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The Ins and Outs of Holiday Gift Giving at the Office

Gifts at the officeTo give or not to give: that is the annual question. Gift giving at the office can be fraught with confusion—do I give gifts to my colleagues? What about my boss? What’s an acceptable amount of money to spend? Can’t I just buy everyone a bottle of wine?

Here are a few tips to help you navigate this tricky time of year and emerge smiling and ready to wish everyone a Happy (insert holiday here).

  • Learn the office culture. If you are a new employee, ask around about the culture of the office. Do people exchange gifts? Do they give gifts to their managers? Teammates? Office manager? Receptionist? And how much do people generally spend. There may even be human resources prohibitions about giving gifts in your office. Best to find out in advance.
  • Determine the rules. Many organizations have no issue with employees exchanging gifts, but strict protocols about giving gifts to or receiving gifts from clients or vendors. Your HR department can help you understand what’s acceptable and what practices to avoid.
  • Be mindful. If you are an excellent baker, but half your office is on Weight Watchers, you probably shouldn’t make your famous peanut butter pie as a gift. Make sure you know about colleagues’ dietary restrictions. Be sensitive to coworkers who may have allergies, or specific food preferences or who observe certain religious or cultural practices. If yours is an office where delicious treats are welcomed wholeheartedly, by all means, bake away!
  • Keep it simple. Avoid gag gifts, alcohol, personal items and anything that could be seen as extravagant or over-the-top. The idea is to be thoughtful and give people a token of your appreciation, not to one-up your colleagues.
  • Be creative. In general, this means avoiding gift cards. However, if you know someone goes to the local coffee shop every morning, a gift card might not be a cop out gift. Again, this is a “know your audience” moment.
  • Think twice before regifting. It is probably not a great practice to regift at the office—and if you do regift, be sure it isn’t something someone from the office gave you last holiday season!
  • Stay within budget and give equitably. Figure out what you can afford to spend per person and stick with it. It is better to present colleagues with small, similarly priced items than to give one person a larger more expensive item while others get small tokens.
  • Be prepared. Buy an extra generic gift or two you can present to colleagues in case someone gives an unexpected gift to you.

Above all, remember that giving (and receiving) gifts at holiday time is supposed to be all in good fun. If you receive a gift that is not in your taste or that you can’t use, put on your best poker face, thank the giver sincerely and worry about it later. Everyone in the office is sure to remember the Grinch who loudly told a well-meaning gift giver why their gift was all wrong, but no one thinks twice about the gracious Martha Stewart who politely says “Thank you. That was so thoughtful of you.”

Lauren Sternberg, Communications Manager-American Institute of CPAs.

Gift at the office courtesy of Shutterstock.

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