Gift-giving in the workplace is a delicate subject. Whether you’re giving someone a holiday gift, birthday present, or celebrating another special occasion such as a promotion or retirement—you don’t want to make your peers feel uncomfortable or weirded-out with an overly personal or inappropriate gift. It’s important to remember that you’re in a professional environment, and your gift should reflect and respect that.
While your working relationships shouldn’t hang on what waits inside the wrapping paper, a thoughtless or inappropriate gift can do more harm than good. Making a conscious effort to surprise and delight colleagues, clients, and partners with a gift they want can lead to a big payoff in more ways than one.
Keep it professional
You spend tens of hours each week interacting with your coworkers. However, the science of social psychology tells us that people tend to make mistakes when they select a gift for someone they work with. Take, for example, the stories we shared in a recent blog, True confessions of gifting gone wrong. In most of those scenarios, it’s clear that the givers believed the gifts would be viewed as thoughtful and memorable. Although the recipients did remember these gifts, it wasn’t for the right reasons, and some of these exchanges significantly affected the giver-recipient relationship.
When it comes to gifting in a professional environment, the wrong gift can create a negative perception of the giver and make the recipient feel like they don’t know them well or care about their interests. Furthermore, recipients can become annoyed if a gift does not match their personal preferences. (Dunn, Huntsinger, Lun, & Sinclair) Nothing should be exchanged that would make the other person undervalued. If you’re unsure—the fact that you’re questioning it means there’s probably a reason for it.
Avoid awkward exchanges
Even when given with the best of intentions, the consequences of an ill-chosen gift can be remembered long after the unwrapping ends. There’s nothing worse than awkward exchanges with colleagues and weird moments around the water cooler that follow suit. At best, a poorly chosen gift can irritate the recipient, and at worst, it can cause riffs in the giver and recipient relationship. (Ruth, Otnes, & Brunel) So, how can you avoid these consequences?
By letting them pick! Giving your recipient the option to choose their favorite item relieves the giver’s pressure to find a balanced gift of personal and professional. Better yet, it helps preserve the working relationship. A great gift experience speaks not only to how much you value their contributions, but it also shows how much you care. Much like their lives outside of the workplace, the impact of gifting goes beyond the boardroom. Presenting your employees, clients, or colleagues with a variety of aspirational gifts symbolizes that you respect their individuality and the unique interests they bring to the table.
Professionals exchange gifts to strengthen relationships and make each other feel valued, but we don’t always manage to meet those goals. Instead of stressing about whether your gift will be viewed as appropriate and thoughtful in the workplace, give them a choice to select a gift they love. It will help you avoid any awkwardness later and helps celebrate them as real, individualized people now—creating healthy, professional relationships built on mutual gratitude and respect. And who doesn’t want to give and receive that?