The Etiquette of Giving Gifts in the Workplace

To give, or not to give: that is the question — at least when it comes to the workplace during the holidays. After all, gift-giving at work can be tricky. You’ve got to strike the right balance between keeping it professional and meaningful at the same time.

But if you do feel so inclined to give a boss, coworker, or assistant a gift this holiday season, we suggest you consider the following to ensure you’re doing it the right way.

Check the rules

Many organizations have regulations around giving and receiving gifts in the workplace. Check your employee handbook or company website for more information. You can also learn about company gift policies from human resources.

Make a list

Chances are, you’re not on a first-name basis with your whole office. So don’t feel obligated to buy a gift for that guy in accounting — unless, of course, you’re in the same department. But even then, it really depends on the relationship. If you plan on giving gifts, stick to only those people you interact with on a regular basis. Remember, gift-giving is personal, and you should have some sort of relationship with the gift’s recipient.

Invite everyone

No one likes to be left out in the workplace. If there’s interest, invite the whole office to participate in a gift-exchange. But always keep in mind that not all colleagues will hold the same beliefs. Don’t obligate anyone to join in on the festivities. Be respectful, and stress that participation is optional, not mandatory. The last thing you want to do is make someone uncomfortable, especially this time of year.

Give thought

No matter who you’re buying for, thoughtful gifts always go a long way. Give yourself plenty of time to think about what colleagues might need or appreciate. Got a booklover on staff? Pick up a little something to light the page, like a clothespin clip light. What about that IT guy who lends you a helping hand? He might enjoy First Aid Sticky Notes, while the style-conscious of the bunch may welcome an ombre keyboard cover.

Set a budget

Whether a gift-exchange or buying gifts on your own, you’ll want to set a spending cap. This cap will keep you (and the rest of the office, at that) from buying overly extravagant gifts for coworkers, and hopefully stave off the need to eat ramen for the next few months. Try to keep the cap reasonable. Ten dollars should be more than enough if you hit the holiday sales — and there’ll be plenty.

Use discretion

Remember when we said no one likes to feel left out? This also applies to the actual act of giving. Don’t make a production of handing out gifts. You could end up alienating those coworkers not on your holiday-shopping list. Instead, come in early and leave the gifts on colleagues’ desks. If this doesn’t work into your schedule, arrange a time after work (or at lunch, for that matter) to exchange your token for the season.

Keep it professional

While you probably feel chummy with some of your coworkers, never give anything that feels too personal. You don’t want a colleague to misinterpret your intent, and that’s what can happen when gifts get more intimate in nature. You should also steer clear of any gifts that suggest one thing or another about the recipient. If, for example, you were to give body wash to a coworker, that person could start questioning his or her hygiene.

Avoid the elephants

Sure, most of your colleagues probably have a decent sense of humor. But unless the gift-exchange is of the white elephant variety, keep the presents thoughtful, useful, or at least reflective of the individual. You’ll never know how someone will react to a gag gift, even when given in harmless fun. It could end up insulting or offending a colleague. 

Giving gifts at this time of year is all about spreading cheer, and the wrong holiday gift can often do just the opposite — not to mention, do some real damage to a professional relationship that you’ve probably even developing for years. Just make sure your gift-giving antics keep the office merry and bright.  

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