5 Tips for Mastering Gift Giving at Work

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Robert Half International

holidaysThe holidays are here, and that means it's gift-giving season. While you probably know what to get your Aunt Millie and Grandpa Ed, you may be at a loss when it comes to your co-workers, boss or other business contacts.

In fact, exchanging presents with people at work is fraught with uncertainty. What's an appropriate gift for a work friend? How much should you spend? Should you bother giving gifts at all?

Fear not. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the gray areas:


1. Don't feel pressured. Because of economic conditions, gift giving is likely to be on the decline this year, so don't think you need to purchase presents for colleagues or business contacts. There are many low- or no-cost ways to express your appreciation. For example, do you have a skill or talent that you could use? Homemade jelly or a handmade bookmark, for instance, could be treasured by recipients. A holiday card with a personalized message also could be a good alternative. You may even consider simply spending time with someone by taking the person to lunch, grabbing coffee or volunteering at a charity event together.

If a colleague gives you a present, don't think you need to reciprocate. Responding with a thank-you note is appropriate and will be appreciated by your co-worker.

2. Understand office tradition. If you do decide to hand out presents, make sure you are aware of the gift-giving etiquette that your colleagues practice. Each firm is different. For instance, at your office, managers may traditionally give gifts to staff-level employees, but not expect to receive anything in return. In some offices, giving gifts to others may not be customary. If you aren't sure of the prevailing practice, speak with people you know around the office for insight.

3. Know your recipient. It's usually pretty easy to buy presents for friends and family because you know them well and can identify items that suit their personalities or align with their interests. But unless you are particularly close to a co-worker, you might not have much to go on. If that's the case, try to find out more about the people for whom you're planning to buy gifts. You may pick up clues from pictures or knickknacks in their work space or by asking others who know them better. Just remember, the more thoughtful the item, the more the recipient will appreciate it.

4. Give outside the office with care. If you have a client, customer or business contact whom you work with frequently, you might want to give that person a gift as well. Before doing so, make sure you are aware of any policies your firm or the other person's company has about giving or receiving items from those outside the organization. Some businesses, for instance, ask that employees not give or accept presents that are worth more than a certain amount of money in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Also make sure you are aware of your company's policy on reimbursement for client gifts. Don't purchase costly client gifts assuming you will be paid back. Your company may not have a gift policy. Or, as is the case with many organizations, the firm may have already purchased items that can be given to your clients.

5. Stay on the safe side. The slightly rude, but incredibly funny, shirt you'd love to give to the person whose desk is next to yours? Save it for someone outside the office. When it comes to gift giving in the workplace, remember that your professional image is at stake. Always err on the side of caution.




Next: Do's and Don'ts of Gift Giving at Work >>


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Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm, with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.

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