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Etiquette for Holiday Gifts in the Workplace

Gift-giving is a time-honored and thoughtful way to build business relationships, especially during the holiday season. Both within and outside of the firm, a thoughtful present is an excellent way to acknowledge the importance of a relationship, show appreciation and build goodwill among friends and colleagues. However, if the gift is inappropriate, too personal or inappropriately priced, it can have the opposite effect. Consider these etiquette tips to ensure your gifts are just right.

Whether you’re sending a gift to a coworker or business associate from outside the office, the best approach is to select a gift that can be utilized in the workplace (even if you know the person well). Here are a few suggestions:

  • Daily calendar, which can be personalized to reflect the person’s hobbies and interests like travel destinations, foreign language, or pets.
  • Folding umbrella.
  • Leather passport holder.
  • Travel alarm clock.
  • Noise-canceling headphones.
  • Foreign language dictionary app.
  • Movie tickets.
  • Gift card to a restaurant.
  • Subscription to a job or hobby related magazine.
  • Preprinted luggage tags.

If you’re sending a gift from the company to customers or clients, consider consumable items such as locally sourced food items or donations to local charities. Be sure to consult your company’s policies and traditions by making sure your gifts are in line with the financial and quality parameters set by your colleagues and company. When in doubt, reach out to your Human Resources department.

When gifting within the company to your colleagues, boss, or assistant, check with your firm/company on what is customary. Consider homemade gifts, especially food to share or something to brighten the workplace (books, music, gift cards to movie or restaurant). Alternatively, select a gift that can be enjoyed outside the office. Don’t give your boss a gift that’s just from you. All employees in the group should give a gift collectively, if at all. Your assistant is the one person in the office to whom you should give a gift. The gift of choice depends upon his or her length of service; a good rule of thumb is if they’ve been with the team less than five years, a gift in the $25-30 price range is appropriate. Again, don’t choose something too personal, but rather something they like or are interested in.

Two key rules for Business Gift Ideas: 1) Not too personal and 2) Not too expensive

Temporary Gifts are appropriate for most occasions and can easily be shared with others.

  • Holiday arrangements are festive and add beauty to the environment (avoid red roses that can have a romantic connotation).
  • Food: ask an assistant, spouse or coworker if the recipient has any particular favorites – or allergies to avoid – that will make the gift personal. Nice packaging adds a special flair. Many online and delivery services are available now for chocolates, coffee, fruit, desserts.
  • Wine or liquor may be acceptable, if you know the person and their tastes, but could be an embarrassing situation best avoided with a different choice.

Gift Giving: Consider the gift presentation

Even a gift that’s thoughtfully chosen, timely and wonderful in itself can have its effect dulled by a sloppy presentation. If you’re unable to create a professional looking wrapping job, have your gift wrapped at the store.
Whether a gift is sent or given in person, attach a card; especially if the gift is one of many the person may be receiving. Cards serve not only as an expression of your sentiments, but also as a useful reminder to the recipient when thank-you notes are written.

Guidelines for accepting gifts:

When receiving the gift in the presence of the giver, you should open it immediately- the gift giver will likely want to see your reaction and be thanked on the spot.

Act delighted, regardless of what you actually think of the item.
Thank the giver for his or her thoughtfulness.

If you open the gift in front of the giver and thank him or her personally, you do not need to send a thank-you note.

Guidelines for declining gifts:

There are uncomfortable instances when you may have to decline a gift, most likely because company policy prohibits receving gifts or because its price is over the limit your company allows you to accept.  In this case, there is really no need for embarrassment. In effect, it’s the company, not you, who is declining. A handwritten note stating this reasoning is all that is needed in this case. 

You may also need to decline a gift because it's too personal or sexually aggressive, such as a dozen long stemmed roses or lingerie. Let the sender know that sending such gifts are inappropriate in light of your professional relationship, and make a copy of any written rebuff in the event of any ramifications down the road (you could potentially need evidence of your reaction).

Don’t forget to say “Thank You”!

When thanking someone verbally for a gift, emphasize their thoughtfulness rather than your gain. Besides the usual “I love it,” praise the giver with “You always think of the perfect gift.”

A note of thanks should be sincere and enthusiastic and preferably sent within a day or two of receiving the gift. Handwrite the note, making it short, personal and familiar enough to sound as though you’re saying it aloud.
To acknowledge a gift given by a while department, it’s fine to offer thanks via group email message or online bulletin, just make certain your message recognizes everyone who contributed to it.

By being conscientious of these guidelines, you’re setting yourself up for holiday gift-giving success!

Happy Holidays!

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