'Tis the season to be jolly but too many of us are stressed out, especially when it comes to giving gifts at work. We all seem to be worried about what gifts are appropriate to give to our coworkers, clients and especially our boss. If your boss gives you a present do you have to give one back in return? (No.) Can you re-gift a gag gift from last year’s party? (No.) Is it mandatory to give a gift to every coworker? (No.) Following some key office gift-giving do’s and don’ts can take a lot of stress out of the holiday season.


Research the office gift giving policy. There may or may not be an official rule on gift giving. Knowing the specific guidelines will take pressure off of you and give you a clear course of action.

Ask around. If it’s your first year on the job you may not be familiar with how the holidays are celebrated in the office. Ask your coworkers what they have done in the past and what plans are in place for the upcoming holiday season. If it’s all still up in the air, feel free to contribute your thoughts at the next staff meeting or around the office kitchen or where people usually congregate to discuss what’s going on.

Understand that companies vary from place to place. Some clients will gladly accept a nice bottle of wine or box of fruit while others aren’t allowed to receive gifts of any kind. Call the company and ask about their specific gift giving policy before sending something that your client cannot accept.

Determine what types of gifts are appropriate for your company gift exchange. Every business is different and what is acceptable in one office may be inappropriate for another. A casual tech company may have a more relaxed gift giving policy than a large corporation with hundreds or even thousands of employees. Good taste and sound judgment come into play when determining what to buy.

Give something thoughtful. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive but it should be well planned. If you know who will be receiving your gift, put in a little time to get something your coworker will appreciate. Wrap it carefully and include a bow. If you give a gift card, make sure it is to a store or coffee shop you know they will enjoy.

Stay within the designated budget. If there is a spending cap, don’t embarrass others by giving a much larger or smaller gift. Either way, someone will feel uncomfortable when they unwrap your gift box. 


Don’t give a gag gift. You don’t know how other people will react to what you perceive as harmless fun. Steer clear of anything political, religious or too personal. Even if they don’t appear to be offended, what is funny to you may not be as humorous to someone else.

Don’t exchange gifts with only a few coworkers. It causes hurt feelings to give gifts to some people and leave others out. However, if you do not intend to give a gift to all of your peers, which most people do not, just be sure to meet someplace for lunch or after work to exchange those gifts privately.

Don’t refuse to join in the fun. You may not enjoy the office holiday festivities, but opting out of the Secret Santa ceremony sets you up to look like a Scrooge. Unless you are unable to participate because of religious reasons, join in the festivities and be a part of the team.

Don’t buy an elaborate gift for your boss. A small token of appreciation is considerate and all that is necessary for your boss. Better still, go in on a gift from the office and have everyone sign the holiday card. This will save you from looking as if you are a brown-nosing reindeer.

Don’t bring in food items as gifts to those who have taken an early vacation. There is always someone who asks for time off during the holidays. That employee will not want the cranberry orange bread you baked sitting on their desk for two weeks, collecting flies. Find out who will be in the office and plan your baking accordingly.

Don’t pretend you left their gift at home. If someone gives you a gift and you don’t have one to give in return, simply say “thank you for thinking of me” and leave it alone. Rushing out to get something for someone you didn’t intend to give a gift to may throw off your budget. Wait until after the holidays and take them out for a New Year’s lunch. Receiving a gift is not an automatic obligation to reciprocate.

Taking the time to understand the office policies on gift giving and putting real thought into the gift that you buy a coworker, client or boss can help solidify relationships and boost morale in the office during the holidays. The wrong holiday gift can do just the opposite.