rules for office gift-giving

A couple of people have asked me to write about gift-giving at work. Here are the guidelines I espouse:

1. Don’t buy a gift for your boss (with the exception in #2 below).

2. It’s nice to bring in food items for people at this time of year, either something you leave in the kitchen for the whole office to share or individually wrapped baked goods that you give to people .. and this is the one thing I’d advocate giving to your boss. (I make rum balls, doubling the rum. This is generally a hit.)  This can also count as your gifts to people, and you don’t need to do anything else if you do this.

3. You don’t need to do anything else anyway, if you don’t want to. Gifts aren’t obligatory.

4. A corollary to #3: Don’t feel pressured into spending money on anything you can’t afford.

5. Don’t give an extravagant gift to that coworker down the hall who you have a crush on, because that’s going to be awkward. Unless it’s a framed photo of yourself, in which case I think you’re awesome.

6. If your office does a group gift exchange, try to find something fun (and low-cost) to do with it so that you don’t have a bunch of people struggling to find gifts for people they might not know that well. For instance, I recently heard about an office that did a sock exchange: Everyone had to buy one pair of socks, wrap it, and bring it in, and then they did that Yankee Swap thing where you can steal a gift from someone else or choose a new one. People got really into finding weird, garish, or generally ridiculous socks and apparently all found it hilarious.  Do something like that.

7. Don’t give inappropriate gifts, like the time I turned 21 and my creepy boss gave me a pack of wine coolers and a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret.

That’s all I’ve got. What did I miss?

{ 92 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Can we have a 1a. Don’t solicit $ from everyone for a gift for the boss, please! My gift to my boss is being a good employee and I think it’s priceless!

  2. Suzanne Lucas*

    If you’re a manager, give inappropriate gifts and then next year remind your employees how inappropriate they were and tell them to submit them to Evil HR Lady’s annual bad gift post.

    1. Josh S*


      AAM–that was you in Suzanne’s post about the worst, creepiest gifts from a boss!?! I had no idea, and it was (IMO) the worst gift of the whole bunch in her article!

  3. Eve*

    I work in an office of all women and we usually make things to give each other. We are all very crafty so it is awesome to see what others can do. We also do a white elephant gift swap at the Christmas party and that can be hilarious too and it’s nice because everything is low cost and low pressure.

  4. Samantha*

    I agree with Anon’s 1a.

    And for gift exchanges in the office – just don’t. Don’t. They just aren’t a good idea. My only exception to this is one I read about recently where people drew names and then went and bought a new toy that they thought their person would have played with as a kid and the toys were all donated to a charity. That would be ok. And fun. I really disagree with gift exchanges at work.

    And I really don’t want my boss giving me a present. If you want to spend money on staff I’m completely in favour of a lunch out or a box of chocolates, etc for the office or give out Christmas cards and inside are notations that you gave money to charity in your staff’s name.

    1. fposte*

      We changed to a gift exchange because we were suffering from gift inflation–people started to feel obliged to give gifts to several different people, and many of those involved didn’t have a lot of extra money. So we went with a gift exchange with a low cash value ceiling ($10) and an encouragement of baked goods and homemade stuff, and I think it’s been a useful solution–people don’t worry who they should be giving gifts to. I think it was either that or banning gifts altogether, which 1) wouldn’t work and 2) is a little unpleasant both in dampening morale and in anticipating gifts.

      I’m probably the grinchiest of the crowd, and even I can handle this.

      1. fposte*

        Just to be clear, I mean “exchange” as in “each of us draws one name and gives a present to that person.”

      2. Lee L*

        I’ve been on the receiving end of one of these $10 limit gifts. Sadly it was a $10 gift certificate to a gas station. While useful, it was not a thoughtful gift.

  5. TheAssistant*

    I work in an office of 20, and I’m the office assistant, so gifts for everyone are out of my budget.

    But what if your supervisor always gets you something really nice? We have a great relationship, and I felt terrible last year when I received a lovely gift from my coworkers. I’ve made some hot fudge sauce for her, but somehow that doesn’t seem appropriate. Are there any exceptions (other than food) to the No Boss Gifts rule?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I tend to believe that if you have an assistant, you should give something nice to that person — but the assistant should just graciously accept and not worry about giving something back. Unless it’s food. I’m telling you, food is the way to go. Preferably homemade.

      1. Paige*

        I just love your comment (and agree completely – getting food, especially hot fudge sauce or something sweet someone made always rules. Unless you know for a fact they never wash their hands, then ew.)

  6. Kim Stiens*

    Alison, I read that Evil HR lady article and never connected that that was you. Hilarious! You should just buy those things for yourself now, every Christmas, since you’re your own boss. :)

    And what’s with the gift exchange hate? We’re doing a Secret Santa in my office, and so far things seem to be going well… I guess we don’t know until the holiday party, where we exchange..

    1. Nethwen*

      The problem with a gift exchange is that it is difficult for people to opt out. I’ve worked at camps where we had a “Secret Angel” similar to the Christmas Secret Santa and I opted out because I couldn’t afford it, even with the low dollar ceiling. I got several questions about why I wasn’t participating. At some camps, the directors were vocally supportive of people who opted out; at others, not participating caused a “she’s so stuck up – she must hate us” reputation.

      You say “so far things seem to be going well.” I wonder how many of your co-workers agonized over how to get out of this event and finally went along simply to avoid rocking the boat. Just because someone is smiling, that doesn’t mean they are happy.

      1. Kim Stiens*

        We’re a small office (we have 11 people right now), and 2 opted out. Maybe they are secretly agonizing, but it hasn’t caused any problems as far as I can tell.

        1. JT*

          I think in an office with a healthy culture it shouldn’t be hard to opt out. If the culture is not so healthy, it could be a problem.

          I told the organizers of a gift exchange I wasn’t participating for a few years. No problem, but it did cause me a little (probably unwarranted) stress the first time I did that. It would have been better if the organizers or management had said something like “We’ll be having a gift exchange. Before getting into details, we know this is a very busy time of year for everyone, so if you’d rather not participate, that is fine….”

    2. Suz*

      I hate Secret Santa. You never get someone you know well enough to give a decent gift to. You always draw the name of the person you know the least and have no idea what they would like.

      My mom told me one year at her office, over half the people received hot chocolate from their Secret Santas because no one knew what to give their recipient.

      1. Kim Stiens*

        Yeah, I think Secret Santa is not the way to go unless you have a small office (still can have the same problem, but you’re at least more likely to know people). For larger or less personal offices, one of those Yankee Swaps where everyone brings in intentionally terrible gifts (or at least generic ones, since you have no idea who they go to) are a better idea.

      2. Joe*

        I run the Secret Non-Denominational Wintertime Gift-Giving Holiday Person exchange (I wish I could claim credit for the over-the-top PC name, but it predates me) in my office, and since we’re a large office, and a lot of people won’t know each other, the sign up (it’s opt-in, rather than opt-out) includes a form with a bunch of questions so that your SNDWGGHP will know more about the kinds of things you like. Your form gets emailed to the person who is giving to you when the assignments are done. That gets around the problem of people not knowing what to give.

    3. Jen M.*

      Those are fun. A previous group of mine did this, and I really enjoyed it.

      In that group, since you only had one giftee, people tended to give nice (but not always expensive) gifts. I still have a Japanese tea set one coworker gave me. :)

  7. Lee*

    At my office it’s the norm to exchange gifts with your boss – last year I gave mine a bottle of wine (I know he drinks!) and a little tin of homemade treats. He got me a bottle of wine as well and a gift card to a housewares store (I had just recently moved and still didn’t have all the supplies I needed; now that I reflect on this it shows how much he pays attention!)

    Now this year I’m stressing a bit because I don’t know what to get….is it bad to give the same gift 2 years in a row?! The wine/treats were inexpensive/personal so I think it was a good combo. This year – I’m stuck.

    Looks like I’m in the minority here, based on AAM’s advice and reader feedback. Regardless – Merry Christmas everyone!

    1. Kim Stiens*

      Eggnogg and brownies! If they drink, they can always spike up eggnogg. If they don’t, then its fine! Of course, I don’t like eggnogg… but it’s not like I’d be mad if someone gave me some!

    2. TW*

      I am with you in the minority of people that always gives a gift to their boss. But I have also worked closely with my boss for six years and we know each other very well. We always exchange nice gifts with each other.

      This year I got him a book written by a comic I know he likes. It was a good gift that was not too expensive.

      1. Lesley*

        I also got my boss a bottle of wine. It’s a consumable, so I think you could give the same thing again.

    3. Anonymous*

      I work in a family run business and the owners (semi-retired) of the company plus their son run it, then they have a CFO, and I work closely w/ all 4. This year I bought each of them a bottle of wine (inexpensive) and a set of funny cocktail napkins. I’ve been there almost 6 years and this is the first year I’ve done that. We used to do the “pitch in” gift, but the person who used to do that is no longer w/ the company. I also got a nice gift for 3 other people I work closely w/ in the office. I just wanted to do this for them; every year who knows? But I know its something they’ll all enjoy, and this year I could do it, so why not?

  8. Anonymous*

    I really just wanted to get my coworkers a Chia pet, but other people have discouraged me on the count of it being absolutely cheesy. But after the crap they put me through this year, I couldn’t think of anything nicer.

    1. Andrew*

      I got a Chia Pet one year as a Christmas gift from a coworker and it remains one of my favorite office gifts ever. It became a great conversation piece as people would stop by daily to observe the plant growth . I even named it.

      Go for it!

  9. Samantha*

    My issue with a gift exchange (or giving gifts in the office) is that it’s just another thing that people have to do at Christmas. I personally think there is too much mass consumerism at Christmas anyhow (and take that statement however you want it) and really don’t see a need for people to exchange more gifts. I think most people are really fortunate and in a work environment they already have jobs, clothes on their backs, houses to live in, cars to drive, food on their tables etc and more gifts isn’t really necessary. I would much rather it be nothing at all or something for charity. I would very gladly participate in a charity function. And before you ask no my family doesn’t exchange gifts (I also have no children) – we give money to charity instead. I don’t really need anything, my siblings don’t really need anything, nor do my parents.

    My other issue is that the office is my workplace. It’s not filled with people who I choose to hang out; it’s filled with people I work with. I don’t necessarily want to socialize with them and I definitely don’t want to be “forced” to buy a gift for them. And don’t tell me people can opt out because you know it doesn’t happen easily. I have done it in the past and people thought I was a complete nutball. Not that I care because I won’t back down on this. LOL

    And my third issue is that you don’t know everyone’s finances (nor should you). Just because it’s a low ceiling (ie $10 or $20) doesn’t mean that it’s affordable for everyone. When you are really counting pennies every bit counts – even $10. Lots of people get unforeseen expenses and to add more stress on top of it is needless imo. And these people shouldn’t have to say I can’t participate because I can’t afford it. Why does it even have to come up?

    1. fposte*

      Admittedly, I’m dealing with a pretty small unit where we know each other fairly well, which makes it easier. But the problem for me was that without the gift exchange the pressure was apparently worse for people and the expenditures were certainly higher. It’s absolutely true that the gift exchange may not be problem-free for all the employees, but I think it’s reduced the problems, and sometimes all you can hope for is minimizing problems rather than completely solving them.

    2. Anonymous*

      I agree completely. At one job I had we had a secret Santa gift exchange that started in October (weekly small gifts with a large one at the Christmas party), a potluck Christmas party with a dirty Santa ornament exchange, a cookie exchange (a dozen cookies for everyone who participated), an “angel tree” for needy people in our community, and people would bring a card and small gift on the day of the party to give to everyone. We were a department of about 20 people and by the third year I realized I was spending more on Christmas at the office than I was at home and opted out of almost everything. But, it was very uncomfortable to opt out. Many years I couldn’t afford it- but no one in the office would have expected that. Once I got financially stable I opted out simply because I thought it was beyond excessive.

      1. Kim Stiens*

        Well, that is completely excessive for a workplace. Weekly gift? Secret Santa and Dirty Santa and a cookie exchange and, even still, gifts for everyone at the end? That’s waaaaay overboard, and no wonder it was uncomfortable to opt out: if you did so, you were opting out of 3 months of office socializing.

        I think making it a charity function doesn’t help, I’ve read all about people who have a “voluntary” charity drive at their workplace, and they often feel the same way… if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Where the money is going doesn’t change where it’s coming from.

        And as far as opting out being difficult, I have two opinions on this. First, I feel that this is totally different than, say, praying in school, where I’m totally in favor of keeping it illegal because it creates uncomfortable pressure to conform. In children. I feel like if you’re willing to sacrifice your financial well-being because you can’t say no to a Secret Santa, the main problem there is you. I mean, if your office culture is as uncomfortably oppressive as all that, you’ve got bigger problems than Secret Santa. And if you don’t feel comfortable saying “no” just because you don’t know if a lot of other people are saying “no,” then that’s a personal problem that has nothing to do with your boss or co-workers.

        I think that if you make it very, very clear in office communications that participation is voluntary, everything will be fine. I guess if you work in a really crappy place where your co-workers will make you feel bad for not participating, that sucks, but since I like the people I work with, and frequently see them outside of work, this is not a problem at our workplace.

        1. Samantha*

          The problem is that most places don’t make it clear that it is “voluntary”. Or that they have even thought of making it voluntary. I have worked in a lot of places and there have been Secret Santas at many of them. I always get the hairy eyeball when I opt out. I just don’t get the need to do a gift exchange at work. There can be other fun things to do at Christmas.

          My other problem with a gift exchange is that not every one is Christian.

          1. fposte*

            Sure. I’m just trying to give you the manager’s perspective on why they can be better than the alternative, and why therefore you might be in offices that do them. It sucks that you get the hairy eyeball (I speak as somebody who in school once had to wrap a ruler in notebook paper for a classwide gift exchange), and I’m sorry that that happens.

            1. Samantha*

              oh I totally get where you are coming from and I think what you set up is much better.

              I really don’t care that much if I get the hairy eyeball – I think it’s quite amusing to be honest. People aren’t going to talk to me because I didn’t participate in the gift exchange? Whatever.

          2. Kim Stiens*

            It’s true that not everyone is Christian, but I figure, I’m one of those atheists that gets rubbed the wrong way when someone tells me Merry Christmas or says Bless You when I sneeze, and I love Secret Santa. I understand that it’s important that people be allowed to not participate, but a Secret Santa gift exchange is so secular in nature that I find it completely harmless.

          3. Jen M.*

            While I agree with this, I will say that where I work, it’s never been about assuming everyone was Christian. It’s always been treated very much as a secular, social thing.

            There are other Holidays that are celebrated at this time of year: Divali, Ramadan (some years, same general time of year), Winter Solstice (that’d be me), Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, and “Secular, I’m-Hanging-Out-With-My-Family, Christmas.”

      2. fposte*

        I’m with Kim–the problem in Anon’s example above isn’t the gift exchange, the problem is that the events are out of control. Our office doesn’t do birthday or other hit-ups, let alone four different holiday things.

        I hope it’s clear I’m sympathetic to your point, Samantha; I’m not a party-in-the-office person in general, I really resisted the gift exchange for a while, and I wouldn’t think they’re the way to go everywhere. But we’ve got an organizational culture where banning gifts entirely just wouldn’t fly, so this is a good way to restrict the giving. The people who feel they can’t hold back on putting their name into a gift exchange are also the people who wouldn’t be able to accept gifts from six co-workers without feeling obliged to reciprocate, and at least this way, they’re only getting a gift from one and it’s not a surprise.

    3. Mouse*

      I agree. My daughter hasn’t had a raise in years and I have to help her out financially. Her boss insists that everyone has to join in on the Secret Santa present exchange, which is five gifts over a week, four $5 gifts and one $20 gift. That is $40 dollars that employees have to spend on their coworker or boss.

      This is fun for no one. It is a boss using her position to force her workers to make the boss feel the ‘Christmas Spirit’. Meanwhile, my daughter will do without and feels awful that she will have nothing to spend on her friends and family, as her holiday gift money went to a bunch of strangers.

      No boss should allow this ever. My own boss gives everyone a box of chocolates and I have never given her or any boss a Christmas gift.

      We are not family! If we were, I would ask them if I they could loan five grand and let me and my dog move in with them for six months.

  10. JT*

    Just read the inappropriate gifts article at and …wow…. just wow.

    The keychain is not that horrible – just bad sense of what’s cute. But the others are amazingly bad.

  11. Nichole*

    While Christmas consumerism has definitely run amok, a lot of people count their coworkers as friends that hook them up with Sharpies, so they see it as an opportunity to show appreciation plus have a little fun. We do a cookie exchange, and all of the prep work is done by e-mail, so it’s easy to quietly opt out. We also do an angel tree (I work at a community college, so most of our anonymous “angels” are the children of students), and in my area of the building many people participate, so there’s lots of buzz about that, too. It was my first time as an adult when I was able to do an angel tree, and it’s definitely something I’m glad is part of our holiday tradition.

    1. Samantha*

      If people count their co workers as their friends but want to buy them something that’s fine. But it shouldnt be mandated by an office “gift” exchange.

  12. GeekChic*

    If you make or buy something edible – don’t take offense when people ask you what is in it or simply refuse to eat it. I have life threatening allergies and will not eat home-made foods from someone I don’t know well. If it is a store-bought product I must see the packaging before I eat it.

    I get incredible amounts of grief when I don’t eat or drink something at parties or when someone brings something in – even when I explain allergies. I just don’t attend parties for that reason. My friends who are Jewish (kosher) and Muslim (halal) have the same problems.

    I don’t care if you bring peanut brittle – just don’t expect me to eat it (unless you need practice on dealing with respiratory arrest or something).

    1. Kim Stiens*

      This is a really good point. I imagine vegetarians have a similar problem… when you refuse to eat something that you don’t agree with (morally or physically), you end up having to explain it and getting into a whole big thing about it, and that gets tiresome for everyone. I think that the onus is really on the organizers of such events to ensure that everyone can enjoy and be comfortable. If you are in charge of food, make sure there are vegetarian and possibly vegan options. Make sure people know its OK to not attend or not participate. It’s up to everyone, especially bosses and organizers of office events, to demonstrate that being a dick to your co-workers because they don’t want to eat your homemade food or participate in the gift exchange is not OK. It is part of the office culture, but it’s a culture that everyone contributes to. If you’re willing to nut up and be the first to refuse to participate, then you make it easier on the next guy… you’re helping build the culture you want to be a part of. I think gift exchanges can do a lot to bring people together and have a little fun, but it’s not always easy to make positive changes in your office culture.

    2. Jen M.*

      Yup. As vegans, my boyfriend and I encounter this, too. It’s frustrating, as people react as if they are hurt, when it’s not about them at all.

  13. Rebecca*

    I give my direct reports small gifts (usually gift cards) that range around $30. This is from me personally because our company doesn’t have the budget for employee gifts. My employees always seem to appreciate it and in return, have given me small gifts (less than $20). I absolutely do not expect it but I definitely appreciate the gesture.

    #2 doesn’t work for me – lots of food allergies, probably can’t eat anything they would make.

    We also do a voluntary gift exchange in the office and if you participate, you write a few suggestions down on a post-it with your name. That way you have a chance of getting something you like.

    1. Mouse*

      If you give your employees gifts, they know they must gift you back.

      Don’t kid yourself, they dread this time of year. You are not their family, so stop treating them like you are.

      If my boss wants to give me something for the holidays, how about a decent raise?

      And when the boss wants to do something like a ‘voluntary gift exchange’, everyone knows it is like volunteering in the Army.

  14. Karyn*

    I don’t give my boss a gift, but I do make sure to hand-write a note thanking him for something he’s taught me during the year. As a future attorney, I’ve learned a great deal from him, and every year there’s something he’s taught me that’s proven invaluable. This year, not only did he let me borrow all his bar exam review materials from when he took the exam, he also taught me more about company buyouts, which will no doubt prove useful. He seems to appreciate my gratitude more than anything I could buy him, with the possible exception of a 12-pack of Diet Coke. ;)

  15. Sandrine*

    It’s funny you mention this because at work, they recently hired a bunch of people (when I say a bunch, I mean over 200 people over two months) . So we had to shuffle between work spaces depending on scheduled shifts, and on Monday, some people will go to the newly built office so my team will be able to move to our permanent workspace.

    In the e-mail, it said that we are allowed to bring Christmas decorations if we’d like, only limit being common sense and “good taste” . And then at lunch we were all discussing homemade food we needed to bring around the holidays :P …

    The fun part is that many people are Muslim, some eat only halal some don’t, so I think I’ll just bring cupcakes haha :P . (Some days I bring a lunch to eat without pork in it so that they can taste if they’d like XD … everyone shares in this group, it’s funny and heart warming) .

  16. JC*

    Thank God I’ve never had to deal with a gift exchange thus far in my workplace. It would be entirely uncomfortable – mainly because I don’t know anyone well enough to get a gift that speaks to them and their personality, hobbies, etc. Even a nice candle, gift certificate, or fancy coffee/hot chocolate can insult people!

    I completely agree about not giving your boss a gift, though it depends on how it’s done. Every year, at my old job, we would chip in $5 each (there was 5 or 6 of us) to buy our boss a nice gift (which ended up being a nice bamboo plant one year, since she loves plants/flowers/etc). However, at my current job, we are too big to chip in like that for our bosses – I couldn’t even imagine buying something for my boss on my own (I’m her assistant, so it just feels too uncomfortable).

    I say, if everyone feels comfortable with a gift exchange, go for it. But let people opt out with no guilt or nagging. Honestly, the best gift for an office in my eyes is an extra day off / half day before the holidays. It’s free and it doesn’t really hurt business since it’s usually slow around that time of year.

  17. Rachel B*

    We had a Yankee swap in my office last week, where the maximum gift amount was $25. Well, some people went over that maximum, trying to impress. And some people spent a lot less. And others brought in great things from home that were “free” (ie $50 iTunes gift cards and huge baskets of luxury cosmetic samples). And some folks baked cookies. I’m still hearing chatter about the items that were “stolen” in the final rounds.

    I think putting restrictions on a Yankee swap, like only allowing socks or handmade items, makes a lot of sense to me.

  18. Anonymous*

    I dislike how my office organizes Christmas gift-giving. Our managers treated us to a holiday luncheon which was really nice. But we are also doing a Christmas Pollyanna (Secret Santa). The thing is, the organizer stated the gift had to “equal” $20, not “maximum” of $20. She even wrote that if you have 2 gifts that equal $20, then it’s fine to give both gifts. I still think $20 is a lot, especially for co-workers. In addtion, we all have to chip in another $15 to buy our managers a gift.

    I wanted to opt out of the pollyanna, but I felt obligated to even though we were told we didn’t have to. It would be wrong if everyone on my team was in the office exchanging gifts, but me. And I realize it’s always the same 2 people who organizes stuff like this, including birthdays.

  19. JT*

    “I wanted to opt out of the pollyanna, but I felt obligated to even though we were told we didn’t have to. ”

    Please – they said that, so opt out. If other people feel the same way, you’re even helping them by modelling good behavior.

    I don’t understand why so many people not just give in to peer pressure, but project it onto themselves when told they do not have to follow.

    1. Mouse*

      Because the person who wants to do this is usually the boss, who decides who gets a promotion, raises, and even who gets to keep their job.

  20. Rebecca*

    The only thing missing from this post is the form where we can anonymously submit our boss’s email to receive an email with this information. It’s my first Christmas with a boss who’s made wildly inappropriate remarks now and then, and I’m terrified about what this might translate into during gift-giving season.

    1. Anonymous*

      Watch out! I recieved thong panties one year!

      It’s a funny tale now that I am 10 years removed from that environment but it was not so funny at the time.

  21. Anonymous*

    I work in a restaurant with a small staff. We usually pool our money and get our boss a gift each year . In the past it’s been about $20.00 to $30.00 per server but this year the person in charge of getting the gift upped the rate to a whopping $125.00 from each of us (the gift being Cirque de Soleil tickets for boss and partner). I was floored by the price tag and had to back out. I am the only server that has children (3) and I simply CANNOT afford to spend that kind of money on a gift for my boss. I felt (and still do feel) horrible about the situation. I was backed into a corner to the point where I found myself explaining my private life to other employees but yet it was insinuated by some that I was cheap and greedy….no…I’m struggling to pay my bills and am tapped out!! After this demeaning fiasco I am NOT into the office gift exchange. Really? $125.00??

    1. Samantha*

      I have a real issue with being forced to buy a gift for someone who makes significantly more than me. Take that statement for what it’s worth but I do. I agree with AAM that you shouldn’t gift up. It seems ridiculous.

  22. Cassie*

    Our office has done a white elephant gift exchange for Christmas, though this year, they did a Secret Santa exchange. The rule was the gift had to be a minimum $10, which confused some people because they thought the gift MUST be more than $10 (when in actuality, $10 would have been fine).

    Thankfully, it’s completely opt-in and though most all of the staff do participate, I choose not to and no one gives me a hard time about it. Of course, I am the anti-social one in the office :) so no one expects me to join in.

    As for gifts from/to my boss – I rarely give gifts to my bosses. Maybe it would be a nice gesture, but my bosses tend to make a heck of a lot more money than I do and has all the latest gadgets and gizmos. I wouldn’t even know what to get them. There was one exception – one year, my boss was promoted to a new dept a couple months prior and I gave her tickets to The Nutcracker that I was performing in. She wanted to buy the tickets anyway, but it was my gift to her (she didn’t end up coming – family emergency – but she passed them on to a neighbor).

    This year, my boss gave me some food – some almond crisps, a can of almond roca and a pack of Trident gum. The gum was a little weird but I’m just glad it’s not chocolate! I’m not a big fan of chocolate (unless it’s super cheap Hershey’s milk chocolate, or like Reese’s) and Christmas time usually means getting at least one box of chocolate that I don’t care for (Whitman’s, See’s, anything that has those little diagrams of what kind of chocolate is inside). I’m not sure if he picks out these gifts or if his wife does (when he handed it to me, he said that the gift was from his wife, which I think is a funny way of saying it – wouldn’t it be better just to say “this is from us”?).

  23. Long Time Admin*

    Regarding item #2 – we eventually had to ban “Mary’s rum balls” from our workplace, because people were getting buzzed on them. Although it made being in that rat-trap hellhole more tolerable, I never recommend being drunk or high at work.

    Man, those rum balls were GOOD!

  24. Lauren*

    I’m an admin. assistant in a school district, and last year our office unanimously decided to take a family off the school giving tree instead of exchanging amongst ourselves. I thought it was a great idea, and we were able to provide some great gifts to a needy family. Then I came to work our last day before the holiday… and everyone exchanged gifts anyway! I was so embarrassed b/c I assumed “no gift” meant no gifts. We’re doing the same thing this year, but I’m coming prepared with some kind of food gift for everyone. Alison’s right, you can’t go wrong with food!

  25. CK*

    I’ve broken #1 before when I was the assistant to a Sr. Director. We had a very good working relationship and we’d exchange gifts, only because it was a bit of an inside joke for us (whenever I went to Seattle – which was not that often – I’d get him a box of See’s Chocolates because these were his favourites. Similarly, whenever he went to Seattle, he’d get me a bag of vanilla coffee beans from Pike Place Market). He is the only boss I’ve ever done this with as it was a comfort-level thing.

    There have been some awkward gift exchanges in the past though, where I’ve felt obligated to participate. One year, I was part of a small team (manager + 2 co-workers) and all 3 of them got me and each other a card and a small gift. I felt so bad that I did the same at the last minute :/

  26. Robin*

    We used to do a gift exchange, but this year decided to give the money we would spend to a needy family instead. Everyone put the amount they chose into an envelope (no one knows what anyone else contributed) and the full amount was turned over to a coordinator at a local church.

  27. Anonymous*

    My office did a “Secret Santa” this year, and the majority of people gave (and received) various boxes of chocolates.

    I made my Santa recipient a mini gourmet gift basket, and it seemed to go down well.

  28. Anonymous*

    my boss gave gifts to half of her employees and not the other half…has anyone seen any etiquette on this? i’m trying to find something that says that’s completely inappropriate, but i’m having difficulty, i assume because no boss would ever do that.

  29. Jen M.*

    Giving people food gifts can be problematic, because you have people who have food sensitivities, allergies, or even celiac disease (which is pretty serious.)

    In my case, I am a vegan. Several people have given me candy and other treats, none of which I can eat, because they have all contained dairy, eggs, honey, etc. I simply don’t see a graceful way of saying “no” when someone gives you a nice, wrapped gift with a card. It seems like people would be offended if I said “No thanks.”

    I’ve tried sharing with my coworkers (in appropriate contexts, like at lunch when people comment that the food looks or smells good, etc.) but people just don’t seem to be able to understand “I don’t consume animal products.”

    Any pointers for turning down food gifts without looking like a jerk?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As a former vegan, what I would do was simply say say as nicely and appreciatively as I possible could, “This is so nice of you, thank you!” … and then with my face scrunched up in that “I’m about to say something unfortunate way” would say, “I’m vegan though, so it’s not something I can eat!” … while still trying to send off the general vibe of “thanks for making this nice gesture.”

      1. Jen M.*

        Thanks. That’s generally been my approach. Then, I set the item out for EVERYONE to enjoy. :)

        As a former vegan, I’m sure you know all about the unwanted conversations that can happen around the whole issue. *awkward*

  30. Eric Brasure*

    We did a Yankee swap at my office this year. It had a cap of $20–my contribution was a collector’s set of Lord of the Rings Pez dispensers. It was a pretty big hit.

  31. Anonymous*

    Today our partner we have small Company of 10 bought gifts after I had thought the Bonus’s and Christmas Dinner would be in loo of Gifts. Now I feel angry and worry that folks are going to say “Why didn’t we give them anything” Mr. Smith did! and I had talked to him about this before the dinner and he agreed to take pressure off people that the dinner which by the way was expensive! would work for everyone! Now what do I do? its the 22nd!!

  32. Emily*

    I work in a very small office where I and my two coworkers all report directly to the Executive Director. We all have very good relationships, and our ED attends occasional social activities with the three of us (like a celebratory drink and appetizers across the street when we win on a campaign issue (and note that this is truly *a* drink–nobody gets drunk with the boss!)).

    In October our whole staff was on a week-and-a-half-long “work-ation” trip together where we did a lot of team-building and socializing, and snapped a lot of photos of the team together. This month I saw a great deal on custom printed calendars from VistaPrint — for less than $35 I was able to print up four calendars, with our org’s logo on the cover and photos from our trip for each of the months, and with important dates like our board meetings, Congressional recesses, and so forth marked. The calendars were inexpensive, will be helpful to our staff in their jobs, and–I think–serve as a nice reminder of the good relationships we have with each other.

    In this case, it seems like it was fine for me to include my boss (I gave out the calendars today and they were well-received by all). I would have actually felt a bit rude printing these calendars for myself and my two coworkers and not our boss, too! So perhaps we can carve out another exemption, like food, for “work-related gifts for the whole staff?”

  33. anonymous*

    Ugh Christmas at work is such crap. I wish people would just not exchange at all. The CEO gave all the managers kindle fires. All of us peons got 25 dollar gift cards to somewhere that’s not even close to here. Totally inappropriate.

  34. TXTeacher*

    Don’t give anything religious based, EVER. I am not religious and I am OFFENDED by religious based gifts. It is a direct violation of separation of church and state. The end.

    1. KellyK*

      Totally agree that religious gifts are really, really inappropriate in a work setting (unless you work for a church).

      I’m curious whether it’s actually a violation of the separation of church & state, though. I wouldn’t think it would be unless government money is used to buy religious gifts. Like, a school district buying Nativity scenes for all the teachers is probably not legal; a principal doing it with his/her own money is probably just tacky.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Separation of church and state refers only to what actions the government can and can’t take; it doesn’t govern private individuals or private employers. (It does, however, cover public schools and public employers.)

      2. Jamie*

        Or unless you know the person well enough to know it will be appreciated.

        I had a co-worker bring me something from Lourdes because she knows I’m Catholic also and we had spoken about how much we both loved Song of Bernadette when we were kids.

        So I totally agree it’s completely inappropriate in a work context – there are times where it can be okay but you need to be beyond 100% sure of the reception.

  35. Mary*

    I gave a packages of homemade candy to my 2 staff members for the holidays, one never acknowledged that gift at all and the other left it on her desk and went on vacation. Never, ever again.

  36. Bell*

    I guess our company works differently. We will usually send out an email to see who would want to join in the fun (in which, if they don’t feel comfortable with it, they can reject). Those that joins in will then be included in the jar of names and get to choose from it. Nobody knows who’s getting who the present. And we are only limited to 1 per person on a max of $20 and not more. Still, Christmas is a time for people to enjoy and be happy. Nobody’s able to force anyone to do something they don’t like or not interested in. I would say, if you feel pressured to do it. Gather the balls and speak out and not hide it inside you, which will only make matters worse.

  37. Sarah*

    This year a project manager sent me cookies after Christmas that she bought from Walmart (sticker) still on them. Also, it is well known that I have celiac disease. There was no card. It solidified my belief that she is an office climber, doesn’t pay attention to details, and doesn’t pay attention to others needs.

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