Gift-giving can be an excellent way to build lasting business relationships. Receiving a gift indicates that we are valued by the other person, resulting in a positive feeling towards the gift giver, given that the gift is right for the person and the occasion.
However, if a gift is inappropriate in content or context, it can damage relationships just like any other type of negative interaction. Inappropriate gifts can be bribes, pay backs, overly expensive, or crude. While in some cultural contexts such gifts are expected and even almost mandatory in building alliances, they are not gifts, but the cost of doing business in that context. Whether that fits with your code of ethics is an issue. Participating in illegal or offensive gifting says something about you and your business. And, should you offer such a gift to the wrong person, the damage to your business can be irrepairable.
However, in the normal course of business there are still occasions where a gift may be appropriate, either as part of a marketing effort, as a simple thank you in a profitable business relationship, or as a way to encourage and reward employees. Choosing the right gift in each of these situations requires thought and adherence to standard etiquette. To avoid any potential errors in judgment when it comes to giving gifts, it helps to know the business protocol surrounding professional gift-giving.
Some General Rules
Gifts in the workplace follow many of the rules of personal gift-giving. The best type of gift you can give someone is one which is:
Personalized and Thoughtful
Have the recipient in mind when you pick out a gift. Try to avoid generic gift-giving where everyone receives the same thing.
Everyone likes a pleasant surprise.
A Gesture of Esteem
Gifts should be genuine and reflect the value you place on the relationship.
Good gifts are presented in a considerate manner, without pretense, but in good taste.
Within Your Budget
Expensive gifts may be construed as obligatory. Keep gifts in the workplace appropriate to the occasion to avoid any misunderstandings. The general rule-of-thumb is that gifts to clients and close friends in the workplace should never exceed $150, with an average amount being around $40 to $50.
Reasons to Give a Gift
Business gifts are given for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are:
As a Thank You
Thank-you gifts are very common in the business world. They are often given when someone has gone beyond their normal call of duty to help you with something and has received no compensation for doing so.
When people have received promotions or raises, or have accomplished anything of major consequence, it is cause for celebration. As such, it is a perfect time to present someone with a gift.
People who are struggling with major personal goals often need encouragement. If you manage someone who is striving to improve themselves, a gift of encouragement may very well be one of the strongest motivators you can give them.
To Cheer Someone Up
Everyone has down days. By presenting an employee or coworker with a small gift, it lets them know that they are not alone.
Sometimes people struggle because they don't have the proper tools they need to do their job. For instance, they may need to improve their human relations skills or they may need to learn a new software program. Gifts that help someone do a better job end up helping both of you.
Common Gift Ideas
The key to good gift-giving in business is in knowing what is and what is not appropriate. Sending a basket of fruit to one of your customers for a referral she sent you is appropriate. Giving your good-looking secretary expensive jewelry for Christmas for doing a good job all year is not appropriate. Some common business gifts are:
- Promotional items with your company name and/or logo on them
- Small electronic items, like calculators
- Entertainment coupons or tickets
- Liquor and wine
- Travel accessories
- Desk accessories
Company Policy Regarding Gift-Giving
Many businesses are developing policies related to gift-giving. Some are more informal than others. For the most part, exchanging gifts in the workplace is discouraged since it may lead to bad feelings among your employees. For instance, a popular employee may be overloaded with gifts from fellow co-workers while another employee receives little or nothing. This can lead to jealousy and competitiveness, which may result in lower productivity.
Some companies have chosen to put limits on value of a gift an employee can receive or give to a client. The purpose of this type of policy is to limit bribes. Many times policies of this nature will be combined with some type of ethics policy and/or training which addresses the moral issues related to gift-giving and bribery.
It is important to note that whether or not you have an official gift-giving policy, employees should know what is expected of them. Do not assume that everyone knows the proprietary guidelines of gift-giving. You need to be explicit about what is appropriate for your business. Also, be aware of the policies (official or informal) of the other businesses you deal with. If one of your client companies has a strict gift-giving policy, make sure that you respect it by not offering them gifts which they would have to reject.
For the most part, gift-giving is a positive way to build strong relationships in the business world. By knowing how to use them appropriately, you will be able to effectively reach out to others.