December 6th, 2009

Gift Giving Etiquette: The Office Politics of Holiday Gifts

by Jacqueline Whitmore

gift givingMany thanks to LATimes reporter Alana Semuels for consulting with me on the dos and don’ts of holiday gift giving at work.  Here is the article that appeared in her column, “Ask Alana,” on December 6, 2009.

The holiday season is upon us. Time for eggnog, caroling — and worries about what to buy the boss.

Dear Alana: I have been working in an office for a little more than a year now. Last year I did not exchange any gifts with co-workers because I was new. However, now that I have been here over a year, who am I supposed to give a card or gift to? What is appropriate?

Oscar in El Monte

Dear Oscar: It’s a tough question. If your cubicle mate presents you with a diamond-studded “Best Colleague Ever” mug, you’ll feel like a heel if you don’t reciprocate. But if you shower your boss with gifts, you might be branded the office kiss-up forevermore.

The best plan, some experts say, is to be a Scrooge.

“You’re not obligated to give anybody a gift or a card,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, the author of “Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work.”

However, Whitmore says, if you feel you have to do something, stick with work-appropriate items that cost less than $20. She suggests a picture frame, a nice pen or a music gift card (presumably to buy songs to tune out the endless office prattle).

If you’re going to buy a present for your boss, Whitmore said, go in with other people so that you can get a nicer gift and don’t come off looking like a bootlicker.

If it’s a big office, ask a colleague whether there’s a tradition of Secret Santa. Maybe you have to worry about only one gift.

Given the tough economy, maybe you could all agree to limit your office gifting this year to a holiday potluck or cookie exchange. It’s cheap, tasty and takes all the pressure off — unless you’re on a diet or don’t care for fruitcake.

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