Giving Gifts at Work

Around Half of All Employees Want to Participate in a Company Gift Exchange this Season

Key Findings

  • Gift cards are a favorite and most common gift choice among employees: 90% of employees said they were happy receiving one at work.

  • Gift-giving traditions can help make employees feel valued, but it can also put unnecessary financial pressure on employees.

  • Employees spent more on their bosses' gifts than bosses spent on their employees'.

  • While many thought it was appropriate to spend as much as $100 on their boss, most actually spent closer to $50. For co-workers, respondents felt $60 was appropriate but ultimately spent closer to $25.

Gift-giving can be a wonderful and fulfilling event when you put thought and care into getting something special for a friend or family member. When it comes to giving gifts at work, however, things can certainly get more complex. What price limit do you put on gifts? What if you don't know what somebody wants? What's appropriate to give to a coworker, and what isn't? How common is it to give your boss a gift? There has been a lot written about the do's and don'ts of workplace gift-giving, and yet it still often remains a dicey subject for many employees – especially new employees who may not be as familiar with their work environment or close to other employees yet.

To get an understanding of how employees really feel about giving gifts at work, as well as what types of gifts are most common, which are deemed most appropriate, and how many employees plan to give gifts this holiday season, we surveyed 1,001 employees and unwrapped some interesting findings.

Typical Work Gifts

Of course, not all work gifts are created equal, and even though you might have good intentions, there are some that employees just don't love. So what are the most common gifts among those employees give one another and how do they feel about them?

Best Gifts Received at Work

Gift cards were most common (20%), followed by food/drinks (17%), electronics (15%), clothing/shoes/accessories (12%), beauty/personal care products (10%), educational materials/books (10%), and household items (7%). Among respondents, 90% said they were happy to receive a gift card, and other gifts that employees loved included laptops, iPads, whiskey, and wine.

Educational materials and books were the least well-received gifts among employees who received gifts from their coworkers, while the most disappointing gifts from bosses were coffee mugs and baked goods.

When asked about the top three benefits and drawbacks of giving and getting gifts in the workplace, employees said that the biggest benefit was the fact that they feel valued as a result, and the biggest drawback was the unnecessary financial pressure it presented. The second and third biggest benefits of workplace gift-giving were boosting morale and helping co-workers connect, while the second and third biggest drawbacks were highlighting financial inequities among employees and making people feel awkward.

One way that companies can alleviate some of that financial awkwardness and pressure is to implement a spending limit on gifts for exchanges, especially during holidays. It's also important to balance that out with thoughtfulness, so as to not make anyone feel slighted if their gift is perhaps a gag or something far too generic to be taken seriously.

What to Spend

We also examined what employees actually spent on their co-workers and bosses versus what they thought was appropriate to spend. While many thought it was appropriate to spend as much as $100 on their boss, most actually spent closer to $50. For co-workers, respondents felt $60 was appropriate but ultimately spent closer to $25.

Spending Money on Co-Workers

Only around 15% of employees said they purchased a gift for their boss in the past year, but among those employees 36% felt they overspent on gifts for their boss – including 25% of associate and entry-level employees, 43% of mid- and senior-level employees, and 38% of managers. Forty-six percent said they overspent on gifts for co-workers, including 52% of associate and entry-level employees, 39% of mid- or senior-level, and 48% of management.

Budgets for employees of small companies averaged around $65, while budgets for medium companies (50 to 249 employees) or large companies Large (250 or more employees) hovered around $109.

Rules of Gift-Giving

Of course, having rules and guidelines when it comes to giving gifts is essential because of the nature of giving gifts in general. Rules may vary at different companies, but many of them share a similar sentiment especially regarding budgets and types of gifts.

Rules of Giving Gifts at Work

The top rule among respondents was that employees had to stick to an appropriate spending budget (66%), followed by encouraging workplaces to set up a wish list app or platform to take the guesswork out of choosing gifts (48%), buying something work-related (33%), asking recipients what they'd like (29%), always buying a gift for the boss (23%), and reciprocating with a gift when you receive one (21%). When in doubt about what to buy a coworker during a gift exchange, consider purchasing a greeting card, although it should be noted that a sizable minority (25%) think paper greeting cards are not eco-friendly.

Nearly 1 in 5 respondents also supported the guideline that it's inappropriate to ask employees to buy a gift for their bosses.

Gift Appropriately

Overall, it seems that many companies share a similar approach when it comes to gift-giving. It can be hard to know what's appropriate in terms of price and the type of gift, but if guidelines are set and followed, gift-giving among employees can be a great experience that boosts morale and improves employee relationships.

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We surveyed 1,001 respondents ranging in age from 23 to 77 in order to explore workplace gift-giving. The mean age was 38. The respondents were 59.14% male, 40.86% female. The generational breakdown is as follows: 2.2% Generation Z, 62.04% Millennials, 27.07% Generation X, 8.69% Baby Boomers. Survey data has certain limitations related to self-reporting. These limitations include telescoping, exaggeration and selective memory. We didn't weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses. This was a purely exploratory project that examines workplace gift-giving.

Fair Use Statement

If you're an employee who is navigating the uncertainties of gift-giving at your workplace and enjoyed this study, you're welcome to share it online. We only ask that you link back to our findings and to make sure that your purposes are noncommercial in nature.