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Etiquette Tips for the Office Holiday Party and Coworker Gifts

Etiquette Tips for the Office Holiday Party and Coworker Gifts

By Cheryl Stein, Monster Business Coach

If you've ever been on the receiving end of an inappropriate gift from a colleague, you know that workplace gift giving can be a minefield. Making the wrong move can create lasting problems with coworkers. Alternatively, presenting a proper coworker gift or hosting an inclusive office holiday party can improve relationships, boost morale and give everyone in your workplace a warm and fuzzy feeling.

So as you get ready to spread your own holiday cheer, heed these cautionary tales and words of etiquette advice when it comes to celebrating and givings gifts at work:

Coworker Gift Exchange Gone Wrong

A client of mine once worked in a company that did an annual "Yankee Swap." If you haven’t heard of this game, the rules are simple: Participants bring in wrapped gifts of equal value. Everyone picks a number written on a slip of paper. The person who selects the slip with the number one chooses a gift first and unwraps it in front of everyone. The person with slip number two can "steal" gift number one or pick a new one, and so it goes until the last gift is selected. My client observed a new employee, unfamiliar with the game, who got so mad when her gift was swapped that she stopped talking to her "thieving" coworker altogether. No $10 scarf is worth such animosity. This example, though extreme, demonstrates that like everything else in the workplace some thought needs to be put into gift-giving policies.

Make the Gift Exchange About More Than a Present

Done right, gift giving can be a positive workplace experience. Consider adding another dimension to your coworker gift exchange by extending your generosity to the local community. Anyone who wants to participate in any sort of gift swap must also contribute to a food, clothing or toy drive. Such a collective effort can transform a fun game into a meaningful tradition everyone in the company can feel good about.

Rethink the Office Holiday Party

With all the holiday hype that goes on this time of year, we seldom take the time to remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays. This is your chance to work on your diversity sensitivity. Research other people’s religions and traditions, and try to make everyone in your workplace feel included in the festivities. Ask people to share their family or cultural traditions. Remember to include new employees in your office holiday party planning.

Coworker Gift-Giving Etiquette

To make the right choices, employees need a well-thought-out gift-giving strategy in the workplace. Consider these tips, adapted from Peggy and Peter Post:

  • Diversions such as Yankee Swap, Secret Santa and the like are fine, as long as nobody gets carried away. Underscore the lighthearted nature of the game.
  • If you are giving gifts to people who are special to you in the workplace, do it in private. There's no need to upset people who aren’t on your gift list.
  • Don’t give your boss or supervisor a gift that is just from you (unless they are a close personal friend, in which case the above rule applies). Ask others in the office to contribute so you look like a team player.
  • Don't give offensive, extravagant or joke gifts. Also steer clear of gifts involving alcohol, fragrance or clothing.
  • Always send thank-you notes for personal gifts.

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