Etiquette for Office / Business Gift Giving

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Business gift giving during the holiday season can be an easy and enjoyable experience. There are a few guidelines you can follow for help in deciding if you will be giving a gift and what to give. The tips below will help you in choosing appropriate gifts in business for anyone from clients, associates, coworkers and for your boss.

Gift Giving Etiquette for Business Associates

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  • Many companies and large corporations have rules and restrictions on whether their employees can accept gifts. Some have guidelines on the type or value of gifts that can be accepted. Check with the person you want to give the gift to or the HR department where the person works to make sure they can accept gifts and not be required to decline gifts, as well as any restrictions.
  • Gifts of a personal nature should be avoided. Gift certificates related to health, beauty, fitness or gifts such as perfumes are better off left to a family member. You don't want to give a gift that could possibly be misunderstood as an implication that they need to change something about their appearance.
  • While a bottle of wine may seem like the perfect gift for a client, alcohol is usually not recommended unless you know their likes and dislikes in this area. You don't want to take the chance of giving alcohol to someone who doesn't or shouldn't drink.
  • There's a saying, "There's two things you should never talk about... Religion and Politics." This also applies to gift giving with clients and business associates. Avoid gifts related to religion or politics unless you are confident of their beliefs or the recipient/group is part of an organization affiliated with this topic. You don't want to take any chance of offending the recipient.
  • Using your gift to advertise your company may give the impression that the gift is no more than a company giveaway. When giving a gift to a single person from a single person, or from a small group to a small group, avoid sending gifts that have your company logo plastered all over it. However, this can be acceptable if this is a gift given from the company to a large group of recipients.

Giving Gifts to Co-Workers

  • If your office picks names and exchanges gifts during the holidays, learn the rules of gift exchange.
  • Learn your companies policies on giving gifts. Larger companies most likely have rules that you will need to follow. If your company has a more relaxed atmosphere, find out what has been done in the past.
  • Typically a dollar limit is set for the gifts. Make sure to stay within this limit. If there is no limit, don't go overboard on the gifts. Not everyone in the office can afford to give gifts and you don't want to make anyone feel obligated to reciprocate.
  • If the office doesn't have a particular gift giving ritual, don't give gifts just for the sake of giving a gift. Gifts should be given to say "Thanks" and show your appreciation for their help the past year.
  • If only buying gifts for some and not others in the office, don't give the gifts in front of everyone.
  • Research the person who's name you picked. Do they have any hobbies or interest? Or, a gift for their office would be appropriate, such as a paperweight, pen and pencil set, or a picture frame. If your budget allows getting the gift personalized with their name or a monogram, by all means have it personalized. This will give the gift a special touch.
  • No personal gifts. Gifts like perfume, clothing, or gag gifts with a sexual theme would not be appropriate.
  • Always wrap the gift. A nicely wrapped gift says a lot about who your are.
  • Consider giving a gift that everyone can enjoy. A platter of cookies, gift basket with different types of snacks, or a sampling of candies or other sweets.

Giving Gifts to Your Boss

  • If you are not sure if gifts are given to the boss, ask around about what has been done in the past.
  • Sometimes, the gift for the boss is a group effort where everyone contributes a dollar amount and a gift is purchased. The gift can then be presented by the group.
  • Keep in mind that you are not obligated to buy a gift for your boss. A holiday card would be enough. Even if your boss gives you a gift, you don't have to reciprocate. A thank you note would be sufficient.
  • Never give a gift to the boss just to get in good favor. This will be seen as brown nosing by your co-workers and your boss will most likely realize it too.
  • If you decide to give your boss a gift, don't try to impress with an expensive gift. The gift should reflect your appreciation and that you have enjoyed working with them the past year. Also, don't go cheap on the gift for the boss. It will not say positive things about you and seem more like you felt you had to give a gift. A well thought out gift will be appreciated more.
  • If considering giving a homemade gift to your boss make sure to consider if they would like what you have created. You may be showing your interest but if your interest is making cookies, make some you know your boss will like. Homemade gifts can sometimes seem to personal, so take care when choosing this option.

International Gift Protocol


Gifts in the business world are a symbolic way to show appreciation and further relationships. If your business extends beyond US borders, it is important that you research not only the policies of the companies you are doing business with, but the customs of the countries, as well. Global companies are influenced by different cultures and different religions.

Some businesses have a dollar limit on gifts received. Countries such as South Korea limit the dollar amount for gifts to civil servants before they must be reported.

Whenever considering a gift of food, be cognizant of religious dietary restrictions. In the Muslim faith, alcohol and foods from pork, birds, and shellfish are prohibited. In the Jewish religion, pork and shellfish are prohibited. The cow is sacred In the Hindu culture, therefore foods made from animal products are to be avoided.

The traditions of gift giving vary dramatically from one country to another. In Japan, the graciousness in which you give and receive is focused on. In some countries, such as Norway and Brazil, an excessive gift, or gifts given before establishing a relationship give the impression that the gift is meant as a bribe. In Portugal, even expensive gifts are given and considered a sign of mutual respect and not a bribe. And, in Costa Rica and many other Latin American countries, men must be careful to avoid any implied misunderstanding when giving a gift to a female colleague. In some countries, gifts of the wrong color are offensive.

Taking the time to learn more about who you are doing business with will help develop good business relationships. In Italy, inquiring about your colleagues family and personal interests before meeting them will help to cement your relationship. Having chosen an appropriate gift will send the message that the gift was chosen specifically for him or her. The recipient will appreciate your thoughtfulness and your business relationship will flourish. In contrast, Austrians will conduct business with you without a personal relationship. They are more interested in the length of time your company has been in business and the extent of your education.


When looking at office gifts, always ask yourself, "How would I feel if I received this gift from a business associate?" As with any gift giving opportunity, giving a gift that you have put some thought into will be reflected in the gift. Your gift will leave an impression with the recipient, make sure it leaves the impression you want to give.

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