The Ultimate Guide To Office Gift-Giving Etiquette

To give or not to give? That’s the question so many employees will ask themselves this holiday season. 

Deciding whether to get your boss or colleagues a holiday gift can be difficult. And choosing the right present can be even trickier. 

Here are some tips from experts Shawnice Meador and Jacqueline Whitmore:

1. Determine whether exchanging gifts is acceptable or discouraged in your workplace.

“If you are new to the company and are not sure if gifts are exchanged, my best advice would be to just ask around,” says Meador, director of career and leadership services for working professionals at [email protected]

“If gifts are the norm it will usually be openly discussed around the office, which can help you get more details about types of gifts and dollar amount,” she says. “If gift-giving guidelines aren’t as clear in your office, you can never go wrong with giving your boss or coworkers a card or treat to wish them a happy holidays.”

2. Remember that office gift exchanges should be optional. 

Don’t badger others for not wanting to participate in an office gift exchange, says Whitmore, an international etiquette expert and author of “Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals.” “Some people may not want to participate for personal, financial, or religious reasons.” 

3. Set a spending limit for gift exchanges. 

If you determine gift giving is standard in your workplace, suggest to your colleagues that a price limit be set. “Limits help participants select an appropriate gift at an affordable price,” says Whitmore. Without guidelines, people may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if their gifts cost a lot more or less than everyone else’s.

“Whenever you overspend, you run the risk of looking like a show-off,” Whitmore explains. “On the other hand, if you spend considerably below the norm, you might come off looking stingy.”

4. Don’t overdo it.

Whether or not spending limits are established, don’t overdo it. “Extravagant gifts in the office can make others feel uncomfortable or as though what they may have chosen is not good enough,” says Meador. “Remember office holiday gifts are about showing appreciation, not being flashy.”

5. Be appropriate and play it safe.

Never, ever buy anything for your boss or coworkers that could send the wrong message.

Even if you’re besties with the boss or a coworker, avoid anything personal, offensive, or inappropriate — including gifts related to religion, politics, personal hygiene, or sex.

6. Go in on a group gift with coworkers.

If you want to get a gift for your boss, suggest pooling money to get a group gift. (And if someone else coordinates and asks you to participate, you should.) “Being involved with a group gift for your boss will mean less stress for not only yourself, but for everyone else in the office who may be worrying about what to get,” says Meador. (Here are some great gift ideas.)

Chocolate chip cookies bakingShutterstockWhen in doubt, treat with sweets.

7. Think simple, but significant.

Tailor your gift to the taste and personality of the recipient, says Whitmore. If you know your colleague is passionate about baking, for instance, consider getting them a cookbook.

“Just stay away from items that are too personal in nature, such as perfume, clothing, red roses, alcohol, or tobacco products,” she advises.

Meador agrees, saying that even if you choose to tailor the gift to your colleagues’ hobbies or interests, it’s important to remember that office gifts are best when they are simple and useful. “A gift such as a nice coffee mug or a delicious holiday treat can be a thoughtful and simple way to show appreciation during the holiday season,” she explains.

8. Beware of humorous or gag gifts. 

This goes along with point five. “Avoid giving a humorous gift if you don’t know a person well,” says Whitmore. “What you might think is cute or funny may be offensive or insulting to someone else and could quickly damage or even sabotage a business relationship.”

9. When in doubt, treat with sweets.

Bringing baked goods for everyone is a great way to show your appreciation to your officemates. “Be sure to consider any office allergies so everyone can indulge,” says Meador.

10. Don’t feel pressure to give gifts. 

If someone in the office unexpectedly gives you a gift, it’s not necessary to give one in return, says Whitmore. You can always send a handwritten thank-you note to show your appreciation.

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