Monday, July 20, 2009

Rent Party

There was an article on last week on whether still-standing employees should pass the hat for those who are pink slipped.

Frankly, through all the lay-offs I've lived through, I had never heard of this practice. But apparently it's been done at least once.

Not that I'm any stranger to the office collection. Getting married, having a baby, voluntarily leaving the company for a new job or a new whatever... (No retirement parties in my past - no company I worked for ever lived long enough, or had old enough employees for that.)

So, we all chip in, buy a sheet cake, and give a gift.

I had very mixed feelings about these events.

If we were honoring someone I was friendly with to begin with, chances are I was going to give them a little something or other to mark the occasion, anyway. Thus, I often contributed a bit for the sheet cake, and brought my own gift.

If I wasn't that friendly with someone, well, I always threw a few bucks in anyway, if only so that I could claim a frosting-plus end piece of the sheet cake.

But I generally refused to be the one collecting, and always advised folks that, rather than go cubicle to cubicle, it was a better practice to get an interoffice envelope, staple a circulation list and a note about the occasion and the gift-ee on it, and pass it around. No one would have to know whether someone contributed or not. The only rule: when you pass the envelope on to the next guy, it better not have any less money in it than when you got it.

I just always hated, hated, hated the idea of anyone feeling coerced into donating for good old Bob.

Especially if they were someone who it was never going to come around for: they were already married, already had kids, were never going to leave, whatever.

Of course, most of the 'already have kids' got their due by selling whatever it was their kids were hawking at school.

Actually, I never minded these sales, since most folks just put an order sheet up on their door or in the kitchen, and didn't go door to door like a glad-handing vacuum cleaner or Bible salesmen. Low key was the key here.

My only objection to the 'help my kids' sales was that I don't particularly like scented candles and, once my mother died I had no one to give them to. That and the fact that those wrapping paper packages were always so chintzy, you might be able to wrap two earring boxes out of them.

The other office collection I never minded was the 'I'm in a marathon-bikeathon-walkathon for some good cause' shakedowns.

I pretty much always felt that if someone was willing to pedal a unicycle backwards up Mt. Washington, the least I could do was pledge 5 cents a mile.

Still, I absolutely understand that some people despise any intra-office chip-in deals.

As for someone passing the hat for those hit in a lay-off, I've never heard of this being done. Maybe that's because of the high-end industry I worked in, and the general existence of some type of (often pretty generous) severance package. Not to mention that most/all of the lay-offs I experienced were 'today's the day' events. You get your pink slip, you get your box, you get your waiver to sign, you get your buddy escort to your car. And you are gone, baby gone. No time to take up a collection: you were late-and-lamented within an hour or so.

What I have done for those who've been laid off is buy them lunch.

And what goes around does come around here: when I've been an unemployment check collecting, down in the dumps-ter, friends have sprung for lunch for me.

The article I read pretty much came down on the side of it not being a very good idea to collect for someone laid off: it might embarrass the person, it might embarrass the company...

But I can imagine circumstances in which it would be a good and welcome thing to do.

Think of someone laid off from a small company, in which everyone knew everyone else, and knew that there was little chance for severance, and knew - just knew - that someone could use a few extra bucks.

How's this any different that friends offering their sick or vacation days to help someone out who's exhausted hers? Or chipping in for a trip to Atlantic City for Harold in Accounting who's retiring after 45 years at Acme, Inc?

Maybe you don't do this for the EVP of Sales who's about to gun out of the parking lot in a bright red Ferrari. But you do do it for the guy who tooled and died next to you for 10 years. Or for Irma the receptionist who's been supporting her grandson.

Why not?

Same rules should apply: no pressure on anyone to contribute.

But why isn't this the mensch thing to do?

Maybe you give cash - so much more precious than any gift of the magi. Maybe, if the circumstances are presumed to be a bit less dire, you give a gift certificate to Borders, or Home Depot, or Target, or the (gag) Olive Garden, so that that laid-off someone can enjoy the sort of treat that goes out the window when you're collecting.

Why shouldn't the world be a mutual aid society?

I pretty much doubt I'll ever be there, but you really never know, do you? If I were in dire straits, I wouldn't have any problem if someone threw a rent party for me.

In fact, I'd probably be pretty darned pleased.

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