Care of The Network Journal by Ann Brown

Christmas gift-giving in the workplaceGift-giving in the workplace? It is often a dilemma. Many offices have Secret Santas, but what if you are feeling a little generous this season? You won’t be alone if you’re thinking of giving out gifts this year. According to a survey done by national staffing company Spherion and conducted by Harris Interactive, 52 percent of workers plan to give gifts to their peers, bosses, direct reports or other office colleagues. Yet, more than half (55 percent) don’t expect to receive anything from them.

But giving is a good idea, notes Heather Post, founder/director of The Etiquette Seed. “This can help you to build rapport and maintain good business relationships,” she says.

What type of gifts do workers want? Spherion’s survey found that nearly all workers (93 percent) would rather receive something other than a traditional holiday gift like a bonus (74 percent), an extra day off (29 percent), a handwritten thank-you card (12 percent), a lavish company holiday party (nine percent) or something else (six percent).

But when you are the one giving the gifts, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Get personal but not too personal. “Poinsettia plants, chocolates and coffee/tea assortments–These gifts are thoughtful, useful and not too personal. They also won’t break the bank when buying a lot of gifts for a lot of colleagues and are appropriate for both men and women,” says Post.

“Food gifts are often safe bets — gift-packaged teas, fruit baskets, gift cards in small denominations to a coffee shop…that sort of thing,” adds Leigh Steere, co-founder, Managing People Better, LLC. You can even make the gift. “The most appreciated gifts are often the homemade ones…for example, someone who takes time to bake holiday pies, instead of buying something from the store,” says Steere.

Along with the gift, include a note. Even if you haven’t purchased a gift, take time to compose a thoughtful note. “Handwritten notes are more meaningful than fancy, printed cards with no handwriting on them,” says Steere.” Take time to write the specific reasons you value a particular customer or employee. That handwritten note will be remembered (and probably far more than any gift you might buy).”

But before you go shopping, check your company’s gift policy. “Many businesses give holiday gifts to all employees and encourage gift exchanges among employees; others prohibit gift giving….and receiving, especially from clients,” notes etiquette expert Dawn Bryan, founder of The Qualipedia.

Here’s how to avoid making embarrassing mistakes when handing out gifts in your office:

Guide To Giving To Co-Workers 
According to the Spherion, two-in-five employees who have given gifts to co-workers (44 percent) have spent, at most, $20. “Buying one, inexpensive-type gift for each of your immediate co-workers (under $15) is the best idea (like poinsettias),” notes Post. “You can individualize the gift by writing a short one- or two-sentence, handwritten sentiment to go with it.”

    •    Be discreet in the delivery: “If you decide against buying all of your immediate co-workers a gift, be very discreet in the delivery so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings,” explains Post. Steere agrees. “Think about others’ feelings. If you are giving gifts to co-workers, but not to everyone on your team, keep the gift exchange private — do it outside work hours. Otherwise, co-workers may feel slighted if they see you’ve given a gift to some people but not them,” she says.
    •    Skip the gag gifts: You might just offend someone with a tacky mug or T-shirt with a slogan. “Even though it is the holiday season, you are still operating in a professional, business environment,” says Post.
    •    Don’t be too cheap: “Buying inexpensive ‘tchotchke’ gifts that you know serve no purpose or will not be used is a bad idea,” says Post. “Gifts, no matter what the cost, should be thoughtful. Is it something you would be happy to receive? Is it something you would put in a drawer, never to be seen again?”

Tips For Buying For The Boss
When giving to the boss, be sure not to make the wrong impression. Spherion’s survey found that 58 percent of workers believe most employees give their bosses gifts in order to get ahead; yet only eight percent of workers say they have spent more money on a boss’ holiday gift than their co-workers in order to outshine them.

“Your boss should be buying you the gift. If you feel you must buy your boss a gift, it should be under $20 and not a personal gift” notes Post.

    •    Don’t play the “my-gift-is-better-than-your-gift” game: “Don’t compete with others to give your boss the “perfect’ gift,” says Bryan, author of The Art & Etiquette of Gift Giving and Elite Etiquette. “Rather, join forces, combine resources and get her/him something she/he can really use or enjoy–it could be dinner/tickets to an event, museum or ‘Y’ membership, spa day, etc.”
    •    Don’t show off: “If you are an employee gifting a boss, be careful that you don’t come across as a brown-noser,” advises Steere. “Pick something simple — homemade is even better, like a pie — and include a simple note such as “I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday.”

How To Say Thank You To Clients

“The amount spent on your clients should correlate to how large the account is. Remember, clients are your ‘bread and butter’. Typically, a nice gift basket (under $50) is appropriate,” says Post.

    •    No tacky promo items, please: “Don’t put your logo on just anything. It should be of high quality, in good taste, useful/practical, and should convey your corporate/business image,” says Bryan.
    •    Avoid bribes: “It is not a good idea to send a substantial holiday gift to someone you do not yet do business with (but would like to) or to a former client you would like to ‘get back’,” advises Bryan. “Sending a holiday card with good wishes is fine, as it would not be construed as a bribe.