News and advice on business etiquette — May 2014

How to deal with colleagues' requests for financial contributions for milestones and gifts. Plus study results show that the majority of teleworkers are men and that chronic stress makes us more risk averse.

Business Etiquette

Q: Do I have to contribute money to every birthday, wedding shower, baby shower, anniversary and retirement party in the office?

A: Let's be honest — throwing in a $10 or $20 bill every time a colleague comes around with an envelope collecting for another colleague's fill-in-the-blank milestone can empty your wallet in a hurry. "There is no question that this can become a burden financially to some, so contributions should always be optional — no questions asked," says Louise Fox, an etiquette expert in Toronto. "People need to be sensitive to this and establish guidelines for what types of events they will recognize, as well as limitations on spending for gifts, to avoid putting financial pressure on coworkers, or causing bad feelings, such as 'She got a bigger gift than I did,' or 'They got a party and I didn't.' "

Chances are that if you feel overstretched at the mere sight of that manila envelope on your desk, others in the office do, too. "Set up a meeting to discuss the issue and come up with a plan that will work for the majority of people," Fox suggests. "A set fee that everyone contributes to each month can take some of that pressure off."

Lisa van de Geyn

Irrational pessimism

Chronic stress makes us go for the safe bet

We all know prolonged stress can contribute to poor health but, according to new research, it can also lead to bad financial or management decisions. In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ,subjects who were given hydrocortisone — a pharmaceutical form of the stress hormone cortisol — for a period of eight days were far more risk averse when asked to make financial decisions (with the possibility of real payouts) than those who had been given a placebo or who had short-term exposure to the hormone. Interestingly, this effect was seen with a moderate increase in cortisol — the same level increase previously observed in stock market traders in London during a period of stressful market volatility. The researchers suggest that the study's findings may explain "why the appetite for risk among the financial community seems to expand during a rising market, and contract during a declining one."

Tamar Satov

Telework truths

Man about the house

Nearly three out of four employees who work full time from home, a business centre or other remote location are men, according to a recent study by workplace consulting firm Flex+Strategy Group. About one-third of the 556 full-time US employees who were polled work remotely — but relatively few of these teleworkers are women (29%). The survey also found that parents are no more likely to work away from their employer's location than those who do not have children. "Telework is an operational strategy," says Cali Williams Yost, CEO of Flex+Strategy Group. "Think of it as anything less and organizations ignore what has become a vital part of their business and the way their people actually work."

Tamar Satov