What gifts should we avoid in a business setting?

Even though there aren’t any rules of business etiquette which encourage the giving of gifts to colleagues, partners, members of teams you’re heading, superiors within your firm’s hierarchy, or even outside it, many people do just that. If you’re among those who enjoy giving gifts in your work setting it might be useful for you to become familiar with some of the guidelines which have been enforced by practice.

The most important thing to remember is that giving the wrong type of business gift can send the wrong type of message, be it too personal, romantic or even demeaning. We should also keep in mind that when we present a gift to someone in a work setting, even if we have the best intentions and we have picked something appropriate, we carry the risk of making the recipient feel uncomfortable if they know they can’t return the gesture or unpleasant, if the gift is too pretentious.

Actually, it is often the case that picking the right gift for the right person in the right setting can be quite difficult, since we’re trying to both express ourselves and how we feel about the recipient and respect his or her individuality at the same time. This dilemma is exactly what has created the most important rule of all when it comes to business gifts:

 It is better to not give a gift than to give the wrong gift.


1. Gifts which carry a discriminating or demeaning message - never, even as a joke, give anything which can be perceived as discriminatory towards any race, religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation or any sort of minority group. This includes cards, items, including works of art, caricatures, publications and anything else which might have a similar meaning.


2. Gifts for “Adults” – Everything which might be construed as having a sexual nature is to be avoided in a business setting and may even be illegal if the recipient is, for instance, your subordinate. Such gifts shouldn’t be given even to colleagues you consider yourself close to. This category includes everything that might have such a meaning - not just the obvious pornography or “adult toys” but paintings or other works of art, and even photographs which depict naked or semi-naked human bodies.


3. Politically or religiously oriented gifts – People’s religious and political orientation is often very personal and not demonstrated in the workplace. If you aren’t sure about the particular orientation of the person you’re giving a gift to avoid anything which might be directly or indirectly related to it, such as books and other written materials, political or religious souvenirs and symbols, icons and portraits of political figures.

Even if you are sure, keep in mind gifts in this category are always given in private and not in front of the recipient’s coworkers since they might be insulted, angered or irritated if their colleague’s religious or political orientation does not match their own.


4. “Personal Care” ProductsAll sorts of products used for maintaining one’s physical appearance are not appropriate as gifts in a business setting, especially if given to someone of the opposite gender. This includes products for hair, body or skin care, perfumes, hair brushes and dryers, toothpaste, creams and lotions. Keep in mind that even if a gift of this type seems like a great idea to you, you won’t know if the lotion you like could trigger an allergic reaction in the recipient.


5. Intimate Clothing – All sorts of underwear, socks, nightgowns, pajamas, and in most cases any clothes besides hats, scarves and gloves are not appropriate as gifts for colleagues, partners or superiors.


6. JewelryBe very careful if you’ve decided to give jewelry as a business gift. Pick something small that can be worn in a work setting. Present it to someone of your own gender, even if it is a group gift. The problem with this category of gifts is that it can be often interpreted as a romantic gesture, especially if the item in question is expensive, which is why anything with pearls, diamonds or other precious stones is usually avoided. If you’re adamant about giving gold or silver as a gift, better give it in the form of a coin, packaged in a box as a souvenir, rather than a jewel.


7. Flowers – In a business setting, rather than flowers, it is more appropriate to gift bamboo or bonsai trees or other such plants. If you insist on flowers, they should be arranged in a basket rather than a bouquet. Bouquets are acceptable, but be careful when giving them, especially if the recipient is your employee or of the opposite gender, since, as usual, the danger is your actions being interpreted as a romantic gesture.


8. CashNever give cash as a gift to your superiors, partners or colleagues. Money should be given to employees in the form of a taxable bonus and not a personal gift. Whatever way you look at it, giving cash as a business gift is in very bad taste.


9. Branded Products - Never gift anything branded with the logo of the firm or organization you work in to your colleagues, partners or superiors. All sorts of branded pens, journals, cups, calendars, t-shirts and other advertising materials, even if it’s a bottle of wine or other alcohol, are not appropriate as personal business gifts. If you make this mistake know that the recipient will probably think you’ve neglected his or her special occasion, or worse, that you’re using it as an advertising opportunity.