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Gift Giving Etiquette in the Office

It’s the hap-happiest time…of the year.” Or, so they say. In fact, much of the holiday season is a lot of fun. The trees, the lights, and the caroling are great takeaways from one of the darkest and coldest months of the year. Giving and receiving gifts are great. But gift giving among co-workers can be stressful. That’s where Money Examiners comes along. Here are our best ideas for gift giving in the office. Follow these guidelines, and a possible minefield can be cleared and glazed in sugar plum sauce.

Don’t set the spending limit too high

At best, a spending limit that is too high will use up someone’s Christmas bonus. At worst, it will cause hardship to a lower-earner in the crowd. A good rule of thumb is to set the total spending limit at 8% of one week’s pay earned by the lowest earner in the office. But your mileage may vary. Talk it over a month before the fact, if possible.


Don’t get too personal

As a rule, presents intended to be worn (such as lotions, perfumes, or colognes) are too personal. Even clothing, with the possible exception of a sweatshirt bearing the logo of your recipient’s favorite team are unacceptable. Gag gifts must be avoided unless that is a predetermined direction for this gathering. In short, stay away from the body and stay away from the pen with the bikini girl on it.

Select with care

No pressure intended, but the gift you choose for a co-worker says a little something about you. The best gift shows your level of care and respect for the recipient. Conversely, a mug with the company logo that you picked up in the downstairs gift shop says something about you, as well, but it doesn’t speak highly of you.

Don’t play hero ball with your gift-giving

We discussed a spending limit already, but what happens if there is no set limit? Don’t give extravagant “look at me” gifts designed to outshine co-workers. It doesn’t enhance your look and will usually make the recipient uncomfortable. Gifts should be proportional to the occasion and the setting. A gift-giving exchange over coffee during a 20-minute break from work is different than exchanging gifts at a formal, dress-up dinner in a hotel ballroom.

By the same token…

Low-balling the office-bound Christmas present is fraught with danger. Oh, you won’t be judged (too much) on the cost of the gift. Instead, it will look like something that you selected without care. A cheap gift looks like what it is, and add “insincere” and “token” to the word “cheap.” No two offices are alike when it comes to gift-giving. If in doubt, ask a couple of colleagues how much they intend to spend.

Are cash and gift cards okay?



Giving cash isn’t acceptable unless it’s given from the company to the employee as a bonus. That said, gift cards/certificates are the same as cash and are considered acceptable gift-giving fare. Make sure to get to know the recipient, though, if you have not already. Don’t purchase a Starbucks gift card for a person who does not drink caffeine. (I know, I know, Starbucks has caffeine-free options, but a person who will truly appreciate the bounty of Starbucks is someone who will walk in and absorb the caffeine right through their pores.) Likewise, most people will appreciate a nice bottle of wine. Make sure, the recipient doesn’t have personal (religious, 12-step, etc.) reasons why they don’t imbibe. At the end of the day, an Amazon card is probably your safest gift giving bet, with an iTunes card a close second.