Should You Get Your Boss a Gift During the Holidays?

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

The holidays present a unique set of inter-office challenges. Not only do many people get drafted into an office gift-exchange of some sort, but there are also charity events, holiday parties, and any number of other activities going on. All of this on top of our family responsibilities, which may include traveling to another state or city to be with our relatives.

Things can get lost or forgotten in the mayhem, and sometimes, we even forget to get a special someone a gift. No, we’re not talking about a significant other, or your mom (save the forgetting for Mother’s Day, as most people do). It’s your boss. Of course, there’s a very significant question that needs to be asked before you start trying to decipher the man or woman who signs the checks: should you worry about getting your boss a gift?

The simple answer? In most cases, no, you shouldn’t worry about it. But, as with everything, it’s not always as clear-cut as that.

Many businesses try to avoid the awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings associated with what many people feel is compelled gift-giving around the holidays, and have optional ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘White Elephant’ exchanges to ensure that everyone can participate. What you don’t want to do is participate in the planned exchange, and then bust out a special gift only for the boss – and certainly not in front of all of your coworkers. But we’ll get to that.

Let’s take a look at the norms around giving your boss a gift. According to a 2013 survey from Spherion, an Atlanta-based staffing company, 27% of respondents planned on giving their boss a gift during the holidays. On the flip side, 26% expected to get something from their boss as well.

From that same survey, a mere 9% of those in a position of authority planned to give gifts to those who report to them. So, there’s a big gap in expectations and reality, per Spherion’s numbers. And with roughly a quarter of people planning on getting their supervisor’s a gift, that can easily spill over into feelings of pressure to do so as well.

But again, it may not be the best idea.

One problem is that it can come across as a form of sucking up – or bribing, even. Of course your boss is probably going to view you more favorably if you get them something nice. That’s really the problem. Just because you can afford the extra expense doesn’t mean that everyone else can. So, by going out of your way to make sure you’re getting the person in charge a little something extra during the holidays, you run the risk of alienating your coworkers, and, quite frankly, pissing everybody off. That could happen even if your intentions were completely innocent.

Another thing to consider is how much money you’re actually making. If you’re a low-wage worker or a temp, for example, it’s not going to be expected that you’re bringing anything in for management. They know how much you make, so don’t worry about it. Again, just go along with whatever gift exchange your workplace has instituted, or keep any exchanges you want to make away from work altogether.

If you really do want to get your boss something – perhaps you’re very close, or he or she managed to help you out in a big way this year – then your best bet is to keep that exchange out of the workplace. Simply keep it private, between the two of you, and make sure that you’re not running afoul of any rules.

If you do opt to pull the trigger, there is a lot of good advice as to what and how to choose the perfect gift. Job search site has a short list of things to keep in mind, like making sure whatever you choose isn’t too personal or expensive, and that it doesn’t manage to make the recipient uncomfortable. But more than anything, be sincere.

So, with all of that in mind, you should probably abstain. Stick to whatever rules your workplace is enforcing, and don’t put yourself in a position that could do damage to your career, or your relationships with coworkers.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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