Last Minute Gifts for Your Boss and Co-Workers

No matter what your religion, income level, or status in your company's pecking order, there's a good chance you'll feel the need to give a gift at the last minute to someone in your workplace this holiday season.

Even in tough times, office "Secret Santa" scenarios are still going strong, and company parties with gift exchanges are standard sources of entertainment the week before Christmas.

Then there's the boss -- even if he or she doesn't expect anything from you, the one suck up who does give a gift and makes a big deal of it puts everyone else in a bad light, so chances are you'll feel obligated.

A recent survey done by the Liberty Mutual Responsibility Project that explored financial burdens and spending etiquette behind holiday gifting found that:

  • 57% of Americans will gift their co-workers
  • 42% of Americans will gift their boss
  • 31% of Americans will gift those who report to them directly at work

Common sense and 50 percent of Americans agree that you should consider how much someone else can afford to spend in return when purchasing a gift for them. The last thing you want recipients to feel is obligated to give you something of equal value when they might not be as well situated as you are.

What to give the Big Cheese

The boss presents a particular dilemma. You are certainly not obligated to return a gift of equal value to your year-end bonus -- that's coming out of the company's pocket, not your boss's. But a little something to show appreciation for your paycheck is always a good idea, no matter how you feel about him or her. Your best bet, and dare we say, the most strategic option, is to get your boss something that can be shared with their family or friends.

Think of it this way: You give your boss a nice fruit basket, gourmet popcorn tin, bottle of wine (if the boss drinks alcohol), cheese basket (taking into consideration lactose intolerance), box of chocolates, gift book, etc. The boss takes the gift home to the family and everyone enjoys it so much they want to know who provided it. Then you have the boss's entire family in your corner. They ask about you all year long, and remember you the next holiday season. This is not a bad position to be in. This move might not exactly fall into the true spirit of giving category, but these days you need all the help you can get.

Margaret, for example, a manager at a wholesale company in Texas, found out what kind of cigars her boss preferred, and purchased three rather expensive ones for him. He thought of her fondly every time he smoked one. Devin gave his boss a nice, $29 bottle of wine that he'd remembered the boss's wife enjoying at a company dinner. He received a thank you note from her, saying that they had toasted him at a dinner party. A little "good will" never hurts.

Warning: When it comes to the boss, avoid humorous and/or joke gifts. Exploding golf balls may seem funny in the catalog, but you can bet they will be unappreciated on the golf course. That T-shirt with the sardonic saying might not seem too amusing in private, and unless you've read every word, you never know what offense might be taken from the humorous book received as a gift.

What to give your co-workers

Basic colleague etiquette suggests that you should give a gift to anyone who gives you one. It's a good idea to have a couple of un-designated gifts on hand, just in case someone hands you a neatly wrapped package and you never dreamed of getting anything for them. With so many allergies, special dietary requirements and sensitivity to political correctness, it's hard to have a generic, one-size fits all gift on hand that will be appropriate for either gender, but a few suggestions include:

  • A mug containing bags of herbal tea
  • A card with a gift certificate to a local eatery like Subway, or a coffee shop like Starbucks -- discount stores like Costco carry them for less than face value, and the ones you don't give out at work can be used as holiday tips to those who provide services for you throughout the year.
  • Little black gloves, festively wrapped, that expand to fit anyone's hand
  • A nicely colored candle, not too heavily scented
  • Two sets of lacquered chopsticks, which can be found inexpensively online or in a local Asian shop
  • A small, live fresh herb, like rosemary, basil or thyme, growing in a cheerful pot; this also makes a great gift if you want to give a little something to everyone in your department. You can get them for $3 apiece or less, and they look fun sitting on people's desks. Co-workers can actually become competitive about whose grows fastest.
  • A small bottle of gourmet olive oil
  • A bag of homemade treats -- fudge and English toffee keep well, and are enjoyed by just about everyone.
  • A jar of homemade delicacies; if you or anyone in your family makes jam, cocoa mix or barbecue rub, for example, you have the perfect gift for everyone.

These gifts, by the way, are also perfect for ye-olde office gift exchange. The most popular spending limit on this type of event is $20, according to the Liberty Mutual project survey, and if your limit is in that ball park, upscale versions of the above-mentioned gifts are always available.

In a perfect world it's the thought that counts, and we'd all sincerely wish each other a million dollars and be done with it. But most people's workplaces are far from perfect, and it's never a bad idea to have all your gift-giving bases covered.

What are your thoughts on the subject of gift giving in the workplace? Have you found the perfect gift for your boss or co-workers? Do tell!

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