How to pick the right gift for a colleague

Though you might spend eight or nine hours a day with someone, that doesn’t mean you know them very well. This is the nature of the office environment in which many find themselves. So often, you are focused on delivering work and completing tasks. Meeting deadlines, making clients happy and pleasing your employers comes first, after all, if you want to keep your job. Colleagues are not there specifically to be your friends, but to be part of the company that lends itself to the productivity. However, that shouldn’t stop you being kind to them which is why so many offices encourage gift giving during the festive season. To that end, you can learn how to give a gift without being best friends with your colleagues. Let’s consider how.

Secret Santa

One way offices subvert any awkwardness when it comes to gift giving is with a “Secret Santa”. The most important aspect about these is it sets a budget for the gift, so no one feels swindled. By setting an amount, everyone knows not to expect some massively expensive, imported gift. Instead, it’s meant to be tokens of affection and appreciation between people who’ve spent the year working together.

There are variations on Secret Santa. First, a list of everyone’s name is put in a bowl. Then you choose a name (that isn’t yours) and purchase a gift for that person. A second way is known as the White Elephant Gift Exchange. As the Huffington Post summarises:

“Everyone brings a general gift to the exchange. The first recipient chooses a wrapped gift and opens it. The second recipient can choose a different wrapped gift, or steal the unwrapped gift from the first person. Things continue that way until everyone has an unwrapped gift — for better or for worse!”

This helps brings fun to the gift giving itself, as well as equalises the playing field.

How (not) to pick a gift

Of course, if you want to provide a gift – even with a Secret Santa budget being set universally around the office – you can still make some effort toward making that gift perfect. The most important aspect to remember, however, is to make a gift appropriate: that is, appropriate for the dynamics of the workplace, your relationship with this person and so on. You don’t want to buy a humourous gift with a crude pun or joke, which shows intimacy with someone that you don’t actually know well. This could make the situation uncomfortable. Stick to safer gifts that would be appropriate if their family saw it when they came home.

The Balance notes a few characteristics of what would make for inappropriate gifts: Gifts that are sexual in nature are never appropriate. Gifts with political or religious messages are also asking for trouble, unless that person has requested them. The Balance also notes that you shouldn’t try to be funny with your gifts, since this could come off as unnecessarily offensive.

“Never give gifts that could be considered offensive to women, minorities, or any race, culture, groups, or individual with disabilities – even if presented in the “spirit of fun.” This includes cards, gifts, artwork, caricatures, publications, and any other item that could be interpreted as stereotyping or discriminatory.”

While some office environments are more open than others, you’re better off playing it safe than loose. The ramifications of being too conservative results in people thinking you might be a little boring. But if you go too far, many might be uncomfortable in your presence and might not want to work with you. Better safe than sorry.

Learn to listen

Listening to people is the best way to find out what they need. People often convey their needs, since this is a constant topic for most of us. This doesn’t just have to be work-related, but can be about their home. For example, if someone is struggling with food or clothes, you can easily acquire gift vouchers for the relevant stores to aid them. Cash is sometimes seen as too impersonal, but it might be an option if there are a range of financial issues the person is concerned about. If you pool money together and present it in a fashionable way, this might be helpful and show you care about them.

Sometimes you can buy gifts anyone can use. New bathroom sets with a shower curtain is always useful, since people are constantly using these in their home (or new apartments). Picking the right bathroom set can be difficult, but your colleague will more than likely appreciate your concern. This isn’t an inappropriate gift, since it is primarily decoration and offers functionality (bathroom locks and bathroom mats can always be useful).

Erring on the side of safety is always better for everyone. Try to listen, be thoughtful and you’ll be able to provide the perfect Christmas gift.