Gift Giving at the Office: 20 Memorable and Regrettable Ideas

Illustration of man handing a give to a coworker.

Gift giving can be difficult. With the holidays fast approaching, many professionals are wondering what presents to give their business contacts – and what not to give. 

It's the thought that counts with gift giving, but some presents prompt the question, "What were they thinking?" The Creative Group recently asked more than 400 advertising and marketing executives to describe the most creative or memorable gift they or a colleague have received from a client or business associate.

Here are some of their responses:

  • "A kickball"
  • "A basket of perfume"
  • "A pig nose"
  • "Caped teddy bears"
  • "A little flying helicopter for the team to share"

It is often said the way to a person's heart is through his or her stomach, which may have prompted some folks to bestow these tasty tokens of appreciation:

  • "A King Cake from New Orleans"
  • "A heart-shaped custard pie"
  • "A block of Swiss cheese"
  • "A case of beer"
  • "Dinner at a five-star restaurant"

Business gifts don't have to cost a lot of money – and can even serve dual purposes – as evidenced by these clever presents:

  • "An envelope that contained a seed to plant on Earth Day"
  • "A bottle of tequila with a resume taped to it"
  • "A video showcasing the person's work and how it applies to our company"
  • "A series of pencils sent separately over a period of time – each pencil featured a specific marketing sentence targeted at our department and business"

On the other end of the spectrum were these big-ticket items:

  • "A trip to the Masters Tournament"
  • "A cruise to the Caribbean"
  • "The keys to my client's villa to use while on my vacation"
  • "A beautiful box with a stack of $100 bills and a thank-you card"
  • "A $25,000 donation to build a pavilion on site"

And finally, one person received this unfortunate gift:

  • "Opera tickets – mainly for my wife because I hate the opera"

Gift giving: 5 questions to help you make the best choices

Even in the creative industry, you want to be selective with presents you give professional contacts. "A thoughtful holiday gift can make a really positive impression," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. “It's an opportunity to show that you take an interest in those you do business with."

With that in mind, here are five questions to help guide your business gift-giving efforts:

  1. What are some "safe" gift ideas? The best gifts reflect the recipient's tastes and interests – they show that you put some real thought into them. For example, I love to cook, so when my coworkers surprised me with a set of stainless steel measuring cups and a gift card to Sur La Table for my 10-year anniversary with the company, I was excited and touched. If you question whether or not something is appropriate, it probably isn't.
  2. How can you get ideas of someone's interests or tastes? If possible, check out the recipient's workspace. Any visible photos or decor can give you a sense of the person's hobbies and interests. Or, in confidence, ask the recipient's assistant or a close colleague what type of gift the person might enjoy. If you're still at a loss for ideas, consider a donation to a well-respected charitable organization in the recipient's name.
  3. How much should you spend on gifts for business contacts? Gifts don't have to be extravagant to be appreciated. In fact, lavish presents can make people uncomfortable. Something small but thoughtful, like a book or handmade scarf, can be very much appreciated.
  4. Should employees give gifts to their managers? It's not necessary and could even be construed as trying to curry favor. However, if it's common for employees to exchange gifts with their supervisors and you'd like to give something to your boss, keep it small.
  5. What if you receive a gift from someone but didn't plan to give a gift to that person initially? Do you have to reciprocate? Gift giving is always optional. Sometimes the best way to respond to a gift is with a simple but sincere thank-you note.

Looking for additional etiquette advice? Check out our business etiquette report now! 

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