Holiday Office Gift Etiquette Advice

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, both at home and the office. Whether you’re pondering giving a gift to your favorite co-worker or plunging into the annual company gift exchange, you’re certainly facing the question, “What do I get and how much should I spend?”

Gifting to friends and co-workers is common during the holidays, but the office gift exchange can be the trickiest to navigate. You need to be neutral, politically correct and professional; you don’t want to go over the top, but don’t want to come across as a penny-pincher, either. So, how do you give something that is both thoughtful and meaningful?

Here are some etiquette tips you might find helpful:

  1. Mandatory or optional?

Your company’s gift exchange may be optional, giving you the opportunity to gracefully bow out.  If you find the exchange too much to handle; because of politics, economics, religion or personal concerns don’t be afraid to take advantage of this “out”.

  1. Follow the spending cap

Gift exchanges almost always have a spending cap.  Having this expectation sets an equality guideline and makes gift selection easier while also reducing the chance of causing jealousy or bad feelings.  Unless you are the boss or owner, make sure you adhere to this as closely as possible; people who try to “one-up” others can be perceived as arrogant.

  1. Be thoughtful

If you really want to make an impression, consider doing a little investigative work.  Focus on your co-workers hobbies, family, interests and even a goal they have set for themselves.  An easy giveaway for people’s personalities is how they decorate their desk or work areas.  Personal recognition can earn huge points with someone.

  1. Avoid getting too personal

When selecting a gift for someone, try to avoid items that might be perceived as too personal. Roses, intimate apparel, cosmetics, cologne or anything otherwise suggestive of a professional working relationship should be avoided. Instead, focus on career-related gifts. Gadgets, Gift cards, electronics, food, or candy are a few safe ideas.

  1. Use humor with caution

Humor can be a double edged sword and should be used with caution.  One person’s humor can be another’s dehumanization.  You never want to risk irreparable damage by offending or insulting someone.  Instead, take the high road and give something thoughtful that will be appreciated.

  1. Try a group gift

This can be an easy way to avoid any fear of fault, because there is always safety in numbers. For anyone like a boss, manager, mentor or coach where multiple people want to purchase a gift, group contribution will help solve several of the above mentioned issues. A group effort will bring consensus when choosing the item, along with taking spending power much farther and last but not least, it won’t appear as if you’re trying to win favor for any particular person.

  1. Always say Thank You

You might be surprised if you asked corporate gift managers how many people actually said thank you after receiving a company gift.  It can be quite alarming, actually.  Therefore, no matter who gives you a gift, be sure to acknowledge them and say thank you. Verbal responses are nice, but it’s more meaningful to take the time and send a handwritten note or card.

  1. I received a gift, do I give one back?

This is the most common fear people have surrounding holiday gifting. Frankly, you are under no obligation to reciprocate a gift, but remember, a thank you goes a long way. You may also find it helpful to keep a supply of small gifts (even if they are from the dollar store) inside your desk, just in case!