Think twice before sending gifts to valentine at work

By Megan Tench, The Boston Globe – 02/13/2005 – 12:00am


Before sending a Valentine’s Day gift to the office tomorrow, think twice. Red roses could make your sweetheart’s colleagues green with envy. Balloons may not fit in the cubicle. And a romantic e-card could get you fired.

Business specialists warn that when it comes to sending gifts to your sweetie’s job, rules do apply.

“Wouldn’t an e-card or Valentine’s Day greeting e-mail be the perfect way to send a virus?” said David Bixler, information security officer for Siemens Business Services Inc. a nationwide technology support firm with offices in Cambridge. “As a husband, the only thing I can say is that it’s better to plan early. You can rely on chocolates and flowers, but don’t rely on those cheesy e-cards. They may appear harmless, but romantic e-cards range from the simple “I Love You” message decorated with animated roses, hearts, and wine glasses to the more audacious and often explicit audio message that turns heads when a high-pitched voice comes screaming through the recipient’s computer speakers.

Aside from the general embarrassment of opening up a singing Valentine e-mail in the office, technology specialists warn that Spyware, e-mail viruses, and other dangers lurking online can wreak havoc on desktops throughout the firm. One message might not shut down systems companywide, but it sure can slow down business.

And romantic messages could also destroy one’s career, said specialists.

Statistics collected by The ePolicy Institute and the American Management Association show that more and more employees are using company computers for personal reasons, such as sending jokes to colleagues, having private chats with relatives and friends, and, of course, sending racy romantic messages to loved ones. This can be dangerous, specialists say.

“Hit the wrong key after composing an e-love note, and your hot message could land on the cold screens of your supervisors, colleagues, or customers,” warned Nancy Flynn, executive director of the Ohio-based ePolicy Institute and author of “Instant Messaging Rules.” “Send a romantic e-mail to an indiscreet lover, and your private message could suddenly become the subject of public ridicule.”

According to the 2004 Workplace eMail and Instant Messaging survey conducted by The ePolicy Institute and the American Management Association of 840 US companies, 60 percent of employers monitor ingoing and outgoing employee messages. And to make sending Valentines via e-mail a little less tempting, the survey also notes that 25 percent of employers fired an employee for personal use of company computers.

Besides, said David Winston, the owner of Boston’s Winston Flowers, “People like to have people see them get flowers. A guy should send flowers to work; it’s preferable.”

But before gushing and displaying that lavish bouquet atop your desk for all to see, think about your colleagues who didn’t get anything this Valentine’s Day.

“Not everyone is in a happy relationship, and not everyone gets flowers,” said etiquette expert Peggy Post. “You don’t have to stifle your happiness, but by the same token you don’t have to flaunt it. Be cognizant of those around you. You should be mindful if your colleague just went through a bad breakup, or is getting divorced.”

While getting Valentine’s Day gifts is never a bad thing, when it comes to sending presents to corporate offices, classrooms, and other places of business on Valentine’s Day, specialists offer some important advice.

Many banks and schools have strict rules about accepting gifts from parents, clients, or business associates.

Some businesses prohibit colleagues from exchanging gifts. Besides, said Post, giving gifts to your boss or co-worker just makes you look bad to the rest of your colleagues.

And for those trying to add some spice to their relationships, it’s probably not a good idea to send silk nighties or other unmentionables to your sweetheart’s job.

“Save the real intimate greetings for a personal time,” said Post. “Mushy greetings, or lingerie gifts, those don’t belong in the office.”

Other rules aren’t so obvious. For example, don’t try to capture the attention of someone you don’t really know by sending Valentine’s Day flowers or gifts to their jobs. It can be embarrassing if not a bit creepy, said specialists. “It’s awkward for the receiver, and it’s too personal if there’s no romance there,” said Post.

Flowers from strangers poses a problem especially for single businesswomen, said Sue Fox, author of “Business Etiquette for Dummies.” “Rumors are part of the work environment,” she said. “It’s unavoidable. And gossip runs pretty rampant in most workplaces. And when you are single and receiving red roses, inevitably that generates gossips. It can be uncomfortable at times.”

If one does decide to send a gift in courtship, perhaps it’s better to ask the receiver ahead of time if it would be OK, or send something a little more discreet, said Fox.

“I know women, and young women like to receive huge bouquets, but you have to think about whether it will create conflicts at work,” she said. “You don’t want to create jealousy in the workplace, nobody does. So, if you think it would be uncomfortable to get a bouquet at work talk to your significant other ahead of time. Senders may consider some gifts that are more discreet, like tickets to a play or concert. Music CDs make a great gift. Or a plant.”

And if you do send flowers don’t forget the card.

“I’ve heard stories where somebody receives the flowers but thanks the wrong person,” Post said with a giggle. “Never assume.”

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Take Tracey Chaney’s Valentine’s Day experience last year, for example.

Chaney, 32, a financial analyst with a Boston healthcare insurer, will never forget arriving on the 9th floor of her building to find her colleagues surrounding her desk.

“There was like a thousand balloons coming out of my cubicle,” she said. “You could smell the roses from the elevator. Everyone was smiling at me.”

The gifts were from a co-worker she hardly knew, who had also sprinkled dozens of Godiva chocolates on her desk and rose petals on the floor.

There was also a bouquet, a couple of teddy bears, four romantic cards, and an arrangement of red and white balloons.

“I was amazed” she said. “I had seen him before, but we were never introduced or anything.”

At first it was a bit embarrassing, said Chaney, and not every woman in the office was happy for her. But, in the end, she said, she was impressed and that’s all that mattered.

“We’re still together,” she sighed.

And for those married women who sneer every Valentine’s Day when they don’t receive gifts, Chaney offers this advice.

“If your husband didn’t send you flowers in the beginning, don’t expect twenty years from now that he will,” she said. “If you don’t tell them early on what you like, they’ll never know.”

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