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Office Gifting 101

Giving gifts at work can be overwhelming.  Unlike shopping for your best friend, whose likes and dislikes you intimately know; buying something for someone you don’t know on a personal level will take a little more thought and preparation.

The best way to go about office gifting is to take a little time now to figure out who you need to buy for, how much you can afford to spend, and what the interests are of the intended recipient.

Who You Need to Buy For

There are a few people you really should take the time to shop for:

- Your Boss
- Your Boss' Boss
- Clients
- Colleagues
- Subordinates (Your Team)
- The person who saved your huge project from certain disaster
- The person in the office who, for reason’s you don’t quite understand bought you a gift.

Choosing an Appropriate Gift:

Your Boss, Your Boss’ Boss:  While an extravagant gift may seem like it would make a good impression, the fact is that your boss knows how much money you make.  If you give a gift that is way out of your budget he or she might feel uncomfortable or might think you aren’t good at managing money.   Either way this is not the impression you would like to make.  If your budget is small, be creative.

For the boss that has absolutely everything, consider a charitable donation in his or her name (see caveat below), or maybe a jar of your signature chutney.

Steer clear of gift cards and/or gift certificates with dollar amounts on them for your superiors. It is far better to give an inexpensive gift that is thoughtful and original.

Clients:  This is your chance to leave an impression about you, your company, and the work you do.

Rollerball Pen

Look into custom-printed fortune cookies, M &M’s in company colors, or a gift certificate to the local coffee house (include a note “take a coffee break on me”).  A business card case with your card inside, a memo board, a good quality letter opener or a nice rollerball pen also make great gifts.

While a paper weight may seem useful, it is far from unique.  Chances are your client has 15 of them in his or her bottom desk drawer.

Colleagues: Which colleagues should you include?  Start with co-workers you have a special connection with or those whom you work closely with.  If in doubt hold back and when/if they present you with a gift, you can pull an extra gift out of your drawer and he or she will never know you hadn’t planned it for months.

Sticky Notes

Give something useful.  Even if your budget is tight, a business card holder, a $5 certificate to the local coffee house or juice bar, or even a set of pretty or clever sticky notes will show you care without breaking the bank.
Nobody likes a show-off.  Buying everyone you’ve ever bumped into in the elevator an
I Pod makes you look silly and them feel uncomfortable.

Subordinates (Your Team): This is your chance to personally thank everyone for their hard work.  While they may receive a company bonus that you had influence over, you must still give a more personal token of gratitude.

Try to buy the same thing or items of comparable value for everyone on the team.  They will compare notes.

Luggage Tags

Standard yellow sticky notes that could easily be acquired from the office supply cabinet will not breed goodwill amongst your team members.   Give the guy with a great sense of humor a package of Cubicle NotesPamela Barsky Luggage Tags will be helpful to the frequent flier on your team, and give a Mod Pen to the gal who always needs your signature but can never find her pen.

The person you forgot and shouldn’t have, OR the person who shouldn’t have gotten you something but did.  The holidays are a busy time.  You’re bound to forget someone, even someone you really value, and occasionally someone will surprise you with a gift you’re not sure you even deserve.

Designer Pencils

Keep extra gender neutral gifts on hand for the inevitable ‘oops.’  Business Card Holders, a cool looking pen, or even a package of designer pencils make easy-to-store gifts that can be used for any occasion.

Re-gifting in the office is very risky. You’re bound to get caught, maybe even by both the original giver and the receiver.  If you’ve used your last back-up gift, admit your mistake and promise to take the person out to lunch or coffee.   Then follow through.

A Few Caveats on Office Gift Giving

Charitable giving

While making a charitable donation seems like a no-brainer, there are some things to keep in mind before choosing a charity.

Know your audience. A donation to your local art museum may not be well received by your child’s first year teacher who is still paying off student loans.  Consider instead a personal gift, a gift card, or maybe something for the classroom.

Consider all angles.  A popular charity purchases farm animals to feed families in developing countries.  While that might sound great to you, it would probably be offensive/repulsive to a vegetarian (and, yes I have seen this happen).

You don’t need to start asking a lot of personal questions, or stalking a co-worker to see if she orders the veggie burger for lunch.  If you’re unsure of a person’s affiliations, consider having a tree planted in his or her honor.   

Gift from an Employer to Employees

Employers should consult their tax advisor about gifts.  Gift certificates and actual cash gifts are taxable, just like a pay check.  While an employer may give an item such as a fruit basket to an employee, a gift certificate for a fruit basket is considered taxable. 

Take into consideration cultural differences.  If you do business internationally you will need to be particularly careful to avoid sending gifts that go against local customs or traditions.
Unless you know the recipient well, avoid giving gifts of alcohol, candy, or meat products which are all potentially problematic.

Whatever you choose to give this season remember to spread some holiday cheer.  Get in touch with your inner elf by anonymously putting candy canes in everyone’s in box; offer to stay late so a co-worker can leave early to finish her Christmas shopping; or coordinate a toy drive in your office. There are many ways to give that cost very little but mean a lot.

Happy Holidays from all of us at See Jane Work.

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