Each week, Inc. staff writer Nadine Heintz (Miss Management) will help you tackle office etiquette problems both big and small.
Dear Miss Management,
I own a small business in Milwaukee. Last year, some of my employees exchanged presents during our holiday party, while others were left out. On one hand, I'd like to institute some kind of policy that will prevent this from happening again. But, on the other hand, I don't want to be a grinch. Help!
Worried in Wisconsin
There's nothing worse than being the only person at the office holiday party who didn't receive a present. I applaud your sensitivity to those employees who might have felt left out last year. Luckily, there are ways to promote holiday gift giving that will make your entire staff feel warm and fuzzy.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of grab bags. It all dates back to the fourth grade, when my teacher asked us each to bring a small present to the holiday party. She dumped all of the gifts into a giant black garbage bag and proceeded to pass it around the room. Being the tallest person in the class, I sat in the far, back corner of the room so nobody would be distracted by my giant head. When the grab bag finally got to me, the only thing left was a headless plastic Santa Claus filled with stale candies. Needless to say, I felt ripped off. I wasn't a materialistic or spoiled kid, but come on!
Rather than go the grab bag route, try a gift swap. Gift swaps add an element of mystery to the holidays (I wonder who has me?) and forces everyone to be nice to each other for at least a few days (I better not take her pen or she may stiff me!). It also raises the bar as far as gift quality, since the present giver's identity will be revealed eventually. In other words, there's less chance that a headless Santa will make it into the mix.
In case you've never done a gift swap, here's how it works: Have your employees put their names in a hat. Ask each one to select a name and purchase a gift for that person. It's just for fun, so set a price limit of, say $10 per gift. That will force you and your staff to get creative. (But not too creative!) Make it clear that the gifts are to be distributed at the holiday party to ensure that no one is left out. Then, give away.
Have a dilemma for Miss Management? Send her an e-mail with the subject line "Miss Management" and check back here Tuesdays for the answer.