A Guide To Holiday Gift-Giving In The Workplace

image of holiday gifts

It’s that time of the year again. Winter is here and festive holidays are around the corner. Gift-giving is a tradition in many organizations around the world, despite it not being a mandatory practice.

And while it is easy to think of gifts for family and friends ( even if you cannot, you know that a gift-card or a voucher will do the trick), gift-giving is not that easy when it comes to colleagues and managers in the workplace.

But, while gift-giving as a practice is all well and good, it needs to come with a few caveats. As a HR administrator (or a manager/boss), here is what you can do to ensure that gift-giving in the year 2016 is a fun and painless affair. This article also has a few pointers for employees who are new to the gift-giving process or are looking for some pointers when it comes to giving gifts in the office.

Gift-giving Needs To Be Thoughtful

Being thoughtful about giving gifts means that employees need to consider what kind of gifts they are giving to others. You wouldn’t give a staunchly vegetarian employee a gift of fancy smoked salmon would you? A gift of food seems harmless, but in reality, how much thought you put into the gift says a lot about how you are thinking of the person you are giving it. Taking into account our earlier example, when you give a vegetarian employee a gift of smoked salmon, what you are implying with the gift is that you did not take their basic likes or dislikes into consideration. You are also implying that you don’t care about the entire act of gift-giving enough to even make an attempt at giving at gift. Gifts don’t have to be insanely expensive, but they do have to be thoughtful. If you are unsure about what to give someone, stick to items such as a stationery, gift-cards, baked goods etc.

There’s A Fine Line Between Personalized and Intimate

And this line is very easy to overstep. A cashmere sweater sounds like a great gift for a co-worker or manager you respect immensely but in reality, its way too personal, unless you have known that co-worker/manager for a long time and have a very solid relationship with them. A cashmere sweater is something you would give to a loved one. A sweatshirt might be more appropriate on the other hand. One good way to differentiate between personalized and intimate is to ask yourself: “would I give this to a loved one?” If the answer is yes, then you know it’s not appropriate for the office!

However, since the line between personalized and intimate is such a thin one to begin with, it’s always best to limit office gifts to stationery, baked goods, gift vouchers, showpieces etc.

Let There Be A Budget

It’s important to remember that everybody in an organization does not have the same finances. In fact, during the holiday season, some employees might be on a tighter budget than usual. Instead of setting a budget limit for the entire organization at one go, set appropriate budget limits based on groups of employees and the work they do. Also, make sure that the budget limits are not wildly disparate. Just because some people earn more than others, this does not mean they have that much more cash to spend.

Not Everyone Might Want To Participate

…and that’s okay. Gift-giving is not mandatory (and it really shouldn’t be because making it mandatory defeats the entire point of the tradition to begin with) and everybody is not required to participate in the process. You’ve got to ensure that people are comfortable enough to come to you and express their reluctance about participating and be understanding enough to accept that some employees are just not comfortable with the process.

Inclusion Is The Name Of The Game

Today’s workplace is a lot more diverse than the workplaces of say twenty years ago. Today’s workplace often includes employees with a diverse set of backgrounds and a diverse set of beliefs. You need to strip away any overtly religious tones from the gift-giving process and make it more inclusive. After all, activities such as these are meant to foster engagement and motivation and not make employees feel like they are not a part of the process.

Avoid At All Costs – Gag Gifts/Inappropriate Gifts/Politically-themed gifts/Religious gifts etc

No matter how well you know your colleague/manager/boss, there are some gifts that have absolutely no place in the workplace. Pranks are fine with family and friends. But at office, they are not cool at all.  You don’t know how someone might react to a prank and neither should you try to find out. You know what else is not cool? Giving others sexually suggestive gifts. That actually constitutes as harassment and extremely unprofessional. If it’s something you would give a spouse or significant other, then it has no place in the office! By the way, personal care products also come under the inappropriate gift heading. There are one too many connotations attached to personal care products, so it’s best to leave them out when thinking of gift ideas.

Politically-themed gifts are also a no-no. You might share strong political views that shape your thoughts and beliefs but your beliefs and views don’t necessarily have to be shared by your co-workers. And even if they do, politics is a personal affair. It should not affect the way you interact with others in the office.

And finally it goes without saying that religious gifts are GIANT no. Religion is an intensely personal thing. You might think that you’re doing everyone a service by giving them religious-themed gift, but in reality, you are just being insensitive.

Don’t Be That Person

Gift-giving is not everyone’s forte. But don’t be that person who recycles gifts obviously, or tries to pass off used gifts as new ones. That makes you look like a cheapskate. You don’t have to spend upwards of 100$ either to show that you are really putting effort into your gift. After all, it’s not about how much money you spend on the gift. It’s about how much thought goes into the gift.

Don’t Play Favourites

This one is for the bosses and managers. When gifts flow from the top to the bottom, it is vital that everybody receives the same kind of gift. You cannot give one employee a box of fancy pastries and then give another a $5 Starbucks card. Gift-giving is not an opportunity to reward employee based on how much you like them. You want to come across as benevolent, not spiteful. If you are not able to give everyone the same gift, it’s better not to give them a gift at all. Instead, you can treat them to a lunch or a dinner or a round of snacks.

There Should Be No Compulsion To Gift Upwards

Employees should not have to be forced to gift upwards, especially towards bosses, managers and leaders. If they choose to do it of their own free will, that’s different. Leaders too should dissuade employees from giving them gifts. The intentions behind the gifts might be innocent, but it’s a tricky slope as accepting gifts from employees might imply favouritism towards the employee.

Gift-giving seems like a complicated process ( I know, there are a lot of rules), but if you keep the process simple ( and fuss-free), then everybody is guaranteed to have a fun time!


Engagedly is a performance review software that incorporates elements of employee engagement. To see how Engagedly can help your organization, request a demo today!

Comments open

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>