Posted Dec. 3, 2007 -- The holidays are quickly approaching, and that means it's time to start making your holiday gift lists. While finding the perfect gift for your Great Aunt Betty is always a challenge, some people get the most stressed out during the holidays trying to decide how to handle gift giving in the workplace. Do you give your boss a nice present? What's the best way to say thank you to your assistant? What about the person on the other side of your cube who gave you a year-old fruitcake last year?
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Jodi R.R. Smith, president and founder of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm, says the first rule of thumb in any gift giving situation is to think like the other person. "The trick to good gift giving is to find something that is appropriate based on the tastes, likes and dislikes of each particular person," she says. She offers the following dos and don'ts to help make your corporate holiday gift giving a breeze.
DO check your company's policy on giving gifts. "The first thing people need to do is check their workplace policy manual," says Smith. Many companies provide clear guidelines on what is and is not acceptable. Even if your company does have a policy, you should also ask others in your office, since employees do not always follow company policy carefully. If it is your first holiday season with the company, ask your coworkers how gift giving is handled and what the boss received from employees last year. This will keep you from being the "odd man out."
DON'T be obvious about excluding people. Smith says that if you are very close to a couple of people in the office and want to give them gifts, arrange a time for a gift exchange away from work. If, for example, you work closely with 10 people and only really like seven of them, do not give presents to only those seven, at least not in the office.
DO suggest a group activity for your gift exchange, or in lieu of an exchange. "Secret Swap" systems, where employees draw names and buy for one person, work well in many offices. If you want to get away from gifts all together, you can suggest that the whole team go out for a nice lunch, bring in baked goodies periodically leading up to the holidays, or have a potluck in the office one day. These ideas allow you to celebrate the holidays but help you avoid awkward situations.
DO be careful about buying for your boss. In general, Smith says she does not advocate giving gifts to bosses, as this can put pressure on employees and make it seem like the employees are trying to win favor. If you are a boss, she suggests being up front and letting employees know that you do not want to receive holiday gifts. This policy can help keep the playing field level for everyone in the office. If you do want to recognize your boss, try writing a nice thank you note or buy a thoughtful item that you know he or she can use. For example, Smith says she once realized that a senior executive she worked for never had an umbrella, so she bought that executive several small umbrellas to keep in the office.
DON'T give inappropriate gifts. Appropriate gifts for coworkers include picture frames, personalized business card holders, professional pens, stationery, food baskets or fine chocolates. These choices work for a wide range of people. Smith suggests staying away from items like scented candles, body lotions or oils, lingerie and silk boxer shorts. "Anything you can also give your significant other is not something to give someone in the office," she says.
DO think philanthropically. Donations to charities are great ways to express your gratitude and cheer during the holidays, and charity donations are particularly good gift ideas for bosses. If you are going to go this route, make sure you find out what charity your gift recipient supports. You want to make sure it is meaningful to him or her. Working with a charity is another good idea for a group of employees. Instead of exchanging gifts, you and your coworkers could volunteer for a day at a soup kitchen or at another organization.
DON'T give useless gifts if you are the boss. "Small token of esteem from bosses to employees are always welcome," says Smith. "But employees tend to prefer bonuses and additional time off to a trinket."
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