Christmas Gifts at the Office

<p>I always seem to return to this forum for parental advice..so here's another question for you all...Christmas gifts for secretaries. </p>

<p>Of course I figured that junior attys were expected to give token gifts but I never realized the HUGE expectation that secretaries have until someone told me. Apparently, junior attys are expected to give $150 to their own secretary and $50 each to their 2 cluster secretaries [i.e. those that answer their phones once in a while but thats it]. Does this sound outrageous to you? I've only been working for 3 months and am making good money but haven't even spent $250 on myself yet just on something I wanted. I hate the fact that its so much money--and being NYC the expectation is cash or a gift card--I can't pick up a nice item on sale. I honestly feel like the secretaries use this occasion to make enough money to Christmas shop for their whole families. Between all the attys and cluster attys they have, they make out with at least $700 total and usually more because the 150-50 expectation is for first year attys and it rises with every year of seniority, so they get more from their 4th years, 8th years etc.</p>

<p>The real issue here besides the money is that I do NOT get along with my secretary. I'm an easy going person who gets along with everyone but this woman just pushes my buttons--never says hi/good morning to me; gives me attitude if i ask her to do anything even if its just ordering supplies; if i ask her to do something in 1-2 days, she'll do it in 3-5 days while complaining that it took so long; and the kicker, she demands to know where i'm going at all times--if i tell her 'i'm going to jon's office for 15 min' and i return in 20 min, she'll say 'well that wasn't 15 min'--um, should i have told my boss to shut up so I could leave!?</p>

<p>Would you suck it up and give the money, not give any, give a lesser amount? I'm mindful of the fact that she can make my working life miserable but the other part of me thinks--she already hates me, why waste the money? On the other hand, I do not want to get the reputation of a junior atty who thinks they're a hot shot and treats the staff badly. Anyone been in this situation before?</p>

<p>aj, my husband has been an attorney for 25+ years and has never heard of a situation like yours re: Christmas expectations! Are you in a large or small firm? My recommendation would be to give the gift that you think is appropriate in the situation. The problems you're having with your secretary are another issue but I also have never heard of a firm where if the attorney is unhappy with the secretary, that the secretary isn't replaced. In our experience, that is always up to the individual attorney, regardless of how junior you are. Do you know who set up this Christmas gift plan at the firm? Perhaps you could speak to one of your associates and discuss the issue? Seems very strange to me, not to mention excessive.</p>

<p>Thanks..the 'gift plan' isn't a written mandate, its a peer pressure thing. Over the years its been set up by associates; this is a large firm where associates make a lot of money [though they spend way more than they should], so they give big gifts to secretaries; part of it seems to be a prestige thing [look at me, i'm an atty, i can afford to throw around such cash]. And to make it worse the secretaries act like its their right to get such gifts--I've heard some comments about what secretaries think that attys should be contributing to the janitors' gift pool and I was like--wow, I thought I was trying to buy him a small gift, not pay his monthly mortgage. I see nothing wrong with giving a nice, generous gift to someone who has really helped me out. But to be 'required' to do so, thats unusual. The 'requirement' to give stems mostly from peer pressure--it seems that most or all junior attys give these amounts, and I'm afraid that if I'm the only one who doesn't, the secretaries will talk amongst themselves and it'll get around [of course the fairness issue of not wanting to pay a bad secretary--that wouldn't get around--they only talk to make others look bad]. So what would you do...give that amount, smaller amount? I wish this whole dumb thing could be done for under $100--like $40 to my secretary and $20 each for the other 2; it would still be a waste of money but far less.</p>

<p>An aside re: secretary switching: believe me I'm thinking hard about it. But the reality is, I've only been there for 3 months and this secretary has been around for 10 years. I'd have to go to the secretarial manager and who is she going to side with--the secretary who has been there for 10 yrs or me, who has been there for 10 min, relatively speaking. I guess I could play it off as a personality conflict. But I'm afraid to do it--law firms are like high schools, and talk spreads--I don't want to get the reputation of that atty who thinks she's better than the support staff because she has a few extra degrees. That being said...I'm working incredibly long hours, traveling a lot, and missing my family/friends/school life as I adjust to being a working adult in a new city and the last thing I can handle is support staff making me miserable. </p>

<p>So any thoughts on the gift? Or anything else?</p>

<p>Maybe it's an NYC thing? I've heard one even needs to tip the waste disposal removers...and aren't they well paid union....perhaps that's to keep Tony Soprano off your back!</p>

<p>AJ: I can totally understand how you feel, I used to hate all the little "pitch in for Suzy's birthday" things when I worked at a bank in college- the place wasn't my life, I was trying to earn money, not buy gifts for full time employees.</p>

<p>I can see why 3 months tenure would be too short to request the change in secretary...I think I would give you the advice my mum would say, "Don't sink to her level." So, don't gift the person, gift the position...that being said, could you buck the trend and try to find nice personal things, being a newbie, you could say that's how it's done in your hometown, in surprise at the demand for cash---how tacky! I am an entreprenuer, so no office politic manners here, but maybe the same thing that prevents you from switching would allow you to be more creative...better yet, could you make them gifts? Or find something that they would genuinely like, perhaps connecting better and personally??</p>

<p>Maybe this secy always gets the newbie & had a bad attitude about it, or was assigned the newbie as punishment, or has a family problem and is taking it out at work, or perhaps she is simply a B****?? Anyway, you take the high road and do nothing you might later regret, you behave classily, and you won't regret it...though it might not always be quite as fun;)</p>

<p>AJ, I agree with most of the above comments. You're instincts are absolutely correct-- it's not a gift if it is required, and I don't believe that cash is appropriate, because it is completely impersonal. A gift is different from a tip, or a bonus. If the firm wants to give bonuses, they should give bonuses.</p>

<p>Here are my suggestions. First, ignore the issue of the problems with "your" secretary until after the first of the year. Second, give the secretaries something that is 1) consumable or perishable, and 2) clearly to be shared with their families. That's what the season is about, right? Sharing? If your secretary cooks Christmas dinner for her family, surprise her with an elaborate floral arrangement for her table (believe me, in NYC that will set you back a good amount ;) ). Or a special dessert from Dean & Deluca, or a couple of bottles of good sparkling wine. You get the idea--when her friends or family share in your gift, they will comment on the special treat & how lucky she is to have you. And have it delivered to her at the office in front of everyone.</p>

<p>Regarding your secretary problem, the first thing you have to realize is that you cannot force someone else to change, but you can change your response to that person. This often brings about a commensurate change in their behavior. You must be only sweetness and light around this person, and when she says something designed to annoy you, the appropriate response is "Oh?" and walk away. That's it. You are a professional, an adult, and you cannot afford to be drawn into a pit of junior high level cattiness.</p>

<p>When January comes around, I would go to the secretarial manager not to complain, but to see if she knows why your secretary is so unhappy in her job. If she would be happier working for someone else, you could probably be persuaded to give her up...... maybe..... hmmm..... :D</p>

<p>aj, Welcome to life at a NYC firm. Young associates are paid a great deal and the expectation is that they will be generous with the people who help them with their work at holiday time.....my husband went as far down the ladder as the word processing people (he also gave cookies or something to the mailroom guy). He couldn't get the job done without them and let them know that he appreciated it....also there will be times when these people will push a product out for you. You want a good relationship with them. Partners usually give even more. Gift cards for secretaries are also the norm but lesser gifts for people who have been helpful are fine.</p>

<p>Unfortunately I think that I have to advise you to suck it up and spend the money. As a young associate you do not want bad press in the office. The workers need to be on your team - and not just your secretary. I am sorry that your relationship with your sec is not good. For the most part my husband has had great secretaries but over the years there have been one or two where the chemistry was not great. It can really affect the work environment. I think that the suggestion to look into ways of changing her/him after the holidays is a good one.</p>

<p>Pez dispenser, refill and "Resume Writing for Dummies" would make the perfect gift for your sec!</p>

<p>I worked at a a major NY law firm for many years (administrative, but not secretarial)....the most we ever got was truffles from the wives! I can't believe they expect 250 from you....</p>

<p>Who told you this expectation? You say "the expectation is"... if it's a senior attorney (your boss or someone at that level), it's really not a choice.</p>

<p>Advice from a kid...</p>

<p>I like somemom's idea of giving a gift and saying that you think it would just be too tacky to give money--and that you saw this and immediately thought of her. If you think that this would be awkward or strange (only you can judge your own circumstances!), though, don't do it. I would say, if it comes down to it, just give the money; it seems as if that would cause the fewest problems. You have only been there three months, and word would definitely get around that the new guy didn't give secretary Lisa--who's just been here forever--a nice gift for Christmas. </p>

<p>I know it doesn't seem fair, but you have a new job, and this is a sacrifice that you might have to make. As someone else said, you need the other lawyers to be on your side, especially if you eventually do try to switch secretaries. You need to be classy, and giving your secretary the expected gift is part of that. My parents have a law office, and they are very generous with the lawyers and other secretaries, and I know that each lawyer gets very nice presents for their secretaries, though it certainly isn't cash! </p>

<p>About your secretary, give it a couple more months. Act as professional and, again, classy as you can. Take the higher road without being condescending. Be nice and polite. After that, talk to a lawyer you like who has been there longer than you, and see what he/she thinks. Make sure that everybody sees you as nothing but a wonderful person.</p>

<p>
[quote]
About your secretary, give it a couple more months. Act as professional and, again, classy as you can. Take the higher road without being condescending. Be nice and polite. After that, talk to a lawyer you like who has been there longer than you, and see what he/she thinks. Make sure that everybody sees you as nothing but a wonderful person.

[/quote]
</p>

<p>IMO, good advice from a kid. ;)</p>

<p>It just seems like extortion to me. Call me naive, but, gee, "You won't get your work back on time if I don't get my Xmas bonus!"......Does the firm do any sort of bonus at Xmas or is it completely up to the attorneys?</p>

<p>Thanks all..keep the opinions coming please. I want to address some of the things you've asked though.</p>

<p>(1) Yes extravagant gift giving is definitely an NYC thing--everyone from the doorman to the secretary has expectations but some are ruder than others about making their expectations known [i.e. the secretaries at my firm]. </p>

<p>(2) Some of you addressed giving gifts to everyone to get work done. I agree with whoever said, that is extortion--I'm sorry but they get a salary to fill out my expense forms, I shouldn't have to grease palms to get stuff done. Also, at my firm this gift thing is only for secretaries, janitors, and mailroom people. There are lots of other admin people who help us out--legal assistants, word processing, IT etc who get nothing or just normal gifts like a box of chocolates or something. I think its because those people don't work for anyone personally--so they aren't in anyones face making their expectations known. </p>

<p>(3) As for who told me about the 'expectation.' No, it wasn't a boss--i.e. not a partner or senior associate--if they told me then I would know I had no choice. I was told this 'expectation' by a few mid-level attys who are my friends and peers--they are only a year or 2 ahead of me. They aren't telling me what to do but making me aware of what others do so that I'm not caught saying 'i didn't know.' After that I heard little comments from secretaries basically saying they expect a lot [not said to me but said within my earshot].</p>

<p>(4) I've pretty much decided that I will not give 150-50; I don't know what I'm giving yet but it'll be equal amounts to all 3 secretaries. I'm sorry but you give more to someone if they stand over and above and she DOESN'T. I wish I could give an item--it would be cheaper and nicer--but I GUARANTEE that if I gave her and the others a nice item, they will make a comment along the lines of 'this is nice but I have to take it home on the subway' [which is an excuse because they shop all over manhattan and carry home everything under the sun on the subway]. In response to such a comment, I would have to squash the urge to say 'oh it would've been easier to carry home the cash value of the item.'--j/k..I don't talk back like that but I've had it with these people's attitudes.</p>

<p>(5) I saw some coffee and hot chocolate baskets recently which would make a GREAT gift; I can't remember how expensive but they weren't cheap by my standards [i'd say $30-40?--it had different beverages, 2 mugs, lots of cookies etc]. To me, thats a Christmas gift that you can share with your fam as you wrap gifts, put up the tree, whatever. Me going to the ATM, liquidating my account and putting cash in an envelope so someone else can Christmas shop--not a gift in my mind. But I'm not cutesy enough to pull off 'oh I saw this and thought of you.' I'm a VERY matter of fact person--which is kinda odd for a girl [maybe thats why she hates me..who knows..but i'm not rude, i always ask how she is/how the weekend was and she doesn't reciprocate and ask me].</p>

<p>(6) Finally, about getting the secretary changed, I see where you're coming from. I'm not saying anything until Jan 1 and in reality it'll probably be at least a month or 2 after that because I've learned that I may be traveling a LOT in early 2006 so I won't even be in the office much. To all those who said 'be classy'--I totally understand. I'm impatient but I NEVER show it at work or dare say anything, even when she blows me off or acts like I need her permission to leave my office etc. BUT I do have my limits--I'm sure you all can remember what its like to be in a brand new profession where you are constantly stressed because you know next to nothing, are working 12-18 hours a day, working every weekend--and to add to it, someone is giving you attitude because you want a box of highlighters or want your expense report filled out promptly because the AMEX bill has arrived and you don't have 10k laying around to cover the hotel bills from the 3 week overseas business trip you just took?! Anyway...</p>

<p>So please state your opinion...(1) the expected gift--150/50; (2) a smaller gift [if so, how much or what item]; (3) no gift.</p>

<p>Go with what's expected. Go above what's expected. You'll look generous and you'll get way better results.</p>

<p>As for the people who expect tips, like the doorman, etc. Do you want to live on their salary? If not, share the wealth. If I remember correctly, first-year NY associates make low 6-figure incomes. It's a LOT more than the doorman or your secretary make. Be generous; it always pays off. These are people who can (figuratively) spit in your food when you're not looking.</p>

<p>
[quote]
BUT I do have my limits--I'm sure you all can remember what its like to be in a brand new profession where you are constantly stressed because you know next to nothing, are working 12-18 hours a day, working every weekend--and to add to it, someone is giving you attitude because you want a box of highlighters or want your expense report filled out promptly because the AMEX bill has arrived and you don't have 10k laying around to cover the hotel bills from the 3 week overseas business trip you just took?! Anyway...

[/quote]

I hate to say this; I really, really do... </p>

<p>But that's what happens when you have a job. Look, I'm sixteen, so I don't know everything about the working world. I do know that in a new job, you probably won't know what's going on, and you won't have great friends, and you won't necessarily get along with your boss/supervisor/secretary. And, yeah, you work hard, and you have a lot to do, and you get sh_t from people. That's what happens. Work is work, and there are a whole slew of things that tend to go along with it. What you have to do is suck it up and deal with it, just like every other successful worker.</p>

<p>Also, I agree with dmd. Being generous will pay off; at least, it always has for me. I donate a lot of work, and I get a lot out of it (whether it's referrals or gift cards or heartfelt appreciation). Also, here in small town MA, we always give our trash man, paper boy, the people at the Post Office, et cetera gifts at Christmas.</p>

<p>haha, a secretary can be your best ally or worst enemy! Since you have been on the job for only three months, prorate the mandatory gifts, i.e. $35-40 for your primary secretary and $15-20 for the cluster secretaries.</p>

<p>Everyone knows that a good secretary runs the office, and you want to stay on their good side, but the office is not a restaurant. You shouldn't have to pay a mandatory gratuity irregardless of the quality of service rendered!</p>

<p>The "share the wealth" has socialist undertones to me...generosity's one thing, extortion's another. Give one hundred to your secretary and around 40 to the others. Hopefully you'll be able to replace her in the new year, anyway.....good luck. (and remember, I'm the one who got zip at my fancy NY law firm at Xmas and made peanuts for salary.....no expectations here)</p>

<p>I would give the recommended amounts. If you'd like to include it in a gift envelope and attach it to a chocolate basket, then you'd be putting something personal with it. </p>

<p>There's another issue you haven't addressed. Your co-workers gave you a 'heads up' on this, trying to make your way easier. If you ignore their advice, are they likely to bother in the future? If you make one or more support staff unhappy, they might take it out on all junior attorneys. So you're also representing your class (in both senses) in this matter. </p>

<p>I would consider it the cost of doing business. It's the office culture you're in, and unless you want to cause unecessary trouble for yourself, I'd give the recommended amounts. I don't think it's out of line with what's done in other businesses in NYC. Personally, I think it's easier to give cash than shop for individual gifts for people whose tastes, etc. you don't know. It's a little tacky to give wine to a recovered alcoholic or chocolate to a diabetic, and you probably don't know these people well enough to pick thoughtful gifts. Also, the idea that you can give them something to be shared with their families presumes they have families. You've spent a lot of time fretting over this. I would write the checks and be done with it. It's more important that you try to get along, whether the secretary is sabotaging you or not. Take the high road.</p>

<p>My DH works for a large corporation in NJ and is well compensated. Every year we have a discussion as to how much to spend on his assistant. Gift this year: $100 department store gift card and a box of good chocolates. Is this enough? I feel like he owes her more. He has given the same gift for years.</p>

<p>After reading all of this, I realize the thread started in 2005! I wonder how Aj725 resolved this? Can't help you, Anne33 but to me it sounds like a fine gift.</p>