If you’re feeling the frenzy of holiday gifting and finding the perfect present for everyone on your list, the thought of what to buy the people you work with might seem like yet another decision to stress over. You spend eight hours a day, five days a week (at least!) with your coworkers — that means over the 52 weeks in a year, you might spend somewhere in the vicinity of 2,080 hours together. Anyone you spend this much time with should be easy to check off your list, but workplace protocol adds an extra layer of complication and confusion that makes the best gift ideas for coworkers some of the toughest to figure out.
So you probably have some questions: What’s an appropriate present for a professional environment? How much are you supposed to spend? Do you need to buy a gift for everyone you’ve ever sat through an unnecessary meeting with? While every office is different, and your work wife might pose an exception to the rules, there are some general guidelines that can help direct you.
“Some offices have a gift-giving limit, while other offices have no gift policy. Always check with your supervisor or the company handbook before moving forward,” notes Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert, author, and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. To cut down on uncertainties regarding expense and avoid unintentionally hurting anyone, she suggests an office-organized gift exchange. “The best way to do gifts in the office is a gift exchange. This way no one‘s feelings get hurt if one person gets a gift and someone else is left out.”
Maximum price limits are typically established beforehand with Secret Santa and White Elephant exchanges, which is especially helpful if you’re on a budget. With these types of arrangements, it’s best to keep the gift generic and universal, and of course, HR-friendly. Use your discretion, based on the culture and practices of your workplace. (For example, if your office hosts regular happy hours, a boozy gift is probably okay.) Typically though, Gottsman advises, “Do not give a coworker anything that would come across as overly personal. Steer clear from gag gifts and anything to do with politics or religion. It goes without saying that you would not give anything that would appear to be inappropriate, or suggestive, but, it’s worth mentioning since some coworkers may need a refresher in boundaries.”
If you’re worried about what, if anything, to get your boss, err on the side of simplicity — or better yet, make it a group thing. “It’s nice to give your boss a small token, preferably something home baked and definitely impersonal,” says Gottsman. “If you know she is a collector of a particular item, and it’s inexpensive, feel free to give it as a gift. But, certainly do not give anything expensive that could be looked upon as brown-nosing. The best thing to do is pool resources with coworkers and give your boss a gift from the team rather than you individually.”
Understandably, you may still want to give more personalized gifts to certain colleagues outside of the official exchange. In this case, Gottsman recommends doing so away from your other coworkers: “If you only plan to give a gift to one or two people at the office, go out to lunch or meet after work and exchange gifts. It’s uncomfortable for some coworkers to receive gifts while others will see the exchange and feel left out. If you are not only coworkers, but close friends after hours too, save your gift for the weekend when you get together socially.”
Now that you're armed with the proper etiquette, scroll on for a collection of options that you'll want to give and your coworkers will actually want to get, from small trinkets for your company exchange to something suitable for your supervisor, plus some more personal picks for your 9-to-5 ride or die.