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Corporate Gift Giving

Professional Gift Giving...Knowing The Protocol

Gift-giving in the business world can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, gift-giving can be an excellent way to build lasting business relationships. Whether we actually use the gift is irrelevant. There is something about receiving a gift that just makes us feel good and consequently, makes us feel good about the person who has given us the gift.

However, if a gift is inappropriate in content or context, it can damage or even destroy relationships as quickly as any other type of negative interaction. Inappropriate gift-giving usually takes the form of bribes, pay backs, or apologies. Each, in its own way, asks for something in return from the recipient of the gift. Because of the detrimental effects of these types of gifts, it is best to avoid them at all costs. 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.
  • A surprise. Everyone likes a pleasant surprise.
  • A gesture of friendship. Gifts should be genuine and reflect a special bond.
  • Humorous. Good gifts are presented in a humorous manner, without pretense, but in good taste.
  • Within your budget. Outrageous gifts may be construed as obligatory. Keep gifts in the workplace appropriate to the occasion to avoid any misunderstandings. According to the New Complete Guide to Executive Manners by Letitia Baldridge, gifts to clients and close friends in the workplace should never exceed $150, with an average amount being around $40 to $50.

Reasons Why You Would Want to Give Someone a Gift

Business gifts are given for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are:

  • To thank someone. 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.
  • To congratulate someone. 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.
  • To encourage someone. 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.
  • To help someone. 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 male secretary a Rolex for Christmas for doing a good job all year is not appropriate. The following list will help you determine what is and what is not an appropriate gift. According to Letitia Baldridge, appropriate business gifts include:

Company Policy Regarding Gift-Giving. Many companies are developing policies related to gift-giving. Some are more informal than others. For the most part, exchanging gifts in the workplace should be discouraged since it may lead to disruption and discord among your employees. For instance, if a popular employee is overloaded with gifts from fellow co-workers while another employee receives little or nothing, this could easily lead to jealousy and competitiveness. Eventually, this disruption could 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. It is naive to believe that everyone knows the proprietary guidelines of gift-giving. 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.

(Online Women's Business Center, Dallas, TX, 7/97)

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