Buying Gifts for Co-Workers and Bosses. Yea or Nay?

I previously talked about how to handle holiday office parties professionally. Now I want to discuss how to handle buying gifts for others at work. This can be trickier than one might think. I know when I first started off, I wasn’t sure what was considered to be good etiquette or bad etiquette. Now that I have some years under my belt, surviving the holidays at work had become a breeze. Here are some guidelines.

Co-Worker Gifts

Buying Gifts for Co-Workers

All in all, you are safe to buy gifts for co-workers. You don’t have to buy a gift for everyone if you don’t want to. You can simply buy gifts for the co-workers that you are closest with. If you feel uncomfortable giving one person a gift in front of someone else, then wait until they are not at their desk or when the two of you are heading out to your cars after work. Overall though, you shouldn’t feel bad that you are buying one person a gift and not another. With all of the time we spend at work, it’s a given that we will make friends.

Office Secret Santa

There are a few different ways companies handle Secret Santa. In some cases, you pick a name out of a hat and you have to buy a gift for that person. At my old employer, we picked a number. Whoever was “number 1” picked first. All of the gifts we wrapped on a table and you could pick any one you wanted. The gift dollar limit was $20 and you were free to buy a “gag” gift.

If your company follows a Secret Santa like my old company did, I would highly encourage you to participate. It is loads of fun and you can buy anything you want. The best gifts were the practical ones: $20 gift cards to Target or a local gas station. While it is OK to decide not to join in, I discourage it. There was one woman who didn’t participate and while we were all laughing and having a good time, there she was over at her desk working away. We never were certain why she didn’t join in (she did celebrate Christmas because she would talk about it all of the time), but it just seemed odd.

If your Secret Santa follows the more traditional route of picking a name, it will be harder to buy a gift for Mike in Accounts Payable with whom you’ve never really spoken too. In this case, play it safe. Go with a generic gift like a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart or from a gas station. Even better would be to seek out the assistance of one of his close co-workers that you do know to get some ideas. I would recommend against just buying him something, such as a bottle of wine because you don’t know if he even drinks wine, if he is a recovering alcoholic, or loves it. Instead of taking that chance, play it safe.

Buying for the Boss

When it comes to buying a gift for your boss the answer is no. Regardless of the situation, it is still no. Trust me on this one. While buying a gift might appear to be a good idea in your mind, it really isn’t  First off, co-workers will think you are simply “sucking-up” to the boss. If you get a bigger raise or a promotion next year, it’s not because you earned it, it’s because you are a suck up. None of your co-workers will look at you in the same light.

Though doubtful, your boss might see it as “sucking up” as well. It’s best to avoid buying the boss a gift at all costs. If you still feel as though you should do something, give them a card. Simply say happy holidays and leave it at that.

Final Thoughts

Buying gift for bosses and co-workers can be filled with landmines. To navigate it best is to avoid standing out. Join in on the company Secret Santa and buys gifts for close friends. But steer clear of buying gifts for your boss or even subordinates. This can derail your career in more ways than you think.

Readers, how do you handle buying gifts at the work place for the holidays?

8 Responses to Buying Gifts for Co-Workers and Bosses. Yea or Nay?

  1. Michelle says:

    There’s only 4 of us at my firm, and we all exchange gifts. It kind of stinks because I ever know what to get them.

  2. LaTisha says:

    We don’t do a gift exchange at my job. Usually my boss will have a small gift for each of us but nothing extravagant. We did get a pretty nice bottle last year from the CEO though. ;)

  3. I just don’t exchange gifts. I don’t feel the need to and hope no one buys me anything. New jobs make it harder the first year.

  4. In previous jobs we’d have a white elephant gift exchange. I always preferred that as you generally only had to spend around $10 and it was just for one person. It made it fun and got it all out of the way. Now that my wife and I run our own business, it’s thankfully something we don’t have to deal with the politics of.

  5. We did a white elephant for Mr. PoP’s work team last year. It is crazy what some people think are good gifts! You know what present got fought over?!? A crockpot! A crockpot for heaven’s sake! There were serious negotiations about who ended up going home with it. Crazy!

  6. We have a secret santa club for the younger workers in the building. Gifts are capped at $20 gift and we throw in $10 for pizza lunch with balance going to charity. This works out well for us. If anyone gave me a gift that wasn’t a gag gift outside of this meeting it would definitely be a little strange.

  7. Megan says:

    I’m lucky in that I work with a really small company – there’s only four of us, and two are new this year – I think we’ll do a little gift exchange – we bring each other souvenirs from our trips, after all. I usually make gifts, and who doesn’t like a little bottle of home-made vanilla extract, or spicy dipping oil?

    I love the holidays – it’s such a nice time to get to know your co-workers better.

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