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 with you that gifts in the office should only flow down (managers can give gifts to employees, but employees shouldn’t give gifts to managers because of the power dynamic). 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. 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. banzo_bean*

    Curious about the part of the answer where AAM says not to refuse food or trinkets at risk of offending others.
    I usually make jam that I can and give to my immediate team for Christmas including my boss.
    Is that an inappropriate gift to my boss? I’ve never even considered that they might not be refusing it out of fear or seeming rude.

    1. Zona the Great*

      That sounds perfectly fine and normal to me. I give things like this to the team and include boss as well.

    2. Jamie*

      I think anything homemade like that is different – just a lovely gesture.

      I make homemade dog treats and prepare a bag for all the dependent pups of my coworkers and bosses. Clearly not trying to buy favor! (although since I recently met a cat who loves these treats as well perhaps I should expand?)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Absolutely acceptable behavior. When everyone gets the same thing, like a jar of homemade jam [yum!], that’s different than when you’re singling any one person out. It’s also rude when snacks are involved to leave someone out purposely without their shooing it away in some fashion or just not picking it up if it’s on a grab-n-go location.

      The idea is the difference between a token of appreciation [a holiday themed pen or a coffee cup with a cat that looks like your bosses favorite cat] instead of a gift card of high value that is inappropriate to anyone who isn’t someone you’re in a caring reciprocal same-level relationship with.

      Now if you ONLY gave the jam to your boss and didn’t do anything for your team, that would open the door to some more room to make a boss uncomfortable, since again, it’s that singling out aspect in the long run.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Thanks everyone for replying! I guess I almost don’t consider it a gift, I have a pomegranate tree at my house that I use to make the jam so it’s really just the cost of sugar, pectin, and mason jars. Plus I end up making way more than needed for my team, so I do need to unload the stuff.

        I just never want to make my boss uncomfortable with gift giving. It’s such an awkard thing to have to refuse someone’s gifts.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Honestly, I think homemade food is in a different category – especially jams and stuff. Like you said, it’s usually someone who has the tree/vine/bush in their yard and likes making jam.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      I used to give small boxes of chocolates (~$5 each) or homemade baked goods to my entire team at the holidays, including our manager. I never saw it as a problem, although once my boss was like “oh you don’t have to give me anything!” and I just told her I’d gotten enough for everyone including me. Our team size fluctuated from 5-8 people so it wasn’t expensive to do.

    5. Phony Genius*

      I had a report that came from a part of the world where routinely gifting your boss is a norm. The first time she did it, she gave me an expensive pudding dessert from a nearby shoppe. (Spelling for emphasis.) I explained why she shouldn’t do this, but I would accept it this one time only because it was perishable. Well, the only part of the message she processed was “because it was perishable,” so she continued to try to gift me elaborate (not home-made) food. I had to ask her to share it with others, instead. Shortly after that, I came down with a medical condition that prohibited me from eating almost everything, so only then did she finally stop. She was later reassigned to another group, then left for a better job. I am hearing that she finally understands the awkwardness, and instead brings food for the whole group. (And I have substantially recovered so I can eat many foods again – but not pudding.)

    6. kittymommy*

      I would think that’s fine. I make a homemade box of goodies for each of my bosses (along with a tray of the same foods for the breakroom). Not only do they seem to enjoy it I have a few that try to sneak particular favorites out of other boxes…

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think something like jam that you make in a big batch and share with a lot of people is perfectly acceptable. It says that you thought well enough of them to include in your list of recipients, but you would have made it anyway so there’s not any sort of perceived pressure.

  2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Love these scripts provided!

    Give it back and graciously decline when people “insist” and do it anyways.

    1. Jamie*

      Yep – kind of like the rules my mom taught me as a kid about gifts from boys. It’s wrong to accept anything more expensive or intimate than appropriate for the relationship…just be gracious when you refuse.

      1. Gumby*

        There was a commercial that I saw a couple of times at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving weekend where the theme was basically “we’ve been on a couple of dates and I don’t hate you so let’s see where it goes” and the guy gave his date a necklace of some sort, probably involving diamonds. On one hand – whoa there bucko, it’s a little early in this relationship for diamonds; on the other hand – “let’s see where this goes” is not at all romantic and sounds like you are kind of unenthusiastic about dating her.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I love how over the top and extra jewelers are in their ads.

          Even if the person is as rich as Mark Cuban, don’t go gifting diamonds after a couple dates, I don’t care of it’s a drop in your bucket, that has underlying meanings attached.

      2. SarcastiCarrie*

        My grandmother taught me that the first piece of jewelry you should ever accept from a man is an engagement ring, so those necklaces and diamond stud earrings will need to wait and become anniversary gifts, I guess.

        1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

          My mother said that the first diamond you should get is an engagement ring, so I never got my birthstone (April baby here) in any jewellery from my parents.

          Turns out, my engagement ring is a sapphire anyway.

  3. Blue*

    What do people think about making a statement like this when you’re a new manager and you’ve just hired a new team? I don’t want to assume they would be giving gifts, but I also want to head anything off at the pass. Also, I’ve never given holiday gifts at work before—should I get them gifts?

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