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Holiday Gift Etiquette at the Office

December 8, 2016

We are officially in the thick of the holiday season, with commercials and stores and radio stations all bombarding us with messages about sales and gift giving. How does that play into work? Are you expected to give gifts to your coworkers? Is it rude if you don’t? Is it unnecessary if you do?

Here’s what our experts explained as the proper etiquette for holiday gift giving around the office:

  1. Gifts are not required during the holiday season. Depending on the culture of your company, gifts might be more common, or there might not be any gift-giving at all, but don’t feel obligated to participate. “All organizations should have a published policy on what is deemed appropriate for gift giving and receiving at the office,” Dustin, hiring expert at Hewlett-Packard says. “Don't hesitate to reach out to one of your trusted colleagues for guidance.”
  2. Ask around to get the scoop. If you’re new to the company (or even if you’ve been there a while), ask your co-workers in casual conversation about the norms for gift-giving around the office. “Sometimes ‘teams’ will throw money together and get their boss something all together,” Sonya, a hiring expert from Archer Daniels Midland, says. You might learn that most people like to give gifts, which might mean you want to join in as well. You never know unless you ask!
  3. If you do give gifts to your coworkers, make them all similar and small. Avoid any hurt feelings by giving equal gifts to your coworkers so nobody feels excluded or forgotten. “I think most people love cookies or other festive food,” Deanna, hiring expert at IBM Corporation says. “Another idea is a item for desk, such as pens or nice note pads.” An exception would be to give your boss something more substantial, which would be understood by your peers. “You are always safe with getting your boss a gift card (maybe from Starbucks or their favorite restaurant),” Sonya adds.
  4. Give something thoughtful and personalized. “One thing that could really be special is a nice hand-written note to express your thanks,” Deanna says. “You can personalize it to recognize things that you are particularly appreciative of.” Notes like this are a great way to build a positive team spirit this time of year, and the cost and effort is minimal on your part, which makes them a win-win.
  5. Be respectful of different holiday traditions. Chances are, you work with people who all celebrate different holidays, or the same holidays but in different ways. “I'd stay away from religion and politics, and alcohol (depending on your company's culture) as you may send an unintended message,” Susan from Praxair, Inc. says. Be respectful of everyone’s differences and don’t try to force your own holiday preferences on others. Sharing something with your entire team as a whole is another option, too. “You could do a cookie platter for the entire office or your department, thanking everyone for the opportunity to join their team,” Nicole from ManpowerGroup suggests.

Here are a few specific suggestions from our experts:

Susan from Praxair, Inc. suggests: “If a token gift is what you have in mind, food is always a great solution!  Cookies, cupcakes, homemade candy, honey, jams, gourmet balsamic vinegars and oil sets, chocolates, etc. Books are another good option (pick a neutral subject such as a biography of a famous person you think they would admire, etc.).  Coffee table books, such as travel pictorials, are also good. Other good ideas are gift certificates to local restaurants or theaters, plants (poinsettias...like the one I got this week!). If it's a younger colleague crowd, you could do iTunes gift cards.  If someone is a golfer, a sleeve of golf balls with funny sayings on them.  Females may like items such as hand lotions (think Bath and Body works).”

Shaughn from Kellogg’s suggests: “Homemade gifts such as cookies, breads, coffee cakes and other food items are always a welcomed treat. Just be aware of food allergies when cooking/baking. If you know the person well, you could try to get something that pertains to their interest. For instance, if they are a runner, you could get them a water bottle. If frogs are a favorite, you could get them a frog statue for their desk. Have a note taker for a friend? Get them a nice journal to jot their thoughts down in.”

“No matter the gift, it is always the thought that counts,” Shaughn adds. “A simple small gesture is always appreciated.”  We hope you have a wonderful, happy holiday season!

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