For many years, my editor was a close friend. He gave me guidance in life and at work. So when the holidays rolled around, I felt like I wanted to give him something. I usually opted for holiday treats, which I presented discreetly. Finding the right gift for someone in the workplace and deciding who to give a gift is tricky.
I got some advice from the experts for my Miami Herald column. How do you handle workplace gift-giving? Have you ever given a gift to a boss?
From left, Joanie Stein, a senior manager in the tax department, shares a laugh with Celia Cue, the director of human resources and Richard Berkowitz, the CEO of Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants. EMILY MICHOT / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
One day in the company lunchroom, Jason Ibarra and his co-workers had a conversation about what they were going to buy their boss for the holidays. As the agency director at Exults Internet Marketing, Ibarra considered aloud how much to spend and asked: “What do you get a guy who probably has money to buy himself more than I can afford?”
In the workplace, holiday gifting can have big implications. Buy too extravagant a gift for a boss and you look like a suck-up. Worse, don’t buy a gift and you could come off as unappreciative. “It can be a little awkward,” Ibarra says.
Ibarra solved his dilemma by putting a black-painted jar in the lunchroom at his Fort Lauderdale firm. He suggested staff put in whatever they feel comfortable giving for the boss’ gift. They collected $250 and bought the boss a fishing rod, which they presented to him as a group gift for Hanukkah.
Etiquette experts say bosses should give their employees gifts to thank them for performance or dedication, but employees don’t need to give a gift back. In the workplace, giving should be down — supervisors to employees — rather than up. “Don’t feel the need to reciprocate if your boss is showing appreciation for your year of hard work,” says Amanda Augustine, a careers expert with TheLadders, an online job-matching site for career-driven professionals.
If you do give the boss a gift, do it for the right reason. “If you feel appreciative of opportunities this year to work in your organization and you’re pleased with the way you were treated, it’s nice to acknowledge a supervisor with something small and a handwritten note,” says Alice Bredin, small-business advisor to American Express Open.
Experts say the best gifts are handwritten notes and something consumable such as a platter or basket of treats. The worst gifts are expensive or too personal such as jewelry, cologne, or intimate apparel. If you’re giving a gift to curry favor, you might want to reconsider. “If you are not a cultural fit or under-performing, sending the boss a really nice gift is not going to save your job,” says Augustine of TheLadders. “The person is going to feel uncomfortable or offended, and, either way, I don’t think the outcome is going to be favorable.”
If you are new to the company, it pays to do a little research on precedent by asking a veteran employee. “On-boarding 101 is always enlisting someone who can tell you what you will not find in the company handbook,” Augustine says. If there isn’t a gift-giving precedent, she advises erring on the side of caution and avoiding giving “up.”
Surveys show the majority of employees spend less than $50 on a supervisor’s gift and the $10 to $25 range is the average. “Bosses usually make more than you so if you spend too much money, they are going to feel embarrassed,” said Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre in Hollywood.
This year, only about a third of employers of all sizes plan to give employees holiday gifts, and about a fifth will give non-performance based bonuses, according to a member survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. However, small-business owners may be less generous. This holiday season, fewer small business owners will give staff gifts (30 percent compared to 44 percent in 2012) or plan holiday activities to celebrate the season with their employees (32 percent vs. 40 percent in 2012), according to the 2013 American Express Small Business Holiday Monitor.
WORKPLACE GIFT-GIVING TIPS
• Give everyone the same level of gift within your budget.
• Write a handwritten thank-you note if you receive a gift from the boss.
• Consider a group gift from the team for the boss.
• Choose a gift related to someone’s hobby (gift cards are acceptable).
• Exchange gifts with a specific co-worker/friend outside the office.
• Stay away from giving alcohol (some policies forbid it).
• Feel like you’re expected to reciprocate gift-giving.
• Give a gift to a co-worker on a tight budget.
• Give a gift too personal (nose-hair trimmer, flowers, lingerie).
• Give a gift that involves self-improvement (weight loss, makeovers, etc.).
• Re-gift an item from anyone in your office to another co-worker.
Source: Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre in Hollywood ( etiquettecentre.com)