From Secret Santas to White Elephants, most offices have their own form of the holiday gift exchange. While you probably got the gift-giving guidelines at the staff meeting, there are some unwritten rules you should keep in mind, too. Here’s everything you need to know for more jolly and less folly in your workplace festivities.
Don’t: Opt Out
Even if you’re not personally motivated to share holiday cheer at the office, not participating in the holiday gift swap will make you look like a serious Grinch. Yes, it’s silly, but take it for what it is: an activity that promotes goodwill and some fun non-work bonding in the office.
That said, if there’s a valid reason you don’t want to participate—say, you’re having serious financial difficulties—don’t be afraid to bring it up to your supervisor. If the $50 gift swap is an issue for you, it might be for others, too.
Do: Stick to the Price Limit
The gift exchange is the one time when “going above and beyond” at work isn’t appropriate. (Remember when Michael Scott gifted his favorite Office employee Ryan the iPod?) Even if you’re running late and that $25 gift card is the first thing you see, if it’s for a $10-limit gift exchange, you’ll make everyone else feel lousy.
Along the same lines, avoid dipping too far under the price limit—being the office Scrooge isn’t going to win you any Employee-of-the-Year nominations, either.
Don't: Make it too Personal
Whether you’re buying for someone directly or getting a gift for the exchange, think about what everyone would like, and shop accordingly. Those hand-knitted potholders might not be fully appreciated—especially if they end up with Phil the IT guy whose idea of cooking is microwaving a Hot Pocket.
If you're stumped, consider getting a gift card to Starbucks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any other retailer with plenty of locations and a wide selection. Maybe it’s not the most creative gift on the planet, but it will certainly be used and appreciated by just about anyone.
Do: Bring Enough for Everybody
If you work in one of those fun offices where there aren’t any explicit gift-giving guidelines, here’s the bottom line: Don't give gifts unless you have something for everybody. An easy way to spread some cheer without buying individual gifts is to bring food—bake a couple of pies and set them out in the break room, or bring bagels in for breakfast. And if you still really want to do something extra for your favorite co-workers, do it discreetly, preferably outside of the office.
Don't: Go for Gag Gifts
Pranks and gag gifts might be the norm in some offices, but in most cases, they’re best reserved for your inner circle of family and friends. There’s simply too much room for misinterpretation or offense. It’s not about getting the most laughs, it’s about showing professionalism, generosity, and the true meaning of the holidays.
Giving gifts to your co-workers is a chance to pass along holiday cheer and share you appreciation for those who make an impact on your career all year long. So have fun with it—and even if you end up with the potholders, smile sincerely (seriously, people—gift cards!).
Photo courtesy of asenat29.
Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in national corporate etiquette training. Visit her website, protocolschooloftexas.com, to learn more or gain valuable, timely tips from her blog: dianegottsman.com.More from this Author