Office Gift-Giving Etiquette

What are the rules for gifting your colleagues -- and bosses? An expert shares her secrets for navigating this tricky exchange.
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To Gift or Not

When it comes to inter-cubicle gift-giving, confusion often reigns. Every assistant has tales of getting clearly re-gifted items from a seemingly ungrateful boss; plenty of bosses have known the pain of a clearly kissing-up holiday trinket; and Secret Santas... well, that's just an entire nightmare altogether.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines to help keep you out of the water-cooler conversation. Leah Ingram, author of You Shouldn't Have! How to Give Gifts They'll Never Forget, (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2001) has some advice to guide you through the bleakest office-etiquette blizzard.

"It's important to give gifts at the holiday," says Ingram. "It's how you say thank you to people who support you throughout the year, and how you show appreciation to your professional mentors." With any gift, she says, get your idea from something the gift-getter has mentioned. "Your gift-radar should go up around mid-November," she says. "Scan the floor for dropped hints." And let the card explain why this gift could only go to the recipient. "I had a boss who gave me a manicure, and the card said 'I knew I had made it when I was able to go to Georgette Klinger. Enjoy your taste of what's to come.' That was a vote of confidence, and a great gift.'"

A good rule of thumb, she advises, is to spend no more than the IRS allows. "You get no more than a $25 tax deduction for each professional gift," she says. "CNN has a policy that gifts can't be worth more than $20. So you've got the top-end of your range right there."

When "gifting up," you don't want to appear too ingratiating. After all, a brown nose doesn't go with the rest of the Rudolph costume. Picking something that goes with the boss' hobby is a good bet, because it shows you know more about her than how many copies she likes to have made. "Most people in management don't need another tchotchke," Ingram says. "If that person has a charity she supports, you can give a gift in her name."

If you're the boss-er rather than the boss-ee, you should make a similar effort to zero in on a hobby, interest, or pet cause. "You want the 'wow' factor, as in 'wow, this person really does appreciate me!'" says Ingram.

If you're wondering what the cutoff is, the answer is in your gut. "If it makes you feel weird to give a particular person a gift, don't do it," she says. "You tip people with whom you do regular business throughout the year; this is no different."

Continued on page 2:  Essential Dos and Don'ts


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