I’m probably one of the few who will actually admit to liking the practice, but one thing I do miss by not going into an office every day is the circulating manila envelope. Someone is getting married, turning 40, having a baby, buying a house, or – lucky them! – leaving. Sign the card, throw in some money (or not: just make sure there’s not less money in it when it leaves your desk), pass it on to the next guy. Like a chain letter, keep it circulating – only this one doesn’t have to circulate until everyone in the universe has been contacted twice. Just get it back to the person who started it of.
Even though I was seldom on the receiving end – I’m guessing that my career giving-receiving ratio is something like 500:1 – I liked the office celebrations. I liked the goofy cards with everyone’s signature and bon mot. I liked the secret gathering in the conference room. The anxiety about whether I’d get a lots-of-frosting end piece of the sheet cake. The feigned surprise on the honored guest’s face. (Who me? You shouldn’t have.)
For a lot of people, the office is the neighborhood – it always was for me – and I enjoyed celebrating with my neighbors. But I do understand why some people object to any office-wide celebrations. Sometimes it does seem like a shakedown by and on behalf of someone you barely know. But in most cases, my guess is that the pan-office collections occur because the celebratee’s friends don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by not inviting them. But when someone’s collecting directly, there can be an intimidation factor in play, and it does put some people in the awkward position of explaining why they’re not chipping in – don’t know the person, can’t really afford it – or caving in and throwing in a few bucks. This is best avoided.
Which is why I like the anonymously circulating envelope. You can put some money in or not. You can sign the card or not. When the big day comes, you can give a busy signal so that you don’t have to go to the party. Or you can weasel in and grab a piece of the sheet cake that you didn’t chip in on.
I especially like the hokey cards (almost always lobby-shop quality). It’s agony to be the first person to sign the card. No one wants to take the most prominent place, where you’d sign if you were the only signatory. You especially don’t want this spot if you don’t know the person the card is for very well. On the other hand, if you have any ego at all you don’t want to take some remote spot that could be overlooked when the recipient tries to read all the messages.
It’s also hard to be the last person to sign. You stand there, twisting and turning the card, to read what everyone else has written, because you just don’t want to duplicate what anyone else has had to say. Whatever the case, most people don’t have any issue with “signing the card”. It’s just something you do at the office. (And, I think, the minimum entry point for grabbing a piece of cake.)
The only problem I’ve ever had with the group card was when I was asked to sign a card for someone whose father had just died. There it was: “I’m sorry for your loss, Jeannie,” slanting across one corner. “If there’s anything I can do, Bill” slanting across another. I didn’t see any smiley faces, but I still decided to get the other lobby-shop sympathy card and send it on my own. When I told my sister this story, she was easily able to one-up me.
Someone in her office circulated a sympathy card after a colleague’s son was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Some nincompoop wrote “Ouch! Steve”.
I’m sure that was a real comfort.