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Not that long ago, the office whipround was a reasonably straightforward affair.
On hearing that a colleague was going to give birth, wed or leave, someone would buy a card and set off around the building armed with an envelope to collect money for a gift.
When I say “someone”, I mean a woman. I cannot remember ever seeing a man carry out this thankless, non-promotable task, but well done to any who did.
Either way, with card signed and cash collected, a gift would be bought and handed over in a way that left most onlookers in the dark about the exact size of the collection pot — and occasionally the present.
That was then, as I was reminded the other day when a friend told me, goggle-eyed, that more than £550 had been collected in her midsized office to bid farewell to a senior manager shifting to a new job in another city.
“He’s not even leaving the company!” she said. “And he’s already earning more than most of us who chipped in for his present.”
How did she know more than £550 had been collected?
Because it said so on the online platform that had been used to gather the money as people wrote digital goodbye messages.
Welcome to the new and not always pleasant politics of the office whipround.
The process has been transformed by the likes of Collection Pot, Giftround and Thankbox — online platforms that have become an office fixture since remote working in the pandemic made in-person collecting a nightmare.
“The popularity of a service like ours just increased massively,” says Ellie Andreou, co-founder of a London-based site called Viing, which was set up in 2015.
It counts staff at banks, universities, accountants and media groups among its customers, as well as one Premier League football club office. And Andreou confirmed that users tended to collect “significantly more” than when they had to faff around catching colleagues at their desks and hoping each had enough change to hand.
Even so, it sounds as if my friend’s colleague who received more than £550 was lucky.
The average Viing collection raised about £100, Andreou said, adding one user was “astounded” to collect £200 instead of the £10 that used to be typically collected in an envelope.
Andreou had not heard of junior workers being resentful about the amount of money going to more senior staff. But she did point out that senior people typically had more connections in an organisation, so the potential donation pool was bigger.
That makes sense. And it’s true there is nothing new about whipround resentment.
Back in 2010, an indignant worker wrote in an online forum for car lovers that when he worked at a firm that tried to organise a collection for a man who was moving abroad, “I told them to xxxx off”, adding: “Guy went to New Zealand and was nearly doubling his salary.”
But the new online whipround is still more fraught because unless organisers choose otherwise, everything about the process is so much more visible, from the total amount of money collected to what is said in a digital farewell card.
This raises the risk of jealousy (“why did she get so much more money than me?”) and insecurity (“did I give enough for my boss’s baby shower?”) and other disagreeable developments.
Contributions are sometimes optional if you sign the digital card, and sometimes they’re not, which can cause confusion. And even when individual contribution sizes are hidden, it is possible to guess at who has given what by monitoring the live collection pot balance as people leave their messages. That may be another reason online collections are higher than physical ones, although it is sometimes possible to hide the live balance as well.
In at least one organisation I know of, the size of contributions has led to talk of setting limits, above which anything raised goes to charity. At another, the digital platforms are largely used only to sign a card. No money changes hands.
Ultimately, it is no use hoping for a return to the past. The simplicity of collecting digitally means the practice is here to stay, and that does have one big upside. As Viing’s Andreou told me, digital whiprounds are so easy now that they are increasingly being organised by men. “That’s quite interesting in itself, I think,” she says. I very much agree.
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