Do you, your spouse, or your grown children shop for holiday presents for co-workers? To find out how you can help each other figure out what to do about office gifts at Christmastime, Family Goes Strong talked with etiquette expert Vicky Oliver, author of The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You're Not. Excerpts:
How can you help a spouse or an adult child pick out a present for an assistant?
It's very helpful if you know a little bit of information. If a secretary wants to become a writer, maybe get that person a pen or a certificate to a writing class. It's trying to suss out, "What is that person interested in? What does she do when she's not working?" A lot of times people give a book, and then the person receiving it isn't really interested in that topic. [Ask], "Do you have any idea what she does on the weekend? Does she have any hobbies?" You just don't want to give generic gifts that mean little.
Should you suggest a gift card?
I love gift cards if it's a gift card to a place where you know the person shops. I know a person who's favorite store in the universe is the Church Mouse in Palm Beach. This guy loves retro ties from this [thrift] store. A great gift for him would be a retro tie from the Church Mouse. Someone else might think, "A tie? That's so drab and dull." But this person collects ties.
Should you train your spouse or grown child to look for clues?
Yes, little clues. Is there a photograph of a pet on her desk? Maybe you want to buy a cute dog collar if she has a dog.
Should you bake cookies for your family member to give at the office?
I do not like the baked cookies idea. The holidays are a time when many people are on diets. Even if they aren't, right after the holidays is time for dieting. It's not a good gift. The other problem with it is it's sort of generic. You're creating the same gift for every person. You can bring it in. If you just don't want to spend any money at all, I also think it's a good idea to go buy some nice holiday cards. I live in Manhattan. Here MOMA [the Museum of Modern Art] makes absolutely gorgeous holiday cards. They're little mini art pieces in and of themselves. I've had people compliment me on my MOMA cards. If you're going to do this, you have to give them to everyone.
What about a gift card?
If it's a gift card, it's nice to have something where they can really buy an item. You could give a gift card to Starbucks and maybe that's $10. Let's say it's The Gap. Then I think your gift card should cover something. Sometimes for women it's nice to give them a half a day at the spa. A gift certificate for a manicure or a pedicure if you know the person likes it.
You're a fan of the Secret Santa, with everyone buying just one person at the office a gift.
Let's say you've been working at the same place for five years. Buying for everyone can be so costly. For all kinds of reasons, if you can, it makes sense to go to the HR [human resources] person and say, "I'm really wondering if we could have a party where we exchange the gifts rather than everyone buying 20 gifts."
Could you suggest that your spouse ask about a white elephant Secret Santa so that no one needs to spend any money at all?
You could also do that. If they could trade the gift, that would be fun, too. It depends on the type of office you work in. Is it small? Is it large? Does it have a family atmosphere? What is the feeling there? It [giving holiday gifts] does get to be pretty costly year after year, and maybe there's a better way.
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