Complete Guide to Giving a Boss a Gift

Navigating the world of workplace gifts can be a minefield. Believe me, employees have very strong feelings about this. When it comes to giving your boss a gift, it’s not all about great gift ideas, but if you should even be giving them a gift.

Don’t worry my friends, I won’t leave you hanging! There will be real, bonified ideas to give your boss… when it is appropriate.

Also, I am not instigating an online fist fight here, there are plenty of forums that you can duke it out with other disgruntled employees. Let’s stay on task and keep it to hypothetically, if we had to give our boss a gift…

Let’s jump in and try to clear the air, and bring some common sense to the etiquette of giving your boss a gift.

Table of Contents

The Great Debate: Do You Give Your Boss a Gift?

I’m leading with this, because it’s the #1 debate across online forums. I started this website because gift giving has gotten completely out of hand. I think we all can agree it’s no fun to be told that you have to chip money in for a gift, or be guilted when you politely decline. You have your reasons, especially if the gift if stupid (ha, there is the benefit of having my own gift blog – free speech!).

Professional female boss opening up a gift she receives from employee.
Is it appropriate to give a gift to your boss?

Rule for giving a boss a gift

This is the general rule to follow: Gifts should only be given from boss to employee. Never give your boss an individual gift.

This is referred to as “gifting up” or “giving up the chain” meaning the chain of command.

Bless the companies that have firm and established policies about giving gifts to a boss or manager. It may simply be a zero-gift policy, or a maximum low-dollar policy, like $15-$25.

Exceptions to giving a boss a gift

There are times when it is appropriate to give a boss a gift. They are humans, too, and celebrate life events such as a wedding, or having a baby. They may be seriously ill, and a get-well gift may be in order. In the event of leaving or retiring, a group gift from all employees would be entirely acceptable.

When my boss and his wife had their second baby, I privately dropped a meal off at his house, so other employees wouldn’t know. To me, it’s a very natural thing to do. Sub-teams in my organization give their own baby/wedding gift, I just happen to be part of the admin team. FYI, we chipped in for a nice first-time parent gift, but skip any birth gifts after that.

Female boss leading a meeting.
There are exceptions when to give a boss a gift, especially an outstanding boss!

If you do give your boss a gift, you risk being a “brown noser” or become part of the office gossip that you’re trying to seek some type of pesonal benefit. Gifting up can even be considered unethical.

There are obviously other exceptions. In big corporations, a strict non-gift policy is easy. In small businesses where you might even be friends with your boss or live in a small community, the lines get blurred.

My advice is to avoid a gift-giving war – that’s pretty much my advice in every situation. No reciprocal gift giving with no end in site.

How does your boss feel about receiving gifts?

So glad you asked! They’re absolutely horrified (I’m talking a Christmas and Bosses Day). You might be surprised to hear that. This silly “Boss’s Day” – I mean, what the heck? The boss is embarrassed because of the rule “gifts flow down” in the employee hierachy. There is also the elephant in the room that the boss often makes significantly more money than many of the employees.

They feel uncomfortable because they know that the employees are paying out of their own pocket for the gift. Another take on it, bosses state they feel uncomfortable to give a well-intended bonus to an employee, but then the employee takes that money and spends it on a gift for the boss. It’s not right.

Coffee shop employee with boss in background.
A small company or business may have a more relaxed attitude about appropriate gifts for the boss in the workplace.

When it is known that a pricey gift is going to be a hardship – and cause hard feelings – the whole situation gets worse. One boss went as far as identifying office “ring leader” of the gift giving squad and ordered them to stop the practice. The truth is, some of these ring leaders can’t help themselves, they are in a stuck cycle, and perpetuate the whole silly thing. It takes a savvy boss or manager to get this under control.

As an employee, when you do your job, work hard, and are kind to others, and don’t bring drama to the workplace, that is your gift to the boss. As one astute employee commented, “making the company money is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.”

Retirement or Leaving Gifts for an Exceptional Boss

There is a time and place to give your boss a gift. That would be his retirement or leaving. Believe it or not, there are great bosses out there. They are at the helm of the ship, taking care of all of the details and stress that employees may never realize.

It doesn’t matter if the gift is for a male or female boss, the basic advice is the same. If you have even an inkling in their outside of work passions, you’re on your way to finding a good leaving gift for them.

I hope you have one of those super bosses. Gift giving comes much easier when you appreciate and admire your boss!

Typical boss retirement or leaving gifts

Let’s start with a list of all the average gifts that you would expect to give to a boss:

  • very good wine or alcohol, craft beer, etc.
  • a high-quality writing instrument

Darn, that was one short list. And may I add, very uninspiring. Alcohol is a good idea, but it hinges on if your boss drinks – personal taste can be very subjective. I know a guy who knew for a fact that his boss loved certain local craft beers. It was an easy win for a boss retirement gift.

I’m not even going to mention gift cards, I dislike the added obligation of having to drive some place, or use them up before a deadline. Some people love Amazon gift cards, but why bother, why don’t just give money?

Let me point you to gifts that at least look like you’ve tried.

Consider their hobbies and interests

One way to show your boss that you appreciate them is by getting them a gift that aligns with their hobbies and interests. For example, if your boss is an avid golfer, you could get them a set of golf clubs or a personalized golf ball. Or, if your boss loves to cook, you could get them a cookbook from their favorite chef or a high-quality kitchen gadget.

Retro gifts have been a great hit in recent years. Consider a retro video game. Talking about games, there are a lot of Lego lovers out there. If you’re in a techy industry, there seems to be a fan base for Legos and Star Was, and even Lord of the Rings gifts ideas.

My Arcade Atari Game Station Pro: Video Game Console with 200+ Games, Wireless Joysticks, RGB LED Lights, Atari 2600/5200/7800 and More

Personalized Golf Ball Gift - 3 Pack Custom Golf Ball, Gift for Golfer, Unique Gift for Guys,Gifts for Men, Groomsmen Gift, Photo Golf Ball, Tour Quality Golf Balls

LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader Helmet 75304 Set, Mask Display Model Kit for Adults to Build, Gift Idea for Men, Women, Him or Her, Collectible Home Decor Model

Make it personal

Another way to show your appreciation is by getting a gift that is personalized to your boss. A photo album signed by all the employees would be perfect. Fill it with memories from their time at the company and you have a gift with sentimental value attached.

Signing a group picture, or artwork for the wall can be a nice, warm and fuzzy feeling that is low-cost. Be careful with the engraved gifts, some love them, so don’t. One boss reported that an engraved crystal paperweight with his favorite sports team was actually pretty cool. He was surprised himself how much he liked it.

If you knew that they had a favorite artist, you could purchase a piece of art to fit in with their collection. Or boost your gift by getting the art signed, or have a copy of a book by their favorite author signed.

DOUBLESHOOT Framed Gold Retirement Decorations Guest Book for Womens - 12"x16" Retirement Poster for Women Including Gold Pen & Acrylic Glass - Unique Retirement Party Decor & Gift for Women

Consider next stage of life

While it’s great to get a gift that aligns with your boss’s interests, it’s also important to consider life outside of work. Consider getting them a gift that they can use in their everyday life, such as a high-quality Samsonite Centric Hardsided Luggage or a comfortable pair of shoes, if they’re planning a big trip after retirement.

Samsonite Centric 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinners, Emerald Green, 2-Piece Set (20/28)

Bold Threadz Mens Premium Quality H-D Passing Link Motorcycle Cowhide Leather Jacket in Black Distressed Color (as1, alpha, x_l, regular, regular)

DEWALT 10 Inch Table Saw, 32-1/2 Inch Rip Capacity, 15 Amp Motor, With Rolling/Collapsible Stand (DWE7491RS)

Many people do schedule a trip of a lifetime after they retire. They might appreciate some fancy travel gadgets that will give them a stress-free trip. Retirement is when many people buy their first Harley Davidson motorcyles, or fancy sportscar. You could suggest some touring routes and restaurants hops for day trips.

Retirement may be a time when they start to take up new hobbies. They may want to try their hand at woodworking or gardening (I’ve got a great list of gardening gifts here).

The Gift Wrap Up

No matter what gift you choose, it’s important to include a heartfelt note expressing your gratitude and appreciation for your boss’s leadership and guidance. A simple thank you goes a long way in showing your boss that they made a positive impact on your life and career.

If you need help with that, check this page out.

Man dressed in a suit; wrapped gift with question marks.
Is it appropriate to give my boss a gift?
Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!