Holiday Office Gift Giving Do’s and Don’ts

Quintessential Careers:
Holiday Office Gift Giving Do’s and Don’ts

by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

office-giftsThe holidays should be a time of joy and celebration, but often become a time of stress and frustration for those of us who work and face the prospect of giving or receiving holiday presents. Many questions abound. Should you give all your co-workers a present? What do you do when the boss gives you a present? What is an appropriate gift for a co-worker… for the boss? Are gag gifts okay? Do you need to reciprocate when a co-worker or boss gives you a present? When and how should you present your gifts to co-workers and bosses?

This article addresses all these office gift-giving questions and more. Here are some basic rules of etiquette for enjoying (and surviving) office gift giving:

  • Do first understand the company policy on gift-giving. The larger the company, the more likely a specific policy.
  • Do examine the company’s corporate culture for the types of gifts that might be acceptable. A gift for a co-worker at Google may not be the same thing you get for a co-worker at IBM. Rule of thumb: the more relaxed the corporate culture, the wider latitude you have in gift choices. Do use your common sense and good judgment when making gift choices.
  • Don’t get a gift for anyone in the office for the sake of making a statement; give gifts to show your appreciation and thanks to the people who helped you the most in the past year. And don’t ever get something for the boss just to show up your co-workers. (You don’t want to be seen as a suck-up or brown-noser.)
  • Do stay within your (and the office) budget for the gifts, and don’t go overboard on the gifts, especially for the boss.
  • Don’t assume the people in your office share your tastes.
  • Do spend time and effort to choose thoughtful gifts for each on your office list. And it’s best to stick to people’s hobbies or favorite activities when thinking of gifts. Another safe category would be a gift for the office, such as a gadget, paperweight, calendar, picture frame, pen and pencil set, etc. A last resort would be a gift card to a favorite retailer.
  • Don’t even think of gag or other inappropriate gifts. Don’t give items that are too personal, religious, racial, or sexual. Clothing (especially lingerie), perfume/cologne, handmade, regifted, and alcoholic items are also don’ts.
  • Do consider gifts that can be shared (with co-workers or family members), such as gourmet food items — especially those in festive tins or boxes. Unusual plants or flowers are another possible do.
  • Don’t feel pressure to run out and buy a gift for the boss if he or she gives you one. But do send a thank-you note acknowledging the gift and expressing your gratitude.
  • Don’t give gifts to co-workers in front of others. Instead, do consider having a holiday lunch or high tea and exchanging gifts outside the office. If you can’t get out of the office, do exchange presents discretely (and perhaps after hours).
  • Do include a gift receipt so the recipient can easily exchange the item if necessary.
  • Do consider giving donations to charities as gifts, but do remember that some people prefer gifts, and don’t ever use donations to controversial charities as a gift.
  • Don’t pass up a chance to partake in a �Secret Santa� if the whole office is doing so, but do remember to stick with all the rules
  • Do wrap your gift and do consider adding something extra to make the gift even more special, such as a gift of book with a really distinctive book mark.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to shop for your co-workers. Whenever possible, do plan in advance for the most thoughtful presents.
  • Do remember all these rules to have the most success (and joy) when considering office gifts, and don’t use these rules as an excuse to be a Scrooge or the office Grinch.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Randall_HansenDr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at [email protected].

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