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Holiday Gifts for the Boss -- Yes or No?
Author:  PharmaVet
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Ah, the holidays. The most wonderful time of the buttered rum in front of a cozy fire, friends and neighbors dropping by for cookies and's just like a made-for-TV movie. Except that your last nerve is wearing thin because you're worrying about whether or not to give your district manager a holiday gift.

The short answer: don't give your boss a gift. The traditional etiquette rule on gifts between boss and subordinate is that you gift down, not up. This means that it's ok if your DM gives you a gift (gifting down), but it's not appropriate for you to give your DM a gift (gifting up). According to the Emily Post Institute, giving your boss a gift could be construed as trying to win favor. Do send a holiday card, and play it safe...if you don't know for a fact whether your boss observes Christmas or Hanukkah, send a 'season's greetings' card.

However, you still need to take into consideration the customs of your workplace. In pharmaceutical sales, this means your district. If you haven't already done so, ask an experienced member of your team what the custom is. If your team traditionally has everyone pitch in for a group gift, that's acceptable as long as the amount everyone contributes is modest. Typically, for a group gift, you shouldn't need to pitch in more than $10. If everyone isn't willing to participate, the rest of the group should respect that and drop the idea entirely.  If you're the only one who doesn't want to pitch in, just go along with the group.  It will make your life that much easier.

If your team does not traditionally give the DM a group holiday gift, that should end your dilemma.  Bosses generally feel uncomfortable when their subordinates, who (at least in theory) earn less than they do, give them gifts.

But what if your boss gives each of his or her team members a holiday gift? That's very nice and probably was paid for by the company, but you still don't need to reciprocate. Keep in mind that the relationship between you and your boss is not one of equals.

If your team does pitch in for a gift for the DM, follow a few general, common-sense business gift guidelines:

  • Don't give alcohol, even if the recipient is known to be a wine connoisseur. Wouldn't you feel terrible if you later learned that you had given alcohol to an alcoholic?
  • Don't give a gift that is too personal. One etiquette expert, whose name I no longer recall, says you should not give anything that touches the skin. This means no soaps or lotions, no perfume, no jewelry, no clothing. This should not need to be said, but lingerie is far too intimate for a business gift.
  • Don't give tickets to a sporting event or a show. First, you don't know if the recipient has other plans for that date. Second, what if they don't want to go? My team of sales reps once gave me two tickets to see my favorite team play. I would have loved it but I was new in town, single, and didn't know a soul except for my reps and my boss. All my friends lived at least 6 hours away. No one could go, and it just didn't seem very appealing to go alone. Their nice gesture caused me a great deal of stress.
  • Don't give anything too extravagant. It will only make the recipient feel uncomfortable.

The holidays are stressful enough without adding new worries to the mix. Your DM shouldn't be, and probably isn't, expecting a gift, so cross that problem off your list.

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