It’s Raining Gifts: Wedding and Baby Showers at the Office

Baby shower balloon, originally uploaded to Flickr by Maddy's MusingsReader H wrote in with this question…

I have a question about celebrating life events in the office – specifically throwing coworkers wedding showers and baby showers during work time. Should these events be limited to eating cake, or is it appropriate to play games? What kind of gift should you get your coworker? Should you throw baby showers for men whose wives are pregnant? Is being involved with the planning and decorating for these things a major NGDGTCO no-no? I don’t know if you’ve ever addressed this on your blog – I couldn’t find a post that dealt with it – and I would love to get your $.02.

I have to say, my knee jerked as a reaction to this question far more than it normally does. Decorations? Games?  Are you kidding me?  Maybe I’m overreacting, but the more I’ve thought about it the more it just seems wildly inappropriate on every possible level. (Update: And numerous commenters disagree with me, with lots having celebrated baby showers with coworkers, at least during lunchtime or at the end of the day. Which I guess just goes to show you — know your office!) As I begin this post, let’s remember that the purpose of a wedding shower or baby shower is to “shower” the recipient with gifts. For a wedding shower, only those invited to the wedding should be invited to the shower; as far as I know anyone can be invited to the baby shower.  So right off the bat, let’s knock wedding showers off the list unless literally everyone in the entire office is invited to the wedding.  (And in case you are having a wedding shower in the office:  please, no games — leave the toilet paper dresses for family and friends only, not coworkers!) (Pictured: Baby shower balloon, originally uploaded to Flickr by Maddy’s Musings.)

I still think an elaborate baby shower, on work time, is inappropriate.  Let me assume, first, that the reader didn’t actually mean a “shower” — she surely cannot have meant that she wanted to impose the duty on multiple coworkers to each buy a gift to shower the pregnant coworker with, to require them to go out of their way and pull out their wallets to give something to this person who they work with, through no choice of their own.  So I’m assuming that Reader H meant a ceremonial “we all chipped in $5-$10 and got you a gift before you go on maternity leave” kind of situation. In which case it isn’t properly a shower, but it’s a sweet idea. Celebrating with cake or even sparkling apple cider makes it a nice treat for the entire office. That said, if you’re the boss throwing this sort of thing, it’s only a “treat” if it doesn’t distract from the actual work that people need to do there. So the shorter the better — the last thing you want to do is require people to work later (or rush through that day’s tasks) because of your little party.  Let people get their cake, eat it, chat for a while, congratulate the lucky coworker, and then slink back to their office to work.  Anything that assumes coworkers will definitely be there for more than 10-30 minutes is way, way out of line, at least on company time.

All of this, of course, assumes that Reader H is the boss or this is established office policy, with celebrations for birthdays.  If this is NOT the case, I would step away from the cake (and balloons and games), and assume that the shower is happening on everyone’s own time.

Readers, what are your thoughts?  Have you ever celebrated a baby shower in an office? What would you think if you were invited to one during work hours?

Comments

  1. DC Association :

    This was very interesting to me! I work at an association, so definitely not the corporate world, but I decided to comment anyway! Everywhere I have ever worked, we have held wedding and baby showers for co-workers.

    I think at an office wedding shower, it is not necessary to follow the “don’t invite to shower if not invited to wedding” rule. In an office of more than 5 people, every single person certainly does not expect to be invited to the wedding.

    For all showers, I think that most people are happy to chip-in for a gift. People have no obligation to chip-in or attend the celebration. At my jobs, we have had snacks, cake and did a bit of decorating too. And, we’ve held showers for guys as well as the ladies, for both weddings and impending parenthood.

    Again, this is at a non-profit. I didn’t realize that this might be frowned upon in the world of law. Wow!

    • I tend to agree, though it’s certainly a “know your office” sort of thing. When I worked for a large insurance company (probably 75% female), we had teams of about 15-20 who always threw showers, but not everyone was expected to be invited to the wedding. Simple affairs, reserve a conference room, hang some streamers, get a cake and have everyone sign up to bring a snack, and everyone contributes a little bit for a gift certificate or something- takes maybe 20-30 minutes out of the day. If the guest of honor had a close friend or two within the company but outside of the team, they got the invite, too, but mainly it was just a party for that particular group of employees.

      Last office I worked at was majority middle aged women, and we frequently had grandmother showers. Same deal, though, just a glorified cake-break.

  2. I have to say I had a similar reaction. The only situation I have encountered is “we all chipped in for a gift and a card, and we are celebrating with cake too” types of situations – which generally coincided with the last day the woman would be in the office prior to going on maternity leave. Offices where I have seen that happen were also offices where they did something similar when someone left to go to another job incidentally.

    Having said that, I had a roommate once who worked in a totally different industry (fashion marketing) who had many more such obligations at her job – including more elaborate baby showers where individual gifts were expected. So it has been known to happen as far as I know, though not where I have ever witnessed it.

  3. “It’s only a “treat” if it doesn’t distract from the actual work that people need to do there.”

    This needs to be propounded to managers everywhere! Aaah! Last year (presumably to save money) my employer switched the holiday party from after-hours to, I think, 4 pm, and it was so unfair. You can’t win in this situation: if you don’t go to the party, or barely make an appearance, then you’re not being friendly/appreciative. If you do go and actually hobnob for a while, then you’re not getting your work done. Most of us tried to calculate exactly when our direct supervisors would be there and tried to attend for just like 10 fewer minutes than they did, to strike some kind of compromise. It was ridiculous. Bonus challenge: to have a drink or not? We all had several more hours of work to do, at least…

  4. I’m really interested to see what others have to say about this. I work for a small company with no history of showers and am helping to plan the first one we’ve had (a baby shower, along the lines of the second scenario Kat described-everyone chipping in and cake). We opted for just after work on a Friday, thinking it gave people who were invited but didn’t want to participate an easy out. It’s been surprisingly awkward to navigate given there is no set precident.

  5. Wow, is it just me, or did I find this post incredibly harsh? “So the shorter the better — the last thing you want to do is require people to work later (or rush through that day’s tasks) because of your little party. Let people get their cake, eat it, chat for a while, congratulate the lucky coworker, and then slink back to their office to work. Anything that assumes coworkers will definitely be there for more than 10-30 minutes is way, way out of line, at least on company time.”

    Read more: http://corporette.com/2011/11/01/its-raining-gifts-wedding-and-baby-showers-at-the-office/#ixzz1cTn3VLLK

    • i thought it was a really quite harsh too. i feel like there’s an assumption that H is the person throwing the shower and maybe that’s not the case at all. and maybe there is no office policy, this could be first (like a commenter above) and she’s trying to gauge how big this should be.

      • I’m the OP and just FYI I’m not the boss – I’m a lower level employee at a smallish company. My pregnant coworker’s assistant was told by our company president to organize a baby shower and she asked my advice, which is why I wrote in to Kat. This was the first pregnancy in our office so we did not know how to proceed. Since I emailed Kat we have actually had the party (during lunch, with a cake and gift card), which was a lot of fun and definitely appreciated by our pregnant coworker. Perhaps it would not be appropriate in a different office but for our close-knit group it worked out very well.

    • Agreed! I work in a mid-sized, national law firm, in a specialized group, and just yesterday we (our group + a number of litigation attorneys who the mother-to-be knows well) had a shower for one of our members that included decorations, themed food, and individual presents to open. Absolutely no one batted an eye at the idea that we’d do this and it was an enjoyable hour (4-5pm)!

    • I agree. Lighten up, sheesh! A shower is a nice thing to do and, in my experience, generally lasts all of 30-45 minutes anyway.

      • In my office, we throw a shower for any employee — male or female, of all ranks — who has a baby or is getting married. Recognizing a major event in a coworker’s life is a nice thing to do, IMO.

    • partypooper :

      It may have sounded harsh, but, to be honest, it accurately reflected my feelings on this type of things. I prefer to recognize events in the personal lives of my friends, not the personal lives of my co-workers. I also suspect that folks will do more for the boss’s baby than the secretary’s (out of understandable motives of self-interest). All in all, the mix of personal and professional is just too much for me.

      • Anonymous :

        Same. I never share my life events. I like a nice separation of work and home.

        • Anonymous :

          So when you’re pregnant and your coworker, charged by your boss, initiates a shower for you, you… what?

          There is very little privacy in pregnancy. Sometimes for bad, here, with people wanting to give you a gift and remember their own joyous times, for good.

          • Anonymous :

            “There is very little privacy in pregnancy.”

            That’s good! Never heard it like that before. I hate being made a spectacle of, but sometime I have to suck it up. Differing personalities trying to get along.

      • Georgiana :

        I agree, and I think Kat’s guidance (low-key, low-commitment, all invited) is spot-on.

    • Agreed that it struck me as harsh. My (admittedly relaxed and casual) office of a national, specialized law firm throws proper showers, during work hours, for male or female employees who are either getting married or having a baby. I haven’t seen anyone playing games yet, but there is definitely cake, punch, gifts, etc. They last a max of 45 minutes and no one seems to complain about them. The last shower we had was a baby shower for a male partner and we’re having another one soon for a female staff member.

      As to partypooper’s concern, I’ve noticed just the opposite here. The gifts at showers for partners are clothes/diapers/etc, but everyone pretty much expects that they can buy their own “big” purchases. Whereas, for the staff and associates, coworkers will chip in to buy a crib, stroller, dresser, car seat, or what-have-you.

    • Hi!

      Right with you, I thought it was incredubly harsh too – not that some of the posts on this site have not been at odds with my way of thinking / doing things before, but the wording seemed unusually harsh and I was actually wondering why Kat was writing so out of character.

  6. Wedding showers are the ONLY exception to the “only invite to the shower people who are also invited to the wedding.” This is widely accepted etiquette. But I agree, it should be limited to cake and a group gift.

    • This. My coworkers brought cupcakes and bubbly for my in-office wedding shower (and made me drink most of the champagne because they had to get back to work and I was leaving for my wedding that afternoon). It was really sweet and appreciated. Since my wedding, we’ve done it multiple times for other coworkers. For context – this was at my stuffy biglaw office and was thrown by the associates in our group (though the male group head managed to shuffle into the conference room where we were drinking champagne and couldn’t get out of the room fast enough once we realized what we were doing – it was too too funny).

  7. Notalawyer :

    The boss/es should not announce and more or less command performance/attendance at parties then leave it up to underpaid staff to plan, purchase gifts, provide food, and clean up afterwards, while showing up at the party as the ‘Host’ and taking all the credit without providing anything…AT ALL or contributing monetarily to gift or food/beverages provided. Nor should they invite guests who do not contribute or even know the participants.

    Needless to say, this is noticed and definitely not appreciated by those doing all the work. A complete morale buster.

  8. This is actually one of the few times I have disagreed. In our law office it is common practice to have a shower for the expectant mom or dad. The shower is cake and either lunch (dutch treat) or heavy hors d’ourvers after work. Both are complete with invitations, hosts, and an array of group and individual presents. Decorations are limited to centerpieces and some confetti for the evening shower and games anytime would be weird. The expectant mom/dad composes the invite list so not everyone in the office is invited, but everyone seems to expect that there will be some people excluded (which is tricky). My $.02 – work baby showers are okay if at lunch or right after work and not hokey.

    • We do this as well, for all staff and most associates.

      When I was getting married, or pregnant, as a partner, I did not have any shower events. I figured that it would become magically mandatory, since I was in a hire/fire position, and felt more comfortable skipping the whole thing.

  9. I don’t think a wedding or baby shower at work is a big deal. In places I’ve worked, it’s usually something where everyone who wants to contributes to a big gift or giftcard and there’s cake. There aren’t really decorations or games. Also because it’s a work thing, I don’t think the standard rules about being invited to the wedding etc apply.

    • I have worked at three big law firms in small departments, and this is how it is done. People contribute to a big gift or gift card. Then, we gather and have cake for 20 minutes. Who doesn’t like cake? Who wouldn’t want a brief break in their day?

      If someone has a conference call or a deadline, no one bats an eye if they do not show up.

    • anon also :

      I wish mine was like this. There’s cake, there’s some decorations (typically done by the assistant supporting the attorney if it’s the attorney having the baby, or by the other assistants if it’s an assistant who is pregnant), and there’s a varying volley of gifts. Usually everyone “voluntarily” contributes to a big gift, like one of those super expensive strollers, but some people buy individual gifts as well. I can’t tell you all how disinterested I am in cooing over yet another pair of tiny socks. I’m also much more uncomfortable with it when it’s an attorney that’s getting showered with gifts than staff. Attorneys don’t need staff buying them presents. We make plenty as it is. A staff shower, as a sort of “bonus” for all the hard work she does, to get her something really nice that she couldn’t otherwise afford, like a fancy stroller, seems much more ok to me.

      I’m on the verge of getting married, and one of the female partners asked me yesterday where I was registered. I was floored. I was brought up in the “absolutely no one at the shower who is not invited to the wedding” rule, and I’m not inviting any coworkers to my small wedding. Coworkers give wedding presents despite not being invited to the official bridal shower or wedding??? I’m also very uncomfortable receiving gifts in public, so now I’m half afraid I’m going to end up with an office wedding shower a la the baby showers I have seen here. There hasn’t been a female employee wedding during my time here, so I had no idea that an “office wedding shower” is something that happens in some offices. I really don’t want it to.

      • I have given wedding gifts to colleagues who didn’t invite me to their weddings. These were people I liked, and I wanted to let them know I was happy for them. The gifts weren’t extravagant, but rather just a little something off the registry.

      • As I noted above, I skipped it too.

        When asked where I was registered I simply said “I’m not registered anywhere, and we’re asking for no gifts. We’re lucky that we can do that.”

        Do what you are comfortable with.

        • won’t work- they can find your registry online then she’ll know you lied. We had coworkers get us gifts who weren’t invited, it was a nice gesture. it came in the mail, no big deal.

      • I get what you’re saying, but I’ve always understood that the rule was no one not invited to the wedding is invited to the shower. Not that no one not invited to the wedding should give you a gift. I actually think it’s really nice that this partner wants to give you a gift, and she wants to make sure it’s something you need (hence asking about the registry). Now if she’s doing it to find out info about a shower you don’t want, well, that may be different. But you can’t keep people from wanting to give you gifts to celebrate milestones, you know?

        • I joined a new team at work a few months before I got married and I was very surprised when I received a gift in the mail from the my new coworkers (all men btw). I thought it was a nice gesture that made me feel really welcome. Of course, I was sure to give them all Thank you cards when I returned to the office after my honeymoon.

  10. Maine Associate :

    I work at a small firm where we celebrate birthdays by the firm buying everyone lunch (there are 8 of us) and we all eat together. In the afternoon after the birthday lunch, there will be birthday cake that we will all eat together. A few years ago one of the assistants had a baby. We did the same thing to celebrate her pregnancy and everyone bought her gifts. There were no games or decorations.

  11. Chiming in to agree that this post seems pretty harsh. I have a fairly young office, there were four weddings last year alone. Everyone chips in $5-10 for a gift and cake, and after our weekly staff meeting, it’s a “surprise!” when the cake and gifts come out. It adds maybe 15 minutes to the meeting, and it’s generally a fun time. I think it’s nice that people you see every day, probably a good deal more than your spouse or child, recognize these events in your life.

  12. In my all-female offices, we took the person to lunch and chipped in for a smallish (like towels) gift. In my mostly-male office, the other woman suggested getting something for our manager’s new baby which touched off a huge e-mail chain. I wasn’t there for the actual gifting but I think they just handed it to him in the lab.

    In retrospect, it wasn’t because we as work friends wanted to make a big huge deal out of the weddings/births (even though they were obviously huge deals for the people). It was more of a “we want to do something nice for someone we like” spirit. Cake and everyone-come-to-the-break-room seem too showy in that vein.

    Games? shudder. no.

  13. Having worked in two different offices, it’s varied. My small office (of 8), everyone was invited to the wedding shower (for females), the wedding and then the baby shower. For my larger office, I, similar to @DC Association, work for an association. We don’t do wedding showers but we do baby showers. Everyone can chip in what they want (not required) and then one person buys the gifts. We also have chips and snacks. It’s scheduled in advance and on everyone’s calendar, late in the afternoon, except for the honoree, who is usually told it’s a staff meeting. We all participate, usually lasting for 30 min to an hour. We also have games – bingo or scrambled words comes to mind.

  14. We’re a big law firm in California and we regularly have baby and wedding showers. (Only for the women though.) An email goes out to people who might be interested in attending. We chip in for a group gift or bring individual gifts and we pay for our own lunch, which is held in a conference room. No games, but the recipient opens the gifts in front of everyone. Often, the spouse or grandparents will attend. Really, I don’t see what’s so bad about it. No one has to attend or give a gift.

  15. Anonymous :

    Interesting question. I have been distinctly uncomfortable with how my middle market, regional firm handles this. I was the first in a while to have a baby, and some of my friends wanted to throw me a shower. We did a long, Friday lunch inviting the female attorneys (partners and associates), my secretary and a couple of the paralegals that I worked closely with. I tried very hard to make sure no one felt obligated to come. In fact my secretary did not come, but I think she did give me a small gift at some point. I think most assistants will give at least a small gift at some point. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the shower, but that was what we did. However, I got comments from staff, who I have never worked with and am not particularly friendly with , that they wanted to be invited.
    Since my shower several years ago, the typical shower has evolved to a potluck lunch in the a conference room where all female employees are invited. I usually go as an associate who has a friendship with most of the honorees. However, the handful of female partners normally skip it.

  16. Anonymous :

    Well, I worked at a large government agency and the women threw me a baby shower. One of my male friends (c0-workers) joked around about not being invited. Showers were for women and attended only by women until the wife of one of the male employees got pregnant with triplets. Yes, he needed the shower!

  17. Wow, I am so thankful to work in an office with collegial and friendly coworkers who genuinely like each other, and have been happy to celebrate our colleagues’ life events. The workplace Kat describes sounds like a miserable and joyless existence.

    For those of you who don’t like your coworkers or don’t like celebrations: If you receive an invitation to a baby shower and you don’t want to attend – then decline. Don’t go and then gripe about it on the internet.

    Moving on to the actual question, at my office, for baby showers usually all of the colleagues from the department where the mom-to-be works are invited, as well as other colleagues who are friends with the mom-to-be (depending on the mom’s preference, we usually just invite women). Usually the shower is on the weekend at the home of a colleague (or other friend of the mom). That’s a lot easier than having it during the work day.

    If we are doing it during the work day, we often have the party at a local restaurant and take a long lunch (2 hours or so). We have cake and play 1 or 2 games. Usually the restaurant can make a fixed-price menu so everyone knows when they receive the invitation how much they’ll have to chip in. Sometimes we might have the shower in the conference room at work, but if we do that, the entire office is invited and we either do it potluck-style or just ask for a free will donation.

    Re: gifts, normally a link to the baby registry is included in the invitation. Otherwise people will take up a collection to buy a big item like a stroller.

    We’ve never done a bridal shower and I agree that would be odd since it’s usually organized by the bridesmaids. However, several times we’ve organized a party for a newlywed colleague just returned from his or her honeymoon. That usually takes the form of a happy hour at a local bar. We also do birthday lunches once a month or so. It’s fun.

    • Wow, you only have to do things you want to at work? Office-organized parties turn into obligations fast. It’s tough to decline an invitation to a 3pm meeting/shower and even tougher to not chip in (the oftentimes not specified) the right amount. What you’re talking about sounds different from what Kat’s talking about, but I’m with her in feeling grinchy about office-organized merriment.

      • I can’t imagine that someone’s boss would actually obligate her to stop working and attend a party – and honestly if her boss does tell her to do so, then it’s her job to go.

        People decline invitations all the time at my office. No one forces them to go. We all have jobs to do and that’s understood.

        • Uh – yes – there are bosses and colleagues that will browbeat you into going to someone’s party.

          And I don’t have to hate my coworkers to not want to celebrate with them – maybe I just don’t want to be the center of attention just so y’all have an excuse to throw a party. Or maybe I like my co-workers well enough, but we just aren’t friends enough that I’m comfortable accepting gifts from them.

          • But no one is seriously going to make you have a shower or accept gifts – I’m talking about showers that you’re invited to for someone else. It’d be crazy to throw a party for someone who explicitly said she didn’t want one.

          • The post isn’t talking about showers on the weekends, during your own time or of your own volition – i’ts talking about celebrating in the office. And you can bet your britches there are offices where the culture will frown on you if you don’t show up to one of their parties, or where they will throw you a party even if you politely demure. I’ve worked there, so please stop telling me my experience is wrong.

            I’m happy that you are besties with all your co-workers, but it is not a universal experience.

          • Then we should be attacking the attitude (browbeating those who don’t want to celebrate) rather than the celebration itself. God forbid that there are some workplaces that want to take a less than sterile approach toward workplace relationships.

          • At my office, bosses will totally browbeat you into this sort of thing. And showers are often “surprises,” so sometimes you won’t have a chance to express that you don’t want one. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they threw one in spite of you saying you didn’t want one.

      • I have never been in an office where parties became on obligation. Rather, it has always been customary to stay as long as you want, but the lawyers are usually especially busy and just drop in for a piece of cake, or not at all. No feelings are ever hurt, and no one is ever obligated to show up.

  18. Another perspective from outside law. I’m an engineer. The only place I remember these events being celebrated was the last place I worked. We were about 80-100 people, but close for such a large group. Everyone from the VP down lunched together etc.

    Co-workers of the honoree would usually plan a lunch and someone would invariably offer to be responsible for a group gift. Those who wanted to gift separately did that, and that was it. Presents were given at lunch and since it was usually less than 10 gifts they were opened between ordering and lunch arriving, or after everyone was done eating.

    The only time I can recall anything bigger than that, we had 3 babies due within weeks of each other 1 female co-worker and 2 male coworkers. We did pot luck in the big conference room after work on a Thursday. Anyone who wanted to stay/contribute was welcome. We did decorate for that one, but no games.

    Oh, and these were always co-ed. It would have been wierd to exclude the guys, they wanted to celebrate too.

  19. Wow I thought this was harsh too – maybe it’s a regional thing, but my office is in the Midwest and we throw both wedding and baby showers, for men and women. An email goes around letting people know that they can contribute to a gift certificate at the place where the honoree is registered – but specifically states that there is no obligation and that everyone’s names will be on the card. The company buys lunch and a small cake and we surprise the honoree for a low-key lunchtime party. I think it goes a long way toward office morale and bonding.

  20. Anon for this :

    I worked at a mid-sized law firm and baby showers were a huge deal. They did them for the women and the men expecting. If multiple people were expecting it was a joint shower. The support staff did the decorating. The attorneys could either bring food and a gift or chip in money to the support staff. They were allowed to go on company time to go buy gifts with the chipped in money. The expectant employee’s spouse would come to the celebration. Sometime’s a mom or sister would come too. All the female attorneys and support staff were expected to go to the shower. A lot of the male attorneys went to but they were less “expected.” I as an attorney enjoyed it but did feel awkward if a partner was looking for me and I was at “the shower” while my male counterpart was busy billing hours. Also, those presents really started to add up after awhile. My husband got pretty annoyed with me chipping in $30 or so every few months for a shower but it was a nice gesture.

    • Anonymous :

      I had a similar experience at a mid-sized California firm, except that the firm paid for one generous gift (in the couple hundred dollar range) chosen by the employee who raised the issue to a partner. The rest of us would sign a congratulatory card and eat cake. The interesting twist is that the firm only purchased gifts for female employees since the wife of a male attorney was not a firm employee. When a male employee was about to have a child, co-workers would chip in for a gift.

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