No one needs any more coffee mugs, motivational calendars, or Panera gift certificates. However, neutral, non-offensive, somewhat practical tokens are what office gift-giving is all about!

Instead of stressing over whether to buy everyone the same thing or opt-out of exchanging gifts entirely, check out this skinny guide to office gift-giving.


When buying gifts for co-workers, one of the best things to do is pick a price and a theme. This is particularly helpful if we plan to give multiple gifts to people across the organization.

For example, be the employee that gives everyone a coffee mug with a Starbucks gift card. Gifts like that, calendars, or Zen desk items are neutral, inexpensive tokens that allow you to show appreciation in a neutral, practical way. If this is too generic for you, spend extra time personalizing the mug, picking a specific quote or sharing a note about how you associate a certain positive memory with that co-worker and the item.

However, if the plan is to just buy a few gifts for a few special co-workers, it is best to exchange those gifts outside of the office. Agree with that co-worker that you intend to exchange gifts and discuss a budget. If that is too awkward or unlikely, open up the option of sharing a lunch together instead.


When gifting for a team, it can be great to approach the gift on a group level. In other words, pick a great restaurant, block everyone’s calendar for an extra-long time and take the entire team out to lunch.

While dinner may seem more special, consider your team first. After-hours obligations during the busiest time of the year may not be as rewarding to them as a shorter work day, a great meal and some low-stress bonding with teammates.

If a shared meal is logistical impossible, try identical gifts for each person, like gift cards, accompanied by a hand-written, personalized note. It is a simple way to ensure the team knows we are thinking about them and appreciate their individual and group contributions.


It is best to think twice before providing our boss or the boss’s boss a gift. But if you feel compelled, first talk to her assistant, other execs and even HR to find out whether or not to give her a gift and, if so, what are the general expectations.


Whether it is an office party or an officewide white elephant, the key to organizationwide holiday gifts is making it standard across the organization. If it is going to be after-hours, ensure every shift is accounted for so that all can attend. And if it going to be off-site or involve gifts, set clear rules to minimize the financial impact on employees and make it broad enough that everyone feels included.

The bottom line is, generic gifts may seem boring, but it is the intent and the message with which they are conveyed that can make them special.

Instead of worrying, we can take a minute to decide the reasons we want to recognize the various people in the office with whom we spend so much time during the year and think of a simple way to convey that message. By being clear with the gift recipient about our intentions, we can reduce stress and add a little more joy to the season.