As we head into the holidays, would-be corporate Santas and entrepreneurial elves are making their list and checking it twice to see which of their business associates have been naughty--or nice.

While all gift givers hope that an appropriate and thoughtful holiday offering will be warmly received by an appreciative client, thankful coworker or delighted boss, when it comes to presenting presents at work, it's not just the thought that counts. Here're a few hints about how to keep your gift giving on track this holiday season.

Marketing vs gift giving.

One of the important things to understand is the difference between marketing and gift gifting. Promotional products (such as pens imprinted with a company logo) are often the gift of choice at holiday time.

But when you put your logo on the box instead of the item, you get your branding message out without ruining an otherwise useful gift. As for the ubiquitous baseball caps and T-shirts, forget about it. The last thing anyone wants or needs is more corporate logo clothing.

To gift or not to gift the boss? That is the question.

Even if your co-workers all decide to chip in and buy a present for your boss, participation should not be obligatory. But what if your boss gives you a gift? A polite thank-you and a card are all that is required in return. Some companies have even gone so far as to institute a policy that discourages internal gift giving.

The skinny on customer gifts.

There is no rule of etiquette that requires you to give a holiday gift to your clients. But in the event you feel moved to do so, it's prudent to stay with a reasonable dollar limit to avoid creating a feeling of imbalance or discomfort. Some of the best gifts to give clients include:

  • Food, such as fresh fruits, candy, nuts and other holiday treats
  • Wine
  • Gift cards for places such as Amazon, Best Buy and others where they can make their own choice of purchase
  • Experiences, such as a gift certificate to a restaurant, theater, movie or concert

Co-worker considerations.

If you are moved by the spirit of the season to give your fellow cubical mates a token of holiday appreciation, Peter Post, Director of the Emily Post Institute, cautions that there are a few things to consider.

"Ask yourself if this is someone you want to exchange gifts with on a personal level as a friend," he says.

If the answer is yes, Post suggests giving the gift outside of the office. If, however, the gift is being given as an acknowledgment of your coworker's contribution during the year, Post says it's fine to deliver the gift in private, during office hours.

By taking the time to stop and consider these gift-giving guidelines, you can be sure that your good intentions and carefully considered gifts will impress, rather than stress, your customers and colleagues this holiday season.

Published on: Nov 8, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.