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Tips for Holiday Gifting at the Office

What to give to your boss, staff and colleagues

red_gift_shiny_wrapping_400_whtWith the holidays upon us, it’s easy to get wrapped up in shopping for your family and for your work colleagues. But if you’re unaware of company policies, politics, and don’t know the majority of your team that well, gifting at the office can be stressful.

So What Do You Do?

If You’re a Boss

Kathy Caprino, Career Success Coach says a great place to start is to check with human resources. “Check in if there are any gift giving guidelines,” she says. “Many companies limit gifts to certain small dollar amounts or categories – for example, food items may be acceptable, while wine is not.”

Once you have the go ahead from human resources, Caprino says that asking your peers what they do for their staff around the holidays is a great idea. When you get an idea as to what’s normal, you can start brainstorming.

But, Caprino recommends always treating everyone on your staff equally. “Consider a group gift, like taking the team out for lunch,” she says. “If you do wish to single an individual out who works closely with you – for instance, your executive assistant – do it discreetly, and not in front of other employees.”

For Caprino, it doesn’t matter how grateful you feel towards your assistant or top performers. “Think small,” she says. “Lavish gifts are inappropriate and can lead to confusion, trouble, and misunderstanding.”

Ultimately, keep in mind that your employees would probably also enjoy telecommuting or an extra day off during the Holiday Season.

If You’re an Employee

Julie Carr, Inspiring Career Coach & Speaker, says that giving your boss a gift is dependent on the type of relationship you have with him or her. “You should not feel obligated to give a gift,” she says. Also, don’t give your boss a gift to gain approval or favor.

However, if your desire is genuine, and you have a great relationship with your boss, Carr says a gift certificate to a restaurant with a card of appreciation for his/her leadership would make a nice gift. “Depending if your boss has a family, the certificate could include his/her family,” she adds.

You can also give a gift certificate to a frequent coffee shop they enjoy, a local bookstore (if they love to read), a store that specializes in his/her favorite hobby or sport, or a certificate to go to the movie theatre.

If your boss has a favorite charity, consider donating a designated amount for the holidays recommends Carr.

But Dominique Renda, CPCCa women’s life coach says you can keep it even simpler. “The gift of appreciation is a welcome message for employers and colleagues alike,” she says. “The holidays provide an opportunity to express appreciation in tangible ways. More than all else a note or word of gratitude that is concise and specific to the working relationship is an appropriate and positive gesture.”

Even though it may seem insignificant, Renda insists that bosses appreciate receiving clean and clear acknowledgement from their employees, team, and staff. “A “thank you” in the workplace is the best gift of all,” says Renda.

Gifts to Close Colleagues

Regardless of your title, if you have close friends at work, stay away from exchanging gifts with them at the office. The last thing you want is to hurt someone’s feelings, or to make other colleagues not feel included.

Gifts To Stay Away From

Carr says that staff and bosses should stay away from gifts that are gender specific, gifts that offer any type of sexual suggestion or gifts that may be perceived as stereotyping. Keep in mind that you need to be sensitive to the gift-recipient’s culture. (I.e., a Hindu might be offended by leather, a Jewish colleague might not understand what they’re supposed to do with Christmas Ham, and a Muslim coworker won’t drink the wine you gifted them).

“A gift that is inappropriate in nature could leave a bad impression that might go with that person the rest of his/her career. The person who gave the “inappropriate” gift may be seen as insensitive, unethical, racist or rude,” Carr explains.

She adds that once this perception is formed, it is difficult to lose. “It may eventually affect promotions, raises in salary, and relationships within the office,” she warns.

So, stay away from gifts that are overly personal, overly expensive, controversial or tasteless in anyway.

“Don’t ever give adult items, lingerie, religious or politically oriented items, gifts with a suggestive discriminatory, or demeaning message, personal care items, expensive jewelry, or cash,” says Caprino.

Some Additional Recommendations

If you have a say in how your team celebrates the holidays, try to make this time as inclusive as possible for everyone involved. One way to do that is through Secret Santa. After ensuring that your company allows it, ask people to sign up if they’re interested.

“If individuals don’t wish to participate, they should never be forced or made to feel uncomfortable,” says Caprino. “It needs to be a voluntary endeavor.”

Once you decide who is taking part, put everyone’s name in a hat and have everyone who wants to participate pull out a name. Make the gift limit accessible to everyone by stating that all gifts have to be $10.00 or less.

Another option is to enforce a “no gift giving” policy and simply have a holiday luncheon to celebrate. Have everyone bring in their favorite holiday dish, and make the holidays about spending time together and enjoying the team’s culinary delights.

Because the holidays are more about giving than receiving, you could have an optional donation jar for the money that would have been spent on gifts and have the proceeds go to a local family in need. You could also have everyone on your team donate a copy of his or her favorite book to the local library. Or if you hold a lot of weight, try motivating everyone to volunteer together at the local homeless shelter or the local church.

About Carolina Baker

Carolina Baker has navigated the financial services field in New York City and London for the last eight years. Alongside her banking career, she has launched a freelance writing career, focused on career transitions, human resources, travel, and wellbeing. Visit her site for more information.


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