Gift Giving in the Office: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Posted December 13, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

Lately, as the holidays loom near, one of the questions I’m hearing most is the etiquette of gift giving when it comes to your coworkers. I’ve asked a few experienced HR managers and bosses alike, and we’ve come up with this guide for gifting in your office. Follow it to avoid that awkward holiday moment!

  • Giving to your employees. If you’re a supervisor, it’s definitely appropriate to give a holiday gift to your employees, but a few notes. First, be certain that all of your employees get similarly priced gifts. Giving a huge gift to one and not to the other could become quite awkward. Secondly, pay for the gift out of your own pocket — not the company’s — in almost all circumstances. This shows that it’s about your appreciation for them, and not from some company line item. Appreciation is important to employees, and gift giving can be a great way to show it.
  • Giving to coworkers. If you have a work BFF, it may be that the two of you want to exchange gifts privately as friends. Do it that way. Take each other out to dinner or drinks, and don’t exchange in the office. If you’re hell bent on a public gift exchange, you really need to go one of two ways. First, you can give the same gift to all of your team members or close colleagues in your department. Second, you can have a more formal exchange where you arrange “Secret Santas” and the whole shebang. Any other way is generally inappropriate.
  • Giving to your boss. 100% not necessary, and in many cases can be perceived as awkward or brown nosing. However, taking into consideration the rules about giving to coworkers, if you give something to all of your coworkers, you might also consider giving it to your boss. Last year, my boss at the time gave bottles of his favorite wine to everyone on his team as well as his boss and close colleagues. Completely appropriate because it was a standard gesture to everyone close to him in the company. If you really do want to get your boss something, keep it small – a gift card to her favorite coffee shop or iTunes or something easy and non-controversial.
  • Giving to non-supervised administrative staff. It may be that you get support from a staff member you don’t supervise directly and are incredibly appreciative of the work they do for you. In this instance, consider a small gift, perhaps a coffee gift card with a nice handwritten note.

Overall, a good ground rule: small but thoughtful goes a long way. If you want make a grand gesture, make sure it’s done privately and without the knowledge of any teammates who may be jealous or offended. Gifts can be a wonderful thing to do for someone at the holidays, but not if they’re divisive or given with ulterior motives.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."