Tips for Holiday Gift-Giving in the Office

One of the many hats the office manager wears is that of CGG (chief gift giver). Here are some tips to help make that process easier this holiday season.

Boss: "So, what holiday gift are we giving employees  this year?"

Admin (thought bubble): "Umm…I have no idea.... it's October…and when did I become the VP of HR?"

Admin (actual response): "I am narrowing the list down now, and will have it settled early next week, boss."

If you're the manager of the office, one of your many hats may be the CGG (chief gift giver) hat. And picking out just the right holiday gift for hard-working employees can be tricky. For starters, you've got a budget to stick to. You've got a diverse group of employees to satisfy. You've got a hard deadline to get it done by. And you've got a million other things to deal with.

No pressure….

Well, before panic sets in, there is some good news – you're not alone. We recently polled some of our customers on holiday gift-giving "best practices" and their responses show that the approaches are varied and the reception even more so. Hopefully, the responses from this informal poll might provide some inspiration on what to do (and what NOT to do!) when it comes to holiday gift-giving in the office and beyond.

The Safe Option: Gift baskets and gift cards are popular gifts and almost always a good option. The more you can cater them to the recipient's personal tastes, the better. Several respondents to our poll said the top of their wish list would be a gift card to a spa or tickets to a sporting event.

Key takeaway: Gift cards work well for larger groups or anonymous gifting (think Secret Santa), but can be hard to personalize.

Wear it Well: Monogrammed or branded clothing or jackets are also popular, but only if they are high-quality items. Our poll found the positive responses regarding clothing included phrases like "a high-quality fleece jacket" or mentioned a specific brand for the clothing, showing it was high-quality. On the negative side were comments like "last year we got a thin t-shirt with our company logo on it."

Key takeaway: If you can't afford quality clothing, try to find another option to fit your budget.

Time Back: A number of respondents said a day (or in some cases a full week) off from work is an extremely appreciated gift, especially around the holidays when time with family and friends is valued. Our Workplace Index found that 91% of workers put in more than 40 hours a week and 40% feel burnt out, so additional time off can have a very positive impact on morale.

Key takeaway: Time off is not possible for all businesses, but it might be the most appreciated by employees.

Charitable Option: Making a charitable donation on behalf of an employee is a generous option, but it has to match the company culture. The key is selecting a charity all (or at least most) employees can get behind. Soliciting suggestions from employees can be a good step.

Key takeaway: Do your homework. Make sure whatever charity you pick is meaningful and, above all, reputable.

Above and Beyond: Of course, there will be some outliers when it comes to gift-giving in the office. A receptionist in our survey said she received an iPad as a gift from her company. One project manager said they received a solid gold ring one year from her employer. An accounting staffer said two employees at her firm were given a paid vacation to Mexico!

Key takeaway: Going big bang for select employees can have a strongly positive impact on that employee, but can breed resentment in the larger employee base if not handled properly.

The Best Practice: While the responses in our poll showed few companies have the perfect gift-giving approach, there was one company in particular that summed up the true spirit of holiday gift giving. Irene Kennedy, an administrative services professional at XL Group in Pennsylvania, said:

"We chip in as a group and give our fantastic boss a gift from all of us. One year we gave him a snow blower.  Last year we used the money to make a donation in his name to Philabundance, a charity to feed hungry families in Philadelphia. He, in turn, gives out gifts that range between $25 and $1,000 in a grab bag each year and also gave us a week off as a gift in the past. Most importantly, he ensures that everyone gets something."

Key takeaway: Gift giving is always best when it is a two-way street. 

Potholes to Avoid: Lastly, we also asked people about the WORST holiday gifts they've received. While we don't want to dwell on the negative too much, here are a few gift ideas you might want to avoid.

  • The table centerpiece at the company Christmas party
  • Flowers (the recipient is allergic to flowers!)
  • A roll of toilet paper
  • Stale candy
  • Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Key takeaway: Whether you're selecting for the whole office or just a colleague, be sure to put some thought into the gift you select. Because at the end of the day, most employees acknowledge, it' really is the thought that counts.