Holiday Business Etiquette Q & A

Published: May 22, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Lydia Ramsey

I spend enough time with my colleagues and boss at work. Do I really have to go to the office holiday party?
Lydia Ramsey: Absolutely, yes. Attendance is mandatory. Don’t even consider not going unless you have a justifiable conflict. Show up, even if the thought of spending your precious off hours with co-workers and colleagues is less than appealing. The office party is part of your job. Its purpose is to bring together co-workers for a bit of camaraderie. If this is not your idea of a great time, then just consider it work, put on your best attitude and go.

Consider the holiday office party to be a career development opportunity. Your attitude and your behavior will affect your future success, so make the most of the occasion and the chance to promote yourself professionally. One more tip: Make sure you speak to the boss, when you arrive and as you leave (keeping in mind that this is not the time to ask for a raise).

Business-related Holiday gift-giving is so confusing. I never know what to give and to whom.
It is not always easy to come up with the perfect present while following business gift protocol. Here are some tips:
—Follow corporate guidelines. Some companies have strict policies about what kinds of gifts, if any, their employees may receive. If you have any doubt, ask your clients or check with their personnel department. This has become even more important after so many news stories of corporate misconduct.

—Consider your client’s interests. As you build client relationships, find out what sports, hobbies, or pastimes people enjoy. Perhaps your client has a favorite food or beverage. If you can’t determine this on your own, contact an assistant or associate.

—Be appropriate. Sometimes a gift can be taken the wrong way. Avoid anything that is even slightly intimate when giving to members of the opposite sex. A bottle of wine or liquor won’t be appreciated by a teetotaler or a country ham by a vegetarian. Also, keep in mind that what seems funny to one person could be insulting to another.

—Rethink printing the company logo on your gift. While you like the idea of having people advertise for you, your clients may not share your view. An exception is items that will be used all year and will cause your client think of you on a regular basis, especially when there is a business opportunity.

—Consider a charitable donation. Stay away from controversial groups. Find out what charities your client supports and give to one of those. The nice thing about a charitable gift is that the recipients never need to know the amount of your donation, and they don’t have to worry about what to do with it after the holidays.

What if I want to give special gifts to just a few close colleagues and not everyone?
Give your gift at a time and place away from the office and your other co-workers.

Must I give the boss a gift?
LR: My answer to that is an unequivocal no. The boss, whose salary no doubt exceeds yours, should give gifts to his or her staff, but not the other way around. Often members of a department will contribute to a pool for the boss’s gift. As a result the boss ends up with the most elaborate or expensive gift of all.

Should I send holiday cards to business contacts?
LR: There are four obvious reasons to send holiday greetings:
1. To enhance your current business relationships
2. To attract new customers
3. To remind previous clients that you exist
4. To show appreciation to those who are faithful supporters of you and your business

However, what is intended as a thoughtful act can offend the very people you want to impress when you don’t do it correctly. Follow these guidelines:

—Choose a quality card that shows you value your clients and colleagues. Skimping on your selection could be taken as a sign that these people and their business aren't worth much of an investment on your part.

—Address and sign each card personally and write a short note. A few words wishing your clients a Happy Holiday or thanking them for their business are sufficient to impress. Even if you have preprinted information on the card, such as your name and the company name, your handwritten signature and a personal message will add warmth to your greeting. If hand-addressing the envelopes seems overwhelming, consider hiring someone to do it. Don't use computer-generated labels; they are impersonal and make your greetings look like a mass mailing. Your carefully chosen cards could end up unopened in the trash.

—Be sensitive to religious beliefs and cultural celebrations. Find out whether people observe Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa and make your cards appropriate. Generic messages like “Season's Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” are safe bets for all, but not as impressive as the card with exactly the right wish.

—Resist the urge to send the family letter and photos to purely business associates. They probably are not interested in your summer vacation, Aunt Martha’s visit, or how high your son scored on his SATs.

Is it OK to send business contacts a holiday e-card?
It is not rude to send e-cards, but they are not as effective as those sent by old-fashioned snail mail. The recipient will click on the URL, download the card, open it, read it, smile, close it and—in all probability—delete it. Also, consider that your electronic card may never be opened, as some people are understandably reluctant to open attachments for fear of computer viruses.

Send e-cards to your personal friends and family if you like, but be selective when you mail them to your business associates. You always want to be professional and appropriate in the workplace so consider the person, the message, and your purpose when you make your decision about paper or electronic.

Get Lydia Ramsey’s complete guide to Business Etiquette for the Holidays

The holidays are a great time to keep in touch with friends and family, and they are also an opportunity to get in touch with business contacts. See how to turn those contacts into relationships with this free AMA webcast.

About the Author(s)

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, and corporate trainer. She is the author of Manners That Sell—Adding the Polish that Builds Profits. For more information, visit