Isn't this a "sort of" gift?

Canada
December 25, 2011 2:55am CST
Tonight, at Christmas dinner at my sister's, she told me her boss gave her an iPhone for Christmas. I thought that was a pretty nice thing to do. Then, she told me... "Well, I guess it's a gift... I mean, all he did was tell the IT department to get me an iPhone and then he left it on my desk with a box of chocolates." She is the assistant to the CEO of their company. He is, therefore, one of the highest ranking executives and he relies on my sister for pretty much everything (even some of his personal and family business needs). So, as she said, the iPhone is just a way for him to be able to contact her even more. She went out and spent something like $50 on a nice bottle of wine for her boss and his wife and then another $15 or so on some kind of fancy jelly beans for their son. As much as she likes and appreciates the iPhone, I think she sort of feels that her boss, being a very wealthy man, could have actually gotten a gift himself, rather than something the company paid for -- because, if she leaves the company or gets let go for some reason, they'll take the phone back. How would you react to this kind of gift?
1 person likes this
6 responses
@owlwings (39110)
• Cambridge, England
25 Dec 11
It's certainly a 'gift with strings', however, unless it was made clear when it was given that it was actually company property and hers to use only, I would assume that the IT department (or the company) would have 'written off' the purchase and that it was hers to keep, whether she stayed with the company or not. I assume (and hope) that there is little chance of that happening, in fact. Usually, if a company supplies equipment for personal use as well as business use, it is made clear whether it's still company property or not. Don't forget, however, that the actual cost of the iPhone is often very little (most of the cost is covered by the contract). If the company are paying for the contract, it is likely to be that (not the phone itself) which belongs to the company. Usually a contract is for 2 years and, once that time is up, the phone is 'free' (and so could be assumed to be hers to keep whatever). In two years' time, however, that phone will be an 'old' piece of equipment, superseded, perhaps by the iPhone 7, or something (though still a useful phone, hopefully!) I do agree with her that the exchange of gifts seems a little unfair. She has spent the best part of $100 while all he's really given her was a box of chocolates. We try to get round this kind of situation by repeating "it's the thought that counts [not the money]" but even this is somehow not satisfactory. Perhaps it's just best to say "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth!" and leave it at that. Sometimes (indeed, very often) gifts from bosses don't really hit the mark. It may be that he hasn't really got the 'gift-giving' mentality. I wonder what he bought his wife and son? No doubt, they were very expensive but I wonder how much thought went into those gifts, after all?
1 person likes this
• Canada
26 Dec 11
This is a great take on the situation, thank you :) It's true that, when it comes to corporate cell phone use, the phones themselves aren't really the cost consideration - it's the usage. I do believe it's a "company phone" and not something they helped him to acquire at a corporate discount, for example. But, as you've sagely pointed out, once the contract would be up, they would likely replace the older phones anyway. It's a cycle. I know she was having difficulty explaining her feelings about the gift because she didn't want to seem that she was being greedy, unappreciative or that she had any expectations. She and her boss get along extremely well and have a good and respectful working relationship. I think she was just taken aback because she knows that, given his position in the company, he just called IT and said, "Give her an iPhone" and they did - whereas she spent her time and money to buy personal gifts for him and his family. As you said, "it's the thought that counts" and I believe, like you, it's the "thought" she felt was missing.
@owlwings (39110)
• Cambridge, England
26 Dec 11
In situations like this, I think that you just have to swallow your disappointment. I don't think at all that he doesn't really appreciate what your sister does. It's just that he doesn't have the same mindset about 'giving' and the way that gifts are related to appreciation. People who are accustomed to having a lot of money think about it in a completely different way to those who have to budget every penny. A gift, for them, has no real relation to how much it costs (and if it's more economically beneficial for the company to supply an iPhone on one budget rather than another, that is the obvious way to do it for a CEO). He is clearly expecting your sister to think: "Ooh, my boss(aka 'the company') clearly think enough of me to get me an iPhone." It might actually seem highly improper to him to give his secretary/PA anything so expensive out of his own pocket. What if his wife saw quite a large amount going out from the bank account as a gift? (We don't know how other people manage their finances, after all, do we).
1 person likes this
• Canada
27 Dec 11
I do agree with you, owlwings... I, too, often think that people who are well off don't attach the same .... what word do I want here?... importance, maybe... to gifts. When one does not have to struggle or budget to afford them, perhaps it's easier to give them and not attach any more meaning that that. I think, in many cases, yes it would be a problem for a boss (especially a married boss) to give a personal gift to an assistant. My sister does know his wife well now and she did send gifts for the wife and son, too, and not only something for her boss. My sister is also married and has a daughter. My brother-in-law didn't have any issue with the giving of those gifts. I wonder if that's truly a situation that works both ways though?
@JenInTN (27565)
• United States
26 Dec 11
Hmm..I'm not sure how I would react. Sounds like he is not expecting her to leave anytime soon though. I think I might feel a little uncomfortable with the gift if he had personally bought it though. I think that in a way it would maintain a professional relationship by making it "company" bought. I am an outsider looking in and I am not familiar with their relationship, but it would be odd if he had gifted her something like that on a personal level. Sounds like he was trying to gift her something nice while maintaining a professional relationship. One must be very careful about such things if they are in management.
1 person likes this
• Canada
29 Dec 11
I do agree with you that there is definitely the need to remain professional, even if we have a good relationship with a work colleague. Owlwings also suggested that her boss needs to make sure he doesn't open up any appearance of impropriety or anything of that nature. You both make a lot of sense to me :) In retrospect, I wonder if her boss should have given her the chocolates as sort of a "thank you" - I mean, a gift like that gets exchanged often in the workplace with nothing more thought of it - and then just given her the iPhone at another time, rather than making it appear to be a gift? I'm thinking now that, had he done that, it would have been a different situation entirely.
@AmbiePam (48709)
• United States
25 Dec 11
I would think that my boss is a cheapskate and takes me for granted if I were her.
1 person likes this
• Canada
26 Dec 11
I think, in a way, that's how she felt, AmbiePam. Her gut reaction was that he didn't buy her the iPhone as something for her to enjoy personally... she felt it was just another way for him to have constant contact with her. She often has to work on last-minute travel arrangements for him, as part of her job, because he is the company CEO and travels a lot. Sometimes meetings are thrown together in the course of a phone call for him so he's contacting her on the weekends or at night to say he needs flights and/or hotels the next day. She's well paid and likes her job but I don't think she honestly felt that the iPhone was a gesture of his appreciation towards her.
@savypat (20247)
• United States
25 Dec 11
Consider the chocolates the gift and the iPhone just a new work gaget to make thing easier for him. That way she won't feel badly leaving it behind if she leaves. Companies that I worked for always had very strict money limits for interoffice gifts, maybe this company also has that? Blessings
1 person likes this
• Canada
26 Dec 11
I told her the same thing actually... enjoy the box of chocolates as the gift. I LIKE getting a box of chocolates because it's certainly not something I ever buy for myself so it's a nice treat :) I've always tried to avoid gifts in the workplace - unless it was pulling one name for a Secret Santa or something of that nature where everyone participates - because it can easily have no limits and get out of control.
@Graceekwenx (3163)
• Philippines
25 Dec 11
Woah!!! Some gift!!! I think there should be transparency and this is expected especially so for those who holds a high position in the company. you are right.. it is indeed a company expense. if there were official documents that you have signed, that would make it a legitimate company property all the more. If your sister didnt sign anything, then that makes it a gift and that wont really be qualified as company property. She shouldnt be asked to surrender the phone when she resigns.
1 person likes this
• Canada
26 Dec 11
I don't think she really views it as a gift at all at this point. She knows that he gave it to her because it will make it that much easier for her to do the things he needs her to do... so I guess she just views it as another piece of "office technology." She just accepted the chocolates as a gift :))
@ravisivan (14055)
• India
25 Dec 11
I will prefer this sort of a gift from the organisation to one given by the boss personally. If we take a gift given by him personally then we have to be obliged to him all along. Now she is responsible to the company only and that is good. When she leave the company let them take it and she can get another one if required or she may get a better one in the next company.,
1 person likes this
• Canada
26 Dec 11
I don't think she would be that bothered at leaving the phone behind... she already had a Blackberry that she liked very much. She'll use the iPhone, though, since she has it but I doubt she'll get too attached to it.