Ask the Etiquette Expert: Holiday Office Gift Giving Q & A's

12/02/2013 11:49 am ET | Updated Feb 01, 2014

1. Who gets a gift at the office?
Traditionally, an employer may thank his or her employees for their dedication with a holiday "bonus." Today, budget cuts and a struggling economy have had an impact on the types of gifts many employers give out during the holidays. Some companies now offer alternatives such as a day off, a gift certificate to a restaurant or a holiday turkey or ham.

Employees shouldn't feel obligated to give their boss an elaborate gift. Ask around to see if there will be an office "pool" where everyone who is interested pitches in a small amount of money and a designated person buys an "office" gift for the boss. Or, as an alternative, bring a box of your famous fudge for the boss, and another box for the entire office to enjoy.

Colleagues can draw names, select and donate to a charity, or skip the gift giving process all together.

2. If there is an office gift exchange, what are some safe options for a boss, a colleague, and a client? The Boss:

  • Cookies, muffins, home baked goods
  • A joint gift from the entire staff, such as tickets to a local theatre performance, sports tickets, or golf towels
  • A handwritten note thanking him or her for a great year
  • A box of fruit from your backyard fruit tree
  • Anything small and non-personal
A Colleague:
  • A gift card to a local coffee shop
  • A travel coffee mug for their morning commute, with a small bag of gourmet coffee or tea
  • An iTunes gift card
  • A scarf or umbrella
  • A colorful computer mouse or bright ear buds
  • Creative desk supplies
  • An insulated lunch carrier
  • An eco-friendly grocery bag, purchased from their favorite store
  • A jar of nuts, seeds or specialty candy in a pretty jar for their desk
Your Clients:
  • A box of seasonal fruit, delivered monthly for a year
  • A donation to a charity in his or her name
  • A bottle (or case) of wine
  • A moderately priced writing pen (not too expensive but nice)
  • Nothing with your business logo
  • All of the above should be accompanied with a holiday card and handwritten note.
  • Do not use a business card as a gift card to your client.
3. Is a gift card a suitable holiday gift for the office? Generally a gift card would be great, but pulling out a piece of plastic at the office gift exchange is a little boring. If you do give a gift card, wrap it creatively, or put it in something that is interesting and can be used as a conversation starter like a tin of coffee from a local coffee shop, with the gift card attached to a coffee scoop. 4. I want to give a gift to a few close colleagues, but not the entire staff. What should I do? Exchange gifts away from the office to ensure that other people's feelings will not be bruised. Go to lunch or meet for a quick drink after work for a cup of holiday cheer, exchanging gifts at a separate location so no one will feel left out. 5. If I receive a gift from a coworker that I don't like, or cannot use, can I ask for the receipt to return or exchange it? Unless you are very good friends with your coworker, and feel fairly certain he or she won't feel offended, I suggest you skip asking for the receipt. It's not worth the risk of hurting their feelings or coming across as insensitive, especially if it is a relatively inexpensive gift such as a candle or holiday CD. Instead, place it safely in your re-gift closet and wait for the right person to give it to, who you know will appreciate it. Tell them honestly you received it as a gift and you know it's their favorite scent, or choice of music.

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