Posted by Brian McCullough
Like the office holiday party, holiday gift giving around the office is often a perilous endeavor. There are so many social, political, cultural, class and emotional landlines to navigate.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who just opt out of the whole thing, but I’ve never had the guts to do so myself.
So if you’re like me, and you’re going to exchange gifts with your co-workers, here are a few strategies I think work:
- Know your office’s policy and stick to it. Office gift giving is very much a group-think proposition. In order not to piss people off or have anyone feel slighted, you don’t want to over-give or under-give. If there’s an established office tradition, be thankful, and don’t deviate too far from the norm.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a Secret Santa program in effect, again, be thankful and participate. It will save you a ton of hassle.
- How much to spend no matter what the circumstance? Unless we’re talking about close, close friends, I think spending around $15 per co-worker is appropriate.
- Do it in private. Don’t make a big show of handing out gifts. Try to make this a personal, one on one thing. On the one hand, this gives you the chance to connect with and thank everyone on a personal level. On the other hand, it protects both you and the recipient from the hurt feelings of others.
- I always think this is a classy touch: tell your recipient, “It’s been a pleasure working with you this year. I wanted to thank you for all you do around here and wish you and your family the best.”
- Don’t wish specific holiday wishes.
- Don’t suck up to your boss. Your boss should get a gift on the same level as the gift you got for everyone else.
- Don’t forget Scott the Engineer. Some of you will get that reference. For the rest of you, keep in mind the Murphy’s law that you WILL forget someone and that person will inevitably be the most embarassing person to forget. Look over you list. Check it twice. Don’t leave anyone out.
As far as specific gift choices, here are some thoughts:
- Unless you know a person’s given tastes (don’t you love golfers when it comes time to buy gifts?) try something safe. Office items are great. Think mugs, plants, desk nic-nacs, books, etc. When I lived in New York City, a common but welcome gift was the annual Zaggat’s guide. Lifehacker has a great gift guide of interesting little items.
- I think food or drink, of an appropriate gourmet-level, is always great. Candies. Anything consumable. And I think a great way to cover everybody is to bring in food for the office. Of course, there’s always the person that brings in holiday cookies. What if you brought in, say, Potbelly sandwiches one day for lunch? That way you’d cover everyone, it’s communal, it’s appreciated, and think about it, it’s way less than $10 a person.
- We live in a gift certificate world. In a way, it’s sort of impersonal, but I think gift certificates are tailor made for office workers. One word: Starbucks. Or how about gift certificates to the popular lunch place around the corner?
- If you’re going to go the charity route, make sure you don’t chose a charity that is in ANY WAY controversial. And (this is a personal pet peeve) don’t make a contribution to a charity through your church. Maybe I don’t like your church. And in a way, isn’t that just giving a gift to yourself? Why not make a contribution to my church if it’s a gift to me?
- The web has given us some great charity programs where donors get to choose who the money goes to. So here are two excellent places: DonorsChoose.org and Kiva.org. Get gift certificates. That way, your co-workers can decide who to give the money to. As a Google advertiser, I just got a DonorsChoose gift certificate from them in the mail. I’m excited about it because I can give the money to my kid’s classroom directly.