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Bah-humbug! Office etiquette for holiday gift giving

November 30, 2017

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

It’s hard to believe, but Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday have already come and gone, kicking off the 2017 holiday shopping season.  While many of us are already feeling overwhelmed with finding the perfect gifts for friends and family, navigating the politics of office gift giving can add even more holiday stress.  From office Secret Santa gift exchanges to group gifts for the boss, it’s enough to make anyone say bah-humbug.  So before you begin shopping, use the following guidelines below to help keep office spirits merry and bright!

  • Remember that not all employees may want to participate in office gift giving – the holidays bring a lot of different pressures for employees.  From tight budget constraints, to lack of time to shop, to religious and personal reasons, gift giving and other holiday celebrations should be made clear that they are totally voluntary.  Office gift exchanges should be an opt-in through a sign up process versus employees having to publicly declare that they want to opt-out of office celebrations.
  • Gifts should flow downward not upward – gifts from managers to their subordinates are appropriate, but employees should not feel that they should give a gift to their boss.   It can create feelings of resentment to buy a gift for a manager who makes more money than the employee.
  • Don’t solicit donations for a group gift for the boss – refer back to points one and two!  For the various reasons outlined above, employees may not want to participate in office gift giving. If an employee does not take part in the team gift for the boss, it creates stress around what the boss will think when their name is conspicuously absent from the group gift.  No employee wants worry about how they will be perceived by the person who is responsible for their performance review, salary increases and future promotion opportunities.
  • Set reasonable amounts for office gift exchanges – clearly communicate limits for holiday gift exchanges at a reasonable amount so even those employees with tight budgets can participate ($10-$20 is a common amount).  Other ways to structure the gift exchange is to focus on a particular theme, such as gifts that start with a certain letter, are a certain color, food, games, etc.  Having a theme shifts the focus to how creative the gift is versus how much it costs.
  • Post ingredients for food items – many employees enjoy baking and bringing in food items overs the holidays.  Encourage employees to post the ingredients, so those that are gluten free, have food allergies, diary sensitivity, etc. can make an informed decision around whether they can enjoy the food items that were brought in to be shared.
  • Communicate expectations around gift giving and gift receiving to employees – when communicating the rules for the holiday gift exchange provide some guidance around the types of gifts that would be appropriate for the office.  Gifts should not be too personal, religious, or over the price maximum.  If the employee wants to give an individual gift to a co-worker, they should be encouraged to do so in private so no one on the team feels slighted or left out.  

Policies should also be communicated around receiving gifts from vendors and clients.  If a client or vendor gives a gift to an employee, for example a food basket, it should be shared with the whole team.  It should be made clear that employees should not be accepting gifts of cash.

  • Communicate expectations around gift giving to managers – one of the easiest ways to demoralize a team is when a manager gives a gift, or one of higher value, to one subordinate but not the rest of the team.  At best it quickly creates the appearance of favoritism and at worst can create an environment rife for claims of discrimination down the road.  If managers opt to provide gifts to their team, everyone on the team should be given a gift and one of similar value.  
  • Company-wide gifts to employees should take into account a variety of religions, food preferences, and lifestyle choices – employers should make sure that gifts given to employees are all inclusive.  Giving wine or alcohol to employees who don’t drink, sweets to a diabetic, or a turkey to a vegetarian takes the fun and the meaning out of the gift.  Always take into consideration the types of employees that work for the organization.
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