By Vicky Oliver

The holidays are approaching and you’ve noticed that your cubicle neighbor has a little box with a bow on it. What if it’s for you? You didn’t get her anything! But what if it isn’t for you? Should you still get her something? How much should you spend?

Proper etiquette around gift giving at the office is a snake pit for most people. But if you follow a few simple guidelines, you’ll sail through the holidays without a single faux pas. Here are some of them:

Let “power hierarchies” guide your way. Whether to give or not to give depends a lot on your position in the office “power hierarchy.” For example, people who work “under” you and routinely serve you at work — your assistant or the receptionist, for example — should get a small gift as a gesture of gratitude. Likewise, if you have a supervisor or boss, it’s customary to “go in” on a larger gift with several co-workers, to express thanks, loyalty, and solidarity. 

Use your heart and be sensitive. You don’t need to give gifts to all of your co-workers unless you work in an office of five or fewer people, where leaving one person out would hurt his or her feelings. However, if you have a team member or co-worker who has been particularly helpful or supportive to you this year, a card expressing that and a small gift is entirely appropriate, even if you don’t do the same for others. Be tactful and discreet when singling out one special person for a thank-you gift.

Give to helpers and service people. In addition to your immediate helpers in the office, be sure to acknowledge support staff in your office building, including the doorman, mailroom person, perhaps a frequent courier you know by name, the night or weekend cleaning person, and others who make your everyday 9-to-5 life easier and more pleasant. Always give cash in a pretty envelope accompanied by a heartfelt, written message of appreciation. These people often make minimum wage or close to it, and a $20 bill goes a lot farther than a pair of gloves. 

NEXT TIME: The remainder of Vicky’s tips.

Vicky Oliver is the author of five best-selling books on personal branding, etiquette, and career development, including her latest, “The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You’re Not” (Skyhorse, 2011). To find out more, check out