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The Dos And Don'ts Of Office Gift Giving

11/29/2016 10:44 am ET | Updated 3 days ago
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Some people on our list are easy to buy for ― but what should you get for people in the office? This holiday dilemma can be tricky to figure out, but there are certain guidelines that one should always follow when purchasing gifts for coworkers or the boss.

Just in time for the winter season, we’re sharing eight expert tips for everyone wondering what to give to people in the workplace.

  1. Know the Office Policy: Research office policy and follow the organization’s guidelines. Employees might participate in office-wide gift exchanges such as White Elephant or Secret Santa, or give holiday cards and seasonal treats to show appreciation.

  2. Unwritten Rules: If this is your first holiday season with the organization, ask your co-workers if there’s an unspoken gift-giving tradition. Find out from a seasoned colleague about the unwritten rules. Sure, you follow policy, but is there a division ornament exchange or cookie swap too?

  3. Brand Awareness Culture: Research and understand the individual country and organizational culture before buying a gift. Just like you wouldn’t buy a Chinese gift for a Japanese colleague, don’t buy Nike athletic brand wear for an Under Armour representative.   

  4. Buying for the Boss: Instead of each employee buying a gift for the boss, which can breed competitiveness and insecurity among colleagues, consider employee’s contributing to a pool to buy a team gift. Chipping in for a charitable donation, restaurant gift card, quality bottle of liqueur, a tasteful bracelet, or a ticket to their favorite sports team or music concert is a perfect way to express group gratitude.

  5. Respect the Limit: You may have found the perfect Secret Santa gift for your co-worker who collects expensive vintage records, but think twice before you buy. Overspending creates an atmosphere of discomfort and makes others feel obligated to reciprocate, or guilty if the gift they bought isn’t as high-end. Try to keep your purchase under the limit, or $25, and personalize it with a handwritten note or card.

  6. Beware gag gifts: Items with crude or intimate overtones are absolutely inappropriate for office gift exchanges. Even if you’re offering the gag to a co-worker you know well, inappropriate gifts risk making others uncomfortable, you may be reported for harassment or creating a hostile work environment. Keep your gift elegant and purchase with good taste.

  7. Opt for an Exchange: No one can afford to buy gifts for everyone in the office, so consider organizing a gift exchange among your coworkers. This reduces the financial burden, and includes everyone in the festivities. If your office participates in an exchange, and you still wish to exchange gifts with a coworker, offer the gift in private.

  8. Share some sweet treats: If you can’t decide what to give your coworkers, holiday goodies are always a sweet choice! Bringing fresh fruit, dried fruit, chocolate, or freshly-baked cookies for your colleagues is a safe bet that lets everyone enjoy the season.

Remember these tips when hitting the shops, and keep in mind that the price tag doesn’t matter as much as the thought and time put into choosing a meaningful gift. Whether your office swaps Secret Santa presents or shares baked treats at the annual holiday party, enjoy the spirit of the season and have a happy holidays!

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Photo credit: Pexel

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