‘Tis almost the season to be jolly and along with it comes the immense pressure to buy gifts for people you don’t really know that well.
Ladders asked Arden Clise, business etiquette coach and author of “Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth: Essential Etiquette for Professional Success,” for tips on how to navigate the sometimes perilous gift giving maze.
Gifting like a boss
Believe it or not, you aren’t required to give gifts to your coworkers or colleagues. Clise said though, “If you have a close relationship with a work buddy then giving a present might be nice, but it’s not expected.”
And try to be subtle about it “If you do give a colleague a gift, do so quietly so that others don’t feel left out.” Meanwhile, “Holiday gifts to bosses are discouraged because it can look like you’re brown nosing.”
Try chipping in with others if you really want to do something special for your manager or boss so that it comes from all of you “That way no one person is looking like their trying to curry favor with the boss.”
Budgeting for clients
Clise says, “Giving holiday gifts to clients is perfectly appropriate if you have the budget. Doing so says you care about them and appreciate their business.” But don’t go for cheapo promotional items and “avoid giving items that have your logo on them and look like advertisements for your business.”
And you might want to pay attention to their internal gift receiving policy.
I once goofed royally by sending a then client a necklace identical to the one she’d admired on me earlier that year. I thought it was appropriate considering the amount of business we’d done together that year — she informed me that she couldn’t accept anything over $50.00.
Clise says, “It’s typically safe to send something that can be shared in the office, such as a basket of goodies. Or, you could make a donation to a nonpolitical or non-religious organization in their name.”
But be mindful that your cause isn’t necessarily their cause, and while you might love puppies, they might prefer something related to the rain forest.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel like sending gifts or haven’t budgeted for them. Clise says, “Cards are a fine way to send holiday greetings especially if you don’t want to worry about gift giving restrictions or you have a tight budget.”
She also said “Holiday cards are pretty ubiquitous, and it can be hard to stand out when you are one of many who sends cards, but doing so is still a nice gesture. If the cards are personalized they tend to be more appreciated and memorable.”
If you want to make your cards stand out, consider sending textured or 3D cards that are tactile as well as beautiful and become something they can share around the office.
If you have the time, having everyone in the office hand sign the card is another nice personal touch.
Clise also adds that “Your holiday card should wish the receiver happy holidays, If the card is for a client you could thank them for their business over the past year(s). Cards to colleagues or coworkers are an opportunity to share what you’ve enjoyed about working with them.
But not your business card
In case you’re wondering if you should include your business card with your holiday card or gift – don’t. Clise said “It would be very tacky to include your business card in a holiday card. Cards and gifts are your opportunity to express your appreciation for your colleagues and clients, not a time to promote your business. You could thank your clients for their business throughout the year, but that should be the extent of any business talk.”
(Or a gift card)
Much as most of us love gift cards in other parts of our lives, Clise said it’s lazy to give a gift card as an office gift.
“Gift cards do not make good gifts because they seem lazy and unimaginative. Best to try to find an actual gift that says I took some time thinking about what you might enjoy receiving,” she says.
While you’re at it, “Never re-gift a present unless a. you’ve removed all signs that it was gifted to you originally, b. you’re not giving it to someone who is in the same circle of the person who gave it to you, and c. you are reasonably sure the receiver will enjoy the gift – you’re not just pawning it off and thinking you’ve done your gifting duty.”
Since so many people have food allergies or restrictions, it’s a good idea to “Choose a gift that is either very safe such as fruit.” Or, Clise said, you can “give a basket filled with a variety of items that would allow most people to be able to find something they can eat. Avoid giving wine or spirits unless you know for sure the receiver drinks alcohol.”
Hey, big spender
Don’t intentionally break the bank. Clise says, “How much you spend should depend on your budget and your relationship with the person.” So if you’re limited by budget, it’s fine to be creative. “Giving a $5 jar of some wonderful spread to a coworker would be perfectly fine.”
That said, “If you have a larger budget and you’re giving a gift to an important client who you’ve done business with for several years, spending $100 or more may be appropriate.”
If you’re infinitely amused by whoopee cushions and the like, keep it out of the office, since Clise warns that “Gag gifts are a big no unless you are holding a white elephant gift exchange and everyone is giving silly gifts.”
And be gracious
If someone buys you a gift and you haven’t bought them anything, don’t scramble to reciprocate.
Clise says, “Just express your gratitude and leave it at that. You don’t need to call attention to the fact that you didn’t get the person a gift.”