Workplace Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette
with Bosses and Co-Workers
Company policies on gift giving among employees tend to vague or non-existent. What has become increasingly prevalent, though, is a corporate attitude that actions that create or imply a hostile workplace environment will not be tolerated. If there is a question of political correctness, people at all levels are encouraged to "play it safe." Many companies also (formally and informally) put dollar limits, often $25, on gift values, mirroring traditional IRS guidelines for limits on undocumented gift giving.
In this environment of increased sensitivity, finding "appropriate" gifts has become challenging. Personal items are often "out." Self-improvement gifts can send the wrong message. Gifts of alcohol may carry undesirable risk levels. While some food gifts remain popular (holiday turkeys, hams, steaks, fruitcakes, etc), the proliferation of food allergies can make these gifts problematic.
What continue to be safe are subscription based publications focused on expressed personal interest, inspirational gift books such as Heart of the Holidays that focus on multiple Seasonal Holidays, decorative gifts (ornaments, inexpensive collectibles) if you know a person’s religious preferences, gift baskets (whose contents are often almost immediately re-gifted), gift certificates (which now usually are not issued in piles as a way to circumvent the rules, but now actually meet the guidelines) and event tickets (though all too few are available at the targeted $25 price point.
A final note is that given the downsizing issue, both benefits and perks (such as seasonal gifts) are more frequently varied so as not to create "conditions of employment" which Courts have ruled to be entitlements in some cases.
Length of tenure can dictate what kind of gift is given, as well as how interactive the working relationship. Personal assistants will typically receive a more personalized gift than direct reports. The shorter, more impersonal, the relationship, the more likely a card is most appropriate. This equation goes both ways. Company policy may also dictate the gift. In some workplaces, the work group pools their giving, buying for one other member, limiting the value of the gift to the traditional $25/limit and determining who they will be buying for by lot.
Boss to employee gifts need not be reciprocated, but should be acknowledged in writing and on paper.
Gifts for the boss – gift certificates for books, music and/or merchandise; subscriptions if the employee knows his/her interests; books themselves; and personally prepared holiday foods (cakes, cookies, etc).