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Reminder: You Don’t Need to Get a Gift for Your Boss

November 21, 2018 | Filed in: Your Career

To give or not to give? The etiquette of gift-giving at work can be vexing. On one hand, you don’t want to skip a festive tradition; on the other, you don’t want to overstep boundaries. Before you find yourself getting Grinchy, here are eight gift-giving guidelines for the workplace.

1. Almost never get your boss a gift.

Yes, it’s tempting, especially if you really like your boss, but buying her a holiday present can give the impression that you’re sucking up. “It makes it seem like you want your boss to think positively of you when there’s a possible promotion or something,” says Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. It might also make your boss think she’s obligated to return the gesture—which is exactly what you don’t want to happen.

2. If you really want to, make it a team effort.

Why not suggest a group of you chip in on flowers or make another simple gesture of appreciation? “This way it doesn’t look like one person is trying to curry favor,” says Arden Clise, etiquette expert and author of Spinach in your Boss’s Teeth: Essential Etiquette for Professional Success. “If you go this route, don’t force anyone to contribute—you don’t know if someone is on a tight budget. And no matter who puts in money, the card should be signed by everyone.”

3. If you must go solo, stick with something small.

There may be the stray case for which you can bend the rules, like you and your boss are super close or the office team is really small. But stick to a simple token. Sarah Wexler, a writer in Portland, Oregon, did just that. “I’ve heard that you’re supposed to gift down, not up,” she says. “But I always felt weird doing nothing. So I would choose something small, like a Christmas ornament, and my boss always seemed to appreciate it.”

4. Follow the team.

“Some offices have a heavy gift-giving culture, and you don’t want to be an outlier,” says Kate Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works, a soft skills training company. “If you’re new there, ask a colleague at your level about the holiday gift-giving practice.” Some offices have an annual Secret Santa exchange, which you should probably participate in. “Be a team player and have fun,” says Pachter.

5. Avoid personal presents.

“It’s nice to pick out something special, like a new cookbook for a cooking-crazy colleague, but never cross the line,” says Pachter. In other words: Don’t give someone a nightgown, jewelry, or perfume, even if you think they’ll love it. Also, resist giving tickets to an event they’ll need to attend with you. “It’s fine if the tickets are for a group activity, but otherwise it can seem like a date,” says Zabriskie.

6. Think twice before gifting alcohol.

Don’t assume everyone loves a nice bottle of wine. “Unless you know people well, it can offend or seem inappropriate,” says Clise.

7. If you’re the boss, you have a choice.

“You don’t need to give anyone a gift, but it’s a nice gesture,” says Pachter. “Just make sure to get everyone on your team the same thing to avoid signs of favoritism.” Treat them to a nice lunch or give something work-related, like a new coffee mug. “If your team is younger, a gift card can also work,” says Zabriskie. It may not seem personal, but it can be useful —especially if you opt for a “use anywhere” card rather than one for a specific store. “My boss gave me an American Express gift card for $100 and it turned into the gift that kept on giving,” says Danielle McGurran, 46, who works in public relations in New York. “I would use it all the time to get little things and it ended up lasting for months. Every time I got a coffee or a magazine with it, I felt appreciated.”

8. Keep your clients on the “to gift” list.

“Giving gifts to your clients is a nice way to show you appreciate them,” says Clise. “Just make sure to send them to the entire team and choose something everyone can enjoy, like a fruit or cheese basket.” Don’t make the mistake of sending a gift with your company’s logo on it—it’ll look like you found something lying around the office and wrapped it up. Go forth and gift responsibly! 

Now that you know you can cross your boss off your list with a clear conscience, head over to our Gift Finder for easy gifting ideas—or work with a stylist to customize a box of gifts shipped directly to you. 


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Alice Oglethorpe is a former magazine editor who is now a freelance writer based in Chicago. She writes about health and happiness in life and at work. Read more of Alice's posts.


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