5 Tips for Gifting in the Workplace

Modern ways to show your gratitude at work this holiday season.

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The holiday season brings many joys – cups filled with liquid desserts posing as coffee, shopping centers filled with sales and catalogues of presents overflowing from your mailbox. It's also a time to consider modern standards of gifting in the workplace. Times, budgets and company policies regarding celebrating the season have changed. After surveying businesses including billion-dollar corporations, institutes of higher education, midsized companies and small startups, here are tips on modern ways to show your gratitude at work this season.

When gifting up, the thought counts. Although it's been said many times, many ways – the thought is what your manager is after this year. Every person surveyed regarding receiving gifts came back to one main idea: "I really appreciate it when someone takes the time to express their gratitude." That is great news to cash-strapped employees who have many other places to spend their hard-earned dollars. Some of the best gifts received by managers included handwritten notes, framed pictures from events during the year or a simple stop by the office to shake their hand and tell them how much they appreciate working for them. Skilled in the kitchen? A homemade treat was welcome from almost everyone, provided they weren't trying to lose weight. You can still buy something meaningful for your boss – just know that it is not expected, and it may even be uncomfortable for some.

If gifting for your staff, make it useful. Thoughtfulness still counts here. Many employees said they really appreciate a thank-you note or a personalized holiday card. But if you are going to buy, consider the following: It is tough for a manager to select items that are both personal and useful if they don't know their team very well. If you have specific insight that will help you to buy a unique and thoughtful gift, great. However, if you are not sure a present will be appreciated, look for items that allow choices or appeal to most. For example, a gift card to a common retailer works well for many personalities. Factor in whether certain employees receive company bonuses. As one manager responded, "I always buy gifts for people who support me that don't receive year-end bonuses."

Consider gifting an experience. Time is at premium for many employees in December, and year-end work often makes it one of the busiest seasons professionally. If you have the ability to offer an experience for your team, it will leave memories that outlast most presents. For example, an employer gifted four hours off for shopping. During the height of an economic downturn, an executive team worked at a food pantry one afternoon instead of having a holiday party. These activities were meaningful because they tapped into another part of life, if even for a few hours. After all, isn't that what celebrating the holidays is all about?

Make the most of the holiday party. The holiday get-together can be an ideal way to solve the gifting dilemma. Many companies now host a lunch or late afternoon party where employees can spend leisure time together to enjoy the season. As the host, this is an effective way to show your gratitude for those who work with you in lieu of a gift. There are many successful variations, depending on your company size, culture and budget. Some firms use this party as a time to honor accomplishments with year-end awards, while others hold a potluck where individuals or departments can compete for the best food or drink. It can even be a smaller gathering before heading over to a more formal company-wide celebration. The key is that it is enjoyable and suits the personality of your team. One manager noted, "We usually provide light food and drinks, music and a slideshow of the year."

Consider the white elephant. A great option to add to the party or have in the office is a gift grab, Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange. Like the holiday party, there are many variations, but the key components are maintaining a price cap, selecting a theme (silly, practical, homemade, etc.) and encouraging everyone to participate. These activities are an easy way to include everyone and minimize stress over what to purchase and for whom. Also, as one of those surveyed said, "It is pretty fun to watch an intern steal a gift from the CEO in the gift grab." Ah, holiday memories.

At its heart, a gift exchange is a way to show your appreciation of one another. It is a shame that something so well-intended can become a hassle or expensive. Here's wishing you and your co-workers a happy and stress-reduced holiday season this year.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.