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Navigating the Waters of Office Gift Buying

Pop quiz

Quick — what do the following have in common: a gift certificate to a tattoo and body-piercing shop; used make-up; a do-it-yourself tooth whitening kit?

  1. They can all be used to improve your appearance.
  2. They're part of the Miley Cyrus "Ultimate Gift Set" on sale at fine retailers nationwide.
  3. They'll go down in history as some of the worst holiday gifts ever given at work.

If you answered a or b, you need this article to stay afloat during gift-giving season. But even if you said c, and you're thinking, "Why would anyone in his right mind buy these things for co-workers?" read on. This article is packed with "Dos" and "Don'ts" for navigating the potentially treacherous waters of office gift buying.


  • Your homework — especially if you're new to the organization. Check the company handbook or consult the HR manager to determine your office's policy on gift giving. You may also want to ask around to find out what co-workers have done in the past.
  • Put yourself in the recipient's shoes. Find something that is appropriate based on his likes/dislikes and personal tastes.
  • Go in on a group gift for the boss. What boss wouldn't rather get a 9-iron or spa day, as opposed to a dozen paperweights? When coordinating a group gift, set a reasonable contribution limit to be mindful of income differences — and make sure everyone signs the card.
  • Err on the side of caution. Keep holiday gift giving from backfiring by selecting tasteful and appropriate gifts. If, under any circumstances your gift could be considered even remotely inappropriate (see "Pop Quiz," above), keep looking.
  • Think philanthropically. Instead of exchanging gifts, consider making a group donation to a charity. You could also organize a group to volunteer for a day in a local soup kitchen.
  • Wrap the gift. Nice packaging will add value to your gift and demonstrate you're organized, neat, and "willing to go the extra mile."


  • Try to score "Brownie points" — by giving your boss a lavish gift. Both co-workers and superiors may view the gesture as brown-nosing. A well-written thank-you note will come across as more sincere and appropriate.
  • Give gag gifts. Is there really any explanation needed here?
  • Forget that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Or Hanukkah. In fact, some don't celebrate a holiday of any kind during December.
  • Conspicuously exclude co-workers from your gift giving. If you work with 10 people and only want to buy gifts for four, exchange presents off-site to avoid hurt feelings.
  • Be late with your gift. Have it ready the day of your company's gift exchange.

Still in doubt about what to buy? No problem. Stick with ideas on this list and you're sure to sail smoothly through this holiday season.

Fail-Safe Gifts

  1. Gift card to a popular retailer
  2. Technology organizer / phone dock
  3. Pen set
  4. Food basket
  5. Stationery
  6. Tea or coffee
  7. Picture frame
  8. Personalized business card holder
  9. Fine chocolate
  10. Gift certificate to a day spa or restaurant