happy group of friends party christmas gift giving exchange

Do’s & Don’ts of Holiday Gift Giving

November 23, 2018

As the holiday season approaches, there are a few things to consider when it comes to proper etiquette surrounding gift-giving at work for festive celebrations. If you’ve just landed a new job as a new boss, for instance, what is the proper way to thank your employees? Or, if you’re a new employee, are you expected to buy gifts for your coworkers?

If you’re uncertain about the office protocol, ask your coworkers to find out whether gifts are exchanged. With employees already feeling overworked and overwhelmed with commercialism this time of year, many are happy to forego the gift exchange and simply celebrate with colleagues during a lunch, a dinner or even a semi-formal event. Management in small companies are now even taking their coworkers out for lunch individually as a way of thanking them.

But if you do pull a co-worker’s name out of a hat for a Kris Kringle, or do feel inclined to thank an employee for a job well-done through the year, keep in mind that gifts are becoming more and more practical and are now less gender-oriented, according to etiquette expert Catherine Bell. “People are being practical—they have enough ‘stuff,’ and now value time-related gifts,” says Bell, a Certified Image Professional and president of Prime Impressions. Membership to an art gallery, a gift certificate, or tickets to a classical music concert or a sporting event, for instance, are always well-received. “Or if you know them well enough you could offer to go with them”; however this may not be appropriate across genders within the workplace, she advises.

Whereas well-known etiquette gurus of the past century, Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt, would have recommended perfume, aftershave, jewellery or a wallet for an administrative assistant for a “job well done” gift, today this is no longer appropriate. “We’re in a workplace where gender is not an issue,” says Bell. A box of cheese, gourmet food or a bottle of wine (if you know s/he drinks wine), for instance, are appropriate gifts for someone especially if he or she is married. Also a magazine subscription or box of chocolates is always a well-received present, she says. A gift certificate for dinner at a favourite restaurant is also very appropriate, “especially for someone who is not at the executive level and wouldn’t usually spend this amount of money on dinner,” says Bell.

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In Canada, gift-giving tends to be more simple than in New York, for example, says Bell. “Donations to non-profit organizations are also always appropriate,” she says. A card with the inscription: “A donation has been made in your name to the following organization. . .” shows you value a sense of responsibility in the community. If you receive a pamphlet in the mail with an executive’s name on the board of a non-profit organization, for instance, keep it on file for next year’s gift. Or why not “adopt” a single polar bear ($25) or a pair of pandas ($50) through the World Wildlife Fund? (www.wwf.ca) for an executive?

It’s all in the wrapping

How you wrap your gift can show personality and your creativity, says Bell. Cloth bags which are sewn are popular, as is environmentally-friendly brown paper and twine with a tiny piece of an evergreen twig.

No-no’s in the business gift exchange

Be cautious of giving gifts across cultures, warns Bell, as a clock can symbolize “death” for a Chinese person, since it marks the time, and the colour white symbolizes death for the Japanese (avoid white flowers and flashy colours). For international gift-giving protocol, consider consulting the book Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands, How to Do Business in 60 Countries or Raise Your Cultural IQ.

If you are giving a gift to a coworker and it is not part of a gift exchange, make sure it is done out of the office to avoid feelings of awkwardness and coworkers don’t feel left out, says Bell. If you are sending a gift to another company, be sure to check the recipient’s company policy on whether they can accept gifts. If you are the recipient of an expensive gift from a salesperson, for example, which may imply an obligation to do business in the future, say, “Thank you but the company doesn’t allow gifts of this kind.” If it is not a company policy but you still don’t feel comfortable accepting the gift, say, “Thank you, but I really can’t accept such an expensive gift.”

If you receive a gift from a coworker but don’t have one in exchange, don’t rush out and buy something. “A warm thank you and a note for next time is enough,” says Bell, adding that thank you notes in the mail are now becoming more of a thoughtful gesture due to the common use of e-mail. If you receive a gift that you absolutely loathe, accept it with warmth and graciousness, says Bell. “Smile and say thank you very much.” The person who gave you the present does not need to know you are allergic to the bath salts you received, for instance, and the present can be donated to your local March of Dimes or saved as raffle prizes for a church bizarre.

In the midst of the holiday rush and festive celebrations, remember that a gift of your time and thoughtfulness and kindness can be the best gift your coworker will ever receive!

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Karen Richardson
Karen Richardson is a writer, editor and blogger on business, health & wellness for Canadian and U.S. publications. She can be found on Twitter @worklifewriter.

Financial Wellness

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