Ask Ellie & Jill: Proper Etiquette on Gifting in Local Government

Ask Ellie & Jill: Proper Etiquette on Gifting in Local Government

Ellie & Jill received this message from Gifted:

Thanks for providing this great venue to get some real answers.

What’s the proper etiquette on gifting in a local government organization? We have blessedly 9 months before Christmas, so it would be great if you could share who I should give gifts to. I am worried about the snowball effect, especially since I oversee many departments and it’s not feasible to give a present to everyone I manage. So do I just gift up the org chart, and not down? Other ideas? I don’t want anyone to feel left out. And I don’t want to look like a Scrooge.

Your question is one that is raised often and we are glad that you asked it now. Hopefully the ideas we have will help everyone be prepared the next time gift giving season rolls around.

Here is our answer:

The most important point is to recognize that our local government workplaces are changing rapidly and are more than ever reflecting the diverse make up of our communities. While you might celebrate certain holidays, not everyone does and it is critical to be mindful and respectful of this.

Gift giving in the workplace is highly dependent on the culture of your organization. While you should let the traditions of your office be your guide, the following are some common etiquette guidelines that may help you navigate the art of workplace gift giving.

1. Gifting up should only be done as a group. Individual gifts to your superiors can be mistaken for seeking favor, or worse they could be interpreted for trying to one up your colleagues. Many bosses report that gifts from individuals make them uncomfortable and place stress on the professional relationship. This may be true in your situation, it may not. If you are going to gift up, get the group together to pitch in for a meaningful – never extravagant –gift.

2. Gifting to peers and subordinates should one be done if done completely equally. The last thing you want is the perception that a gift signifies favor or preference of one person over another. Now, we know everyone has workplace besties. Giving gifts among friends is fine, but do so outside of the workplace and outside of the workday.

3. Consider alternatives. A homemade baked food or treat from a local restaurant that can be shared by the group is a great, safe gift idea. If you’re not a baker, maybe a nice selection of coffee and tea for the office would work.

4. If there’s an opportunity, suggest a group contribution to a local charity or cause with great meaning to your group in lieu of gifts. This makes everyone feel good and has little risk of negative interpretation. Another option is to go out to a dutch group lunch after the craziness of the holidays and put the focus on casual time together rather than gifts.

5. Keep it appropriate. While you might find a gag gift or reference to an inside joke hilarious, the humor could be lost on others. Same goes for gifts like alcohol. While you may appreciate such a gift, not everyone may share your sentiment that it is a gift appropriate for the workplace.

Submit Your Questions

We can’t wait for the rest of the ELGL crowd to weigh in with their thoughts and advice on workplace gifting protocol.  Remember to tag @ELGL50 and use #ELGLAnswers to make tracking ELGL Ask Ellie & Jill posts easy to follow.  Submit your own questions to ELGL Ask Ellie & Jill using the anonymous form at or by emailing

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