Holiday Gift Giving in the Workplace

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Dear Annette,

Do you have any holiday gift ideas for the office?


Dear Santa,

This is my favorite time of year, as thinking of gift ideas for others always reminds me of me. One December years ago I received an ostrich from a client after helping him survey his New Zealand ranch. I had to get rid of him after Dickie became allergic. The ostrich stayed for five years.

Narrowing down the wish list is always so difficult. A year or two ago, the Mednikow catalog had a $575,000 diamond ring on its front cover, complete with a little cutout so you can try the ring on for size. Difficult to duplicate online.

Make sure your People create and adhere to a Santa Budget; otherwise, it can be very difficult to make a profit on Christmas. After all, you've got your family to think of, and yourself of course, your pets, and don't forget your favorite charities, in addition to people at work.

My neighbor, an OB/GYN, gives his wife a new Jaguar with leather seats every year. If he ever has a hard day at the office, she isn't asking.

Office giving is as complicated as international diplomacy, with delicate customs and preferences to consider. Offending someone would defeat the purpose. Plus, whatever you do this year you must meet or beat next year, so putting someone on your gift list is like giving them an annuity. Develop rigorous screening criteria to ensure that everyone on your list is giftworthy - now and forever. Candidates for corporate gifts include personal assistants, bosses, staff, vendors, partners, journalists who spelled your name correctly in the newspaper, and the person who delivers your mail. Anyone who makes you look good should make the cut.

If you make more than $250,000 per year, give your assistant $500 in cash. Nothing says money like money. Or, make it personal - a celebrity's phone number, a day of skiing, airfare to New York. Don't mix the message, though: even if your assistant has been complaining of muscle aches, don't give a gift certificate for a massage unless you're having an affair. Many all-purpose spas have massage therapy, so offer the Day of Beauty instead.

When in doubt, don't give alcohol or fur. But when you're certain, do.

Never, ever give something practical. Give something that makes you jealous.

It can be fun to think of gifts under $1,000 for Yankee swap meets and Secret Santa extravaganzas (voluntary only, please). Here are some of my favorites.

  • The Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection, with 75 of the 20th Century's greatest pop arias performed by vocal legends living, dead, and Canadian. Worth its weight in velvet. I'm listening to it now.
  • A silver-plated computer mouse, just $25.
  • Upscale scented candles. Fabulous.
  • Matching socks of the month. Muy guy.
  • Beaded bags. A little place to tuck small secrets when the business day is over.
  • Body lotion. It says, "You are flesh and blood, and that makes you a person in my book."
  • A four-pack of Italian mineral water. Remember, water is moisturizer for the inside.
  • Something you baked yourself. Everyone will want to be your friend.

On the corporate expense account, my very favorite gift to give or get is a basket of those individually wrapped pears. A person cleaned and presented each one just for me - I mean you, or your recipient. My personal shopper at Saks recommends these ethically safe commemoratives too.

  • Silver or crystal. Engraved silver-plated bells were recently the rage. Jingle jingle.
  • Something with your company's name on it. Those Swiss army knives come with corkscrews.
  • An ecumenical ornament or collectible. A business incubator once gave me an art glass egg. Get it?
  • Picture frames. Can you guess whose photo goes in here?
  • Upscale edibles. Oh, Linda, please send me more of those management-themed chocolates this year!

I don't wrap any of my gifts; I have People to do that for me. I much prefer them to the saintly, underappreciated holiday help in the department stores, whose oeuvre is so perfect you can hardly tell human hands were at work. Even if you adorn your offerings with the latest corrugated crepes or animal prints, the tape should be asymmetrical and the bow slightly askew.

Time is the greatest holiday gift of all, and it doesn't show up on your credit card bill. One Friday in December, I invite all my People to a catered lunch of toast points and caviar. When everyone is served, I pop the cork on the sparkling nonalcoholic cider and give everyone the afternoon off. After all, my People own an equity stake in me, and I in them. It's in our best interest to stay motivated. And nothing motivates people to work hard like prime shopping hours.

Stay fabulous,