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Gift giving how-to in the office

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‘Tis the season to puzzle over holiday gift etiquette at the office. Every year, a few questions come up about this topic — what’s appropriate, how much, whether they really have to, who to give to and so on and so on.

Every office has its unwritten rules for gifting, just like it does for after-hours socializing, how to handle birthdays and the casualness of Casual Fridays. You need to find those out. Not gifting as others expect can impact how others think of you, treat you, and provide support to you, because companies are all about teamwork and morale.

A basic rule of thumb for gifts is this: they should flow down, not up. You need to make sure to give a thank you gift to the people who report to you – administrative assistants, interns, coordinators – should receive a gift from you. This group also includes people who aren't your direct reports, but who have helped you out during the last year. Gifts to bosses are fine, but shouldn't be expected. However, if you are lucky enough to have a supervisor who invests in you and spends time advising and sharing knowledge with you, then you should get a small token of appreciation.

For the rest of the office, it’s nice to bring in food items. You can either bake something you leave in the kitchen for the whole office to share or individually wrapped baked goods that you give to people. Food items are often low-cost—and more appreciated than most office gifts. This can also count as your gifts to people, and you don’t need to do anything else if you do this.
Stay away from gifts that are too personal for the workplace. Clothing, perfume, makeup and jewelry are all inappropriate gifts for coworkers. And save the gag gifts for friends and family; the risk of a misunderstood joke in the office is too high.

If your office does a group gift exchange, try to find something fun (and low-cost) to do with it. Most offices will set a budget for these gift exchanges – typically $20 and under. With some thought, you can find some great options in this price range. Look for bread mixes, coffee or hot chocolate sets, photo frames and mugs.

Keep some emergency gifts handy. The key is to have gifts that you can pull out of your purse or tote bag in case a client or coworker surprises you with a gift. Buy some gift cards that you wouldn't mind using yourself – Starbucks and movie theater tickets work well and aren’t expensive. Equally appropriate are pens, notebooks and journals, professional development books and bookmarks.

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