Dear Vered,

I came back from vacation over Christmas and New Year’s to find a substantial holiday gift on my chair from my boss that must have cost over $100. It’s really nice, but I didn’t get her anything. Should I have? Do I need to run out and get her something comparable? If I can’t afford it, do I need to return the gift?

Poor Office Admin


Dear Reader,

It’s pretty common business etiquette that subordinates are not expected to get their bosses gifts. If that’s the norm in your office, too, or if your employee handbook prohibits gifting to bosses (you should check), what you owe your boss is a sincere thank-you. Write out a note in a card thanking her for her generosity, and pop it in her mailbox or leave it on her desk.

If it’s normal for people in your office to exchange gifts, and you didn’t know that because you’re new, that’s different. You’re lucky you were physically absent during gift-giving time, or you would have been in an uncomfortable position. Still, there’s a great way to smooth out all gifting etiquette breaches: food. Bring in a batch of whatever you make best, and before setting it out in the break room, take it around to your boss and say, “I missed all the holiday festivities in the office, so I’m temporarily extending the holidays with some cookies. First dibs?” When she’s helped herself, put it out in the break room with a little note and feel satisfied that you’ve quid-pro-quoed with the best of them.