Holly, Jolly Office Hallways

By Kristen Castillo

October 24, 2016 5 min read

Ready for some holiday fun at the office, but dreading that gift exchange among co-workers and bosses? What to give? What not to give? And who makes the rules?

"Every office environment is different, so take into account how formal or relaxed your workplace is when making gift selections," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for marketing, design and public relations professionals. Domeyer advises employees to consider corporate culture and to be conservative.

For example, some companies may not allow bosses to accept presents. Review your company's employee handbook. Check with human resources. And if you're new to the company, ask colleagues what's happened in the past few years.

*Things to Avoid

While employees may feel pressure to impress colleagues or the boss with lavish presents, don't do it.

"A pricey present is typically unnecessary and may make the recipient feel as if he or she must reciprocate," says Domeyer, who suggests "small but thoughtful" gifts such as a book by the person's favorite author.

Be wary of getting silly. Joke gifts are no laughing matter.

"Save the gag gifts for purely social occasions, and even then, proceed with caution," says etiquette consultant and author Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

While you and even the co-worker might find the present harmless or funny, it could make fellow employees and bosses uncomfortable. Trust your instincts. Your gesture could be rude, insulting or just outright wrong.

"If you question whether or not a gift is appropriate, it probably isn't," says Domeyer.

*Wish List

Experts suggest spending no more than $25 on an individual present for someone in your office. Buying something for everyone adds up fast, so consider a group exchange. That way you can focus your spending and your creativity on one person, not the entire office.

What's an appropriate present? Smith suggests stationery, including writing paper and beautiful pens; fruit baskets; leather business portfolios; monogrammed business-card cases; a crystal paperweight; watches or clocks; planners or calendars; and even tickets to an event.

"Small tokens of esteem from bosses to employees are always welcome," says Smith, noting that workers often want something more. "But employees tend to prefer bonuses and additional time off to a trinket."

No matter what the gift, always show your gratitude.

"If you receive a present, always send a note or other form of acknowledgement that shows you appreciate the sender's thoughtfulness," says Domeyer.

*Office Gift-Giving Guide

Whether your company has an elaborate in-office Secret Santa or a low-key cookie exchange, this is the time of year when employees and bosses want to celebrate the season.

Keep the holiday cheer without feeling like a Grinch by following these gift-giving tips from Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert, author and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas:

Who: Co-workers

The gift: "Give gifts privately unless celebrating an office-wide gift exchange," says Gottsman, who advises not giving cash to co-workers as a present.

Who: Personal office assistant

The gift: You can give an assistant a cash "bonus," says Gottsman, who suggests that gift cards or gifts are appropriate, too.

Who: The boss

The gift: Offer the boss baked goods or a small gift. Stay away from spending too much money or giving an overly personal present, which, Gottsman says, "looks as if you are trying to garner special attention."

Her tip for honoring the boss during the holidays? "Start a gift-giving 'pool' and collect money from those who want to donate toward a group gift."

Use the money to buy a gift that the boss will love, such as a restaurant gift card or tickets to a show or his or her favorite sporting event.

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