Business Etiquette for Holiday Gift Giving

Work place gift giving is a tricky area, especially in a year when people don’t have a lot of extra money to spend. It should not be considered mandatory, but it is wise to find out what the company’s policy is on exchanging gifts at the holidays. If you are unsure about what to do, find out how the company has handled holiday gift giving in years past.

When firstPRO was a much smaller company, we would do a Secret Santa gift exchange. Now that we have over 100 employees, that is not as feasible, so each department is free to arrange what they would like. Many of them have adopted traditions among themselves, like a holiday grab bag.

Everyone loves a cash bonus at the end of the year, but in these economic times, most people cannot expect that. There are several company-sponsored things you can do instead, like having lunch delivered to the staff. Offer employees an extra long lunch hour to get holiday shopping done, or have a generous policy for the month on time away from the office to attend things like school pageants. Decorating the office and playing seasonal music is a nice gesture as well.

If you exchange gifts with your co-workers, use common sense. Do not give anything with an adult, discriminatory, political, gag, religious or intimate theme. No gift is better than giving the wrong gift in a business setting. The more formal the business relationship, the formal the gift should be. If you have a personal friendship with particular co-workers and want to do something just for them, handle it outside of the office.

Some other things to keep in mind:

1. If there is an established budget, stay within it.

2. If you are unsure of what to get for a colleague, a gift certificate is an acceptable choice, just make sure it’s from a store that he or she enjoys.

3. If you are giving a handmade item, no matter how talented you are, make sure he or she does not feel obligated to display, consume or use whatever it is you made.

4. If you give holiday cards to co-workers, stick to secular sayings such as “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

5. Unexpected gifts do not have to be reciprocated. All that is required is a warm “Thank you!”

Proper etiquette says that you are not required to give your boss a gift, even if they give one to you. Responding with a well-written thank you note is enough. If you do choose to give your boss a gift, however, do not give something elaborate or something that can be viewed as brown nosing. A safe alternative is to give your supervisor a joint gift with several co-workers. One of the best gifts I have been given by my employees is a charitable contribution or charitable act they did on my behalf.

Giving gifts in the workplace is a thoughtful way of letting colleagues and clients know that the business relationship you share is important to you. Just remember, the best gift you can give to your fellow workers and management is to be a positive, productive and mannerly employee all year long.

By April Fawcett Nagel

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