Published December 17, 2013
‘Tis the season for gift giving, but there are certain rules that need to be followed when gifting in the office.
“Not everyone in the office observes the holidays so you have to be very careful,” says Catherine Palmiere, president of staffing company Adam Personnel. “There are rules people should follow.”
Choosing the wrong gift or presenting it in a tacky way can backfire and lead to long-term career damage.
According to a survey commissioned by staffing company Spherion, 52% of workers polled said they plan to give gifts to their co-workers. Of that gift givers, 36% are gearing up to give to colleagues at their level a gift while 27% are targeting their boss. What’s more, one in 10 workers who bought their boss a gift in the past spent more than their co-workers in an attempt to outshine them.
While most people think bestowing their boss with a nice holiday gift will get them ahead, career experts warn that any disingenuous gift giving will be apparent and have the opposite effect.
“It’s always a little bit awkward if one employee that’s part of a team gives a gift to the boss,” says Palmiere. “One can look at it as if they are trying to garner favor.” Instead of trying to one up your co-workers, she recommends going in as a group to buy a gift.
The survey also found 37% of workers said buying gifts for co-workers was as stressful as buying gifts for others on their shopping list.
No matter who you are gifting in the office, experts suggest staying away from anything that is too personal or may be deemed inappropriate. If there is any question of whether a gift is appropriate, Palmiere suggest finding something else.
Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing company The Creative Group, adds that there is a fine line between finding a gift that reflects the recipient’s tastes and getting too personal.
“It shouldn’t be too lavish or overly personal. For example, a piece of jewelry could seem too personal coming from a manager. You also want to be careful not to give chocolate to someone trying to watch their weight, or a bottle of wine to someone with substance abuse issues.”
Many companies have rules and policies governing office gift giving, so review the employee manual before forking over money on a gift. According to Palmiere, many companies abide by the IRS guidelines don’t want staffers exceeding $25 or even $20 with their gifts.
“Expensive presents can be awkward – a thoughtful, low-cost item is typically best,” adds Domeyer. “For example, perhaps your manager loves oranges – a lovely orange-scented candle can be a nice gift.”
How you gift is also important. If you aren’t giving something to the entire office, be discrete when presenting gifts to avoid hurting anyone’s feeling. If you receive a gift but don’t have anything to give in return, thank the person and make sure to send a thank-you note.
If money is tight but you still want to give a token of your appreciate to your co-workers, there are low-cost alternatives that will mean more to the recipient than a store- bought present.
“Never underestimate the power of a hand-written card or letter,” says Domeyer. “The holidays are a time to appreciate the people around us and spread good cheer. A thoughtful note can do just that.”