Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

I work in an office of about 80 people. There are 10 titled senior executives, with the rest ranging from entry level/clerical support to upper middle management. Recently a middle manager emailed the rest of the non-senior executives trying to organize a holiday gift purchase for those 10 senior execs. The cost would be $25 each, to purchase gifts totaling $700 for those 10; expected overruns would go to charity. The email did say that giving was optional; however, those who give will sign cards. Does this unduly pressure the lower-paid staff to contribute $25? I’m a relatively highly paid member of this group, but I worry that junior staff will feel an implied pressure to contribute in what I believe to be a brown-nosing exercise. — Sheila

Morgan Jerkins: Hmmm … so I know this is a privileged thing to ask, but is $25 that much money for a gift? Are these lower-paid staff members getting paid such a horrifically low salary that that would be too much?

I do believe that because those who give will sign cards afterward that it might give the lower-paid staff some anxiety over who will discover that they didn’t pitch in.

Walt Hickey: Yeah, I think the card thing is an issue here. If the organizer drops the requirement that they have to give to sign, I’d say this is fine if annoying. Filial piety should not extend to capitalism and such.

Or do a suggested donation — “you don’t have to give $25, just pitch in, but most people are pitching in around $25.”

Either way, Sheila is right to question this.

Morgan: I think perhaps there shouldn’t be a standard, especially since they all have different salaries.

Walt: Or middle management agrees to kick in a little more than junior staff?

Morgan: Yes — very good idea.

Walt: [extreme Bernie Sanders impression] THE BOTTOM EIGHTY-NINE PERCENT OF THE OFFICE CONTRIBUTES A HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE EXECUTIVE GIFTS

Morgan: LOL

Walt: As a matter of fact, this math is ridiculous. The gifts for 10 people totalling $700 means everyone should kick in only $10. There should be zero overrun — no offense to charity.

If anything, they should ask everyone to kick in $10 and then ask middle management to kick in if the tally comes below $700.

Morgan: Right. (I’m going with your math because I’m horrible at it, hence me being a writer.)

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran April 12-13 and received 1,044 responses. We presented respondents with Sheila’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. The current arrangement is not a problem

    1.8%

  2. There shouldn’t be overrun. If you want $700, ask the 70 workers for $10, not $25.

    20.0%

  3. This is inappropriate as a whole.

    37.0%

  4. People shouldn’t have to pay $25 to sign the card, but otherwise this is fine.

    7.7%

  5. $25 should be the suggested contribution, not the mandatory one.

    21.5%

  6. Middle management should give more than the junior employees.

    4.3%

  7. None of the above is good advice.

    7.7%

Morgan: Oh — most thought it was inappropriate as a whole? Wow.

Walt: Take the system down! Labor should not go out of its way to benefit capital! Down with the mandatory gift system!

Our two highest responses were saying that this is inappropriate entirely and that the fact that it’s mandatory is ridiculous.

I thought it was sketchy that their math didn’t work out to begin with and agree that this process should either be stopped or simplified.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY AGE GROUP
18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
It’s not a problem 5%
2%
1%
0%
No overrun: Ask for $10, not $25 16
20
19
25
This is inappropriate as a whole 26
33
43
47
Fine, but anyone can sign the card 14
10
6
2
$25 should be the suggestion 30
23
19
13
Managers should give more 4
3
4
5
None of the above 4
9
9
7

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Morgan: It’s very anti-capitalist, but I dig it.

Walt: So this is very cool and exposes a generational fault line.

Basically, the older someone got, the more often they considered this inappropriate as a whole and the more likely they were to disagree with the extensive cost overrun. But among the youngest respondents, the issue was with how mandatory the giving was: For almost half of the people under 30, the issue was that either the 25 should be “suggested” or that it shouldn’t be mandatory to sign the card.

So the younger crowd was against the forced participation element, while the older crowd was against the construction of the whole operation.

Morgan: That’s a very nuanced difference, in my opinion.

I think that the younger people not being against giving money toward a gift but rather being forced to participate at all is interesting. So, they’re OK with the idea as long as they can opt out? Why are the older people — who presumably have more money — against giving money as a whole?

That’s not what I would have expected.

Do these younger people want the older people to do the leg work, hence they want to opt for volunteering?

Walt: Keep in mind that this is “rewarding management” and not a donation or volunteering in any conventional sense.

I feel like the younger crowd sees it’s a racket and wants to be able to opt out of participating personally, while the older crowd sees it’s a racket and wants it destroyed.

Morgan: Yeah. They are much less compromising.

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Source: FiveThirtyEight

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