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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES

Etiquette column: Ins and outs of office gift giving

Be sure to show your appreciation, but don't go overboard on spending.

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q. Karen, I am one of the newer hires in our company, and I am wondering about holiday gift giving. Do I ask what the policy is and what people have done in the past, or do I just wing it? And how much should I spend and whom do I gift?

A. Yes, do ask. Gift giving at work can be tricky, so it is important to find out whether there is a gift-giving policy. The larger the company, the more likely it is that there will be a specific written guideline.

If the gift-giving policy is not a rigid one, find out what the tradition has been and try to follow it. Making the wrong move can cause hurt feelings and cause problems in the future.

Here are some other guidelines for gifting at work:

•Find out what people usually spend on gifts and stay within that price range. Spending more than others can make you look like you are trying to show people up or that you are not a team player.

•Do participate in the joint gift for your boss or supervisor. Giving a separate gift can make you look like a brown-noser.

•Choose gifts that reflect the interests of the people you are gifting. This is a time to show appreciation and to let recipients know you have put some thought into their gift.

•Stay within your budget when buying gifts. It isn't about the cost, it's about the thought. Be resourceful and clever when shopping. And be sure to wrap your gifts — that wrapping can make a usual gift look special.

•Avoid joke gifts; everyone doesn't have the same sense of humor. Stay away from inappropriate gifts or gifts that are too extravagant, personal or sexy.

•Be a good sport and keep your sense of humor and play by the rules if your co-workers participate in the Yankee Swap (white elephant) or Secret Santa games.

•Give gifts privately to co-workers if you don't have something for everyone.

•Show your appreciation with a gift to your subordinates and those who go out of their way to make your life easier at work.

•Consider donating to a charity as a team, but make sure the charity is acceptable to everyone.

•Keep a few extra gifts on hand that could be given to anyone. This may save you if you receive that unexpected gift.

•Be sure to show your appreciation for all of your gifts with a handwritten thank-you note. It will be appreciated.

Happy shopping!

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email clarson@news-sentinel.com, and we'll forward it to her.