It’s that time of year for a little holiday cheer. But when it comes to seasonal gift-giving in the office (or the remote work environment), there are a few things to keep in mind.
For business owners or bosses who want to give a holiday gift to their employees, something like an end-of-year bonus or gift card can be a good option. Keep the amount you give consistent to avoid staff drama. “People talk, and they’ll compare how much they got,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, a business etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. “If you’re going to give a gift, make sure to give equally among all of your employees.”
But a monetary gift isn’t the only option. A CEO could give their employees something like a Honey Baked Ham or a turkey to kick off the holiday season.
“My favorite gift that a previous employer gave me was the gift of time,” says Karen Shepherd, founder of Naples-based human resources consulting firm HR by Karen and president of HR Collier, an affiliate chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Getting an extra couple days to use any time in December? How fantastic—we all need it.”
A personal touch can go a long way. “Anyone can go get an Amazon gift card,” says Shepherd. “But is the Amazon gift card going to come with a handwritten, personalized note? Then maybe that is something special. If your manager or supervisor takes the time to write a handwritten note, that is a commodity these days.”
But don’t get too personal. “Play it safe,” says Evelyn Cannata, CEO of Naples-based Etiquette By Evelyn. “It’s inappropriate to give clothing, jewelry or anything of that personal nature to employees.”
An office gift exchange like a “Secret Santa” can be a fun bonding experience for employees. But it’s important to have some guidelines around it to respect the varied financial situations and cultural backgrounds of a company’s staff.
“It’s wise to set spending limits so that no one looks like he or she is trying to win favor,” says Whitmore. “And I would make it optional … so people who don’t necessarily want to participate don’t have to.”
When choosing a gift for a coworker, employees should think about the fact that everyone in the office will likely be watching when it’s opened. What one person thinks is hilarious could come across as offensive or immature to someone else. “Put a little class in your life,” says Cannata. “No lingerie, no sexual innuendo gifts—that is totally, totally taboo. Pretend you’re giving a gift to your sister. It’s better to play it safe than sorry.”
That’s not to say that a gift can’t be tailored to a coworker’s personality or interests, especially if the two employees know each other well. But it’s best to stick with things that are office appropriate, like a pretty picture frame where someone can display a photo of their kids or an attractive planter for the coworker who likes to keep a fern or cactus on their desk.
If a business wants to give holiday gifts to clients or vendors, the same kind of thinking applies. Personal or useful gifts are often appreciated more than just sending a bunch of swag with your company’s logo in an underwhelming gift basket. “If you’re fortunate enough to have a good client in today’s world, call up a caterer and have them cater lunch for his family,” says Cannata. “Be a little creative and maintain your relationships.”