Tis The Season

The etiquette of exchanging gifts with coworkers

Many offices host a gift exchange during the holiday season. Professionalism should always be a top priority when gifting coworkers, and some men and women may want to brush up on gift-giving etiquette before exchanging gifts with fellow employees.

Long before any gifts are exchanged, research your firm's policies on gift-giving. An employee handbook or a visit to the human resources department is a good place to start. When in doubt, inquire among more seasoned workers.

Many companies put dollar limits on gift values, while others have strict policies forbidding such exchanges, as it's easy for gifts to create discomfort around the office or give the impression of favoritism.

Gift exchanges also depend on the relationship between employees and their supervisors. Close, friendly relationships may warrant gift exchanges, especially if everyone else is on board with the idea. Gifting a boss is not necessary, but employees who have a close working relationship with their supervisors may want to purchase a professional gift to indicate their appreciation of a supervisor's support. These can include picture frames, gloves, scarves, books, and personal interest items. Steer clear of personal gifts or ones that can be taken the wrong way.

Inappropriate gifts should always be avoided. Decorative gifts that do not focus on any particular religion or holiday, inspirational books, calendars, plants, and publications that cater to a particular interest likely won't raise anyone's ire. However, self-help gifts, perfumes, lotions, or overly personal gifts may give recipients the wrong impression. While homemade foods were once popular gifts, many companies now discourage such gifts because they may trigger various food allergies.

Gift cards tend to be universally acceptable, but only when they do not exceed the agreed-upon spending limit. Grocery store gift cards can help employees offset some of the costs of entertaining, and gift cards to popular department stores may help offset holiday spending. Whenever any giving between coworkers takes place, care should be given to ensure all the gift values are equivalent. Coworkers who are especially close and want to give a more meaningful gift should exchange those gifts on their own time and not during office hours.

Tenure can also dictate gift-giving. Employees who have been with their companies longer than their coworkers may receive a more personalized gift. Employees who receive gifts from their bosses should not feel obligated to reciprocate. Employees should also keep in mind that personal thank-you notes are courteous, professional and appreciated.