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. As a young, single person, I have found it annoying when I was expected to chip in or buy a present for coworkers I barely knew.

    • Notalawyer :

      Me too. It gets very expensive.

    • Makeup Junkie :

      I was always annoyed that the lowest paid staff was expected to pay the same as the partners, but that was more in smaller firms. We don’t do that kind of stuff in the big firm where I am now.

    • Anonymous :

      Ours was throw your cash into the envelope, or not. It adds up either way and we buy a giftcard or big gift with what’s there. There’s no audit or judgement.

      • I prefer Anonymous’s method. It’s still a nice gesture and everyone can get together if they want to, plus the gift is always going to be something good. And it cuts down on the “I have to coo over yet another itty bitty pair of socks” problem that one of the commenters mentioned earlier.

  2. I trained in a male dominated field in residency. We definitely blurred the lines between personal and professional life. If someone was getting married, there was a group celebration of it (party or evening at bar) with the expressed understanding that not all of us (or any) would be invited to the wedding. For me, these events were our ways of celebrating our personal life experiences because we weren’t going to be invited to the wedding. Also, baby showers were a rare event, but did happen. My was after hours, female residents and spouses of male residents (doesn’t that seem slightly backwards? oh well). Low key, small gifts, totally optional. Where I’m working now, if I had a baby shower it would most likely be thrown by my support staff, which would make me totally uncomfortable as my financial situation is so much better than theres. It would be too weird.

    • Hmm, @EC MD. I don’t see the class distinction in the baby shower scenario (law firm partner vs. secretaries, surgeons vs. nurses, CEOs vs. admins). Baby things can be found at all price points…And I’ve always been surprised by how much support staff *and* my peers want to wish me well. And the same is true when the shoe is on the other foot and I’m the one ooh-ing and awe-ing. It’s really about the celebration of an exciting new journey of the birth of a child. Cute pink or blue blankies, pacifiers, mobiles, booties, well-wishes, all that good stuff. Oh well. Didn’t realize how differently others see these things. (shrugs).

  3. At my firm (with 75 people), the staff usually holds a lunch shower. Basically they order lunch, and chip in $5 for a gift card so employee can get what they need for wedding/shower. It’s a great excuse for us to actually take lunch instead of working through and an excuse to eat cake. The only ones to give individual gifts are the lawyers to their assistants/paralegals. There are no games or decorations just lunch, cake and socialization. It’s great for team spirit.
    I am one of the youngest girls at my firm and am the only one going on Mat leave in the past 4 years, the ladies at work are exciting to have another “grandchild” and want to celebrate.

  4. I think short and simple is the way to go, but after reading the above comments I have to say every office is different. Three years ago my office learned the hard way.! They rallied around a new hire (a man), and threw him a HUGE baby shower. I was kind of mortified as it was out of character. I barely new him and didn’t contribute any money. Smart call on my part. A month later he told some people he wasn’t going to marry her (snap), and they were breaking up (double snap). After that, I don’t get too involved in any hoop-la unless I know the person well. The people who throw the party can do as they wish.

    • Did you mean to say that they threw him a huge wedding shower? I can’t see how the marital status of the parents impacts a baby shower.

      • No, it was a baby shower. He had a baby with his girlfriend (an accident apparently) as he later confessed. It wasn’t his marital status that made it so inappropriate. It was the fact that they have never done something this extravagant for any of the “lifers” who work here.

  5. Diana Barry :

    So odd to think that people would be required to chip in their own $$ for the food for the shower.
    For my wedding, work (biglaw, small dept) had cake and one work gift (silver picture frame).
    For kid #1, work (diff biglaw firm, small dept) had cake and a whole pile of gifts – mostly from staff, but some from the attorneys (some of the other attorneys sent me gifts after baby arrived). They invited my husband and it was a total surprise – I thought I was going down the hall to witness a will. Very sweet of them – my assistant organized it.
    Both times, the partners (all older men) showed up late, but did stay for 5 minutes and have cake and pretend to be enjoying themselves.

  6. I had both! I worked as an HR Manager for a manufacturing facility. My coworkers threw them for me. They only invited certain people to my wedding shower – people they assumed would be invited to the wedding, but I hadn’t intended to invite. I ended up inviting the extra anyway. It was an out of town wedding, so I figured they could politely decline without any issues (which most of them did!)

    As for the baby shower, it was the most awesome thing. They put a big branch of a tree in there, and then people pinned money to it – whatever they felt like contributing, or nothing if they wanted. It was a money tree! So amazing. We were an informal place, though, and lots of people skipped my shower(s) if they were busy, and there were no issues.

  7. We usually have a cake and other treats and everyone will buy a small gift to add to a basket for the co-worker to open. There is no pressure to spend a lot of money.

    For weddings and engagements we all chip in for a present, again no pressure to spend a lot of money.

  8. I work on the taxpayer dime, so no, I think this thing is entirely inappropriate. Also, you’re kind of sending a bit of a toxic message to single/child-free workers that they aren’t “worth” celebrating. Nope, not in my office! Keep your personal life personal people!

    • Kind of sad :

      I know plenty of single, childless people who don’t feel it’s “toxic” to celebrate other people’s marriages and children. I don’t have a huge house/ fancy car/go on exotic vacations, but I have coworkers who do. It doesn’t make me question my own “worth.” I’m happy for them and tell them congratulations. Sorry if my marital status and children make you feel bad.

      • Anonymous :

        She didn’t say your (whatever) made her feel bad. You said that. Why do you think that’s true?

    • Anonymous :

      Are you a real person? Doubt it.

      • I don’t doubt it. She just has opinions that differ from yours. Such people exist you know.

        • Yes, I am a real person! Unlike many people, I don’t really cherish the thought of sharing everything in my life with my colleagues, and neither do most of my colleagues. If a group of people who are office friends want to go out and have a wee party somewhere after work, great! Go fer! But perhaps we are directly accountable to taxpayers and most of us barely have time to scarf down a sandwich at lunch (let alone cake) celebrations are just not our bag. FYI, I am not the boss or in a position of authority.
          For me personally, I would rather celebrate life’s special moments with my close friends, far far away from work.
          And, to be fair, baby showers and marriage showers really can hurt people’s feelings; try being infertile, or being gay and constantly reminded of what oppressions you face. Maybe one or two showers wouldn’t do it, but after a while, a steady stream of them could start to seem like we’re celebrating “heteronormalcy”.
          I think it’s hilarious that simply because my views aren’t popular I might not be a “real” person. Jeez!

          • Too many young’uns with no real world experience telling everyone what’s what.

          • Skirt Envy :

            While I understand where you are coming from, I just have to say- I’m gay- and married- and have a child. (And before you go there- no, I’m not trying to fit into a “heteronormal” box.) My office celebrated both of those things with me. If people want to feel alienated they do, or they suggest things like- “Hey- Marcy just got a new puppy, why don’t we put together a basket for her” or Elaine just ran her first marathon, lets do something to celebrate. As someone who does manage people, fine, not everyone wants a public recognition of an event, but people do need to feel valued. Showers have been a way over time to show employees you value them and to celebrate with the people with whom you spend most of your time. In the work place, we are definitely shifting to figure out what your employee wants and try to meet that, but I personally don’t want to throw this baby out with the bathwater.

  9. Before I even read the comments, I must add my own! I know of no other kind of shower than the kind where I am obliged to buy a full-on present for someone for no other reason that I work with them. I can’t fathom any other kind.

    And colleagues who want it over quickly so they can get back to work? Never have worked with those folks either. I’m more familiar with the support staff who conduct a separate assessment – oops, I meant voluntary collection – for party decorations to be purchased on work time, and who book the conference room for an entire day. So I am equally unfamiliar with a boss who would try to keep it short to be considerate of those with actual work to do, who when they do celebrate, would prefer to do it with friends.

    Grrrr.

  10. We had done showers at the home of a co-worker and, I have to admit, it was just way too much. I threw one of them and it was expensive and stressful. For the last two baby showers, we have had cold buffet (no standing in line to heat up at the microwave) fuss-free potluck lunches with cupcakes at work. Everybody gets to join in for the lunch part even if not everyone brings a gift but enough people bring gifts that it qualifies as a shower. All in all, really easy and fun and less stress.

  11. I never heard of doing this when I lived in NY or LA. Now I live in the midwest and the women-only showers are pretty common. I find the whole idea incredibly tacky when it takes place during the workday – it creates a sense of obligation, and the single sex thing is just gross and presumptuous. But I happily go to the weekend showers of coworkers who are also friends.

    • Anonymous :

      How nice of you to spend time with the little people at their tacky little mid-country homes.

      • Not sure where that came from. Are you OK? Need to talk? Hug? You can share.

    • partypooper :

      I’m with you. A single-sex shower at work is just like a work-sponsered all male golf outing. It creates networking opportunities and excludes some people on the basis of sex. FWIW, I live in Chicago (which is still the midwest, last time I checked).

  12. In House Lobbyist :

    The small regional firm I worked for is a big believer in showers. I thought it was awarkard when the managing partner and other male partners had to look at butt paste (I’m not joking for those of you without kids) and baby clothes. These were all for staff. When my time came, I put them off so many times that they finally gave up. I just felt weird asking staff to buy presents for me. My assistant and the partners I worked for gave my lovely presents but I was glad to not have the shower. Luckily, I work for a large company now but three states away from the home office so don’t have to worry about this.

    • Why is butt paste a big deal? It’s clearly for the diapered baby and not you

  13. The sweetest thing just happened as I was typing my comment. A girl in our dept. is getting married (new hire) and her fiance just came into our department totally catching her off-guard with a bouquet of flowers! Our boss told her she needs to leave and go enjoy herself. Apparently the fiance called in advance to surprise her. We were going to lunch tomorrow to celebrate, but this is the best surprise ever. How romantic is that? :)

    • partypooper :

      I’m afraid my knee is jerking about this one.

      I imagnie her boss knows that she doesn’t have any deadlines today, but what if she’s trying to get a head start on something? Or trying to polish up a piece of work that will go to someone in the organization she’d really like to impress? Her boss *sending* her home ‘to enjoy herself’ suggests that the boss doesn’t take her very seriously.

      • Skirt Envy :

        Really? If I’ve had an employee kicking a$$ and taking names and I knew they have a light day, I would definitely say- “, why don’t you get home early today. I would say this because I value his/her talent.

        • partypooper :

          I may be misreading the tone here, but the OP says the woman’s boss *sent* her home. Furthermore, the proximate cause of being sent home wasn’t that it was a light day and she had been kicking a$$, but that her fiance visited her at work.

          I didn’t mean to make it sound like I never leave early, or judge others who do, but the situation described by the OP sounded like the employee isn’t really being taken seriously.

  14. I’ve never seen bridal or baby showers at work here. It’s mostly like a birthday; the person with something to celebrate brings a sweet or cake to have during your coffee break, you congratulate him/her and that’s that. In my previous job we all chipped into a ‘special occasions piggybank’ monthly and one person on the team would buy gards and small gifts. On my current job, the practice head and your managers sign a card and you get flowers for the bigger events.

  15. I know this comes along much later than the last date on this thread, but what about the following scenario? Instead of a card and money pitched in from everyone collectively, my oil company pretty much expects everyone in the office to attend baby/wedding showers AND people individually buy gifts that have been registered. Well, how would you feel if upper management buys all the big items with their big salaries and you, quite lower on the totem pole cannot afford the extravagance so that you are relegated to lower priced items. So you either look like a cheap skate, or if not that, it’s still obvious that what you purchased was significantly less in cost, and to make matters worse, every card and person that contributed that particular gift is read out loud. If you don’t join the shower, you can stand out like a sore thumb for the wrong reasons, but if you do attend, you feel like you better contribute something…i have no problem contributing something at all since we are like a small family, but i have been a single mom and struggling. Why should I feel obligated or put under pressure? And although a co-worker in the same boat and I have thought about splitting costs together, I actually think it points out the obvious in more pronouncedly!

  16. That’s why I love weddings and baby showers because gift overflow and the feeling is so overwhelming. Love it!

  17. Also Anonymous :

    I too agree whole heartedly with Kat, Party Pooper and others ….there are lines between private and office lives that need to remain separate.

  18. too blunt :

    I just went through this today. Balloons, food, presents, it was an all day event! I had a serious problem with this. I’m at work! The fact that it was forced on everyone was totally irresponsible on the bosses part. I did not like to feel pressured to chip in for a gift. Frankly, if done on personal time I would not have attended any event for a coworker who I have ZERO personal ties to. I did not chip in for any gift and I am pretty sure I’ve raised some eyebrows, but at the same time, other coworkers wished that they had the guts to not contribute either. Lets move on to the men in the work environment. None of them contributed food, and very few offered money for a gift. They see Baby Shower and run for cover (if they could). Needless to say, I kept a low profile and could not wait for this day to end. Don’t do this to your coworkers, it really is inappropriate work practice.

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