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The Art and Science of Holiday Gift Giving

Office Gift Giving Tips

The Art and Science of Holiday Gift Giving


By Cheryl Stein
Monster Business Coach

As the temperature plummets in our beautiful country, our thoughts can’t help but turn toward holiday time. While the thought of turkey and presents is wonderful in theory, holiday gift giving in the workplace can be a minefield if not navigated properly. Making the wrong move can create problems with coworkers forever. Making the right move can improve relationships, boost morale and give everyone in your workplace that warm and fuzzy feeling that they can’t get by going outside.

A Bad Office Gift Giving Experience

I had a client who was working in a company that did an annual Christmas Gift War. If you haven’t heard of this game, the rules are simple. Everyone brings in a wrapped gift of equal value. Everyone picks a number. The person with number one picks a gift. The person with number two can steal gift number one or pick a new one. In this particular instance, a new employee didn’t understand the game and got so mad when her gift was taken from her that she declared real war against the “thieving” co-worker. She stopped talking to her, but worked hard to sabotage everything that the person did. Although this example is an extreme, and no ten dollar scarf is worth such animosity, this story demonstrated that like everything else in the workplace, some thought needs to be put into gift giving policies.

A Good Office Gift Giving Experience

Proper gift giving can be a very positive workplace experience. Allen Taylor of Taylor Pipe Supports in Burlington, Ontario makes sure his Secret Santa gift giving game also benefits the local community. “Everyone who wants to participate in our gift exchange also has to bring a donation to our food drive. If people show up to our annual Christmas party without a donation, I don’t let them in. I make them go to the nearest convenience store to pick something up.” The collective effort of the Taylor work force turns a fun game into a meaningful experience that everyone in the company can feel good about.

Put Some Thought into Choosing the Office Gift

Just like buying the perfect gift takes some forethought, planning your company gift giving policy also takes some thinking.

• Competitive games are okay if in the end nobody loses. At Taylor Pipe Supports, you have to try and guess who your “Secret Santa” is. If you get it right, your name is put into a random draw to win a bonus prize.

• Put limits on how much people should spend.

• Find a charity for everyone to contribute to. Making a difference for the greater good is what holiday time is all about.

Show Some Sensitivity

With all the holiday hype that goes on this time of year, we seldom take the time to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas. This is your chance to do some great foundation work on your diversity sensitivity. Research other people’s religions and traditions and try to make everyone in your workplace feel included in the festivities. Ask people to share their traditions. Include new people in planning your events so they are more reflective of your workforce.

Rules for Smart Gift Giving

• If you are giving gifts to people who are special to you in the workplace, do it in private. There is nothing worse than people getting upset that they aren’t on your Christmas office gift list.

• Don’t give your boss or supervisor a gift that is just from you (unless they are a close personal friend in which case the above rule applies). Ask others in the office to contribute so you look like a team player.

• If you want to give a gift to your assistant or direct report, how generous you are can be a factor of length of service or how much they are appreciated.

• Be gracious when accepting a gift even if you have to fake it.

• If you think a gift is funny don’t give it. Nobody really wants a lasting memory of your idea of a joke.

• Never ever give out inappropriate gifts to anyone.

• Flowers, food and wine are always tasteful and much easier to throw away if they aren’t liked.

• Make sure your gift is wrapped nicely. A poorly presented gift will make you look bad.

• Always send Thank You notes for personal gifts because Thank You notes always make you look good.

(Adapted from The Etiquette Advantage in Business by Peggy and Peter Post)

Holiday gift giving in the workplace needs to be appropriate and thoughtful. A well-planned gift giving policy is what your employees need to have the parameters to make the right choices. Spell it out for everyone to avoid mistakes and hurt feelings and to make holiday time in your organization something to look forward to.