Friday, 08 June 2012

Modern Manners: 8 June

It’s not easy knowing how to be polite in the modern world. This week: what to do about cards and presents in the office. Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

I work in the marketing department of a medium-sized flooring company. I wouldn't want to spoil the friendly office atmosphere but I do wonder about all the cards and presents. Last week there was a card going round for us all to sign. Happy Christening, it said. I couldn't believe it. It wasn't even for the baby's parents – just some in-law! Then there are the presents. We're always being asked to give £5 or £10, once for a colleague who'd twisted an ankle. It all mounts up in these diffi cult economic times. Where to draw the line... What do you advise?

Hilary Beamish, Norwich

Dear Hilary,

You're not alone. I've had many letters on this subject. In recent years, a happy 'family' atmosphere has been promoted in the workplace, not least by management after they've been on people-skills courses at weekends.

The hope is that you'll be more productive. But actually you spend all your time trying to think of something to write on one of those cards, and all your earnings on presents for colleagues you've never heard of. But cards for everybody to sign (not just the department or team) when someone is leaving are fine. Do write a message, even if you have no idea who the person is. You never know – they might have cleaned a sticky patch off the photocopier, which could have ruined your pristine document.

Within reason, departments and smaller teams might give cards on signifi cant occasions (not just when they feel like it). Maternity leave, long-term illness, birthdays, perhaps. If this custom is established, everybody must be included (no nasty favouritism), but be aware that some people don't want their birthday, for instance, drawn attention to.

A good rule of thumb might be that a card is only called for when the event/occasion directly involves the person – so not if a daughter is getting married.

Presents are trickier but there has to be a system, however meanspirited it might seem. It's no use people who've been in the job 10 minutes expecting a portable gas barbecue and grumbling when all they get is an M&S breadboard. It's also not fair on less well-paid employees who have to fork out to meet grandiose expectations. A spending cap is needed, with cost determined by length of service.

It might be an idea to have a standard offering for maternity leave or illness (flowers? – not cheap, I know). Employees who've only been in harness a few years should expect just a token of appreciation – a leaving present is not necessarily a measure of worth. However, multi-signed cards from all the office are not right for a bereavement.

Please send your questions to Thomas. blaikie@lady.co.uk  or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.


WHAT TO DO ABOUT... A friend's 'procedure'

Melanie Lindfield writes from Sevenoaks: 'Suddenly someone's got a blinding set of gnashers. Teeth whitening, Botox, facelifts. I wouldn't hesitate to comment on a new hairdo. But should I mention anything of a more personal nature?'

I see the problem, especially when so many people are only too happy to proclaim to anyone who will listen that they've been nipped, tucked, injected, bleached... Jackie Collins, when her coiffure became entangled in a low-hanging chandelier, declared triumphantly: 'It's a wig.' All the same, probably best not to approach someone you think has had a facelift and start rummaging behind their ears to find the telltale scars.

Best not to say, 'You look different.' Or, 'Something's different. What is it?' If it's the Bride of Wildenstein effect, keep mum. But if you suspect a procedure and the result is fabulous, say, 'Your teeth are amazing.' Or, 'You look great!' 'You look so well.' Avoid: 'You look 10 years younger.' Or 'You look so much better.'

Offer a simple compliment and they'll spill the beans: Botox, fi llers, Derma- Rollers. No shame in having 'work done'. The result's all that matters.



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