'Tis the Season for Giving (a Good Impression)

BY DANIELLE KOVACHEVICH

If you're among the ranks who dread the annual gifting of bosses and employees, it's time to stop viewing this ritual as an obligation, and instead seeing opportunity. After all, when executed gracefully, holiday gift giving presents a chance to reinforce relationships and elevate one's professional image.

All you need are some guidelines for getting it right:

Gifting Your Boss: The best boss gift is one that serves as a small but thoughtful token of appreciation, like a quality pen, personalized stationery, a favorite bottle of wine or prepackaged specialty foods. If you're close with your boss, more personal items like gloves, a scarf or something for the home are also acceptable. Gift cards aren't ideal here as they rob the employee of an opportunity to show imagination. Plus, they feel inappropriate when given to someone higher on the pay scale. Likewise, an unduly expensive gift can feel awkward and convey a lack of judgment. So don't go overboard.

Gifting Your Employees: For supervisors, this is a chance to show appreciation and reinforce your leadership position. So it's good to be generous. But don't view the gift as another form of compensation. Small electronics, leather goods or travel accessories are classic choices. Gift certificates are perfectly acceptable so long as they are in equal amounts for similarly ranked employees and from an appropriate restaurant or store.

Gifting the Big Boss: The CEO is not expecting a gift from you unless you directly report to him or her. In fact, gifting more than one or two levels above you may invite skepticism. If you feel it's important to communicate something to the big boss, a holiday card with a personal note is usually best.

Gifting Support Staff: Whether it's the administrative assistant who processes your late expense reports or the IT person who replaced your lost laptop cord three times, now is the time to say thank you and maybe even build up some goodwill. A good bottle of wine or liquor or a nice gift card are both fine choices.

Gifting Other Co-Workers: Unless there is already an office tradition of doing so, co-workers who don't report to each other would probably rather not exchange. Let a simple "Happy Hanukkah" or "Merry Christmas" get the job done. If you do exchange, keep it modest.

While it's easier to get it right than wrong when gifting at the office, there are two categories you should avoid:

Homemade Items: This is especially true for those above or below you on the org chart. The homemade cookies and hand knit mittens that your relatives find charming can come off as too personal or even frugal as a gift for your boss or employees. Even when funds are limited, if you want to elevate your professional image, it's best to spring for a small store-bought something. (Not to say you can't bring in your famous brownies to share with the staff.)

Overly Personal Items: Perfume, pajamas and back massagers make for awkward office gifts. You may know your supervisor's favorite scent, but as a rule, anything that makes a good gift for a significant other is probably inappropriate at work.

Finally, if the relationship with any of those on your office gift list is rocky, you may be tempted to skip the holiday giving. But don't. Whether it's a grouchy boss or a less-than-stellar employee, this is the time to demonstrate your generous spirit and appreciation for whatever portion of the relationship has worked. And who knows? You just might set the tone for an even better year ahead.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.