My Boss Was Too Generous With My Birthday Gift—How To React?

My Boss Was Too Generous With My Birthday Gift—How To React?

Dear Farnoosh,

My new boss gave me a really generous present for my birthday, including a $100 American Express gift card and a bottle of champagne. Am I obligated to give her something equally extravagant on her birthday? What about the holidays?


Present-ly Confused

Dear P.C.,

This puts you in an awkward position, wondering if your boss has the same gift-giving expectations from you. But, if your manager is an experienced professional she should know that her staff is not obligated nor expected to spend hundreds of dollars showering her with gifts—nor should she factor that into your annual review.


Consider Your Relationship

Personally, I am a big fan of the old and wise cubicle adage: “Never gift up.” It means we should only give gifts to office mates who rank below us and with whom we have good relationships. If you and your boss have a close relationship, or if she’s really gone above and beyond for you and you want to show some appreciation, it’s perfectly fine to get her a gift. Just realize that she probably makes at least twice your salary and (if she’s level-headed) doesn’t expect you to outdo or even match her extravagance.

It’s The Thought That Counts

While her gift was expensive (and we love her for that), your best bet is to just pick out something thoughtful and stick to a more affordable budget. Choose something personal that reflects you’ve been paying attention to her likes and tastes. For example, if she’s a foodie, a $15 annual subscription to a gourmet magazine keeps it classy without going overboard. If you notice that her iPhone case is falling apart, find her a new snazzy one to ring in the new year. You can never go wrong with a book, either. If there’s something she’s mentioned she wants to read or a genre she really enjoys, get her a copy with a hand-written note from you on the inside flap.

Stick To Tradition

For everyone else reading this piece, keep in mind that, if it’s not the culture in your office to give gifts, there’s no reason to feel obligated to suddenly start a tradition. Meanwhile, if you work from home and rarely see your coworkers, you probably don’t need to go out of your way to find gifts for everyone, either. If you feel compelled to do something and spread some kind holiday cheer, you can always bake some cookies for the office or send holiday cards to home addresses.

Involve The Group

Remember, you can always do a Pollyanna or group gift exchange around the office. Just remember to set a budget of $5 to $15 for the whole group (I find that the tinier the budget, the more fun it can be).

Tell us in the comments: Have you ever declined to accept a gift? How? Why?

Follow Farnoosh On Twitter! @FARNOOSH


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