Navigating Holiday Gift Giving with Co-Workers

5 years ago

It's that time of year for exchanging gifts at the office. Depending on your perspective, the thought of this can make your blood run cold or get you very excited about the fun ahead.

There's no need to worry however because holiday gift exchanges can be navigated authentically and gracefully (and might even make the cynical smile just a little). Here are some tips on what to do, what not to do, and ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Opting Out is Rarely an Option

Unless your company has a policy that easily allows people to voluntarily participate (without social repercussions), consider participating "mandatory". It's one of those things you do to be part of the tribe. Even if you hate your current job and want to run screaming from the tribe, tread carefully with any faux pas that will alienate you from your co-workers or boss. Until that recareering or entrepreneurial leap is successful, you're still here. Participate as good naturedly as you can.

Don't Bulk Buy

This is not the time to buy bulk discount of the same item for everyone. Unless you are a promotional products expert or are expected to gift to throngs of co-workers, put a little thought into it. Think about the people you work with every day and match the gifts to the person. Nothing says "I put no effort into this at all" like rubber stamping the same gift for everyone.

Follow Spending Guidelines

This is non-negotiable. Follow maximum spending guidelines no matter what. A gift exchange is not a bribe. This is not a competition to one-up each other with the best gift to the boss. It is also not the time to buy the cheapest thing you could possibly find. The person organizing the exchange put thought into the spending parameters. Heed them.

Consider Co-workers' Religions and Traditions

We live and work in a global, multi-cultural society. Don't assume that everyone you work with celebrates the same holiday as you (or any holiday at all for that matter). Keep the gift personally relevant to the recipient and avoid any sensitive tradition-specific gifts. That means go easy on the Santas and Christmas Tree snow globes.

Steer Clear of Booze and Tobacco

Unless your company culture regularly encourages sharing adult beverages and having a smoke, it is best to steer clear of the contraband. For instance if you work in the wine industry or for a microbrew, a gift with an ABV % rating may be acceptable. If in doubt, stay conservative. Some companies have policies that strictly forbid alcohol on the premises. Don't end up in the dog house at the gift exchange. You can always gift a special bottle to a close friend from work during the off-hours.

Details Matter!

One size does not fit all. These are people you work with day in and day out. Certainly you can be observant enough to have a clue about what is appropriate. For instance, don't go buying the health nut a bag of bagels or donuts. Everyone does not drink coffee. Don't be the clueless gift-giver. It does little to foster working relationships. Put a little thought and attention into this task.

Credit Image: Holiday sign on distressed wood via Shutterstock

So, now you know what to do (and what NOT to do)... here are some ideas to get you rolling.

Offices are notoriously either too hot or too cold (or both). Consider something like a warming throwcover or mini air conditioner for your office mate.

For stressed co-workers who could stand to use some tranquility and release during the workday (and who couldn't?!) consider something calming like a buddha board or zen garden.

De-stress and create a more natural and nurturing environment behind the cubicle walls with a bamboo plant, money tree, or terrarium.

While not everyone loves coffee, some live by it. A lovely french press coffee maker could add that special touch to someone's workday. If tea is their thing, consider a tea infuser.

You can help co-workers go green by buying an eco-friendly water bottle or mug for their multiple trips to the water cooler and coffee machine. This is where the details matter...if he/she already has 100 mugs, by all means, don't add to the pile. But, if they recently dropped their favorite java vessel, by all means go for it!

Nothing says workplace like food. Some personality-specific food can be a welcome gift for those afternoon hunger-pangs.

Gift cards are the next best thing to cash (hint: a greeting card with cash stuffed in it is frowned upon in office gift exchanges). Just make sure it is a gift card for somewhere they love to shop or dine! Think versatile with lots of options (example: Amazon).

While the virtual world is a gamers paradise, there is something to be said for some old fashioned puzzles or games.

Who doesn't love to read their co-workers very cool daily calendar? I used to live for my cartoon-laden, wine-a-day, word-a-day beauties. Consider a gift that gives in daily pleasures throughout the year.

Chime in! What were some of the best gifts you've ever given/received from co-workers? Any "world's worst" gift experiences you want to share? Let us know in the comments!

Paula Gregorowicz plucks women off the hamster wheel of overwhelm, struggle, and self-doubt and guides them to a purposeful path of building authentic and successful businesses.
Download the Free Report: Your Own Uniqueness: The Path to Purpose, Prosperity, and Playfulness at

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