How do you decide what sort of holiday gifts are appropriate at the office? Here are some tips for workplace gifting dos and don’ts.
Do find out the office norms.
If your office always does a “secret Santa” gift exchange, it’s probably wise to participate, for the camaraderie and fun that goes along with it. But if there’s no organized gift-giving opportunity like this, see if you can find out what is normal for your office culture. Maybe everyone brings something small for the staff that supports the team or chips in a small amount for a group gift. While you certainly are not obligated to, it might be wise to participate in what is considered workplace etiquette. You can ask around your department and/or talk to HR to find out what’s typical.
Don’t assume you need to give a gift at all—especially to your boss.
Of course, we want to reiterate that you never need to feel that you have to give a gift. Most people find the holidays budget-busting when there are too many “obligatory” gift giving occasions, and it’s perfectly fine to focus on your own financial wellness.
Often one of the most stressful holiday-giving etiquette situations involves your manager. In most office places, gift-giving goes “down” line; in other words most employees don’t give a gift to their boss. (In fact, in some workplaces it might even be frowned upon so be sure to ask HR if there are any rules in place.) As with any office situation, much depends on your relationship with your boss as to what feels comfortable.
Do become the “team leader” and suggest an outing or small event in lieu of giving gifts.
If you feel comfortable spearheading the gift-giving norms, ask around and see if the team might want to go out for lunch or for a fun activity like bowling or even volunteering all together. You may consider doing a potluck of your favorite holiday side dishes or a cookie exchange. Celebrating the season certainly doesn’t have to mean giving gifts, and everyone might feel relieved if you suggest alternatives.
If you find that giving to your supervisor is customary, suggest going in on a group gift so that everyone needs to just chip in a small amount. A group gift might make your manager feel less awkward, as well.
Don’t mix drinks with the workplace.
If you do decide to hold an activity, try to stay away from happy hour or other drinking situations that could make members of the team uncomfortable. And avoid giving wine or liquor as a gift. In general, alcohol and work don’t always mix well and are therefore best avoided.
Don’t feel obligated to reciprocate if you receive a gift.
There’s usually one in every office—the Santa who gives everyone an unexpected gift. Remember that they are doing this because they want to, and not to make you feel awkward or as though they expect something in return. If you receive a gift, don’t immediately run out and buy something for them—that’s a one-way ticket to unexpected bills come January. Instead, respond with a sincere thank you and best wishes for their season.
Do remember it’s the thought that counts.
It sounds trite, but it’s true. If you do feel that gift giving is expected or something you want to do, avoid anything that will break the bank and/or can look like you’re trying to curry favor. And remember a beautiful package can elevate any gift! Here are some ideas for affordable, thoughtful gifts that anyone can enjoy:
- A plant for your coworkers’ desk
- A small donation to a charity, especially one you know your coworker supports
- A small denomination gift card to the favorite local coffee or sandwich place
- A holiday decoration (stick with snowmen or other “winter” themes unless you are absolutely certain the person celebrates with a tree)
- A funny desk accessory or notepad
- Food, snacks or other “consumables”
- A reusable water bottle or coffee mug
- Heartfelt thank you notes—everyone appreciates being thanked, especially at this time of year.
The holidays are indeed the “most wonderful time of the year,” but they also can be stressful when you mix work, finances and relationships. Just remember that employees are judged by the quality of their work and their interpersonal interactions on a day-to-day basis, not how they handle the once-a-year holiday gift-giving situation. Do what makes you feel comfortable, without compromising your beliefs or budget.