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  • Kim Purscell

Appropriate Business Gifts

Use caution when choosing a gift for a coworker.

Gift giving at the office can be an awkward situation because there are so many things that can go wrong. You don't want to give something too personal, even if you're good friends with your coworker.

No matter how friendly you are with your coworkers, you need to choose your gift with care, especially if they'll be opening it in front of others. Whether you are giving someone a holiday gift, birthday present, or something for another special occasion, take some time and consider how your gift will be perceived by all who witness the unwrapping.

Although you should never feel obligated to purchase a gift for someone at the office, it is sometimes simply the nice thing to do. It may be to celebrate a birthday, promotion, retirement, holiday, or other special event. The main thing you need to consider is how appropriate it is in a business environment.

When giving a present in a professional environment, never expect the person to reciprocate. Receivers of business gifts should never feel obligated or be uncomfortable. Your business relationship is important and should never be affected by whatever gift you choose or receive.

Gift for the Boss.

The general rule of thumb is that a boss should never expect a gift from his/her employees for any occasion, but it is still acceptable for the employees to give something. It should not be anything too personal, such as lingerie or something that could possibly embarrass her in front of her supervisor.

If you're in doubt about something, take the safe route and don't do it. Choose something else.

Appropriate gifts for the boss:

  • Desk item – paperweight, frame, letter opener, small sculpture indicating an interest

  • Necktie or scarf– conservative and without any cheesy images or words

  • Food – fruit basket or platter of cookies that the boss can share with family or other coworkers

Gifts from the Boss.

Many bosses like to show gratitude or celebrate a special occasion by giving gifts. This is fine as long as it is not too expensive, and it doesn't break any rules set by the company. Read the company guidelines before purchasing gifts for employees.

Appropriate gifts from the boss:

  • Wallet

  • Engraved key ring

  • Gift cards to restaurants, movies, or local events

Gifts from One Coworker to Another

If you work in a very small office, you may want to buy gifts for your coworkers, particularly if you are all friends. Only give them the items at an office party if you have something for everyone. If you don't, wait until lunchtime or after hours. There is no point in hurting anyone's feelings. Make sure that the things you give your coworkers at the office are appropriate for a business environment.

Client Gifts.

Salespeople typically bring gifts to clients and prospects in order to maintain or develop a closer business relationship. Before giving something to a client, check with the company's rules so you don't put yourself or your client in an awkward position. Avoid anything too personal. One thing you might want to consider is a decorative or food gift that can be shared by everyone in the client's office.

Retirement or Departure Gift.

When someone retires or has given notice of leaving the company, it is appropriate to give something to help the recipient remember those he or she is leaving behind. Companies used to give engraved watches, jewelry, or plaques to commemorate many years of service. They don't typically do that anymore, and if that's the case, the employees might want to pool their money for something special.

Another appropriate gift for someone who will no longer be working alongside you is a framed photo. You can have all the coworkers in one photo, or you can do a collage with candid shots.

Thank You Gift.

There is nothing wrong with offering a thank you gift for someone who has gone the extra mile to gain business, work on a team project, or do something special. Just remember to include a thank you note expressing your gratitude.

When you include a thank you gift, as with all other business-related presents, make sure it is appropriate and that you won't be embarrassed or embarrass the recipient if the CEO or other high level corporate executive walks by.

Holiday Gifts.

Holiday gifts can be tricky since not everyone celebrates the same events. For example, if you work in an office with people of a variety of faiths, they may be uncomfortable receiving a Christmas present. If you are unsure, ask your supervisor for recommendations. A simple winter celebration gathering might take the place of Christian, Jewish, or other faith-based holidays.

Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at

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