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Gifts at the Office: 5 Questions to Ask Before you Buy

4 Minute Read

Michael Scott, the ridiculous boss from The Office, can't seem to get Christmas right.

In a classic holiday episode, he exceeds the $20 Secret Santa gift rule by purchasing an expensive iPod for one coworker, leaving everyone else stunned.

Talk about awkward.

So how do you bless your coworkers without going overboard? It's easy. Just use some common sense and ask yourself these five simple questions before you buy.

1. What can I afford?

First, figure out what you'd like to spend on your coworkers. Don't worry about who you'll buy for. That comes later. Right now, just determine how much you're able to spend after you factor in family gifts, charitable donations and travel expenses.

Use this number as your jumping off point. This allows you to set gift-buying boundaries as you begin to think about blessing individuals or buying for the whole group.

Remember, you should only be shopping for the office if you have cash on hand. The last thing you want is to go into debt blessing others.

2. Should I buy for a few or bless all?

After you've determined your budget, determine your goals. Who do you want to buy for? You have a few options here: You can buy for the whole crew, specific individuals or both.

And you're not mean or selfish if you just want to bless your boss or your assistant with a special gift. If they're the people who make your life easier on a daily basis, why not show your appreciation with a few movie tickets or a nice gift card?

If you're buying for everyone, baked goods are always a win. Simply find out everyone's favorites and if anyone has a particular food allergy. It doesn't take much to make someone feel special.

3. When do I give?

This isn't elementary school, but it's still nice to avoid playing favorites at work. So if you're buying gifts for just a few, don't hand them out during staff meeting. Find a time that won't be awkward for others—right after work, for example.

And when you give, don't expect anything in return. That's not why you're doing it. You're doing it because you want to celebrate your coworkers and say thanks.

4. Do I need to reciprocate?

You didn't plan on buying a gift for your intern, but then she got you a pound of your favorite coffee. Should you rush out to buy her something too? Is it ever okay to slightly overspend based on the situation?

No. That's an easy way to bust your budget.

You can't predict who will and won't get you a gift. So if the idea of receiving without giving makes you uneasy, find a way to do something small for everyone—like treats from a local bakery or small bags of homemade caramel popcorn. Even handwritten Christmas cards will do the trick.

Just make sure whatever you choose fits into your overall budget.

5. What about gift exchanges?

An office gift exchange can be both good and bad (ahem, Michael Scott). It's good because it takes the pressure off you having to buy for the whole team. It's bad because that's one more thing you "have" to buy.

But what if it doesn't have to be an added expense?   

If it's a white elephant theme or a $10 gift max, simply find an unused lotion set from another gift exchange, wrap it up, and bring it in. No one will ever know. Besides, giving games are usually less about what you win and more about the fun of playing.

The Bottom Line

Buying gifts for your coworkers isn't strictly necessary, but it can be fun if you can afford it. So figure out if you have some wiggle room in your Christmas budget then go from there.

And don't worry about following any rules—there aren't any.

Save yourself time and energy trying to find all the "perfect" gifts! Our gift finder tool will help you pick meaningful gifts for everyone on your list so you can get back to enjoying the holidays.

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