From the Desk of Peter Handal, CEO

Walking the Fine Line of Office Gift-Giving

by robertr

December 17th, 2007
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December 15, 2007 By Al Lewis, The Denver Post

    Some people love their bosses and co-workers so much that they just have to buy them something for ChristmasI mean, the holidays.

    Never say “Christmas” in an office setting. And don't buy your co-worker anything from Victoria's Secret.

    “It's just gross, and it sends a bad message,” said Todd Fredrickson, a labor attorney at Denver-based Otten Johnson Robinson Neff & Ragonetti PC.

    What about a gift card from Victoria's Secret? Here, you wouldn't be so much buying the item directly but.

    “No,” said Fredrickson. “It's a bad idea to even go down the clothing route.”

    Also, beware of what you stick in the grab bag, warns Fredrickson, who has had to defend companies for employing wise guys who think it's hilarious to hand out inappropriate gifts at work.

    Ann Nelson, a Boulder-based human-resources consultant to Fortune 500 companies, has had to intervene in cases where someone thought it would be a scream to give a box of adult diapers or a bag of prunes to the old guy.

    “There are many ways to have fun without insulting people,” she said. ” For a white-elephant gift, I'd go to a thrift store and get an old Elvis Presley LP or a picture of Wayne Newton or Don Ho.”

    Did she just say Don Ho? And couldn't that be misconstrued in an office setting as suggesting the boss — a.k.a. the don — is for sale?

    “Remember that it is impossible to please everyone in the office,” said Peter Handal, chief executive of Dale Carnegie Training.

    Handal has laid out several rules for office gift-giving: Do not give alcohol (not even wine because chances are good that your co-worker is either a teetotaler or a lush); don't use cards with overtly religious messages; don't give a gift so expensive that it might make the receiver uncomfortable; don't let co-workers find out that you bought gifts for some people but not them; and don't buy anything for the boss because it might look like you are trying to curry favor.

    These rules, however, can be confusing in practice. And not everyone agrees with all of them. Nelson, for one, said the holidays are a fine time to show your appreciation for your boss.

    “This is the time of year where we reflect on who we are grateful for in our lives,” she said. “What you write in the card means more than the gift. 'Thank you for supporting me this year; thank you for the promotion; you've been a great mentor.' But don't do it at the staff meeting in front of all of your co-workers.”

    What to get? Nelson says one of the safest office presents is the Barnes & Noble gift card.

    “Books are symbol of education, information and entertainment,” said Tom Burke, BarnesandNoble.com's executive vice president of e-commerce.

    Unlike some other gift-card providers, Barnes & Noble has led the industry in eliminating hidden charges — such as fees for issuance, administration, dormancy and balance checking. And they do not have expiration dates.

    Gift cards from banks and malls, including Park Meadows, Cherry Creek and FlatIron Crossing, not only charge upfront fees but begin to deduct from the balances if they are not cashed within a specified period. They are the gifts that keep on taking.

    If someone bought you a gift but you didn't buy them one, Safeway carries gift cards from more than 200 stores.

    “You name it, we pretty much have it,” said Safeway spokeswoman Kris Staaf. “It's the one gift you don't have to worry about anyone returning.”

    Becky Osborne of Golden-based marketing firm Commotion LLC told me she bought her boss a present this year, and it wasn't a gift card from Victoria's Secret. (If your name is Greg Gorman, stop reading now or you'll ruin the surprise.)

    “I got him a Bible,” Osborne said. “He's been asking me all kinds of questions about stuff in the Bible, and I said, 'You know, you should read it.' ”

    Gorman created the Budweiser frogs while working for Anheuser Busch and is now running a company that puts ads on parking-lot stripes. He probably will not be offended by this gift. I bet he reads three verses before he is struck with this epiphany: “This infallible word of God is brought to you by (your product here).”

    Sharon Linhart, partner in a 17-person public-relations firm, leads a Secret Santa exchange each year with no restrictions. “It eliminates the need for people to buy everyone gifts,” she said.

    Linhart declined to say what she would like from her Secret Santa.

    “I like to see what somebody thinks I would like,” she said. “And if somebody thinks I'm the kind of person who would like a Victoria's Secret gift card, it probably says something strange about me.”

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