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The Holidays Are Near: Time for Business Gift Giving Etiquette!

Categories: Workplace Etiquette

It sounds like a great idea – giving your best clients or employees holiday gifts to show appreciation for their business or service. But sometimes this innocent gesture can turn into a major embarrassment. Knowing the proper etiquette behind business gift-giving is critical.

Business Gift-Giving 101

Here are 9 points to remember about business gifts – for clients and within an office:

  1. Ask the company what its policy is towards receiving gifts. Many corporations have policies in place where no gifts are accepted, others have restrictions on the gift’s cost. One of my clients, a government pension and benefits firm) has a written gift-giving policy that states its associates “may not receive or give gifts or honorariums of value in excess of $100 from any individual source in any calendar year to or from any client, supplier and/or other party involved in daily business with (the company).”
  2. Never give a client an inappropriate gift. Acceptable gifts include office-related products like desk accessories (paperweight, book ends, pens, calendars, etc.), gift certificates (for activities you know the recipient will enjoy – massages, facials, department store shopping sprees, etc.) or flowers, plants and gift baskets (fruit, cheese, etc.). Unacceptable gifts include any that are too personal (clothing) and very expensive items. The government pension and benefits firm has a written policy stating gift-giving “prohibitions do not apply to acceptance of advertising and promotional material of nominal value, such as pens, pencils, note pads, key chains, calendars and similar items.”
  3. Remember: Gifts can be returned. If you get a gift from a client or vendor that is too expensive or overly personal, send it back within 24 hours with a note explaining that your company has certain gift guidelines, or that it is too personal for you to accept.
  4. Stay away from gifts with religious connotations. Not everyone celebrates Christmas – or even Hanukah!
  5. Just because you receive a gift, doesn’t mean you must reciprocate. Employees who receive gifts from their boss do not have to return the gesture, unless they have built a special bond or friendship. And, if so, there is no need to match the dollar amount of the original gift.
  6. Unless it’s a party situation, avoid giving gifts during work hours. This is distracting and reduces productivity. It can also create jealousy if people receive different gifts that cost varying amounts. Whenever possible, do a “grab bag” or “pollyanna” type gift in a work setting. Special gifts intended for select employees should be given off hours.
  7. Be gracious when you receive a gift. Even if you don’t like the gift, remember to send a thank-you note.
  8. Remember price guidelines for gift giving. Generally speaking, the lower the price, the more time it will take to find a good gift, but the more appropriate it will be in a business setting. You need to strike a balance between saving money and not appearing too cheap, either.
  9. Be an active participant in the gift-giving process. Don’t rely on other people to buy your gifts. What if your administrative assistant has horrible taste? If you must use someone else to purchase your gift, make sure you know what was bought. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being thanked for a gift or asked questions about it when you don’t know what the recipient is talking about.

In general, it’s a good idea to play it safe when giving business gifts. Do some research, and remember to consider how the gift may be viewed by the recipient. If there’s even the slightest chance it will be seen as improper, don’t do it.

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