columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Have questions about giving gifts in your office this holiday season? We've got answers in this roundup of answers to five holiday-related questions from readers.

1. My employees held a party without asking or involving us

My husband owns two companies, and we are both very involved in the management of the businesses. The companies employ about 20 people. Company one invited all the employees in both businesses to a holiday party. This party was refused by all but one employee in company two. 

Without any consideration, company two decided to have a holiday party during their lunch break. This took some planning and included a gift exchange, potluck, etc. No member of management, including the owner who was present at the time, was ever asked or invited to the party. No one asked us if it was OK to even host a party. Literally, the owner was sitting on the other side of the wall eating a sandwich when he realized a party was going on. He was not offered a plate of food or an invitation to sit with the staff or recognized in any way.

We only discovered this party at the time it took place. There were many attempts made to work out any scenario that would bring company one and company two staff together for our party. It's usually a blast, and everyone talks about how much fun the parties are years later. I feel offended, and I think the staff was sneaky. I can only imagine all the things they are doing behind my back, too. I feel fairly certain they are becoming a closed clique with horrible manners. What should I do now? Just forget it and move on? It's done. I'm not sure there is anything that I can do.

Green responds:

You should not be offended over this! I know it can feel weird to be in your shoes, but your employees weren't sneaky; they shouldn't need your OK to have a holiday party, and there's no indication they're doing other things behind your back.

It's pretty reasonable that they'd want to hold their own party with their own co-workers rather than attend a holiday party at a different business. Even though both businesses have the same owner, those aren't their co-workers. You work with two companies, but they don't.

If you see other evidence that they're becoming problematically cliquish or bad-mannered in ways that impact the business, you should address those things. But this is not evidence of that.

2. Co-worker is pressuring us all to chip in more money for a gift to our boss

I work for a small company, and this time every year our office takes up a collection that goes toward a gift card or something similar for our owners. It has never been advertised, at least that I know of, how much the collection totals out to and no number has ever been requested. The general understanding is just chip in if you can or want to, and it's given at the holiday party and that's that. 

This year, one of my co-workers apparently got wind of how much had been collected so far and is up in arms about the amount. He has now sent out three emails detailing what wonderful bosses we have and that the amount collected is a "disgrace." Each email has been more condescending than the last, and honestly I'm fed up. I gave to the fund and I really feel like he's crossing the line by continuing to make snarky comments and imply how ungrateful we all are for not giving more to the fund. I think this all comes from his giving more than everyone else, but I also think it's none of his business what anyone else has done or given. The holiday party is coming up and I'm really at a loss as to what to do here.

Green responds:

Please, please say something. I can almost guarantee you that some of your co-workers are feeling pressured to give more money than they can afford and are feeling really uncomfortable with this guy. Ideally, you should reply-all to one of his pushy emails and say something like this: "Please stop pressuring people to contribute to this. I'm sure people gave what they could afford and were inclined to contribute, and we should not be pressuring people to give more of their personal money than they felt comfortable giving."

And then, if you really want bonus points from grateful co-workers, you could add, "For what it's worth, etiquette experts say that employees shouldn't 'gift up' to their managers at all; it's considered in poor taste because of the power dynamic in the relationship." 

3. Holiday gifts and favoritism

I work within a team of 12 with two other managers. Between us, we are responsible for managing four of the staff members. Within the team, there are strong friendships outside of work as well as in the office. Those people are in the habit of bringing holiday gifts in for each other, which highlights whether you are in their clique or not. I think this is totally inappropriate, but as I don't manage everyone I find it difficult to address this. Last year, I suggested a secret Santa, but it wasn't viewed favorably. It is very uncomfortable and makes some managers seem like they're favoring people as they tend to return the favor.

Green responds:

You can't really police whether people give gifts to their co-workers, and you shouldn't implement a "you have to bring something for the whole class" rule. People are going to form friendships with some people and not with others. You can certainly insist that they work well with all their co-workers, friends or not, but their gift giving is their own business.

However, managers should either give something to everyone they manage or to none of them. That's just part of being a manager; you need to appear reasonably impartial. You might point that out to your fellow managers, and suggest that all of you issue a joint "no gifts for us this year -- your hard work is gift enough" request to your team.

4. Being fair about time off around the holidays

We are a small office with 11 employees; the calendar time between Christmas and New Year's is time that all would like to have off. How can we be fair about everyone having an opportunity to take this time? I don't think first come, first served will work. Draw straws?

Green responds:

Explain to people ASAP that you'll need at least X people in the office that week, and ask people to tell you right away if (a) they want that time off or (b) they're willing to work it. Explain that if you're not able to get enough coverage, you might need to deny some requests, but that you'll do your best to avoid that happening. And then -- this is key -- offer incentives for the people who volunteer to work that week. If you can swing it, the best incentives are bonuses, holiday pay, or an extra vacation day. If you can't swing those, think about providing free lunch and other food that week and, if possible, let people leave early and dress casually. If you make it appealing enough to people, some people will volunteer to work those days.

If you don't get enough voluntary coverage and you need to deny some time-off requests, it's reasonable to go by seniority (as long as you're not in a low-turnover situation that would mean that some people never get the time off that they want, year after year) or first come, first served (as long as you don't let people fill up the prime December vacation slots in January).

5. Gifts for my employees

I always appreciated when my bosses gave me gifts. As a newer manager, I'd like to do something for my team of four to five people. Last year, I gave each individual a small gift card and a bottle of wine. Is that reasonable? Any protocol you'd suggest managers follow? Unfortunately, the big stuff (PTO and pay raises) is out of my hands!

Green responds:

Sure -- as long as you know they all drink alcohol.

But if you really want to make an impression, write them each a note about why you appreciate working with them and their contributions this year. That's likely to create warmer, fuzzier feelings. If you think about it, that makes sense. The gifts that leave people feeling the best are usually personal ones that the recipients can tell were picked out with real thought just for them. It's hard to do that with colleagues sometimes, but a personal note hits those same buttons, and will carry a ton of weight because you're their boss. It's the kind of thing people will often keep for a long time.

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