Tips for navigating VD at the office

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and many offices will see an increase in deliveries of flowers, candy and other gifts. The workplace will have a silent undercurrent, as employees watch to see who receives deliveries and who does not.

Some of your co-workers may beam with pride as heaping flower arrangements arrive on their desks, while others without flowers will act as if it is just another day. Then there is a third category: some will be embarrassed, and maybe a little angry, about their gifts.

For example, Alice and John are in the early stages of their relationship. John wishes to impress Alice by doing something other than the ubiquitous flowers. He orders three huge helium balloons tied to an oversized, over-stuffed teddy bear for 11 a.m. delivery to Alice’s office. The problem: Alice works in a conservative office environment, and she is younger than most of her colleagues. Alice is left feeling that receiving what amounts to a child’s toy, the size of which could not go without notice, has undermined her professionalism. Regardless of what her coworkers may actually think, John’s gift has not made the impression he was seeking.

This is only one example of a how a good intention could go astray.

“When deciding how to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it’s important to diagnose the style and decorum of the office to determine what is appropriate,” says Dr. Peggy Way, adjunct psychology professor at Argosy University, Nashville.

For some workplace environments, Valentine’s Day can cause some level of uneasiness if not handled correctly by management. Some people wonder what is appropriate for a workplace where there is a diverse group of workers, some who celebrate holidays and special occasions and others who do not for personal or religious reasons.

Is it appropriate to send flowers or gifts to the workplace or should they be sent to the home? Is it appropriate to send singing message grams by Cupid and other characters to the workplace? How do you keep good intentions from going astray?

“You should certainly check with your own workplace policies and practices before you make any Valentine’s Day plans,” says Dr. Steven Yoho, dean of the college of business at South University. “If the written policy is broad and doesn’t mention Valentine’s Day or gift-giving specifically, I would ask coworkers how the holiday has been handled in the past or even make a quick call to human resources.”

Way explains how Valentine’s Day has become more genderless than in previous years when it was more oriented toward husbands and boyfriends giving gifts to wives, girlfriends or potential girlfriends. Today, she says, men look forward to receiving gifts as much as women. She also describes it as a day where people are more relaxed and friendly and want to share expressions of kindness and goodwill.

When workplace management decides to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it is important to ensure that men are included. “Believe it or not, men enjoy getting flowers, candy and other expressions of affection,” says Way. She suggests having celebrations where everyone receives a flower, or candy is offered to the entire office.

Yoho agrees that if management is going to recognize employees, it must be equitable regardless of gender. “Businesses will often celebrate Valentine’s Day by having cake or a luncheon because they view it as a day to show appreciation as much as it has been for showing affection.”