In the workplace, holiday gifting can have big implications. Buy too extravagant a gift for a boss and you look like a suck-up. Worse: Don’t buy a gift, and you could come off as unappreciative.
Jason Ibarra solved his dilemma by putting a black-painted jar in the lunchroom at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing firm. He suggested staff put in whatever they feel comfortable giving for the boss’ gift. They collected $250 and bought the boss a fishing rod, which they presented to him as a group gift for Hanukkah.
Etiquette experts say bosses should give their employees gifts to thank them for performance or dedication, but employees don’t need to give a gift back. In the workplace, giving should be down — supervisors to employees — rather than up.
“Don’t feel the need to reciprocate if your boss is showing appreciation for your year of hard work,” said Amanda Augustine, a careers expert with TheLadders, an online job-matching site for career-driven professionals.
If you do give the boss a gift, do it for the right reason. “If you feel appreciative of opportunities this year to work in your organization and you’re pleased with the way you were treated, it’s nice to acknowledge a supervisor with something small and a handwritten note,” said Alice Bredin, small-business adviser to American Express Open.
Experts say the best gifts are handwritten notes and something consumable, such as a platter or basket of treats. The worst gifts are expensive or too personal, such as jewelry, cologne or intimate apparel.
If you’re giving a gift to curry favor, you might want to reconsider. “If you are not a cultural fit or under-performing, sending the boss a really nice gift is not going to save your job,” said Augustine of TheLadders. “The person is going to feel uncomfortable or offended, and, either way, I don’t think the outcome is going to be favorable.”
If you are new to the company, it pays to do a little research on precedent by asking a veteran employee. “ ... Enlist someone who can tell you what you will not find in the company handbook,” Augustine said. If there isn’t a gift-giving precedent, she advises erring on the side of caution and avoiding giving “up.”
Surveys show the majority of employees spend less than $50 on a supervisor’s gift, and the $10 to $25 range is the average.
This year, only about a third of employers of all sizes plan to give employees holiday gifts, and about a fifth will give nonperformance-based bonuses, according to a member survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. Small-business owners, however, may be less generous. This holiday season, fewer small-business owners will give staff gifts (30 percent compared to 44 percent in 2012) or plan holiday activities (32 percent vs. 40 percent in 2012), according to the 2013 American Express Small Business Holiday Monitor.
Here are some do’s and don’ts:
• Give everyone the same level of gift within your budget.
• Write a handwritten thank-you note if you receive a gift from the boss.
• Consider a group gift from the team for the boss.
• Choose a gift related to someone’s hobby (gift cards are acceptable).
• Exchange gifts with a specific co-worker/friend outside the office.
• Feel like you’re expected to reciprocate gift-giving.
• Give a gift to a co-worker on a tight budget.
• Give a gift too personal (nose-hair trimmer, flowers, lingerie).
• Give a gift that involves self-improvement (weight loss, makeovers, etc.).