Picking out presents for friends and family can be precarious, sure. Picking out a present for you boss, though? The person who decides your workload and provides your paycheck? That’s a whole new ballgame. On the one hand, you want to impress them — on the other hand, you want to avoid looking like a suck-up. Giving them a present could also turn into an awkward situation, where they feel obligated to get you something in return, or it could create an unwarranted expectation of exchanging gifts next year.
It is, in short, complicated.
Fortunately, HR expert Terry Petracca lent us some tips for navigating the complex process of giving — or not giving — a gift to your boss over the holidays. “Gift-giving should be an authentic expression of kindness, without expecting reciprocity or currying favor,” she explains. “Some organizations specifically prohibit gift giving from an employee to their manager to prevent claims of favoritism or jealousy. After all, if one of your colleagues got your boss an expensive headset, what would everyone else think? And in today’s environment concerning allegations of sexual impropriety, I suspect more companies will be adopting this type of policy to eliminate any perception of preferential treatment, bribery or coercion.”
“If you’re unsure of protocol,” Petracca continues, “consider checking with your colleagues on what’s typically done in your office. If your boss is universally liked, you might want to suggest everyone throwing in a modest contribution for a holiday gift rather than going it alone.”
That said, Petracca says you can go alone and get your boss a gift so long as you follow these simple rules:
- Be sensitive to the reason and the season: “Gift-giving is personal,” Petracca explains, “and it’ll be very awkward if you discover that this person celebrates a different religious holiday, or none at all.”
- Be modest: “Gifts that scream ‘expensive and ostentatious’ really are tantamount to bribes,” Petracca emphasizes.
- Be discreet: “You should exchange the gift with your boss in private,” says Petracca. “This makes the gift more personal; it also prevents embarrassing or shaming colleagues who aren’t planning to do the same.”
- Be thoughtful: “Personalize the present so that it’s more than a perfunctory choice,” Petracca suggests. “Examples of office gifts that are appropriate and thoughtful include coffee mugs with clever sayings that reflect the recipient (stay away, however, from risqué quotes or double entendres); books that reflect hobbies or interests; and movie tickets for an upcoming film they’ve been talking about. Stay away from clothing (too personal); coffee gift cards (too boring); or salacious board games.”
There is one other solid gifting option, too. “One final alternative to consider is a contribution to your boss’s favorite (non-political) cause in their name,” Petracca says. “Recognizing their passion for the arts, education, health or wildlife with a simple act of generosity during the holiday season will remind you (and them) of the true spirit of gift-giving.”
Hopefully, it will also remind them to send out your paycheck so you can pay the bills you avoided in order to buy them a present.