how can I stop my employees from giving me holiday gifts?

A reader writes:

With the holiday season approaching, I need some advice.

I agree that gifts in the office should only flow down. My office used to collect funds to purchase something for the owner and VP, but I put a stop to that when I took over as controller/HR.

That being said, my department has always given me a joint gift. I don’t have too much of an issue with this, as it is usually a relatively small item and I gift them back at least tenfold in value. I have tried to ask them to stop, to no avail.

However, last year, I was completely thrown off when two of the shop guys gave me gifts, saying they were from their families in appreciation for all I do for them. These were gift cards in the $100 range and I was extremely surprised. My company has about 100 employees, and I do my best to get to know each of them and try to create a work “family.” That being said, I was uncomfortable accepting these gifts and worry that it will happen again this year. Obviously I cannot reciprocate, and while I was touched by the gesture, I don’t want these employees to feel they need to do it again.

How do I politely assert that while I was very appreciative, I do not want to receive gifts this year?

Speak up early! This week would be good.

In general, I’d say that managers in danger of getting gifts should say something like this to their staffs: “I know this is the time of year when people are starting to think about holiday gifts, so I want to say up-front that just doing your jobs well is enough of a gift for me. Please spend your money on your family or yourself, and know that I’m grateful to have each of you on our team.” (Ideally you’d say this in the context of some other holiday-related announcement, so that it’s not a random, stand-alone pronouncement.)

But even with announcements like this, some people will give managers gifts anyway. And if that happens, as long as the gift is small, like food or a trinket, it makes sense to just accept it graciously, since otherwise you risk making people feel bad. Plus, the idea isn’t to refuse all gifts on principle. It’s to ensure that your employees don’t feel obligated to use their money to buy you things.

In your case, though, where people are giving you expensive gift cards — and where you’ve already asked them to stop and they haven’t — I think you need a stronger message ahead of time. In this situation, I’d go with an announcement like this: “In years past, you’ve given me very kind gifts, despite my pleas with you to put your money toward your families. It’s been so thoughtful of you, but I firmly believe that no one should feel need to spend their money buying gifts for their boss, and I worry about creating an environment where other people feel pressured to do it too, so this year I’m not going to accept any gifts. I hope you’ll honor this.”

Then if anyone ignores that and gives you something anyway, thank them warmly but explain you can’t accept it. For example: “This was so kind of you. As you know, I can’t accept gifts — so I’m going to give this back to you and hope you’ll give it to a loved one or even use it yourself. You’ve already given me the best gift just by being on our team. Thank you for being so great to work with.”

{ 112 comments… read them below }

  1. Jake*

    Everything about the holidays in offices makes me uncomfortable. Gifts flowing up doesn’t work (even in legitimately kind hearted instances) for exactly this reason.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Happy my office sticks with potlucks, sponsored parties, voluntary charitable giving, and occasional voluntary white elephants. No pressure to please people with conflicting ideas of what I need to do for them, no expectations I can’t live up to. Honestly, work is the most enjoyable place for me around the holidays.

        1. hermit crab*

          We have a voluntary “secret santa” where the gifts end up going to charity (a local Toys for Tots type thing). So you draw the name of a coworker, and you buy and wrap a toy that you think they would have liked as a kid (or would like now), and then everyone gets to unwrap a present and ooh and ahh over the gifts, but the actual objects go to charity. It’s like a win-win-win.

          1. Not Rebee*

            I just floated this to our HR and hope it sticks. Our company places a lot of emphasis on community service and things like this, so it might be great! Of course, we are the type of tiny startup company where everyone is family and it seems like we would be really into actual secret santas and gift giving on every level so idk. This will be my first Christmas season with the company, and we just had a Thanksgiving dinner potluck in the office for those employees who couldn’t go home or don’t have family in the area (we have a lot of transplants and international employees). All company events are optional, but also well attended and frequently held so if this doesn’t take off it’s because of our weird family vibe and not because we hate charity. *shrug* fingers crossed. Personally, I hate secret santas and white elephants, but would totally do this because you basically can’t get it wrong.

            1. DJ*

              Fantastic your workplace does things for those without close by families. My workplace is so cute lay pie family families I feel uncomfortable there as a separated woman without kids and no nuclear or extended family

          2. HyacinthB*

            I think I will ask for that to be the way we doing things next holiday season. Awesome!

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Ours has a $10 spending limit and it’s very fun but also I’m always surprised at how invested a lot of us get in getting what we want even though we can all go out and buy it for ourselves for just $10!!!

          There are a couple of people who always just bring a gift card and then take their own gift, which seems very not in the spirit!

      1. Life is Good*

        My old dysfunctional office used to take up a collection every year for a gift for the owner. Everyone was expected to pitch in $10 towards his gift. That meant we spent about $500 on him! I actually didn’t know about the “gift-giving flowing downward” until I started to read AAM, but was irked every year when we would be expected to contribute to a gift for this multi-millionaire. New, better company has a policy in place to ensure only an office get together is done with company-provided appetizers, drinks and small gifts for the underlings in addition to the Christmas bonus. I love companies that make it easy on the employees!

      2. Broke.*

        Our voluntary charitable giving this year was pretty lean (we’re not paid very well, and I know of at least 2 colleagues who will be relying on generous donations to feed themselves this holiday season), and a better-paid coworker sent a reply-all email shaming us for not donating more.

        I’m honestly wary of any holiday celebration in offices, which is a shame, because I’m not such a Grinch in my personal life.

  2. Misquoted*

    I also suggest talking to any admins or others who tend to be the “gift organizer” in the office. Let them know how you feel (of course graciously), and maybe point them to the AAM posts so they understand this is not about you being ungrateful, but about a point of office etiquette that you would like to adhere to.

    1. Artemesia*

      THIS Every instance of ridiculous ‘giving up’ that I have experienced has come from a busy body queen bee type AA who is sucking up to the boss and wants to do that by harvesting money from employees to do so.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        The office busybody at an old workplace used to collect money for a gift for the owner. She really pressed people to contribute even if it was a few bucks. Then I found out that only HER name was on the card. So the next year I said no way when she came by. She tried to stare me down but just staring back wordlessly at someone is a good response.

        1. Cmg*

          I once worked somewhere where everyone curried favor with the director by donating to her toy drive. Someone like the perso you’re describing was collecting cash and my boss was like “hot tip, write a check!”

  3. pennycrest*

    My rock star manager maneuvered this last year with this kind of an announcement and proposed that in lieu of gifts for each other that we could bring in a small item to create a basket to give the university campus day care that takes care of non-traditional and at risk student’s children – they request books, diapers, and other related items during the holiday’s so it worked out perfect. It was optional participation for the team, but it was easy for everyone to contribute/participate. Definitely recommend finding a non-profit to support to other teams who might encounter this.

    1. Buu*

      I was going to suggest a low key charity thing might work. Make sure there’s no pressure to contribute ( have it as anon where people can leave stuff in a box). Then you can send an e-mail quietly asking that people don’t give gifts to managers, if anyone’s shopped already and tries to give you the gift anyway you can ask them to put it in the charity box.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I agree.

      Redirecting is often more effective than simply banning something. Steering a moving vehicle takes less energy than putting on the brakes.

    3. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      Our lab adopts a family each year (via a charity) and contributes towards helping that family’s holiday. Participation is always optional too, and happily without any subtext that suggests otherwise.

      1. the gold digger*

        So when I first read this, I thought, “I love labs! I would get a border collie, but labs are so cute!”

        I need to go home.

        Wait. I need to be in an office with puppies and kittens.

        1. Geoffrey B*

          Now you have me imagining a philanthropic billionaire labrador who sends people on holidays. This is a pretty good visual.

      2. Former Employee*

        I also thought (just for a moment) that a labrador was adopting a family each year and wondered how broad minded was the dog. Was it limited to fellow labs or any dog family or even (gasp!) a cat famaily with many kittens.

    4. Fiennes*

      Great idea. So long as it’s optional and not political or religious, all the gift givers will find that a good outlet. Also, honestly, I think group efforts like that do much more to build morale and team bonding than individual gifts/secret Santas/etc.

      1. JaneB*

        We put one giant Christmas card by the coffee machine and all wrote greetings to each other in it, then collected the money we might have otherwise spent on cards and used it for a charity donation – people put in anything from pocket change to bills, and we gave it to an aid project which sort of related to our business

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yup. I really appreciate when folks make opportunities like this available. It takes the expectation away and lets folks really reflect on how they want to spend their money.

    6. Can-struction*

      Our office donates cans to a local food bank and we try to make it interesting by making a castle/tree/tower out of the cans. It’s a fun way to get people involved and the cans are dropped off anonymously before being added to the collection. Cans don’t cost too much and everyone can see the stack grow over December before we pack it up and send it off.

  4. DecorativeCacti*

    I have never gotten my manager a gift per se, but I do a ton of holiday baking and include them in my list of recipients. It doesn’t cost me any extra money or time to give them some cookies and candy almonds. This has always been a good middle ground for me.

    1. Sterling*

      And this is the perfect example of appropriate. The idea is that spending money on your box is weird for the boss. As a manager I make nearly 5X what my assistant makes and we live in a really expensive area. I hate the idea that she might spend money on me. A card or homemade goodies doesn’t feel so odd. I would appreciate that and be happy that she likes me enough as a manager to do something. Meanwhile I typically give a personal gift (something small) along with a gift card to my assistants because this job pays very little (government work so can’t do much about it) and can be really stressful right at Xmas time. I want to show her that i appreciate everything she does to keep me on track when the days start to get crazy.

  5. selina kyle*

    You could always pass gifts on to charities if you still receive any. That’s such an awkward position to be in, but it’s great that some bosses keep an eye out for it.

  6. JulieBulie*

    If people insist on gifting you anyway and won’t take the things back, perhaps you should let them know that you’re going to donate them. (Obviously this doesn’t work for every kind of gift, but a $100 gift card would be perfect.)

    Or else raffle them off.

    If people don’t like that, they might be less inclined to give an extravagant gift next year.

      1. Safetykats*

        Definitely in my industry, people have been fired for accepting gifts like gift cards and expensive tickets to sporting events. It’s a clear conflict of interest – and nobody at the working level is buying something that costs $100 or more for someone in management or HR without at least the idea of a quid pro quo somewhere along the way. This kind of thing tends to come at at the worst time – like when one of the guys from the shop gets laid off and then goes to upper management with a list of the many hundreds of dollars worth of gifts that the HR manager has accepted from another guy who didn’t get laid off over the years.

        It was a mistake to accept anything of value in the first place, as that set a precedent. Definitely don’t accept any more. Just turn them down immediately, or return them with a written explanation of the potential conflict of interest. Honestly, the company should have a clear policy about monetary value of gifts, and now would be a good time to issue one.

  7. OP*

    I feel a little uncomfortable about doing this. The gift-givers are not my direct reports, so I guess I would have to speak to each of them individually, but part of me makes that feel like it sounds like I am expecting a gift, when for all I know, last year was a one time deal. I don’t want to go a general announcement, because I am sure most of the other employees are not aware that I received those gifts, and I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that some of their co-workers did gift to me. (My shop guys are very gossipy and would not let it go until they figured out who gave gifts.)

    I guess an option would be to put out a general memo stating that it is company policy for managers to not receive gifts from the employees, with the language you suggest.

    1. Chriama*

      As HR person a general memo like that is probably a good idea anyway. You don’t know what petty tryrant managers (or people who want to suck up to those managers by bulking their coworkers into contributing to a gift) can get up to in their little corners of the world.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Agreed. I’d be a little more blunt and say that gifts “upward” can make uncomfortable situations with assumptions of favoritism or a quid pro quo. It’s nice keeping things conversational by saying that gifts are not necessary or expected, but I think the social line needs to be crossed in circumstances like this. Just say no gifts for managers. I think it still leaves it open for a group to get coffee or snacks for the department, or to give the boss a homemade fruitcake.

      2. Observer*

        Very much, this. And the fact that the shop guys felt the need to do this makes me suspect that something like this may be brewing.

        Which leads to another thought. Please make sure that you have robust and TRUSTED mechanisms for people to report stuff in a way that doesn’t have to go through their supervisors, and which WILL trigger an appropriate investigation.

        It can’t hurt. And if you DO have someone who feels pressured in this way, this is will be useful. The nice side effect is that if you have someone who has something ELSE that really needs to be reported, this will be useful and if someone decides to sue for some illegal abuse / discrimination, the fact that you have a robust process will help you, as well.

    2. Fake Eleanor*

      I understand not wanting to look like you’re expecting a gift … but you have history to go on, here. This isn’t coming into a new situation and presuming that people want to buy you something. It’s a sensible reaction to things that have already happened.

      1. OP*

        It is for those two people, but in the 12 years I have been here, they are the first to have done this, and they are not new employees, so I am not sure what prompted it. I did help each of them significantly last year, in various ways, but it was all part of my job.

          1. Artemesia*

            But you are HR and helping them is what you are there for (sort of). It really seems like a huge conflict of interest for them to essentially bribe you for your help. (I know nobody intended it that way, but I can see why you want to avert this.)

        1. Karo*

          Oof that’s hard. I think you could say something like “I don’t know what the culture is here, but I want to make it clear that I’m a big believer in gifts flowing downward not upward, so please don’t get me anything!” but even as I type that it sounds awkward. Could you ask your peers what the culture is, and if they know whether the old manager got a gift in prior years?

    3. Mints*

      You can keep basically the same message, changing “I” to “We” in the first example – as HR I don’t think it’s weird phrasing

    4. Infinity Anon*

      If someone tries to give you an expensive gift again you could say “Thank you for thinking of me! This is very generous of you but I cannot accept such a large gift. I appreciate the thought but I firmly believe that no one should feel need to spend their money buying gifts for their boss, and I worry about creating an environment where other people feel pressured to do it too.”

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think things like “no one should feel the need to spend…” aren’t going to be effective, bcs there are people will say, “I didn’t feel I NEEDED to, I wanted to!”

        Don’t make it be about them. Make it be about you, and that it’s awkward for you, or against the policies, etc.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I wonder if their managers would help? Or would that be more awkward.

      I think the general memo would probably have a similar effect but avoid the gossip.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, I’d thought you were their boss! I can see why you feel weird about a broad announcement in that case! I think a company policy on this would be a great way to go if you have the authority to do that (and it would help other people too).

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Normally I’m anti-memo, but in this case, I think it’s the perfect resolution. This should really be company-wide policy, anyway. If you’re able to get others on board to send it out, I think it could help alleviate a source of stress for some of your coworkers/employees.

  8. DeeC*

    All I ask is that you please, PLEASE, do another horrible-gift-and/or-office-party segment. My company is very tame in this area, nothing too crazy happens (that I know of!) but I do so enjoy the bat-shit bonkers stories posted in this thread. :)

    1. Corky's wife Bonne*

      I was just going to write to Alison to ask for this too! I’m sure a lot more bonker party stories have happened this past year!

    2. Middle School Teacher*

      Me too! Surely there has to be some 2017 version of something as crazy as Hanukkah balls!

  9. Chriama*

    As an HR person, I think when they offered you a $100 gift card you should have said you can’t take it as it would be a conflict of interest. Bottom line is you need to outright refuse large gifts, even if it means potentially offending/hurting someone’s feelings. Be gracious about it, but don’t let them talk/cajole you into accepting.

    1. OP*

      One gift was actually a fruit arrangement, valued around $100. I normally would have shared a gift like that with the entire office, but it was left in my car at the end of a week, and said employee was already gone for the day.

      The more I am reading comments and thinking this over, the more I think a general memo to all employees is probably the way to go. I honestly don’t know if the other managers have been in this position. I will probably talk to them about it first to explain why I am sending the memo.

      1. Chriama*

        Wow, what a confluence of factors! I get why in that situation there was nothing you could really do. At that point I would probably have brought it back in to the office and made a point of sharing it around with people. But hindsight’s 20/20 and I’m not trying to beat you up for that. I think the group memo, as you’ve mentioned, is a good way to go. And I’d word it pretty strongly (don’t say “you don’t have to”, say “they are not permitted”, and be specific with a few examples that people can go off of (e.g. Homemade treats for the boss are ok, purchased items that are for your whole group including bosses and coworkers are ok, purchased items specifically for bosses are not permitted).

    2. Bette*

      Not to hijack, but what do you if someone from your team buys a gift and gives it to your team lead on behalf of “the entire team”, without telling you? This happened last year, and I was very surprised. I had no intention of giving my boss a gift. As I wasn’t consulted, I didn’t give the organizer of the gift a donation towards defraying the cost, but I felt uncomfortable getting credit for a gift I hadn’t contributed to. I don’t want this to happen again this year!

      1. Safetykats*

        So – would you want them to say “from everyone but Bette?” (Probably not.) If what makes you uncomfortable is not having contributed, I would offer the organizer a few dollars, even if after the fact. If you don’t really want to contribute, I would leave it be.

        FYI, what I often see happen is that a few folks want to do a little something for the lead, and don’t get organized enough to solicit donations or don’t feel comfortable doing so. They don’t want to present a gift from part of the team, so they give everyone credit. If that’s the case it’s fine to contribute or not, although I usually try to offer a few dollars as long as I feel like the gift was appropriate.

  10. MommyMD*

    I wish holiday gift giving would just go away. I gift staff with food several times a year. I don’t want anyone buying me a gift. I don’t buy individual gifts. I bring candy and food for all. Gift giving is fraught with too much trouble and peril.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Totally agree. I hate white elephant especially and it’s gotten to the point where I decline just to save my colleagues from my terrible attitude about it. I have the opposite of a poker face.

      1. Life is Good*

        Plus, many times the office mates give gifts that aren’t really white elephants. Then, those who got real WE’s feel like they got gyped. Some people don’t know what a white elephant is.

        1. Basically Useless*

          The only white elephant I have been a part of was a huge success because the boss bought all the gifts. They were all in the $5-$10 range (this was 20 years ago) and there were no duds.

          1. Lucille B.*

            This is how I started doing the WE exchange at our holiday party last year, and it was a big hit. We are doing it again this year. It’s a huge pain wrapping all the gifts, but it’s worth it to not have any awkward “Wakeen sucks at bringing gifts” situations.

        2. Birch*

          White elephants are terrible no matter what you do. I’m one of those people who brings something nice, mainly because I hate the waste and I hate contributing to unethical production of cheap plastic things only bought for laughs. Once I got a really stupid game that no one wanted to play. I left it on the table. My gift was artisan chocolate. I hate white elephants.

          Everyone should do a cookie exchange.

  11. Kiki*

    I’m dreading this…my office has a very entrenched habit of buying gifts for everyone on your team, each gift in the $25-$30 range. I do get lovely gifts from my coworkers that I enjoy, but shelling out ~$200 in coworker gifts is hard on my budget. We also pool money for a (fairly expensive) joint gift for our boss. Last year I tried the “I don’t have it in my budget, sorry” excuse and was the talk of the office all week, so I relented to keep the gossip away.

    I’m slowly trying to chip away at this tradition but there’s low turnover here, so it may take awhile to die.

    1. Enya*

      $200 plus a gift for the boss? That is obscene. I can’t even…
      Good for you for trying to back out, sorry your coworkers are such jerks!! Someone not wanting to spend such a ridiculous amount of money is the talk of the office??? What disgusting creeps you work with!

      1. Artemesia*

        That is about what I am spending on the grandkids and their parents this year. That is grotesque for office giving.

    2. Q without U*

      A couple of years ago I proposed doing a white elephant gift exchange for all interested participants instead of collecting money for gifts for the bosses. (I actually circulated one of the AAM “don’t gift up!” articles as the starting point.) It went over really well and has become an annual tradition. Gifts must be $5-$10 and the bosses also participate. Fun for all who want to be involved, and no pressure at all on those who opt out.

      1. Parcae*

        My office does a Yankee swap of books at the (optional) holiday party, with new and used books being equally welcome. I love it. It imposes a natural price limit and always generates lots of good conversation. One year, my contribution was selected by the Big Boss; I consider this to be my most successful sucking-up to date!

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is so ridiculous, and I’m sorry! I’d be tempted to it and put up gift-giving articles from Miss Manners, et al.

    4. MissDissplaced*

      Goodness! If they MUST can’t they draw names or raffle or something for gifts in the $25 range (bosses included).

  12. Elsa*

    What if you’re given an expensive gift that can’t be returned? Meaning, you can give if back to the giver but they can’t use it and probably have no one else to give it to, so a valuable item is then discarded? Think monogrammed leather golf equipment bags—that a prior boss of ours received and refused—after which the giver proceeded to toss in the garbage behind our building; he didn’t play golf and had different initials in any case. Then he griped about throwing $500 down the drain. That boss hadn’t previously announced “no gifts”. If that’s the case for someone ho then gets such a gift… what to do?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      That’s. . .weird. Unless there is a cultural mix-up in play here, I can’t see this being A Thing that happens regularly. Maybe someone would give the boss a personalized gift in the $30 range that couldn’t be used by someone else (stationery?) but a golf bag? I am very picky about things like that and wouldn’t give it to a beloved family member without their input ahead of time, never mind a boss.

      (In the case of a lower cost, personalized gift, I would say keep it. . .kind of like cookies and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, IMO.)

    2. OP*

      Like this situation, I am sure my employees would have been insulted had I refused the gifts. They were relatively personal – not just a generic gift card, but thoughtful gifts to places that I am very fond of. Personally, I am always much happier giving gifts than receiving, so I understand that. This is why I am ready to start typing a memo to distribute – if it’s a rule that managers can’t accept gifts, then it takes the awkwardness out.

      1. EmilyAnn*

        I must say, you must be a really wonderful boss for your employees to want to give this to you. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s also a sign that your people really appreciate you.

        1. OP*

          Thank you. I like to think that I am liked and respected, and this certainly validated that, but I felt uncomfortable just the same. I truly try to get to know all my employees and do my best to help them with whatever I can.

    3. SallytooShort*

      In those cases, it’s probably more gracious to accept but make clear that they shouldn’t feel obligated to do so ever again. And THEN next season make an early announcement about no gifts up.

      The next step is crucial. You can’t just say “oh, you really shouldn’t have” when the gift is given. You have to follow up and make clear that no gifts should be given up this year. And then if you return any gifts given you are on solid ground.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      Why the heck did the giver throw it away? If it was a stitched monogram, the stitching can be removed. Even if it was a stamp in the leather, I’m sure someone would love to buy that for a big discount at a consignment shop or Goodwill.

      I can’t imagine spending that kind of money on a gift for a boss no matter how much money I made. It was definitely right for the boss to refuse it. That gift giver went against some pretty obvious workplace norms of spending a way too high dollar amount, even if the norm in that office is to gift upward.

      1. Elsa*

        For top players in our industry, $500 is nothing. Throwing in the trash as a gesture to express the feeling of insult. In the end that (putting by the garbage bins) was probably a better way to get in the hands of someone else than even Goodwill tho, as people regularly pass that area and someone probably grabbed it and didn’t have to pay for it. Good for them. Anyway, I’m just trying to describe the economic/social dynamics in play.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I understand feeling insulted, but to me it’s a stupid reason to waste something brand new. Plenty of incredibly wealthy people don’t throw away brand new items just on principle. This paints your gift giver in a really bratty light; I can see why the boss didn’t want them to feel like he owed them something because they got him a gift when he didn’t want one.

          1. Fiennes*

            Yeah, I wouldn’t want to feel beholden to any adult capable of such petulance and wastefulness. Frankly I wouldn’t want to work with this person at all. If $500 is “nothing” to this dude, maybe he could consider donating that to a food bank this year instead?

            Related: Alison, what do you think of donations to a charity “in honor of” a coworker or boss? Obviously this would be a no-no if mandated (either officially or implicitly) — but if an employee genuinely wanted to do something nice without falling afoul of the gift-up principle?

  13. Shadow*

    After insisting they don’t have to do it take those gift cards and buy something for the team or donate them to a charity in the name of your employees

  14. Willow Sunstar*

    You could also say something like, “Instead of giving me a gift, please volunteer your time or donate to your favorite charity.” My company is actually pretty good about letting people volunteer, and sponsors events like handing out food during the week before Thanksgiving to a local food shelf.

  15. AnonEMoose*

    This does sound awkward to navigate – it does seem like a general memo/guideline is the way to go.

    I typically avoid the whole work gift thing by making cookies and bringing them in for everyone at some point in December. Anyone in my department is free to partake, anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t for whatever reason is free not to. I just make sure people know the cookies are at my desk, and I am happy to answer questions about ingredients and such. Most people seem to enjoy the cookies, I like to bake, so it works out.

    Another coworker gave her immediate term members a jar of homemade jam – delicious and thoughtful, but not expensive.

    For me, things like that are a nice gesture, but no one has to feel weird about it.

  16. Dorothy Zbornak*

    Is there any sort of diplomatic way to tell your boss that you really don’t need any gifts, either?

    At my last job, I never got gifts of any kind for the holidays, and I was 1000% cool with that. My first holiday at my current job was last year, and I was totally shocked when my two bosses chipped in to get me a $100 gift card to a really nice restaurant in town. Very kind, but totally unnecessary. I also felt weird because I didn’t get either of them anything (I do know that we shouldn’t give legit gifts upwards anyway, but I didn’t even give them cookies or anything. It just wasn’t a thing that was done in my old job.)

    I really don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I also don’t need anything! Is this the sort of situation where I just need to accept the gifts with a smile and sincere thanks?

      1. TootsNYC*

        well…it’s not for me, if “compensation” means “payment,” because their compensation should come from the company.

        The $50 gift card I give my team members each year come out of my money, not the company’s. I don’t expense it–it wouldn’t be allowed. And I don’t want them to get credit for it either–this is from me.

    1. Marthooh*

      Just thank them nicely and consider it a year-end bonus. Don’t escalate by turning it into a gift exchange – not even a cookies-for-pricey-restaurant-meal exchange.

  17. Anon anon anon*

    If you make an announcement and people ignore it, you could redistribute the gifts. Have an office give away or donate them and make an announcement about it. “Since some of you ignored my message about not giving gifts to managers, those gifts will be left under the office holiday tree at 5pm today, and another batch at 7am tomorrow. One gift per person, please. Enjoy!” Or have people answer trivia questions. Something fun that still gets the message across.

  18. Observer*

    Something to tell your direct team – point out that it appears that despite their best intentions others did feel the pressure last year and gave you gifts that really are sizeable enough to be concerning. Of course that’s not their intention, but when a bad result is clearly happening, it really is best to avoid it.

  19. Backroads*

    I did think of those people whose love language is gifts. In such cases, treats/trinkets are fine to accept because, hey, that’s what these people do.

    1. Birch*

      Gift giving etiquette is so hard though because even though gifts should be accepted graciously, they should also be given in good spirit. Giving something unusable or offensive or to someone who has specifically asked you not to give–that’s not giving in good spirit. It needs to be considered in both directions.

  20. Grateful for employee being awesome*

    Your first script is exactly what I came here to find. I have a new, eager, awesome direct report (new both to the company and for me as a first-time people manager), and she is a very thoughtful person who gave me a condolence card when my pet died, gave me a Boss’s Day card when I hadn’t even noticed that was the day, etc. I wanted to head her off at the generous & well-meaning path before she started thinking holiday presents, especially as I know how skint my company is on salaries. I also didn’t want her to feel bad about it if she really wanted to do something.

  21. Anon Accountant*

    I like the idea of a memo issued to all staff. And encouraging staff donate to their favorite charity instead of giving bosses gifts.

  22. BigLaw Midlevel*

    I’ve given up on fighting this. For one thing, I’m not my staff’s boss. I am their manager, kind of, but really I’m just the person that assigns them work. I don’t do their performance evals or anything like that. I feel like I don’t have any opening to push back on their customary $25-ish presents to me. Plus this is the custom in my firm and I think it’s what every secretary, etc. give when the attorneys give the customary christmas gift. I do my part on that and give exactly what I’m supposed to give according to the customary scale, and I’d be happy if they gave me nothing back but I don’t think it’s going to stop.

  23. LT*

    This is semi-related and can be its own thread on a weekend post, but what about traditions in foreign countries/cultures? I’m American-born but of eastern descent, and I can think of some countries where gift-giving is expected, and it’d be rude to turn down a gift.
    As for personal experience, in school my parents would give me small gifts to give to my teachers, which is where I must have gotten the idea that it’s okay to give a gift to someone of higher authority out of appreciation. Granted the dynamics are a bit different, but that connection to traditional etiquette wasn’t apparent to me. At my last job, I had given gifts to my supervisors, but then again I also gave to my coworkers. Looking back on it now, I realize it might’ve put them in an awkward spot, but there were no explicit statements about whether gifts were not preferred.
    In any case, I don’t mind taking my current boss off the list until I know more about how my new office handles the holidays. I love how much I learn here :)

    1. Birch*

      It should really be part of the training when you start a job! Could you subtly ask what other people do in your new job? Maybe there’s a set culture around it in that office already. I’m American and working in Northern Europe (although in academia, so maybe that’s different?)–but in my experience no one would ever think of giving gifts to anyone for the holidays! There’s a huge Christmas party culture here, but the company is expected to pay for it, and it’s not something that involves gifts or even spouses. I think it depends on what kind of power hierarchy and minimalist vs. “maximalist” culture there is. Northern Europe is very egalitarian and minimalist, and I think that’s why workplace holiday gifting isn’t a huge thing.

  24. Kittyfish 76*

    At oldjob, the 2 Queen Bees would put together a secret santa, voluntary of course, but you were dog poo if you did not participate (and were female). One year (my last thank goodness), I asked, in front of HR, when the exchange would take place. HR said “What secret santa?” Apparently, HR tried to stop the secret santa, and the VP said he would take care of it, but he was useless and the 2 Queen Bees pouted and got their way anyway. I am glad I left that place!

  25. tinyhipsterboy*

    If it’s a giftcard and your coworkers still insist on getting you one, why not use it for something for them? If it’s food, order something for the office if possible; if it’s Target or some such thing, get office supplies, or snacks, or small gifts for everyone (even if it’s just a few pieces of candy). You could even try and do a teambuilder with the money.

  26. DJ*

    Love the no gifting up policy. In an office where some of the seniors don’t know the first thing about me (due to their lack of interest and unwillingness to chat with me) and showed no general interest when I walked for charity recently the last thing I want to do is to give them gifts!!
    And secret santa the way to go as everyone gets something.

  27. GCEmp*

    Our company has an Ethics/Gift Policy and HR sends out a reminder email every year about it. (Just got it today in fact!) We’re a government contractor so we have to be extra careful but the general rule is: no cash ever, no gifts valued at more than $25 may be given or received (from anyone including vendors, subcontractors, competitors, or any private individual/entity we may seek to do business with) and Zero giving/receiving from any government agencies/employees ever. I’ve never heard of giving-down policies but it makes perfect sense. The only gift giving I have seen in the office is the occasional box of donuts in the break room and a small gift ($5 value) from the office dog (via his owner) in appreciation of all of us putting up with his occasional barks.

    My first job years ago had a secret-santa tradition which was fun but I was fresh out of high school and could barely afford gifts for my own family, let alone a coworker.

  28. LCH*

    my assistant just gave me a gift. it looks really small (like candy or something), and i thanked her. but i also said she shouldn’t feel like she needs to give her boss a gift and the thing about gifts flowing downward. i think i just ended up making her feel like she did something wrong and now i feel like a jerk :( how to do this in the future???

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