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Your Guide to Gift-Giving at Work

Accounting and finance jobs bring their own demands in terms of day-to-day requirements and deadlines. When the holidays roll around, many workers in these fields feel an added layer of stress related to gift-giving to colleagues and bosses.

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The following guidelines for end-of-year gift exchanges provide some clarity and suggestions to help you make it through unscathed.

You don’t have to participate in gift-giving

As a starting point, exchanges should be strictly opt-in, says Allison Green, author of the career and management blog Ask a Manager. Use a private sign-up sheet rather than asking someone to announce whether they’d like to take part.

Flow down

Green also notes that gifts should “flow downward, not upward,” meaning that employees shouldn’t feel pressured to contribute to a gift for a group manager or supervisor.

Along the same lines, managers can graciously discourage gifts from staff. Green advises, “It’s smart to say something [at the start of the holidays] like, ‘I know this is the season of office gift-giving, so I want to preemptively say that simply doing your jobs well is enough of a gift for me. I don’t believe anyone should have to give gifts to their boss, so please put that toward family and friends instead.’”

Show appreciation

What should you do when you receive an unexpected gift from a colleague? Say “thank you,” of course, but don’t feel that you must reciprocate, according to Peggy Post, co-author of The Gift of Good Manners.

Make it affordable

Common sense rules — such as setting a low dollar limit — should prevail when it comes to office gift-giving. Recognize that, for most people, the holiday budget starts with immediate family, then trickles down to acquaintances and co-workers. A maximum price point of $20 allows for useful office gifts. Business Insider suggests a variety of low-cost options: A coffee mug, a pair of woolen gloves, an umbrella or hand-warmers for a commuter, a power cube for mobile charging, or a small plant that requires little care.

Shop early

If you know you’d like to participate in a gift exchange, you can get a step ahead by shopping early. Keep your eyes open for sales on items that would make appropriate office gifts. Just be aware that the appearance of overspending an agreed-upon price limit may seem generous, but often makes the recipient feel uncomfortable.

Steer clear of embarrassment or controversy

Make sure your gift is appropriate for the office environment. “Don’t even think of a gag present,” warns career advisor Randall Hansen, PhD. You should also stay away from presents that are too personal (e.g., perfume/cologne), religious, or tied to controversial topics (such as certain charity donations). Re-gifted and alcoholic items are also unsuitable.

Book it

Books make great gifts for the office environment. A book exchange is a way of passing along a favorite author’s wisdom from one employee to another. Each participant chooses and wraps a book for the gift pool, along with a note explaining the book’s theme or importance. Draw names out of a hat to determine the order of gift selection.

Have some fun

Many companies use formats such as “Secret Santa” or “ White Elephant” to lighten up gift-giving gatherings at work. Here’s another alternative: A “cobweb party” involves spools of yarn attached to presents that are woven around a room. Assign each person a yarn color and watch him or her trace a path to their gift.

For more on what the holidays hold for accounting and finance professionals, click here to check out our holiday bonus infographic.

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Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.