Human Resources News & Insights

A test: The worst ideas in gift-giving at work

You know the saying about looking a gift horse in the mouth. Just be careful you don’t end up looking like the other end of the horse.

This comes from the folks at the Emily Post Institute. As you might imagine, they specialize in, among other things, the etiquette of gift-giving at work — what’s appropriate, inappropriate and disastrous. So, here’s a test to see if you’re up on the latest from the Institute (answers at the bottom):

1. Which of the following is considered an inappropriate gift to someone at work?

a. Perfume

b. Jewelry.

c. Lingerie

d. Alcohol

e. All of the above

2. You’re invited to an after-work holiday party at your boss’ home. An inappropriate gift to bring would be —

a. Chocolates

b. Wine

c. A poinsettia plant

d. All of the above are appropriate.

3. True or false: Giving your boss a gift in the workplace is appropriate.

4. You’re a man in a workplace in which everyone exchanges gifts. It’s OK to give a woman a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret. True or false.

5. In a workplace in which everyone exchanges gifts, it’s inappropriate to give a dictionary to a new employee whose first language is not English. True or false.


1. e. Just about any gift of that type is considered too personal for someone who’s a work colleague.

2. b. Generally, alcohol is considered an inappropriate gift, especially for the boss.

3. False. Workplace gifts for the boss, given individually, are considered inappropriate, since such gift-giving can appear to be an attempt to curry favoritism. However, it’s OK for a group to chip in for a gift for the boss.

4. False. Again, gifts that are of a personal nature generally are out of bounds. Plus, they might send the wrong message.

5. True. Any gift that potentially serves to underscore a worker’s fault or shortcoming is inappropriate — even if given in the spirit of trying to help.

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  • Hamish

    My male boss keeps giving me his old ties. Although very expensive, I do not care to have his “stuff” around my neck. Today he gave me an old (expensive), used bag in need of repair. I am out of words. It is like he thinks I realy must want him around me all the time. Spooky.