Throwing a Tasteful and Affordable Office Baby Shower

Usually about three to four months into one of your coworker’s first pregnancies, once the mystery has revealed itself that they are not merely smuggling office supplies out to their car beneath their shirts, well-wishing abounds. The mother-to-be is glowing beneath the faint pallor of morning sickness but smiling radiantly, answering the bombardment of prying questions:

“Are you going to find out what it is?”
“Did you plan it?”
“Is your husband excited?” (This is so definitely not anyone’s business.)
“Are you craving anything?” (Everyone likes to chime in with their own cravings in response to this answer, no matter what it is.)
“Do you have to go to the bathroom a lot?” (Too much information.)

The genuine, shameful and silent question on everyone’s lips, though, is “Are you coming back to work after you have the baby, and how will we manage here in the office without you?” Tacky but true. It’s a sad world that we live in.

But it doesn’t have to be a sad send-off. To preface my point, and I do have one, offices love new babies. They even love pregnant women on their first pregnancy if most of the mothers are seasoned veterans. That bulging stomach is like an enormous, glowing bug zapper drawing every insect in the neighborhood, no one can resist talking to, rubbing, and even hugging the pregnant victim’s abdomen for luck, like Buddha. Forget sexual harassment and compliance rules, forget personal space, forget propriety and professionalism. There’s a belly to be rubbed! Gangway!

More often than not, the supervisor or manager of the unit isn’t necessarily the one who plans the whole shower, and they don’t really want to be. Often times, they will glean a modest amount of funds from the department expense account or petty cash for things like the cake or party decorations, but the basic expectation for the office baby shower is always “potluck.”

The following tips might make the process of planning the office shower painless, and make the shower itself fun and heartwarming.

The Group Gift

This is a no-brainer. Not everyone in a department is equally well-heeled financially, so it won’t benefit anyone to have a ring of people sitting around a table in a conference room with one or two people that managed to afford luxurious gifts such as Boppy pillows or bumper pad sets, while others only managed a three-pack of infant socks. The group gift is a face-saving, economical tool in the successful office shower where everybody wins.

The first step to planning the group gift is to plant a spy at the expectant mother’s home baby shower held by her parents or friends, if she is having one. Have that person take notes about what was already received. The second step is to have someone find out where the mother is registered, and if possible, on your lunch break, download the registry lists and print them for the unit to peruse. Have the unit vote on the top five gift choices that have not been received that fit within a budget that can be met by taking up a collection. The feasibility of the budget can be determined in “no-brainer” fashion by the size of your department. For example, if the mother-to-be has already received the deluxe convertible 3-in-1 stroller on her list from her grandparents, and there are 20 people in your unit, the next best gift might be something like a toddler car-seat, Snugli carrier, play yard, or high chair in the realm of $60 to $80. A group of 20 people can split the cost by each chipping in a painless $2 to $4 and still have enough for wrapping paper and a card.

The alternative to a single group gift is a diaper bag full of smaller goodies like newborn diapers, an emergency kit of Tylenol and thermometer set, washcloths, feeding items, bibs, onesies, etc. Never underestimate the small stuff. New moms always need small stuff, and can never get enough of it.

The Group Card

This can be purchased or made if your unit has a color printer and a user-friendly program installed on their work PC like Microsoft Publisher, as well as some pretty clip art already licensed to your company. Typical mode of distribution for the card is a checklist with everyone’s name on it, paper-clipped inside of a manila envelope like a “memo.” If you’re the first one to sign, don’t hog all the writing space. “Hello baby, goodbye tummy” is usually fine, or something to that effect. Warnings about episiotomy scars and screaming newborns are probably not a good idea.

The Games

Baby showers in the office usually aren’t as game-intensive as they are at home showers. Remember, this isn’t a boisterous, bawdy house party. You’re holding this in a conference room or a cafeteria where other people who are working can probably hear you, and you can’t inhibit their productivity. You can’t hog the room for too long, either.

Two to three games is sufficient. Games that can be done on paper are the most suitable, such as word finds and crosswords. One that went over well at my own job recently is having each employee email the coordinator a baby name, their favorite for a boy or girl, depending on what the coworker is expecting. These names then become part of a word scramble. Highest score wins the prize, give everyone a three-minute time limit. Print out the scrambles and puzzles on pastel-colored paper from the mailroom.

Some online sources for building your own baby-themed crosswords or word finds are EdHelper, Puzzlemaker, Armored Penguin, and CrosswordPuzzleGames. A Google search will help you find several. Enter your own baby-specific words into the fields at the prompts and hit enter and print the results. URLs always change, but Google will help you find anything.

Another low-budget game for a shower is “Draw the Baby.” Hand each coworker a clean paper plate and a highlighter pen from the supply cabinet. Have them hold the plate on top of their head and draw a picture of a baby on the surface of the plate without looking. This yields hilarious results. Another variation on this game is “Find the Baby.” This is a door prize activity. Before the meal, draw a picture of a baby on the bottom of one plate. Before plates are cleared, announce to the group to pick up their plates and look for the baby. The one with the baby on their plate wins the prize. Purchase door prizes from the dollar store. Hint: Gag prizes, such as a jar of pickles or a box of saltines work out fine, just gift-wrap them in pretty paper. If you want a serious gift, then a $5 Starbucks gift card will do. Something unisex that anyone would appreciate.

The Food

Make sure you plan your in-house venue appropriately for the size of your team and schedule it early enough that someone doesn’t preempt your timeslot for the conference room or cafeteria. Also make sure that it is in a spot where the wafting odor of cooked food won’t annoy anyone. For crock pot items, obviously, make sure your building facility manager is okay with you plugging one in if there is an outlet available.

If there is already cake being provided from the petty cash fund, then make a note of that on the potluck sign-up sheet. That way, people don’t overdo it with bringing sweets, and end up with a midday sugar-high and consequent crash. In bigger departments, there tends to be a problem with there not being enough to drink, so make sure at least two people in a unit of ten people or more are bringing soda. There is also a tendency at potlucks to be more salad and bread than anything else. Follow the “at least one hot casserole” rule. Think of how you would want to eat if you were eating for two.

Another note about the cake. It should be the mom-to-be’s favorite, not everybody else’s favorite. It doesn’t matter if her favorite is marzipan-topped Bit O- Honey Surprise with rum-soaked raisins floating suspiciously throughout the frosting. You will serve it and you will smack your lips over it like it is good.This is her day. If this were any other day, the general rule of thumb would be white vanilla cake with whipped icing. You could follow that rule here, too, but only if that is her favorite.

The Decorations

The easiest, cheapest thing is the banner. Microsoft has a downloadable one from their Templates on their download center. Or, you could go one better and just buy a roll of brown mailing paper from Target for $1.19 and have everyone go at it with a pack of markers, drawing baby-oriented sketches and writing their well-wishes that they didn’t have room for on the card.

Avoid suspending things from the ceiling when decorating, since that is a workplace safety standard, anyway. Streamers can be taped along the top of the expectant mothers computer monitor, cubicle walls, back of her chair, or draped around the seat of honor in the conference room without creating a nuisance or hazard. Tablecloths are best purchased at stores like Big Lots or the dollar store, buy the waterproof ones and get more than one. Conference tables are usually long.

You may want to accent the decorating with one or two table tents or accordion centerpieces shaped like storks, commonly sold in party stores if you can find them clearance-priced. These might look nice in the center of the food table.

The Exit Date

The shower doesn’t end with the party. It’s nice to help your mother-to-be with final details such as designating someone to water her plants or carry her box of personal effects out to her car. Work files will have to be moved into locked cabinets for the sake of information security. Backup tasks and phone contacts will have to be assigned. Hugs goodbye will need to be administered, just in case, since many is the time that your coworker stops being your coworker and becomes a full-time mom after all once the baby makes its arrival. Plan on every contingency.

But no matter what you do, give it the joyous treatment and celebration that it deserves.

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