Gift Guide for Your Local Gov Coworkers (And Beyond!)

Posted on December 20, 2019

Three brightly wrapped presents.

Welcome to the Holiday Season y’all! No matter what holiday you celebrate (though, if we’re being honest, I bet most of our organizations orbit around Christmas), ’tis the season for choosing & giving gifts. I don’t know about all of you, but even as a Very Enthusiastic Person™, gift-giving can fill me with anxiety. And I get especially anxious when it comes to gift-giving at my office, because where I currently work, it’s less like something you do for just a few special people and almost a social requirement.

My previous office had its own pitfalls, largely in the form of an obviously well-meaning woman (white) who bought a Homer Simpson Buddha toy for a coworker (Japanese) who was neither Buddhist nor a fan of The Simpsons. She then proceeded to ask me, another Asian woman in the office, whether it was an appropriate gift and was so horrifically offended when I told her no, it was kind of racist, that later on, someone actually suggested I go apologize to her.

Anyway, gift-giving is hard for everyone, not just well-intentioned microagressors and anxious perfectionists. So I wanted to share a quick gift guide you can use if you find yourself in an emergency gifting situation (disclaimer: these have not been approved by any HR professionals or qualified gift givers).

Mug with the "This is Fine" meme with a cartoon dog sitting at a table on fire
Mug from my work bff, Libby

Work Best Friend

This is probably the easiest category since you should already know what to get them! If I had a work best friend (don’t worry, I’m working on it!), I would go for something that had meaning or represented an inside joke. Honestly, photos of you together are priceless, especially since having physical photos is a lost art!

Casual Acquaintance You See Regularly

So maybe you aren’t that great of friends but you see each other often enough that it makes sense for you to pass along season’s greetings. This can go one of two ways:

  1. Status quo – I’m talking Valentine’s Day at the elementary school, where everyone gets the same box of candy hearts. Get some nice holiday treats, put them in cute bags and hand them out to all your coworkers on this tier. No fuss, no muss, no special treatment.
  2. Aspirational – this is the gift if you’re really looking to move this relationship to the next level. I recently gave a Casual Acquaintance a plate of cookies and a nice card for the holidays, and he countered with an invitation to dinner with his family! They won’t all be this cut and dried, but if you can put a little something personal on an otherwise generic gift, it goes a long way, and may even get you a dinner invite.

Your Boss

This is more delicate, depending on what type of boss you have. You know these boundaries the best, so make sure you keep them in mind when picking this present. My current boss is one million times more fancy than I am, so I usually try to buy her nice chocolate or a scarf, if I can find something in between designer and Amazon’s fashion brand. Just keep in mind that this is not the best time to stretch your already established relationship roles like with the Casual Acquaintance – power dynamics can make gift-giving weird, even if you have a great relationship, so I would stick to known entities for this category.

Your Boss’s Boss

Same goes here. If you feel comfortable enough to give a gift at this level, it’s not the time to make a cross-court, buzzer beater shot – just take your time and make a safe lay-up. By which I mean, nothing too personal or scandalous. Treats, scarves, maybe a necktie if they have a neck and wear ties.

Oprah yelling

Elected Officials

This category may or may not be appropriate for you. Maybe you are an elected official! Maybe some of your best friends are elected officials! Whatever the case, remember the power dynamics of your existing relationship and, for this instance in particular, try to think about perception. Try to be aware whether your organization is a politically safe, everyone wants the best for everyone else type of environment or if you’re really swimming with a bunch of local government sharks who are just waiting for you to get a cramp or give an inappropriate gift. I mostly stay away from this category, unless it’s an Oprah situation where EVERYONE is getting a gift.

Woman in holiday sweater and antlers wearing a fanny pack that looks like a man's stomach
The best White Elephant gift ever.

White Elephant Gift Exchange

I got this largely inappropriate, totally incredible fanny-pack at my most recent work White Elephant Gift Exchange, and I have never been happier. There’s a lot to forgive in a White Elephant Gift Exchange, but I try to stay away from anything that has to do with nudity, sex, gender roles, stereotypes, politics, or religion (though if my gift giver had done that, I would never have owned this fanny pack, so do what you feel). Someone once said they tried to imagine giving it to their grandmother and that’s how they decided if it was “appropriate,” but my grandmother was a wee bit racist, so I try to imagine someone else’s grandmother. In some organizations, booze is appropriate for this type of exchange, but not always. I like the idea of re-gifting a weird present you received previously – maybe even make it an annual occurrence! My prior organization had a horrible holiday themed bowl that snuck into the pile every year and haunted us all. Great holiday fun!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. If you’re giving gifts at work, just be honest about the types of relationships you have and whether this gift makes sense with that. Also, do what makes you feel comfortable first, not what your office expects of you. Good luck, gift-givers!

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Kendra Davis. Connect with Kendra on LinkedIn and Twitter. She would LOVE to hear about the best/worst gift you’ve ever given or received at your workplace. Hers will probably always be the hairy stomach fanny-pack because what could possibly be better than that?

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