Gift ideas for coworkers

If you exchange holiday gifts, be remembered for your restraint and not your extravagance. Follow our tips to steer clear of office-gifting gaffes.

Gift ideas for coworkers

For anyone holding down a "grown-up" job, there's an expectation that you are financially able and willing to join in the office gifting parade. If that means you, a few cautions and a little advice can go a long way. 

Here are some suggestions for unique office gifts for coworkers along with some general workplace holiday protocol:

Do: Think about what people enjoy—within reason.

Sure, wine is an easy gift, but consider your office's atmosphere first. Have you seen alcoholic beverages around before, such as at corporate events? Alcohol can be a touchy spot—as can any sort of gift with political and/or social commentary—because it crosses the line between a coworker gift and a friend gift.

If you’re unsure about the gift item in question, err on the side of caution. Leave the booze for a personal occasion and choose another one of my gift ideas for coworkers.

Do not: Give unique office gifts to your superiors at the expense of your coworkers.

It’s a lovely gesture to buy everyone in your department a small holiday memento. It’s not as charming when the boss or your mentor gets an expensive book and the others are given bookmarks. If you’re going to give bookmarks to your coworkers, give one to your boss too.

Do: Pay attention to differences in your coworkers' religions and/or traditions.

Consider that not everyone celebrates the same holidays. If you can, acknowledge their observance (if you know what and when it is), and convey your greetings with a simple message such as “happy holidays,” “have a great holiday season” or “peace for the New Year.”

Do not: Spend excessive amounts of money on holiday gifts for your coworkers.

When I unwrap the massage chair you’ve just given me, I’m going to feel pretty awkward about the $10 Starbucks card I have for you. Gift giving should never make anyone feel bad; in fact, the opposite should happen. Office gifting is all about the thought, not the dollar sign.

Do: Pay attention to the fine details.

Unique office gifts that really resonate are the ones with personal touches. Presents that take time—homemade cards, freshly baked cookies, do-it-yourself mugs—are great. Exquisitely or creatively wrapped presents go a long way, too.

Five appropriate gift ideas for coworkers 

  • Picture frames: And this gift is even better if you could find one tailored to your coworkers' interests. Glance around their cubicles and see if anything stands out. Similar options include calendars, journals or datebooks. 
  • Mugs, thermoses or cup holders: An agreeable present that’s good for the environment. It’s a win-win situation. 
  • Gift certificates: A coworker once got three of us in the office gift cards from three separate coffee shops. She recognized our favorite places, and it resonated. 
  • Homemade treats: Bring those brownies over here, please! (Just make sure your coworkers don't have any food allergies.)
  • Key chains: Everyone has keys, making this a simple, but effective gift. Steer clear of anything too tacky, or if you select an item because of its tacky factor, ensure the recipient knows you are attempting to be humorous.

Five inappropriate gift ideas for coworkers

  • Anything with your face on it: Your coworkers see enough of you. Really, they do.
  • Anything with a face of its own: Even if you need a new home for your 17 kittens, your workplace is not the place to search for kitty real estate. This also means no Chia Pets and no bobble heads.
  • Fruitcake: The most loathsome of all cakes. Sorry to those who like it, but now you know my feelings about it.
  • Fragrances: Or any other aromatic product that screams, “You smell!”
  • Undergarments: This is self-explanatory.