Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Can I Keep It?

The summer before our senior year, WG1 and I were interns in NYC at magazines. Mine may have been a tad bit smaller than hers (and by that I mean we had about 6 employees including myself and we worked out of the owner's apartment).

That summer I wrote lots and lots of articles, did tons of research, and also did way too many personal tasks for the owner (not fun lemme tell ya). But because I did so much extra work for them (and because the magazine was teeny tiny), they often let me take home free stuff they had received from companies asking them to write about their products.

I once got my hair cut for free at the Butterfly Studio (which was super out of my price range). I took home a lot of this stuff. And got offered a lot of free dinners at places like this for writing about their restaurant.

And then I went back to school and took some journalism courses and realized that accepting these gifts might not have been such an honest and upstanding thing to do as a journalist.

At work recently I had to take a small online course about what is considered proper and improper acceptance of gifts. It's such a fine line!

In the video they made us watch, a guy received golf clubs (very expensive ones) from a client who wanted his business. And of course he sent them back because it wasn't ethical to accept them even though he was going to do business with him before he received the gift.

In my new position, I've received some gifts but mostly they are after we have done business and I view these as "thank you" gifts. And when I say gifts I don't mean golf clubs. I usually mean champagne, or candy, and one time someone sent me a cooler. And in those instances I don't think it is improper to accept the gift.

I have become a recent fan of the show Parks and Recreation and in one of the most recent episodes, Amy Poehler's character Leslie Knope accepts a wine basket and then feels super guilty about it and turns herself in to her boss. Clip is below and it's hilarious. Please watch.

What do you think is okay to accept and not accept? What does your company's ethics guidelines say about accepting gifts ?



26 comments:

Marie said...

I have yet to become important enough in my career to merit gifts but I'm the naive type of person who would be given something small and not see it as inappropriate, just a really nice thing and a gesture of good will. Golf clubs though...hmmm.

I'm new to your blog and a young publishing professional living in NYC so I'm anxious to read the thoughts of other likeminded folks.

Pursuit of Matching Accessories said...

I work for one of the biggest companies in the U.S. with very strict standards and rules, very similar to the guidelines in Parks and Recreations and I believe we have a $25 limit or something like that?

golublog said...

I say take the gifts wh\hile you can get them.

She's crafty, and she's just my type. said...

Huh. You know I never thought about it. I plan meetings, and use 1 hotel frequently. I would use them whether or not they sent gifts, simply because of their location. They have sent me two things from Tiffany's (over the $150 range each) but always considered them a nice perk. Ugh, am I unethical?! I really like those blue boxes...

Hazel said...

i think it is a tough call sometimes, but i know some of my co-workers have gone on trips and stayed with some of our clients' houses! and one of the designers got a card and some chocolates as a thank you form a client. she kept the chocolates and nobody said anything.

at my old job, i received free movie tickets, science museum tickets and other stuff and i always kept it :)

Ginger said...

Many of the companies I've worked for have a dollar value rule for accepting gifts (whether a formal rule in writing, or just an "everyone knows about it" rule). I think the most extravagant was $100 value (retail), down to $20 value. And that held true for holiday gifts and thank yous.

My personal general rule of thumb has been, if my first reaction is to have my eyes bug out of my head at the thing, it's probably not ok. Food, wine, etc. that tends to be no problem. I had an author send me some lovely stationary once (I worked on a her book on letter writing), which was probably pricey, but ok. But much beyond that gets into some iffy ness.

J-Diggety said...

Haha, that vid is hilarious! And it totally reminds me of work this week... I had a small oops that upset my boss, and all is fine now, but at the time I was freaking out and self-loathing. I hate making mistakes at work!!

I've never been offered a gift, other than "thank you" things from my boss after the completion of a project. But it's something to keep in mind for future reference, so thanks!

J

Rachael said...

Love Parks & Recreation!

As to gifts, I know my company has a policy about it but I'm not very well informed about it because I don't really get offered any.

My own opinion is that "thank you" gifts are more than ok! Also, things like the perks you got, like a haircut at a salon you were going to write about, are ok because sometimes you have to experience something if you're going to write about it, right? However, if a client or anybody had any hopes or intentions of changing your mind or bribing you in any way, then I think the gift becomes unnethical.

Tall Brunette said...

In my line of work, (healthcare sales) gifts are a part of business. We have special "Schedule A" accounts that are designated for buying gifts for our brokers, and we get gifts back from them, trying to convince us to lower our rates for certain groups because our company is renowned, and has amazing service...
Because our company is all about proactive health these days, healthy living, and taking care of yourself, not only do I get gifts from brokers and employers, I get gifts from my own company ON TOP of sales incentives.
Some gifts I've gotten from brokers and groups include: a few massages, a ski trip, a hiking weekend, camping gear, lots of flowers and fruit baskets, and MULTIPLE starbucks cards with over a hundred dollars on them.

Gifts I've gotten from my company include:
A bicycle, a gym membership, Whole Foods gift cards, A dinner on the Portland Spirit, and a tredmill!

Hurray for generous Northwesterners!!

Do I feel guilty? Not at all.
I feel good inside knowing that I sell an honest, innovative product that is backed my a massive staff of people who truly care, and are proud to represent this company.
I sleep just fine at night. Guilt free and exhausted from all the proactive health gifts!

.... Thrive. ;)

Anna said...

I'm a medical student, and there's a lot of talk around me about whether doctors should accept gifts (from pharmaceutical companies). My school and hospital have gone to great lengths to diminish gift-acceptances (no free lunches, no trips, etc) but doctors in private practice have to make their own rules (unless laws change). I'm glad discussion about gift-coercion is moving outside medicine to other fields of work.

Ray said...

I'm not in the same field as you, but as a teacher in an upscale neighborhood, I always accept gifts.

I like to see it as a "thank you" for taking care of my children for the entire day.

Practically Perfect... said...

I'm a nurse, and the hospitals I've worked at have both had policies where you cannot accept anything from a patient or their family that's worth greater than $5.00. However, those families can send in boxes of chocolates or cookies or flowers for the whole unit, and that is considered acceptable.

I think the best bet is to find out what your company policy is, and use good judgement :-)

alyssa said...

Haha, that episode was hilarious! I don't see anything wrong with taking "thank you" gifts! I think it's all about judgment though, really.

knitfreak-to-be said...

I did the similar training online today!! what are the odds. Well, in the company that I worked, yes it is very strict. Only things that is below certain value and with the company's logo is accepted. Things that you can put on your desk, calenders, mug, are still OK.

I even scared of one contractor once when they asked what to give after finishing a project with us when I quoted this 'Conflict of Interest' thing.

I've always liked free thumb drive ;)

foreigndesi said...

A general rule is nothing over $25.00. I work at a bank, so actually getting client gifts is minimal. At some offices they have cake on birthdays. Sometimes they give gift certificates on your last day. That is the extent of gifts.

A Dilettante's Perspective said...

"I am a woman, so I need to hold myself up to a higher standard" - too funny (and true)! If these companies wanted you to review their products and services, the only way to do that was to try their products and services. If they wanted to reward you for the "free" advertising of a positive article, after the fact, then consider it a thank you gift for saving them thousands of advertising dollars. I think spending money on what someone wants - champaign, or on something like a stupid promotional calendar - is a business decision that company has made and doesn't reflect poorly on you. Keep in mind that you have entered the world of gift giving and should consider doing it yourself if the situation warrants it. Just receiving and not giving may set you up for a bad reputation.

Legyviel said...

I think it's ok to accept stuff after the deal is done aka when the gift-giver is not trying to influence your decision making with expensive gifts.
xx

Salut! chou chou said...

When I was working for private banking at a large banking institution, the clients used to bring very valuable items (they were private banking clients after-all!)as thank you gifts. The organization has a very strict policy but since it was private banking, the clients tended to bring things that would NEVER fit within the prescribed monetary guidelines so the managers usually turned a "blind" eye to all the gift giving. That worked fine for me! However, as a matter of personal preference, I wouldn't take anything from a client if I couldn't consider it a "thank you" for a job well done. Then again, nothing too extravagant was given to me, so I guess I'll tackle that dilemma when it comes.

Marcia said...

Too bad I can't see the video (US viewers only). In my former job I've received gifts for jobs done for (retired) executives. The gifts consisted of soap, bracelet, placemats and a lovely bowl decorated for Christmas. Yes, I've received the gifts during Christmas time. My bosses new about the gifts and didn't mind.

Ginger said...

I work in media, and luckily gifts are a part of our way of life :)

Even more lucky is that I am on the receiving end!

Its very common to get gifts or special treatment in my line of work, from small Sbux cards up to the aforementioned Tiffany's stuff and trips. I've gotten high-priced electronics, expensive wines & foods, clothing, general beauty stuff, gift certificates, spa packages, use of a luxury vehicle when I want, etc.

However they're the trade off for being paid like crap. It also been affected by the recession, the gifts and parties aren't nearly as numerous or generous as they were before.

SamiJ0 said...

I am an intern for a Communications firm, and we love gifts! Typically, we receive wine and chocolate, or samples of products we are promoting. I think if the gift is a token of appreciation, an after-the-fact thank you gift, or is a sample of the product, it isn't wrong to accept it. I mean, how can we write honest descriptions without knowing what the product is, what it does, or how well it works?

In this economy, don't feel too guilty when you're offered free stuff! :]

Elizabeth said...

I agree - it is such a fine line. I think it is perfectly fine to accept a thank you gift.

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Jennifer said...

hey,

this is a bit random, but today at work I was sorting through our new wines (I work at an organic market/deli type thing) and I seen a wine called Working Girl Wine and immediately thought of you and your site. It's a Washington State wine. Do check it out, the label is adorable.

Nikolett said...

Thanks again for the comment on ning! While I haven't had a long-lasting professional job, I worked at a high school as an office tutor, where daily we were given big breakfasts and were told to take as much pizza as we could -- so it only food gifts.

As for this, it does seem to have a fine line and I agree with waiting until the business relationship is established and carried out before accepting something. I'd feel so awkward accepting expensive golf clubs like that!

Anonymous said...

I teach high school and getting gifts are rare but acceptable. This year, at Christmas, a kid gave me a $50 bill; it is the single largest gift I have ever received from a student. usually I get cookies, gift cards (usually to a book store, since I teach English), socks (the kids now I collect), chocolate,and things like that. It is all appreciated.
My friend had a baby and her one class threw her a surprise baby shower. She did not get BIG things from them but some clothes and books and small toys. (Did I mention we live in a fairly affluent area? haha)