Most Outrageous Gifts NOT to Give Your Boss 

Believe it or not, the holiday gift-giving season is upon us once again, which means it’s time to tap the more creative part of your brain and come up with something to help you impress the boss.

Even if you work for the world’s worst guy or gal (your boss doesn’t ask you to walk her dog, does she?), you still have to find something appropriate to give, unless your office has a no gift-giving policy. Some firms and companies discourage gift giving or have a culture that just doesn’t give gifts, so if you’re new to the company, check with your HR Department or a colleague for some advice.

Sometimes the easiest place to start brainstorming is what NOT to give. Here are some guidelines:

Food gifts. Avoid food of any sort, including giant towers of food in pretty, wrapped boxes that will seemingly topple over at any given moment. You never know if your boss is on a diet, has food allergies, or is just plain fussy. So, if you present  candies, cookies, or chocolates that are not supportive of a diet or offer something such as sugar-free lollipops, you’re admitting without saying it out loud that your boss needs to drop a few pounds. The bottom line? Avoid food altogether. Wine, on the other hand, may be acceptable, but make sure your boss thinks drinking is a social endeavor and not something forbidden.

Re-gifting. When Aunt Irma and Uncle Harry gave you the tarnished brass candelabra last year for the holidays, they wanted you to have it, cherish it, and hand it down to your kids in 50 years, right? Somehow, however, it just doesn’t match your décor. The first thought is to re-gift it. Sounds like a good idea, but actually, it’s not. First, what if your boss heard you complaining about the silly gift at last year’s New Year’s bash,  and two, if you didn’t want it, why would think it would be good for someone else? Never re-gift, unless you want to donate the item to your favorite charity. Repeat this three times: Do Not Re-gift!

Consider religion. We live in a big world with lots of customs by country (see below) and our country reflects diverse religious traditions as well. If you work with your boss pretty closely, you may instinctively know his or her religious preferences. However, the best advice is not to assume anything; find out if the person has a religious aversion. While Christians and Jews have a tradition of giving gifts, other religions may not.

In the Muslim faith, for example, anything to do with pigs or its byproducts is considered forbidden. That includes leather and gelatin found in sweets.

The Boss who resides outside the United States. If your boss works outside the United States or is on assignment, think twice about the gift. There is something known as “gift protocol” by region. The list below (source: Cultural is good to have any time of the year, not just during the holiday time. “High Priority,” for example, means that a gift is definitely expected.

  • High priority: Japan.
  • Medium priority: Pacific Rim, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore.
  • Low Priority: The Middle East, Latin America, United States, Canada, Australia and Europe.

Cost of the gift. This part is really important. You want to show your appreciation and respect, but you also don’t want to give a gift that is too extravagant. We’re not talking about a trip for two to Costa Rica, but you get the point. Live within your means and spend money on something that is tasteful, yet not over the top.

Think about a hobby or pastime and you’ll probably come up with something. However, avoid the gift card; while you might think this is very thoughtful—for example, he likes to play golf so buy a $25 gift card to a golf shop—the boss knows exactly how much you spent and perhaps how much you value the relationship. In addition, a gift card might translate to, “Susan put the onus on me to select my own gift. She didn’t put much thought into what to get me.”

Last piece of advice: wrap the gift and attach a card. Avoid a gift bag. When you give a wrapped present, that says you took the time to honor your boss with something special and offered a sentiment to boot. You’ll be remembered far into the year for your generosity and thoughtfulness.


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