If your workplace has a holiday office party that includes gift giving, you may have found yourself stumped by what to purchase.  In today’s post I am not only sharing some shopping ideas, all for under $25, but am also including some office holiday party gift etiquette tips to consider.

The don’ts of office holiday party gifts

Purchasing the right gifts for an office holiday party really just requires common sense.  However, I think some points should still be covered.  To make sure I got them right, I consulted my good friend, and etiquette and protocol consultant, Melissa Leonard, to weigh in and offer her advice.

Never buy anything with a sexual connotation: This should be fairly obvious, but a gift with any type of a sexual connotation is off limits, period.  Not only should a man never buy a female co-worker a gift like this, but woman to women gift giving like this should also be avoided.  Put down that gift box of Hanky Pankys.  It’s just not appropriate.

Don’t buy anything insulting, even if it is inadvertent or in good fun: You spend a lot of time with your co-workers.  It’s easy to not only build close relationships with these folks, but to feel comfortable enough to laugh at each others weird idiosyncrasies.  While it may all be in good fun, gag gifts can be tricky.  Let’s say you have a coworker who spends a lot of time in the bathroom.  Getting them a bottle of Poo-Pourri and a jumbo crossword puzzle book may seem funny, but it may also embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable.  It’s just not worth it.  Sure, you can have fun with these gifts, but have to be careful about pushing it too far.

Don’t buy desk decor: Buying something for a coworker’s desk might seem like an easy no-brainer gift, but hold on.  As Melissa Leonard confirmed, not everyone has the same tastes and it can make a coworker uncomfortable if you buy them something they don’t like.  How will you feel if your gift never gets displayed on their desk?  Don’t put pressure on your coworker by making them feel like they have to decorate their desk with things they don’t like just to make you feel better.  For some people, decorating a desk is like decorating a home.  Everyone has different tastes and its not a good idea to assume that what you find attractive they will.

Gifts ideas to avoid above: Nothing sexual, like this Victoria’s Secret gift set, nothing that could be insulting, like this book from Modcloth, and avoid desk decor, like this cat paper clip holder, that your coworker may not find as charming as you do.

Frequently asked questions about office holiday gifts

Should subordinates purchase gifts for their bosses?  Generally speaking, no, it’s not necessary, but it can be thoughtful, Melissa Leonard told me.  These can be small thoughtful and inexpensive gifts that are more of a token gesture.  Your boss knows what you make and isn’t expecting you to spend a lot, if anything at all.  When I wasn’t self employed I always bought something for my bosses.   In fact, I had one boss who was a huge chocolate lover and once said that if he could eat at least one small piece of chocolate everyday he’d be happy.  Remembering that, I bought multiple bags of Hershey’s Miniatures and a calendar and pasted a piece of chocolate in each square of a calendar.  The gift was totally inexpensive (albeit a labor intensive) and was really fun.

Conversely, bosses should get gifts for their assistants and subordinates.  This gift can be more personal than gifts that would be exchanged for a secret Santa type gift, but, it should go without saying, gifts with any type of a sexual connotation should be avoided.

The set budget for office holiday gifts is so small.  Do I have to stay within it?  Yes, you should, said Melissa.   Going a dollar or two over is fine, but much more than that is insensitive to others who may not be able to spend that much. The budget is set for a reason, so that everyone can participate.  Keep in mind, holiday office gifts are exchanged to add some holiday fun at work, not to be the end all be all gift that your recipient gets this holiday.

Are work type items like,  business card holders, smartphone cases or key chains okay? These may seem like fairly generic gifts, but they should be avoided.  Like desk decor, business card holders, phone cases ans key chains are very personal.  Chances are they already have pieces they like.  Plus, you are, again, putting added pressure on your coworker to use these items to avoid offending you.

Appropriate gift ideas for office holiday parties

With all these limitations and etiquette rules that should be considered, it may seem that there is nothing appropriate to purchase for your coworkers for your upcoming office holiday party.  This isn’t true.  There are plenty of gift ideas.  As Melissa told me, keep the gifts as generic as possible and choose things that would be universally liked.  Here are some ideas.

Coffee gift cards and mugs

A mug or something like this cold drink tumbler from Kate Spade is a great idea that is generic enough to be universally appealing.  However, keep in mind, if your office does a swap style exchange vs. a Secret Santa, avoid mugs with initials, like this one from Anthropologie, and choose one that isn’t so personalized.  A gift card to a local coffee place nearby, like this one from Starbucks, is another universally appealing gift.  In fact, Melissa gave me a great tip about coffee gift cards:  Buy a few this season and keep them in your wallet.  Having these cards on hand are great for moments where someone unexpectedly gives you a holiday gift and you want to reciprocate on the spot.  Keep these gift cards on hand in a pinch.  If you don’t give them all away at the end of the holidays you can just use them yourself.

Soaps and lotions

Soaps and lotions are great generic gift ideas, perfect for office holiday party gifts as well as hostess gifts for parties you will be attending.  Many companies create gift sets for this time of year, like this Burt’s Bees set of lotions and lip balm, this L’Occitane soap set, or Eos lip balm gift set.  Everybody can use some lotions and soaps.  They’re also great for regifting.  If a coworker gives you soaps or lotions you don’t like, put them aside to possibly give to someone else.  A word of advice Melissa gave me, when you plan to regift something, be sure to add a sticky note to it with the name of who gave it to.  The last thing you want to do is regift something back to the person who originally gifted it to you.

Useful and decorative items that are okay to give

There are some decorative and useful items that are okay to give.  First, a journal or notebook, like this one from Bloomingdales.  Most people are always with at least one.  I never turn my nose up at a blank journal I receive because I know that, at some point, I will use it.  Next, some sort of a zipper pouch, like this one from Bauble Bar, is another gift that will be welcomed by most people.  So many of us are always looking for small zipper bags to contain something, be it makeup, loose items in a purse, for travel, and more.

Candles are next.  Not everyone is a candle person.  However, everyone knows someone who is.  You really can’t go wrong with gifting a candle at a holiday office party, like this one from Nordstrom.  Either your recipient will use it or know someone else they can give it to.  In terms of technology, while items like phone cases and tablet covers can be really personal, something like a portable phone charger, like this one from Free People, is generic and useful enough that everyone would appreciate a gift like this.  Lastly, a picture frame.  Picture frames are generic items that everyone can use.  Speaking for myself, I always have a photo needing a frame.  However, if you do go with a frame as an office party gift, choose the most generic type of frame you can find, like these from Macy’s.  Doing this guarantees your recipient will like it.  Avoid frames that are very style or taste specific.

Shopping for office party holiday gifts, and more?

There are lots of sales still going on for the holidays.  Still have some shopping to do?  Check out what’s going on with some of your favorite retailers below:

  • Anthropologie: EXTRA 30% OFF WITH CODE: EXTRAMERRY promotion ends 12.9.14
  • J. Crew: UP TO 30% OFF WITH CODE:MERRYMERRY promotion ends 12.9.14
  • Nordstrom: UP TO 40% OFF SELECT NEW MARKDOWNS promotion runs for a limited time
  • Saks Fifth Avenue: UP TO 40% OFF DESIGNER SALE promotion runs for a limited time
  • Neiman Marcus: UP TO 50% OFF WOMENS promotion runs for a limited time
  • Asos: 20% OFF SELECT BRANDS FOR MEN & WOMEN promotion runs for a limited time
  • Forever 21: 30% OFF SELECT MERCHANDISE promotion ends 12.8.14
  • Club Monaco: 30% OFF SELECT WITH CODE: WINTERFAVES promotion ends 12.8.14
  • Madewell: 30% OFFWITH CODE: MERRIESTpromotion ends 12.8.14
  • C. Wonder: 30% OFF + FREE SHIPPINGpromotion ends 12.18.14

Happy shopping and enjoy your upcoming office holiday party!