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Build Your Career Office Life

'Tis the Season: Most Employers Approve of Office Gift Exchanges

'Tis the Season: Most Employers Approve of Office Gift Exchanges
Credit: Vinnstock/Shutterstock

With the gift-giving season nearly upon us, many professionals will be looking for presents for their bosses and colleagues. But how do your co-workers feel about an inter-office gift exchange?

A new study from the staffing firm Accountemps revealed that most employers don't have a problem with bosses and employees exchanging gifts. Specifically, 63 percent of human resources managers believe it is appropriate for supervisors to give their staff a holiday gift, with 58 percent saying it's acceptable for employees to return the gesture.

Just 16 percent of those surveyed said it is inappropriate for a manager to give  direct reports a holiday gift, and only 20 percent said workers should never give their boss a holiday present. [See Related Story: 15 Gift Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party]

The HR managers surveyed said that when buying gifts for each other employees should spend an average of $20. A suitable amount for bosses to spend is $24, according to the study.

Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps, said exchanging holiday gifts in the office can be a sensitive issue and comes to down to personal decisions based on individual relationships.

"More important than the dollar amount, the focus should be on giving something meaningful to the recipient," Driscoll said in a statement. "The best gifts are thoughtful and demonstrate care for others."

To help and bosses and employees, Accountemps offers five rules for exchanging holiday gifts in the office:

  1. Don't feel obligated. It is important for managers to make sure that employees know that exchanging presents is optional and not required.
  2. Don't expect something in return. If you are going to give a present, do so unconditionally.  Don't buy your staff or boss a present thinking that if you do, they will have something for you.
  3. Don't be generic. Try to make your gift as personal as you can. Giving a present that you know will be enjoyed shows the recipient that you truly care.
  4. Be careful how much you spend. You can make the recipient feel uncomfortable if you spend too much. And if you spend too little, you might be sending a message that the gift was just an afterthought.
  5. Present it nicely. Regardless of what the gift is, wrapping it in cheerful packaging shows thoughtfulness. It is also a nice gesture to include a personalized note with it.
  6. Be appreciative. When you are given a gift, you should always express your appreciation. Besides telling the gift-giver how thankful you are, go the extra step and send a handwritten thank-you note.

The study was based on surveys of more than 300 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the United States.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.