The worst holiday present I ever got came from someone I quite liked. It wasn’t an insult or lump of coal. Nor was it wrapped in glitter paper, to explode into the carpet and sparkle like a drunk party-crasher.
Nope, it was simply a present from a peer at work. Wine maybe. But it was all done up, with a card and an envelope. And I had nothing to give in return. “Hells bells!” as my father might say.
Workplace giving can be tricky.
Oh, at a Fortune 250 company, it’s OK. HR makes sure you know who to give presents to, and when, and how. Or, at a startup with lots of cash in a time of limitless albeit eventually unfounded optimism. There you can give anybody anything. Whoopee, we’re going to be millionaires! Oh, wait, we’re not! Any gifts given or received are nothing compared to the mansions we will not be owning.
However, in an tense office, gift-giving sparks the the power and influence grid like mosquitoes in a summer bug zapper. At dusk. Bzzt! Bzzt!
So let’s review the Highest Principle And Do’s And Don’ts Of Workspace Gift-Giving, shall we? (Here’s an aside for the grammar-particular on do’s and don’ts. I am aiming for more accuracy on the blog, but I confess precision’s not my strong point.)
The Highest Principle Of Workspace Gifts
- Gifts cost, either money or time
- As a result, they can create a transactional sense of obligation
- The intensity and nature of the obligation will vary with the power differential between gifter and giftee.
If You Are A Manager Setting The Guidelines
- Do use the season as a time to team-build. The team lunch or team dinner can be a wonderful occasion.
- Do make sure you understand the budget and alcohol policies.
- Do reinforce team culture.
- Do consider a team-specific Secret Santa program. Open the gifts at the dinner/lunch, especially if you have set the expectation gifts should be funny or endearing, not routine.
- Don’t surprise anyone – even if you don’t want to set group norms, let your direct reports know your plans, and that you do not expect or want gifts from them.
- Don’t mince words – Lesson #1 of becoming a manager is How To Speak Directly. Make your expectations and guidelines clear, in a supportive and leader-like way.
If You Are The Subordinate Giving To Your Boss
- Do ask your manager. If asking would seem weak in your company culture, at least update him or her on all your gift plans, in passing.
- Do consider giving homemade food, or nicely-made if you don’t cook. Food feels the coziest of all the gifts, and the least like a power play.
- Don’t curry favor. But you wouldn’t, would you?
If You Are Giving To Your Peers
- Do check with your manager. He or she can raise the topic at the staff meeting for the next level up, to see what other groups might be thinking.
- Do be aware that if you give something to your peers when they don’t expect it, you may make them look and feel bad.
- Don’t go overboard with fancy wrapping and cards, unless your workplace is design, marketing, or crafts-oriented.
- Do give your gifts to colleagues-who-have-become-personal-friends outside the office
May all your Christmases be bright, may all your office parties celebrate a shared success, and may all your glitter stay where you dang well put it in the first place.