On Coworkers and Holiday Gifts

One of our readers writes in to ask:

Can you do a post about coworker holiday presents? In the past, I worked somewhere where we got presents from our boss (gift cards) and that was that. Now, however, I work in an office where I learned that everyone brings in presents for everyone else at the holiday party. It’s a very small operation, but that expectation still seems strange to me. It’s my first year here and when I asked about it, someone told me to just keep it small, around $5/person. Which is a relief, but leads to the question of what to get for around $5 that’s not tacky and/or useless. And I’m not sure if I should stick to that for my coworkers, but get a nicer something for my boss…

It’s a confusing etiquette and money situation (I make the least of anyone at my company, since my position is the lowest on the totem pole, which adds to my frustration) and I thought perhaps my beloved Billfold could discuss it in one of your holiday-themed posts.

What a totally awkward situation to be in! You are right to feel confused about this situation. Typically, workplaces ask their employees whether they want to participate in a gift exchange where people put their names in a hat and draw names, or they send an email around asking about whether employees are interested in exchanging gifts with one another in any kind of capacity. It should all be voluntary, and not an expectation. If I were in this situation, I would quietly express some concerns about this with a coworker I trust as a way to check the temperature of whether this is an issue that could be brought with management as a group, rather than individually, since it can be difficult to address this kind of thing when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, as you say.

If it’s too uncomfortable to bring up, I would buy a bunch of fancy-ish $2 or $3 chocolate bars to give out, or make a bunch of cards by hand (which I did one year for coworkers, back in 2008, and then didn’t do again because I spent too many hours gluing snowmen I made out of construction paper together).

As for a gift for your boss, I would either give him/her the same thing everyone is getting or only get something nicer if you’re part of a pool (though I don’t think a boss deserves something nice just because he/she is your boss!). See also: Should You Buy a Holiday Gift For Your Boss?

Have you been in this situation? Chime in below!

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