Boss Gives Holiday Gifts That Are Too Nice? Ask Madeleine

Money and Christmas Ornaments with Narrow Depth of Field.Dear Madeleine,

Help. I am confused. I have a great job and I really like my boss. We have been working together for years—in fact, I followed him to our current company.

The trouble is that he tends to always give me, and everyone else who reports to him, really nice presents at the holidays. For example, one year he gave all the women Kate Spade handbags. Last year, he gave each of us a half case of really good wine. I am always caught a little by surprise.

It is really nice, but I do not have the budget to reciprocate. Other people on the team don’t seem upset by it; in fact some say mean things about how pretentious they think it is. They think he is lording over us how much more money he makes than we do. The holidays are coming up and I am getting anxious already about what to do.


Dear Anxious,

I totally get how the disparity between your boss and yourself can throw you for a loop. So let’s break this down and see if we can’t raise your comfort level with this situation. The first thing I wonder is whether you feel you need to say something to your boss about how snarky your peers are about the gifts. And to that I would say, emphatically: no. Just let that one rest, because as we have discussed in this column recently, no good deed goes unpunished.

Now—how can your reciprocate without blowing your holiday budget before you’ve even gotten to your personal list? Clearly your boss doesn’t expect you to come through in the same price range, so the only way to really compete is to make your gift totally personal. For example, you could bake cookies. Even if you aren’t a cook, you can make chocolate truffles; I used to do that long ago and it requires only the ability to read and follow simple directions. You could also give him a homemade Christmas card telling him three things that make him a great boss. He must have a lot going for him if you followed him from another job! If both of you are readers, you could get him a copy of the book that was your favorite read this year. Even just a framed photo of his team would be fun, and not very expensive. Nobody prints and frames photos anymore! My point is that you can’t let the monetary value throw you. Focus on how much you care about your boss and what is important to him, and a good idea will come to you.

Finally, I would say enjoy the largess while it lasts! And of course, Happy Holidays.

Love Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

One thought on “Boss Gives Holiday Gifts That Are Too Nice? Ask Madeleine

  1. Our culture now seems to misunderstand the meaning and intent of a gift. I am an employer, and I give when and how I am able. For it to be a gift, there has to be no strings attached. If any reciprocation is expected, then it is not a gift.

    We need to learn to graciously accept gifts. The “I owe you one” mentality is a flawed mentality. Sometimes, just saying “Thank you” is enough.

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