Guide to Office Gifts

To Give or Not to Give: Your Guide to Office Gifts

By Shanon Lyon, Special to PayScale.com

You've made your holiday gift list and you've checked it twice, but you're still not sure what to get your boss... or if you should get her anything at all. According to Susan Fitter, founder of Global Manners and co-host of "Mind Your Manners" on TLC, the etiquette for office gifts depends largely on your company policies and culture. 

"The workplace is diverse. Everyone's under a lot of holiday stress, and there's always a lot of confusion about gift giving," says Fitter. "A lot of workplaces are responding by limiting the value of office gifts or eliminating them altogether."   

If office gifts aren't welcome, then your decision on who to buy for and what to buy is an easy one. But, if you're a part of a gift-giving office, then you probably need a little guidance. Colleen A. Rickenbacher, business etiquette expert and author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior, notes that it's proper for bosses to thank employees with a small gift, but it's important to follow a few simple rules. Gifts should be of equal value (to avoid any unwanted gossiping or hurt feelings), not too personal (nothing that "touches the skin"), not too extravagant, and useful.

Gift Ideas & Bosses

It's not necessary, however, for employees to give gifts to their boss. In fact, Rickenbacher recommends against it since office gifts can sometimes be seen as brown-nosing and lead to one-upping.

Fitter agrees and thinks that a handwritten card with a few words about the previous year (and best wishes for the next) is a meaningful and appropriate way to show your boss you care. If you're the boss, Fitter recommends being proactive and either putting a no-gift policy in place or directing your employees to a charity of your choice in lieu of gifts.

Office Gift Ideas

If you decide to give office gifts this year, whether to your coworkers, your employees, or to your boss, here are a few ideas that are office-appropriate and sure to please:

  • Consumables. Any type of food or drink, whether it's candy, chocolates, popcorn, or wine, is usually a safe bet for office gifts. Take in a batch of your family's holiday cookies or a few loaves of fresh-baked bread. If you want to give wine, make sure the recipient is a drinker. It's also a good idea to avoid meat products and items with nuts due to dietary concerns and allergies.   
  • Gift certificates. If there's a local coffee shop or bakery that your team frequents, give a gift certificate along with a small related gift, like a cup sleeve from Cup Couture or a personalized coffee mug. If you do decide to get the boss a gift, consider going in together with the whole team on a spa or restaurant gift certificate.
  • Office-themed gifts. Paperweights, business card holders, pens, journals, and laptop bags make useful office gifts and don't require you to get too personal. If you want to give a unique office gift, visit a local craft bazaar or search Etsy.com for handmade business card or cell phone holders. Office decor, like calendars, fun lights, and potted plants can help can perk up an otherwise drab cube.   
  • Donations. Donating to a favorite charity in lieu of gifts is a great way to spread the holiday cheer. You can collect money that would otherwise be spent on office gifts and give to a charity in the company's name or give a donation to a charity in your coworker or boss' name as a gift. For a team-building activity that also makes a great office gift, take a group to a local soup kitchen or food bank to volunteer and have a holiday lunch together when you're finished.

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