The Etiquette of Exchanging Holiday Gifts in the Office

These seven tips will help you keep your workplace merry and bright this season.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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Whether you're giving a gift to a favorite co-worker or participating in the annual office gift exchange, you're probably facing the question of -- "What do I get this person for the holidays?"

While gift-giving is normal during the holiday season, the exchange at work can be tricky. You don't want to go over the top, yet you don't want to come across as stingy. You want to keep it professional, yet you want to give something with meaning. What's the solution?

Related: Avoid These 4 Business Gift-Giving Faux Pas

Here are a few quick etiquette tips for office gift-giving.

1. Make it an option.

Invite everyone to participate in the gift-exchange ritual but don't obligate anyone. Respect a person's reasons for bowing out, which may include personal, religious or economic concerns.

2. Set a spending cap.

To help define the parameters of what is expected, set a spending limit for gifts. This gives everyone a guideline and makes selecting a gift a little bit easier. This practice will also eliminate inequality in gift giving which could occur and possibly cause jealousy or bad feelings.

3. Do some sleuthing.

Surprise your colleague or co-worker with a gift you know they'll like by doing a little investigative work first. Learn about their interests, hobbies, goals, family, likes and dislikes. Often, people display their personalities in how they decorate their desk areas; this could be your first clue. This also might be a great time to take that person to lunch and learn more about them. You'll accomplish your goal and make a new ally.

Related: 8 Simple Tips for Giving the Best Business Holiday Gifts

4. Don't get personal.

When tailoring your gift to a person's likes, try to avoid anything that is too personal. Steer clear of roses, lingerie or other intimate apparel, cosmetics or after shave. Even wine or tobacco products can be considered inappropriate for the office. Instead, stick to office- or career-related gifts or gift cards.

5. Don't try to be funny.

One person's humor can be another person's mortification. Try to avoid humorous or inside-joke gifts at this time of year. You don't want to risk offending or insulting anyone around the gift-giving table, as this could lead to irreparable damage with your business relationships. Instead, choose a gift that someone will appreciate and use.

6. Pool your spending power.

If there is one person, like a boss, mentor or coach, for whom everyone in the office wants to purchase a gift, consider chipping in together and giving a group gift. Your spending power will go much farther, plus you won't look as if you're trying to win favor with any particular person.

7. Say thank you.

No matter who gives you a gift, be sure to say thank you. A verbal response is nice, but it's always better to take the time and send a handwritten note or holiday card. And remember, you're under no obligation to reciprocate a gift if someone surprises you with a gift. However, it might be helpful to keep a supply of small, pre-wrapped gifts inside your desk drawer, just in case.

The office gift exchange is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. If you follow these tips, you'll foster friendships and keep your workplace merry and bright.

Related: The 10 Weirdest Office Holiday Gifts

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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