Gift Giving at the Office

Determining who in your office you should give a gift to and how much you should spend on that person can be a matter of office politics.  In some offices, there is a culture of giving and if you ask around people will tell you who you should give gifts to and how much is typically spent.  In other offices there is a set policy.  Unfortunately, in my office there is no identifiable culture or set policy. 

My first holiday season with my firm as a full time associate was in 2008, the economy had crashed, our salaries reduced, and we were all worried about our jobs.  As a result, I had less money to spend on holiday gifts but I worried more about giving gifts.  I knew that I should give a gift to the people on my team and the receptionist but I was not sure whether I should give a gift to my boss.  Actually, I had not considered buying him a gift until I found out that one of the other associates was buying both partners in our office gifts.  Then I asked the six other associates whether they were buying gifts for the partners, some were and some were not.  Personally, I did not want to buy the partner a gift.  I know that I feel uncomfortable when someone on my team buys me a gift because I know they make less money than me and it is really not necessary.  Sometimes paralegals have baked holiday cookies for the associates, which I thought was nice but I was not going to bake cookies for my male boss.  On the other hand, I was worried about how it might look if I did not buy anything for my boss and the other associate at my did buy a gift.  In the end, I decided to donate to a charity in the partner’s name.  This way he would not know how much money I spent on the gift but I was still giving him gift.  I was happy with this decision, but what was interesting is that none of the staff or associates received gifts from the partners that year.

Last year, I decided that I was not going to worry as much.  I purchased gifts for the people on my team and the receptionist.  I know that like last year, some of the associates gave the partners gifts and some did not.  Since the economy was stronger last year, the partners gave the associates a small gift from Best Buy.  I was thankful, but I found out that the gift was purchased with the firm credit card, so it’s not really a gift from my boss but from the firm.  Actually, it really frustrated me that I purchased gifts for everyone with my own money but I had to thank my boss for buying me a gift that he did not really buy.  I think we all would have preferred a bonus! 

This year, I am going to do the same thing I did last year and I will not be purchasing a gift for my boss.  I do not think my gift in 2008 or my lack of gift in 2009 made a difference.  I also know that our one male associate never buys my boss presents.  If he doesn’t need to, I don’t think I do.  As for the gifts from our boss, this year he asked me what he should get the associates for the holidays.  He told me he wanted to give us scuba lessons or a gift certificate to Sunglass Hut (I am not sure where he gets these ideas) but I suggested we get professional luggage from Tumi.  I am hopeful that tomorrow, when we have our holiday luncheon, we will get these bags.   Now that I know he is buying the presents with firm money, I have no problem asking for an expensive gift. 

For those of you wondering whether you should buy your boss a present, I personally do not think it is necessary but if you do I highly recommend making a donation in his/her name to a charity that he/she supports.  With regard to gifts for the paralegals and staff, I prefer to give gift cards because it is a more personalized form of cash, and everyone can  always use cash. 



Great post, as usual.
I just wanted to point out, in case it isn’t obvious to the younger-attorney and law student readers here, that giving gifts to partners at large law firms is not done.  Similarly, I don’t know any associates that give gifts to co-workers, file room staff, receptionists or anyone other than your own secretary.  I have heard that, at other large law firms, attorneys give gifts to paralegals but that is not done at my firm either—we treat our paralegals as legal professionals, more in-line with attorneys, than as staff.
As for gifts for secretaries: this is always a great topic for comments and I’m always interested in what others do.  
Me?:  I always give my secretary a relatively inexpensive gift that is both holiday-ish and a little practical.  I have gotten into the habit of getting something from Crate and Barrel in the $25-$40 dollar range.  I make sure it is wrapped beautifully.  Along with the gift, I give a gift card.  One year Macy’s. One year Visa. This year Target.  The dollar amount has been increasing each year.  I know that secretaries really like getting cash, and I’m pretty sure the partner mine works with gives her cash.  I just really HATE giving people cash as gifts so a gift card is my compromise.
This year, I will also be giving a small gift and a smaller gift card to another secretary that covered for my secretary while she took an extended vacation.
What do others do?


in large firms I also know some people will give a little something to extra-great paralegals or other staff that’s been particularly helpful in one way or another.
when I worked in a small office it seemed odd to give everyone or no one gifts so I often did bottles of wine for everyone or small potted plants.
unrelated, but we just bought a house: am I supposed to give gifts for postal worker and trash collectors??


I do something similar to Peg—Visa gift card plus small gift and homemade treats for my secretary, homemade treats for a few attorneys, paralegals and other secretaries I’m friendly with (but not partners or anyone too far above me in the hierarchy—just seems too weird to bring them cookies I baked).

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