What is your company’s culture around gift giving during the holidays?
Something formal, informal, white elephant, secret santa, a combination of all of the above…or maybe not sure? There are usually not hard and fast rules around gifting, yet many of us want to give a little token to some or all of our coworkers to show them that we are grateful for them every year.
Of course, buying a gift for your whole team can get expensive fast — plus, no one wants to overdo it by giving an inappropriately lavish gift at work. The search for small-but-meaningful inexpensive gifts for coworkers can be a challenge.
Don’t let the search add to your holiday stress. Instead, use our cheat sheet and tips below to quickly identify who you’re gifting and what you’ll gift.
Our list focuses on inexpensive gifts for your coworkers that cost $25 or less, so don’t worry about your holiday gift budget going overboard. We’ve got you covered!
Which coworkers should you get gifts for?
Let’s start with some rules of thumb for office gift-giving.
First, make a list of the people or general categories of people you work with. Better yet, make a copy of your office directory! Then use the tips below to come up with your own legend, e.g. yellow highlighter or a smiley face indicates a person you’ll give a personalized gift to, green underline is for people receiving a group gift, a red strikethrough means no gift, etc.
You can give a gift to…
- Your close coworkers. Identify a core group of people that you interact with daily, have a close relationship with, or would consider an office friend. Pick something more personal for these people or go with a neutral gift. Don’t forget coworkers that you work closely with, but who work remotely or in another office! This might be someone you email or talk on the phone with all the time, but who you haven’t actually met.
- A group of people. Group gifts aren’t as personal (though they could be personalized to match the likes of a team generally), but are awesome for other teams or units that you work with frequently. You may know one or two people better than the rest, but to avoid any hurt feelings or a faux pas, a group gift is a great alternative.
- Support staff. For those who do so much during the year to make every day run smoothly, a little something during the holidays makes sure they continue to feel seen and appreciated.
Forgo the gift for…
- Your manager. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, it’s best to not give a gift to your boss. Other colleagues may think you’re trying to buy your way into your boss’ good graces and it may make your boss feel uncomfortable. A simple holiday card with a sincere message inside would mean as much to your manager without making things uncomfortable or inappropriate.
Think carefully about getting a gift for…
- Everyone in your office. Don’t feel obligated to buy a personal gift for everyone in your office (unless it’s a very small office, like 5-10 people or less). This will be too much – it’s unnecessary and can be really expensive. One exception to this rule is if you want to give a general, group gift that can be shared among the entire office, like chocolates, baked goods, fruits, nuts, or popcorn.
- When it comes to interns or other temporary workers, it’s probably okay to not give them a gift, but depending on how long they’ve been with your team or how deeply integrated they’ve become, you could consider asking your manager about coordinating or contributing towards a group gift from the office.
Mastering the rules of office gift giving
For those coworkers you’ve decided you want to give a gift to, you can now figure out what kind of gift you’ll give taking into account your budget, your relationship with them, and your work culture. Three easy categories to remember: a personal gift, a safe neutral gift, or a shareable gift:
- Choose personal gifts for those you’re closest with based on their likes and what you know about them. A note on personal gifts: avoid gifts that are too personal or potentially offensive. You are still at work. When in doubt, choose something safe that can’t be construed in any way.
- Safe, neutral gifts work for anyone (take a lot less brainstorming on your part too) and are great for those coworkers you know well from a work/office perspective, but not really any further than that.
- A general, shareable gift can cover more people, like a team or entire unit is a great idea when it comes to satisfying many people you want to shower with appreciation without breaking your budget.
Do keep gift exchanges private, unless they’re for a group of people that will share the gift. It’s best to not advertise who you’re giving a gift to and what you’re giving so others who don’t receive a gift aren’t hurt or feel left out.
Do figure out what the culture and (unwritten) rules around gift-giving are during the holidays, especially if you’re new to a company. Ask a trusted person you’ve become close with for their take; you don’t want to be unprepared!
Don’t go overboard and buy extravagant gifts. It can make the recipient feel uncomfortable, especially if they gave you a gift that wasn’t nearly as pricey or if it seems like you are trying to send a message about your status.
Don’t expect to receive anything in return as not everyone can afford to (or wants to) include coworkers in their holiday gift list. Don’t take it personally! Gift-giving is an extra, not a requirement.
It is a balancing act, but don’t let giving gifts to coworkers trip you up this holiday season. Check out our list below of the best inexpensive gifts for coworkers you can get this year.
Inexpensive gift ideas that are neutral and perfect for any coworker
This list of inexpensive gifts for coworkers focuses on those gifts that are neutral and a sure thing for anyone you work with. If you’re thinking of a more personal gift for a coworker, use what you know about them and their likes to find something geared specifically to them.
And don’t discount your skills, crafts, and abilities! If they’re appropriate and something you’ve shared with coworkers and received rave reviews for, share them during the holidays.
Desk and office space decorative pieces can be basic enough even if you’re not exactly certain about taste and style preferences. Some examples include these simple finds:
- Work in a notoriously chilly office? A pretty throw can solve that problem for your coworker, like this one for $20.91.
- Help your coworker decorate their desk with the Gala Photo Display ($20), which they can personalize further with their cards, notes, or photos.
- Business card holders, pencil cups (some double as book ends!), and pretty but simple office supplies brighten up any desk. We love these Fabric Thumbtacks ($6), Deco Paper Clips ($7), or Gold Binder Clips ($14).
Paper products and writing tools are a safe bet for your coworkers, whether it’s a desk pad, desk calendar, notepad, or to-do list pad. Consider ones like these:
- Grids & Guides Notebook ($16.95)
- Leuchtturm1917 Composition Softcover Notebook ($20-$21.95)
- Do or Die taskpad ($8)
- Or combine the Ink+Volt Meeting Notes ($13), which makes taking notes during office meetings a breeze (!), and the Ink+Volt Daily Task Pad ($11.50) to make their days just as efficient as their meetings.
Nice pens and pencils that make writing more enjoyable are gender neutral and simple gifts everyone can use, like the Schneider Slider Edge XB Ballpoint Pen Assorted Color 8-Pack ($15.95) or Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity Mechanical Pencil ($7.99).
Not a paper product per se, but a fun take on the office calendar, the Bubble Wrap Calendar ($25). Just as fun as the name sounds, it may be a great gift for a coworker you don’t sit directly next to…
Looking for a food-related gift for your coworker or a team of people? You’ll have to up your budget, but there are plenty of great food basket or food related gifts out there. Try The Savory Pantry, Harry and David, Cornology, or a sampler of sorts like the Brazilian Honey Sampler ($25). And don’t forget chocolates and cookies! For healthier options though, opt for nuts and dried fruits, or really nice seasonal fruit baskets.
Find something that works for your budget and let your coworkers enjoy!