Your Guide To How Not To Pick Gifts For Your Coworkers

Gift Ideas | | , Editor-in-Chief
Updated On: August 17, 2023
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Be it the holiday season, a landmark professional achievement, the occasion of bidding farewell to someone or thanking your team for their hard work, there are myriad reasons that may require to go gift-shopping for your co-workers.

Picking the right gift for someone you share a purely professional relationship with isn’t easy. Despite everyday interactions, we don’t really know all our colleagues well on a personal level. Come to think of it, you may not even know if John who sits on the work station next to yours likes wine or beer, whether he has kids or lives alone with his cat.

This can make picking out gifts for them quite the challenge. Inappropriate gifts can offend the other person and ruin your perfectly smooth working relationship. This guide on how not to pick gifts for your coworkers will help you steer clear of that trap.

Choosing Gifts for Coworkers: Dos and Don’ts

Giving gifts to your coworkers can be an experience that can drive you to your wit’s end. If this is your first rodeo, you will soon know what a nightmare it can be to decide a decent price range for these gifts, pick something that is not too intimate yet thoughtful and will be appreciated by the recipient.

Related Reading: 21 Gifts For Beach Lovers [Gifts For People Who Love The Beach] | Christmas 2020

In case you’ve done this before, chances are you’re scouring the internet for gifts ideas for office staff because you know how badly the ‘wrong’ choice can backfire. Whether you’re wondering what to give coworkers for Christmas or looking for gifts to give coworkers when you leave, there are a few dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

By using these 11 tips from our guide on how not to pick gifts for your coworkers, you’ll never find yourself scrambling for bankable ideas again:

1. Not thinking about the occasion

Are you looking for a gift for an employee leaving your organization? Or struggling with the annual dilemma of what to give coworkers for Christmas? Do you need gifts ideas for office staff to appreciate their work on a particular project? Or are you looking for resignation gifts for a colleague who has just quit and whose company you’ll miss?

Keeping the occasion in mind can give you some context to work with. For example, a desk toy isn’t the most appropriate gift for someone who has just lost their job or quit. On the hand, desk toys can make a great pick when it comes to gifts ideas for the office staff.

So, you see, how the same gift can work or backfire depending on the situation. Similarly, what may be an appropriate gift for your colleagues may not be a good fit for your boss or team leader.

Keeping your gifts contextual is the first step toward avoiding gift faux pas.

2. Overspending

good small gifts for coworkers
You can buy a good small gift for coworkers

You may want to make a good impression on your coworkers with your gifts but it shouldn’t be done at the cost of burning a hole in your pocket. What is the point of buying gourmet chocolates for all your team members on Thanksgiving if you end up eating cereal for the rest of the month?

It is possible to buy a good small gift for coworkers if you just put a little thought into the process. To make sure that you don’t overspend, you must set a budget limit for each gift.

For instance, if you’re participating in a Christmas gift-exchange at your workplace, picking a $50 gift for a team of 10 members can set you back by $500. Is that something you can afford? No? Why not look around for Christmas gifts under $10 for coworkers instead?

Related Reading: 11 Last-Minute Hostess Gifts Ideas | Inexpensive Hostess Thank You Gifts | 2020

3. Being whimsical

Every workplace has certain well-defined or unspoken rules regarding gift-giving. Let’s say, you’re new at your job and not aware of these rules. It’s best to ask around rather than go out on a limb and buy whatever takes your fancy.

Perhaps, your office has a no alcoholic gifts policy and you end up getting everyone a bottle of bubbly. You may well be asked to take it back. So now, you’ve exhausted your gift budget, are stuck with a crate of wine lying at home and still have no gifts for your coworkers.

4. Gift shopping without a list

gift buying guide
Prepare a list of everyone you want to buy gifts for

If you work in a large organization, buying gifts for everyone can be unviable. In that case, it is best to limit your gift-giving to your immediate colleagues or team members. Even if, you’re in a small enterprise and want to buy gifts for everyone, going on a shopping spree without preparing a list can mean missing out a few colleagues.

Running out of gifts in the middle of an exchange event can be extremely embarrassing for everyone involved.

5. Being inconsiderate of people not on your list

Let’s say a bunch of your senior colleagues are retiring or some team members have quit. You share a good rapport with a couple of them and want to give them thoughtful send-off or resignation gifts.

Doing it in front of others who are also leaving your workplace can be insensitive and impolite. Even if, you haven’t had any real interactions with these people during your time together in the office.

If you are picking and choosing who to buy gifts for, irrespective of the occasion, make sure you hand them out discreetly.

6. Not thinking of your equation with them

One of the surefire ways of landing on the wrong side of the appropriate-inappropriate gifts divide is to not think of the kind of equation you share with the person while picking out a gift for them.

It’s one thing to buy an exquisite scarf for your office BFF on Christmas, but gifting your boss a bath essentials set is an absolute no-no. In fact, choosing any personalized items such as clothing, perfumes, skincare products can backfire, unless you share a personal relationship with the coworker you’re buying it for.

Something impersonal yet thoughtful like a leather-bound journal is always a safe bet.

Related Reading: 21 Long-Distance Relationship Gifts | Updated List [Oct. 2020]

7. You don’t have to if you don’t want to

The pressure to conform and fit in can make gift-exchange between colleagues seem more like an unpleasant chore than a social nicety. If you’re new and don’t know anyone well enough, it’s okay to let your coworkers know that you are not inclined to be a part of the gift-giving circle just yet.

Or let’s say you’re going through a financial crunch. You don’t have to buy gifts for others at the detriment of your monetary health. It’s completely okay to tell your coworkers ‘I’m a little short on money, so I won’t be participating in gift-exchange this Christmas’.

It’s way better than buying them something from the dollar store and being judged for it. Just make sure you are polite and courteous in turning down such culturally sought-after practices.

8. Making it personal

neutral gift ideas for coworkers
Choose neutral yet thoughtful gifts

Yes, adding a personal touch to your gifts is a great practice in general. Just not when it comes to buying gifts for your coworkers. For instance, you may think that a hair straightener brush will be a great gift for an American-African coworker with the hardest to tame Afro hair. But they may view it as racially inappropriate and be offended by your choice.

Inappropriate gifts can be the quickest way to burn bridges at your workplace. Unless you know someone well and share a friendship with them outside of work, keep your gifts neutral. Candles, potpourri, desk décor items, photo frames, wine are some neutral gift ideas you can look into.

This is especially pertinent for holiday season gift-giving, when you may be making purchases for a cross-section of your colleagues and not just one or two people.

9. Not choosing thoughtfully

Even though you’re keeping your gifts generic and neutral, it is still important to be thoughtful. Keep in mind cultural reference and any known personal likes and dislikes when making you selection.

For instance, if you’re buying cookies for all your team members, make sure it doesn’t contain any nuts or ingredients that one of them may be allergic to. Or if one of your coworkers is gluten-intolerant, you could buy them something else.

Similarly, gifting wine to a Muslim coworker or an ashtray as desk décor to a Sikh coworker is culturally inappropriate, and may cause offence. Unless, of course, you know for sure that the person in question drinks or smokes.

10. Not considering gift cards

When it comes to not risking buying inappropriate gifts for your coworkers, gift cards are your safest bet. From Amazon gift cards in the range of $1 to 2,000 to ones for Netflix, Starbucks, Best Buy and Sephora, there are so many options, at different price points, to choose from.

You can also buy coupons or gift vouchers from any popular stores in your area. These make for great gifts for coworkers since you’re placing the choice in their hands. Just pick one from a store/brand that they frequent often, pack it up nicely and you’re good to go.

Use this guide to avoid the usual mistakes that most of us are susceptible to when picking gifts for the upcoming holiday season. We promise you won’t look back.

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