Should you give your boss holiday gifts? Be careful.

Want to give your boss a special holiday gift to show how much you appreciate him or her? You might want to think again before you wrap that special present: etiquette experts say that gift giving in the workplace should flow down the office power structure, not up. You’d also be going against the tidings tide: survey results show that only 25% of workers buy gifts for their boss. 

“Gifting up” may not only be inappropriate, but it may put you at a disadvantage with both your boss and your fellow co-workers, if it’s seen as a maneuver to win a few brownie points, according to Lizzie Post, co-author of Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business. This is especially true if the gift is expensive, personal (such as clothing, jewelry or a massage), or potentially offensive. 

Of course, every work environment – as well as every boss/employee relationship – is unique. There are some instances where it may be appropriate to give your boss a gift. If you think this is the case, here are three tips on how to do it right: 

  1. Learn about precedents on presents.

If you are new to a job, ask your coworkers what’s been done in the past in terms of gift giving. Some important questions to ask: Does the boss usually give employee gifts? (According to the same survey, only 9% do.) Have employees pooled together in past years to give a group gift? Does the boss have any expectations on gift giving in the workplace? You should fully understand the current culture on gift giving before you add your boss to your holiday list. 

  1. Give an inexpensive gift.

If you are adamant about giving your boss a gift, choose a small token of appreciation, such as home-baked cookies, a gift basket, or a special holiday card. Surveys show that those who do give to their supervisors spend in the range of $10-$25.  If you spend too much on a gift, it could be an awkward situation for your boss, who may or may not be planning on reciprocating by giving employee gifts. 

  1. Chip in on a group gift – or not.

If your coworkers are in the habit of buying a group gift for the boss, feel free to say “no” if you don’t want to participate. You should not feel any compulsion to give money toward a gift if you are uncomfortable doing so – or simply can’t afford it. However, if you want to give a gift, the group route is a fairly safe way to go. If you are helping to pick out the group gift, remember the advice above: nothing too personal or inappropriate. 

Whatever you decide to do for your boss, make sure that your intentions are in the right place. Most bosses would agree that a sincere comment on how much you appreciate their leadership, along with goodwill wishes for them and their family, would trump any kind of tangible gift you can give. 

What’s been your experience on gifting up? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

For tips on keeping your holiday shopping in line with your budget, download our Holiday Shopping Guide. 

Holiday Spending Budget Template


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