Office Gifts: What Are Appropriate Gifts for Coworkers?

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Hey, we need you to put $5 in this basket right now because it's Mary's birthday next week and we're all getting her a massage!

Does this sound like something you've encountered at the office? Do you hate it? Love it?

There is no right answer or strategy when it comes to gifts for coworkers. It's really whatever you're comfortable with.

Want our guide on saying no, saying yes, and what to get? Read below.


The Etiquette of Gift Giving

Let's get this out of the way first. Do you, ever, have to chip in or get a coworker a gift? Absolutely not.

Unless you've chosen to participate in a secret Santa or something like that, you have no obligation to participate in office gift giving. But that means you have to opt out of gift getting yourself.

Once people find out you don't like giving gifts, they'll be less likely to give them to you. If you're okay with that - great! If you're not, then you need to reconsider your stance on gift giving.

Birthday Cakes and the Like

If the people in your office asked for donations to get so-and-so a birthday cake, you still do not have to donate. But if the day comes and that cake looks really good to you, sorry, but you should avoid taking a piece.

You didn't chip in money for the cake, so it's unkind to take a slice. Of course, some people don't care about that. If you're offered cake and you say why you haven't had any and they still offer, then what you do next is up to you.

Accepting Gifts

If you're one of those people that really don't like celebrating your birthday or don't think it's appropriate to do so at work, that's fine. You need to let your boss or your coworkers know that.

If you come into a decorated desk and gifts as a surprise, that makes getting out of office gift giving tricky.

None of your colleagues need to know when your birthday is, to do their jobs, so feel free to keep it to yourself. If someone presses you on it, you can always tell them you don't feel comfortable with attention distracting you from your duties, or something like that.

How to Say No

We've talked about that you can say no to gift giving, gift receiving, and chipping in - but we didn't tell you how.

First of all, no one should ever shame you for saying no to gifts/giving. But just because they shouldn't doesn't mean you work with people who won't.

If someone gives you grief about your gift policy, you have one of two choices: be honest, or lie. Obviously, we believe you should be honest whenever you can. But sometimes honesty doesn't go over well.

If you say that you don't think birthday celebrations at work are appropriate, that they're a waste of time, now you're in an awkward position. The next time someone's celebrating at work and you walk by, they'll feel awkward, knowing you don't approve.

It's an exaggeration, we're sure you don't mind other people celebrating themselves, but people's feelings are very delicate.

If it's a financial issue, just come out and say it. And even if it's not, it's one of the fastest and most sensitive ways to shut down the topic.

Tell someone that you're sorry, but you really can't afford to spend anything extra this year/month/week. You can give a reason, like "we're saving for a house" but you don't have to.

You don't owe anyone an explanation, but it does make the situation more comfortable for the rejected party.


Giving Appropriate Office Gifts

Let's say that the last section is the opposite of you. You love gifts, giving them, getting them, and think a cake gives everyone around the office a reason to celebrate.

Great! You're probably a lot of people's favorite around the cubicles. But there is etiquette you need to follow when it comes to gift amounts, types, and details.

Gift Budgets and Costs

Depending on what you (and others) make at your job, try to set a price limit for gifts. $10 and under is reasonable, as is $20 or $30. It's all relevant to what yourself and the people you work with can reasonably afford.

You don't want your office birthday present to be the difference between getting groceries for a week and eating ramen.

And if you can afford to exceed the limit - please don't. While that extra cost may not mean much to you and your budget, it can make the other people who can't overspend feel bad.

It's a little childish, yes, in that you don't want to hurt other people's feelings - but isn't that most of what interoffice relations is? Trying to respect other people's feelings?

Forgetting a Birthday / Gift

If you show up and you forgot to bring or buy your friend a gift, don't be dodgy about it. Admit that you forgot, but offer to take them out to coffee or lunch that day instead.

A lot of us, in the office culture, really just want a friend. The kind of friend that will go out to lunch with us on our birthdays, as their treat.

If you really don't want to be empty-handed, you can always send a quick e-gift card, or tell them you forgot it at home and bring it tomorrow.

Whatever you do, don't reach in your wallet and pull out the cash you have. Cash isn't appropriate in a workplace unless you're pitching into a group gift or paying someone back.

Gift cards are appropriate, but leave the cash in your pocket. Gift cards are essentially cash anyways.
Got gift cards you know you'll never use? There are sites you can trade them in on or sell them for cold, hard, cash.

Types of Gifts

Next, we'll go over some good examples of office gifts, like office flower delivery, but let's talk about what you shouldn't get for people.

Overly personal gifts, like anything body-related (clothes, perfume, bath products) are generally a no-no. If you know the person well and you want to get them a cute little bath bomb set - fine.

But make sure it's someone who you'd be comfortable receiving the gift from. Candles are a good substitute for anything bath/body related.

What about alcohol? Alcohol is a tricky subject because, for one, it makes a great gift. It's pricey and people use it (if you get what they like) and they don't like it, they can always re-gift it.

But what if they don't drink or your boss doesn't think it's appropriate to bring alcohol (even sealed) into the workplace?

If you're going to gift alcohol, make sure you know that the person will actually drink it - as in, you've been around them drinking in social environments.

Before you commit to a gift, if you're nervous about it, call your mom. Or your wife. We're serious - getting a second perspective could help you avoid an awkward situation.


Good Gifts for Coworkers

We don't know specifically how old you are or what niche you work in, so this may not be 100% true for you.

But there is one place (site) that we think nails their gift guides or cool products every time. Ready for it? It's Buzzfeed.

They do guides like "30 things you need in April" and most of them are cool, small, cheap items that would make great gifts.

Just stay away from awkward things, like the TubShroom, which they seem to feature a lot. You don't want to tell your coworker you think they're shedding and clogging up their drain.

Mugs with funny sayings or a nice quote, pretty framed items, even desk dusters shaped like fuzzy llamas are all things they've suggested in the past.

If Buzzfeed is a little young for you and your colleagues, that's fine.

Go for something simple but grown-up like a fancy bag of coffee or arrangement of tea. If you know they like chocolate, go to the boutique grocery store in your town (or World Market) and pick them up a few nice chocolate bars.

You can find a lot of nifty stuff at those stores, but they are more expensive.

Portable power banks, cute USB sticks (if they'll use them) and flowers are all non-offensive gift options as well.


Celebrating, Appropriately

No matter how you feel about gifts in the office, it'll probably come up at some point. Preparing for that and knowing how you can deal with it (either way) is the key to making a potentially awkward conversation go smoothly.

Gifts for coworkers should be fun, not stressful - and you're never obligated one way or another.

Trying to maximize your money, and give gifts, without going broke? Read this.

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