Do You Need To Buy Your Co-Workers Holiday Gifts?

Gift-giving is part and parcel of holiday celebrations. We give gifts to our family and friends as we celebrate the festive season with them as a way of reaffirming our appreciation for their presence in our lives. According to Gifts, the Christmas presents –- for Christians –- represent the homage shown to the infant Jesus by the wise men from the East in the Nativity account following his birth. In the story, these wise men followed a star to Bethlehem and presented the infant with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Albeit the tradition has its roots in religion, it's not exclusive to those with religious beliefs.

Around the world, the custom of giving gifts has become a common currency in various settings: professional, personal, and everything in between. Businesses use this time of the year to give gifts to valued clients and offer promotions to gain new ones. Individuals also use the holiday season as a way to extend gratitude to their co-workers for their support. While there's nothing wrong with buying gifts for important people in your life –- family and not -– the prevalence of the practice in the corporate setting has made people wonder whether it's a case of Hobson's choice. Author Pooja Agnihotri puts it this way, "If we say that our office is like our second home. Then, our team should be like our second family." If that's the case, do you need to buy them holiday gifts? Here's how to navigate these tricky waters.

Workplace gift-giving isn't mandatory

First and foremost, workplace gift-giving is not and should never be made an obligation. If you don't want to exchange gifts with anyone, don't let anyone high-pressure you into doing it. Having said that, you might want to factor in your company's culture before deciding whether or not to loosen your purse string and pass on the holiday cheer. The rule of thumb for workplace gift-giving, per Insperity, is that it should flow downward as opposed to upward. For instance, managers can give gifts to their direct reports, and employees can exchange gifts with those of the same rank as them. However, employees generally shouldn't send gifts higher up the hierarchy.

If your company has a haphazard gift policy, do as you please. If your company hosts a holiday gift exchange event, it would be awkward if you're the only one sitting out. Refusing to participate in a company-wide event might reflect badly on your adaptive skills and make you come across as a Scrooge, so use your common sense. If it's within your means, chip in and consider that a small career investment. However, if you're on a tight budget, it is okay to let your co-workers know that your cupboard is bare, Ask a Manager advises. Having a conversation about money is awkward in any setting, but offering a heartfelt explanation as to why you can't afford certain things is never a bad idea.

How to buy holiday gifts for your co-workers

If you decide to buy your co-workers holiday gifts, here are some caveats to keep in mind. According to career advice expert Randall Hansen from LiveCareer, organizations with a more laid-back culture allow you greater leeway in gift-giving. If it's a holiday gift exchange you're joining, there's a price limit, and you should stick to it. For example, a reasonable price range to adhere to is $10 to $20. Even if you're feeling generous, try not to go overboard lest others think you're showing off. If there's an employee whom you share an intimate bond with and you'd like to shower the person with expensive gifts, do that outside the office to avoid becoming a subject of office gossip.

Gift-wise, try not to give gag gifts or personal items. To reinforce a professional relationship, send out a gift that's thoughtful, meaningful, or something that your colleague can put to good use down the road, per Spoonful of Comfort. No matter how well-thought-out or costly your gift is, it will not hit home the message unless it comes with a card containing a written message from you. In the message, share what you appreciate about the person and the rationale behind your gift choice. It's best to keep in mind the intended recipient's likes and dislikes when gift shopping. Stationery items, such as a calendar, photo frame, and notebook, would make a safe and practical gift choice in case you're not sure.