Corporate Gift Giving: Reflections on the Yuletide Season

Please, resist the urge to give me the newest, shiniest, most expensive sports car available on the car lot!

Seriously, how much is too much when it comes to deciding whether one should accept or reject a gift? On the face of it, this appears to be a pretty easy question to answer, but is it really? The appropriateness of a gift will of course vary according to the circumstance and the context.

The wise men gave baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which understandably were quite appropriate under the circumstances. It is without a doubt that the giving and receiving of gifts is of great importance in building healthy relationships, as it tends to foster a ‘feel good’ effect. This ‘feel good’ effect is of no less value in the corporate world, where the giving of gifts further supports good working relationships between individuals and organizations.

A meal out with a client can help build a relationship; a cardholder with your organization’s name on it can remind a customer of you when they need a product or service. However, in a corporate context, the acceptance of gifts, which may also be in the form of services and hospitality, may be related to the issue of conflicts of interest and can result in individuals or organizations becoming vulnerable to accusations of being biased or involved in corruption.

When is a gift not just a gift? One issue to be considered when assessing whether offering or accepting a gift is inappropriate, is whether the business relationship will be altered, or if there is an expectation that it will be influenced in some way. For example, will bias be expected when bidding for a contract? If so, this appears to be a bribe, rather than a gift. If the aim of giving the gift is to create an expectation of a “favourable” act in return, then it probably isn’t a gift.

It is clear that the value of the gift is to be factored in when assessing whether or not a gift is appropriate.

A token or trivial gift to show appreciation is oftentimes seen as appropriate in some contexts, whereas a non-trivial or expensive gift is oftentimes seen as inappropriate in some contexts; however circumstances vary, and the reverse may be true. Some organizations assist workers by placing a monetary limit on the value of gifts that can be offered or accepted, with those above a certain value considered as inappropriate. It is true that the value of a gift can be difficult to determine at times. For example, the value of a trip paid for by a client to see cricket at Kensington Oval in Barbados may be hard to calculate, especially when there is a business element to the trip.

A principle sometimes applied to determine what is an appropriate level of gift giving is that of reciprocity, that is, if I accept an offer, am I able to offer the equivalent in value in return? For example, if my client or business associate offers me tickets to the Jazz and Blues Festival, would I be able to reciprocate to offer the equivalent value in return? If the answer is “no”, then it may be seen as an attempt to buy favour and it is advisable not to accept.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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