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A humbug's guide to office holiday gifting

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Abscent84

Holiday gifts at the office can get out of control faster than the staffer at the company Christmas party who had one too many eggnogs.

Climbing the ranks in cable TV, I adopted the social behavior of holiday gift giving. The act shows appreciation to your team, keeps good graces with managers, and protects your network of clients and vendors. It also stretches your wallet, eats into your free time, and adds to an already long to-do list.

One year, I gave my boss a gift card to the Art of Shaving, a Nobu gift card to my boss-by-dotted-line, a whiskey sampler to my previous boss who was laid off earlier that year, and even a gift basket for another boss, three bosses ago, because he was still at the company. The gift basket transferred to his assistant's desk for passersby to enjoy some Wisconsin cheddar or spiced macadamia nuts.  

And then there are my direct reports. At one point, there were eight people on my team — $50 gift cards each. A few gave me a bottle of wine or a box of teas in return, to which I would reply, “Thank you, please don’t do it again.” To take the pressure off my team and myself from spending, I attempted a Secret Santa. I heard rumblings it was annoying. That year another department head bought her whole department iPads. I can’t compete with that! Feeling guilty, I logged back onto Amazon to buy those e-gift cards. 

When does it stop? I can be $800 in before my family’s gifts! I admit, I started the cycle and now I’m stuck in it.  When appreciation becomes obligation, aren’t we missing the point?  2018 was the year we banned mistletoe from the office.  Let’s make presents go next, right?

I asked friends how they handle the holidays in their workplace and got mixed replies, each with a negative undertone. A friend on Wall Street recently had a change of supervisor and it wasn’t going well.  She snooped around to see whether other people of her level bought him a gift. When they didn’t, she struck him from her list. A school principal goes in steep for the custodian that “makes her life easier” handing out a $100 restaurant gift card. Her supervisors get chocolate or a bottle of wine. An assistant at a small agency called it “forced gift giving” when she had to chip in for something for her boss. Another “gets out of it” by baking goodies. I don’t bake, sorry.  

Wouldn’t we all be more holly jolly if we didn’t go into the new year with empty pockets?

I am grateful to the people I work with, and I am grateful for the gifts I’ve received. However, the gifts are not necessary for me to celebrate what we’ve accomplished this year. 

We aren’t just co-workers, I dare call most of them friends. We travel together, we give up weekends to produce events, we toast our drinks after a successful production. But we need a break from each other, not to break the bank. A text message or greeting card should be enough. A sincere note. 

Respectfully, we aren’t five. No one is waking at 6 a.m. to see what’s left under the tree. To quote the greatest and worst fictional boss in cable TV, when Peggy says to Don Draper “You never say thank you,” he replies, “That’s what the money is for!” 

All I want for Christmas is my paid time off.

Jaimee Kosanke is a producer/executive producer of sports, documentary and live programming in cable television.

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