"Andrea's Company encourages its employees to demonstrate their support and appreciation for one another by consistently treating their co-workers in a positive and respectful manner. Andrea's Company recognizes and celebrates the talents and contributions that each individual brings to the success of the business each day. It is therefore appropriate that cards, gifts, and baked goods which recognize an employee's choices, such as holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, etc, be kept on a personal level and outside of working hours."
Pretty good, huh? Of course it is. I wrote it (or got it from somewhere, I can't remember). You may ask yourself, "What on earth would cause a company full of good, caring people to codify such a policy in their handbook? What's the harm in passing around a card for someone's birthday? Why can't we buy a cake to celebrate the anniversary of someone who has worked for the company for a whole decade? Isn't it a good idea for a company to recognize the achievements of its employees?"
I would submit to you that at Andrea's Company, it is NOT a good idea. Allow me to illustrate.
One day, it was mentioned to me by an employee named Brady that another employee, Carol, would be celebrating her 32nd year with the company the next week. He wanted to let me know because I, as the office manager, might be the one to organize some sort of recognition for her. It didn't sound like a bad idea, and I really like to eat cake, so I took it up with my boss to see what the company had done in the past and if we had a budget for that sort of thing.
My boss sighed a heavy, heavy sigh. "Well, we used to do that sort of thing, but we've moved away from it in recent years. It used to be anniversaries, then it was also birthdays, then it was weddings and babies and welcome-back-from-vacation and every other occasion you can imagine. It was just so big and out of control, we didn't have anyone to administer it and people were let down if they didn't get recognized for every little thing. But hey, we haven't had an office manager for so long, if you want to resurrect the monster, you are welcome to try."
I didn't really want to resurrect the monster and be in charge of its care and feeding, but since I really like to eat cake, I prodded a little bit more. "What about if we limited it to just anniversaries?" I suggested. "It's a nice feel-good for the employees to be recognized and it's business-related, unlike celebrating birthdays. It might be a morale booster. It wouldn't be too much work to keep track of everyone's five year marks and get a card and a cake, right?"
"So we recognize the fact that people are coming to work? Along with the fact that the earth has gone around the sun 5 times? An anniversary is not really an achievement. Besides we are already recognizing our employees by paying them for coming to work. Congratulations. Good job. Here's your paycheck. Keep up the good work. Same with birthdays. Congratulations for being alive still. Good job. What's the point?"
It sounded a little curmudgeonly, but I understood his point. "Okay, I'll tell Brady that if he wants to bring something in for Carol, he's welcome to, but there will be no officially-sanctioned event recognition."
My boss sighed again. "Did I ever tell you about the time Brady brought in a condolence card for a co-worker whose sister had died? He passed it around for everyone to sign, but one person thought it was a birthday card and wrote something like 'Many happy returns!' in it."
"Yes, and it was even worse because the sister hadn't died of age or infirmity. She was murdered."
"Okay. I'm convinced. I'll discourage this kind of activity. I soooo don't want to open this can of worms."
Apparently, I didn't discourage Brady enough. He brought in donuts for Carol's anniversary. He seemed hurt that no one recognized him for remembering her special day. I could see how this would spin out of control. Now we have to recognize the recognizer of the recognizee, otherwise there's hurt feelings all over the place. But how do you tell someone he can't do something nice for someone else?
Brady was a simple guy whose heart was in the right place, mostly. Unfortunately, Brady was not well-liked among his co-workers. Due to his circumstances in life (40-something, unmarried, living with his mother) and his personality characteristics (passive-aggressive, power-hungry, and mentally unstable), he was not taken seriously and often picked on by his peers. But he wanted to be a part of the group and maybe figured he could buy his way in.
The next month, he sidled into my office and quietly laid a greeting card on my desk. "It's Mike's birthday today. I got him a card. Can you make sure everyone signs it?" He began to back away.
"Brady, no. I will sign it right now and then you can take it around to the guys yourself."
"I think it's better if you do it. But just remember, I want to be the one to give it to Mike. I think that's fair since I bought it." He took a few more steps back.
"No, no, no. I'm not going to be responsible for this." Sensing the trainwreck that was going to occur, I waved the card at him. "Wait while I sign it. Then you can pass it around and give it to Mike yourself."
"I have to go back to work. I can't get everyone to sign it. Besides, they don't like me, but they'll do it for you..."
"Brady! I am going to sign this card and put it on the next person's desk. After that, it's out of my hands. I'm not going to keep track of it."
"I gotta go..."
Could I have been any more clear? My responsibilty for your project ends with my signature on that card. Get it? Got it? Uhhh... no. I don't think so.
All afternoon, Brady kept checking back with me. "Did everyone sign it yet? I have to leave early and I want to give it to Mike before I go."
"I don't know. I signed it and passed it on, like I told you I would."
"Well, who has it?"
"I don't know. It's going around, I guess."
"But I NEED it back! I have to go early today! I need to give it to Mike!"
"Ask around. I'm sure someone has it."
"You have to help me! I need to find it! They won't tell me who has it! They're just playing games with me! And I have all this work to do before I go!" He was desperate and near tears.
Against my better judgement, I told him I'd ask around next time I went out into the showroom. No promises, though. I wasn't going to collect any remaining signatures. I would simply find out who had the card and let him know.
I asked around. People rolled their eyes. Yes, they'd signed it. No, they didn't know where it was. Why was Brady so concerned? I explained that it was really important to Brady that he present the card himself and he was leaving soon.
As I was talking, an employee walked in, holding the card. "Great. Hurry and give it to Brady so he can go," I instructed, anxious to be out of the middle of the situation.
"Give it to Brady? I thought it was Mike's birthday."
"It is. But Brady really wants to give it to Mike personally. Maybe we should page Brady..."
"You're not really going to do that to Brady, are you?"
"Put him in that position."
"What position? It's his card."
"The position of giving this card to Mike again."
My heart sank. "Again?"
"Yeah. I found the card on Mike's desk. It was already open. Don't give it back to Brady just so he can give it to him again. He'd feel really stupid."
I'll say. We quietly put the card back on Mike's desk.
A few minutes later, Brady slunk into my office. "Look," I began to explain, "It looks like someone already gave..."
"I know," he pouted with a thanks-for-nothing tone in his voice.
"Brady, I did tell you that I wasn't..."
"It doesn't matter now. Everything is ruined."
"It's not ruined. You wanted to wish Mike happy birthday with a card that was signed by all his co-workers. Mission accomplished."
"I didn't get to give it to him. It's not fair. I bought the card. It was MY CARD." He sulked away without another word.
You might be thinking, "So, you changed company policy just for this one immature guy who couldn't handle the responsibility of sending his own birthday card around?"
No. Not just for him. Stay tuned for part 3...