5 Holiday Gift Giving Rules of Etiquette for Professionals

It’s that time of year again, the one where everyone struggles with salutation dilemmas. Should one say the word “Christmas?” Maybe it’s a good idea to add a “Happy Hanukkah, but also Kwanza” too?

But, what about the other religions? Oh boy.

For all the peace and joy of the season, it seems there a ton of rules to follow in the workplace. No wonder most folks hide in their cubicles until the new year.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, you will be much happier if you operate with some guidelines. These aren’t scripture or anything, only one former manager’s take on what works best.

1. Give Down not Up

A good rule by which to abide is the idea that one should only give down, not up. This isn’t a class issue, it’s a matter of regard.

If you are taking home the biggest paycheck, it’s likely because others work hard to support you. They may not suffer your responsibilities, but without them, you won’t have those responsibilities anyway.

Holiday bonuses aside, you may feel it’s warranted to give something more personal to say “thanks.”

If you’re not taking home the biggest check in the place, you can certainly buy a gift for your supervisor, but don’t feel like you have to. Your boss will appreciate the gesture, but not the gift.

Spend your money on your peers, friends, and family if you want to give gifts.

2. Be Consistent

If you give gifts to one team member but not another, assume they will talk. If there’s not a clear reason for the disparity, assume that talk will not be positive.

IMO, this is a slippery slope. I’d rather make sure everyone felt appreciated no matter their contribution. This isn’t annual review time. It’s a time to show some humanity, however insignificant the gesture.

If you’re a frontline or entry-level team member and this is your first December, ask around. Find out what normally happens. There may be a white elephant gift exchange (secret Santa) party. Try to go with the flow as much as possible this round. You can do your own thing next year.

3. Speak up Now

It’s entirely possible that you work with an organization that has rules about gift-giving. In some industries, they do not allow gifts for conflict of interest reasons.

Get to know your company’s policies first. If you are in a position of leadership, make sure everyone else knows the rules. When you’re handing down discipline because someone broke those rules, it’s on you the first time.

Also, make sure others know if you don’t wish to receive gifts. Assume otherwise and you may find your office brimming with fruit cakes and pen sets.

Don’t forget to mention any gift giving spending limits or parameters.

4. Shop Smart

Good gifts for professional environments are not racy or too personal. They might come from a gift shop, but they should be thoughtful in any event.

Work-Related gifts are a safe bet. So are gifts that involve others, like holiday games people can play with work cronies or their family over the holiday.

If you decide to gift charitable donations in someone’s name, avoid controversial and religious organizations.

In general, a personal note with any gift will make it so much more valuable than a pretty bow and quality wrapping paper.

5. Send Thanks

One gift that always works, albeit a little light if you’re the boss, is a genuine thank you. [Bosses: A well-delivered thank you goes well with other gifts.]

Thank-yous land best when tailored to the individual, of course, but not only in your choice of words but your delivery. Some people like notes. Others like to hear you say “thank you.”

Know your people the best you can. Tell them why you’re saying thank you. Don’t say, “thanks for everything this year.” Be specific. Thank you for the way you make everyone feel welcome, is far better than a general gracias.

If someone has given you a gift, at the very least, make sure to thank them too. A word is nice, but a written note is even better. Not thanking your boss for a gift sends the wrong message.

There isn’t a ton of time to put these into play so get cracking. Start with number one, then work your way down. By this time next week, you could be all caught up.

Happy Holidays.