Gift Giving In the Workplace

Career Expert: Jena E. Abernathy, Author – The Inequality Equalizer – Want It, Claim It, Own It – And Maximize Your Career Success

The holiday season can be stressful and giving in the workplace can add another layer of complexity and a strain on your budget. Not fully understanding the expectations of gift giving in your workplace can create a career “faux pas” – so following these tips can help you gain some insight and an advantage to keeping the spirit of the season alive and your sanity in check.


· Know the company culture and history of gift giving. If you are new to the company, ask a trusted colleague what has been the tradition in previous years.

· Understand the diversity of your team and be respectful.

· Consider the gift of giving to others – suggest adopting a needy family, organizing a blood drive, a team building day to give back to a charity chosen by the team.

· Stay within a budget – if a “Secret Santa” exchange is part of the tradition. Yes, you can opt-out, but if this is part of the culture of the organization, participate as a team member but do not have your gift be the most extravagant or the cheapest.

· If a “White Elephant Exchange” or “Reuse Exchange” is initiated – go with the flow of the rules of engagement – do not get mad if your gift is taken, remember to always keep it professional.

· Always give something to the support staff members that work for you. This can be a gift card or cash. Typically, the flow of gifts should come from those above and generally giving to the boss is a personal choice, not a necessity.

· If you have a great boss and truly want to do something to show your appreciation, do not compromise your brand. Keep the gift elegant and present it to your boss in a discreet manner. The gift should be professional and career centric personal stationary, a book, a useful techie gift, a cool clock for the desk, a great pen – something that is a reminder of you in a positive way.

· Keep a few gift cards to Starbucks, Juice Bar, Movie Tickets and extra holiday cards in your drawer just in case you are caught off guard and want to reciprocate should you receive an unexpected gift.

· When in doubt, for clients and bosses – a donation in their honor to a reputable charity that is aligned with the mission of your organization is always a gift in vogue.

· Remember to send a “thank-you” of appreciation.


· Give gag gifts, nothing too personal, or cutesy – this is not the time to give reindeer or Santa underwear. Stay away from any products that are intimate and inappropriate – stay in your professional mode.

· Force others to give money toward the boss’ gift. Let the contributions be organic without a set amount and try to get buy-in before purchasing the gift. Many departments will go in together for a specific item or experience such as tickets to a concert, play or sporting event, gift certificate to a restaurant, etc.

· Compromise your stature as a professional – save the baking for your friends and family.

· Over-gift to your boss – it may be perceived as trying too hard and can be embarrassing – again, tasteful, appropriate, and elegant should be your guideline.

· Become the Scrooge of your workplace – this can be a great time to build lasting relationships and although you may not be feeling the holiday cheer – this is not the time nor the place to let others know your true feelings about the holidays.

· Forget to be kind to yourself and others – yes, this is a stressful time of the year but a little kindness can sometimes be the best gift of all.