It’s awkward enough choosing the wrong gift for Uncle Fred for Christmas, but at least you won’t see him for another 364 days. Choose incorrectly for the gal in the next cubicle, and you have to live with that embarrassment on a daily basis.
That’s why personal etiquette and branding expert Vicky Oliver, (who wrote The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You’re Not), offers these five guidelines for office gift exchanges:
Don’t overspend. The rule of thumb for office gifts is that they be inexpensive. It’s poor etiquette to spend, say, $50 on a bottle of eau de toilette or a designer scarf for a coworker because chances are she’ll buy you chocolates and then feel embarrassed. If you have a lot of gifts to give out, try to stay under $20 each. Some ideas include: a restaurant gift card, a cookbook, a bottle of wine, a gourmet food item, a potted flower or a two-drink voucher at the local watering hole.
Let “power hierarchies” guide your way. To give or not to give in the first place depends a lot on your position in the office power hierarchy. For example, people who work “under” you and routinely serve you at work (think your assistant or the receptionist) should get a small gift as a gesture of gratitude. Gift cards or food items are excellent choices for these colleagues. Likewise, if you have a supervisor or boss, it’s customary to “go in” on a larger gift with several coworkers, to express thanks, loyalty and solidarity.
Be sensitive. You don’t need to give gifts to all your coworkers unless you work in an office of five or fewer people, where leaving one person out would hurt his or her feelings. However, if you have a team member or coworker who has been particularly helpful or supportive this year, a card expressing that and a token gift is entirely appropriate, even if you don’t do the same for others. Just be tactful and discreet with these thank-you gifts.
Keep a few “anybody” gifts handy. What if someone gets you a present and you didn’t get one for her? That won’t happen to you because you’ve already stocked up on fistfuls of fashionable finds: cool designer reader glasses, scarves, T-shirts, tree ornaments. Then invest in some upscale wrapping paper or festive bags. Your recipient won’t know that you didn’t shop ahead just for her or him.
Institute a “Secret Santa” policy at work. If you’re concerned about whom to give to and how much it will affect your budget, go to your friendly HR person and ask if your company might consider instituting a Secret Santa policy — where everyone draws a name from a hat to buy ONE person a gift. You gain some breathing room in your checking account, and the company gains a shared sense of camaraderie.
What are your tips for handling office gift-giving on a budget?