To Give or Not to Give? Unwrapping Issues of Gifts at Work

First in the series of prickly holiday situations at work

Posted Dec 08, 2013

Business man facing team with gift behind his back

Should I give gifts at the office?

This December, I'm dedicating my blogs to the sometimes prickly issues associated with the holiday season at work. In this first post, you'll get a few ideas about workplace gift giving. Next, I'll talk about how to make the most of the holiday party.  Finally, in my last post this month, I'll give you some things to think about as you head off for some rest over the holidays.

Gift giving

When done with the right intentions, giving and receiving gifts is a wonderful way to create or cement a connection between people. When lopsided, or over-done, it can quickly become a source of angst.

Here are a few tips for your workplace holiday gift giving:

  1. Don't feel obligated to give gifts to coworkers. Even if they give gifts to you, it remains a choice you make based on your relationship, your situation, and your finances.
  2. If you choose to give a gift, choose a gift that is meaningful and not expensive. You don't want to induce guilt or make someone feel obliged to reciprocate. Something small but tailored to your teammate says a lot about how you value them. One of my teammates got me my favorite tea and a mug last year and I think fondly of her every morning when I drink from it.
  3. Except in the closest of work friendships, avoid gifts that relate to personal style. If your boss never wears the orange and pink striped tie you gave him, you'll both feel awkward.
  4. If you want to do something for everyone without breaking the bank, try buying one big box of chocolates with a nice card for the team. In some places, you'll be able to order Edible Arrangements, a great bouquet of fruit that is beautiful and healthy and a great centerpiece for a team meeting.
  5. For the boss: if your boss is generous and supportive of you, it's entirely appropriate to give him/her a small gift. Understand that it might be difficult for the boss to give a gift to all direct reports, so only give because you sincerely want to say thank you. 
  6. Any time you give a gift to a coworker (especially your boss), take the opportunity to write a card and share what you are grateful for. That will make the gift feel more authentic and more heartfelt.
  7. Accept appropriate (but not extravagant) gifts graciously. Don't be embarrassed, be grateful. Acknowledge the gift with a handwritten thank you note.
  8. If a gift is too large or somehow inappropriate, have the courage to say so. "This is a lovely gesture. It makes me uncomfortable that you spent so much."

If you're wondering how I approach holiday gift giving. Several years ago, when I was managing a large team, it became infeasible to give gifts to everyone.  Instead, I started a tradition of making handmade cards with a personalized note to each of my teammates. These small but personal tokens are my way of showing my teammates how much they mean to me.

How will you handle holiday gift giving at work? Do you have stories of a teammate who touched you with a lovely gift? Any horror stories? Share in the comments below.