Good Cheer! 8 Tips for Holiday Gift-Giving in the Office

By Robert Half on December 2, 2019 at 8:00pm

Buying gifts for friends and family can be hard enough, but when it comes to holiday gift-giving at your workplace, things can get even trickier.

If you find yourself a little uneasy about the prospect of buying the proper gift, don’t fret. An Accountemps survey of Canadian workers sheds light on several questions: Is it proper for supervisors to give their staff holiday gifts (62 per cent say yes), is it OK for workers to give their bosses gifts (64 per cent said yes), and what kinds of gifts aren't appropriate (more on that later).

How do you come up with ideas of what to give? These eight tips will help make holiday gift-giving as easy as enjoying the cookies, cakes and other assorted treats that come your way this time of year.

1. Start a conversation

If this is your first holiday season on the job, talk to coworkers who have experience with buying gifts, whether it's for your boss or for your office’s holiday party. Even if you’ve been to previous holiday gatherings at your office, discussing gift exchange ideas and sharing insights can be a kind of informal team-building exercise. The conversations you end up having will make it more likely that you’ll buy an appropriate present.

2. Know the parameters

If you're shopping for an office gift exchange, do you know in advance who will receive your gift, or will the recipient be determined at the party? What about spending guidelines? Is there a special theme? Find out as much as you can before you go shopping.

If it’s the traditional “white elephant” game, where a gift may pass through many hands before finally ending up with the eventual recipient, you’ll need to get something that will work for anyone.

3. Make it personal — or not

If it's not a Secret Santa event and you know who will get your gift, put some thought into personalizing it. You could give a book related to something the recipient is interested in, or a beauty product that you've been complimented for using. You could give a monogrammed bottle stopper for a wine aficionado, or coffee beans and a mug for a coffee lover. 

On the other hand, if you are buying for people you don't know well, avoid the overly personal and stick with something they can use in the office.

4. Keep it PG clean

Use the motion picture rating system to give you some guidance for your gift ideas. Use PG-13 as the outer boundary for what to buy, leaning more toward PG or G.

Speaking of movies, prepaying for a pair tickets to any movie playing at a local cinema is a good way to give the recipient some choice while still staying well within the limits of what’s acceptable. To add some originality to that particular gift, cut out movie ads for a half-dozen films now playing, paste them to a piece of cardboard, and attach a spinning pointer — a simple but clever prop to help the recipient decide what movie to see.

You can take this approach with many types of gift cards for coffee shops, restaurants or stores. Basically, when in doubt, think of things that will add cheer to the proceedings during this season to be jolly.

5. Tap the food network

One place you’re apt to share gift ideas with coworkers is at lunch. Do you and your coworkers have several regular favorite lunchtime spots? If so, consider using gift certificates from those eateries as presents. If you’re on good terms with the proprietors and tell them what you’re planning, they may even offer to increase the value beyond your purchase price as a way of spreading holiday cheer while also rewarding loyal customers.

You could also give food baskets, cookie trays or fancy candies. Or if you're thinking of something a little more fun, place several individual-size bags of chips and chocolates inside a large box, and then wrap it up.

6. Create your own gift

With so many websites and local print shops catering to individualized apparel and other gift items, the sky is the limit on gift ideas. If you know ahead of time, for example, that you’ll be buying a gift for Amy in Payroll, and Amy just loves baseball, you could get her baseball-themed business cards that say something like, “Amy Smith, Super Fan!” and “Meet me at the hot dog stand behind home plate, field level.”

Need something that will work for anyone? Take a picture of the office and put it on a coffee mug above the words “My Favorite Place!” That should be a gift that garners some attention at your workplace.

7. Consider the presentation

No matter what you've chosen for the gift, cheerful packaging shows thoughtfulness. You could include a holiday card with it with a note to personalize it.

8. Don't be overly extravagant – or a Scrooge

Spending too much can make the receiver uncomfortable, while not spending enough can make the gift seem like an afterthought. Luckily, our survey gives you an idea of what's too much or too little. Canadian HR managers cited an average of $25 for what both employees and managers should spend on gifts.

Speaking of fun ... 

The survey also revealed what not to do in the realm of holiday gift-giving. Managers reported the most inappropriate gifts they've seen. Here are just three, to get you grinning (or cringing):

  • A bag of items to help with bad body odour

  • Illicit substances

  • A mug with a dirty joke on it

Find more true stories of gifts that weren't meant to be gags at the office in the Holiday Gift-Giving Guide: Office Edition.

Thinking about holiday gift-giving should be enjoyable, whether it leads to playful back-and-forth with office mates or just coming up with your own ideas. When all is said and done, the office party is about good cheer, and gift giving should be something you do unconditionally.

Keep that in mind throughout your gift-buying adventure, and you’ll be sure to get something that brings cheer to the person on the receiving end.

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