Gifts that are free and will improve your workplace culture

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We recently learned that some co-workers are terrible gift givers. Seriously, terrible. A used cookbook? A coupon to a strip club? These are not appropriate gifts for work, people, and many would argue they’re not appropriate gifts for any occasion.

We also put together a workplace gift-giving guide to prevent you from ever being the subject of one of these surveys. Not that you’d ever give a used cookbook, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded not to. (Feel free to print out both of the aforementioned articles and leave them in the break room to give your co-workers subtle hints. Highlighting the items you want with a bright marker also does the trick. Just saying.)

The list also reminded me of an article from 2008 in which we asked workers what gifts they want from their bosses. One of the top responses was “show me a little respect.” Not that bosses didn’t respect them, but workers wanted signs that their needs and talents were taken seriously. And this holiday season, whether or not you celebrate any specific day, you might want to consider what similar actions you can take at work to show your co-workers that you care. Not to be too hokey, but sometimes these quiet gifts can mean a lot more than anything you can buy. And they’re free, which is always a good thing.

In that spirit, we made a different kind of list of gifts you might think about giving your co-workers or boss. These aren’t something you can find at a store; they’re things you can do and won’t cost you a penny. You can’t wrap them and hand them over. In fact, your colleagues might not ever know you’re “giving” them these gifts*, but they’ll reap the benefits either way.

Here are some gifts of action you should consider this holiday season and continue into next year:

1. Put a lid on the gossip
Gossip is at every workplace. Everyone has participated in it–men and woman and blue-collar and white-collar workers alike. The problem is that spreading rumors about people (your cubicle neighbor) and events (supposed layoffs) leads to hurt feelings, bad morale and a sketchy reputation. You’d be surprised what a difference a zipped lip can make.

2. Break room manners
While you’re taping up your holiday wish list in the office kitchen, take a look around. Did you use the last paper towel? Did you spill your soup all over the counter? Did your salmon explode in the microwave, creating a pungent mess? Please clean it up. Otherwise the next person is going to leave it there on principle—in the same way you won’t make more coffee because you’re not the one who finished the last pot—and eventually the break room is as tense as a Quentin Tarantino standoff.


3. Communicating more
Thanks to technology, we can communicate in more ways than ever, but it doesn’t mean we actually do it. In the world of e-mail, voicemail, IM, text and the timeless act of walking down the hall, you don’t have a reason not to let your boss or co-worker know you are arriving late this morning, running behind on a project, or have questions you’d like to clear up. You probably want to save face much of the time, but checking in with someone, even to ask if they need any help, can make your environment better. People are kinder and more understanding when they think of you as more than a name that appears in their e-mail inbox now and again.

4. Stop being that guy or gal
You’re probably a very nice person, but no one believes it when you keep ruining all the good stuff for everybody. Are you the one who made the wildly inappropriate joke during the meeting, which resulted in everybody undergoing sensitivity training? Did you decide that your easygoing boss wouldn’t mind if you came in an hour late every day until eventually she had to crack down and set a rigid schedule for everyone? Remember that your actions sometimes affect your colleagues and can result in the good perks being taken away.

5. Be supportive
Let’s be clear: You’re not responsible for doing some else’s job. If someone’s a slacker, you don’t need to do your job and theirs. But if you have skills and expertise that can make someone’s job easier, be willing to offer help. If someone is giving a presentation and everyone sits silently when he asks for some participation, raise your hand and give him a little help. You work with these people every day, so it would benefit you and them to create some sense of camaraderie. Plus, one day you’ll want the support and I guarantee people are more likely to help someone who’s helped them in the past.

6. Pick your battles
In an ideal world, petty arguments would never happen. Realistically, they’re here to stay. At the very least, distinguish between arguments that matter—someone stole your idea—and the ones that don’t—you’re sick of eating pizza for lunch. People get tired of listening to negativity and they’ll eventually tune you out, even when you have a legitimate complaint.

*Seriously, we don’t recommend you hand someone a card saying, “I’m going to stop telling everyone you’re dating Tonya from IT.” It just invites a lot of HR problems.

What say you, gift givers and recipients? Are there other little gestures you think your workplace could use this holiday season and beyond?

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  9. Just treat everyone as you would want to be treated. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything. Be an asset, not a liability. Simple, simple.


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