Guidelines for Giving Your Boss a Gift

Two businessmen in their boss's office holding gift boxes behind their backs.
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Business etiquette rules do not require you, or any worker, to give a gift to your boss for any occasion. In fact, giving a gift when it's not necessary can appear as if you are trying to buy your way into your boss’s good graces. And, giving an inappropriate gift to your boss could make your boss feel uncomfortable.

However, if you feel it's imperative that you give your boss a gift (i.e., if you don't your boss will hold it against you—a good indication you're working for the wrong boss) or, you just want to give your boss a gift, you need to know the guidelines.

Consider a Group Gift First

For birthdays and holidays, consider giving a group gift instead of a gift just from you. A group gift takes the pressure off of you if you're on a tight budget. Also, you may not know your boss well enough to pick out the right thing. If someone else is already coordinating a group gift, the best approach is always to participate in the group. Of course, if your boss gets a group gift from everyone in the department and you don't chip in, it will reflect poorly on you. 

Be Discreet

If you do give a gift by yourself, deliver it privately without making a show in front of other employees. Trying to show off or out-gift other workers will only rankle your colleagues. So, be a team player (not just when it comes to work projects) but with gift-giving as well.

The one reasonable exception might be if you and your boss are friends outside of work and you want to do something extra special to acknowledge the personal side of the relationship. If this is the case, then give the gift to your boss outside of the workplace instead of at the office.

Aim to Please, Not Impress

Keep the gift simple and sincere, and relatively inexpensive, and stay away from giving personal items such as perfume or cologne. Also, when you give over-the-top gifts, it puts pressure on the recipient to respond in kind. If there is something, your boss really would like that is more than $25 then get a co-worker to go in on the gift with you. As a rule, Expensive gifts are always better given (and received) when coming from a group.

Never Give Cash as a Gift

Cash gifts send the message that it was a last-minute decision and that you don't care enough to get to know your bosses' tastes or interests. Another reason to never give your boss cash is that small amounts seem trivial and obligatory and large amounts seem gratuitous or can appear that you are trying to get into your employer's good graces. Unless you are giving out bonuses from your company to your employees, never give cash as gifts. 

A gift card is appropriate to give to your boss, but even then, put some thought into it—don't give your boss a gift card to a coffee house if they don't drink coffee. 

Don't Give Promises or I.O.U.s

Never give favors, offers to take your boss privately to lunch or dinner, or I.O.U.s. You're better off buying a greeting card and hand-writing something meaningful—which will stand out in today's digital world. Remember, your boss may have authority over you at work, but they are still human. People like to be remembered and acknowledged.