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Gift-Giving Etiquette: Who Do I Need to Get a Gift For This Year?

Bosses, coworkers and service providers: are you obligated to gift them this season?

December 15, 2021

The holiday season can be fraught with anxiety over gift-giving. Choosing gifts for friends and family can be hard enough. Throw in bosses, coworkers, clients and the people who provide services to you throughout the year, and you may be opening a can of worms. 

Luckily, there are helpful rules of gift-giving etiquette that can guide you through this particular minefield. Here’s a look at some of the guidelines to consider. 

Should I get my boss a gift?  

This may come as a relief: The short answer to whether or not you should get your boss a present is no. 

As a rule of thumb, gifts should flow down the chain of command, according to Alison Green, an office management consultant and creator of Ask a Manager. That means that while your boss can give you a gift, you and your coworkers probably shouldn’t give them anything. 

The reasoning behind this rule? The balance of power between you and your boss is, well, imbalanced. And a situation shouldn’t be established in which workers feel pressured to get their boss a gift. 

According to advice from experts in gift-giving etiquette at the Emily Post Institute, if a present feels appropriate, the best way to give a gift to a superior is as a group or a department. Consider setting up an envelope where people can make anonymous contributions. Make sure that everyone knows that contribution amount and participation are entirely voluntary. Use the money you collect to purchase a gift from everyone. 

Should I get gifts for coworkers? 

Giving gifts to coworkers is appropriate, but there are still some rules worth considering. 

First things first, how much should you spend on a gift for a coworker? According to a survey by Office Depot, the median amount that employees typically spend on holiday gifts for colleagues is $25. This amount, or less, is entirely appropriate. 

Generally speaking, personal gifts are a no-go. In her blog, Green suggests that anything that goes on a person’s body, such as the items below are not appropriate to give a coworker:

  • Jewelry

  • Perfume

  • Clothing

  • Lotion

Also, beware of gag gifts. If you know a person well enough to be sure you’ll nail a present that matches their sense of humor, go for it. However, it's safer to avoid them altogether. 

The best holiday gifts for colleagues include things like:

  • Baked goods

  • Candy

  • Coffee

  • Tea 

  • Gift certificates to bookstores or movie theaters. 

Gifts of alcohol are often appreciated but may not be appropriate in all business settings. 


Sometimes offices will engage in some sort of gift exchange, like a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap. You can always opt-out, but if you decide to join in, stick to the price limits. Going over the limits can make colleagues uncomfortable. 

Finally, if you decide to give a coworker a gift on your own, try to do it outside the office setting, suggest the Emily Post Institute. That way, colleagues for whom you haven’t gotten a gift won’t feel awkward or left out. 

Should I give gifts to clients?

Sending a gift to clients is a way to show your appreciation. Before you do, however, make sure that company policy allows it. Check with your HR department to find out if it’s permitted and if there are any guidelines or gift-giving etiquette you need to follow. If you work for yourself, gift away if it feels right to you. 

How much to spend on clients can be a bit tricky to figure out, John Ruhlin, author of “Giftology,” tells Forbes. The answer may depend on how much money that client spends with you each year. If they’re a big client, a small gift may come across as cheap. But you also don’t want to spend so much that a client might feel embarrassed. A good range is $50 to $200, Ruhlin says. 

When it comes to what to give, the same rules apply to clients as coworkers. Avoid items that are too personal and shy away from gags. You may also want to avoid giving clients gifts that include company branding, as these may not come across as thoughtful. Make sure the gift is presented nicely, and always include a handwritten note. 

Here’s a little food for thought: Some experts suggest avoiding gift giving for clients during the holidays and instead of showing your appreciation at a different time of year. Why? During the holidays, your gift will likely be one of many. Waiting until another time of year may make it easier for you to stand out from the crowd. 

Who should I tip during the holidays? 

There are a whole host of people whose services make your life a little bit easier, from doormen to babysitters and housekeepers. When the holidays roll around, it can be customary to show your appreciation by giving a tip. But how do you decide who to tip and how much?

First, figure out what your tipping budget is. It isn’t necessary to break the bank. If your budget doesn’t allow for tipping, consider cheaper alternatives such as homemade gifts. Always include a personalized note with any gift that you give to your service providers. 

The amount you give depends on factors such as:

  • How close you are with the person

  • How often you receive their services 

  • Where you live 

For example, tipping may be higher if you live in a city. Also, if you already tip a person regularly, you don’t have to give an end-of-the-year tip. Instead, you may just want to send a card or give a small gift. 

The Emily Post Institute provides a helpful tipping guide for service providers. For example, the institute suggests that: 

  • A babysitter receives a tip equal to an evening’s play accompanied by a small gift from the children 

  • A personal trainer gets a tip equal to the cost of one session

  • A housekeeper might receive a tip of up to a week’s pay 

Sticking to a holiday budget

The gifts you give to friends, family, coworkers and more can start to add up in cost quickly. To avoid overspending — and racking up credit card debt — it’s important to create a holiday budget and stick to it. 

Decide how much money you can spend on gifts in total. Then make a list of all the people you want to buy gifts for or who you want to tip. Assign each person a dollar amount, and as you shop for gifts, don’t exceed it. Be strict and avoid impulse buys for people who aren’t on your list. 

Studies have shown that how you pay has a big impact on how much you spend. Credit cards can make it easy to overspend. On the other hand, consumers feel the pain of paying in cash much more acutely. So, if you want to be sure to stick to your budget, try paying in cash when you can. If you must pay with a credit card, be sure you’ll have enough money on hand to pay your balance off in full at the end of the month. 

If you’re balancing holiday gift-giving with paying down credit card debt, consider Tally†. Tally is a credit card debt repayment tool that can help you streamline and organize your payments, making it easier to pay down your debt quickly and efficiently.

​​†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.