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The do's and don't's of office gifts

Knowing the do's and don't's of office gift giving can save workers of considerable embarrassment. Illustration by Troy Becker / The Forum

Fargo - Some etiquette experts say a gift tells as much about the person giving it as it does the person receiving it.

That is one reason Emily Post author and spokesperson Daniel Post Senning continues to refer back to the old cliché: “It’s the thought that counts.” 

He said it applies as much to finding the perfect gift as it does to considering what may be inappropriate.

To avoid the human resources nightmare caused by an inappropriate gift, some companies have actually instituted gift exchange guidelines.

In the article “Gift-giving policies in the workplace” published by HR Hero Line, attorney Brian R. Garrison of Baker and Daniels law firm in Indianapolis advises companies consider the following guidelines:

  • Structure the program so it’s run by the employees themselves, not the company.
  •  Set a limit on cost.
  •  Inform employees if they want to go beyond the dollar limit, gifts should be exchanged outside of work.
  •  Instruct employees that gifts must be appropriate for the workplace.
  •  Inform employees that participation is completely optional.

A local example Kim Meyer, executive vice president, director of administration for Gate City Bank, said there are currently no guidelines in place at Gate City. She does not anticipate ever needing them.

“I think sometimes we can be ‘policied’ out,” Meyer said. “I think most people are sensible.”

Each Gate City department is allowed to decide how they celebrate the holiday. Some draw names, others do a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange, while some choose to forgo gifts altogether in favor of a potluck.

Sales supervisor Jaymie Emmerich organized this year’s Secret Santa exchange for Gate City’s retail banking department.

She first circulated a survey to employees asking if they wanted to participate and what they thought a reasonable dollar amount would be.

She took it a step further by asking people what their favorite snacks, drinks, restaurants and hobbies were in an effort to collect gift ideas. That information was then passed along as names were drawn.

Of her department of 20, 16 chose to participate. In order to involve everyone in the celebration, a potluck was also held.

Do’s and don’ts For those with fewer gift ideas to go on, Post Senning offers the following do’s and don’ts for an office gift exchange:

  •  Avoid anything risqué or in poor taste. This includes anything sexual, political or religious. He also suggests not giving anything related to personal grooming or hygiene. Do not give a gift that might imply the person smells or looks bad. 
  •  Another no-no would be a self-help book or anything else that offers unwanted advice. “Few people would appreciate a copy of ‘How I lost 10 pounds,’” Post Senning said.
  •  Although popular in some circles, he suggests staying away from alcohol gifts. Many people abstain for a number of reasons such as a history of addiction, health reasons or religion. 
  •  He describes his favorite gifts as “disposable luxury items.” This includes edible treats (like gourmet popcorn), candles or fun office supplies. These are items that often have a universal appeal.
  •  Other good buys are entertainment-related gifts like movie tickets or iTunes gift cards.

Boss-employee exchange “The general guideline is don’t send expensive gifts up the food chain,” said Post Senning.

He said people should avoid buying gifts that seem to be seeking favor from the boss.

“The key to sending gifts down the food chain is to treat everyone equally,” he said. “Again, keep the gift in safe territory and avoid anything of personal nature.”