Are You Obligated To Buy Your Boss a Gift? And Should You?

Business people celebrating Christmas At Workplace.
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When making your gift list, you might have a few close coworkers on the list, but should you add your boss? If you have a good relationship with them, it might feel right to purchase them a little something. It’s also a weird feeling when your coworkers say they’re collecting cash to buy a gift for your boss. On one hand, you might think “Sure, why not?”

But then you start to think about it some more: your boss makes more money than you, and there’s a power dynamic where purchasing a gift for them might look like you’re trying to suck up. Or, maybe they’ll expect one next year — regardless of your relationship.

Suddenly, whether to pay for a manager’s gift doesn’t seem so cut and dry. Here’s a quick guide to navigating the questions around giving your boss a gift. 

“It’s My First Year at a Company and I Want To Make a Good Impression. Should I Get My Boss a Gift?”

In short, no. No manager or CEO should ever expect a gift from employees. And it’s not especially wise to get your boss a gift to make a good impression, since it could be seen as trying to “buy them” in some way. If you’re worried that not giving your manager a gift may seem like you’re “ungrateful” for your job, consider the fact that you were hired because you excel in your area and provide a valuable service. Your job wasn’t a present. 

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Because of the power dynamic in a workplace, gifts should always come from the top, not the other way around. If your boss wants to give you a gift to show their appreciation, that’s fine, but you should never be expected, rewarded or punished for giving a gift to someone with power over you.

“Someone In My Office Is Collecting Money To Give My Boss a Gift. Do I Have To Contribute?”

Again, no. For all the reasons above, a boss should never expect a gift. Even if this is a tradition the office has, you shouldn’t be punished for not contributing. You can tell the person collecting money that it’s not in your budget, and that should suffice. In addition, any gift coming from “the team” should say just that. Whether you contribute or not, there should be no mention of who amongst your co-workers gave what. If a person wants to give a present on their own — fine — but if the present comes from the group it should have everyone’s name listed regardless.

If you’ve said “no” and the person asking for money persists, you can escalate this to HR, as gifts are optional and workplaces should not be pressure employees to pay for something for their superiors.

“My Boss Is My Secret Santa. Should I Opt Out Since They’re Senior to Me?”

Secret Santa and other gift exchanges are a little different. Since everyone in the office is playing, it puts everyone on a level playing field, so it’s okay to purchase a gift for someone who’s above you in this situation, since it’s more of a luck of the draw situation. Most offices put a cap at $10-20 for gifts, so don’t feel obligated to splurge on something super expensive simply because it’s your boss.

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Give them something you think they’d like (some companies employ wishlists) without considering their title: A gift certificate, a box of chocolates or some sports merch for a team you know they like or all great ideas. If you feel uncomfortable about the prospect of drawing someone who is senior to you, you can discreetly ask the organizer to opt out entirely so you don’t have to worry about that situation. 

“I Have a Great Relationship With My Boss. Should I still not give them a gift?”

If you have an established friendly relationship with your manager–or one that maybe existed before you worked together, or before they were promoted–it’s totally fine to give them a gift. However, give this gift discreetly or outside of work hours so other coworkers don’t feel like they also have to give a gift to their boss. This is a good rule of thumb for giving any coworkers gifts. Unless you’re giving gifts to everyone in the office, find a time outside of the office to exchange gifts with coworkers you’re close with. Doing it in front of everyone can seem a little tacky and might make other coworkers feel left out. 

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“My Boss Got Me a Gift. Do I Have To Give Them One?”

If you want to! But it’s not owed. Remember: Gifts are not transactional.

Just because your boss gives you something doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate. You can be grateful and even give them a thank you card, but it can end there. Your boss should not be expecting anything in return. If your manager confronts you about this or teases you about not getting a gift for them this is an abuse of power and you should consider whether you may need to take further action.

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