Tips For Holiday Gift Giving At Work

By Ashley Paskill on December 22, 2019

The holiday season is filled with a lot of celebrations, and if you are working, your job may have holiday celebrations. These celebrations may entail gift giving. Even if your workplace does not have official celebrations, you may decide that you want to give gifts to coworkers or clients. You spend a lot of time with these people, so you will want to make sure you show your appreciation by buying gifts that will make an impact.

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Ask around first

This job may be your first job. Even if it is not, different companies have different policies about giving gifts and how it may be done. If you are unsure about your company’s policies, ask around to see what is the general rule. In general, the larger the company, the more policies there are likely to be around giving gifts. Find out if gifts are acceptable and which coworkers you should get something for. See if there are things that you should refrain from gifting altogether.

Be considerate of coworkers

If your workplace has a formal gift-giving practice in place, it may be easy for some of your coworkers to go all-out and buy huge presents for everyone. However, not everyone may be able to afford to get something for everyone, especially not at the same level. If a coworker you do not work with directly does not get you something, even if you get something for them, do not take it personally. They may have a difficult financial circumstance that they are working through and buying even a few gifts for their immediate coworkers may be straining them financially.

Practice good etiquette

Gift giving in any situation can be tricky, but it is even more so in the workplace. There are certain etiquette rules that need to be followed in order to make sure power dynamics are maintained. First, avoid buying your boss a gift as this can be seen by your boss as rewarding their power. Instead, consider getting them a card or bringing in baked goods to share with the office.

Secondly, the best way to give gifts to coworkers is to do a Secret Santa. That way, no one feels pressured to participate, which is helpful if someone celebrates differently or does not have the means to afford giving gifts to coworkers. Set a price cap and make sure to enforce it.

Also, there are certain etiquettes about what to buy and what gifts are appropriate or not. Buying gifts such as bath sets or jewelry that are used on the body can be seen as too personal for a work environment. Buying gag gifts may seem fun, but they may come across as tacky and unprofessional, so it is best to avoid them.

If you are not planning on buying something for all of your coworkers, try to avoid handing out gifts in front of coworkers that you did not buy for. Instead, opt to meet for lunch or coffee to exchange gifts. On the flip side, avoid buying for everyone to make a statement. Gifts should be given to show appreciation, so give to those who helped you throughout the year.

Be sure to send handwritten thank-you notes for any gifts you receive, even if you thank the person when you get the gift. In the note, be sure to say how much you appreciate the gift and how it has helped you in some way if it has. The person spent time and money to get you something, so express your gratitude.

Keep your gifts affordable

While it may be tempting to go all-out to show your coworkers that you appreciate them, remember that you are on a college student budget and that you likely have other people to shop for. However, there are affordable gifts that you can buy for coworkers that they will love and that will not break the bank. If you work in an office, office or school supplies are sure to be welcome since they are used on a daily basis. Also, a calendar or planner for the new year can help your coworkers organize projects and tasks they need to complete. Other items such as hand sanitizer and reusable water bottles can be useful while getting something personal that each individual will like. If you are participating in a secret Santa or an exchange that has a price limit, be mindful to stick to the limit. That way, you are showing that you can follow guidelines and you will not overspend.

Remember student coworkers

If you work on or near your campus, there are likely other students working with you that you can buy gifts for. Gift cards of any sort are appreciated since college students are usually on a budget. Buy a reusable travel coffee mug for someone you are buying a coffee shop gift card for so they can help reduce waste and get their favorite coffee. Random acts of kindness kits are perfect for students who want to make a difference but feel like they are unable to because of their budget or lack of time. Also, just think of something that would be useful for you to have and buy it for your coworker since they are in the same boat as you.

You can also buy things based on their major. For example, if your coworker is a business major, you can buy them business cards (or a gift card to get their own) or a gift card to get business attire. Journalism and English majors love to write, so consider buying them a nice notebook or journal with a matching pen. Buying gifts based on their major will mean a lot to them since you put in the effort to get something special while still having it be professional.

Consider the recipient

While it is the thought that counts, you do not want to get a gift that may offend the recipient. You may want to get wine for someone, but that is not a good idea if you know they are a recovering alcoholic or are someone who has religious objections to drinking. As a general rule, avoid giving alcohol so that you do not offend anyone. Since you are giving the gifts to coworkers, avoid gag gifts as the recipient might take offense to it and it may make you seem unprofessional. Buy gifts that reflect the recipient’s interests and hobbies.

Also, consider that those in your office are your coworkers. As such, avoid being too personal since you do have to maintain a professional image. If you are feeling some question about whether or not something you want to give is too personal or would make a coworker uncomfortable, err on the side of caution and find something else.

Gifts for kids you nanny or babysit

Nannying and babysitting are popular jobs for college students to have since the hours are flexible and they tend to pay well. If you know that the family you babysit or nanny for celebrates winter holidays, consider buying gifts for the kid(s) you watch. Some inexpensive ideas are coloring books and crayons, games, Play-doh, books, or chalk. Consider buying things that you can do together when you watch them. That way, you can have fun with them and they will remember who got them the gift.

Team up to buy for your boss

As mentioned before, try to avoid buying a present for your boss. This is because doing so may make you seem like you are trying to seek favor from your boss by flattering them with a present.  However, if you do want to do something, coordinate with coworkers to have everyone chip in some money to buy your boss something from all of you. That way, everyone can be involved with thanking your boss while keeping the power dynamic intact. This will also ensure that your boss can know that everyone appreciates him or her without one person having to worry about how their intentions look. Your personal relationship with your boss may be a factor, but it is definitely better to err on the side of caution.

If you do decide to team up to buy something for your boss, you will want to make sure it is something he or she will use and is professional. Buy your boss a healthy snack subscription box, a set of nice notebooks, or a leather business cardholder. If your boss has been mentioning something that he or she needs, buy it. This will ensure that you are paying attention and are willing to help out.

Image: Ben White via

Participate in gift-giving festivities

If your company has Secret Santa or White Elephant exchanges, make sure you participate. This is part of your company culture, so you want to be sure to make a great impression and be involved, even if it is not your dream job. Usually, there are cost limits so unless your religious beliefs prohibit you from participating, you should get involved. Ask around in advance so that you can start saving up money ahead of time so finances are not holding you back.

Even if you do not have to buy gifts, you may be asked to chip in to help with parties or a general office gift pool. While you may not be obligated to chip in, studies show that participating may help you get promoted. If anything, it will help your coworkers and boss see that you do care about the office culture outside of your job.

Think about your team

Some companies are relatively small, so if you only have a handful of coworkers, consider buying each person a small token of gratitude for all they have done throughout the year. However, if you have several coworkers and no means of affording gifts for everyone, consider buying gifts for immediate managers and coworkers who have helped out. In this case, as mentioned previously, give these presents privately so that other coworkers do not get jealous or upset that you did not buy them something. Consider buying things for coworkers or mentors who went above and beyond to help you in some way through the year. Also, if you do have a small team and are planning on buying something for everyone, make sure that you keep things fair. Do not spend $50 on one coworker and only $5 on another. For those who are into supporting various causes, consider donating some money to a charity in their honor.

Obligated or not?

Remember, you are not obligated to buy every single person you work with a present. This may be difficult to remember if someone gives you a gift but you did not buy them something. Be sure to smile and thank them on the spot, and also remember to send them a thank you card. If you feel like you want to return the favor, consider getting them a gift card and include it with the thank you note. However, keep in mind that this is not mandatory and again, you are not obligated to buy them something just because they got something for you.

Gifts to avoid giving coworkers

While gifts are intended to be good, there are gifts to avoid giving so you do not come across as offensive. In general, cash is not acceptable. Instead, opt to give coworkers gift cards to their favorite stores or restaurants. Giving perfumes or anything else with fragrance can make it seem that you are telling your coworker that they smell. If you opt to donate money in someone’s honor, avoid giving to political or controversial organizations, especially to poke fun at someone. This may make you seem unprofessional and may cause drama in the office.

Giving gifts around the holidays is tough, but adding an office environment into the mix can make it even more complicated. However, knowing the etiquette and your company’s policies can help you decide what to buy and who to buy for. When in doubt, ask around the office.

By Ashley Paskill

Uloop Writer

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