It always happens before you know it. Suddenly, it's the end of the year and Christmas is just a blink away. And if your company or department has a culture of exchanging gifts, it's a potential headache thinking of what to get everyone - or whether you should even do so in the first place.

It's a scary moment if it's your first Christmas in an organisation. Unless your boss announces plans for the office Christmas party and gift exchange guidelines, you probably have to discreetly make enquiries as to how your department celebrates the year-end festivities.

Making a list and checking it twice

If the exchange of presents is practised, scout around for gift ideas that won't burn too big a hole in your pocket.

If you're working in a relatively small department where you know every one well, it's easier to choose items that suit your colleagues' preferences, personalities or hobbies. It is nice to include colleagues who don't celebrate Christmas in your shopping list, and you could use the occasion to thank them for their help during the year.

But if the gift exchange operates on a "secret pal" system, you may not know the person whose name you pulled out of the bag. In this case, go for a generally "safe" gift.

Avoid joke gifts like farting cushions unless you are certain the recipient will not be offended. Also stay away from lingerie and jewellery unless that colleague is your wife!

And for all mankind

When you don't intend to bestow gifts on every one, don't make it so obvious who your recipients are and aren't. You could arrange to pass gifts to your favourite pals outside the office in a personal capacity. If it has to be done in the office, you could get something small so that it appears that you are not singling anyone out for special treatment or leaving anyone else out.

Be careful what you buy for your boss, as you don't want to be seen as an apple polisher. If there is a dollar limit for each gift, stick to the same limit for your boss. Don't buy that expensive crystal vase, unless the entire department pools money to buy it.

Spread the love

If you belong to the camp which thinks that gift exchanging goes against the true spirit of Christmas, try something more meaningful to reciprocate your other colleagues' well-meaning gestures.

You could treat everyone to lunch, cater a tea break or buy a big log cake or other Christmas goodies as your way of celebrating the festivities. Alternatively, you could make a donation to your favourite charity in your colleagues' names. Choose a "neutral" cause like the environment, animals or underprivileged so that no one gets offended by the cause.

You could also make it known that you intend to donate daily necessities to a charity home and encourage your colleagues to choose items that the home can use as Christmas presents.