do I have to contribute money for a baby shower at work?

A reader writes:

My group director recently emailed the whole department (the department has several groups, and within each group, several teams; I am not this person’s direct report) announcing that another group director was expecting a baby with his partner (who is not an employee of our company). The email proposed a baby shower at work (and was followed up by a meeting request for a two hour block of time for said shower) and mentioned that we should stop by the sender’s office if we’d like to contribute money towards a shower gift. Rather than passing an envelope to take up a collection, the custom here tends to be that one person holds a card for people to come sign and keeps a list of who contributes money, so that the recipient can thank people individually.

I know the father-to-be by sight but do not work for him either directly or indirectly, and have never spoken with him. So my questions are: 1) Is it common to have baby showers at work? Especially when only one of the parents-to-be is an employee? and 2) Do I need to contribute towards a gift? I do not know this person well enough to feel that I should, but it makes me uncomfortable that my group director will know that I did not contribute. I don’t want to be seen as stingy or not a team player, but on the other hand, it’s my money, and there are things I’d rather do with it than buy gear for a stranger’s future kid.

Baby showers aren’t uncommon at work; some offices do them, and some don’t, but it’s not unusual to see them.

However, if you’re not interested in participating, it’s fine not to. If you knew and liked the father-to-be — or simply worked closely with him — there would be an argument for chipping in if you could afford to simply because it’s a warm gesture, but even then you wouldn’t have an obligation to. And in this case, you’ve never even spoken with the guy. So you really have no obligation to participate if you don’t want to.

If your group director is at all reasonable, she won’t hold your lack of participation against you. Some managers are unreasonable, of course, and do inappropriately pressure people to contribute to things like this or will silently consider people “not team players” if they don’t participate — but plenty more are perfectly reasonable. The latter group might offer you the chance to participate but not care one way or the other whether you do. In general, assume you’re dealing with someone reasonable unless you have reason to believe you’re not.

And in this case, it’s not even your manager who’s organizing this, so I wouldn’t give it further thought.

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