Getting everyone to tip the cleaners late for Christmas?
January 8, 2011 1:02 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday at work our cleaners (a married couple) mentioned to me that they were the only cleaners on our site who hadn't received a tip for Christmas. I was really taken by surprise as I'd never even thought of tipping work cleaners but felt really guilty because if this was the done thing then they didn't deserve to be left out. I checked with someone else and found it was true, they were indeed the only ones not to receive a tip from the people they cleaned for (i.e. the office workers).

So, I found myself in the awkward position of wanting to go 'round and solicit tips for the cleaners after the fact. I went at lunch and got a thank you card, put £10 in to start it off and then went around the different departments on our floor and asked if people wanted to donate.

I phrased it as "hi, this is totally voluntary but I'm just checking whether anyone would like to contribute £1 or so to the cleaner's Christmas tip. It's something I never thought of before but apparently our cleaners were the only ones on site who didn't receive anything."

I got a lot of different reactions from "oh of course, absolutely, yes" to "uh, no, a tip for the cleaners, I don't think I'll be volunteering for that!" said in a rather snide way. Other people contributed but said "ok and my collection will be on Monday! To which I responded "great, then I'll take Tuesday!" I ended up collecting £45 including my ten which averages out to a little over £1 a person. I presented this to the cleaners with the card most people had signed and they were thrilled.

Now, though, I'm feeling quite uncomfortable and wonder if I've made a huge social faux-pas (I have social anxiety problems and I always feel really weird after sticking my neck out in any way).

So my question is, did I do the right thing? What would you have done? Are people secretly very annoyed that I've asked them for money and put them on the spot? And.... what about the cleaner's tip for next year? We have a building manager and I feel it would be more appropriate for her to handle this sort of thing, but I don't know how to bring it up to her. I don't want this to become "my thing" that I do every year!
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They already get tipped, it's called a wage. Working in an office I've never felt the need once to tip out other staff and as a voice on the phone, I'm not making much more than the cleaners are anyhow. We're all employed, we all get paid. And really, is the 45 quid going to change their life drastically? Probably not.

Don't volunteer to be collector next year. If it comes up again next year, I would shrug my shoulders and not concern myself with it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:21 AM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seems okay to me. You did a good thing, and the cleaners were happy with it.

You didn't put anyone on the spot, really, since you said it was voluntary (and £1 really isn't much). I suppose you could have used a less personal approach such as making an announcement or posting on a bulletin but you wouldn't have gotten as much money.

Kindly let your building manager know what you did and ask her if she can take care of it next year (implying that tipping the cleaners for Christmas is a given). If she or anyone else gives you an attitude, tell them to kiss your ass.

Some people might be annoyed that you asked, but that's their fault. They had the option to say no. You can't please everyone!
posted by jykmf at 1:23 AM on January 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Wages and tips are not the same thing. Wages are contractual, but tips are rather a customary social tie that show thoughtfulness and appreciation. If you really were the only people who didn't tip then it was a very serious slight and could have created hostile feelings between your office and your cleaners. So, pat yourself on the back for taking initiative and solving the problem.

But you have no obligation to do the same thing next year. It's not your responsibility to tip your cleaners; that weight falls on the whole office. At most you need to bring it up with your coworkers next December if they forget again.
posted by shii at 1:33 AM on January 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

I too have social anxiety and would have fretted instead of taking the action you did. Maybe you made a huge social faux pas (I have no idea) but it doesn't matter. What matters is someone was hurt (hey, what are we, chopped liver) and you took action to remedy that. Good for you!

If people were snide, they'll forget about it by the time the next unique office event happens (guess who's sleeping together - I don't know, who? - the cleaners!)

Here (Australia)it's a wee bit different but I know we have a habit of giving small gifts (chocolates, beer, etc) to service workers (posties, cleaners, printing staff), just for goodwill and continued awesome service.

Guess what I forgot to arrange.
posted by b33j at 1:56 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You did a good thing. You can circulate an email next year in advance mentioning the hard work, cheery attitude what have you of the cleaners and ask if anyone would like to contribute.

I'm a staunch free-market economist and I get the thing about the wage. it's the only system that works. It works as a whole on the macro level but some individuals end up short. But if people have the opportunity to make someone's life better through a kind gesture--why not? our work had a collection for the cleaners as well. Here in China they really have a low standard of living. I can tell you that if our employees had second thoughts, refused to give or were begrudging in doing so, it would make me question whether I want those people around or whether or not I would want to be with him anymore. especially if all the other departments had given tips.

This is from someone who reviles the mandatory tip culture in the service industry and thinks tips should be earned. my gosh it's one quid, it's Christmas, and their the cleaners. Bless you, and forget the people even if you made them uncomfortable-- that's just their guilt.
posted by chinabound at 1:59 AM on January 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

I also have social anxiety, and I think you did the right thing. I never understand why some people get so huffy when they are asked if they would like to make a voluntary contribution to something. All they have to say is, "No, thanks, I don't think I will". As chinabound said, it's one quid, and it's Christmas. It's not like you were asking them for a hundred pounds. And if they didn't want to contribute, a simple "Not this time" would have sufficed.
posted by rubbish bin night at 3:07 AM on January 8, 2011

You don't say what your position is in the company (or on that floor), which is kind of important in this case. Also, whether or not the cleaners for each floor are all from the same company (hired by the building manager, perhaps?) and whether or not the different floors are the same company or different companies that rent out the space in the building. Either way, you probably did the right thing, but next year, the floor managers need to get together and discuss a tipping plan so that all of the cleaners are taken care of by all their respective floors and/or companies they service. Moving forward, this isn't your problem to solve, but good on you for taking initiative in a time-and-money sensitive pinch!

(Also know that next year, it is likely that the total amount of $$ towards this couple might be drastically different than it was this year. People likely felt bad and contributed more this year, especially since the holidays are over and there are no financial "competitors". However, the couple will compare this amount to last year's amount regardless, not taking the context into account. Nothing can really be done about that. Also, you don't know how much the cleaners talk to each other - especially if they all work at the same cleaning company. It sounds like they do, given that this couple is aware that they were the only ones not tipped. However, you don't know if there were other floors that didn't get tipped too, but didn't speak up about it. How many floors are we talking about here?)
posted by iamkimiam at 3:21 AM on January 8, 2011

I think you did the right thing. If any of your co-workers felt put on the spot by you I reckon that is their problem and not yours. I've never worked in an office like that so I can't comment on the conventionality of the practice, but it seems about right. Like a previous poster said, they are cleaners for heaven's sake. They clear up your rubbish which, on occasion, can be disgusting.

We tip our house cleaner at Christmas and also guy who brings our parcels. Here in France the fire department comes around asking for donations (selling calendars). This year La Poste came around, too, which I thought was strange.

You can sleep well. You did the right thing and certainly seem to be considerate person.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 3:36 AM on January 8, 2011

Who tips work cleaners in the UK?! I'm sure several people at your work felt put out by you, but the biggest faux pas was by the cleaners dropping hints about not being tipped.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:04 AM on January 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

As a person with social anxiety, I hate feeling put on the spot like this.

I was just grumbling to my boyfriend the other day about people who come around to your desk at work to ask you to buy raffle tickets.

You don't know who has a tight budget due to medical bills etc etc, and it's very embarrassing/shameful/difficult for people to say no in front of their coworkers.

So, I would vote - it was not appropriate to go desk to desk.

It would have been much better to send around an all-staff email, that way people could opt in if they want to without feeling pressured to contribute.

Also, is tipping cleaners really a UK custom? I thought it was only a US thing?

Don't cleaners get a decent wage in the UK?

I would feel really resentful to be asked to tip the cleaners if they were getting the same wage, or 90% of the wage, that I was.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 4:15 AM on January 8, 2011

Judging from what cleaners make in the UK and at companies nearby, they're paid around £12 -15K per year. All or very close to all of the office workers make at least £25K per year and many make significantly more than that. All the cleaners work for the same company and talk to each other (one of our cleaner's brothers in law is also a cleaner with the company and he got a £250 tip this year from another building in our organisation).

I definitely hate being asked to buy raffle tickets to fix up the village hall of some village I don't live in, or to subsidise someone's churches' overseas mission and other such things people are often asking for donations for at work, so I definitely get that. But this felt different somehow - these people scrub our toilets for goodness sakes. I just didn't feel they should be left out.

Anyway, thanks for all the responses - it's really good to know what's I suspected is probably running through various colleague's minds about this. Probably everyone will have forgotten it by Monday anyway. Next year if no one does anything I'll just give them a box of chocolates or a bottle of whisky from myself and be done with it.
posted by hazyjane at 4:36 AM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Weird to see tipping going on in the UK. In all the many offices I've worked tipping the cleaners never happened and wasn't expected. Seems most peculiar, to me. That said, given that for some reason it does seem to be expected at your place I don't think what you did was out of order at all. Don't fret about it.
posted by Decani at 4:45 AM on January 8, 2011

I would feel really resentful to be asked to tip the cleaners if they were getting the same wage, or 90% of the wage, that I was.

Its unlikely the cleaners are making the same wage as the office workers. I'd be surprised if they were making much over minimum wage (equivalent to approx £12k a year full time salary)

How did the person you checked with know that all the other cleaners got a tip? It seems unusual that all the other cleaners got a tip, given how uncommon tipping is in the UK. I've certainly never heard of such a thing. Office workers clubbing together to buy them a Christmas card and a bottle of something maybe but not an actual cash tip. If a Christmas bonus were expected/appropriate, I'd expect it to come from the employer not the other employees.
posted by missmagenta at 4:58 AM on January 8, 2011

The person I checked with knew because we work in a large organisation in a very small town. Almost everyone knows almost everyone, or at least someone else who knows them. I should also mention I'm one of the lower paid office workers if that's relevant.

I don't thinking tipping office cleaners is a UK custom, either, but it definitely is extremely widespread within our organisation, just not on our floor.
posted by hazyjane at 5:21 AM on January 8, 2011

You did a lovely fucking thing; it's only a goddamned pound;it's not a tip it's a christmas bonus which we also do in Australia in one form or another; if someone begrudges a pound for the poor bastards on minimum wage wiping up their mess day-in-day-out - or find the social pressure of saying no to the request of a quid insulting or stressful - they have no business working in an office or with human beings, and the probably should be embarrassed and insulted because it's one quid and if it's the only floor on the office that didn't do it they're clearly out of touch with community standards; it would mean a lot to the people receiving it at or around christmas; they work damned hard for their money; take a bow young person, and sleep the sleep of the just! You did a nice fucking thing at christmas for someone else, and everybody could do with doing a few more of them.

And that's my opinion.
posted by smoke at 5:29 AM on January 8, 2011 [26 favorites]

Isn't it traditional to give at Christmas. This is how Boxing Day got its name after all "The tradition has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions" from Wikipedia.

You did a good thing. We always have a bit of a collection for our cleaner at work. It isn't much, but it shows you're thinking of other people.
posted by Fence at 5:53 AM on January 8, 2011

Since you're in the UK, I find it very surprising that tipping cleaners at Christmas was the norm in your building. But since it was, you did a nice thing arranging the tip. Don't go desk to desk though.
posted by caek at 6:44 AM on January 8, 2011

I think you did an OK thing (at least it "is done" in the US). If you feel like face-to-face doning is too much pressure, instead of going from desk to desk you can just send out an email, "Hey, I'd like to give a voluntary Christmas gift to our cleaners. Stop by my desk and sign the card and throw in a buck or two." Donations will probably be a bit lower but then no one will feel pressured.
posted by muddgirl at 6:44 AM on January 8, 2011

In my office, the day time cleaner was given $20 per person which amounted to around $4,000. I contributed without hesitation. The man works hard, will, without question take care of whatever mess you make, accidental or otherwise and he is very friendly.

I think the social faux pas is on the part of those making the snide remarks. If you don't want to contribute, simply offer a "No, thanks." and move on. Flag it and move on so to speak.
posted by AugustWest at 6:56 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you did a nice thing. Does your office collect money for anything else? (baby showers, weddings, etc)

Our office manager usually manages collections in our office this way:

Large manilla envelope with a list of all the employees' names on the outside, card on the inside.
Have the envelope make the rounds on its own - when you get the envelope you may choose to put money in, sign the card, cross of your name, pass on the envelope to the nearest person... until it's made it around the office and everyone's name is crossed off.

Just be sure to indicate on the envelope what it is for, when it is due, and who should receive it each night before locking up to keep the money safe.
posted by LilBit at 7:40 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

We put the current birthday card for signing or other item at the front desk in a folder and send an email to staff with the relevant information/deadline. It is not often about collecting money which might help it work when it is. The person who helps orient new people mentions how this works and most people appreciate it. You did a good thing, gave more than your share, and I'm just sorry others didn't feel they should have given a bit more. As for knowing they were the only ones not tipped, the cleaners do talk to one another and they probably realized their colleagues not only pitied them but also assumed they were undeserving of the customary recognition.
posted by Anitanola at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2011

The cleaners were in the wrong putting you on the spot like that, such things should be handled via the building manager and office managers. You did a very nice thing, nonetheless, and anyone who's going to get huffy over a pound will forget in a couple of weeks.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:18 AM on January 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

People will be less huffy about this if it is timed closer to the actual holidays when everyone has (a little) more goodwill toward humans and is already used to the idea of letting go of a buck or two to help someone out.

Also, I think gou *should* go around desk-to-desk, but only after you've sent out an email to everyone maybe a week in advance, so they are prepared. That way no one will feel like it's being sprung on them, and if they want to avoid it they'll already have and excuse prepared.

I think you did a good thing. It sucks to be called out for not tipping; this happened to me once with movers who found my tip insulting (I'd never hired movers before! I didn't know!) but now that you know, there's no reason why this should be awkward or painful in the future, for you or your officemates.
posted by hermitosis at 8:46 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree, you did the right thing. Partly for maintaining the goodwill of your cleaning person. Mostly because it is a really nice gesture and because it doesn't cost much per person for the office to come together and get a decent amount of money together for someone who provides an essential service and gets paid very little.

I kinda disagree with the people saying "don't go to desk to desk next year!" (Not that this will necessarily be your responsibility next year, but someone should do it.) Obviously plenty of people felt free to say no, and most people gave very little, so it's not like you are going to break someone's heart and bankrupt them. Plus, if people were barely willing to cough up a pound or two when you were right there bugging them about it, is anyone going to care enough to respond to an e-mail, seek you out, and give you money? Spoiler: no.
posted by mandanza at 8:46 AM on January 8, 2011

Yes, you did a nice thing for them. Equally important, you did a very nice thing for yourself.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:57 AM on January 8, 2011

I think most of you arguing for or against the appropriateness of tipping them are missing the point: OP says "they were the only cleaners on [their] site who hadn't received a tip". Meaning, yes, it's de facto appropriate, every other cleaner on this site received a tip. So this is a matter of toeing the company line and not leaving anyone out.

You did the right thing.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whilst you did a nice thing, its worth noting that the majority of people on this site are American who seen nothing odd in tipping everyone and anyone simply for just doing the job they are paid for.

In the UK, there are three differences:

1. It's for going above and beyond someone's job, not just for them doing it. It is also not a regular guaranteed payment, their wages cover that.

2. It's at the givers discretion. It is certainly not mandatory nor should it be expected by anyone.

3. It is extremely bad form to ask for a tip or imply that one is due.

Well done on them having the gall to imply they should get something that is discretionary though. Seems you can get an easy 45 quid.

Next year, let the building manager handle their request for a pay rise.
posted by mr_silver at 9:41 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm in the UK but I follow the pattern from Ireland where I come from of giving a "Christmas Box" (that's what we called it honest!) to the Postman, garbage collectors, cleaner, etc., It varies according to the frequency and value of what they do for me & what I can afford.

e.g. the two cheerful men at my local station get a little presentation box of Guinness, the coffee man there who cheers me up no-end no matter how Goddamn early I have to take the train gets a bottle of whisky, yes without an e, naturellement! The Rubbish Collectors (there's usually four) get a £20 pounds, the postie gets £10 and my cleaner gets an extra week's wages.

The only thing I've seen in offices here in the UK is the aforementioned card/collection for birthday's, births, retirement etc., I don't work in our central office in London I'm a remote worker so don't know about the cleaners at work.

I think what you did was very kind and I wouldn't blame the cleaners for mentioning it IF it was the done thing throughout the building and your floor was the odd one out. Service jobs suck, I did enough of them from the age of 13 when I got my first waitressing gig at the Metropole Hotel in Cork City. At £7 per night for 5 hours of back-breaking work tips were like seeing a double rainbow. So Thank you for what you did.
posted by Wilder at 9:49 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I understand your doubts about what you did, but seriously, give yourself a break, and be good you did a nice thing for the cleaners.

All of this static you're getting about going desk to desk is so horribly .... bourgeois? NOBODY WITH A JOB can reasonably say they can't afford to chip in a pound to help the lowly people who serve them all year. Anyone who feels offended by a request to kick in an amount that probably could be scraped up in the crevices of their sofa, needs to grow the hell up.

You really should not worry about this. You did a GREAT THING.
posted by jayder at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

and be good you did a nice thing for the cleaners.

make that "and be glad you did a nice thing for the cleaners."
posted by jayder at 11:01 AM on January 8, 2011

Anyone who feels offended by a request to kick in an amount that probably could be scraped up in the crevices of their sofa, needs to grow the hell up.

Don't forget to pitch in for the collection for the receptionist, the door man, the post room boy, the coffee shop girls, the facilities chap that fixes your chair and the women in the canteen too. Or is the cleaner more deserving than all of them?

My point is that, whilst it is lovely if they do contribute, there are plenty of reasons to refuse and it has nothing to do with how grown up you are.
posted by mr_silver at 11:42 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

You didn't say whether the cleaners are employees of the same company you work for, or if they are hired by the building management company.

If their employer is the building management company, then that company should have provided their tip, and you should bring it up to them so that you don't get put on the spot again.

If their employer is the same company you work for, i.e. then your office manager should be in charge of it, and you should bring it up to him/her so that you don't get put on the spot again. (The manager might take an office collection, although really, a Christmas bonus should just come from the company.)

Basically, whoever is the cleaner's boss, should have thought of this and taken care of it.

You did a really nice thing, and people shouldn't be brats about being asked to contribute one pound to people who make less money and clean the toilets, but it wasn't your responsibility.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:09 PM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

gah. I mean, if they work for the same company you work for, i.e. your office manager is their boss, then he/she should be in charge of it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:10 PM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it is a "done thing," i.e., everyone else tips, then you should. As pointed out, your employer should actually do the tipping. Where I work we do not tip our janitor with money, since it is not legally permitted. We do give her individual gifts, although it is up to each individual to decide on this. It is usually something worth about $10 (anymore than that and she would have to give it back).

Do they work for your firm? Or are they contracted? If they work for the firm, it would be odd for other employees to give them tips, small gifts would be ok though. If they are contracted, then tips are ok, but the tip should actually come from your employer.
posted by fifilaru at 3:18 PM on January 8, 2011

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