Recently, I’ve been conducting a number of professional boundary trainings for workforce development and childcare providers. One of the “hot” topics we’ve discussed has been the giving and receiving of gifts. Most agencies have a policy or expected standard in place that guides staff as to when gifts may or may not be appropriate. However, the one thing that many don’t cover is the “gift” of food.
For some of our clients, their motivation to gift food may be cultural for others, they may feel it’s the only way they can thank us for providing them with good customer service. I can see the argument both ways for accepting food, especially for providers that may be conducting home visits (Trust me, I’ve been there!). However, it does go back to the question of is it okay to receive gifts from clients?
If you think about it, food, regardless of whether it’s homemade or store bought, has a monetary value. It’s also a very “personal” gift, especially if a meal is being shared with a client. The questions that come to my mind are, “What will other clients think and/or how will they feel if I accept gifts of food?” “Will other clients feel obligated to give food as well in order to receive good customer service?” “Am I creating a feeling of inequity, especially amongst those clients that aren’t able to give?”
While the gift of food may seem rather benign at face value, there may be long- term consequences for allowing this type of behavior. For example:
• By sharing a meal or accepting food from a client, the client may view your relationship as more social vs. professional.
• If the client sees you more as a “friend” than a service provider, this may make it difficult to enforce program goals and requirements during your course of work together.
• Other clients may feel or perceive that they are being treated unfairly or that they are receiving inferior services based on their ability to give/not give.
So, what can you do? The following are three strategies you can implement now to set up positive interactions with your clients around the giving of food:
• Set clear boundaries around the gift of food from Day 1! Let clients know that the best way they can thank you is by doing well in the program and reaching their goals. If it’s your policy not to accept food, be sure to state that and include it in your intake paperwork.
• If you’re going to be visiting a client in their home, eat before you go on the visit, or if necessary, bring your own snack or drink so the client knows you’re taken care of. While you may have clients that are excellent cooks, your will eventually change the dynamic between you.
• If your policy is to not allow gifts of food, make sure everyone in your office is on the same page and adheres to the policy. You can find other ways to establish rapport and trust with your clients. Setting clear boundaries is your first step in doing that!
If you’d like to “weigh in” on this topic and share your thoughts on receiving gifts of food and how to handle those requests, please post your comment below. We’d love to hear from you!