The Gracious Guide to Gifts at Work
Sunday, 9 June 2019
It's one thing if your “humorous" holiday gift to Uncle Melvin falls flat, but making the same mistake at work could have some very negative consequences.
The holidays are a great time to show your respect and gratitude for coworkers, supervisors, and executives, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Houston-based etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life," says a holiday card containing sincere sentiment is appropriate for anyone, but gifts that could be construed as romantic, sexual, political, or otherwise potentially offensive are not acceptable.
You'll also want to fully understand a company's gift policy: Is alcohol allowed? Are there value limits on gifts, or bans on giving checks or gift cards? And finally, your gift should reflect that you know the person well enough to give something they'll enjoy. Your gluten-free coworker might not appreciate your special holiday cookies. The vegetarian secretary will probably regift the steakhouse gift certificate.
The relationship is also important to consider. While it's acceptable for an executive to provide a thoughtful or monetary gift to their assistant, and those lower on the org chart might be OK gifting to peers, gifting up to a manager could be a misstep.
Gottsman says to keep every workplace gift modest. Not only is this good for your budget, but you don't want to overstep. “You don't know when you're going to make somebody feel uncomfortable. So don't ever worry about whether it's too little. It's better to give less than more because you don't want to come across as bragging or arrogant."
For your boss
Giving your boss an extravagant item could be perceived as an attempt to curry favor, and it could possibly embarrass them, so don't do it. A better choice is sending some sincere words of appreciation in a seasonally neutral card.
If your boss is beloved by the whole team, you could take donations from coworkers and purchase a gift from the group. Just remember donations should be voluntary and the amounts should not be disclosed. You could make a donation in your supervisor's name to a charitable organization they care about. But never, ever give money.
For your team
Many offices enjoy a “secret Santa" or a white elephant gift exchange and people bringing in one gift of a nominal value. Some bosses will provide experiences for their teams such as an on-site chair-massage professional, a catered lunch, or an off-site party.
Teams can also work together through a nonprofit organization such as the United Way to “adopt" a needy family over the holidays in lieu of giving gifts to one another. The key is to remember who your coworkers are, and what they like. A night out with an open bar tab might be okay for younger associates, but not so much for parents with young children who don't want to party like it's 1999.
For your assistant
Your relationship and your assistant's tenure should set the tone for the gift. If the relationship isn't extremely close, a small, thoughtful gift like a plant will do just fine. Try to strike a balance; a paperweight might be too impersonal, while jewelry might be too personal. Again, it's important to be crystal clear about company policy regarding gifts and bonuses.
For your clients
Forget the logo-emblazoned swag; nobody really wants a T-shirt or fidget spinner. “It truly is the thought that counts," Gottsman says, “but don't make it look like you're self-promoting." Instead, try to find a convenient time to send over lunch, or a group gift the whole team can enjoy like a box of fruit or cookies. And again, do some research first so you'll know what items your clients can accept.
When it doesn't go well
Hopefully you won't experience the horror of seeing an expression on the recipient's face indicating your gift didn't go over as intended. Perhaps you overstepped the boundaries of what's appropriate, or thought something would be funnier than it actually was. If you realize you've misstepped, Gottsman says, graciously offer to replace the gift with something else and give a sincere apology such as "just know my thoughts are with you this holiday season."
If you've been on the receiving end of an questionable gift, kindly refuse, citing company policy.
And finally, if someone's gotten you a gift and you've not returned the gesture, don't stress out about it. “You should not feel obligated to reciprocate, or at least reciprocate immediately," Gottsman says. “So if somebody sends me a gift, I may send them something for the New Year's. I think it's really important just to be gracious and not try and make an excuse or a reason why you don't have one for them."
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