Office holiday gift-giving etiquette: 7 simple tips

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us, holiday shopping season is officially underway. And for office workers, that includes shopping for colleagues and bosses. But buying gifts for them can be as much of an etiquette minefield as the annual holiday party. Give the wrong gift, and you can derail your career before New Year's. Give the right one, and you'll start 2012 off right.

Here are 7 smart tips that can help:

Don't Blow Your Budget

It's easy to want to impress your boss and colleagues with pricey presents, but this may send the message that you're trying to buy their loyalty. "If there is no agreed upon budget, spend less rather than more. An office holiday gift is meant to be a token of appreciation rather than a large holiday gift from Santa," says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of the Protocol School of Texas. Not only will your gift be seen as more tasteful, your credit card debt will thank you.

Do Make Thoughtful Choices

While your gift to your cube-mate won't be as personal as to your spouse or parent, show that you know something about the person. "If you [don't], choose something he or she can use at work, such as a vintage pen, a stylish organizer, or an iPad or eReader cover," says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of Poised For Success. Gift cards or sports tickets are safe options, as are baked goods. Avoid bottles of booze or spa treatments (the first is risky if the person doesn't drink, the latter could send a mixed message).

Give Gifts Away From The Office

If you're only giving gifts to some people (and not the entire staff), consider doing it at lunch, suggests Gottsman. However, if you're playing Santa to all, make sure the gifts are equal in value, particularly if staff members are at equal levels on the corporate ladder. "You shouldn't give more to one than the other because they will compare," says Gottsman.

Always Give Your Assistant Something

Again, a small token is still fine -- but always give something. "It's a nice holiday gesture to show your gratitude to someone who supports you and shows loyalty throughout the year. Even if this person is new, it's still appropriate," says Gottsman.

Think About Joining Forces

If you're not sure whether it's appropriate to get your boss a gift, consider organizing a group one. "It looks less self-serving," says Whitmore. Plus, you'll be able to give him or her a nicer gift without breaking your holiday budget.

Remember To Give Thanks

Caught off guard by a gift from someone you didn't buy for? Don't sweat it -- simply give back your gratitude. "It is not mandatory to reciprocate, but it is essential to accept the gift with a genuine smile on your face and say something such as, 'How thoughtful. Thank you so much for thinking of me.'"

Just Say No To Gag Gifts

Anything that can be seen as possibly offensive has no place in an office environment. "Save the gag gifts for very close family and friends. Unless your office is hosting a white elephant exchange where the premise is to give a silly gift, opt for tasteful over tacky," says Gottsman.

More on Moneywatch:
-- Holiday vacation days: 4 smart ways to get time off
-- 5 office etiquette rules you need to know
-- How to make friends at work (and live longer in the process)

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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