On the Job

7 tips for buying gifts for the office

The holidays approach and you’d like to show your appreciation to the people you spend most of your waking hours with: your coworkers. Unless that guy in the next cubicle is the “before” version of the Grinch, what could be wrong with that?

Mmm, lots of things, depending on your office culture and what exactly is in those brightly wrapped packages.

Before you whip out that credit card at the mall or your favorite online shopping site, consider these tips for office gift-giving.

Ask first, buy later. Find out what’s traditional in your office, especially if you’re new to the company or department. You don’t want to be the only one to arrive the day before the holiday break empty handed. On the other hand, some workplaces discourage or even prohibit gifts. In some workplaces, gifts are exchanged only among peers. In others, a group may chip in for a gift for the boss. And if you’re thinking of gifting customers or vendors, be aware some employees — especially in government and news media — aren’t allowed to accept gifts to prevent the appearance of being improperly influenced.

Stay professional. It’s hard to go wrong with coffee or tea mugs, desk accessories, umbrellas or portable charging sticks. Avoid anything too personal, such as jewelry or cologne. Unless you know the recipient’s preferences — and are sure it’s OK in your workplace — save that bottle of bubbly for a nonwork friend. And by all means, avoid gag gifts. Yeah, we know you thought it was hysterical, but …

Know the budget. Here again is a good place to get input from a more veteran co-worker. An overly extravagant gift can make people uncomfortable, while a super cheap gift looks lazy and token.

Be equitable. This is kind of like bringing Valentines in grade school: If you’re bringing gifts to co-workers at the office, include everyone on the team. The gifts don’t have to be identical but should be of similar type and value. If you prefer to exchange gifts only with office buddies, do it away from the office.

Gang up. Rather than buying individual gifts for many people, suggest to your group a Secret Santa gift exchange where each person draws a name and buys a gift for only that person. Other one-gift games include a Yankee Swap or White Elephant gift exchange. (The latter is one potential exception to the gag on gags, but agree on the ground rules up front.)

Be diversity-conscious. Think of your gifts as year-end thank yous rather than tied to a holiday. Not everyone celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (or even Festivus). Avoid religious (or political) themed gifts.

Don’t feel obligated. If you can’t afford to buy office gifts — or prefer not to — you shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. A nice card with a sincere, handwritten note expressing your appreciation for a co-worker’s help or support can be valuable and meaningful.

 

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