sounds like a pretty short conversation, unless it's a running countdown of minutes and seconds. "I'll be there in 4 minutes and twenty-seven seconds. I'll be there in 4 minutes and twenty-five seconds.")
My guess would be that the reason people stop talking when you start commenting on their conversations or very pointedly reading your book aloud is that they believe you're mentally ill. Most people shut-up if they think they're at risk of getting stabbed. If a person can be moved to such fury by overhearing a mundane phone conversation, it's probably best to remain silent and hope you can slide by under their radar.
They have already adopted a philosophy you might consider: Don't willfully antagonize strangers.
And let's not forget about the other innocent bystanders here: the quiet passengers who have to put up with even more noise just because you want to make a point. You have become that which you hate.
Now their only recourse is to comment on your comments, which means the spiral of commenting, and commenting on commenting, will grow wider and wider until everyone on the bus is talking at once, the windows blow out from the sheer volume, and the driver, startled, swerves into oncoming traffic. Think how unpleasant your ride would be then.
If the sound of people talking in public enrages you, I suggest investing in headphones, earplugs, or prayer.
You could also just try a more engrossing book.
It would not be okay if we failed to acknowledge the passing of Pauline Phillips, best known as the creator of "Dear Abby," who died Wednesday at age 94. Phillips, along with her identical twin sister Esther Lederer (AKA "Ann Landers") helped keep the tradition of stranger asking strangers for advice alive for decades.
Last year Phillips' daughter, Jeanne, who took over the Dear Abby column following her mother's retirement, fielded a question about allowing a child to put stickers on the face of the deceased at the funeral. (Her advice: Nope.)
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions here. Image by Jim Cooke