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Workplace Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Gift giving.

With the holidays fast approaching, professionals may be facing a common seasonal conundrum: What’s the protocol for holiday gift giving in the workplace? While workplace gift giving should not be considered mandatory, many professionals choose to exchange gifts during the holiday season. Some workplaces may also host annual gift exchanges like a low-budget “Secret Santa” that coincides with a workplace holiday party. Gift giving in the workplace can be an awkward experience if you are not sure about the proper etiquette or company culture. These tips can help point you in the right direction:

  1. Set gifting guidelines. If you’re a small business owner or in a position to set company policies, consider establishing clear workplace gift guidelines before the holiday season starts. For example, if your company’s tradition is to host a gift exchange or grab-bag swap, let employees know that participation is optional and set a cost limit. You should also let employees know what types of gifts are considered appropriate. Gag gifts or humorous coffee mugs, for example, may be a hit with some employees but inadvertently offend others. Setting clear guidelines will help employees manage their expectations and reduce the risk for any awkward gift exchanges.
  2. Keep it office-friendly. Overly personal gifts like clothing items, perfume and jewelry can make the recipient feel uncomfortable and are considered to be an etiquette faux pas. Experts advise steering clear of lotions, candles, and other scented items since scent preference can vary greatly between individuals. Food items like holiday candy assortments are generally a safe choice since the entire office can enjoy the gift.
  3. Don’t play favorites. Giving a gift to one person and ignoring the rest of the team can create internal discord. Assume coworkers will speak to one another and could take offense if they feel slighted. If you work on a large team, however, personal gifts for every team member may put too much strain on your budget. Consider a single gift everyone can enjoy, like treating the team to a small baked goods assortment for an office breakfast.
  4. Organize a team gift. In general, gifts flow down, so etiquette experts say there’s no reason to feel compelled to buy your boss a gift during the holiday season, although you should recognize assistants and subordinates. If you do want to do something for your boss, consider asking your team to each chip in $5 toward an inexpensive group gift, such as a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant. Keep the gifting optional, however, and never pressure anyone on the team to participate.
  5. When in doubt, opt for inexpensive gift cards. When possible, match the gift card to the recipient’s interest. If your co-worker loves to read or drink coffee, for example, a small gift card to a nearby bookstore or coffee shop is a thoughtful choice. Worried about the gift being too impersonal? Add a short, handwritten note wishing the recipient a joyful holiday season.
  6. Ask for advice. Holiday gift giving can vary depending on workplace culture. If you're new to the company and not sure about what to do, check with HR for the company's gifting policy. When in doubt, ask a co-worker for guidance based on what the team did last year.


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