Perfume? Too personal. Coffee maker? Too expensive (unless it’s a group gift). The rules for gift-giving at work, in those offices that swap presents, are fairly straightforward.
Here’s advice from experts:
1. Practical $20-and-under gifts are always a safe bet, says Nancy Soriano, a lifestyle expert with Office Depot. Example: Desk speakers, picture frames, earbud headphones, monogrammed stamps, music gift cards or USB flash drives. Take it a step further by uploading a music playlist to a USB to share songs with a music-loving colleague.
2. Never give a too-intimate gift. “The people you work with are kind of like a second family, and they can feel like family—but they’re not,” Soriano says.
3. Opt for group gifts. If you’re buying a present for a higher-up, says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work, go in with other people to upgrade the gift without coming across as a brown-noser.
4. Send handwritten cards of genuine thanks to each person who helps make your work life pleasant. Mail to their homes, if possible, for a personal touch.
“In today’s day and age we all communicate by texting and email, and it’s such an assumed way of doing things, but that makes a simple little handwritten note that much more meaningful,” says Peter Handal, chairman and chief executive of Dale Carnegie Training.
5. Fire up the oven and bring in homemade food to share. If your office is typical, nothing will be more appreciated.
6. Institute a Secret Santa tradition in your office, so you have only one gift to worry about.
7. Propose that you all contribute to a potluck lunch or cookie exchange instead of a gift exchange—less pressure and less expensive.
Given the tough economy, people might appreciate the low-cost approach.
8. Sponsor a charity event as an organization, rather than focusing on co-worker gifts. Sign up to shop for a family in need, for example, or volunteer to serve a meal at a local soup kitchen.
Before you do anything, check company policy. Some companies forbid gift swaps while others cap expenditures. And never give a gift because you feel obligated; a “gift” should never be mandatory.
— Adapted from “Office gift-giving: Pens good, body spray bad,” Laura T. Coffey, MSNBC.com; “Gift Giving Etiquette: The Office Politics of Holiday Gifts, “Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times.