Co-Worker Gifts: A Guide to Healthy Professional Gift Giving

Co-Worker Gifts: A Guide to Healthy Professional Gift Giving

Fostering a healthy and professional culture of gift giving in the workplace isn’t just a nicety. Gifts are an important element in bringing the whole office together and creating a more effective team.

However, giving business gifts in the workplace can become toxic if not carefully guided, and employees may start to feel uncomfortable.

Here is what you need to know to develop and guide appropriate coworker gifting etiquette.

Chapter 1: To Whom Should I Gift?

The first place to start in office gifting is to know to whom you can and cannot give gifts.

Infographic Who should I give a business gift

Is giving coworkers gifts ethical?

Yes, it is ethical.

With anything that involves a business, it should always be done within the rules instituted by your organization.

Gifts should not be given with the intent to manipulate, flatter, domineer, or tease your colleagues.

As a rule, gift giving is and should never be mandatory.

That said, there are huge benefits to coworker gifts.

The pragmatic reason to have a healthy culture of gift giving is to enhance strategic output of work, but you do this by allowing the opportunity for colleagues to show their appreciation for each other on their own.

And more important than the pragmatic reason is that gifts are an important way of communicating care for the other person.

Should I give coworker gifts?


Giving gifts to coworkers and colleagues is the most straightforward form of office gift exchange.

As we will continue to state: just make sure the gift is given out of the intention to give and not to gain any favor.

Giving with the intent to procure some particular outcome other than a show of appreciation is not really gift giving at all.

Should I give gifts to employees?

Dayspring Pens Gift Box Exchange

For superiors, managers, and bosses, giving to employees is a great way to show that you care about the value of your team's work and to further encourage its continuation.

Bonus Tip: Here's a great academic study on manager-employee gift giving that shows that the real gifts are not always concrete objects, but attention and listening to complaints and ideas.

When giving, avoid undo extravagance.

And you shouldn't give too often or to any one employee more than others. This can cause your team to think you've picked favorites in the office, disgruntling others who probably work incredibly hard.

Should I give gifts to bosses?

It's okay to give a gift to your boss, but the rules for giving gifts to bosses and managers need to be a little more strict.

A boss should first and foremost never expect a gift from employees at any occasion.

When gifts are given they should never be too personal. This does not mean that they can’t be tailored to the individual.

If you know they collect baseball cards and you get something for the collection, that’s just fine. But nothing should be given that is not common office knowledge.

If you're in doubt about a gift you're considering, take the safe route and don't do it.

The need to maintain professionalism is even more important when giving to bosses.

Gifting to your boss should not be intended to flatter, and it's good to be even less personal than you might be with your co-workers.

What about a group gift?

Spoonful of Comfort recommend buying group gifts for colleagues because:

Teams who pitch in on a group gift to a co-worker or boss share the expense of a high-quality gift. It can build a sense of camaraderie. And it gets away from being too personal.

Say that it's the birthday of a co-worker, and the others in your office are all trying to get him/her different gifts. Not everyone knows this co-worker that well, but some do.

Why not get everyone together and let those who know the co-worker best to take the lead on getting one or two gifts that will make them feel really appreciated.

Group coworker gifts can consolidate work, increase the personal impact on the recipient, and safeguard against a breach in professional boundaries.

Group gifts also reduce the amount people might spend, saving money for everyone.

However, group gifts can also be a little anxiety-inducing if one person takes complete control and demands that everyone pitches in for the gift.

Be sure to practice proper group gift giving etiquette and allow givers to be more or less involved in the process as they deem appropriate. Let people say no.

Chapter 2: The Do’s and Don’ts of Workplace Giving

Infographic on the Do’s and Don’ts of office giving

Here are some general do's and don'ts. Keep in mind the particular culture of different offices in different parts of the world.

For example, a high rise, professional corporate office is going to have different gifting etiquette than a coffee roaster in an industrial storage space.

It's up to you to decide what's really the appropriate policy for your workplace and what you can do practically to keep the cycle of coworker gifts exchange in a healthy balance.

The Do’s and Don'ts of Gifting in the Workplace


  1. Don't give for any other reason than to show value in their work and time.
  2. Do be intentional, but not too personal.
  3. Don’t give gag gifts unless the recipient has explicitly expressed enjoyment in them.
  4. Do aim to give around holidays and special occasions.
  5. Do follow any policies on gift giving set out by your manager.
  6. Don't give gifts that poke fun at your business. You might be in a job or a department that you dislike, but don't bring that kind of negativity into an opportunity for someone to feel personal value.
  7. Do write them a card to go along with the gift. In many ways, this can make or break a business gift.
  8. Do get something the person can actually use or enjoy.
  9. Do opt for a group gift with the rest of your team.

Bosses giving to employees:

  1. Do consider how the gift will communicate not just to the recipient but to the whole office.
  2. Do follow your own best policy for giving gifts and maintain the professional or corporate atmosphere of the workplace.
  3. Don’t expect a return gift.
  4. Do make sure that if you're giving multiple gifts no one feels left out, excluded, or forgotten.
  5. Do only give on special occasions like holidays and birthdays. Additionally, gift on the occasion of achievements like big sales or advancements in the company.
  6. Don’t make a big show.
  7. Don't make the gift too personal. Try to avoid things which bring into view particular family members or personal details. A good rule of thumb may be to get a gift that is work- or business-related
  8. Do foster reciprocity in the workplace, not a points board.
  9. Do write a brief card expressing the value you have specifically as their employer or manager.
  10. Do communicate clearly the policies you have in place for gift giving in the workplace. Enforce them.

For an employee giving to superiors:

  1. Don’t give personal gifts entirely unless given as a group.
  2. Don't use giving to create favor or set yourself apart from your other coworkers. Let your work do that.
  3. Do follow any etiquette rules and policies set out by your employer.
  4. Do consider the effects of giving to bosses on the rest of your team. Set an example, not expectations.

For group gifts:

  1. Don't force anyone in the workplace to contribute to the gift. It's okay to opt out if you feel uncomfortable.
  2. Don't expect any one person to take the reins or make decisions.
  3. Don’t go overboard. While you can get a more high quality gift for someone as a group, be mindful of how much people need to chip in.
  4. Don't make group gift giving about you; remember to recognize everyone's contribution.

Overall, in everything surrounding gift giving in the workplace, learn from your mistakes.

Chapter 3: The Practicals of Workplace Gift Giving

So now how do you actually go about gifting?

Infographic on the practicals of workplace gift giving

How much should I give for coworker gifts?

You should definitely not spend an inordinate amount on coworker gifts.

Keep a cap that everyone can easily meet. Maybe no more than $20 or the equivalent of the hourly wage.

It's okay to ask around about what's appropriate, and that might open up communication about what to expect from your business as far as gifting norms and policies.

How much should be contributed for a group gift?

Each person should ideally be giving the same amount to the coworker gifts unless otherwise specified.

No one should be coerced into giving more or less. A good rule of thumb is that no one should give an amount more than their own hourly wage.

When should I give an office gift?

The exchange of gifts often occurs around the holiday season.

Having an office Secret Santa party is one appropriate context for office gift giving, when time is set aside for the exchange and in which everyone is both giving and receiving equally.

Cross Bailey Medalist Rollerball Christmas Present

Coworker gifts are also given on the birthdays of employees. Other than at these times, gift giving is at a minimum.

This might be appropriate for most office places. But you can also do things to encourage completely gratuitous and professional giving between special occasions.

What are good office gift ideas?

As a general rule, gift cards are a great option for pretty much everyone in the office.

A recipient can spend a gift card on what they like themselves. If it's a group gift, it means the group doesn't have to go to great lengths to show their appreciation.

Don't get them a huge gift card though; if it's to a restaurant, let it be around the cost of a meal or two.

There's a million other options for business-friendly coworker gifts online.

What is an appropriate gift for coworkers?

Something personal is fine, but not too personal.

Personalized gifts are great, especially if you just get their name engraved on something. Here's a list of 103 custom gifts; I'm sure a bunch of them would make great gifts for coworkers.

Gift cards, as I said before, are great.

If someone enjoys receiving novelty items, that can often go over really well.

Finally, functional gifts that can enhance your coworker's workspace or flow are often the best go-to.

What is an appropriate gift for employees?

As a superior, you'll need to be more careful with both your etiquette and the coworker gifts you might choose to give.

A personalized gift for an employee needs to be given in the right context, say for a performance award.

A gift card is still appropriate as long as it's not exorbitant.

A novelty gift might go over poorly and feel a little demeaning coming from a superior.

A useful gift, say something for their desk space, is best because it is related to the workplace, so its context is clear and the message it sends is also clear.

Further Reading: How Much Should I Spend on Staff Gifts?

What is an appropriate gift for bosses?

As an employee, avoid gifts which communicate an inappropriate level of familiarity or intimacy entirely. If you can't find something appropriate, opt for a group gift.

A gift like a framed photograph of your whole team, however, is acceptable because it will include the whole group and avoid the perception that you are trying to become his/her false favorite.

A custom plaque that says something like "world's best boss" or "all about the business" is also acceptable, again, because it has to do with work.

Learn More: Should I Buy My Boss a Gift?: Rules For Buying Gifts for Bosses

In every case, functional coworker gifts that apply to the daily tasks of work proves universally appropriate for every person in the workplace, including superiors.

An affordable, luxury pen as a gift or padfolio for pretty much everyone.

Dayspring Pens Products


That's everything about coworker gifts.

If you're interested in other aspects of gift giving in a professional setting, check out ultimate guide to the corporate gift.

Sam Di Nardo

Sam Di Nardo is an author for Dayspring Pens, where she has honed her expertise in ballpoint, rollerball, gel and fountain pens since joining the team in 2018.

From her initial role as an Engraver to becoming the Production Manager, Sam's journey has been marked by her passion for the history, manufacturing, and the unique value of gifted writing instruments.

A graduate of Regent University with a degree in English Literature and a special interest in Old Norse literature, dive deeper into Sam's world and discover why she's your trusted guide in the realm of gift pens.

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