Set gift-swap policy before holiday arrives

The holiday season is fast approaching. Celebrating the season often involves giving gifts to office colleagues. So, to whom do you give a gift and what’s appropriate?

Who? Perhaps the question is: Do you have to give a gift to every colleague?

No. The expense and time devoted to finding appropriate gifts dictates that a gift to each colleague isn’t necessary or even appropriate.


Instead, I suggest that offices establish policies now before the season gets underway. Typical guidelines run from discouraging employees from giving gifts to one another at the office to establishing an office gift-giving tradition. It could be a draw where people pull a name from a hat and give a gift only to that person. A Yankee Swap is another option, with each participant purchasing a gift not to exceed a preset nominal amount. For more information about how a Yankee Swap works visit

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These officewide gift-giving traditions are a great way for managers to head off the hassles and potential hurt feelings when employees give gifts individually to some colleagues and not others. Managers and employees should also respect the wishes of individuals who choose not to take part in a holiday gift exchange. The person should still be offered the opportunity to be at the event as an observer.

Some offices opt for group participation as volunteers in a local organization such as a food pantry, youth organization, or nursing home.

Even if there is an office event, some individuals may still want to exchange gifts. In this case, it is best to exchange them outside the office where it can be private and no one else will feel slighted or left out.

What’s appropriate? If it is a name draw or Yankee Swap event, the organizers should establish a firm monetary limit. A low limit of $12-$15 makes it just that much more fun as people have to be creative on a small budget. Some of the gifts I’ve seen: a bag of gourmet jelly beans; homemade goods like jams, jellies, or candies; gift cards to a coffee shop or iTunes; or holiday movie DVDs.


When choosing gifts for a specific colleague, avoid clothing or anything that might carry an unintended meaning, such as jewelry, perfume, or cologne. Beware of being overly extravagant and don’t feel compelled to purchase a gift that is more than you can afford. Remember, it is the thought behind the gift that counts.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to