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Some pitfalls to avoid in workplace gifting

It's never easy to choose the perfect holiday gifts for family and friends, but the choice is much trickier when selecting presents for bosses, staffers, co-workers and clients.

Workplace gifting, while a tradition at many companies, requires a delicate balance of fairness, appropriateness and legality.

Here's a quick primer of major pitfalls to avoid:

* Bosses must aim for equality when picking gifts for similarly situated charges. (An extra week's pay for Bob, while Mary, Mike and Rick receive car wash gift certificates will breed instant hostility.)

* Lingerie is never an option. (If you manage to dodge sexual harassment charges at work, backlash on the homefront could be worse).

* Beware lavish client gifts. (You might view the golf vacation in Scotland as "deserved," but your corporate counsel might view it as "kickback").
A survey by careerbuilder.com found 56 percent of managers will spread holiday cheer in the form of gifts to their staffs. Workers should expect tokens of appreciation, rather than expensive rewards. Nearly one-quarter of respondents (22 percent) will spend less than $10 per person, with 11 percent staying in the $5 and under bracket.

Cash will be popular, with 52 percent of bosses indicating they'll give money or gift cards. Another 23 percent will hand out chocolate or other sweet treats. A note to recipients of very generous gift cards: They are considered taxable income to the IRS.

The same survey also found that 3 of every 10 workers will buy gifts for their bosses. Women are more likely than men to play Santa to their managers, with 39 percent saying they will go to work bearing gifts. And a majority of boss gifts will be a group purchase.

Once again, it's the thought, not the cost, that counts. The largest group of those buying presents or contributing to the boss gift fund (29 percent) plans to spend $6 to $10, with 18 percent selecting items in the $5-or-less price category.

The worker/boss telephone survey also collected nominations for examples of the worst workplace gifts they've ever received. That "Gift Giving Hall of Shame" included: a gift certificate to a strip club, a voodoo doll, package of over-the-counter medicine, underwear, and a used cookbook with stains on the cover.

A growing gift-giving trend that can help everyone avoid present problems is group donations of money or time to charity, rather than individual exchanges. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said their company had a vehicle for charitable donations tied to the holiday season.

Another holiday workplace tradition -- the office party -- appears to be alive and well. And, companies are loosening the purse strings for holiday parties this year, according to a survey that focuses on year-end corporate merriment.

While the percentage of companies planning to foot the bill for holiday parties is unchanged from last year -- 83 percent -- the median spending has climbed to $7,000, compared with $5,000 in 2005, according to the Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington, D.C., private research group that released its annual holiday survey last week.

That translates to about $36 per employee, a record for the 12-year-plus survey, said Joshua Joseph, the group's research director.

And more companies are giving workers a reason to celebrate: A record 49 percent plan to give employees gifts or bonuses, up from 40 percent a year ago. Indeed, bonuses on Wall Street are expected to rise 30 percent this year.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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