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Clyde Dilemma

Clyde's Dilemma

The following situation is real, though it didn't happen at your company. Read the explanation from your friend (we'll call him Clyde), then write a brief message giving him advice on what you think he should do.


Hi! Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. Let me explain the situation.


Here’s the short version:

I’ve just been sent a baby present from a key supplier. It’s a small gift, a sign of goodwill thanks to work I’ve done to improve an unstable relationship between our companies. My organization forbids employees from accepting gifts of any kind from suppliers, but I also know that my boss accepted a similar gift just two weeks ago. If I keep the gift, nobody will know, but if I send it back, I’ll probably hurt someone’s feelings.


Here’s the longer version:

I work with a large national department store and have just been promoted to being a buyer. I love my work, and the company has been good to my young family. I’m now in charge of purchasing knives, forks, and spoons for the floundering flatware department, which has not even come close to meeting sales forecasts for the last three years. The expectations in the office are low, but if I can turn around the department’s performance, I will look like a hero and my future at the company will be bright.

The previous flatware buyers didn’t stay with the company for long. This weakened the company’s relationship with one of the major flatware suppliers. If the relationship doesn’t improve quickly, I’m worried we might lose the biggest flatware brand on his floor. I’ve worked hard to earn the confidence of the supplier by planning advertising and pricing promotions and communicating often.

Five months into my new role, I told several suppliers that I would be unavailable during the following week, due to the arrival of our first baby. I received many congratulatory emails, but no gifts until now. Then the biggest flatware supplier sent a thoughtful card and a baby flatware set for our new child. The flatware set is small and inexpensive, worth about $25, and was sent directly to my home, meaning that nobody at work will know about it. I feel honored by the supplier’s kindly gesture, especially considering their rocky history with my company. I’m worried that I might offend them if I return the gift, erasing all of the work I’ve done to stabilize the relationship.

My company’s no-gifts policy should make the decision easy, but the situation is complicated because I know my boss accepted a very similar gift from the same company just two weeks earlier. It creates an expectation—for suppliers and buyers—that it may actually be permissible to accept some gifts. I’m worried that if I return the gift, I risk making my own boss look dishonest for accepting the gift sent to him. The supplier might question the integrity of the people who work at my company, given the inconsistency around this policy.

I know my wife will love the baby flatware set. No one needs to know if I decide to keep the gift, but many people will probably find out if I return it. Part of me is saying, “It's just a kind gesture from a new friend. Sending it back will do more harm than good." I’m just not sure what to do. Any advice?