Opinions vary on whether holiday gift-giving in the office is appropriate or not. But if you get as excited as Will Ferrell’s character in “Elf” about all things Christmas and absolutely insist on giving coworkers gifts, you might want to cool your Kringle-3000, 500-reindeer power jets a little and read this list first.
Overdone or lopsided gifts can create tensions among coworkers. But, when done with the right intentions, gift giving can create or cement connections between teammates.
Check out this list of the best and works holiday gifts for coworkers, so you stay off the naughty list – and stay employed.
The Best Holiday Gifts for Coworkers
Do you have a cubicle neighbor who tends to take off his shoes (pee-eew) or another who smokes? Office plants can remove toxins from the air, increase the humidity around the desk, and add a bit of style and a natural touch to the workplace.
If your coworkers’ desks are not near windows, make sure you pick plants that can survive in low light. The ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is a good choice due to its tolerance to low light and the ability to grow with little water. Aglaonema plants tolerate most lighting conditions except for full sun and are actually susceptible to burning If put in direct light. The philodendron is one of the most popular office plants because it’s so easy to grow.
Just don’t hand them a cactus and say, “this made me think of you.”
For that coworker whose smartphone is always dying — which means she’s always asking to borrow your lightning cable — this is not only a useful gift, but also a smart gift. Smart because it’s the gift that gives back — to you. Think of all the work you’ll get done because she’s not interrupting your flow. The more productive you are, the sooner you’ll get that raise or promotion. Win-win!
Lint Rollers or Brushes
This may sound like an idea for the “worst gifts” list, but your pet-loving coworkers could really appreciate a lint roller. We all want to bring our pets to work with us, but no one wants to be walking around all day with Tigger’s fluff stuck to your rump. To be safe, however, limit this gift to those with whom you’ve lamented this everyday wardrobe malady.
Lint rollers with disposable adhesive sheets even come with fun prints, so you can personalize this seemingly impersonal gift. Grab one with a cool graphic print for your graphic designer work pal or a floral print for your coworker with a green thumb. Lint brushes or rollers also are great for cleaning the lining of purses, lampshades, the annoying glitter left behind from all those holiday cards hanging around the office or plastic needles from the office Christmas tree.
Replacement Candy/Candy Dish
Every office has one — that generous person who faithfully fills a candy dish with sweet goodies to save you from afternoon energy crashes. To show your gratitude and to give their wallet a break for a few weeks, restock their stash. If you know their favorite candy, buy that. Or better yet, give a nice candy dish. Just make sure their current candy dish doesn’t have special meaning — you wouldn’t want them to feel pressured to use your dish over one their grandma gave them on her deathbed.
If you know a coworker is a double-latte-loving Starbucks fan, a gift card likely will be well-received. However, some people think gift cards are impersonal. (For those folks, skip to the next idea in this list, “Donation in Their Name.”) If you do go the gift-card route, make sure you give each recipient a card that you’re absolutely sure they will want and will use.
Giving gift cards in the same amount also is a great way to make sure gift recipients feel you aren’t picking favorites and to keep your budget under control.
Donation in Their Name
People volunteer for organizations near and dear to their hearts, so giving even a small donation in a coworker’s name to her favorite nonprofit is a thoughtful gesture.
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The Worst Holiday Gifts for Coworkers
Anything That Makes Noise
Even if you are besties with your cubicle mate and she would die laughing at the screaming goat novelty that — you guessed it, screams — others nearby are still trying to work. They might laugh the first time they hear it. But with that thing screaming all day, all your coworkers will want for Christmas is for you to quit.
The “Official BS Button” that declares a certain profanity when you hit it might be the perfect gift for one colleague, but as soon as he uses it when you approach him with a serious project or issue, you could regret it. (There are many more buttons that declare remarks inappropriate for a work environment. Probably best to avoid them all.)
A Jenga game may be thoughtful for a coworker who loves games, but when it comes crashing down, it could spell trouble for coworkers with anxiety or heart conditions.
Calendars can be great gifts for coworkers, unless you pick a theme that could offend. If a coworker’s been disciplined for, say, not getting his work done, do not buy a desk calendar with daily tips on better productivity. Or don’t buy any coworkers “How to Work Smarter” calendar. Or if a colleague has attention deficit disorder, avoid buying a “Stay Focused” calendar, unless you like risking run-ins with Human Resources. You get the idea.
Not everyone celebrates the same holidays as you, so be careful about giving religious-themed gifts. Giving a Jewish coworker a nativity scene for his desk, for example, would be insensitive. Or if you’re not Christian, giving a Jesus Bobblehead to your Catholic coworkers might be sacrilege in their mind, even though you think it’s hi-la-ri-ous.
Of course, if you work at a religious or spiritual organization, a gift with scripture or religious theme may be perfectly appropriate and be considered thoughtful.
Appearance- or Hygiene-Related Gifts
Gifts such as lotions, perfume, clothes or jewelry — things that go on the body — are, as a general rule, too personal to give to coworkers. The gift may not be that person’s style for one thing. But it can give the wrong message — that they need to work on their looks.
The exception? If you have a coworker who is always freezing at the office, a scarf or fingerless gloves might be the perfect gift.
Books With Titles That Send a Message
You may commiserate with a coworker about your annoying teammates, but imagine his reaction if you gift a copy of “Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity.” Even if you learned some insightful lessons from “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance,” handing this book to a teammate might make them think, “we’re not working together well?” or “my performance isn’t good enough?”
Anything Sexual Whatsoever
Even if you pull Bob into a private office out of others’ view to give him a stress ball shaped like certain body part, and even if Bob thinks it’s funny, just no. No. Never. Even if he keeps this stress ball in his desk, some day someone will see it. Do you want to risk offending others or risk being accused of creating a hostile work environment? If this is even a possible gift in your mind, maybe the best gift you could give all your coworkers is to not be a creep.
An article on sensible workplace giving in The National Law Review advises avoiding a gift altogether if it’s one that could lead to questions regarding the sender’s motivation — for example, a veiled romantic overture. So skip the flowers, perfumes (as previously noted for other reasons, too), or the invitation to go on a carriage ride. Even if your intentions are pure, avoid anything that could be interpreted as a sexual advance.
Tell Us What You Think
What are some of the best and worst holiday gifts for coworkers you’ve ever seen? We want to hear from you. Share them in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.