I hadn't seen this discussed in the forums, or on any of the Podcasts, so...

Does anyone have advice on buying gifts for managers, peers or directs?

I had bought gifts for my directs, fellow managers and bosses.

My wife just pointed me to a Miss Manner's column which advised against buying for co-workers because of the sense that they then owed you a gift; and advised against buying for managers because it can be perceived as "brown-nosing".

Considering the relevance of Miss Manners as a mgmt consultant, I thought I'd ask here anyways :-)

tplummer's picture

I do holiday cards for my peers and directs. I only get gifts for people I am honestly friends with outside of work. That includes peers and directs. This year that is only one person and his family since we've been great friends since I've started. Don't know if this is proper but in this case, friendship first!

tcomeau's picture

First, I acknowledge that this is a sore point with me. I've always worked with and led very diverse teams. Usually that's an advantage, but this time of year it can become a bit of a pain.

For many years there was an expectation that came from high up in the organization that we would do "Christmas Cards" for our staff. These were Hubble-themed, blank cards provided for managers by the Institute, so they weren't overtly Christmas-themed.

We used to have quarterly management meetings with all the managers, about 40 people, chaired either by the Deputy Director (the number two guy at the Institute) or the head of Program Management (the number three guy, kindof a COO type). During one of these meetings we were reminded to pick up our "Christmas Cards."

I didn't know where this expectation originated, and I was in a pissy mood because my boss had decided to quit, so I asked if I should be giving "Christmas Cards" to the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist members of my staff. I couldn't resist explaining that I always gave a Solstice card to the one Pagan, which I figured was okay since the Christians had stolen the midwinter holiday from the pagans sometime around 1036.

There was an awkward silence, and eventually the Director (the number-one guy - basically the CEO) suggested that we start calling them Holiday Cards. He later told me that the senior managers simply hadn't realized how diverse the staff had become, and that he didn't realize himself that we had Buddhists or Pagans. He also told me I could have delivered that line with a little less snarkyness.

I give my guys (they are all guys this year, I'm sad to say) a gift toward the end of the year. It's usually something small, and I try to relate it to some success we've had. In 2003, when everything went crazy because of the loss of Columbia and the effect it had on us, I got them each a box of gourmet nuts (except for the one who has the nut allergy, who got Neuhaus chocolate) and a note: "Thanks for making this year a little less nuts. I'm looking forward to a less nutty 2004."

Other than that, I only give gifts to friends that I happen to work with.

There are three points here that I've almost managed to bury:

1. Be sensitive - this is a diverse world, and not everybody does Christmas. Maybe they should be New Years cards or gifts.

2. We show up every day for the work, so think about giving a token of your appreciation for the work.

3. Give from gratitude, or generosity, or solidarity, but not from obligation. If you feel like you "have to give", perhaps you shouldn't.

Last year my boss gave all the engineering managers Christmas Tree ornaments. But he also doesn't do O3s, feedback, or coaching. Your mileage may vary.


juliahhavener's picture


Excellent point and one I totally agree with. I do think that O3s make it possible for me to tailor my holiday wishes to my employees.

I'm not sure on gift-giving. Last year was easy - I gave my boss a small gift that I knew she would appreciate (coffee hound that she is). This year I have a team of 14 and they all vary widely. I will probably pick up holiday cards and give them to the members of my team with a personal note.

akinsgre's picture

Great Post Tom.

I too had planned on smaller gifts (<$10) for my team. But had also thought about slightly more expensive (<$20) for my peers and manager.

We aren't as diverse as your team, but not everyone celebrates Xmas. I am sensitive to that.

The gifts aren't terribly personal. Fun gifts like the sort found at

Thanks for the advice.

lazerus's picture

I've been giving gifts every year to everyone I work with, boss, peers, directs. I have only once gotten something. This is interesting to me, and I wonder if I should change my gift giving policy... maybe no one likes me. :D

just a thought.

jhack's picture

I, too, have diverse teams, so I give the gifts on the second of Jan, as New Year's gifts.


rthibode's picture

Just chiming in here, as an employee not a manager.

I do not celebrate Christmas and I DEEPLY resent having it shoved down my throat at work every year.

Even though I tell my co-workers that I prefer not to participate in Christmas (parties, gift exchanges, cards), there is always someone who can't bring themselves to give to everyone except me. They know I don't celebrate Christmas. I feel I have no choice but to accept, but it makes me angry that colleagues think it's up to them to decide this for me. People who are otherwise kind and thoughtful apparently feel it's okay to be obnoxious as long as it's in the name of Christmas.

I often wonder if I'd be treated differently if I didn't celebrate Christmas for religious reasons?

On the related issue of gift-giving at work, I also am not a fan. I do feel it creates an obligation. When I receive a gift from a boss or colleague, I write a thank you card, but I do not reciprocate as I don't want to encourage the practice.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Lot's of people don't celebrate New Year's eve either.

If you want to buy someone something, make it friendship or performance based, not on a religious/seasonal basis.


tcomeau's picture

[quote="asteriskrntt1"]Lot's of people don't celebrate New Year's eve either. ...

Well, that's a good point. I think I get away with it for two reasons.

First, New Years, or the end of the year, is safely secular. The nine or ten days from Solstice to the end of the year are pretty quiet (unless there is a problem with the spacecraft) because people are away and the Project doesn't schedule much the last half of December.

Second, my reputation precedes me.


ramiska's picture

I am glad that my co-workers and management have never implemented gift-giving. I don't need the added pressure of having to figure out what to buy for everyone I work with. I wish we could celebrate non-commercially. I also would not want those strapped for cash to feel the need to reciprocate.

An end of the year company general bonus is all I want. :D

adragnes's picture

I think I get away with it [celebrating New Year] for two reasons.

First, New Years, or the end of the year, is safely secular. The nine or ten days from Solstice to the end of the year are pretty quiet (unless there is a problem with the spacecraft) because people are away and the Project doesn't schedule much the last half of December.

Second, my reputation precedes me.

Christmas is even closer to solstice and is pretty secular too. It is not as if it was the Christians who invented it. Christmas is rather a Christian reinterpretation of earlier feasts such as the the Romans’ Saturnalia and the Germanic peoples’ Yule. Indeed, many Christmas traditions such as the Christmas trees stem from before Christianity.

In the Nordic countries we still use the pre-Christian name Yule for the event and it is probably celebrated more because it is part of our culture than because of any religious meaning it has been given.


dad2jnk's picture

The past two years, I have given small Thanksgiving appreciation gifts to my directs. It sends the right message for me - thanks for your efforts for the success of our team - without the "baggage" of a commercial season. Behaviour versus calendar. My directs appreciate the thought more than an expected end-of-year gift.

By the way, the gifts are usually spices or cooking related to go with the family meal orientation of U.S. Thanksgiving.


tcomeau's picture

Christmas is even closer to solstice and is pretty secular too.

Yes, it is, but you never hear somebody complaining about the "liberal war on New Years" or that people are "ignoring the true meaning of New Years." I made the point about Xmas being a stolen holiday in the infamous management meeting.

That said, I really like Ken's idea of giving out my tokens early, at Thanksgiving, and I may do that next year. I still have to do the "Holiday" cards, since I doubt I can get them early.


Mark's picture

We do not recommend gift giving for many reasons, not the least of which is the time it takes a manager to do so, time better spent in actually managing. There are many other ways to create relationships.

I also think that diversity in the workplace is vital (though the idea is often hijacked as only representing ethnicity or gender), and that makes managing harder in some ways. "Make us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong" comes to mind.

A thought: I would be honored and touched to receive a Hanukkah gift, or other memento of someone else's spiritual or personal holiday or moment. That is respect for diversity as well.


jpb's picture

I'm going to try celebrating the New Fiscal Year with my team. It will be a kick off of sorts, with grilling lunch in my backyard on a Friday afternoon and reviewing the what was good and bad about last year.

I may write cards with a specific accomplishment written for each direct but no more gifts. someone always seems to get upset about what they receive versus what another receives.

on an unrelated comment, I love that someone on this forum deals with real life spacecraft. the diversity of professions that benefit from this forum is amazing to me.

mptully's picture

Here at our department, the academic staff usually give the secretarial staff who work for us a small gift such as chocolate. Personally, I really like being able to give something to the people who support what I do.

For everyone else, we just bring in chocolate/mince pies/other calorie laden foodstuffs, leave them in the kitchen and send around an email to come help yourself. There is an informal competitiveness that means that people try to bring in different (not more expensive!) stuff, which is great - especially given our departmental cultural diversity. Today, we had German biscuits and Swedish saffron cake. Tomorrow, who knows!


quentindaniels's picture

Since, the young and naive Quentin Daniels cannot resist giving gifts this holiday season. Is it okay to give books?

I want to give the daily drucker to my boss and my mentor, The World is Flat to some of the younger folks, and a few other random books to a few others. I want to give as an expression of appreciation, but I also want to help those I care about become: happier, wiser, and more effective.

Are books a safe harbor to the possible perils of this 'percieved' perfunctory participation in pleasing?

tcomeau's picture

Are books a safe harbor to the possible perils of this 'percieved' perfunctory participation in pleasing?[/quote]

Well, maybe not.

If you give your boss "525 Ways To Be A Better Manager" they may take it as "Oh, you think I'm a bad manager, eh?" If you give somebody Forni's "Choosing Civlity" you may get "What the are you giving me this for????" My wife's reaction to a low-calorie cookbook for her birthday several years ago was "Are you saying I'm fat?" But that's another story.

As much as I like "The World Is Flat," giving it to a report makes it a reading assignment. It's big, not an easy book to get through, and makes a rather burdensome gift.

I don't think any gift is "safe," and I don't think safety is the correct goal. I suspect Mark has the right idea.



rthibode's picture

Regarding staff appreciation gifts:

I keep my direct's service anniversary in my calendar. I take her out for lunch and give her a small gift every year. Easy for me since I only have one "real" direct (and 20 part-time temps).

Since I don't participate in Christmas, she understands that I will appreciate her at a different time of year.

Question: Would your directs be offended if you did not give them Christmas gifts?

terrih's picture

Christmas gifts have been a tradition in my department... the previous manager usually gave a tin of homemade cookies plus something else to each person. I think people will be surprised if I up and do nothing, when I used to give presents before I became manager.

I can sure see Mark's point. It's just making the change that is tricky. I suppose better now than next year. But do I announce it or just quietly not do it?

dad2jnk's picture


Perhaps a good transition is to announce that instead of giving gifts, you will donate the money you would have spent to the United Way or another broad-based charity in Rockford.

Next year, you may not do anything, or continue the tradition of giving back to the community.

Just a thought.


terrih's picture

:idea: Or to the employee assistance fund? (which is an independent 501(c)(3), not controlled by the company)

Heckuvan idea! Thanks! :D

terrih's picture

About 2 hours after I posted, I thought, "Well, maybe not the employee assistance fund..." :roll: Maybe a community charity would be better, more neutral.

tcomeau's picture

[quote="terrih"]Maybe a community charity would be better, more neutral.[/quote]

I guess I'm becoming a bit of a killjoy.

I had told my in-laws that I didn't want anything for Xmas. When they offered to donate to a charity on my behalf, I suggested Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. Since they're pro-life activists, they didn't go for that.

In fact, I've never met a charity somebody didn't object to. Sigh.


dad2jnk's picture

That is why I suggested a broad-based community charity like the United Way. Any time you bring specific charities into the picture, you have issues. Like your portfolio, less risk in a broad based funds versus single stocks.


tcomeau's picture

[quote="dad2jnk"]That is why I suggested a broad-based community charity like the United Way.

Except the United Way is one of the ... controversial charities. Some object to the "rampant fraud among senior executives," others to their support of the Boy Scouts and other organizations that discriminate on the basis of gender or orientation.



dad2jnk's picture

Part of being the manager is making the decision and taking the outcome - good or bad. You will not make everyone happy. Pick a charity you are comfortable with and go with it...but be prepared to accept feedback.


juliahhavener's picture


I get your point entirely. I was pretty active on the United Way Campaign for my company this year. I have objections to the Boy Scouts, but my VP is a huge supporter. The advantage I have is being able to determine where my funds go through that options.

Of course, the general fund is split among UW's designated local charities in the manner they see fit.

tcomeau's picture

[quote="dad2jnk"]Part of being the manager is making the decision and taking the outcome - good or bad.

Ken, you've convinced me that Mike is right: Managers shouldn't give Xmas gifts.

Making a donation in my in-laws' name to Catholic Charities is a gift, and one they would appreciate. Giving the same amount to NARAL or PP of Western Pennsylvania isn't a gift, it's an insult.