Holiday Business Etiquette

By Lydia Ramsey

’Twas the season to be jolly, even at the office. Are you confident about your holiday manners? Do you know how to select the right card for your clients? What kind of gift to give your boss? How to dress appropriately for the office party?

Test your holiday business savvy with this self-assessment and find out if you deserved to eat a turkey feast or “crow” for the holidays. If your score is a bit disappointing, cheer up—you’ve got a whole year to polish up your skills.

Read each statement and choose either True or False.

Correct answers and scoring guidelines are provided at the end.

1. If you aren’t sure which religious or cultural holiday your client observes, send a card that’s appropriate for your religion.
True _____
False _____

2.If your card is imprinted with the company name, you should add your signature and a personal message.
True _____
False _____

3. A company greeting card should never be signed with both your name and that of your spouse.
True _____
False _____

4. It’s OK to send a card to a couple at a company address, even if only one of them works there.
True _____
False _____

5. Your greeting may arrive after the holiday.
True _____
False _____

6. It’s OK to use the same cards for friends, family and business associates.
True _____
False _____

7. Be aware of company policy regarding gifts—your client’s company as well as your own.
True _____
False _____

8. The more important the client, the more lavish the gift should be.
True _____
False _____

9. The only way to eliminate conflict about the exchange of gifts in the office is to forbid the practice altogether.
True _____
False _____

10. Employees aren’t expected to give their bosses a holiday gift.
True _____
False _____

11. If someone gives you a gift, you must give them one in return.
True _____
False _____

12. Inappropriate gifts should be returned with a written explanation.
True _____
False _____

13. The office party is an opportune time to let your hair down.
True _____
False _____

14. You don’t have to attend the office holiday party.
True _____
False _____

15. For office holiday functions held off-site, business attire isn’t required.
True _____
False _____

Correct Answers

1. False. Cards should reflect the holiday or the occasion celebrated by the recipient, not the sender. If your client is Jewish, a Hanukkah card will be appreciated. Christmas cards are appropriate for your Christian colleagues. When in doubt, choose a card with a generic message, such as Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays.

2. True. Never send cards without personalizing them. Even the most elegant cards with the company name imprinted on them should have your personal signature and a short hand-written message or greeting. Sound like a lot of trouble? If the business is worth it, then so is the extra effort.

3. False. If the client knows your spouse, you may sign both names. However, the one signing the card signs last. Though a family touch is nice during the holidays, resist the urge to include pictures of your children or grandchildren and an annual letter detailing your latest surgeries.

4. False. It’s incorrect to send a card to a couple at a business address if only one of them works there. Mail it to their home if you include them both. And handwrite those addresses or hire someone to do it. A computer-generated label is too impersonal.

5. False. Who would be impressed with a card that arrives after the fact? Your client might wonder whether you treat all of your deadlines so casually. Try addressing your cards before Thanksgiving. In December, all you have to do is write a short message on each, sign your name and mail.

6. False. Keep your business and personal greeting cards separate. It’s not the time to cut costs or try to impress friends with corporate glitz.

7. True. Many companies have strict policies about accepting gifts from
clients. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, employees may be forbidden to accept all gifts or gifts above a certain dollar value. If you’re in doubt about a company’s policy, do a little research. Don’t be offended if your client has to refuse your gift.

8. False. Select corporate gifts that are moderately priced, appropriate and reflect well on you and your business. Give all recipients the same gift or gifts of the same value.

9. False. Exchanging gifts is part of the holiday fun for many people. However, to keep the practice from getting out of hand, some companies have established guidelines limiting spending or governing how the exchange is handled. One simple tradition is Secret Santa: Each employee draws the name of another and is limited to a specific price range. That kind of inclusive policy shows no favoritism and puts everyone on an even financial footing.

10. True. Employees are not expected to give their bosses a gift. But, if you would like to buy your boss a gift, consider having your office group pool its resources and give one gift from everyone.

11. False. Just because someone gives you a present doesn’t mean that you have to do likewise. Be gracious, knowing that the giver had a special reason for remembering you during the holidays. Similarly, not everyone to whom you give a business gift is expected to respond in kind. All gifts require a handwritten thank-you note.

12. True. If you receive a present that is inappropriate either by its
nature or expense, return it immediately with a brief note of explanation. Details aren’t required. A simple statement saying, “I’m sorry that I cannot accept your gift” is sufficient. Be sure to document the return.

13. False. The office party is still about business. Enjoy yourself, but keep your feelings and actions in check. It’s wise to limit alcohol consumption. After all, you want to make sure you still have a job after the holidays.

14. False. Office parties are command performances. You must attend if you want to be viewed as part of the team. You can limit the amount of time you stay, but make sure you speak to key people.

15. False. An office party is a business function: don’t convey
inappropriate messages with your clothing. Attire should be conservative and professional even though you’re out of the office.

What’s Your Score?
Give yourself one point for each correct answer.
Got a perfect 15? Here’s to you! You’ll be feasting on holiday turkey with all of the trimmings. Toast yourself with a bottle of champagne to celebrate your savvy.

If you scored 13 or 14 points, congratulations! You’re entitled to the turkey and trimmings.

If you earned 8 to 12 points, you have more to learn, so order up a simple baked chicken and get to work.

If your score is 7 or below, you’ll be dining on crow during the holidays—if you can get your foot out of your mouth!

Author Bio: Lydia Ramsey is the author of the book Manners that Sell—Adding the Polish that Builds Profits. She is also a speaker and trainer, writes a weekly newspaper column and has written for publications including Cosmopolitan and The Wall Street Journal. For more information on her book or programs, visit www.mannersthatsell.com.

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