This time of the year can be tricky in the office: in addition to avoiding all the tasty treats in the office (holiday pounds!) and the minefield of wishing someone “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” (a true minefield depending on the politics of your office), the last thing you need to worry about is giving gifts to your coworkers. After all, you just work with them – you’re not family!
Unfortunately, some people think coworkers do equal family, and you may feel pressured to get those around you something. But what happens when the expectation is to get your boss/supervisor a gift for the holidays? Do you have to do that? Will you get fired if you don’t?
Here’s what you need to know about getting your boss a gift for the holidays, and how you can avoid going into debt buying gifts for everyone this year!
The Official Answer: No
One of my favorite career writers is Alison Green, from AskAManager.org, and she says workplace etiquette says gifts flow downward, not upward. As she points out, there is a power dynamic between an employee and their supervisor, and managers should never benefit from that power dynamic.
This is true even if your boss gives you a gift – you should not feel obligated to reciprocate. While some bosses are thoughtful and/or generous and give gift cards or small gifts to their employees, this doesn’t mean you need to give them something too. It’s just a nice gesture!
In Real Life: Maybe
All that said, many of us have had bad bosses that expect something during the holidays, whether or not they give something to you. That’s why the real answer to “should I get my boss a gift for the holidays?” is “maybe.”
How will you know whether or not you should get your boss a gift for the holidays? Do a little recon: does your boss like to have his/her birthday celebrated? This will give you a clue into whether or not they expect people to give them gifts. Were gifts given last year? Does your office do a “strongly encouraged” Secret Santa, and the boss is included? Have previous employees been shunned for not participating in a gift exchange?
If the answer to any of these questions points to “yes”, you may have to deal with it and get your boss a small gift… or find a better boss 🙂
What Should You Do?
If it’s clear your coworkers give your boss gifts for the holidays, and apparent your boss takes it personally if you don’t give them a gift, you may want to seriously consider giving a gift just to keep the peace (keeping in mind finding another job or boss!)
However, you don’t have to go broke buying your boss a gift. A few ideas to consider:
- Something homemade, like a plate of cookies or brownies
- A re-gift – hey, Saturday Night Live didn’t make an entire skit out of the Christmas candle for no reason!
- Chipping in for a group gift for the boss, like $5 per employee for a coffee shop gift card
Whatever you do, don’t get a too personal gift. No body lotions, charitable gifts in your boss’ name, or anything expensive. They’re your boss, not your cousin.
If buying something for your boss is truly out of the question, you could always write them a card, expressing gratitude for their guidance as a supervisor. If your coworkers are demanding you chip in for a group gift, just say “I’m getting (Boss Person) something on my own, and I won’t be able to chip in on the group gift this year.” If this is the case, make it clear upfront to your coworkers you won’t be chipping in for the group gift, so they don’t buy a gift and then expect your contribution for reimbursement.
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Are you getting your boss a gift this year, or have you bought your boss a gift in the past?