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How to buy gifts for a coworker or boss

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Every December employees everywhere, shopping for coworkers, flock to box stores with two things on their mind. How much should I spend? And what should I buy? Something edible? A trinket? Ingredients for spiced bread? Obviously, shopping for coworkers requires discretion and taste, and what you buy, if gifted within the context of the workplace, can detrimentally impact your professional image. For example, mildly vulgar gag gifts (use your imagination), even if purchased with the purist intentions, may land you in the hot seat with HR. Likewise, overly sentimental gifts—for example, a card professing an admiration for your boss which is borderline romantic—may come off as creepy and inappropriate, and also may land you in a heap of trouble with HR. So, the question is, how does one buy a gift for a coworker that straddles the bold line between vulgar and cloying? Although buying professional workplace-appropriate gifts is really no difficult task, there does exist a great deal of potential for critical mistakes.

Specifically, you should keep in mind four things in mind when shopping for or giving gifts to coworkers or your boss this holiday:

  • Food allergies. Although food-related gifts—from muffins or cookies to gift cards to local eateries—are perhaps the most inoffensive gifts one can give, do not forget that a dairy-based gift, despite its seeming inoffensive nature, could offend the stomach of a lactose intolerant coworker. Even though the adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” usually rings true, keep in mind coworkers’ food allergies.
  • Top-shelf vs. dollar store bonanza. Even though expensive gifts are nice to receive, giving expensive over-the-top gifts to coworkers or your boss could potentially create an awkward situation, causing the recipient feel as though his or her gift was monetarily insufficient. Suffice it to say, if you are buying in bulk, keep the price of gifts between $5 and $15.
  • Even adults can feel left out. If you are buying or making gifts for everyone in your department, ensure that you are buying or making enough for your entire department—nobody enjoys being left out. Conversely, there exists no moral imperative that makes buying gifts for coworkers an absolute moral duty. If cash is tight or if you simply don’t want to, saying, “no,” to purchasing gifts for everyone in your office, or even your immediate coworkers, is perfectly acceptable.
  • Don’t make a public display. If you plan to give a gift to only one or perhaps two people in your department or office do not make a public display of your gift giving. In fact, Kaitlin Madden of TheWorkBuzz recommends, “if you have an office ‘best friend,’ exchange gifts outside the office. Not only will it be more personal to you, but it won’t make your other co-workers feel left out.”

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