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.)

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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?

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  1. I’m sorry, but the tone of this post really caught me off guard. Honestly, I am very surpised that Kat wrote that! I really don’t think the OP’s question was so out of line as to warrant this kind of response. Yes, some of us work in high pressure environments but to say that expecting coworkers to “be there for more than 10-30 minutes is way, way out of line, at least on company time” seems a bit harsh. Expecting people to stay 30 minutes late on a day with a 30 minute shower may be “out of line,” but generally speaking if you know about an event ahead of time, I think you can figure out a way to arrange your day to accomodate it.

    I think this is totally a “know your office” situation. I think if you *know* that enough people would like to participate, then by all means do a nice lunch and some small gifts (maybe set a price limit on individual gifts to make it more comfortable); a lunch and a group gift could also work and may be more comfortable for all involved.

    • Cool, @AIMS. Nice to hear that all offices in NYC aren’t so harsh and cold… :-)

    • Research, Not Law :

      Agree. The tone really threw me on this post.

      Let’s be real: I spend more time with my coworkers than I do my friends. I like most of them. Why wouldn’t I spend 45 minutes and $15 to wish them well on their marriage/new baby and chat a bit with others? It’s not exactly a weekly occurrence that’s going to throw off my work.

      That said, I have worked in offices where parties were not optional and they were actually quite uncomfortable. But I see that as an exception, not a rule. I was still happy to wish the person well, even if I loathed the party thrower’s tactics.

  2. anon for this :

    disagree. Kat is right. it’s totally inappropriate. but, I work in biglaw in NYC like Kat used to, so maybe it’s a regional thing. however, i do think it’s consistent with many other things we discuss on this blog, and the general idea that work and personal are best kept seperate. (e.g., 1) no crying at work 2) no revealing clothing 3) no facebooking your boss 4) no gossiping at work. These are all rules we live by at work, but things we would nonetheless do with our friends, on the premise that work and personal are separate spheres of our lives and that overlap between the two leads to problems. Thus, I think Kat’s stance on work parties is perfectly reasonable and consistent.

  3. Anonymous :

    In my current office – a boutique creative agency with about 30 employees – we are constantly expected to attend and shell-out for a variety of celebrations that are essentially forced-fun mandated by our owners. Wedding shower bowling parties. At least one birthday party per month. Tons of baby showers (six in the past year). Most recently, we were subjected to an hour-long going away party complete with games quizzing us on how well we knew our departing co-workers. Personally I don’t think it’s right to be using time that could be billable to fashioning toilet paper wedding dresses (yup – this actually happened earlier this year) or estimating the size of my co-worker’s baby belly (so awkward and inappropriate). It’s a colossal waste of time, and not fun to be regularly hit up for donations/gifts.

    Conversely, my former agency – a top-5 global PR firm – struck a better balance. Major milestones (weddings, new babies, etc.) were celebrated with one nice gift that was paid for by the company. In my case, when I was married, the firm sent me a very nice serving set from Williams-Sonoma. With the birth of my son, the company purchased a higher-end item from my baby registry. A congratulatory note was sent. The end. No muss, no fuss.

  4. I work in a medium sized government office as an attorney and we have both baby and wedding showers for our co-workers (men and women). They have typically been lunch potlucks and then everyone contributes to a gift card to some place like Target. No games or decorations, or even cake, though someone will usually sign up to bring dessert. Both women and men and all levels of staff attend the lunch. It is fun and a nice way to socialize with our co-workers (escpecially since many of us don’t typically get together outside of work.)

  5. TXAttyJen :

    Absolutely disagree. I’m a junior partner at a mid-size law firm in Dallas (75 attys), and I just attended 3 baby showers in the past 4 weeks at work – 1 for an associate attorney and 2 for staff. Food, decorations, short games (no taste the baby food in the diaper guessing games), and every female employee was invited. Some practice areas went in together to give a group gift, but most people gave individual gifts. 1 shower was on a Saturday, 1 was during lunch, and 1 was immediately after work – all were held in the office. FWIW, we’ve never had a shower for the wives /girlfriends of male employees who are expecting, but I always get a gift for the baby once he/she is born.

  6. I had been working as a secretary at a human resources consulting firm (about 60 people worked there total) for all of three months when I was thrown a surprise wedding shower by the entire office. My wedding was the following month in my hometown several hours away. Since it was a small wedding and I was new to the office, I didn’t invite anyone from the office to the wedding. My shower was on “company time” complete with balloons, cake, and plenty of gifts. I’d say it lasted between30-45 minutes. I was truly touched. That office, though, was very, very event oriented. Lots of pot-lucks, parties for the whole family at the COO’s house, during-work-hours holiday party, plus an annual casino night. I know that the support staff, at least, thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. Maybe it was a pain for management, but they never made it feel that way.

    I was a third-year law student when I became pregnant with my oldest. I had been clerking at a small firm for 18 months when the firm threw a group baby shower for me and two secretaries who were also pregnant. Again, it was on firm time and involved cake – about 30 minutes or so. Support staff got us each a basket of assorted baby necessities (bibs, thermometers, etc.), the associates each got us adorable outfits from ritzy baby stores, and the partners contributed very generous gift cards. My husband’s office (he’s a prosecutor) also threw us a party toward the end of the day one Friday. They went nuts and got us so much more than I would ever have imagined (baby swing, blankets, bath tub, clothes…). We did snacks and cake. Definitely no games for either shower.

    In the last eight years, I haven’t worked anywhere where there were coworker’s weddings or babies to celebrate. (In retrospect, I seem to work with a lot of old people, now!) However, having been on the receiving end of very thoughtful, generous showers, I can’t tell you how special it was to have the people I saw every day celebrate the most important events in my life. I think I’d be very happy to celebrate with others the same way. I certainly wouldn’t feel put out.

    • I thought one was only supposed to get a baby shower for the first kid – with the assumption that after kid one you have most of the stuff you need, and really shouldn’t have them for subsequent kids.

      • One is “supposed” to have the shower only for the first kid. Both showers (and two more by two different groups of friends) were for my first baby. I didn’t have a shower for either of my next two kiddos.

        On the other hand, some friends and I just threw a surprise baby shower for a friend who is having her third child soon. She never had a shower for her first two (both boys). Five years passed, she got rid of all her baby stuff, and now she’s having a girl. She was so surprised and happy that we all came together to celebrate her daughter with her. Rules can be broken!

      • I think the shower for the first kid is usually bigger, but it’s normal to have some sort of shower for subsequent kids too. When my coworker had her second son we got her a double stroller and ate cake.

      • Agreed. I’ve been to baby showers for subsequent children, but they’re often diaper showers (no registry, no other gifts expected, but diapers and wipes would be helpful).

  7. My personal preference regarding wedding and baby showers: Wouldn’t want to have one thrown for me, wouldn’t want to throw one for a coworker.

    I like the people in my office, but I’m just here to work.

  8. Anonymous :

    There are reasons why I LOVE working in a male dominated workplace — this is one of them! This never comes up and isn’t an issue.

    • karenpadi :

      Second that! If anything, we have a (firm-sponsored) lunch or happy hour to celebrate life events. We usually end up combining 2-3 people’s events into 1 “party”. Sometimes, we even invite (certain) clients who work with the honoree.

      No gifts, nothing beyond a quick toast. Heck, we don’t even sing “Happy Birthday” when we have (firm-sponsored) birthday cake (which only seems to happen when someone wants to tease someone else about his birthday).

  9. Anon Today :

    Why is it okay to only invite females to a wedding or baby shower? Or to only have a wedding or baby shower for females? Do men not get married and have children as well? This sounds just as sexist and off-putting as the post last week on male sexism at the office. It seems that women are doing themselves no service by excluding the men they work with from these celebrations. All it does is perpetuate the gender biases we should want to eliminate.

    In my office, a large international conglomerate, I must get invites at least 3-4 times a month because someone is getting married, having a baby, or leaving the company. No one feels obligated to go or pitch in for a gift, it’s just about congratulations and free cake.

    • My office does both co-ed and women only parties, depending on the preference of the guest of honor. We also have done baby showers for fathers-to-be. But the last two times we had a baby shower, we invited the two men in my department, and both physically recoiled at the thought of spending a Saturday afternoon squealing over baby socks and playing pin the pacifier on the baby. YMMV.

      • The Bad Wife :

        Maybe, they know something? Do you realize how 1950s this sounds? Men don’t like “girly” and “baby” things but women do so you have women only weekend events?

    • Research, Not Law :

      I’ve only experienced co-ed work showers. I find that in some workplaces, only women attend, but men have always been invited and welcome. As, I agree, they should be.

      • I’m particularly uncomfortable when only women are invited to showers that are held in a workplace context — either in the office or on the weekend. I have worked at places where women employees and the wives of male employees would be invited to baby showers — that was the worst! I realize not everyone feels this way, but for me neither parental roles nor invitations to work events should be defined by gender, any more than assignments or pay should be.
        More generally, baby showers bring up issues for people who want kids but don’t have them — e.g., because of infertility or because they’re not in a relationship likely to lead to a family.
        I guess I think it’s fine — can be really nice — for coworkers to gather to celebrate these life events. But I’m not sure you can have showers in the workplace without inviting some messiness, too.

    • Working Girl :

      At my firm (Biglaw), we have showers for both the expectant mothers and the expectant fathers, and both men and women attend. I think the female attorneys would revolt if it were any other way. Until we start making these practices gender-neutral, we’re going to be stuck in the 1950s. Start inviting the men!

    • In my last job at a large nonprofit, we threw baby showers for men, too. Their spouse/partner was also invited and we always tried to work around the spouse/partner’s schedule so they could attend (aiming for their lunch break, usually).

  10. Of course we’re not necessarily friends with the people we work with. But successful work of almost any kind depends on positive relationships with coworkers. Getting to know each other outside a strictly professional context and having generally positive feelings about each other greases the wheels in many ways. So I think some level of office socializing is actually important. I have no problem attending the occasional baby shower for a co-worker. At my office, they’re usually held in a conference room over the lunch hour — cake, a little chatting, no big deal.

    • Anonymous :

      Same here. Birthdays = free snacks in the kitchen and birthday wishes. It makes everyone happy, especially those who forget to eat breakfast.

    • This. I may not comfortable hanging out with them outside of work or intertwining our personal lives otherwise, but I’m definitely happy for them and don’t mind celebrating with them as long as I don’t have to leave the office. :)

  11. I agree with Kat – and I am not in NYC biglaw – no decorations, no games (games – are you kidding me?), maybe chipping in something small for a gift and cake (or lunch). But no big production. You can totally do cake and gifts in 10 to 30 minutes. I can like my workplace and my co-workers without having to say anything more than congratulations and good luck.

  12. My previous office (non-law) generally had success throwing these types of things at the end of the day. 4:30 would roll around, everyone gathers for cake and socializing, and anyone who wants to stay longer than 30 minutes could do so on their own time. The company or boss generally bought the cake, and people would chip in a small amount for a gift. The whole party would often move to a low-key happy hour location for those who wished to keep celebrating, and anyone who needed to leave was able to bow out gracefully at 5:00.

    • Wishful thinking :

      Maybe there’s a correlation between offices where 4:30 is nearing the end of the day and offices where such parties are acceptable. At my office, 4:30 is basically lunch time and office-hours parties are unheard of. I’m quite jealous.

      • Anonymous :

        Mine is in the middle– most of us work 7 to 7 and have plenty of time for a group celebration once or twice a year. It’s not a big deal for the attendees to chip in and stand around smiling, but it’s a big cheerful supportive deal for the person going through the life event. We also sign a card and chip in for flowers/donation when someone experiences a loss. We do not consider this an inefficient waste of time and intellect but a part of living life.

  13. We get the department together for lunch, and have a card, a few presents, some good wishes, maybe a cake. Everyone has fun and goes back to work afterwards. It does not need to be more complicated than that.

    We are a male dominated office too (although that is changing) but moms-to-be and dads-to-be both get lunches, and everyone attends.

  14. “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.”

    Maybe that’s a part of why Kat left the practice of law? Just a thought.

    At my mid-sized NYC law firm, we hold baby showers all the time. I’m not invited to all of them, just when I’m friends with or work with/have worked with the honoree. People typically chip in for a big gift, and lots of folks buy small individual gifts as well. There’s always cake, sometimes decorations, and men as well as women are invited (though the guests are usually overwhelmingly women). I have yet, however, to see a baby shower thrown for a man whose wife is pregnant, and our firm is still old fashioned enough that any male honoree of such a party would probably be teased mercilessly by his male colleagues.

    Sometimes I think these celebrations are a bit over the top, but nobody is obligated to attend, and it’s understood that work comes first so if you can’t go, you can’t go. But overall I’m glad to work in a place where shared time together during the work day to celebrate these important life events is supported.

  15. Dallas MBA :

    Baby showers are almost expected in our office – men and women are invited, cake and other food is served, and you’re the odd one out if you don’t attend. I have no problem with the shower for the first-time expectant mother, but one of my co-workers recently hosted a shower for a co-worker who was having her second child…less than a year after the first one was born. Does anyone else feel this is completely unacceptable – in any environment?

    • Yup – baby showers with gifts are traditionally for the first born. I can see doing lunch or cake, as celebrating any life event, but the additional gifting is rude. Kind of like someone have another wedding shower within a year of getting of married (Hello – Kim Kardashian, take note)

    • Generally agreed, and the short time-frame in this scenario doesn’t help matters. But I’ve seen people throw showers for a second/third child if the new baby is a different boy and the mom previously had all girls, or vice versa. Or where there is a large gap in time between babies to the point that the parents got rid of all the previous baby stuff.

  16. This sounds like it’s a regional thing. I’m in a west coast office of a national law firm and we do baby showers. Not everyone is invited or expected to come, it’s kept the group- i.e. if the person is a patent prosecutor, they would not expect litigators to come. I think it’s really sweet and thoughtful and they only invite people who work closely with the person and/or are personal friends, so I have never felt pressured to attend when I didn’t want to. If I had to miss because of work obligations, i’ve sent an email saying congratulations, and if it was soemone I really liked, gotten either a card or a small ($15) gift. Events like these are nice, IMO, because I wind up spending around 12-14 hours a day in this office, so I’d like to be able to connect with at least some people on a more personal level.

  17. My government office has wedding and baby showers all the time, but I can see Kat’s point. They happen SO often that they can get very annoying, especially when you end up being invited (and expected to bring a gift) to the shower of a coworker you barely know every few weeks. It also gets very expensive very quickly.

    They also pretty much run the gambit from “group gift certificate and cake” to everyone bringing an individual gift. In the case of wedding showers, many many more people are invited than those invited to the actual wedding. Sometimes elaborate refreshments and some decorations are provided, sometimes the coworker’s spouse is invited, but we have never ended up playing games — I think the line is drawn there, even in this atmosphere.

    However, even though necessity and custom has pretty much relaxed my view toward office wedding showers, I was a bit insulted when an acquaintance/friend invited me (via Facebook, no less) to her bridal shower and not to her wedding. That didn’t seem right — it seemed very “please bring me a gift, but I don’t want to see you at my wedding” inappropriate. I didn’t end up going or getting her a gift, but I felt a little bad that my response may have been innapropriate.

  18. Skirt Envy :

    I want to echo what several people say- I value my relationships with my coworkers and would never want to work in place where Kat’s views were rampant. First, the amount of time/billable hours/FTE spent on a shower pales in comparison to the ongoing football pool . Second, I genuinely want an opportunity to shower my coworkers for their marriage or birth of the first child. On the other hand, I’m a Southerner now living in Dallas- so perhaps this is a perfect example of the regional thing.

    Dallas MBA- I totally agree- one shower per person for the first child.

    • While I get what you mean by the shower for the first child only, I’m not sure what you mean by “one shower per person.” I had four baby showers for my first child. I was lucky enough to have four totally separate groups of people who wanted to throw a baby shower for me (not my idea to have any shower at all). I was the guest of honor at all four showers, but no other guest was invited to more than one shower. I can’t imagine saying to my aunts who were excited about their first great nephew’s impending arrival, “Sorry…I know you want to throw me a shower, but my friends already threw me one.”

      • Skirt Envy :

        I phrased it incorrectly. To clarify: An employee gets one company sponsored baby shower (perhaps or usually related to the birth or adoption of their family’s first.

        I’m with you- if multiple friends or family members want to throw showers, you would be crazy to turn them down. We had a crazy 5 showers when our son was born.

  19. Anonymous :

    My office threw an out-of-office baby shower at lunch for the women in the office ONLY. I really hated this idea. I think it’s rude to segregate it to just women, it should have just been something small in office for everyone. Anyway, I didn’t go. I know people got annoyed at me, but I was more annoyed at the idea of a women’s-only extended lunch get away. My supervisor is male and I didn’t think it was really professional. I could not picture myself strolling back in at one or two o’clock with a ridiculous goody bag. That said, I now pretty much have a policy of boycotting all out of office, during work hours events. Have to be consistent.

    • Anonymous :

      I hear ya. Our office celebrations are modern coed, but the women-only thing is a sweet tradition, too, and let people who are into it (not me) tell and hear the tales of the sorority of wifedom and motherhood.

  20. In a professional environment, I’d rather get someone a present & a cake for winning a motion, closing a deal, or landing a client. I’m happy to support my co-workers’ professional accomplishments, which all of them can hope to have sometime, but once you start celebrating babies, weddings, etc., you are treating people specially based on personal events that not everyone will have and that endorse a particular life choice as worthy of celebrating, to the exclusion of any others (unless you also throw showers for pet adoptions, moving in together, etc.)

    If you want to celebrate personal milestones, I think it’s best to do so on personal time.

    • Ooh! showers for pet adoptions! yes, please! furry loved ones need schwag too!

    • Anonymous :

      What personal time? I think work celebrations, like em or not, are natural and kind given that most of us spend most of our time at work, together with our coworkers, with whom we (hopefully) come to share a bond and fondness. If you’re spending most hours of most days and most years of your life with people, I hope you can come to appreciate and enjoy them. Otherwise, life is both too short and way, way too long…