Gift Giving Etiquette for Your Boss and Colleagues

You’ve checked off everyone on your holiday gift list—except for your boss. You look at your list again thinking, “What on earth do I get for you? Should I even get anything for you? And come to think of it, what about all my colleagues?”

Gift giving is a personal gesture, which is why holiday gift giving at the office—where our relationships are professional—can feel so complicated. People don’t want to seem unappreciative, nor do they want to appear presumptuous, either—especially with the boss. And then there’s the conundrum of what to buy. How do you hit the right mark? Rest easy that this is less complicated than it may seem.

Bosses are easier to choose for than you may think, thanks to teamwork. Even though your boss might give you an individual gift, give a group gift from your team, floor, or department in return. This allows everyone to participate without the gift coming across as too personal. It also avoids any one employee from looking as though they are currying favor with the boss. Opt for something professional from Staples, such as an ARC organizer, or a tech related gift, such as a smartphone case.

For colleagues, check around to see what the office norm is on gift giving. Many offices hold a white elephant party to take the pressure off individual gifts between lots of employees—plus they’re fun. If you do give individual gifts, stick to giving to colleagues you work with regularly, and include the entire group, such as your team or your immediate office mates, to avoid hurt feelings. Also, if you make a spending limit with colleagues, abide by the limit.  Staples has lots of fun gifts that hit the right mark and can keep you right on budget, such as a light up memo board (great for cubicles!) or the Fred & Friends tea infuser. If you want to go for more classic options, you can also find La Source lotion kits, a quilted Arc organizer notebook, or colorful desk accessories by Poppin that would brighten any office. Visit the Staples Holiday Center for more ideas on how to get the Perfect Gift for Everyone on your list—including your colleagues.

Anna Post is a nationally known etiquette expert, co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition, and a member of the Staples Holiday Council.

*This post is sponsored by Staples.


  1. Winifred Rosenburg

    I really dislike these sponsored posts. They are clearly more motivated by making the sponsor happy than by trying to provide good etiquette guidance. Group gifts for bosses are also not correct as they involve pressuring everyone to chip in when some people may not want to or be able to afford to.

  2. scdeb

    It is inappropriate to give gifts to bosses. Even group gifts. The reason for this is to prevent misunderstandings among personnel and hard feelings and to avoid currying favor. The boss is supposed to give gifts, bonuses or whatever the business dictates for employees as a reward or to celebrate a holiday. That is part of being the boss. To take this duty on as an employee puts the employee in a precarious position and gives the impression that he or she is after something. Most businesses have rules in place to avoid problems. A boss that requires gifts might also require things that could lead to harassment charges or worse. My sympathies to anyone who is forced into gifting the boss in order to keep a job.

  3. Jody

    I was fine with this post until the ad in the last paragraph. Can we please just stick with advice and avoid ads? (or at least mention more than one store that might stock the suggested items).

    Giving a gift to the boss is definitely a tough area. I think the best thing is to see what the office “culture” is — if it’s that the group chips in for a group gift, the best thing is to go along with that (hopefully it’s a nominal amount that everybody contributes). Otherwise the “white elephant” gift party, or some Secret Santa arrangement where people voluntarily and anonymously participate, might be the best thing.

    • Ruth Peltier

      Jody I think you missed the line where it said *This is a sponsored post.
      Staples PAID for it. Personally I think this is tacky but at least they admitted it this time. The last time they did this they did not even tell us it was sponsored.

  4. Vanna Keiler

    The comments above brought a smile to my face (Winifred, scdeb and Jody). I agree with them all.

    Sometimes great employees are stuck in the uncomfortable position of a strange office culture, where expected etiquette goes out the window, and no matter how much you’d like to (openly) protest, conformity is the road to survival.

    If the office situation is more “normal”, I strongly suggest administrators and managers take the lead EVERY HOLIDAY season, level the playing field and proactively offer some perishable treats to blanket (and diminish) the need for additional gift-giving.

    How about some holiday cupcakes or individual treats laid out in a high traffic area for everyone to discreetly partake at their discretion? Start early, the first week of December, and do it once a week (muffins one Monday, bagels the next). Buy enough for subsequent consumption the next day. By the day before Christmas, no one will feel the urge to exchange gifts.

  5. scdeb

    Vanna Keiler,
    I love that idea! Everyone gets to enjoy a treat and the pressure is off. Employees will feel special & pampered instead of stressed.

  6. Deedee

    I think the disclaimer should appear at the top of the post. It just makes me mad – like I’ve been suckered – when I read a post from a blog that I enjoy and trust and then start to feel like I am reading an ad and then find out I AM reading an ad. If I know it is an ad right up front I am likely to choose to read it anyway but I’d feel that it was my choice to read it rather than feeling like I’ve been fooled into reading it.

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