How to Navigate Holiday Gift-Giving at the Office

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Maybe you like your coworkers and enjoy chatting with them at the office. Or maybe they're people with whom you don't particularly click. Either way, as the holidays kick into full gear, you'll no doubt come to face the conundrum countless employees encounter each season: what to do about holiday gifts at the office.

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It's a tricky situation to be in. On the one hand, you don't want to be that person who doesn't reciprocate on the gift-giving front. On the other hand, your spare cash isn't unlimited, and you'd rather spend it on gifts for your friends and loved ones, as opposed to blowing it on the people you work with. With that in mind, here are a few tips for navigating the office gift-giving dilemma.

1. Establish a gift-giving hierarchy

Sometimes, gift-giving at the office is inescapable. But while you may not manage to avoid buying things for your coworkers, what you can do is figure out how much you can afford to comfortably spend, and prioritize your purchases so that you're making the most of the limited funds you have. For example, if you determine you only have $100 to work with, and you figure it'll take $20 to buy something you aren't embarrassed to show up with, spend your first $20 on your boss, your next $20 on your team leader, and your remaining money on the colleagues you spend the most time with. It may be that you do need to leave some folks out, but be smart about who those people are.

2. Offer up low-cost gift-giving options

If you've been at the same company for years and know how your office operates, then you can get ahead of the holiday gift-giving bonanza by coming up with your own lower-cost alternatives. For example, if historically you've exchanged gifts with nine different colleagues, suggest that this year, you do a grab bag-style exchange where everyone purchases and receives one gift -- and saves tons of money in the process.

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Similarly, it often pays to pool resources with other coworkers when buying gifts for a manager. You'll probably get away with spending less on an individual level if you go in with your colleagues and purchase one nicer gift.

3. Focus on the people who make your job easier

You may be inclined to purchase holiday gifts for the coworkers you tend to have lunch with or commiserate with over happy hour. But rather than just focus on the people with whom you already have strong relationships, consider spending your limited dollars on those who help make you good at your job -- like the IT person who's bailed you out multiple times this year, or the receptionist who's constantly signing for your deliveries. A little token of appreciation can go a long way around the holidays, so don't neglect the folks whose services you've come to rely on.

4. When all else fails, go homemade

When it comes to gifts, they say it's the thought that counts. If you feel compelled to give out gifts but can't bear the idea of blowing a chunk of money on things for your coworkers, go the do-it-yourself route. Whip up a batch of your famous chocolate chip cookies, put them in decorative bags, hand them out to your coworkers, and call it a day. Or, bottle up your irresistible salsa recipe and give each of your colleagues a generous serving to take home. If you have the time to invest, making your gifts can be a lot cheaper than buying things at a store, and it shows that you really made an effort.

Gift-giving in the office is a long-standing obligation that may not go away anytime soon. Be strategic in your approach to spreading that holiday joy at the workplace, and you're more likely to come away with your budget and sanity intact.

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