Tips on Choosing Gifts for the Office

by G. Keith Evans

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Gift giving is a time-honored tradition, especially in many workplaces. Office gift-giving maintains a distinctive culture all its own, complete with appropriate gifting policies, types of office gifts, and even company gifting guidelines. When exchanging gifts for office environments, givers and recipients alike keep guidelines and corporate policies in mind. Use these tips to choose the right business gifts for your office.

Buying Office Gifts:

  1. Choose an appropriate gift. Just as certain gifts are most appropriate for men, women, expectant mothers, and newlyweds, certain holiday gifts belong in an office setting. In general, employees and managers find desk accessories, motivational items, and small personal business accessories appropriate for office gift exchanges, although some very close co-workers may choose personalized office gifts. Typical office gifts include desktop toys and decorations, clocks, writing instruments, and stress-fighting items. Gag gifts, and especially intimate items, are inappropriate for office gift-giving, and highly personalized gifts may not be appreciated by co-workers with limited out-of-office exposure to one another. Similarly, religious, racial, or ethnic items should be kept out of the workplace at all times.

  2. Mind the gift price. Although family members, spouses, and close friends may truly appreciate expensive and extravagant holiday gifts, these same gifts may elicit an awkward, uncertain response from co-workers and managers. Expensive work gifts are especially inappropriate when given between levels of a typical office hierarchy. Employees who present expensive work gifts to managers subtly indicate that their pay may be too high, while managers who give extravagant personalized office gifts to employees reinforce notions of wage disparity. Many offices set caps on business gift prices during holidays and other occasions when gifts are commonly exchanged, but a general limit of $20 to $50 is a good rule of thumb.

  3. Be familiar with company policy. Because gift-giving can make some employees, especially those on tight budgets, uncomfortable and because some givers tend to prefer to give religious or suggestive gifts despite advice to the contrary, many office administrators document office-wide or company-wide regulations concerning gifts for office parties. In large companies, a human resources department may set the policy for the entire enterprise, though smaller companies and those with numerous branches may leave gifting policies to the local manager's discretion. In some cases, personalized gifts may be expressly forbidden in the office, on company property or during standard working hours, as this policy relieves the company of liability should an employee give an inappropriate or offensive item.

  4. Make your own party. If the company posts official guidelines for giving and receiving gifts, employees should use care to ensure compliance with the gifting policies; if the company forbids gift exchanges at work, employees who wish to exchange customized gifts may consider meeting at a local restaurant or club to hold a private exchange. If the company has no documented policy, employees should use input from managers, combined with common sense and good taste, to select appropriate, non-offensive gifts.

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