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To give or not to give at work

After spending 11 months as merely co-workers, the beginning of Decemberheralds feelings of peace in cubicles and goodwill towards bosses.

After spending 11 months as merely co-workers, the beginning of December heralds feelings of peace in cubicles and goodwill towards bosses. But before you make additions to your Black Friday shopping list, consider these tips from Lahle Wolfe, About.com’s “Women in Business” expert. “With everyone worrying about their jobs and the economy, the last thing people should have to worry about is spending money on gifts they’re unsure of,” she says.

The boss factor

Should you even give your supervisor a gift? It depends. “Assess it the same way as that aunt you see once a year,” advises Wolfe. “What’s the relationship? Can you name the things outside the office that your boss likes? If not, then you don’t know this person well enough to give them a gift.”

While Wolfe does recommend homemade gifts or baked goods for closer peers, she discourages them for bosses — these can be interpreted as either intimate or unprofessional, neither of which you're going for.

Beware of the gag gift

Increasingly, Wolfe sees offices encouraging gag gifts as part of “Secret Santa” or Pollyanna-style giving to alleviate pressure. But, she warns, this comes with its own set of problems. “A lot of offices do this, and it tends to make people uncomfortable and turn into teasing,” she says. “When you target gifts like this, stick with something very neutral. Go with something you might give a child, so that’s why it’s a gag.” Meaning, no cigars for the guy who is always on a smoke break, no watches for the co-worker who is always late, and no booze for the girl who can’t say no to happy hour.

On the wording

Wishing someone “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” is perfectly fine, provided you’re sure that’s what the person celebrates. If there’s a question, go with “Happy Holidays,” even if it can sound stuffy. “In an office environment, handle it like you would in a public school,” says Wolfe. “If you’re uncertain how to say something, ‘happy holidays’ is a great neutral thing to say.”



Never give ...


Wolfe is a fan of the iTunes gift card, where $10 can go a long way in getting someone through a long Monday morning. But whatever you do, don't give these:



Perfume and jewelry

“Perfume or jewelry are sort of intimate — it says that you’re paying attention,” cautions Wolfe. “If it’s something not generic enough that a guy or a girl could equally enjoy, it’s probably a little too personal.”



Scented items

Many people are allergic to artificial scents or are just very particular about which ones they like. Again, cautions Wolfe, some people could interpret these as conveying intimacy — scents are personal.



Anything religious

Generic holiday ornaments and greeting cards are fine, but stay away from anything that’s directly faith-related.