Business Columns & Blogs

Diane Stafford: Some co-workers don’t want to give at the office

Workplace complaints sometimes come in waves. The recent high tide involves office gifts, cards, parties, cookies, candy and trash bags.

You guessed it. It’s about co-workers feeling like they’re held hostage to buy, bake, attend or acknowledge things they don’t care about. Their message: Leave me alone.

That sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Who could rebel against signing a birthday card for a colleague? You’d be surprised. Some co-workers simply don’t want to be a part of group activities. Some say it’s a financial hardship to repeatedly be asked to chip in cash, or they don’t know the person being celebrated.

This happens frequently in workplaces that have high turnover or use contract, temporary or part-time workers. Those “work families” tend to be less connected to one another.

“Sorry, I have no clue who this person is,” said one contract worker who wrote to me. “I’ve been here a few days. I may be gone tomorrow.” He was really uncomfortable when an employee demanded that he sign a card and donate to a gift collection.

Another issue rears its head every Girl Scout cookie season. As a former Scout, I’m not dumping on the cookies I sold for many years. But the appearance of order sheets on office bulletin boards never fails to rouse comments. Same, too, with Cub Scout candy bars or any school fundraising appeals.

Many people can’t eat sweets or can’t use plastic trash bags. Others don’t have children or fundraising campaigns of their own; there’s no tit-for-tat purchase options for them. Some tell me they’re not curmudgeons. They wish all the organizations well, but they have their own charitable causes and they can’t support everything.

There’s also a significant number of people who believe it’s wrong for parents to bring their children’s appeals to work. They think it’s the children’s job. That raises a philosophical discussion: Should schools and organizations put the fundraising burden on children? Are neighborhoods safe enough for kids to canvass? Do kids even have the contacts to sell?

That’s why I don’t think businesses should ban in-office soliciting. People’s co-workers are the people they know, the people they would target for appeals or contributions. So I’m not suggesting a prohibition.

I’m suggesting tact by the solicitors. Pin the order sheet on the bulletin board. Leave the candy box on the counter with an explanation about the cause. But don’t do any in-your-face requests. People may feel bad enough by not signing up and really don’t want a personal confrontation.

It’s also fair to note that employees who regularly participate in workplace parties, gifts and food contributions are confused about the failure of co-workers to do likewise. Many simply want collaborative workplaces. It’s also fair to say they have an understandable disregard for non-contributors who consistently eat the food that others bring.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star:, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford,