How Corporate Gift-Giving Can Be Ethical: 5 Key Points to Avoid – 2024 Guide

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Giving gifts to colleagues can feel fraught with problems. Maybe you’re worried about showing favoritism or you’re anxious that you’re going to inadvertently create a situation where others feel that they need to reciprocate – even if they can’t afford it.

Gift-giving can also be an issue when it comes to clients, donors, contractors, and others who aren’t directly employed by your organization. In some cases, a gift might even be interpreted as a bribe.

So how do you make sure that your corporate gift-giving is ethical?

Here are five key points you need to avoid:

1. Don’t Encourage Employees to Give Gifts Up the Chain of Command

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Gifts should only flow down, not up, the chain of command. That means that you shouldn’t encourage employees to give presents to their line manager, boss, team lead, or anyone else that is in charge of them.

It’s particularly important that you don’t solicit gifts for yourself, either. Even hinting that you want or expect a gift from your direct reports is considered very poor etiquette.

So why is this such an important rule? You might think that it’s no big deal to encourage everyone in the office to exchange holiday gifts with one another. Maybe you think that this will help establish a fun atmosphere in your workplace.

But from your employees’ point of view, gift-giving could feel pressured and unwelcome. As Alison Green from explains, gifts should flow downward, not upward: That means you can give them to people who report to you, but you shouldn’t feel obliged to give presents to your boss or manager.

If you’re stuck on what to pick, check on for sure-to-please corporate gifts.

2. Don’t Give Anything Inappropriately Personal

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It might seem obvious, but some gifts simply aren’t suitable for the workplace. However much your coworker loves lingerie, there’s no circumstance under which you should be giving her something lacy or racy. The same goes for any other adult items: anything related to sex (even fairly tenuously) is definitely best avoided.

Other gifts might come under an “inappropriate” heading, too. A coloring book full of bad language, a rude mug, or an X-rated t-shirt might all be hilarious in your friendship group … but they aren’t suitable for the Secret Santa taking place in your office. Steer clear of underwear, jewelry, soap, and other personal items, too.

You’ll want to avoid religious or political gifts, too, unless they’re very much in keeping with the mission of your organization. Even then, you’ll want to tread with care. For instance, if you work with contractors who don’t necessarily share your religion or political beliefs, then buy them something more neutral.

3. Don’t Break Agreed Limits on Price

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If you’re taking part in an office gift exchange, such as a Secret Santa, there’s likely a price limit. For instance, all gifts might be supposed to be $10 maximum.

Stick to the price limit. Even if you see something that you think the recipient will love and you can afford it, it isn’t fair on other people involved if you’re spending $50 and they’re spending $10. It’ll make others feel bad, and it’ll put pressure on them to break the spending limit next time around.

If you’re the one in charge of setting a price limit, keep it low. Even if you and your colleagues are all well-paid, you don’t know what financial pressures people may be facing.

On a similar note, don’t give cash. Sure, it might seem like the most useful thing you can offer someone – but it’s going to come across weirdly. Instead, opt for a gift card that they could use for something they enjoy. Coffee or pizza gift cards are often a good option instead.

4. Don’t Give Gifts Publicly Unless You’ve Got Something for Everyone

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Just like at school, if you don’t have enough gifts for everyone, you shouldn’t be handing them out publicly – unless it’s something like a birthday gift or a retirement gift. (And even then, you need to make sure that everyone gets something similar on their birthday or at retirement.)

It’s fine to give gifts to just a select few friends at work. But if you’re not giving something to everyone in your team, then make sure you hand out gifts outside of work or very discreetly. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings because you’ve not got a present for them.

If you’re a team manager, it’s particularly important that you give similar or equal presents to everyone on your team. Don’t single out one or two people for “better” gifts – even if they’ve gone above and beyond in their work.

For unique and customizable gifts, one can consider exploring options like Custom Sock Lab, where you can order swag socks online and give them as presents for your team.

(It’d be better to arrange for them to have something that’s more clear from the company itself, such as extra PTO or a bonus.)

5. Don’t Give Beverage or Food Unless You’re Sure It’ll Be Suitable for the Recipient

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When you’re looking for good gift options, it’s easy to default to wine, beer, chocolates, or something else edible. And while many people will appreciate a good bottle of wine or a batch of homemade cookies, they won’t necessarily be suitable gifts for everyone.

Some of your employees, contractors, or clients may not be drinking. This could be for religious reasons, health reasons, or because of a history of alcoholism. Even if you’ve seen someone drink in the past, they might no longer do so (or they might be temporarily abstaining, e.g. due to pregnancy).

You may also have employees or clients who have food allergies or intolerances that you don’t know about. Allergies to nuts, dairy, and gluten are quite common – making it difficult to give baked gifts or even pre-packaged gifts such as chocolate.

If you’re not sure, you might want to ask people upfront about any food allergies or whether they prefer soft drinks.

Giving gifts can be a great way to improve morale at work, make your staff happier, and show contractors and clients how much you appreciate them. By avoiding the above mistakes, you can be sure that your gift will be truly appreciated, too.