The Gifting Culture in the Workplace

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Did you get a new job recently, and it’s gifting season? Don’t worry; all workplaces have their own rules on how gift-giving should play out. Most of the time, you’ll just be chipping in with others to buy a group gift. The only occasion you’re allowed some creative freedom is the Secret Santa. Even then, you need to be careful about how you pick your gifts.

Luckily for you, there’s no need to worry because we have the perfect gift-giving guide.

Should You Gift a Colleague?

Giving gifts in the workplace is something we’ve all been a part of at least once. That said, most of us know that there are rules to follow. It’s safe to say that there’s a list of universal rules, but every office has some unique ones too. The primary question remains — should you gift a colleague to begin with? Well, the answer is not as simple as some might think.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that the gifting train travels downwards, never upwards. What does that mean? It’s appropriate for bosses and managers to give their subordinates gifts. The other way around? Not so appropriate. Why? It makes it look like you’re sucking up to your boss, and nobody appreciates that.

Also, when and if you decide to give gifts to some, you shouldn’t exclude others. That brings us to the conclusion that you can only give gifts if your financial situation allows for it. However, we’ll talk about this more later down the line.

If you’re new to the workplace, you may experience some pressure to chip in when it comes to group gifts. Now’s the time when you’ll ask yourself why you would do that, especially if you don’t even know the person that well. So what do you do? It might be inappropriate to pass, and you’re just trying to get along with everyone. There’s much to consider.

When you catch up on the gift-giving etiquette of your workplace, decide whether you should do it or not. Technically, you don’t have to give gifts to anyone. However, imagine the following scenario — it’s the holiday season, and everyone at the office is doing it. Do you want to be labeled a Scrooge? Not really. Make your decision wisely.

Price Limits

Now that we’ve gone over the question of should you give a gift to coworkers, let’s tackle the issue of price limits. Maybe you earn a lot of money, and you’re able to splurge, or maybe you work as a low-paying job, and you aren’t. Whatever the case, there should be a price limit on the gifts you’re giving to your coworkers.

This price limit might even be one of the rules in your workplace. They can, for example, allow gifts that aren’t worth more than $20. Again, consider this — if you’re buying a gift for only one colleague, it will probably be a group gift. This can happen on numerous occasions, so everyone will be able to chip in. You’ll rarely be buying gifts for only one coworker unless we’re talking about the Secret Santa tradition.

Consider Your Overall Financial Situation

Another thing to consider is if you’re in a stable financial situation at all. You need to have your priorities straight. What does that mean? You shouldn’t splurge on a gift if that means you won’t be able to pay your bills later on. That’s why setting a price limit is always smart. If it isn’t set by your workplace, find a price point that works for you and stick to it.

This means you definitely shouldn’t come with a $200 gift while everyone else got each other gag gifts. Unfortunately, your image in the workplace matters too. Think about how this potential gift will reflect on you later on in your career. Again, nobody likes to think there’s a person who likes to suck up to their coworkers or superiors. That’s why it’s important to think this through.

On the other hand, if you’re just chipping in, you should give as much as everyone else. A price limit should be established in those situations as well. Everyone giving the same amount eliminates the possibility of favoritism. Even if you’re close with a coworker, you shouldn’t give more money for their gift than you would for someone else’s. It’s simply a bad look for you.

Gift Selection

We’ve reached the final issue, and that’s picking your gift. Believe it or not, there are also rules on what you can and cannot give as gifts to coworkers. Don’t fret, though, because we’ll tell you all about them.

First and foremost, let’s talk about how you should be picking a gift. As with any other gesture, it’s important to be thoughtful. That means there are many things to take into account. Think about the occasion that requires you to buy this gift. Don’t put aside the person’s likes or dislikes. All of this makes it difficult to buy a gift if you’re doing it for someone you don’t really know that well.

As with many other things in the workplace, it’s essential to keep things respectful. What does this mean? It means there’s a list of things you shouldn’t be giving your coworkers ever. Here it is:

  • Things that have any religious or political meaning
  • Discriminating or demeaning gifts, no matter how funny you think they might be
  • Intimate clothing, such as lingerie
  • Jewelry
  • Personal care products, such as perfumes, lotions, etc.
  • Money

The main thing to take away from this is that you don’t want a gift that will seem too personal. Keeping your distance and remaining professional is the way to go. So what do you get your coworker? Think of something you would bring to a stranger’s dinner party if you were going as a plus-one.

A bottle of quality alcohol can always go far. That’s especially great because it can be re-gifted if it’s not to the person’s liking. Still, you should be careful with this gift too. It would be pointless to give it to someone who doesn’t drink.

Sex-related gifts are a big no. It’s just too inappropriate, especially if you don’t even know the person that well. You should avoid gag gifts in general. That’s unless there’s a special theme that involves it. Just steer clear of anything that will make people raise their eyebrows and ask themselves who the new office creep is.


The office gifting culture is alive and well. To participate, you just need to know your workplace etiquette. If you’re unsure of how they do it in your office, simply ask around. Ask your coworkers about previous gifting seasons, and they’ll be sure to tell you all about it. You never know, they might even give you some gift ideas.

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