Bah humbug! Don’t want holiday gifts from colleagues? Elaine Varelas suggests saying “thank you” anyway

With holidays approaching, some people look forward to sharing gifts and spreading cheer. Others, however, may not share that same zeal. Elaine Varelas recommends a "thank you" as an alternative for those who are tempted to say "bah humbug!" instead.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –

Q: The holidays are coming up and I already anticipate that some colleagues are going to give me a gift. I don’t want them. I don’t want the added pressure of returning the sentiment, but I feel like I’m obligated to do so. Is it rude or presumptuous to ask colleagues not to get me a gift? What about employees who are my senior? And if I do want to return the sentiment, is a simple card sufficient?

A: Unfortunately, Santa Claus and Hanukkah Harry have come to the office. While the spirit and the intent are charming, this can sometimes cause financial hardship on employees – as well as the emotional hardship of trying to navigate appropriate etiquette around gifting. Managers, feel free to give your employees bonuses, which they will recognize as a gift from the company as opposed to a personal gift. And employees, feel free to go to Human Resources or your manager to talk about instituting either a Secret Santa, Yankee Swap, cookie exchange, or maybe even some kind of charitable activity. If you can’t get out of exchanging gifts, try to advocate for something that sets a minimum and a maximum cost and focuses on only one gift. Exchanging gifts throughout the organization is overwhelming and costly, and it can put employees in a position where they feel obligated to buy gifts for multiple people, which is unfortunate.


Though you may not want it, it is rude to tell someone not to present you with a gift because it is presumptuous. It puts them in a position where their gift is assumed, but you don’t know for certain whether or not they anticipated giving you one – and if people do give you a gift, the appropriate sentiment is, “Thank you very much. That’s very kind.” It should not obligate you to give a gift in response.

If you’re talking about colleagues at your level, you might initiate a conversation by saying something such as, “Rather than exchanging gifts, how about if we go out to lunch?” You could try suggesting a potluck lunch or any other kind of activity that puts the emphasis on collegiality rather than the perceived pain and expense of exchanging gifts. However, if senior employees give you a gift, again, you should say, “Thank you.”

And yes, any gift does require a thank you note or card, and a thank you email is not acceptable for these. In terms of returning the sentiment, a card with sincere appreciation and joyous wishes for the holiday is not only sufficient – it is a gracious way to approach the season and share positivity.