By Dr. Jodi Stoner "business gifting"It’s customary to acknowledge and thank those who have served us throughout the year during the holiday season. Tipping, in particular, can sometimes make people feel additional stress to an already tight holiday budget. When it comes to the business environment gift giving and tipping can be even more challenging. Unlike personal gifting, office gift giving should send the right message and reflect a symbol of the business relationship.

Navigating holiday gift giving in a professional environment takes practice, experience and finesse. There are office gifts that should always be avoided and others that are always good options. Try to stay away from purchasing any of the following: jewelry, perfume/ cologne, food or alcohol, intimate apparel or artwork.

Non-humorous gifts that are sexist, racist or religious are never a good idea. Gifts that are always in good taste include gift cards, frames, CDs/DVDs, books, work related and desk items. When giving gifts to others within your office environment, make sure they all reflect a similar price point to avoid showing favoritism. In these difficult economic times it may be more financially feasible to buy one gift for the office for everyone to use rather than individual gifts that each person buys another. This would work well for a community buy-in gift for your employer. When in doubt go for the quality. Choose a smaller gift but one with excellent quality.  An example of this would be a ample gift basket with favorite items.

Also, be prepared for those special situations during the gift giving season.  For instance, what to do when you receive a gift and you don’t have one to give in return? Accept it gracefully and say, “thank you for thinking of me.” And, if the gift given is not within company policy, it should be declined gracefully.

Tipping your concierge, doorman, or elevator operator at the office is highly recommended as they depend on tips for their living. Always do what you can afford.  A personalized card of appreciation or a letter of recommendation to a supervisor goes a long way.

If your company’s human resources department (or an office manager) has not released a memo regarding gift-giving policies, check with that department before purchasing gifts. Your company may have a set policy in place for this. Depending on the formality of your office or company, use the suggestions below as a flexible guideline.

Here are some additional tips to think about for this holiday season and a few examples that will help you tackle specific gift giving with confidence and professional savvy.

Gifts for the Supervisor-Find out your company policy about gift giving to a superior. In some companies, it is an ethical violation to give a gift to a supervisor. For upper management and executives, a $50 to 150 gift card would be appropriate. If you’re buying a gift, the gift should not exceed $150. If everyone is contributing to the gift, do not ask individuals to spend more than $25 and never coerce a co-worker into donating. Gifts for the supervisor should never be personal.

Hourly Wage Workers and Support Personnel-For professionals who work in an office setting or retail store, you can give your colleagues a $10 to 25 gift card. If the office decides to collectively give a gift to the supervisor, then a $5 to $10 donation is considered acceptable.

Employee Gift Giving-It has become very popular for employers to organize a department lunch for employees with a “Secret Santa.”  A “Secret Santa” generally has a budget limit on gifts to be exchanged.

The limit should be comfortable for all employees participating. No one should feel ostracized for not participating. Do not make anyone feel badly because they cannot or simply choose not to participate. If you do choose to participate, find out something about your “Secret Santa” recipient’s interests or hobbies, and gift accordingly.

Business Owners/Customers and Clients-Be sensitive to the fact that many of your clients/ customers may be feeling the economic pinch. Keep it financially feasible for them to continue using your business. In fact, this is the time to offer specials, promotions, and discounts. Very often this turns into a good strategic business investment.

Donate to a charity-Contributing to a local charity never goes out of style. Form an alliance with a charity of your choosing and make a notable donation during the holiday season. You can encourage your customers to donate as well and create a holiday campaign. In turn, your act of social responsibility will generate a goal for the greater good.

Dr. Jodi Stoner is a business etiquette expert in the South Florida area. www.BusinessEtiquette.Biz