It’s the gifting season, and that means everybody’s got to wrestle with the question of whether or not to give superiors and co-workers a holiday present. But what’s appropriate and what’s not? Guest poster Brian Wilkins offers some guidance to help navigate these tricky waters.
Almost half of us plan to give a holiday gift to at least one business associate this year, according to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive for Office Depot. The survey also found that 90% of us are baffled about the etiquette associated with workplace gift-swapping.
In the struggle to find gifts that are both appropriate and meaningful, it could make sense to scratch the idea all together. But gifts for co-workers, if done right, create a more amicable working environment.
Luckily, whether you’re buying for the boss, employees or colleagues, the same office gift-giving rules apply. Follow these gifting tips for happy (and non-awkward) holidays.
Set some rules
Many colleagues will wait until the very last minute to buy something for the holiday gift exchange, which might compel someone to polish up a slightly used toaster or iron a once-worn shirt and present them as gifts.
These are surefire ways to produce some fake smiles and genuine discomfort.
Mandate that all gifts be new and in their original packaging. Clothing should be prohibited, as should bedding, towels and anything else that’s personal and doesn’t come in a box or package. Set a spending limit, so nobody feels like they spent too much or too little.
Keep it secular
You should never talk about religion or politics at a dinner party, right? Both should also be avoided when purchasing a gift for a coworker as well.
Audio Bibles may seem like noble presents on the surface, until you find out your colleague is atheist or agnostic.
The same thing goes for items that have political overtones. Make it clear that these items are inappropriate for a work party and not allowed.
Smells like an insult
The newest designer scent may smell good to you and millions of other people, but giving a bottle of cologne or perfume to a coworker at a company holiday party could imply that you think they smell bad or you’re giving them fashion tips.
Granted, everyone needs soap, deodorant, toothpaste, body wash and other hygiene products, but these things are simply too personal and risky to buy a coworker. Ditto makeup or anything else that could be interpreted as a subtle dig on their appearance.
For those in white elephant or Secret Santa-type gift exchanges, the more neutral and universal the gift, the better. Gas cards are something everyone needs. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the average American consumes 11.7 pounds of chocolate a year, so it seems a bag of gourmet chocolates would be appropriate.
Think general and universal: holiday flowers, sweet treats, movie tickets, coffee mugs and warmers and department store gift cards are all useful and well-received by everyone.
Brian Wilkins attended Arizona State University, where he studied journalism and history. He learned the HR ropes as a small business owner and writes about the industry for a number of online publications. This full-time freelance writer — who has not owned a TV in more than six years — is currently working on his first book.