The biggest cause of strife in your office might be masquerading under a cloak of confetti and cake.

Workplace celebrations – a colleague’s baby shower, a retirement party, your boss’s milestone birthday – can cause more stress than that big presentation or upcoming deadline. Should the event be marked with a gift or a card or a full-blown event? Who’s going to plan it? And most importantly, who’s going to pay for it?

Enter the office mooch, a fixture on the rotating cast of workplace personalities: the person who shows up to eat the cake or sip the Champagne but never helps out with planning or funding.

Peter Post, the director of the Emily Post Institute, is hesitant to label all those who don’t contribute their share “mooch.” After all, today’s economic conditions make throwing in some cash for a joint gift a hardship for some. Still, the phenomenon has created awkward office situations through bull and bear markets alike, he says.

“We’ve seen it for years and years,” says Peter Post, a great-grandson of etiquette guru Emily Post.

People who are really strapped for cash should be direct and polite when confronted with requests that would blow their budget.“Simply say, ‘No thank you, I can’t contribute at this time,’” Post advises.

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