‘Tis the season to be jolly, and many people in the workplace like to express their joy through gift-giving. However, one bad or inappropriate gift can quickly change the workplace dynamics.

Worst Gifts Ever

CareerBuilder’s annual list of the most “unusual” holiday gifts exchanged in the workplace include the following:

  • A fake lottery ticket
  • A pen holder that looks like a crime scene victim
  • A whip
  • A handmade ornament for a sports team the recipient had never heard of
  • A singing chicken
  • Two left-handed gloves
  • A coconut bra
  • A jar of gravy
  • Toilet paper that looked like money
  • A bottle of dish washing detergent
  • Post-it notes
  • A comic book of an obscure movie
  • A real stuffed duck

To Gift or Not to Gift?

Should co-workers and managers even exchange gifts? How appropriate is this practice?

Staffing firm Robert Half surveyed HR managers to find out. The results are below.

When asked how appropriate it is for managers to give their employees a holiday gift, the responses were as follows:

17% – Very appropriate – it’s a must.

46% – Somewhat appropriate – it depends on the work relationship

21% – Somewhat inappropriate  – it can seem like you’re playing favorites unless all employees get a gift

16% – Very inappropriate – it shouldn’t be done

When asked how appropriate it is for employees to give their manager a holiday gift, the responses were as follows:

10% – Very appropriate – it’s a must

48% – Somewhat appropriate – it depends on the work relationships

22% – Somewhat inappropriate – it can seem like you’re currying favor

20% – Very inappropriate – shouldn’t be done

While the majority of HR managers felt that gift-giving was appropriate, it’s important to note that many of them were wary of this practice (37% thought it was either somewhat or very inappropriate for managers to give gifts to employees, and 42% thought it was either somewhat or very inappropriate for employees to give gifts to their manager).

How Much Should You Spend?

If you do purchase gifts, how much should they cost? Kimberly Stiener-Murphy, regional vice president at Robert Half, tells HER Magazine that while it’s acceptable for managers and employees to exchange gifts during the holiday season, they shouldn’t get carried away with the price. She says that supervisors typically spend $24 on gifts for employees, and employees usually spend approximately $20.

“For a manager in particular, it is appropriate to give some type of token to your employees as a thank-you for their hard work,” Stiener-Murphy explains. “It’s also a great retention tool to show them how much you appreciate their efforts.”

The CareerBuilder survey reveals that 73% of employees and managers plan to spend roughly $25 on a gift. However, 33% plan to spend approximately $10, and 11% says they would spend no more than $5 on a gift.

Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Gifts

So what type of gift is appropriate? Steiner Murphy advises gift-givers to put some thought into the gift by trying to discover what the recipient enjoys. For example, a coffee lover might enjoy a gift-card to their favorite coffee shop. It’s a safe bet that chocolate lovers would like gourmet chocolates. Candles, fancy tea, no-spill travel mugs, phone charging cords, desk accessories, hand-held stress balls, and even umbrellas, are other possible gift ideas.

The list at the top of the article provides examples of the types of gifts that should not be given at the office. Most people know to steer clear of intimate gifts like lingerie. While the person who gave the coconut bra was probably being funny, this action could be interpreted as sexual harassment. Unless it’s a very tight-knit group that frequently plays jokes on each other, avoid gag gifts because they could produce an unintended response.

Also, avoid the temptation to give gifts that highlight perceived flaws in the recipient. For example, don’t give a book on assertiveness to someone who is considered meek and mild-mannered. And even though one coworker always talks about going on a diet, don’t give them dieting material because your actions could be interpreted as you think they need to lose weight.

Stiener-Murphy adds that in the event that there is a group exchange of gifts, managers should stress that participation is optional. Finally, as the recipient of a gift, you should always demonstrate thankfulness and appreciation. Consider a handwritten thank-you note to convey these sentiments.



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