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A White Elephant in the Room: Holiday Gift Giving at Work

Whether you call it white elephant, Yankee swap, or something else, gift giving in the workplace can get complicated and expensive. When cash is tight and ideas are in short supply, here are some helpful tips to ease the holiday tension of gift giving at work.

It's that potentially awkward time of year again—the season of holiday office gift giving. This time of white elephant gift exchanges and Secret Santa parties will fill some of your coworkers and staff with holiday cheer and make others mumble "Bah humbug!" So what's an employer to do? When cash is tight and ideas are in short supply, here are some helpful tips to ease the holiday tension of gift giving at work.

Follow the Rules and Stick to a Budget

Before setting up a gift exchange or buying a gift, check the company's employee handbook for basic gift giving dos and don'ts. It's important to follow these rules, as neglecting to do so can result in a violation of company policy. Alternatively, speak with your HR department representative. Chances are good they'll have the answer to any gift giving questions that may arise.

Another important tip to note before purchasing a gift is to stick to a budget or pre-determined spending limit. These help make exchanging gifts at work fair and affordable for everyone involved, no matter an employee's salary.

Give to Those You Know

Aside from the anonymous gift exchanges, like a white elephant exchange or Yankee gift swap, consider buying only for those coworkers that you work most closely with on a regular basis. Doing so can help eliminate the pressure to buy a gift for everyone, while also strengthening the relationships of those to whom you are closest. When purchasing gifts for specific people, be mindful to keep the exchange private in order to help avoid any Grinch-like feelings at the office.

Also make sure that the gift is in good taste, whether given directly to a coworker, or through an office gift exchange. For example, a safe idea may be to purchase a coffee mug or someone's favorite variety of coffee. Save the gag gifts for close friends and family outside of the workplace. Again, be mindful to stay away from the possibility of offending others with a potential misunderstood joke, and violating company policies.

What about the Boss?

Buying for your employer or manager can be tricky territory. Giving a gift to your boss may be seen as trying to gain favor over your coworkers, and may be strictly forbidden at the workplace. However if it is not, remember to keep the gift small. A nominally valued gift card to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant would be a good choice. Keep in mind that the best gift you can give to your employer is to be an outstanding, hard-working employee.

Don't Feel Obligated

Remember the old adage that it's the thought that counts. Give because you want to, not because you have to. If you receive an unexpected gift and have nothing in return to give, simply respond to the gift giver with a thoughtfully written thank you card. Chances are good that knowing they are appreciated is the best kind of return they could get. It may also be practical to give something to the group as a whole, like a baked good, or a shareable basket of edibles. This allows an employee to give to everyone equally during the holiday season, without overly stretching their budget.


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