What to Get Your Boss for a Holiday Gift

This post recently appears in SmartBlog on Leadership:

If you google
“gift ideas for your boss”, you will find pages of results, mostly from
companies that sell gifts.

However, if you
search “should I get a holiday gift for my boss”, the consensus answers seems
to be “absolutely not!”

At least
according to
Miss Manners (Judith Martin), Emily Post, Ask a Manager (Alison Green), and the Evil HR Lady herself (Suzanne Lucas), all very
credible workplace etiquette experts.

They say it’s
either blatant sucking up, or could at least give the appearance of sucking up.
Holiday office gifts should be given “down”, but not “up”.

On the other
end of the boss gift giving continuum, you find
holiday gifts that will impress your
While I think the
idea of giving a holiday gift to impress your boss is pretty slimy, I have to
give the author credit for being transparent.

Where do I
stand on the issue of holiday gift giving for the boss? Somewhere very close to
the “don’t, it’s poor office etiquette”, but perhaps not that extreme.

Yes, I think
it’s never appropriate to give your boss anything too expensive, but I can come
up with a few thoughtful, inexpensive ideas that would be appreciated without
crossing the line into sucking up territory.

Here are a few
guidelines and ideas for boss holiday gift giving:

1. Never spend
any more on your boss than you are spending on your co-workers.

2. If you are a
boss yourself, always spend less on your boss than you spend on your own

3. Stay away
from gifts that are too personal or intimate, i.e., nothing that you would buy
your spouse or significant other.

4. DO
NOT fall prey to most of the crap on lists like
this. No, thank-you, but I really don’t need a Dachshund
letter organizer or a Desktop skee-ball machine.

5. Stay away from self-help books, like “How to be a
Better Leader”. The boss may think you are sending a message.

6. While a small, work-related framed picture is
sometimes a good idea, a framed picture of yourself is creepy. I would also
avoid a picture of you and your boss with your arms around each other. That
just might make your co-workers a bit
uncomfortable the next time they are in your boss’s office getting reprimanded
for something and you’re staring back at them being hugged by your boss.

7. Homemade goodies are definitely OK. Everyone loves
Christmas cookies, including this boss. A small
plate, not a gift basket that takes up the entire desk.

8. A nice pen would be OK, especially if you’ve noticed
that your boss favors a certain type of pen.

9. Anything
. Good bosses don’t take themselves too seriously.

10. Something with an inspirational leadership quote.
Even better if you’ve heard your boss mention the quote.

11. A card, with a nice note.

Regarding “group gifts”:

What about the group gift from “all of
us”? Some would say that a group gift is a way to work around the appearance of
sucking up. However, the group gift can be fraught with just as many landmines.
First of all, if you are the organizer, your co-workers may see you as sucking
up. Plus, you now not only have to find a gift that you hope your boss with
like, but you also have to please all of your co-workers.

Then, who decides how much to chip in? This person just
started a new job and was asked to chip in $100! While $100 may seem ludicrous
to some, it must have sounded reasonable to someone. If this ever happens to
you, and you either think it’s too much to spend or you just don’t want to chip
in, you can always quote me or any of my sources and say “no thank-you, it’s
not considered proper office adequate”. And if you are the organizer, please
don’t get cute and leave names off the card of those that didn’t chip in.
Good luck, and please don’t forget to count your
blessings and have a wonderful holidays!