The do’s and don’ts of giving holiday gifts to your co-workers

1 year ago

An easy way to win a few workplace brownie points from your co-workers is to give them a gift during the holiday season.

Of course you’re not required to give a present to your co-workers, but it’s a nice thing to do, and it keeps your comrades happy. And creating goodwill in the office can mean more accommodation the next time you’re a bit behind on a project and need to reschedule a meeting with your teammates.

There are a few guidelines to follow with gifts for your co-workers, just as when giving a present to your boss.

SEE: Photos: Holiday gifts that will make your co-workers happy (TechRepublic)


Do decide who is on your list

You definitely don’t have to give a gift to everyone in your company, but giving a small gift to co-workers in your department, or those people you interact with on a daily basis, is appropriate.

Sharon Schweitzer, etiquette expert and founder of Access to Culture, said, “Research the office policy on gift giving. Are there any policies limiting gifts to a division? If you are a fairly new hire, inquire with a trusted colleague about the organizational culture around gift giving for co-workers and support staff. Is it wide open, or are there unwritten rules in place? For example, do colleagues exchange best-selling books and wine? Provide gift cards to support staff? Don’t be the office Grinch by forgetting.”

Do stick to a budget

Keep it reasonable when deciding how much to spend on a gift for a co-worker.

“There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if you’re going to give gifts to colleagues, don’t spend an amount of money that will make other people feel uncomfortable. Sometimes a free gift like a personalized, handwritten card or note goes much further than something tangible,” said Joe Weinlick, senior vice president of marketing at Nexxt.

Do choose a thoughtful gift

Food gifts are often welcome, but keep in mind any dietary restrictions or food allergies. Gifts of alcohol and wine are also appreciated by many, but don’t give it to someone who doesn’t drink, or whose religion prevents them from consuming liquor. Other options are fun items for their desk, or a gift certificate to a favorite lunch spot or coffeehouse.

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“If your office is participating in a secret Santa gift exchange, rely on your coworkers’ personalities, hobbies, interests, and favorite colors. One co-worker may enjoy canvas painting, so a new brush set may be appropriate. Another colleague may listen to Michael Buble, so a DVD will be perfect. Incorporate the personal insights they share about their interests as a guide in choosing a thoughtful gift,” Schweitzer said.

For the most part, gifts that you wear on your body are not appropriate gifts for co-workers; this includes perfume, lotion, clothing, and jewelry. Even flowers can be taken the wrong way.

If you work in a small work team, individual gifts are nice, and it’s okay to get the same thing for each person, such as an ornament, a scented candle, or a box of chocolates.

“I’m a personal fan of anything home-baked or cooked, like brownies with powdered sugar, or even a team gift like a huge plate of gingerbread cookies they can share. If your work team is huge, gift exchanges and team gifts are the better option. Last year I got blank sugar cookies from the bakery, and then brought icing and sprinkles in lots of colors. Co-workers enjoyed decorating their own cookie gift and I didn’t have to do individual gifts for all,” said Laura Handrick, HR analyst for Fit Small Business.

Image: BernardaSv/iStock

Do remember the support staff

Schweitzer said, “The support staff makes any office hum smoothly and efficiently. In every office I’ve worked in, they are the lifeblood and the first on my list, along with the boss. Skipping the support staff would be professional suicide. Include all support staff, mailroom employees, runners, messengers, receptionists, administrative assistants, secretaries, and all other professional staff I failed to list.”

SEE: Gift guide 2017: Wearables, STEM toys for kids, and top tech picks for teens and adults (free PDF) (TechRepublic)


Don’t exchange gifts in front of others who didn’t make your list

If you give gifts to just a few co-workers, do it after hours or when no one is around. Another option is to take them to a private lunch and hand out the gifts at that time. Think back to elementary school and how the teachers always insisted that you needed to share with everyone. Same mind-set, only now you’re an adult. And thoughtful, kind adults don’t let others feel left out.

Don’t be negligent of other people’s beliefs

Even though you’re in the holiday spirit and want to spread a bit of cheer, it doesn’t mean that everyone else has the same beliefs as you.

A particular religious connotation can only be included on the gift if you are employed by a religious or spiritual organization. Or if you are 100% certain that a religious gift will be welcomed by the recipient.

“It is wise to exercise caution and be certain your gift will be well received. Depending on the relationship with your co-workers, or your knowledge of them practicing a certain religion, you may wish to select a group gift with others from the office that honors this practice. There is no obligation to do so, and many employees may be uncomfortable giving anything other than a secular gift,” Schweitzer said.

Don’t feel pressured to exchange gifts

Remember, you are under no obligation to give a gift to a co-worker. Even if everyone else exchanges gifts, it’s still okay to skip the holiday gift-giving routine. If you are given a gift, and are not reciprocating, simply smile and say thank you and be sure and follow-up with a thank you card.

Don’t forget your common sense

The overriding rule that supersedes any of the previous rules is to use common sense. If you think a gag gift might be over the top, don’t do it. If you think a slogan on a coffee mug might be pushing the boundaries, don’t do it.

Follow your innate sense of what is right and wrong. If you are unsure of whether to give a particular gift, play it safe and skip it.

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Richard J. Daniels