Five Holiday Gift Giving Pointers for the Office

gift1_WOWe’re going to keep this short and sweet: here are the high points you need to remember on office gift giving during the holiday season.

1. Don’t give a gift to your supervisor. It could be seen by others as trying to “get in with the boss” or garnering favor. If you want to give something, a card is enough. Or a gift from the entire department or group is appropriate.

2. You can give gifts to your closest work colleagues, but please give the gifts discreetly – perhaps even outside of the office. The last thing you should want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings.

3. A bottle of wine is a great and affordable hostess gift outside of the office, but when it comes to corporate gifting, consider food rather than alcoholic beverages.

4. Speaking of food – everyone jumps up and down over a basket of muffins, a gift certificate to a coffee shop or a box of locally-made chocolates –here at Emily Post, we love Lake Champlain Chocolates. Yummm.

5. If your office decides to host a Yankee swap or secret Santa-type exchange and there is a monetary limit (generally $20 or less), keep within that budget. People feel awkward when they receive a gift of greater value.

If you need more advice on celebrating the holidays in the office, go to our Workplace and the Holidays FAQ.


  1. Country Girl

    Great tips! Though most of us on this blog probably already practice this, the one thing I would add would be to try to always be a grateful receiver. I’ve seen some good-spirited Christmas parties nearly ruined and many good intentions dashed because of less-than-grateful coworkers. The coworker who decides to be Debby Downer for the remainder of the party because she didn’t get the gift she wanted in Yankee Swap, the one who complains about the variety of sandwiches ordered because they didn’t include his favorite, or the group whining because the company decided to do a bowling party this year instead of the usual fancy dinner, etc. Being ungrateful never does anything to change the situation, it only makes that person look petty to their employer and coworkers (as well as makes the person who worked hard to do something nice feel terrible).

    Expectations can often be the culprit, so going in without any and just appreciating any kind gesture is a good game plan. Christmas is the perfect time to be grateful as well as giving!

  2. Jerry

    1. There’s nothing wrong with giving a gift to the boss so long as it’s not extravagant (i.e., a box of chocolates or some fruit) and given privately.

    2. Any (traditional) office that throws a bowling party as opposed to a traditional Christmas party (with dinner and drinks) deserves to have co-workers whine about it!

  3. Jody

    I’m with Country Girl on this one. No company “deserves” to have its employees whine about the type of party. Usually the whining happens not because the party is bad, but rather because it’s not the type of party the employee is used to seeing. Be outwardly grateful and appreciative of what the company is doing, even if on the inside you don’t like it. Sorry Jerry, even “traditional” offices are cutting back and not throwing blowouts like they used to.

    • Jerry

      Jody: You’ve missed the forrest for the trees. There’s a big difference between having “a blow out” and “bowling.” (And before anyone gets all huffy, bowling is a fine activity. It’s just not a Christmas party activity, just like a basketball party at the local YMCA would not be a good Christmas party activity.)

      A company Christmas party is usually a “thank you” for all of the year’s hard work. A company need not spend a lot of cash; it need not reserve the new trendy restaurant for an evening of dinner and dancing. (In fact, the last few Christmas parties I attended were all at the firm and nicely catered. And I enjoyed these more than the ones at the new “hot” nightspot.) But the company better do something more than take everyone down to the local bowling alley. (Why? See the first sentence of this paragraph.)

      Sorry, Jody: a company that plans a stupid party deserves scorn and derision. (Moreover, you’ve got to question management’s judgment when it plans a stupid party — if management cannot properly express appreciation to its staff, how can it satisfy its customers?)

      • Country Girl

        I had an equally great time bowling and eating pizza as I did attending the fancier dinner parties. But even so, since when is it considered good etiquette to scoff/scorn the method of one’s thanks? Employment is a fairly equally beneficial partnership in the first place; the company already pays you for the hard work you do throughout the year.

        • Jerry

          You’re right that the normal rule is that it is bad etiquette to scorn or scoff at a thank you gift. But the employment context is different in kind — there’s an exception here. A Christmas party is a work event. (I don’t socialize, necessarily, with my boss, or my colleagues, or the support staff outside of the office. My employer certainly does not pay for my entertainment unless I’m entertaining a potential client.) Take me out to an event that you’ve obviously put together on the cheap, I’m going to think you don’t value me as an employee, I’m going to complain about it, and I’m going to factor it in when I am considering career moves.

          Consider this by way of analogy: you are a member of the support staff, you do great work, but your boss never says “thank you.” Depending on the job, you could even say he treats you more like a piece of equipment than a person. Would you be satisfied if, when pressed about his failing to offer a simple thank you about your very real contributions, he responded “that’s what the money is for?” Or would that upset and/or disappoint you?

  4. Great conversations, everyone. Here at Emily Post, we are great believers in gratitude. The hope is always that your company shows their appreciation of your hard work. Unfortunately, we can’t control what our companies do for us – as far as holiday festivities (unless you sit on a party committee or the leadership team). Enjoy what the company provides and say thanks, whether it’s a bowling party or a glittering event in a rooftop penthouse. And then go celebrate with family and friends.

  5. Chocobo

    My previous employer held a “Yankee Swap” each year with a potluck. It was a small group of us in the department — maybe 15 to 20 people — and funds were limited. But the twist on the game was instead of bringing a nice gift within a monetary limit, everyone was to bring a purposefully awful gift. That way, no one’s feelings were hurt and no one felt badly because they brought a cheaper or less cherished gift, and great fun was still had laughing at all the truly ugly, horrible objects. It became something of a competition to find the worst gift.

    That might not work with every company or department, but it worked very well for us.

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