Tricky Holiday Gift Giving at the Office

Know what to give and when

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, but gift giving can make things stressful.

It's hard to navigate the tricky waters of office gift giving. What do you give to your boss? To your co-workers? If you're playing Secret Santa, are there guidelines to follow? And what if someone gives you a gift, do you have to reciprocate?

Make it through the holiday season unscathed with this handy gift guide.

Tricky Holiday Gift Giving at the Office

What to give to your boss

Don't feel obligated to give your boss a gift, even if he or she gives you one.

Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, said, "Office gift giving takes many forms, depending on the culture of the organization. According to a survey by The Creative Group, nearly eight out of 10 (79 percent) of executives polled said some form of gift giving occurs in their offices. Half (51 percent) of respondents said it's common for managers to give gifts to staff members; another 39 percent said staff members typically give gifts to their bosses.

"The important thing to remember is that gift giving is always optional. But if it's common for employees at your company to exchange gifts with their supervisors and you'd like to give something to your boss, keep it small (under $40 is best) and thoughtful. A book by the person's favorite author or a donation to an organization that the person is passionate about, for example, can be very much appreciated.

"If your boss gives you a gift, don't feel obligated to reciprocate. Often, the best way to respond to a gift is with a simple, but sincere thank-you note," Domeyer said.

Laura Lieff, president of Accentuating Service, said, "I think that, under most circumstances, it's inappropriate to give your boss a holiday gift. Holiday gifts go from the top down, unless there is some kind of holiday gift grab bag for everyone. Your boss shouldn't expect a gift from you and might interpret your giving him or her a gift the wrong way. There are a few exceptions to buying a gift for your boss during the holidays. If, for example, your boss has just had a baby, you might consider buying a lovely, inexpensive gift to acknowledge the addition to her family. Better yet, you should collect money from the other employees and buy a lovely group gift for the boss. The same thing holds true if your boss has just gotten married or if a close family member has just passed away."

Tricky Holiday Gift Giving at the Office

What to give to co-workers

Co-workers are a different story. You want to show your fellow office mates that you appreciate them and that you enjoy working with them. If you work in a small department, a thoughtful gift might be a small bag of homemade candy or Christmas cookies. Even if your co-worker doesn't celebrate Christmas, they'll likely appreciate the thoughtfulness of your gift. And don't forget your office clerical staff. A simple $10 Starbucks gift card goes a long way toward generating good will.

If your office participates in a gift exchange, or a Secret Santa exchange, then it's acceptable to simply do that, and not give individual gifts to your co-workers. Usually the organizer will give guidelines, such as how much to spend, and if gag gifts are acceptable. If not, use your own best judgment and base it on how exchanges were held in previous years. If you're new to the office and this is your first holiday with your colleagues, then discreetly ask around to find out what the "norm" is for your workplace.

And remember, whatever you do, relax and try to enjoy the holiday season. It's about friendship and appreciation of others, not how much or what you buy for someone. Don't be the office Scrooge or Grinch.

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