The Careerist: Help! Gift Collectors Are After Me Again

Q: What’s with obligatory office gifts? I love my job, but it seems like I get a couple of emails every month “asking” me to donate money for the office gift for someone’s shower – bridal, baby or whatever. Often, I don’t even know these people! I try ignoring the message, but the office manager sends a reminder that reads, “Only three of you have forgotten to give.” I don’t want to be the office Scrooge, but I’ve got rent, student loans, a car payment, and my own friends and family who expect gifts occasionally. What do I do?

A: “No” is a complete sentence. “No, thank you” is another complete sentence and more polite. The office shakedown spreads faster than the common cold. It starts innocently, maybe Girl Scout cookies, and before you know it, you’re being hit up for everything from the boss’s kid’s choral trip to Rome to your contribution for that must-have stroller for the expectant mom in Accounting. You’ve never met the boss’s kid, and you’re pretty sure that pregnant mom is the one swiping the last doughnut after the staff meeting.

Be polite, but firm. While ghosting the happy organizer seems the easiest way out, it’s not working in your case. Simply reply to the email and say your budget doesn’t allow for these expenses so you will not be contributing. And please, don’t apologize! Managing your hard-earned money in a way that fits your budget is smart – not something to apologize for.

You’re probably not the only one facing this dilemma, so if you’re feeling feisty, hit reply all. Chances are your colleagues will thank you for putting the kibosh on the work-place pickpocket. Just don’t expect them to shower you with gifts.

Q: I begrudgingly accepted it when my colleagues quit calling me and chose to communicate via email instead. But now emails are being replaced with text messages. Really? I don’t want to be that cranky old guy, but do I really have to accept texts as a serious form of business communication?

A: I bet you miss those handwritten notes, too (in blue or black ink only, of course). So do I, but technology waits for no one, and texting is here to stay. Here’s the thing: Texting isn’t new – it just took awhile to catch on. A British bloke named Neil Papworth sent the first text message in 1992– sealing his fate as a trivia staple for all time – by writing “Merry Christmas” and sending it to Richard Jarvis of Vodaphone, who immediately made a splash by showing it at his office holiday party. It took another decade for texts to catch on, when the invention of smartphones gave us real keyboards. (Remember how your old phone forced you to use the 10-digit hunt-and-peck system, needing up to three taps to get a single letter?). By 2007, people were receiving more texts than calls and, today, it is the most widely used data application in the world. More than 80 percent of the world’s mobile-phone subscribers use it regularly by sending over 18 billion texts every day.

As a business communications tool, it just makes sense. Research over the last couple of years concluded that even the quickest business phone call takes two minutes, while a text exchange can be completed in a fraction of that time. Quadruple that if the phone call results in a voice message that requires listening to and then responding. Furthermore, 99 percent of texts are opened, so the excuse that “I didn’t get your email” goes out the window, and because 95 percent of texts are read within three minutes of being sent, your communications efficiency goes through the roof.

At last fall’s Wahine Forum, Cheryl Williams, the Royal Hawaiian’s GM, told the crowd the hotel even texts with guests now, handling everything from valet services to dinner reservations to requests for more towels and pillows. Guests are given the option upon check-in and overwhelmingly accept it. “The new generation of guests thinks globally,” she said, and texting is a natural fit.

But like all professional tasks, business texting requires proper etiquette. You’re unlikely to use kisses and heart emojis when communicating with a client, but you should also remember to spell-check and use proper grammar. Also, think about timing. Since folks tend to have their phones with them at all times – even in bed – do you really want to bother them at all hours? A good rule: If you wouldn’t call their landline and leave a message at that hour, don’t text either. Finally, don’t become that guy in the group text that keeps it going and going and going. Nobody likes him. Nobody.

Q: I handle most of the administrative work in a medium-size office, which means I’m often married to the copy machine. I’m good with that – I like it when it hums and spits out warm copies, perfectly collated and stapled. The problem is more often than not it hums and spits and grinds until I’m up to my neck in toner, crumpled paper, and red and yellow blinking lights. I’ve asked my boss to get a new machine, but he never uses the beast so he doesn’t consider it a priority. How do I get him to suck it up and pull out the checkbook?

A: Money talks. You just need to help it find its voice. Office equipment is one of the biggest ticket items in many budgets, so before a decision can be made to toss the old and bring in the new, it needs to make financial sense. Perhaps your old beast has exceeded its useful life and is costing the company in lost time, repair bills and energy consumption. Maybe a new, multifunction machine might be a more efficient way to accomplish multiple tasks – copying, scanning, faxing, digital filing, even emailing – saving both time and dollars.

Do your homework. Learn whether your office owns or leases the machine and what your annual costs are. Assess the office’s collective copying needs and research to find which replacement might be the best fit. Talk to your colleagues to gauge their support of your idea, and take your case to the office manager or the boss’s assistant. By gathering data and building your case, you demonstrate a true need and present a smart solution. If the boss can make it fit within the budget, maybe you’ll get your new copier. But in either case, you will have proven your finesse in finding solutions – an attribute that might get you promoted out of the copy room, leaving that beast for someone else to tame.

Categories: Careers, The Careerist