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Gift Giving in the Workplace

By Edward Leigh, MA

When it comes to holiday gift giving, most people have some ideas in mind. For example, you know your dad enjoys sweaters, while your wife loves jewelry. We probably even know what kinds of toys our pets enjoy! However, what about gifts for co-workers? What is appropriate? This is an often-difficult area for many people.

According to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. for Office Depot Inc., almost half of us plan to give a holiday gift to at least one business associate this year. The survey also found that 90 percent of us are baffled about the etiquette associated with workplace gift giving. This article will take away much of the mystery.

Check office policies. Some organizations have strict guidelines regarding gift giving. In government entities, this can be a serious legal issue. Your employee handbook may provide guidance. If there are no formal written policies and you are new to the organization, ask co-workers what is appropriate.

Determine an appropriate amount to spend. In many workplaces, this amount is $10-$15. It is critical to know this information because you don't want to come across as cheap or overly extravagant.

Do not buy gag gifts. It is important that you give a legitimate gift that will be appreciated, not crude items that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes. Let people know that you care about them. Of course, your gift could have humor, just be sure it is in good taste and reflects the person's style.

Think practical. Consider gifts that people will find useful. For years, my brother, Hank, has been giving his male co-workers tools. They enjoy the gifts. I recently spoke to one of his co-workers about the tools and he said, "Wait here a moment." He then came back from a trip to his car holding the tools my brother gave him!

Gifts for your boss. Think very carefully about what is proper, since others may see this as inappropriate or an attempt to seek favoritism. There is a way to deal with the situation and keep everyone happy - chip in and get a group gift. From a company standpoint it's acceptable for the boss or employer to give you something. However, if it's the other way around, you don't know how you will be seen. The group activity covers you and creates positive feelings toward everyone.

Avoid items that may be considered too personal. These items include scented candles, intimate apparel or body lotions. Certain items are fine for your significant other, but not for a person in your office. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if two women in the office want to exchange gifts and they each like a particular fragrance, then this scenario is acceptable.

Always keep it voluntary. No one in the office should feel pressured to take part in gift giving. This is not a time to force people. If someone does not want to participate they should not be ostracized.

Do not feel obligated to give everyone a gift. Stick to the people in your department. Giving gifts to people you hardly know will put them in an awkward position because now they may feel forced to buy you something. If there is only a portion of the people in your department you would like to exchange gifts with, do it outside work.

Be cautious with food items. A box of chocolates may seem like a great gift, but think again! Consider people on weight-reduction diets. People may also have food restrictions based on health issues, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. A participant in one of my workshops told me that chocolate makes her ill! Fresh or dried fruit is always a safe bet.

Think twice about alcoholic beverages. Unless you absolutely know a person likes a certain type of alcoholic beverage, then avoid this item as a gift. Also, some people unbeknownst to you may be in a 12-step recovery program or follow abstinence- based religious beliefs.

Group Gift Alternative

Instead of individual gifts to co-workers, everyone can pitch in for a group gift. Keep in mind, co-worker income differences when soliciting group gifts. Find a price point everyone can feel comfortable with. Here are some ideas on group gifts.

Plan a fun event or buy an item everyone can use in the office. For example, the money could be pooled and used to plan a fun office party. Also, the combined money could be used to buy the office a new microwave oven or other useful item.

Donate money to favorite charity. Once again, co-workers can combine their money and donate to a worthy organization. If this is done be sure everyone in the group has agreed on the charity. One other option is to divide the money and give to a couple of charities.

The Greatest Gift of All

The best gift in the world actually costs no money and should not be offered only at the holiday season. This is the gift of praise and encouragement. Always let people know they are valued and appreciated.

Happy holidays!

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