Avoid gifting yourself a bad name with your co-workers

| December 4, 2020

If we are honest, the answer to almost every workplace-related festive season question is as clear as the difference between black and white.

You should not wear that ridiculous snowman necktie, the “look at me” flashing earring baubles or that tacky red reindeer blouse to the office.

Yes, you should attend the end-of-the-year office party, particularly if your boss is paying. Watch what you drink and no, it is not alright to show off your dodgiest dance moves.

But when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of workplace gift giving, the dynamics make things less clear cut.

Of all the workplace issues you are likely to encounter this festive season, the dilemma likely to “gift” you the most grief is the challenge of knowing what, if anything, to give your colleagues.

Is it okay to give a present to some colleagues but not others? What should you give and how much should you spend? And, perhaps even more challenging, is it necessary to give the boss a gift?

The challenges inherent in gift-giving will make you think that the best and easiest option may be to not give gifts to anyone in the workplace.

But before you “gift out”, some simple guidelines can help you navigate this complex issue and avoid any misgivings.

Yes, you can buy a gift for some colleagues and not others. After all, it is natural that we form closer bonds with some but not others in our working lives. Having said that, it is unwise to exchange gifts in front of those who failed to make your list.

You do not need to buy the boss a gift. Stick to the rule of thumb that gifts should flow downwards and rarely upwards.

If you do buy the boss a gift and regardless of how genuine you try to be, you will always run the risk of being seen as a sycophant.

Besides, even if the boss has gone out of their way to accommodate you during this pandemic, you should be able to get by with a simple note of thanks.

There is also the difficult issue of exactly how much to spend.

You do not want to attract the hard-to-shake reputation of being the office cheapskate. Nor do you want to be seen to be buying favours by showering colleagues with lavish, expensive gifts.

While there are no hard and fast rules about how much to spend – and in the absence of compelling reasons to do otherwise – most gifts should cost between $20 and $50.

But once you settle on who to buy for and how much to spend, you will be faced with an even bigger challenge – what to buy.

Over the years, the challenge of choosing an appropriate gift has become complicated if not treacherous, with many workers struggling to buy a gift for someone they might not know well, or not like, or really like.

These gifts are therefore increasingly landing the giver in hot water, with even the most colourfully decorated packages containing something inappropriate, highly suggestive or just “plain wrong”.

Let’s be clear: abizarre, unsuitable, disappointing or tasteless office gift will rarely be forgiven or forgotten.

Examples of gifts gone wrong are endless.

Paul from accounts, well known for his lingering body odour, receives a bar of soap-on-a-rope and a deodorant pack; office supervisor and resident micromanager Mary gets the book Management for Dummies;and Andrew, a devout atheist, is gifted a bible.

And let us not forget the $25 gift card for an upmarket restaurant, the marijuana leaf ornament or smoking apparatus and the weight-loss cookbook, all of which can leave recipients marinating in misery.

Make sure you avoid office gifts including those with sexual overtones that might lead to allegations of harassment; those that ooze a sense of humour that might backfire; and self-help books which might be taken the wrong way.

And steer clear of insulting T-shirts; diet books or products which might upset; personal hygiene products that might be suggestive of grooming issues; and anything related to religion.

Instead, plaster your colleagues with gifts such as chocolates and sweets, plants, a donation to a person’s favourite charity or even a board game.

Be aware, too, of gifts that keep on giving. The ultimate insult for most workers is to discover they have been a victim of re-gifting.

While this can work a treat if the original packaging is intact, be wary of offering a tie you wore to work only days earlier before deciding it was not for you; gifting a toaster with crumbs in it; handing over a gift voucher you have had for some time and which will expire in four weeks; or presenting a new-looking but stained coffee mug.

At the end of the day, if finances are tight but you still want to do something for all of your colleagues without breaking the bank, buy one big box of chocolates to be shared among the entire team.

That way your colleagues will recognise your intention was simply to “gift” your best.