buyer's market

Today Is Boss’s Day, But Don’t Go Buy Flowers or Anything

Don’t do it. Photo: UrbanStems

Today is October 16, which means it’s Boss’s Day. It is also National Feral Cat Day, but nobody is likely to expect you to buy a flower arrangement for a feral cat.

What about your boss though? I got two emails this week from UrbanStems, an online florist, proposing items I might send to say “thanks for all you do” to “the ones who do it all,” which is to say, the bosses. This made me wonder: Do people actually celebrate Boss’s Day? Have my managers been expecting me to buy them flowers? I definitely have never done that. (All I’m getting my boss for Boss’s Day is this column.) And when I briefly was a manager, at Business Insider, none of my ungrateful employees ever got me anything for Boss’s Day.

Google Trends data suggests limited interest in Boss’s Day. Like most days of celebration, search interest in Boss’s Day is heavily concentrated toward the day itself and its immediate run-up. Peak interest in Boss’s Day is typically about 4 percent of what you see for Valentine’s Day and 6 percent of Mother’s Day. Boss’s Day interest is about equal to the better-established Administrative Professionals’ Day, but bear in mind, there are only about 3.8 million secretaries and administrative assistants in the U.S. workforce. Few workers have a secretary while almost everyone has a boss, so on a relative basis, we’re apparently much less likely to think we need to do anything for the boss on his or her special day.

But UrbanStems says some people really do buy flowers for Boss’s Day. The company’s sales volume on Boss’s Day is typically about 40 percent above normal, according to Megan Bailey Darmody, its director of marketing. (For comparison, Administrative Professionals’ Day, in April, typically brings a sales bump of 80 to 100 percent, Darmody says.) To increase interest in Boss’s Day, UrbanStems takes a broad approach to the concept of “boss,” encouraging customers to think not just about their managers but anyone else in their lives who deserves recognition on Boss’s Day for being a total boss.

“It is not as big of holiday for us as it may be for a traditional florist,” Darmody says. But even if you look at other floral websites, you’ll see pretty half-hearted attempts to sell you on Boss’s Day. At on October 15 (Boss’s Day Eve), the top banner sought to sell you flowers for fall. Boss’s Day was listed only well down the page, next to Sweetest Day — a celebration of being sweet to each other that appears to be observed on October 19, but only in the Midwest.

Boss’s Day was first proposed in 1958 by Patricia Bays Haroski, who was a secretary at State Farm. Her boss happened to also be her father, and she didn’t think he was appreciated enough at the office, so she decided his birthday, October 16, should be Boss’s Day. Several websites and even a couple of newspaper articles claim Haroski was particularly motivated by a sense that young workers don’t appreciate how hard their bosses work — a nice detail since it suggests complaints about millennial workers’ attitudes arose more than 20 years before the first millennials were born — but I was unable to determine the original source of this claim and so I’m concerned it may just be one of those things baby boomers repeat on the internet without regard for whether it’s true. In any case, by 1962, Haroski had gotten the governor of Illinois to proclaim Boss’s Day, and in 1979, Hallmark started selling Boss’s Day cards.

Allison Green, who writes the Ask a Manager blog, writes annually about why Boss’s Day is bad: “It’s not appropriate to solicit recognition from people below you,” “Obligatory recognition is silly,” “People shouldn’t feel obligated to give gifts to someone who has power over their livelihood.” Most people seem to have gotten this message, but if people in your workplace feel they must celebrate Boss’s Day, she suggests, sign a card. Given the relatively slim internet search and flower-sales interest in Boss’s Day, I think she has mostly won this argument.

But the Society for Human Resource Management proposes another solution to Boss’s Day awkwardness: Have the company handle recognizing the bosses so employees don’t have to. A standardized Boss’s Day gift to managers from the corporation itself can take the pressure off individual employees to do anything. This seems fair enough to me: The person who ought to be most grateful to your boss for his or her work is your boss’s boss (also known as your grandboss), so why shouldn’t any gifting be handled from the top of the org chart?

Of course, that suggestion comes from Cord Himelstein, who is a vice-president at HALO Recognition, a company that administers employee recognition programs. Just as UrbanStems wants to sell you flowers, HALO wants to sell corporations systematized ways to thank their employees. Anyone who has a product or service that could be useful for Boss’s Day may try to sell it to you. But you don’t have to let them be the boss of you.

Today Is Boss’s Day, But Don’t Go Buy Flowers or Anything