3 October 2023

So long, farewell – your money for a present please

| Serina Bird
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Serina Bird

Serina Bird says we rarely talk about the social expectation to contribute to a farewell gift. Photo: Supplied.

How often have you changed jobs? Once? Twice? Or every few years?

Canberra is much more than a public service town, but many of us are still employed in some form of government work. And often this means moving around. Sometimes it is because people plan to move for promotion, or they are tapped for a career-enhancing opportunity. Other times they are ‘mogged’ – Machinery of Government change. Or maybe they retire. And sometimes, although rarely in the current climate, they are made redundant – voluntarily or not.

It’s not just the public service in which people move around – people who have corporate and professional careers move around as well. But it’s happening more and more. COVID changed our priorities and work styles. I’ve had several friends change jobs due to the Great Resignation, and I’ve had a few who have moved up north and decided to work remotely.

I’ve especially noticed these changes because of the farewell tax.

You know how it goes. You hear that after 12 months in the team, John is leaving to take up a position in a new area. The New Policy Proposal (NPP) was successful and now they need to supersize quickly, building a whole division from scratch. It was such an amazing opportunity that he couldn’t pass it by.

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Jane then decides to make a sea change to the North Coast to spend more time with her ageing parents, and while she will still be with the team, she won’t be in Canberra.

With each of these moves there is the obligatory celebration. It used to be a lunch or drinks, sometimes a morning or afternoon tea, but increasingly it’s turning into an online farewell.

And then there’s the farewell card and gift. These are no small thing; it’s rarely just a card and a mug. The farewell gift can often be elaborate, especially for someone more senior. I’ve noticed that it’s now common to give multiple gifts.

This is where it gets tricky: how much should you contribute to a farewell gift?

So far this year, I’ve been asked to contribute 10 times to farewell gifts – and I know there are a few more coming up soon. At least those are the farewells I remember; there are probably more.

I know there’s more than one a month, and often more than one every few weeks. I’ve donated money towards gifts on all but one occasion; I declined as I hadn’t known the person for long, but then felt a sense of shame and guilt when she unwrapped her multiple gifts that I had not contributed to.

We rarely talk about what the social expectation is to contribute to a farewell gift. Usually I’ll put in $10, but I will donate more if it’s someone I have worked with closely (which I am discovering is often). It might not sound like a lot, but it all adds up quickly. Ten x $10 is equivalent to one week’s worth of groceries for my family, or 20 coffees that I choose to go without to build my financial future.

And it’s not just the gift money. Usually, you are obliged to bring a plate for morning or afternoon tea or go out for lunch or drinks. Again, this isn’t a lot but the little bits all add up – especially if it’s something you are doing regularly.

I believe that in these tough times, we need to create events that are financially inclusive. With mortgages going up, you don’t know what is happening in people’s financial lives. It’s important not to back them into a corner where they feel pressured into going into debt – especially when they are coming to work to earn money, not to spend it.

While we often make friends at work, we shouldn’t come to work feeling like we must spend money to be a part of the team.

With so many people struggling with the cost of living crisis, social spending expectations make it increasingly difficult for people. They are rarely budgeted for (although perhaps they should be as part of the cost of going to work).

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When I was suddenly single, I wasn’t able to afford going out to semi-regular branch farewells. I was struggling to get ahead financially, it just wasn’t in my budget, and with the school and daycare pickup I didn’t really have the time anyway. I got used to making creative excuses but hated that I was even put in that position. I was a single mother going through a divorce with high childcare and legal fees: surely it would be obvious that an expensive long lunch would be problematic?

If you’re the one collecting the cash, consider ways to do so securely without giving out your personal banking details. You could, for instance, set up a PayID with your bank. Or you could use an online portal for managing farewells such as Thankbox, Group Prezzie, Collection Pot or GroupTogether.

Back to the farewell gift: how much should you put in? Should there be a limit? Or should you just make a point of not contributing at all?

A wise friend recently told me that your contribution should be something that comes from the heart. I like to believe that karma comes around (and I’ve certainly benefited from the generosity of others). But do make sure to put yourself and the financial well-being of your family first. It’s ultimately more important than contributing to a ‘world’s best boss’ mug or gift voucher.

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