Whether giving a gift to a coworker-turned-friend or participating in an office gift exchange, you’re probably left wondering what to buy. After all, holiday gift-giving in the workplace can feel like a minefield — especially for those new to the job.
First off, check company policies to determine if gifts between coworkers are even allowed. Some organizations frown upon or prohibit the practice, largely due to ethics considerations. They don’t want any employee to appear to be buying favor.
If such exchanges are okay, then the next step is to observe the unspoken etiquette of gift-giving in the workplace, and the following eight tips are often a good place to start:
1. Be inclusive
No one likes to be left out in the workplace. If there’s interest in a gift-exchange, invite the whole office to participate. But keep in mind that not everyone holds the same beliefs. Don’t obligate anyone to join in. Stress that participation is optional, not mandatory. The last thing you want to do is make someone uncomfortable, especially this time of year.
2. Make a list
Chances are, you’re not on a first-name basis with everyone. So don’t feel obligated to buy a gift for that guy in accounting — unless, of course, he’s in your department. But even then, it really depends on the relationship. If you plan on giving gifts, stick to only those people you interact with on a regular basis. Gift-giving is personal in nature, and you should have some sort of relationship with the gift’s recipient.
3. Set a cap
Before shopping for holiday gifts, do yourself a favor and set a spending cap. It’ll keep you from buying overly extravagant gifts for coworkers, and hopefully stave off the need to eat ramen for the next few months. Try to keep the cap reasonable. If you take advantage of the holiday sales, $10 per gift should be plenty.
4. Give thought
Be it a boss, coworker, or assistant, thoughtful gifts go a long way. Take the time to think about what a colleague might want or need. A booklover, for example, might appreciate a novelty clothespin clip light to light the page, while that IT guy you’ve got on speed dial may enjoy First Aid Sticky Notes. If you’re not sure what to buy, consider something everyone could use, like an ombre keyboard cover.
5. Use discretion
When handing out gifts, never make a production of it. You could end up alienating those coworkers not on your holiday-shopping list. Come in early to leave the gifts on colleagues’ desks. Or, arrange a time after work, at lunch, or even at breakfast to exchange your gifts for the holiday season.
6. Keep it professional
You may feel buddy-buddy with a few coworkers, but that doesn’t mean you should get too personal with gifts. A colleague could misinterpret your intent when gifts are more intimate in nature. Also, you should avoid giving any gifts that appear to suggest something about the recipient. If, for example, you were to give the gift of body wash, your coworker could start questioning his or her hygiene.
7. Forget the booze
A nice bottle of wine is a great host or hostess gift, but it’s not all that appropriate for the workplace. You never know who may be a recovering alcoholic or abstain from drinking for personal, medical, or religious reasons. What may seem like a generous gift could end up being offensive in this environment.
8. Nix the jokes
Sure, most of your colleagues probably have a decent sense of humor. But unless the gift-exchange is of the white elephant variety, keep the presents thoughtful, useful, or at least reflective of the individual. You never know how someone will react to a gag gift, even when given in jest. It could end up insulting or offending a colleague.
Sticking to what you know — not to mention, who you know — always makes gift-giving that much easier in the workplace. And while you should never feel obligated to purchase gifts for colleagues, it can be fun if your religious or cultural beliefs allow.