Ah, ‘tis the season of giving – and getting, and that awkward moment of not getting, and of accidentally going present overboard, or of cheaping out and facing a whole year's worth of resentment. Gift giving in the office is a minefield of gaffes and blunders – and also an employer's best chance to thank their staff for a whole year while planting good cheer for the next.
Firstly, suggests HR consultant Cori Maedel, CEO of Jouta Performance Group in Vancouver, employers should take a moment to examine their motives. “You need to be really clear about the purpose of the gift and what you're hoping to achieve by it,” she says. The answers may simply be “gift gifting for its own sake” and “good will,” respectively, or they may have other motivations like appreciation and team building.
Having a clear notion of what you're hoping to achieve will help business owners choose a gift that satisfies all parties. In more formal offices, that may be a crisp hundred-dollar bill in a card. In a quirkier place, it could be a turkey (true story: Maedel cites one business that gifts the big bird every year). The trick, she says, is to always choose “something that fits the culture.” Choose a gift that somehow represents who you are and your values as a company.
If a memorable group experience is the point of this present, employers should consider a holiday outing or party. “But remember if you throw a party, it's for employees, not management,” says Maedel. “If your leadership team is served first or better, you've failed. You're supposed to be bringing your staff together and instead you've just made everyone feel worse.” A gift, however, is not a bonus, nor are they interchangeable. “A bonus and a gift are apples and oranges,” says Maedel. One is business, the other pleasure. Swap the latter for the former and there will be no pleasure at all.
There is, of course, the possibility of getting too close. “I remember one company giving out gift certificates to a spa,” she says. Sounds lovely in theory, but the company asked everyone to go at the same time. “Gross, right?”
Provided you don't force them, however, gift certificates make great gifts for employees (and employers, and clients). When in doubt, a pair of movie tickets almost always suffices. “Who doesn't like the movies?” asks Maedel. “And, though you're not supposed to, movie tickets are easily re-giftable.” To some, that in itself is a gift of convenience.
As for those inevitable awkward moments, Toronto etiquette expert Karen Cleveland suggests you smile and smooth them over. “If someone ambushes you with a gift and you've got nothing to reciprocate, accept the present warmly and graciously. If you're so inclined, lie through your teeth. Say their gift's at home and you'll bring it tomorrow,” she says.
Employers might save their staff from such moments by instead going the Secret Santa route. “They're great, but only when everyone abides by the rules,” says Cleveland. Put a price parameter and don't go overboard, however tempting. “If you've truly found the perfect Christmas gift you can't resist, give it to them privately for their birthday.” The whole staff will thank you for keeping it cool this season.