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Should you buy your boss a gift?

Corporate policy or business etiquette may determine whether employees give gifts to a supervisor.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 26, 2012 1:32PM

Logo: Smiling lawyer sitting at desk in office (Chris Ryan, OJO Images, Getty Images)Thinking of buying your supervisor a holiday gift? Think again. Think very carefully, advises blogger Penelope Trunk. Her advice: "Don't give your boss a gift." 


Well, there's one kind of gift she recommends: a handwritten note.

This missive should explain your appreciation for what your boss has done for you in the past year, and explain how lucky you feel to be working for him or her.

"Give very specific examples," Trunk says.

Easier said than done if you’re in a job you dislike and/or have a creep for a boss. If that's the case, maybe you can skip the whole thing based on the etiquette-based or actual corporate policies mentioned by Trunk's readers -- specifically, that giving should be "down" (supervisors to employees) rather than "up."

"Giving the boss a gift can be either bribery on your part or extortion on the boss's part," wrote one commenter. "In either case, it's a terrible idea."

But what if you're in a work environment where not giving a high-profile gift is professional suicide?

If that's the case, better follow the lead of older, wiser colleagues. I feel sorry for you, since the pressure to come up with the right kind of gift must be tough.

Even more ticklish: How much should you spend? One-third of the women surveyed by Connect: Professional Women's Network on LinkedIn spent $50 or less on a supervisor's gift; 6% spent more than $50.

The other 61% of survey respondents advise against giving at all.

"As a manager, I would be very uncomfortable with people giving me gifts," says one commenter. "I am convinced that managers have a duty to serve their employees, and all giving at holidays must be from managers to their teams."

To give or not to give?

Start by checking your workplace policy. Larger companies tend to have very specific rules, according to Randall S. Hansen of the Quintessential Careers website.

Hansen lists 16 specific tips in his post on holiday gift-giving. Among the most useful:

  • "Don't ever get something for the boss just to show up your co-workers."
  • "Stay within your (and the office) budget for the gifts, and don't go overboard . . . especially for the boss."
  • "Don't feel pressure to run out and buy a gift for the boss if he or she gives you one. But do send a thank-you note acknowledging the gift and expressing your gratitude."

Suppose there's no gift-giving precedent? It's probably smart to err on the side of caution and not give "up." Otherwise you run the risk of looking either naive or sycophantic.

However, I personally think a small gift is OK if your relationship is a positive one. The trick is not to go overboard. During my newspapering days, I gave gifts to my editor: art note card sets, books I thought she might like, a selection of homemade Christmas cookies (which she usually set out for all to enjoy).

She would give her writers things like bookstore gift cards with brief notes about her appreciation for our work during the year. I valued those notes, and now I wish I'd thought to write one to her.

Your own boss might be hankering for a little validation. Why not keep it real (and affordable) by writing a letter or giving a plate of holiday treats? If you're not a skilled baker, give a bowl of fruit or a box of candy.

Do this frugally by using a price comparison website, or watching the daily deal sites (check the secondary market for social buying vouchers, too, since you might find a discounted deal for cupcakes or other goodies).

Do you give your boss a gift? Why or why not?

More on MSN Money:
Nov 26, 2012 10:05PM
No, but in a past life, I made holiday breads and cookies for all the administrative assistants and my supervisors.  So the supervisors were in no way singled out.
Nov 27, 2012 12:39PM
I'm going with just a card that shows I appreciate her.  She gives out presents every year and I believe that I should at least give a card in return. 
Nov 27, 2012 6:19AM

I have been a section supervisor (so giving staff gifts) and of course had a boss I reported to.


Generally, what I gave was edibles:


home mixed salty snack mix in a dollar store mug bought on after holiday sale the previous year

home mixed 'gorp' in a holiday glass container bought on after holiday sale the previous year

candles/ornaments bought on holiday sale the previous yeat


NOTE the 2 common themes here.

Jan 14, 2013 4:59PM
Cigars are also a  good idea for a gift for your boss!! Especially if they're customized like the ones from <a href="">Custom Tobacco</a> .
Maybe it will bring you a promotion ;)
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.