Are you planning to give your client or colleagues a gift this holiday? Proceed with caution. Giving gifts to people to whom you aren’t particularly close can be a potential minefield. Case in point: A man I know once “played it safe” and gave his office Secret Santa a nice bottle of wine—only to find out the woman didn’t drink because of her religion. And a diabetic woman I know struggles when people unwittingly give her boxes of chocolate or other sweet, sugary treats on the holidays.
To avoid making a faux pas, stick to these civility-minded gift-giving pointers:
-Opt for neutral holiday cards. Remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas. If you want to send cards, select something with a secular, generic message such as “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”
-Avoid alcohol or sweets unless you are certain they will be well-received. A bottle of Rioja or a nice whiskey is a nice gift if, say, you’re certain that the recipient will enjoy it (perhaps they belong to a wine club, or always order a Scotch on the rocks at happy hour), but if there’s any chance that they don’t drink, find something else. Likewise with sweets. While most people won’t turn up their nose at some Godiva, you’d hate to hand them off to someone suffering from diabetes, or trying to lose weight. It’s best to only go the “foodie gift” route if the recipient has specifically expressed a love for that particular food.
-Steer clear of gag gifts, or political or religious items. Don’t risk offending someone with a gift that has political or religious connotations, such as George W. Bush’s new biography or an angel ornament. It could rub someone the wrong way. Gifts of a joke or X-rated nature are also inappropriate. Most are tasteless and not exactly useful. Finally, avoid anything that is too intimate, such as lingerie, clothing, or cosmetics. A scented hand cream is harmless enough, but for the most part this kind of personal gift suggests an intimacy that isn’t appropriate for most business relationships.
-Think office. I personally love getting fun, office-appropriate gifts, such as a beautiful art calendar, a nicely designed paperweight, or great pens. They’re useful, liven up my work space, and are suitable for a working relationship. Etsy.com is a terrific resource for finding unique office-related gifts—from monogrammed business card holders to pencils embossed with clever sayings. Gift certificates to a bookstore are also handy.
-Avoid corporate tat. Marketing is great and all, but be honest—does anyone really want to receive a polo shirt embossed with your company’s logo? I’ve received lots of lovely gifts that were marred by logos, such as a beautiful silver frame with the company’s name scrawled across it. I’ve never used it, and I can’t help feeling like it was such a waste of money. Trust me—a lovely gift will make people remember you, logo or not!
-Observe gift policies. Most Secret Santas have a fixed spending limit, so stick to that. Also, bear in mind that many large corporations don’t allow employees to receive gifts valued over a certain amount. Sending a fancy gift may make things awkward—or even get someone in trouble.