During our regular monthly meetings, everyone in my office is asked to voluntarily contribute to the "sunshine fund," which is then used to cover expenses for such things as birthday cards and cakes for peope in the office. The contributions aren't much, usually a dollar or two, but lately, every time someone asks for some money from the fund to pay for a little party, we've been told that there isn't any and we end up paying for it out of our own pocket.
This didn't come as much of a surprise -- we seem to have a birthday party once a week -- until our boss' assistant confided in one of my coworkers that our boss has been using the sunshine fund for other things. Most recently, she used the funds to pay for the holiday cards our office sends out to clients.
I find this misuse of funds to be insulting and unethical, but I'm not sure it's worth making a big stink over a couple of dollars. Where's the line?
Your boss is certainly making a mistake. Spending this community fund -- which is therefore designated for the community -- on anything else is highly unethical, especially without disclosing this practice to those who have contributed to the fund. Holiday cards have become such a common part of corporate life that they can rightfully be labeled a cost of doing business. As such, this should come out of company funds, not employee funds. Now, what to do about it.
This column revolves around the ethical balance between what's right and what's profitable, but it also explores your own ethics. In this case, it's often a question of what's worth a fight, and what's not.
There's no question that your boss is in the wrong. The question for you becomes whether or not this is worth making a stink over. I don't think it is, at least not directly.
Should you make a federal case over a couple dollars, you're going to be get yourself that dreaded label of "troublemaker." All too often, no one cares whether the troublemaker is right or wrong; they only care about the fact that they're a troublemaker. Is it worth it? I don't think so.
At the same time, you should not sit idly by and watch this practice continue. I think you can accomplish your goal in a subtle way, simply by asking a few questions and playing a bit naive.
At your next monthly meeting, when it comes time to pass the hat for the sunshine fund, I think you can ask a simple question about how much money is in the fund, and what that money can be used for. Don't be confrontational; be nice. But in the process, you'll force your boss to reestablish the reason for the fund, and to do so publicly in front of the entire staff. Throw some sunshine on the sunshine fund.
With this established, you're boss will have to think twice before using any funds that violate her stated policy. Should she consciously cross the line again, then you're not a troublemaker for questioning her about the practice. I don't think it will come to that.
Now use those funds to rent a karaoke machine for the office holiday party. I'd love to see you and your boss sing a duet, maybe to Pink Floyd's "Money." And be sure to harmonize when you get to the lyrics "keep your hands off my stack."
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