The Employer’s Guide to Office Gift-Giving

As the air turns frosty and Christmas decorations fill more and more department store displays, it’s hard to ignore that gift-giving season is right around the corner. In anticipation of the biggest shopping days of the year starting next week, it’s time get an early start on gift-giving strategy in the office. Generally speaking, gifts for your co-workers should be the last thing to stress you out. But in case you’re at a loss for how to show your team some appreciation around the holidays, here are 10 tips for office gift-giving:

1. Prioritize gifts to your team members and those who support you, such as office admin and team coordinators. If you plan on giving any gifts, start with those “below” you on the org chart. These are the folks who work hard for you and most likely make your days easier. If you want to give your own manager a gift, do so as an addition.

2. Understand that many team members are stretched financially over the holidays and would probably prefer to spend as little as possible (if anything) on office gifts. Although the idea of giving gifts to office friends and co-workers is nice, the majority of your team is working with finite resources and that means prioritizing gifts for their family and friends. Try to minimize spending when it comes to gift-giving and any other holiday celebrations.

3. Gift-giving (and other holiday celebrations) should be voluntary. For financial, religious, and personal reasons, each employee should have the ability to opt out of any office activity, including gift exchanges. In fact, a mandatory gift exchange might violate terms of employment.


4. Spend “caps” and themes for gift exchanges are encouraged! One way to take the pressure off of gift exchanges is to enforce a strict budget (think $5-$10) and a theme (gifts that have to do with animals, gifts that are red, gifts that begin with the letter S). This forces participants to be creative without having to spend the big bucks.

5. It’s okay to be personal, but not too personal. Buying a co-worker a Steelers’ hat because you know they’re a big fan is nice, but anything that goes beyond general interests could be seen as too personal (and even verge on harassment). Be careful with “gag gifts,” too –  the risk of offending someone might not be worth the joke.

6. Company-wide gifts to employees should take into account a variety of religions, food preference, family sizes and lifestyle choices. Many companies like to issue gifts for each employee, such as gift cards or a company coffee mug. Always take into consideration the variety of different employees that work in the company. Even “mainstream” gifts like beer or Hickory Farms baskets can contain items that some employees can’t enjoy for religious, medical or lifestyle reasons.

7. When bringing in food items, consider posting the ingredients beside it in the kitchen. Many folks are sensitive to dairy and gluten and others have made choices to take meat or sugar out of their diet. Help your co-workers to make the best choice for themselves by posting the ingredients of your delicious holiday food.

8. Give your gifts in the spirit of the general holiday season. Avoid religious or cultural-specific gifts. Don’t expect a gift from someone who doesn’t celebrate any gift-giving holidays. If you want to give gifts as an extension of your own traditions, feel free to do so, but don’t use it as a way to proselytize your own beliefs.

9. If you insist on giving one-on-one gifts to each team member, do it in private. You might have a really good reason for wanting to give individual gifts to each of your team members and co-workers. Unless they are all identical, do everyone a favor and do it in private, perhaps at your next 1:1 meeting.

10. Nothing spreads cheer quite like time off or bonus cash! It’s not uncommon to try to do something “different” for team members and forgo holiday cash bonuses for a group-bonding activity. While the intentions are good, most employees will always prefer time off to spend more time away from the workplace and more cash to buy presents for their family and friends (or to pay bills). Don’t miss out on giving your employees what they really want out of your own desire to be seen as innovative. Dismiss the team at noon and get them a small bonus in their next paycheck, and they will be as jolly as Santa’s elves.

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